I’ve come to the conclusion that field research […] is really quite complicated. So much of how you portray yourself, what you do or don’t do, etc., can affect the data and observations.
Is This My Life Right Now?
It is some godforsaken hour of the morning when we arrive at our hotel in Delhi. The taxi, annoyed that we’d pre-paid inside the airport, goes off the instant we evacuate his vehicle, leaving us to wonder if that mangy, emaciated stray dog is chewing on a real animal or a stuffed one as we make our way to the hotel’s glass door. There are people and dogs sleeping on the streets, and through the glass we can see the hotel employees sleeping on the couches in the lobby. Rachel knocks and wakes one of them, and he ambles unhappily to the door.
“I made a reservation here,” says Rachel. She hands him a card.
The man is tired and does not care. He is ready to turn around and lay back down on the couch. A group of men, standing just up the street, spots us standing there vulnerably, surrounded by our luggage, and swarms with offers of alternative “very nice” hotels “not far” from here. I pretend that I cannot speak English. Then I hear Rachel say, “excuse me–no–I have a reservation!” and I turn to see the door shut and watch that employee go back to bed, leaving us completely stranded on the street, in Delhi, at 2:30 a.m., with only the dog, its meal, and the group of hotel-men for company.
It is this moment when Julia, a girl in my group, thinks, “Is this my life right now?”
The question becomes representative of our summer in India. When the train to Amritsar pulls up to the station in Pathankot, so full of people that they are spilling out the doors–even standing between train cars–Julia says aloud, “Is this my life right now?” We are not eager for those overwhelming hours on an overflowing train, yet we board ten minutes later. We are fortunate; that same day, a train identical to ours crashes fatally elsewhere in north India.
A few days later, we decide to see how many people can fit in an auto rickshaw. It turns out that the large Amritsar rickshaws can fit all seven of us without any trouble–with the catch that three of us–Elizabeth, Bonnie, and I–have to ride in the back seat facing oncoming traffic. Bonnie and I, on the sides, are reasonably secure, but Elizabeth does not have the walls of the little car to prevent her from falling out during a quick stop, like the two occasions when our driver runs into other vehicles. I hold the latch of the tiny half-door with an iron grip and link my other arm through Elizabeth’s while someone else wraps a scarf around her waist in a makeshift seatbelt. Elizabeth is too tall to keep her head inside the little car, though, so she sticks it outside, grinning hugely at the motorcyclists as they drive by and stare at her in bewilderment. Once I hear her shout delightedly, “Is this my life right now?”
Until you’ve been here, you don’t know the half of it.
I remember skimming parts of my brother’s letters from Madrid, disinterested simply because I had no frame of reference for stories about living abroad. Last summer, I would have found Patrick French’s Tibet, Tibet boring, but now in the light of the Wanderlust I find it fascinating. My brother began his first email to me in India with the greeting, “Welcome to the world!” I guess that giving in to Robert Service’s “Wanderlust” and living its lows, in a train station in Pathankot, and its highs, on a rickshaw in Amritsar, is an initiation of sorts.
And sometimes, the experience is neither a high nor a low, but profound all the same. Some of these times are when “the Wanderlust has taught me . . . it has whispered to my heart / Things all you stay-at-homes will never know.”
I hear these whisperings myself one night in the city of Amritsar, when the time was nearing midnight.
I am wrapped–quite literally–in a royal blue sari edged in gold flowers and small blue beads. At the Harmandir Sahib, the glittering golden temple of those of the Sikh faith, visitors are required to cover their heads and remove their shoes. Periodically I rearrange myself–pull up my skirt, pull down my head cover, try to cover my midriff–as we take tiny steps past the glowing temple and toward the communal kitchen. Those Indian women make walking in a sari look so easy; “It’s like I’m wrapped in my bedsheets,” Rachel murmurs to me.
At long last we arrive and sit on one of the long straw mats on the floor. A glance around confirms that sitting cross-legged is the norm, but a futile attempt proves that “Indian style” is another motion not permitted by the sari.
We place our silver-colored plates, spoons, and bowls on the floor in front of us as the man carrying chapatti comes by and gives us each two. Next comes a boy with a bucket of daal. He ladles it expertly into one of the plate’s compartments. A second compartment receives a milky, sweet liquid, and the bowl is filled with water.
And as we sit there, dipping chapatti in daal and gazing around at row upon row of pilgrims and tourists alike, enjoying this free meal together regardless of caste or creed or nationality, I was blown away by the places life takes me. Was I really sitting on the floor in India, wearing a sari, in the middle of the night? Had I actually survived that unbearable heat, my dupatta catching on the cycle rickshaw’s tire, and getting lost on the way back to the hotel? Is this my life right now?
The answer is yes, and because the answer is yes I can see the world that Robert Service describes, with both “the water you can EAT” and “God’s flood of glory [that] burst its bars.” And there’s no going back. “For there’s never a cure / When you list to the lure / Of the Wan-der-lust.”
Recent Posts on Student Blogs
Research Methods …
by Tanner Cook
by Sarah Bowers
Isn’t it ironic that when one talks about “Romans” you always picture the Romans of antiquity and not the ones living right now? I apologize to those of you who were wanting me to write about what Romans wore in the golden age, but I’m going to disappoint you.
by Katie McDiarmid
Sounds don’t seem to bother them as much as it bothered me. Music in taxis and trotro’s is always at an uncomfortable level, and even when we converse with our drivers, they don’t seem to be distracted whatsoever by whatever they blare on the radio.
by Robyn Richardson
The kids wanted us to play games with them so I taught them “Thumb War.” Big mistake. I’ve played that game 100 times last week. I knew it was a hit when I was standing at a bus stand and a kid I’d never met came up and said, “Auntie…war.”
This land was made for you and me
by Jenna Mattes
In Duncan village I stepped out on the sidewalk to take pictures and within a minute there was a crowd of people staring down at me. I understand why I was not welcome; it is their territory, their own culture which they feel needs protection.
by Kristen Cardon
One Friday I ended up at a Jewish Shabbat feast, and another time I walked the kora on the most auspicious day in Tibetan Buddhism. I’ve been to Hindu temples, Sikh temples, and the great Muslim tomb that is the Taj Mahal.
by Kristen Cardon
“So you are a student here?”
“You live with a Tibetan family?”
“That is good. You cannot get a 100% education from textbooks. If you only read books, your education is not complete.”
What I am doing now
by Melissa Swan
I don’t want to make more stuff, I want to do things that somehow contribute to my community. So why am I making 500 paintings then? Isn’t that more stuff?
Interviews might be harder than I thought
by Nick Tanner
In Tonga it’s easy to get access into the community when you live with a host family. Most people know each other because they’re members of the same church, went to school together, or are somehow related.
by Robyn Richardson
I wonder what people would think about the right to religion if they heard a Muslim prayer call five times a day, or if their Hindu neighbors smeared cow dung on the driveway/sidewalk. My neighborhood would complain without a moment’s hesitation.
by Julia Merrill
I suppose I didn’t expect families here to be much different. So what was I here to learn? I think that I just wanted to see HOW families accomplish these things and live their day-to-day lives. Did I see that?
Researching without a Library
by Averyl Dietering
On my mid-semester retreat to Scotland, my backpack was taken. And thus began part two of my UK adventures.