Three weeks later and I cannot believe it is over. The experience felt like it lasted only a few days where I made friendships that felt like I knew them for years. Our last day in Hubli at the scholar house was filled with tears, goodbyes and sadness. We knew it would be a long time until we saw our Indian friends again and it was hard to say goodbye to people who are now so close to you. A short flight and we were at a new stop, the Tamil city Chennai on the Bay of Bengal. The next few days would be spent visiting Hindu temples, Christian churches and important cultural sites. I never thought that I would see a piece of a body of one of the apostles but a trip to San Thome Basilica changed that. One of my friends from India, who was born and raised Christian, explained to me how his ancestors had worshipped Christ for hundreds of years before mine (I am Irish Catholic). Knowing little of the history of Christianity in India I thought we was pulling my leg and I am glad to have learned a lot more of this little known fact about India. While this was very interesting, it was the trip to a Hindu temple I found most fascinating. This temple was dedicated to Shiva, his wife Parvati and his sons Ganesha and Murugan and dated back 1400 years. The complex was large with beautiful structures, praying sites, and even a section for cows (which are revered and holy in Hinduism). It was my first time visiting a non-Abrahamic place of worship and was interested in how different the architecture, style of worship and traditions were. The next few days flew by as we visited many sites (including a beach) and learned a lot about Indian culture. The next thing I knew I was at the airport saying goodbye to my American friends (I had booked a different flight due to cost and had luckily wound up flying with the Chinese students). A long layover later (where I got to see the unique city of Hong Kong for several hours) and a tearful goodbye later I was on my final 14 hour flight home.
Jet lag still has me in its grip, but I will always remember this truly once in a lifetime opportunity. Whether it be Sahil and Naveen teaching me how to cross a road (you simply walk through the chaos and do not stop unless it is a bus or a truck because they never stop) or Tejas showing me the best place for kebobs. The unbelievably amazing massages the Chinese students gave (I do not know where Kuku, Cindy and Teddy learned how to literally fix my back) or heart-to-heart with Chirag on the back of his scooty while he brings me to get medicine. The long nights sitting with a dozen of my friends talking and sharing stories and dreams. The early mornings walking through the dusty, palm-lined path to school (where Jon would always be talking to his new friend the security guard). Our best friend Ralphie (a tiny puppy who would follow us around campus) at backgate waiting for snacks and scraps. There is far too much to write about here, however if you are a student reading this and have the chance to go with Professor Mehta to India I have one word for you. Go. You’re life will be changed for the better and you have no idea what lies in store for you. Just know it is amazing and you will not regret it.
Halfway through the class and India already feels like home. If you would have told me how close I would be with new friends within this short period of time I would have called you crazy. Now I know that there is no way this experience could happen without getting this close. I now not only have new friends but a new family, albeit quite a large and diverse bunch. For several days I was sick, first a fever and stomach bug and then a minor throat infection and almost complete loss of my voice. I assumed I would be left in my room while other students keep their distance to avoid getting sick. Instead, I felt like I had 20 mothers and fathers each ensuring I got better as quickly as possible. Kuku running to me with cups of traditional Chinese medicine nighty, Chirag dropping what he is doing to bring me to the pharmacy, Tejas driving me through the hectic streets of Hubli to get me to the best soup in town, Hannah and Kanmani washing and bandaging my injured foot and the dozens of offers for medicine, water and to get me anything I need. From the moment I wake up to when I fall asleep I know my new family is here for me. If you are looking for someone to talk to or something to do I simply walk into any room and am met by smiling faces ready for a good time.
I am constantly learning about Indian culture from how to eat properly in India (using the right hand only) to different gestures (a slight shake of the head means yes/ I am listening while in America this means no). Yesterday we visited the “Rock Garden” a tourist attraction that is part artists installations, part cultural museum, part amusement park. My friends Chinmai and Chirag were great tour guides explaining each part of the museum and the connection to traditional and modern Indian culture (I think they taught me more about India than I ever learned in the States). At one section of the Rock Garden there was an installation called the Rain Dance which was a waterpark ride installation where giant shower-like heads pour water onto a crowd of dancinguests while a DJ bumps American music crossed with Punjabi. Mya and I were the first ones to run into the dance and there was a group of young Indian school boys and girls who were thrilled that we were there. We were soon taught some Indian dances and while I butchered every single one the locals were beyond happy and when we tried to leave we were swarmed with hugs and had no choice but to return to the dance floor. The busride home, as always in India, was a great time where we watched beautiful farm lands sprinkled with Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu temples and religious sites. At one point a van drove by and I swore it was straight out of a picture I had seen on the internet: men were hanging out the windows and even just standing and holding onto the back of the car. Again this is on a highway going at least 50 miles per hours.
On another, more academic level, I knew this would be an accelerated class but I had no idea how much I would learn in such a short period of time. I keep having to remind myself that everything I know about entrepreneurship I have learned in this past week. My project is one that I am personally interested in and is called Greenhouse-in-a-Box where my company creates smaller greenhouses that provide protection from intense heat, pests and reduces water usage. My company also provides monitoring, education and financing to ensure that small time farmers cannot only access the technology but actually be successful in their ventures. One quote that has stuck with the co-founder and was part of his inspiration for creating the non-profit also really stuck out to me and I wanted to share it. One day while a boy he walked by a farmer eating mud, when asked why the farmer replied “The stomach does not realize the pocket is empty”. I may have misquoted him but the meaning and power of this event is one that I think will stick with me for a very long time. I cannot even imagine the poverty and struggles that this man faces on a day to day basis and am very glad that this company now exists. Every day I see things in India that make me want to jump for joy while others make me want to weep. It is tough to see the intense poverty that millions of Indians face here, when driving to a high end mall with my friend Tejas I looked to the left and saw an Indian slum. In front of me were, for want of a better word, small houses with piles of garbage next to, on top of and all around them. Looking inside I could see a single small room full of bodies, I wanted to ask my Indian friends but I was shocked into silence. I have traveled the world and visited many impoverished places, small Tanzanian villages, Lebanese towns that have been levelled only years prior, Costa Rican slums and Mexican homeless. None of them have every shocked me like this or had the raw power of this moment. While I am having quite literally the time of my life in India with a new family of amazing friends I will take far more with me.
Four flights, three days and more hours without sleep than I care to know but I am finally in here in Hubli! Today was an exciting albeit long day and was an adventure from start to finish. After meeting with the group in Bengaluru we as a group were hungry and decided to get some KFC (with an Indian twist). While I wasn’t sure what I was eating (it was called a chilly crunchy) it was delicious and I was envious that our chains do not have them here! The flight was one of the shortest I’ve had, it seemed like we were barely in the air! While I have been to quite a few airports the Hubli airport was a new experience. We landed and disembarked on the tarmac and a few minutes later another plane pulled up only a few hundred meters away! What a way to enter India!
The drive from the airport was an amazing experience, waving rickshaw drivers, wandering cows and beautiful buses met us throughout the ride. I was shocked by how happy and friendly the local Indians were! Everyone was waving back and seemed a little bit surprised on seeing us! When we got to the campus we were stunned by the beauty and explored meeting several interesting characters along the way (including several teachers-in-training). The campus is a sprawling landscaped place with beautiful buildings, palm trees, almond trees and two amazing fountains!
While we were exhausted we heard loud music and cheering and could not resist finding the source of the commotion. A few wrong turns, dead ends and fences later we finally found the entrance. The event coordinator was apprehensive and said that she had to double check if we were allowed. I could have never expected what was going to occur next.
We stumbled into a cultural event (run for and by the Indian students at KLE) and they were enthralled that Americans had come to see it. A crowd of what seemed like several thousand greeted us with cheers and brought us to the front row where we sat with the Principal of KLE. Dances, costumes, plays and fashion shows followed for a truly diverse introduction to Indian culture. The principal then surprised us and brought us onto the stage…and had us dance! As we left swarms of Indian students came to take selfies with us, shake our hands and thank us for sharing their culture. I am very excited to see what India has in store for us next and can’t wait for tomorrow!