Namaste and greetings from New Delhi! It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve already been here for almost two weeks when just a month ago it seemed like I would have to make alternative plans for my internship. After multiple phone calls, several exasperated emails, anda fruitless trip to the Indian Consulate in New York City over the course of two months, I had almost lost all hope of ever getting my visa. Now that I’m finally here in India I’m happy to say that it was worth the wait.
Just about everyone who has visited India’s capital will tell you that Delhi is a hot, noisy, dusty city, and even as much as you hear this nothing can quite prepare you until you’ve arrived. Stepping out of the airport in late June, even at night the heat and humidity hits you immediately and hangs oppressively in the air. After catching my breath, I found myself staring in shock at the mass of cars jumbled around the arrival gates, most honking loudly at the other cars and no one moving an inch. Thankfully I was picked up at the airport by my IEDP classmate Aditi’s parents (whom I call Aunty and Uncle), otherwise I’m not sure if I would have been able to navigate hailing a taxi amidst all the pandemonium.
Aunty and Uncle have graciously hosted me since I landed, and there is a lot to be said for Indian hospitality – especially when it comes to food. You’ll never leave the table hungry in an Indian household. We have dinner together every evening and there’s always a variety of dishes paired with some kind of bread like roti or chapati. Even after finishing everything on my plate Aunty and Uncle will insist I take more, and it’s hard to resist when it’s all so fresh and delicious.
After dinner there will inevitably be fresh mangoes for dessert. There are hundreds of varieties of mangoes in India (please don’t ask me to name any), and June to July is prime mango season. It doesn’t matter if you’re stuffed from dinner, there is always room for mangoes.
This city is full of unique neighborhoods, each with their own quirks. Hopefully by the end of this summer I’ll be able to say that I’ve seen a good amount of them. Right now I’ve barely scratched the surface! As vast as Delhi is, it’s been relatively easy for me to find my way around with the metro. The metro system first opened in 2002 and its daily ridership averages somewhere between 2-3 million people per day. From where I’m staying in south Delhi it’s about a 40-minute ride to the Aga Khan Foundation’s office to the north. Uncle drops me off at the station closest to the house and picks me up in the evening, saving me from having to walk in the heat (I’m definitely a bit spoiled staying with Aunty and Uncle!).
The metro line is clean, efficient, and fully air conditioned, but I think the ‘women only’ cars are what stand out to me the most. One car at the end of each train is reserved for women only, which is great for solo females like myself getting to and from work every day. They are usually less packed than the rest of the train and there’s no risk of any unwanted attention – staring or potentially worse alternatives – from male passengers. On every train platform there’s a bright pink, floral sign indicating where to stand to get on the women only car. Coming home a bit late one night after a work function I jumped on a main train compartment by mistake and realized too late that I was the only woman in the car. Thankfully I found two aunties to stand by one car over, but the whole ride I felt on edge given how many men were staring at me – not an experience I’m looking to repeat.
I started my internship two days before AKF was set to host a roundtable event on early childhood education, so for my first few days in the office it was all hands-on deck. As hectic as it was, this gave me a great opportunity to work with all program staff as well as the education team. My classmate Cici also attended the event, giving us a chance for an IEDP reunion! Outside of work we have had the opportunity to explore several of Delhi’s main tourist sites together including the Lodhi Gardens and Humayun’s Tomb.
Since the roundtable finished, I’ve been able to settle more into my role and get an overview of what projects I’ll be working on this summer. One of my supervisors has been extremely helpful in giving me a crash course on the Indian education system and where AKF’s work fits into the large scheme of things. I have a lot to learn and there are moments when I struggle with information overload, but for now I’m taking it one day at a time. There’s always coffee or chai available in the office if you need a caffeine boost to get through some reports.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be working on a blended learning initiative for training teachers and organizations on growth monitoring practices, and developing a communicative English program. These projects will take me to other states in India such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, as well as the city of Hyderabad. I’m really looking forward to getting into the field to see AKF’s work in action. By my next post I should have gone on at least one field visit so stay tuned for that exciting update!