Phase 1: Aaah I’m here!— World appears in technicolor, overwhelming sense of enthusiasm unobstructed by reality.
- Takes pictures of everyday scenes and objects: traffic, cows and goats, coconut trees, rickshaws, streets. Picture 21st century Dorothy exiting Kansas for Munchkinland, iPhone in hand.
- Adrenaline-induced lack of jetlag because WHY sleep when there’s SO much to see?!
- Forgets all warning and eats anything and everything, irrespective of one’s ability to identify or pronounce it, with an abandon typically reserved for children left unattended with bags of Halloween candy after trick-or-treating.
Phase 2: What the hell am I doing here? – Symptoms include delayed jetlag, food poisoning, getting caught in monsoon, and the profound realization that a full-time job is, in fact, full time.
- Everything eaten during Phase 1 exits body quickly and violently. Enter: weeklong diet of apples scrubbed hyper-clean with Aquafina mineral water, peanut butter, and Greek yogurt, eaten with a level of caution comparable that of a helicopter parent bubble-wrapping his child before her first day of middle school.
- Goes outside during monsoon without an umbrella. Receives free shower.
- Exits first day of work by promptly embracing the asphalt like a long-lost lover, walking away complete with ripped pants and a bloody knee. Looks back to see if coworkers noticed for fear of appearing unprofessional. (Coworkers did not see, but yes, those children are laughing at you.)
- Wears new kurta to work inside out. Coworkers giggle and communicate through the language barrier, that yes, in fact, you are an idiot.
Phase 3: I’m here, I can laugh at myself, and I can do this.
- Diet re-expands to adventure… with a side of apples, peanut butter, and Greek yogurt. (Old habits die hard… I am who I am!)
- Purchases umbrella and trusts NO ONE when it comes to the rain. The fact that it looks sunny right now means nothing.
- Realizes that, after the work-day is over, this experience is kind of a 2-month long date with self. Treats self to dinner and a sold-out, opening night Bollywood movie, yoga, runs around Joggers Park, and a long walk along Marine Drive.
During my first two and a half weeks here, just about every aspect of my life has gone through these phases in one way or another. I’m climbing a huge learning curve. Quite frankly, I literally know nothing here. But, I kind of love that. I love that everything is new and different, but also that I don’t feel like a blank canvas. I feel very much like myself, but with a different, surreal level of awareness.
It’s impossible to take a good, hard look at yourself while surrounded by the little constants of home that go unnoticed every day. Here, all of that is blurred. I’m more aware of my little quirks and the habits from home that I can’t let go of, as well as the nonessentials that I don’t miss at all. I’m more aware of how I react to things I’ve never considered or experienced before—and the values behind those reactions. I’m surrounded by people full of so much love, kindness, and dedication, and I feel so welcomed into both my NGO and to Mumbai, in general. I’m growing and learning and adjusting, and I’m loving it.