So the participants have arrived! We are here in the Hyderabad center after our long journeys and the house is full with people, but also with light, laughter, and eagerness to experiences India together. We are almost through our first week of orientation and are already learning and having so many adventures; whether its navigating the chaos on the streets, constant bargaining, drinking out of coconuts or devouring incredible (and spicy!) indian food.
When we arrived in Hyderabad and were greeted by Alex, one of our coordinators, who protected us from the vicious taxi drivers who wanted to stuff us all into a van that was far too small. While in the taxi, we had our first encounter with our new home. It started with an unusually calm and beautiful drive coming out of the Hyderabad airport, lined with palm trees and full of greens, and then suddenly we entered the city and instantly realized we were in a different world. Once in Hyderabad proper we we drove among the worlds most chaotic streets filled with cars, bikes, rickshaws, and trucks that constantly honked and drove as if lanes, mirrors or traffic laws didn’t exist. Meanwhile, people were casually crossing the road, seemingly without even looking or being phased by the war zone that is Hyderabad’s streets.
Once we made it to our house, we were met by Manjula, our Indian Volunteer Director, who welcomed us in an Indian fashion. As we walked through the door, before even taking off our backpacks, one by one she gave us our first tikka, from red powder, and Bagima, our beloved cook, hung a string of flowers around our neck. It all smelled so good and the room was full of excitement as we discovered our new beautiful home and met our Indian staff. Afterwards we all sat down for our first cup of chai, it was delicious! Since then I’ve challenged myself daily to make my own chai for everyone. Later on, Bagima let us experience what its like to make Indian food, we sat on the floor with her and chopped vegetables. It was really enjoyable bonding experience.
Since then we’ve started our 10 day orientation which covers and introduces India, international development and social justice, as well as Jewish topics, teaching methods and a visit to our future service site. We also had our first Shabbat together, which was a very positive and spiritual experience. So far we have had sessions about what to do and what not to do in India, as well as visited a temple and had a lesson about Hinduism from Manjula. We also, learned about the Parashat Shavua from our Director, Ofer, where we discussed the story of Jacob’s ladder. Today we had an introduction to international development lesson with Alex and visited shilparanam, Hyderabad’s arts village. So far we have began to acquire the knowledge and tools that will help us to understand the people and the culture we will encounter in the coming three months in Hyderabad.
All in all, between the never ending colors, strong smells, loud noises and music bellowing from the temples and all the new tastes, experiences and feelings, India truly overwhelms the senses. We have learned after barely a week to be open to everything, and we cannot wait to see what else India has in store for us.
To introduce some of the participants, I thought to provide some insight into their heads by sharing our answers to the following questions:
- What brought you to Project TEN-B’Tzedek: India?
- What was your first, “WOW I’m in India” moment?
- What do you think of India so far in one sentence?
Sharon: “I wanted to take a more meaningful trip after the army and generally I believe in tikkun olam, and wanted to help and dedicate myself for a good cause”
Esther: “I was looking for a volunteering trip to enrich my cultural knowledge and do some good to society at the same time. A Jewish, Israeli program felt like the best option.”
Romy: “I wanted to do more than just traveling, something that will help someone else and to be more connected to my Jewish roots and to experience the local culture and people.”
Ilana: “.. I wanted to learn about the interesting culture of the Indians.”
Esther: “My first wow moment was when we landed in Mumbai the bus took us inside the airport so close to a slum neighborhood and then we entered the fancy terminal with western shops, the contrast was so strong”
Gal: “My first WOW was seeing how many Indian people were at the airport and we were only a few and everyone was staring us. As white people in India we were like aliens, for our first time!”
Sandra: “The first morning, when I saw the view from the Center balcony, colorful and noisy, with indian music playing from the temple, like in a movie.”
Nimi: “India is the most complex, simple country I have yet to see.”
Esther: “The people of India are so different from one another, with different looks clothes, customs.”
Ilana: “A place where nothing is predictable and has no order and yet very unique and special.”