Every week I think about writing a new blog post and every week I get so overwhelmed with all my new experiences, I can’t decide which one to write about, so I don’t write at all. I’m reasonably relaxed now, a week into my Winter Holiday break from school, and decided to put words onto digital paper.
I’m excited with my choice to live and work in India, but the transition stages of culture shock seem to be taking longer to process through, as compared to when I moved to Istanbul in 2013. In Turkey, I remember feeling invigorated to be living in a new-to-me Muslim country and experiencing life in a historically rich, city with new tastes, languages, sights and sounds. As I reflect, there were many things that were familiar to me already.
Turkey is a European country and I’ve traveled to Europe many times. Istanbul has four seasons, just like in Texas. I had been a tourist in Istanbul two years prior to moving there. Western fashion brands are common. Surprisingly, there were Victoria’s Secret billboards up on the main roads. There was a clean and modern metro to get you around from place to place. The city of Istanbul has city services in place, such as trash removal and recycling. Metro and bus cards were easily topped up. I could always find a relatively clean public toilet if I needed one. Although Turkish foods were new to me, fruits and vegetables were the sizes and shapes that I knew and had used in the USA. There were so many dogs and cats on the streets and these animals were common to me. I knew at least something about several of the great civilizations in historical Turkey: Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. Islam is different from Christianity but because Islam, Judaism and Christianity all recognize Abraham as their first prophet, they have a lot in common.
In contrast, there is very little here in Chennai that seems familiar to my western understanding of the world. It is both bewildering and exciting. My local, Indian friends have said there are 3 seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest. It is tropical here and I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a tropical environment before. The trees, plants and flowers are so different. There are some fruits and vegetables that I know, but there are many more that I don’t know and have never even seen pictures of. And the foods here are prepared with an understanding of the medicinal effects of each food and spice. I had never traveled to India before moving here to live. Chennai, with a population of approximately 10 million, has limited city planning. There are very few city services available in the way that I’m used to. There is public transportation that the locals use but I don’t (yet) feel comfortable using the buses and trains by myself. There are many new forms of transportation to me including tuktuks, or autoricks, and so many, many motorbikes. The rules of the road are completely different to me and I can’t begin to imagine driving here. There are dogs and cats that live on the street, but also cows, donkeys and goats, monkeys, tropical birds, bats, lizards and strange insects. In north India there are also camels and elephants roaming on the street. Tigers, half-horse-half-cow sort of animal called a blue bull nilgai and so many more exotic-to-me animals live in this country. The beautiful clothes that most women wear are certainly not western. Cotton and silk are the preferred fabrics. In most cases, the recipes for cooking are completely new to me, including the spices. For many years in Dallas there were only a few Indian restaurants. The food here in Chennai is not like anything I’ve ever had or tasted in the USA. Thankfully, many Indian people have immigrated to Dallas and new, authentic Indian restaurants are now opening. Although Christians, Muslims and Buddhists live here, the Hindu religion is the most noticeable, and certainly the most different, to me. There are temples and alters on every block. Flower, fruit and oil lamp offerings are made daily and small businesses exist on the street to provide the commodities needed for these daily rituals. The smells and sounds coming from these holy places do not connect to any memory in my life experiences. There are 30 MILLION gods. Hard, manual labor exists and you see it everyday. An American friend said, “Although I’ve worked all my life, as an American, I’ve never really worked a day in my life.” And, for good or for bad, the ugly is not hidden away.
After living here for two months, I consciously passed through a new phase of transition when I received my bank debit card, figured out how to order groceries online and figured out how to take a tuktuk to/from school everyday. These three things caused my transition to blossom into positive possibilities.
After living here for four months, I recognized the amazing difference it made to befriend Indian people as they held the secrets to understanding this new way of life. Within these friendships, I could ask questions without offending. They see that I am truly curious and am eager to learn. I am so grateful for these people that have shown up in my life as they are making all the difference in my transition.
Are you aware of the transitions of your own life?