By Ryan Hodgson
It’s the last day of school before March Break. Everyone is excited for school to end. As the final bell rings at 2:40, I pack up my things and head home. This year my family decided we would be going on a vacation. Not the typical type of vacation full of sunshine, beaches and modern upscale cities and resorts that all of my friends were going but a different type of vacation full of adventure and diversity. This year my family would be spending 10 days in India.
Now you’re probably wondering, why India? Why would anyone want to visit India? There are many questions and concerns about India, because it is a country in a different part of the world, it borders Pakistan, and is very close to the middle east. So many people are scared of visiting such a foreign and different place, but my family wasn’t. My dad had told us a lot about India and said it was a truly special country with diversity and culture. When my dad was 19, he took a gap year to travel the globe. He went from his home in Montreal and traveled across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, but back then, the world was different. It was the mid-1950s and back then, he told us, he had hitchhiked across the globe getting places by walking, taking trains, taking boats, and even getting rides from strangers which, in our modern world, is less accepted and risky. My dad is one of my favorite people in the world. His sense of adventure and lifestyle are very different. He doesn’t mind getting dirty, hurt, or even lost, and he will strongly criticize anyone who gets a little “squeamish.” He is one of my role models, and he pushes me to explore the world and never to underestimate anything. His attitude towards the simplest things and his old-fashioned sense of lifestyle sometimes make me laugh, but all around, he is someone I always look up to and he has taught me some very important lessons that I will never forget. So my whole family trusted him when he said India was going to be great.
As we left our house with our small carry-on bags for a 10-day vacation in India, we were all excited and nervous for the adventure that awaited. The plane ride felt like an eternity. The endless hum of the airplane engines, the snoring of the large, middle-aged Filipino lady next to me, and the gentle cool breeze from the air-conditioner began to bore into my mind as I sat there trying to sleep. My mom had insisted we all get some good rest and not stay up all night watching movies, but temptation gave in, and finally, I pulled out my earbuds, turned on the TV attached to the seat in front of me, and disappeared into the endless void of movies. I must have watched at least 5 movies and TV shows on that single plane ride alone, but even then, I began to get bored. My butt started to cramp, and all I wanted in the world was for the plane to land and for the torture to finally be over.
After fourteen hours of movies, sleep and boredom we finally arrived in New Delhi, India. I stepped off the airplane with my family and exited down the dark cold tunnel into the airport. Once we cleared customs, my brother, sister and I nervously followed my mom and dad outside into the cool, humid Indian night. It smelled. The air had a sickly sweet tropical smell to it, mixed with a light hint of dirty gym socks and garbage. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was a little unsettling and the air seemed thick. All of us were a little frightened, and we felt a little out of place. Outside the main automatic sliding doors of the airport, there was a crowded line of Indian people with signs waiting to pick people up. My mom searched for our name and spotted a strange Indian man holding a sign with my dad’s name. The man holding the sign was wearing flip-flops, an untucked grey striped dress shirt, and baggy pants. I don’t think he spoke English very well, because he kept saying “yes” when my mom asked him stuff, and he kept on insisting we follow him.
Reluctantly, we followed the man across the street into a parking garage. Along the way, we passed by a stray dog that my mom told me to stay away from in case It tried to bite us. I was a little scared. The world was alive with lights and unfamiliar sounds of traffic that never faded. Once we had loaded everything into the taxi and we were all inside, we headed out. As our car rolled down the crowded streets and onto the highway, I gazed out the window at this new and unfamiliar place. I saw many things: cows, goats, people, houses, stores and most of all lots of dirty small cars and cheap motorcycles. The roads were hectic. There weren’t any lanes, everyone was zooming around weaving in and out of each other, and everyone was honking as loudly as they could. “Beep, beep, beep” was all I could hear.
As we entered the city, I started to see things that frightened me. Along the side of the road, there were groups of tents that looked like homeless shelters made up of mud, dirt, sticks, and garbage. I stared out the window drinking in this new and unfamiliar world and the scenery of these poor families living in mud huts on the side of the road. It was unsettling to look at. After 30 minutes, we finally arrived at the place we were staying. It was a “homestay,” my mom told us. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I knew we wouldn’t be staying in a normal hotel. The taxi driver parked the van and car, and we all got out and we were greeted by another strange man who looked similar to our taxi driver. The two men spoke quickly in a strange language. We didn’t know what they were saying, but finally, they stopped, and the new man helped us unload the car, and my mom paid the driver. Once we had all our luggage, the man led us through a metal grated door and up a small staircase that resembled a fire escape. After four flights of stairs, we arrived at a large door. The man opened the door and led us inside. We stepped inside and followed him into the house and up a grand wooden staircase in the middle of the main room which led onto the roof where there were a small patio and another door leading into our large room with 2 double beds and a single mattress on the floor. The man left, and my mom instructed us to unpack and get to bed as it was 1:00 am New Delhi time. I was exhausted and amazed at what I had seen and shocked by this new world.
The rest of the trip was truly eventful. I continued to see things that I had never seen before or even thought about. India was a country of poverty, and to Indian people, we were like royalty. The beggars came and followed us a lot, they pleaded for us to help them and to buy their small and useless objects. This new place changed my perspective on the world. I saw some unsettling things. In a crowded, busy market, I saw a homeless man lying on the ground missing both legs, unable to move, begging for food, and no one even stopped to take a second to look at him. We were wealthy, and they all looked to us. This was true poverty. I had seen the pictures, I had heard about these things in geography class and in the news, but it didn’t prepare me for what I saw and experienced in this world and the lives that these people lived. I began to reflect on how lucky we are to be born into a such a great society with a government and community that helps us so much. Although I’ve painted a scary and unsettling world, these aren’t the only things I saw. There definitely is change happening and there is more than one story of India. There is hope for Indian people. India is a beautiful country and there are many kind people who helped us along our vacation. Now that I reflect back upon this trip, I am truly glad that my dad and my family took this risk and experienced this country. This trip allowed me to see a different part of the world, and although it wasn’t perfect and things were a little dirty and smelly at times, it was a true adventure that I will always remember.