There is dust everywhere. It is very, VERY dry here. We are staying this week on a very artificial paradise where actual grass and plants grow. Outside the resort, while there are trees, there is very little else in vegetation. Meanwhile, in southern India, the big fear is the constant flooding, and now, as everyone rushes around trying to clean things up and put things back together, the fear is of water-borne illness coming in.
Many of the trees, here are painted with a large band of white and a large band of rust-colored red. When I asked our tuktuk driver why this was "Vriksh sufeyd aur laal- why?" ("Trees white and red- why?"), he gestured towards the sky and explained in Hindi a parallel with "monkeys, cows, elephant". "Oh!" I said. "Sacred! The trees are sacred? Holy?" He nodded. Though later, we were told by someone that the trees are painted to act as guide markers in the dark- to reflect light back. That also makes sense because pretty much EVERY tree along the roadside is painted.
Communication is fun here. I speak very little, poor Hindi; but many people here likewise speak very little, poor English. Between blending Hindi and English (which is done constantly anyway, even when native Indians are speaking amongst themselves), gestures and emphasis, we are able to communicate pretty well. iPhone apps help, and when all else fails, the India person will grab a friend or co-worker of their who speaks a little better English.
There are a lot of stores around selling building materials- doors, windows, plywood, tile, wood flooring. I'm not sure why, but if I had to guess, it is that Anand is becoming wealthier in part due to the surrogacy trade with foreigners, and so as things improve, people can actually afford to HAVE a floor, or a door, or windows which, truth be told, most houses don't have. As such, those that DO have floors often have signs asking people to remove their shoes outside the establishment. I guess they don't want to mess up their floors, even though the floors are stone in many cases. Either that, or they just don't want all the dust and dirt coming in.
Pollution- there is a lot of it. This was sent home one day as we were in a little traffic jam waiting for a train to pass on the railroad. Diesel fumes and dust everywhere! Dan and I have decided to start bringing our masks with us. Many times, although it is day and the sky is bright, you can't see the blue- just white, below a layer of hazy smog. And the pollution in Anand is not even a blip on the radar. The big concern in the news is Delhi which is 100 times worse. People cannot breathe there and are getting sick, likely the children especially.
The mosquitoes are plentiful but haven't been too bad at the resort, no doubt due to the pesticides they spray here on the plants, and the incense spirals they burn outside every cottage door here each night. The fact that it is so dry also helps to curb the mosquitoes. Nonetheless, Dan and I bring mosquito repellent anywhere we go so as to prevent disease.
English is VERY important here. Every parent wishes for their child to learn English because so much opportunity will then open up to them. As foreigners, we are marveled at. It's like being a celebrity- people either stare or beam in open-mouthed grins at us. As a helpful woman offered us some directions in English, a little boy ran up to us to see if he, too, could help in any way. Then he ran back to his papa, grinning up at him and looking at us as if to say "Did you see how close to them I got?" His father put his hands on his sons shoulders as they both stood their smiling at us.
I remarked to Dan "Why doesn't any place here sell sun block?" He remarked "Look around, Briana, we're the only ones who would need it!" I was also wondering why the shoes for sale (so pretty from a distance) are so cheap and made of plastic when you look close. It's not just affordability, it finally occurred to me, its that for suddenly obvious reasons there is little to no leather because cows are so sacred!
There are stray dogs EVERYWHERE. Occasional herds of water buffalo roam the streets or are kept chained up, I guess, if they belong to someone. Cows are everywhere, of course, and such beautiful, majestic creatures. Cows are sacred because they provide beneficial substances to man (and that doesn't include beef): urine for disinfectant and spermicide(and drinking one glass every morning is said to cleanse the body of impurities according to Wikipedia!), dung for fertilizer and fuel, milk and curds. Hindus don't worship cows, but they are sacred and to be respected. They also embody gentleness which is which is a core teaching of Hinduism (ahimsa, or non-injury).
Our tuktuk driver makes roughly $100 a month (though obviously that goes a lot further in India than it ever could in America). He is VERY happy to have us as customers and will happily wait for us to do whatever business we are doing so that no one else can snag us. We are paying him very well at $2-4 for each round trip he gives us. I hope that he will be able to provide some extra holiday cheer for his 7 year-old son this Christmas.
Christmas is celebrated here, though it's really more Yule. No relation to Christianity, really, though most Hindus do regard Christ as a saint or holy man, much like most Christians would acknowledge Buddha is holy, even if they are not Buddhists and do not pray to Buddha. Not entirely sure HOW Christmas is celebrated since there are no fir trees or jolly fat men in red snow-clothes around, but I imagine at least gifts are exchanged.
I worried that I was being taken advantage of by Jani, our tuktuk driver, when he said that 2800Rs was a good price for tailoring and I had been told that 300-500Rs is the going rate. But I learned that I just have expensive taste! The saris I bought were silk and lace, and so the tailor wants to make a blouse with a lining and a lot of fine detail. I learned that this can cost 1000Rs to 1500Rs for that level of quality.
There is poverty everywhere, but I don't see the misery I expected to see it. People oddly appear pretty much at ease with their lot in life. Upon reflection, this pairs with what I have heard about poor Indians (usually men), being "lazy." In India, usually no amount of hard work, education and striving will change the caste you were born to. And though the caste system is "illegal", the honor of coming from different castes has a daily impact everywhere. It's not that easy to cancel out thousands of years of tradition in a century or two. So those in a lower caste must wonder "why bother?" As long as they have food and can physically live, why bother striving or working hard? It may net you a slight amount of money, but nothing to actually change your station in life. So apparently many of the men cope by drinking, and those who suffer are often the wives. Though the men may not work, the women don't get that luxury. They are still expected to cook, care for the children, and manage the household, even if the "household" is nothing more than a tent or a single room made of clay. With the acception (perhaps its more resignation) that one's station in life cannot be changed, the impression one gets as a foreigner is of a lot of people just "hanging out". People have many friends and tight families, in part, I am guessing, because they have so much time to cultivate such things, which is something that Americans are sometimes sorely in need of!