I went to India the first time as a naive, silly, totally unprepared, totally clueless 22-year-old intern.
I cried myself to sleep (out of loneliness? fear?) so many nights under a ripped mosquito net on a bed-bug infested mattress that I shared with a lovely Italian girl because we were all too poor or too cheap to pay for our own beds. During the day, I walked the streets. I traveled across the country on rickety buses and in third class sleeper train cars, I ostensibly worked for a tiny NGO that really, thankfully, had no use for me.
I thought I hated India, in that way only someone who has moved across the world all alone for the first time really can.
It’s disorienting to move overseas and realize that it’s not just the language and the clothes that are different, it’s everything. Things you didn’t even know could possibly be different, from paying the electric bill to buying gas for the kitchen stove, are strange, difficult, and sometimes not obviously logical. Things are never the way you think they “should be” and, by the time the full magnitude of a place’s “other-ness” hits you, you’re usually in too deep to back out or run away.
Those moments when there’s a problem to be solved, there are people staring at you blankly waiting for an answer, and you have no clue what to do and no one else to turn to, those moments are sometimes breathtakingly brutal—and life-changing.
People say that you either love India or you hate it, and you’ll know instantly. That’s not true. I didn’t love India that first time there, but it got under my skin. I’d crawl out from underneath our mosquito net in the morning and find myself craving the activity and bustle on the streets below our flat, the comforting routine of the call to prayer at the neighborhood mosque, the road-side stands selling South Indian coffee, the women who invited me to their aerobics class on the roof, the few truly kind auto-drivers I met in Chennai, the geckos on our window screens, even the neighbor’s car which always, unnervingly, played “We wish you Merry Christmas” while backing up.
Then just as I was climbing out of that first culture shock U, I left India, supposedly for good.
As I wrote in this post, though, I came back. Again and again. I met amazing people. Funny, irascible, smart, socially-minded people who not only called India home but who welcomed me so graciously in spite of all of my misconceptions and silly antics. By the end of my last trip, India began to feel a little like a home away from home.
We leave today for New Delhi, returning this time as a family, with a baby.
It will be different. In some ways I’m sure it will be easier, in many more ways it will probably be more difficult, finding work, making friends in a huge expat community and figuring out how to travel the country again, this time with a toddler in tow.
We don’t know entirely what to expect, but then, no one moving across the world, ever really does.