Megan is from Encinitas, California and participated in the 2017-2018 India Academic Year program.
As I write this, I can officially say I have been here for three months as of today! It’s crazy to think about my first few weeks here. It feels like it was so long ago!
The five of us NSLI-Y girls recently got to fly out to Mumbai for three days for our midterm orientation (although we still have seven of ten months to go…) to discuss our time in Indore so far and make goals for the rest of the year. Our trip began with an unplanned city tour when our Ola cab took us to the wrong Ginger Hotel. From what I could see from the window, my first thoughts were “Whoah! Those motorcyclists have actually decided to put their helmets on their heads instead of carrying them around in their bike trunks!” and “Is that a seatbelt I see peeping around that driver’s shoulder?” The road safety was immediately a big plus in my book!
Once we managed to find the correct Ginger Hotel, we were blown away by its toilet paper-filled bathrooms and cloud-like mattress toppers–this was a great development since we would not set foot outside the hotel for the next 48 hours. We enjoyed Mumbai from the windows of our room as we did various sessions and activities with our amazing AFS orientation leaders. It was great to discuss our experiences with adjusting to the new culture and learning the language here and I loved spending time with my fellow NSLI-Yers! Despite the fact that we spend every day together in our three hour Hindi class, we haven’t gotten sick of each other yet! In fact, we even created a new Hindi word to describe ourselves–behenchara, or “sisterhood”–based on the Hindi word “bhaichara,” brotherhood. Whenever we use our cute nickname we get some interesting looks, though, because apparently if we changed just one letter it would not sound so cute anymore. No one is brave enough to tell us the bad word, though, so we continue to obliviously label ourselves the behenchara.
One of my favorite activities of the orientation was a Hindi challenge that encouraged us to step out of our comfort zones (and the conference room!). We were given 30 minutes to learn as many new Hindi words as we could, using people around the hotel as our only resource. Although Marathi is the most commonly spoken language in Mumbai, we still found plenty of Hindi speakers who were willing to help us out. Riah and I were even invited to sit down with a family waiting for their food at the hotel restaurant and for a good 20 minutes the whole family helped us fill our pages with new words while we wowed them with our Devanagari spelling.
On our third, and last, day in Mumbai we got to do some sightseeing! We visited the Iskcon temple of Lord Krishna where my attempt to speak Hindi impressed the kitabwala (book vendor) so much that he gave me a free Hindi book about Krishna! It is very rewarding to see the joy on peoples’ faces as they realize that we can somewhat understand and speak Hindi. Although Hindi is not everyone’s first language here, it has opened up so many opportunities to talk to and get to know people (especially the half of my host family who do not speak English!).
Our next stop on our whirlwind tour of Mumbai was the Haji Ali Mosque, which is located on a small islet that is only accessible when the tides are low enough. The salty breeze at the mosque brought back memories of sunny Encinitas beaches and was a welcome smell compared to the sometimes stinky streets of Mumbai.
We were ready for some ice cream and shopping so we went to a popular bazaar and used our thrifty Hindi bargaining skills to purchase jewelry and palazzo pants. There happened to be a McDonald’s nearby so we also got some McFlurries for our journey to the next tourist destination. In the past three months I have eaten at McDonald’s more than I have in the previous 17.75 years of my life combined! But, hey, when you need ice cream it really doesn’t matter where it comes from, and it turns out that we are in almost constant need of it!
We visited the Gateway to India next, which didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It had a nice view of the ocean, but was gated off to the public! If I can’t cross through the Gateway to India, am I even really here? The upside was that we got some cute Mumbai postcards at a discounted price and got to practice our “outdoor NAHEEN” (equivalent to NOOO!) when people asked us to take selfies with them.
Before heading to our last stop of the day, we finally got to try Mumbai’s famous street food, vada pau, a samosa-like potato filling inside a bun. It was subse swadisht (the most delicious)! We will have to go back to Mumbai for more because I have yet to see it on the streets of Indore.
On the way back to the hotel we made a quick stop at Juhu Beach. It had a nice view of the city in the distance, but we were only able to have a quick visit before heading to the airport for our flight home. Our flight ended up being delayed for around 2.5 hours, which gave us some quality time in the beautiful Mumbai airport. We sampled Body Shop lotions and ate Subway before finally boarding our flight back to Indore.
Mumbai was a great break from our normal routine. I just wish we could have stayed longer! Ironically, the day after we got home we met the American vice consul from Mumbai who invited us to take a tour of the consulate, so we have good reason to go back soon!