We stepped out of the plane at the Cochin airport and felt the first waves of hot humid air pass over us as we made our way down to the landing strip – we were in India. I couldn’t believe how heavy the air was – so thick with heat – and at so early in the morning. I looked around to the surrounding trees of palm, coconut, and banana, and to all else foreign and new. I had never been so far east before. For so long I had met people from all over the world who had been to India and experienced either its majesty, or demise. I was about to experience it all for myself.
We took a two hour bus ride through smog filled and congested streets, with wave after wave of new smells rolling in through the door with each entering passenger. Looking out through the window I saw sea after sea of people on add-lined and littered city streets, intermittent with cow filled countrysides, women in colourful saris sitting by the road side selling coconuts, and men with small metal stalls stocked full of cookies, chips, and deep fried savoury pastries. When we finally arrived in Fort Kochi, we took a torturous rickshaw ride to a homestay, where I then found myself completely overwhelmed and in tears on the toilet in the bathroom – where was I? The smells from the Tibetan kitchen saturated our room, there were stains all over our thin starchy bed sheets, outside of our window glowed the fluorescent lights sitting above the restaurants red plastic tables and chairs, and there was some sort of long hose with a miniature shower head coming out of the wall near the toilet that I was suppose to clean myself with …
*Sniffles and muted cries seeping out through the bathroom door* …
Soon I hear a knock and Asaf enters to pull me out of my exhaustion and the first real culture shock I had experienced thus far on my journey. He helped me to shower and I lay down to take a must needed rest. During our two Emirates flights from Cape Town to Kochi, I was so excited and pleasured with all the amenities and vegan food we were offered, I couldn’t bare to close my eyes once during the sixteen hour overnight journey. I watched movie after movie, listened to old jazz and blues albums, and graciously accepted both our meals as Asaf lay snoring beside me. Thus, when we arrived in India, my fatigue slowly seeped in to consume my consciousness – all I wanted was comfort and familiarity.
‘Well Maria, welcome to India,’ I thought as I lay there in this strangely decorated room, still laced with remnants from its past guests – empty water bottles, hair elastics, dust bunnies, and used dental floss in all of the corners. I took a deep breath in and out and finally closed my eyes. I desperately needed to sleep. I lay on my back with my hand over my stomach, safely and cleanly comforted with our own travelling bedding and blankets … thunk … I felt something push against my hand from inside of me and right under my belly button … thunk … thunk … There is was again!
I took me a long moment to figure out what was happening. I kept my eyes closed and my hand stayed in place as I waited for more movements … thunk … thunk … thunk … I couldn’t believe it! It wasn’t something I was waiting for, or expecting in a moment anything like this one, so I was caught completely off guard. I was still entirely smothered in exhaustion, so I lay there for a long while trying to enter the space to fully experience what was going on. With eyes still closed I turned my head to the right and whispered to Asaf who lay there half sleeping beside me.
‘I can feel our baby moving’ …
And so began our journey in India. A full on smack in the face to wake up and be alert to the life that was all around us – or in us. Whether that life be beautiful or decaying, thriving or suffering, blooming or wilting this was where we were. We could not hide or shelter ourselves from what we were experiencing. In just a few hours we had been pushed from comfort to extreme roughness, order to a disordered madness, and had been challenged culturally, lexically, and physically all to settle down exactly as we were, to that moment, to be given that gift – a small but deeper physical connection to this growing seedling.
We spent our entire month exploring the regions of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. My culture shock transmuted itself to an openness to experience whatever customs and lifestyles the country presented to us. In the end, there was much to love and much I could have lived without. I found it extremely difficult to be stared at and disliked the lack of privacy and unease it placed me in. It was hard to watch people disrespect their environment and throw their rubbish everywhere – even the most beautiful of places were covered with garbage. There was a showcase of the feelings of superiority exhibited by the men towards the women, which angered me. The animals we saw were treated poorly and disrespected. And the cuisine, although many dishes were delicious, lacked the nutrition and freshness I felt I needed while being pregnant.
What I loved – that was was a strong sense of culture and history present everywhere for the eye to behold. Occasionally we met a rare soul who was so deeply spiritual and present in their own bodies they gave you the gift of feeling more aglow with the joyfulness of life – happiness easily spreading from person to person. It was fun to see wild monkeys and their babies clinging to their mama’s underbellies as they swung in the trees and called out to each other! We visited some absolutely stunning places in the mountains and valleys that brought us peace and complete serenity. We got to eat a lot of our meals on banana leaves, with each all you can eat Thali accompanied by the most delicious garlic naan. And I enjoyed seeing all of the beautiful Indian woman walk with such gracefulness, delicately dressed, with half smiles and brimming with self confidence.
To explore our surroundings we gave public transportation a try and used the train, bus and taxi services twice. In the end we opted for comfort, independence, and flexibility by renting a motorcycle for our last two weeks. It was amazing to sit on the back seat, with our bags and my guitar strapped all around me, passing in and out of the small towns and cities, and then on through the back roads of the countryside just watching the people and scenery change. It gave us the time to think and relax. We learned that the locals in the villages treated us differently than the people we met in the cities. To these villagers we were a break from their normal routines and daily lifestyles. We received great kindness, many smiles, nods, and waves of acceptance, interest, and respect. It was such a great experience and one I will remember always.
I would like to explore more of India, as each region is completely different from the other with their own languages and dialects, customs, lifestyles, religions, daily practices, landscapes, and tastes. With such a vast and diverse terrain ranging from the mountains of the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean coastline, I cannot help but to be curious about the other regions I didn’t get to see. Still, even with slight aversion, I am drawn to go back to this land and explore more of what drew me there in the first place – spirituality, yoga, mediation, Buddhism, and the interplay of the surrounding cultures. India did touch my heart in a special way, and the culture shock I did experience just goes to show how unique of a place this country is.
I think it is one of those places that you have to experience for yourself to be able to name it in your own words. It is land full of so many things that it can be described in many ways. It is hard to give our experience there an overall feeling, or to mark it with any sort of reverence. What I remember most from being there are the faces and gestures of the local people we met – in India you cannot avoid interactions with it’s people. I also remember the brief encounters I had that reminded of the magic of this world. Like waking up just before the sunrise, walking outside of our cottage to stand in the surrounding mountain side jungle, and staring a wild Bisson right in the face – the steam from it’s nose rolling down and away from his drooping cheeks – and then seeing it turn and trot up and out of the valley, up the mountain and away into vastness.
It is the country I felt my child move inside of me for the first time, and that in its own will always make this land special to me. It was as if he was waking me up and saying ‘I am here! Let us go explore together…’ We truly had a big adventure here that I look back on with an accepting smile.