I stepped off the plane. Any prospect of “jet-lag” had been overridden by the sheer excitement of this moment. I was in India. The smells, the colors, the sounds—All of my senses were overly stimulated by the newness of this place. Thousands of miles away from Atlanta, I was proud of myself for actually doing this.
Several days before leaving for India, I posted a very excited and admittedly dramatic post about coming to India. The post said something along the lines of my journey to India being a life changing experience and I was so excited about this once in a lifetime opportunity. One of my friends, who just so happened to be from India, commented on the post saying something along the lines of “Calm down, it’s only India”. At first, I was a little embarrassed that I had made such a big deal out of this small feat, I mean, he was right, it was JUST India.
But then, I realized that I had every right to be proud and excited about this new journey. Just a couple weeks before, I had put in my letter of resignation from a very stable job to take this once in a lifetime journey. I stepped out because I wanted something different. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to see more and learn more. I wanted adventure.
After living on my own and supporting myself fully for 2 years and finishing graduate school, I applied to fellowships because I wanted a traveling experience that was more than sightseeing. I wanted to do something that had purpose and meaning. I also did not want to spend a lot of money traveling. My ideal next step would be something that would give me the opportunity to travel/live outside of the U.S., it would allow me to use my professional/creative skills, and it would be something that I would not have to fund on my own. After about a five month process of applying, interviewing, and planning this fellowship to work and serve in India was finally a reality.
I gathered my oversized luggage from baggage claim in the Delhi terminal and then headed to the airport lobby to meet up with the fellowship staff. We had been traveling for about 20 hours or so with about 15 hours of air time. We landed in Delhi around 7pm local time. My adrenaline was rushing as I snapped pictures of everything, attempting to capture these moments. I was traveling with about 20 other fellows from all over the U.S. This was truly an amazing group of young professionals. I found out pretty early that I was one of the older fellows. Many of them were fresh out of undergrad. Some were in their mid 20’s, and a very select few of the U.S. Fellows were late 20’s/early 30’s. One of the application criteria was that fellows would need to be under 35 years old. This was an impressive group. Everyone in the fellowship cohort had traveled the world and knew at least two languages—that is “all” except for me. I am the only fellow this year that only knows English and has never traveled outside the U.S.
We met with the fellowship staff after gathering all of our bags. We walked outside of the airport toward where our bus would pick me up. I inhaled this “new air”. Delhi was once the most polluted cities in the world, it now ranks number 11 based on a 2017 CBS news article. The pollution mostly comes from the burning of nearby rice paddies, burning municipal waste, and vehicle exhaust emissions. As we pushed through crowds, one of the first things that I noticed was that there just seemed to be a significantly larger amount of people around. This was pretty accurate considering the fact that although the physical size of the US is about three times larger than that of India, India’s populations is 4 times greater than India! I had been warned by a previous fellow that this would be one of the first things that would stand out to me.
The sounds of car horns peeping, dogs barking, traffic swooshing by, and people having conversations in Hindi filled the smog air. My body was tired but my mind was well wake. The air was thick and humid. We sloshed through the damp street pulling our bags over dirty, shallow puddles of water. Plastic bottles and paper speckled the hill next to where we stood waiting for our bus to pick us up. Groups of people were sitting along the side of where we stood. Several stray dogs approached the group once we got settled to beg for bits of food. I remember hearing horror stories about mosquitoes before leaving the US so I shuffled through my bag trying to locate some bug spray. I couldn’t find it so, I just put on my jacket to help protect myself from potentials mosquito bites.
As we waited, the fellows continued conversations that had started on the airplane. I learned that some of the fellows had recently spent time in India. Some were Indian Americans. It was surprising to me that there were actually three African American fellows in the group. I was prepared to be the token black girl so when I saw two other black fellows, this truly warmed my heart and made me so excited. It was also very surprising how well our group seemed to be getting along. We had flown 13.5 hours from New York City to Abu Dabi and the 3.5 hours from Abu Dhabi to Delhi so that is more than enough time to generally get to know people. This had been my first International flight and we flew Etihad Airways. Since the flight was not completely full, we were able to stretch out and I slept so well. I really enjoyed the airplane food for some reason. It seemed like every time I woke up from a nap, they were feeding me again which was probably my favorite part! Lol.
Finally the bus arrived. We loaded all of our bags onto the large tour bus and boarded. The air conditioner was on which was pleasant after standing in the thick, damp heat for about 15-20 minutes. We sat two to a seat and the fellowship director shared with us that we would be staying in a Japanese Business Hotel. She said that there were about 10 Indian fellows who were already at the hotel. We would have breakfast in the hotel and then meet for orientation at 9am the next morning. Honestly, I thought she was joking about meeting that early after such a long day of traveling but it turns out, that was definitely not a joke. This fellowship orientation would be filled with new sights and new experiences. This was only the beginning of a journey that I wanted to challenge me and change me. And I believed it would. After all, it’s only India.