Hello my name is Anna Daria Ortmann from Germany. I have been living in India for six months now. During this time I experienced lots of great and interesting things which probably would not have happened in any other country.
Appreciating water! One of the most conspicuous differences between India and Germany (and any other country I
have known so far) is the dealings with water. My host family (and most of the other people in my village) doesn’t have direct access to water. We get our water from a well in our neighbor’s garden. Of course, it is much more complicated to get water this way as if it was coming directly through pipes. This results in the fact that Indians appreciate the water they have and use it much more economically. I also have a better view on my use of water since it is kept in a big ton which has to be filled regularly. Despite of this, water seems to have a higher value. Washing plates and hands is done by just putting cold water on it, mostly without the use of soap. In Germany people would never accept not to use enormous amounts of soap for their dishes and hands. I used to think that way too but here I have learnt that it is much easier not to be always that fastidious and that things get clean anyway.
It is well possible to get used to (almost) everything! During my first weeks in India I often felt overwhelmed and overstrained. I did not sleep well because of many loud noises at night such as fighting street dogs, mowing cows and crowing cocks. Moreover, I was afraid of crossing streets in cities because there are no traffic lights or signs and I did not fully understand the traffic rules (which I still don’t do). The signal-horns made me crazy and I could not understand why they are used instead of other traffic rules which would make much more sense in my opinion. Another thing I thought to be awful in India was the way how people dress. The colorful, often glittering and very conspicuous dresses of women and girls combined with dozens of bangles, necklaces, earrings and hairclips were far too kitschy and exaggerated in my view. It took a few months but now I sleep very well and I even like some of the noises that come from the forest near my house. I am able to cross streets confidently although the vehicles never stop for walkers and I am good at ignoring the signal-horns. I admire all the girls in school now when they proudly wear new dresses. I have bought many bangles, colorful dresses, earrings and necklaces and I am very happy to wear them. I even decided to take some of them to Germany and wear them there. The only thing I have not got used to (and probably never will) is the mass of rice I have to eat every day. I just don’t like to eat the same food over and over again.
Expecting the unexpected and staying relaxed! It has already happened many, many times that I arrived at school and was told that a function would start in a few minutes and lots of people were expected to come. Or that my host family tells me about a huge festival which they want to visit just a few minutes later. Or that foreign men suddenly enter the classroom where I am teaching and tell me about something I don’t understand since they only speak Kannada and then go out and come back with a cook top they want to show me. I think I will never know what they exactly wanted but this is a typical example for an unexpected situation in India. Moreover, once, a day that was declared an official holiday and marked in every calendar of Karnataka to be on a Thursday suddenly was shifted on Friday two days before. People in whole Karnataka were concerned but nobody really seemed to wonder why this had happened. So the best thing to do is to stay flexible and spontaneous and to always expect that all plans might be crossed from one second to another.
Being more flexible! It is very useful and makes life much easier if you don’t have problems to sit or even sleep on the ground and to sleep in almost every sitting position. I don’t need a chair or a bed anymore which makes things less complicated while travelling and makes it possible to stay in a small room with many people. Furthermore, it is very helpful to be able to sleep everywhere because now I can spend hours in busses, trains and railway stations doing this.
Staying happy in difficult situations! I have already faced many problems in India like sitting at night in the wrong train, travelling without a working sim-card, being bitten by bed boxes, being attacked by rats etc. Some of them can make one extremely angry but that doesn’t help so it is better to stay happy and try to laugh about it.
How it feels to be foreign! I have been living here for a long time, I wear Indian clothes, I spend most of my time with Indians, I eat Indian food every day, I have learnt a lot about the culture, people and country and I have even learnt how to read, write and little speak Kannada. Nevertheless, I feel foreign. People don’t let me forget that I am not an Indian and will always be different from them. They stare at me wherever I go, many want to take photos and some try to touch my hair and skin. This is really annoying but I think it kinds of help me to understand the point of view of foreigners in my country.
Being an analphabet! During my first months here I wasn’t able to read Kannada which was very frustrating. Now I know the letters of the script but I am still very slow at reading although it is getting better. This is very facilitative because I am not used to be an analphabet.
Drinking without touching the bottle or glass with my lips! This is the Indian way to drink and after some time of practicing I now know how to do it that way which is very helpful because one glass or bottle can be used by numerous people.
These are only a few of the things I have learnt in India but I think it is impossible to mention all. I am going to stay five more months and I am curious to know what I will learn next!