Elizabeth in India

Elizabeth is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering in the Lyle School of Engineering. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship for summer 2013 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. Elizabeth will be working in Bangalore, India, with the Leave UR Mark organization on a water conservation and literacy design project.

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Challenges, but an incredible journey

This last week in India has proved to be by far the hardest week I can remember having in a long time, if not ever. This can probably be attributed to a few things.

For starters, all of the Leave UR Mark interns traveled to Ooty, Tamil Nadu, for my last weekend trip. It is an absolutely gorgeous area in the mountains with tea plantations and the highest peak in southern India. However, on Sunday, despite choosing a restaurant that appeared nice, everyone came down with food poisoning. On the 6-hour bus ride back to Bangalore, I was the first to fall, shortly followed by 7 other interns. One girl had it worse than the rest of us, and we had to take her to the hospital. Side note: this will not be the last time I am in the hospital this week.

Due to my sickness, I had to miss work on Monday, which was disappointing because it was my second to last day. I will definitely miss my job. It was incredibly sad to say goodbye to everyone in the office, especially because I was saying bye to the entire family. I may not have gotten any firsthand engineering experience, but working abroad allowed me to immerse myself in a problem, and it was very eye-opening.

Obviously I could not expect to travel to India and solve the water crisis, but I still feel like I made a difference, no matter how small. I know that by helping Water Literacy Foundation publish a book in English, it will be able to reach more and more people. Volunteering my time to an organization that has a real chance of making an impact, and in many ways already has, is satisfactory in and of itself.

Tuesday evening began my journey to north India. The plan was to take a 35-hour train ride to Delhi, arrive and explore Delhi on Thursday, catch a bus to Agra on Thursday night, spend the night in Agra, see the Taj Mahal on Friday, catch a bus back to Delhi on Friday night, stay the night in Delhi and then fly back to Bangalore before leaving the next day for Texas. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, first of all, I would like to start by saying that the 35-hour train ride was the most enjoyable part of my journey, if that is any indication as to what is to follow. I stepped off the train at 8 am Thursday into a wall of HEAT. Oh my goodness, it was hot. I was just so incredibly unprepared for the heat, despite the warnings I got from just about everyone. I was definitely under the impression that if I can handle Texas heat, it wouldn’t be that bad. Wrong!

The first thing we did in Delhi was go to the Red Fort, which was actually very cool (although not as cool as the Red Fort in Agra). After spending an hour there we were ready to move on. We all thought it would be a good idea to go to the local bazaar. Mistake number one. So we took a rickshaw to the Sadar Bazaar, not an auto-rickshaw… a guy on a bicycle. Mistake number two. I cannot explain just how many people, cows, rickshaws or trash there was.

Side story: during my time in Bangalore, the other interns and I saw a really terrible movie called Pacific Rim about robot monsters invading earth. These robots were classified like hurricanes – category 1, etc. So the running joke among the interns was when anyone was being sassy or unpleasant, they were referred to as category 5. Needless to say, I hit category 5 in the bazaar. What happened next I am not proud of. All of us got an auto-rickshaw to the nearest mall and spent two hours in McDonald’s. Judge me! I have never been so happy to see a McDonald’s, and I hate fast food. It was such an American thing to do, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

The day got better after that. We went to Asoka’s pillar and a mosque, and it was there I met some of the nicest people I have encountered in India. It was very enjoyable, and there was a lovely grassy area that allowed us to just chill until we had to catch our bus to Agra. Once we arrived in Agra, we took a rickshaw to our hotel. Hotel Sai Palace. When we were taken to a very sketchy part of town, I thought the driver didn’t know where he was going. I very vividly remember turning to my friend saying, “If this is where we are getting dropped off, I am not getting out of the rickshaw.” Sure enough that’s where our hotel was; sorry, Mom and Dad. But a bed is a bed and a shower is a shower. Plus the hotel had a rooftop view of the Taj Mahal.

Finding posters of the Taj

Finding posters of the Taj

Which, funny story about the Taj Mahal… it is closed on Fridays. I traveled halfway across the world and halfway across India, and the one day I can possibly see the Taj it was closed. I was just absolutely heartbroken. It just goes to show you, you really must expect ANYTHING to happen in India. Although this one was definitely our fault. It could have been easily prevented with just a little research, but honestly no one thought that one of the Seven Wonders of the World would ever close, not to mention on the weekend. We were determined to not let this get us down, though!

I am just so grateful that I was traveling with such amazing people, if it weren’t for them the trip would have been beyond recovery, but we all still managed to have a good time. We chipped in for a taxi that drove us to all of the other historical sites in Agra, and we still got a pretty decent picture with the Taj Mahal’s backside, and every poster of the Taj we saw hanging up as well :)

From here on out, all of my other travels are a part of my journey home. Unfortunately, it involved a headache that became a full-blown migraine during my flight home, resulting in my airline calling me in as a medical emergency, a trip to the hospital and a missed flight to Dallas. However, my parents managed to get me on a plane the following day and they booked me a five-star hotel for the night, where I had a nice, juicy hamburger. It was the first meal I had eaten in over a day. It was so glorious! My headache still persisted, but Tylenol and coffee do magical things. At the end of the day, getting sick was worth my time in India.

So that was my difficult week. I haven’t decided if it was particularly hard because of the actual events, or if it is because my body just started to crave home. I think it might be a bit of both.

I truly did experience all of India. I saw the beautiful side with all of its culture and landscape, but I also saw the poverty. The conditions some of the people live in are heartbreaking. The faces of some of the people are so hardened from the daily struggles they face. I witnessed a mother with her baby run to see if the bus station had running water. When she discovered it did, she washed herself and her child and then took some for drinking. The homeless sleep wherever they can lay down, no matter the conditions.

At the same time, there is an incredibly rich side of India as well. The rich are very rich, and the poor have almost nothing; there is no middle class. What middle class there is I think all reside in Bangalore, but definitely not Delhi. Not the Delhi I experienced. Two months abroad has been life changing, but it is a long time to be away from home, and right now I just really want a large pizza from Dominos.

My flight home (which is when I am typing all of this) has been so enjoyable. Never before have I been on a flight where both the people I sit next to are interesting to talk to.  I could not have asked for a better end to my journey.

And with that, my story comes to an end. My time in India may be over, but the adventure never ends. As long as I am living and able, I always hope to serve others in whatever capacity I can.

PS: the airline lost my baggage.

Pony up at the (closed) Taj Mahal

Pony up at the (closed) Taj Mahal

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