FYI: this is a long and oftentimes scattered post. I’d still love for you to read it. Just letting y’all know. I debated a lot with myself as to whether or not I wanted to post this. It has sat in my draft box for quite some time. It went through numerous revisions. Still, I don’t think it’s remarkable writing. I’m not sure if it accurately depicts what I want it to. It’s messy and offers a wide array of emotions, not usually reserved for one sole post. Each paragraph is like a different story (feel free to take breaks and come back later to finish reading it 😅). I go back and forth between present tense and past tense. Despite it all, I’ve adopted a “YOLO” type of reasoning for posting this. Also, it turned into far more of a story about pizza than I expected. Without further ado, here it is in all of its glory.
What’s not easy, you might ask? Well, practically everything about being here. And that’s okay. I didn’t expect it to be easy. Nor should it be. Through adversity often comes the most rewarding of times. Just as Prince Ea (a rapper) says, “Struggle and criticism are prerequisites for greatness…” While greatness, varying in its definition, is never guaranteed, knowing that I’ll undoubtedly struggle along the way certainly puts me one step ahead towards achieving it.
Now, my two months of time spent here obviously pale in comparison to things like study abroad, exchange programs or even military service. It’s apparent that there are far more strenuous and difficult situations. Nevertheless, an adventure that someone experiences and how it makes one feel along the way is entirely relative to one’s characteristics, past exposure, encounters, outside influences, and timing. So, it’s not necessarily easy for a wide-eyed, novice traveller from smallish-town Iowa to explore the depths of India on his own (don’t worry, I’m never literally alone).
Something particularly interesting (and certainly not helpful to my confidence at the time) is that, during the course of my first few weeks here, I would tell colleagues that India is the first country I’ve visited outside of the US. Their reactions were always surprise and, perhaps, even a tinge of pity. I presume they can’t fathom that such an inexperienced traveller can handle the complexity and craziness that comes with India. With time, I garnered the exposure that makes their reactions totally reasonable. 😅 India really is, to quote a colleague, a “dive in the deep end” when it comes to travel. Its people, culture, impressions, and environment gobbled me up whole in the first few weeks. I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. Even now, it’s not easy. It’s a challenge, but one that I’m increasingly excited to take on every day.
Contrary to my prior beliefs, culture shock is real. Naively, I didn’t really expect it to be much of a thing for me. 😅 But, oh boy, was I wrong. There are a lot of factors of culture shock. The environment, people, food, music, weather, social norms, etc. Despite how similar people are, no matter where one is in the world, it’s the slightest variations in behavior or preference that seem to be cranked up ten notches on the “what the hell is happening” meter. The sudden emergence of a cow in the restaurant in which you’re eating can yield a similar feeling. Not until I was three weeks into it all did I genuinely feel accustomed to everything. Of course, there are fluctuations on the culture shock curve and I tend to bounce back and forth quite dramatically. As time goes on though, these bounces between “get me away from here” and “wow can I be here forever” tend to diminish in extremity. I’m thinking that by the time I leave, I’ll have an unwavering, gentle love for the differences between my home and this place.
Making matters worse towards the beginning was the uncooperative feeling of homesickness. To be truthful, I never thought that I would miss home as much as I do. Home is, quite honestly, where the heart is. It’s the people more than it is the place. I’m not sure I realized until now how much I rely on the immediate availability of friends and family. Much to my family’s avail, I crave their presence in my life. At the same time, I’ve learned how to candidly prosper and navigate obstacles on my own (a priceless skill).
What I think I’ll remember the most from this adventure is the triumph and exploration that came with it. I’ll learn the most from the moments when I felt the least capable, but ended up surprising myself. Just as Amelia Earhart says, “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” – Amelia Earhart
The audacity to travel around the world and simply be here is a decision that, in and of itself, makes it all worth it. Everything else is just icing on the cake. With that in mind, I’m trying to remember that everything is temporary. Accordingly, I’m doing my best to make the most out of it.
While I won’t detail all of the emotional stress I’ve undergone, I felt compelled to write a post like this to properly put into words the entirety of this adventure. I wanted to post this weeks ago, but I couldn’t bring myself to write about emotions that were far too real at the time. Fortunately, I’m now able to discuss it in a “happy-go-lucky” manner because, believe it or not, I’m starting to love India. That opinion might change tomorrow, but for now, I’m at a peak of acceptance on the culture shock curve. 😄 Either way, I relish in the power of vulnerability and thus, letting y’all know what this time feels like to me is beneficial.
Take the other day for example. I found it difficult to enjoy a single meal. In fact, in the moment, I hated each meal. I didn’t eat as much as I would have liked because other than rice and roti, I couldn’t stand some of the ingredients in the other foods. By the end of the day, after having hoped after each meal that the next would be enjoyable, I had eaten primarily hard boiled eggs, plain rice, plain roti, and some cucumber and onion. I felt so disheartened. I kinda wanted to tear up at dinner upon seeing food I wouldn’t enjoy, for a third time that day. Even slightly angry. How on Earth could every meal be so lackluster and unsatisfying?
Later in the evening, it hit me. I started to cry because I realized I went the entire day silently complaining to myself about how unfortunate it was that I had to endure meals that I didn’t absolutely love. I felt ashamed for even having had those thoughts. Regardless of taste, I had three meals that day. Just like I do throughout nearly every day. In front of me at breakfast was tea and hard boiled eggs full of protein. At lunch and dinner, there was a boundless amount of rice, roti, cucumbers, and clean water. I neglected to remember how blessed I was. Maybe I do have a right to complain a little. Maybe I needn’t think about the struggles of others all of the time. Regardless, taking any of this for granted, like I did, is the wrong move.
On a more lighthearted note, I want to tell you about one night in which I got really, really annoyed. Yea, I know. It sounds super lighthearted, doesn’t it? Ok. It was during the middle of a day last week when I began to crave pizza. Any type of pizza would have sufficed, but I especially wanted Pizza Hut at the time. Lucky for me, there are Pizza Hut stores nearby that deliver. I went to the Pizza Hut India website and began to plan my elaborate order for later in the evening. At this point, my mind was made up. I let Ram, the cook, know that I wouldn’t be at dinner.
Another intern decided to join in on the brief hiatus from the typical Indian dinner. We began to add items to our online cart at 6PM. This is where everything started to go awry. After having filled out the delivery and contact info, I clicked on “cash on delivery” as a payment option. I did this several times after each attempt resulted in a frozen page. (You should know that for some awful reason, our credit cards aren’t accepted anywhere online here, so it wasn’t an option.) Eventually, my friend got it to load and we had received an email confirmation! We would pay with cash and our pizza would be here in 30 minutes! I was so excited (you already know this doesn’t end well). After about an hour of waiting, we called the Pizza Hut store. Despite receiving an order number and email confirmation, they had no record or recollection of our order. They ended up hanging up on us, perhaps foreshadowing further difficulties. It was 7PM at this point and I was in no mood to deal with that incompetence. The “hangry” emotions were setting in (for my less hip readers, “hangry” is the term for when someone becomes quite irritable because they haven’t eaten in a while).
For the next hour and a half, the two of us attempted to order from Dominos, a seemingly more courteous company. Our attempts at card payments, cash payments, and phone calls were in vain. By 8:30PM, we had settled for two leftover “bread omelettes” (AKA egg sandwiches) that had been in the fridge for at least a week (tasted fine 😂). I ate one of the three granola bars I had remaining and called it a night.
Nevertheless, I persisted. Just as Winston Churchill would say, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” 😄 The next day, I began to fantasize again about the possibility of having ooey, gooey, cheesy pizza, despite the demoralizing failure of the previous day. I bypassed Pizza Hut’s website because I didn’t trust that they would deliver food even if the order placement was successful. 🙄 Thereafter, my first attempt to order Dominos online that day went like this: cart was full with garlic bread, pepperoni pizza, and dessert. The problem of the previous day was that neither of our American phones could receive an authorization code from Dominos to confirm the option of cash on delivery. Therefore, I asked one of the cordial interns that has an Indian phone if I could enter their phone number to have the code sent to their phone (I do use a borrowed phone with an Indian number while I’m here, but as with just about everything else in this story, it didn’t work for pizza). This way, I’d finally be able to pay with cash. After 10 minutes of waiting to receive the text, we gave up on this method.
Next, I called the restaurant by phone. You would think this would be fairly easy. You would be wrong. After at least five minutes of trying to decipher words through each other’s distinctive accents, the Dominos employee hung up on me. A fellow intern came to the rescue and called right back on my behalf, offering some sparring words in Hindi for their lack of effort in taking my order. She went on to calmly and helpfully order everything I had in my online cart. I was extremely grateful.
The pizza arrived as scheduled and I paid with cash. The spread of immaculate food was a beautiful sight for my hungry eyes to behold. A moment later, I received a text from the intern friend that let me use her phone for the attempt at online ordering. Can you guess what it was? Dominos had finally sent the authorization code needed for online ordering…More than an hour after entering the phone number. I couldn’t help but laugh and smile throughout my FAAANTASTIC meal. 😁
As a wise and caring friend reminded me, always remember to breathe and feel blessed.
I hope it doesn’t need mentioning because I think it’s fairly obvious, but despite the moments of melancholy throughout this post, know that I am entirely grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and all that it encompasses. I love my project and I continue to learn new things every day. By no means am I a victim, rather a total beneficiary of the World Food Prize and its remarkable program. It gives students with little experience being abroad, if any, and plops ’em right down to truly be engulfed in all that the world has to offer. That’s part of the reason why it’s so special. It’s a scary way to learn, but it works in remarkable ways.
Dr. Norman Borlaug knew exactly what he was doing when he established the many youth programs of the World Food Prize. His five principles, as mentioned once by M.S. Swaminathan, denote, what I believe to be, the only five things Borlaug-Ruan interns, like myself, need to remember: “Give your best; believe you can succeed; face adversity squarely; be confident you will find the answer when problems arise; then go out and win some bouts.” His wisdom, tenacity, and spirit inspire so many young (and old) people around the world and I couldn’t feel more blessed to represent his legacy.
This post was a convoluted mess (just like me), but I’m proud of it. 😅 Thanks for reading. I plan on writing four or five more blog posts with the time I have left. Stay tuned. Peace and blessings.