September 8th – Day 1 in Delhi

Guest Post By: Carolina Lopez, a Senior studying Human Resources Management. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through a Foster Exploration Seminar for Early Fall Start in India, during 2022.

Week 2 of our Study Abroad in India, and I woke up feeling a bit under the weather. However, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to explore the city of Delhi and see what today has to offer. 

Our day started at 9 AM with a relatively short bus ride to MESH. Since our days are usually jam packed and overstimulating, I like to use the bus rides as time to draw myself out of reality and listen to music. When I am back at home, I am used to spending time alone to recharge my social meter, or simply to enjoy my own company. This trip has taught me to get out of my comfort zone. I am grateful because not only have I improved my social skills, but I have gotten the chance to learn about everyone else. Today, I was filled with joy and felt it was right to listen to a few upbeat songs to set the tone for the day. Specifically, the song Mon Amour Remix. 

During my peers’ presentation, I was able to learn how MESH provides people with disabilities and leprosy the opportunity to hone their skills to work in a positive work environment and receive fair wages. Last school year, I was able to take a class on disability discrimination. I learned so much about how to avoid ableist actions or sayings, the history of disability, and how intersectionality can play a role in treatment of people with disabilities as well. Everywhere around the world, disability has an extreme negative stigma to it. People believe disability is a disease, or a means to pity someone for their “suffering.” However, society has created a space in which people with disabilities are unable to have accessibility in many places. Instead, society has made them accommodate our ways of living. Unjustly, people with disabilities are more than often not allowed the same opportunities and experiences as other people because of the stigma attached to their identity. Similar to the US, people in India also mistreat people with disabilities. There needs to be more organizations like MESH that can help people with disabilities feel valued and seen in our world. This shift can potentially reduce the hurtful stigmas attached to people with disabilities. If MESH taught me anything, it is how to be an advocate for other marginalized communities. As an abled individual, I have so much privilege I can use for good. Even if it’s in a small capacity. 

On this visit, I also learned to think more about where our clothes and other items come from. Specifically whether or not they come from labor work. Not only understanding what that means, but learning how to avoid those purchases to stop supporting unethical work practices. This made me think about a lot of popular clothing companies that use fast fashion, like Shein, H&M, Fashion Nova, Uniqlo, and more. However, I understand that making that decision is not always financially attainable for some people- including myself as I come from a low income background. Regardless, this conversation made me challenge myself to think of other ways I can make a small difference. 

After looking around in the little shop, I was in awe at the selection of unique and colorful items. Each item had its own distinctive characteristics, which made it even more special. When we were allowed to look around and shop, I found it hard only picking a few things when I wanted to buy the entire store. I planned to buy something for my mom and sisters. I bought my mom a golden painted wooden chicken, and my older sister a brown/blue handbag and coasters. Each of these gifts had such exquisite detail and color. The chicken was painted in gold and had detailed paintings of small birds and plants all around. The bag had a beautiful pattern intertwined with blue, white, and brown. The coasters had such vibrant colors of pink, blue, and purple. I was extremely happy with the purchases I made because they were so different from stuff you see in the US, and I knew my family would love them as much as I did. 

After our organizational visit, we drove to McDonalds and placed our order on one account, which made it chaotic to receive our orders. I ordered one butter chicken grilled burger, one McSpicy, and Sprite. The butter chicken grilled burger was AMAZING. As soon as Abhinav asked if I wanted an extra one, my eyes lit up as I craved more. I was extremely full but it was so worth it. During lunch I was texting my mom about how different the menu at McDonalds is. She works at McDonalds so she wanted to hear every detail. The interior looked relatively similar to the one in states, with minor differences. But the one thing I did notice was the hospitality. The workers were so generous to make sure people were able to find seats, and helped them clean up their food after they were done. Even with some similar items on the menu, they taste entirely different. The spicy McChicken tasted like “actual chicken”, (not the frozen kind you just reheat) and it was a bit spicier too. I noticed that every time I went to McDonalds, they would never put ice cubes in my drink and I am still a bit curious as to why. When I asked for ranch, the workers looked at me with a blank stare as they had no idea what I was talking about.

We visited the Red Fort, which is in Old Delhi. As soon as we walked in, our tour guide suggested that we not take pictures with locals as they can misuse our images. As I looked around, many men were staring at our group, moving closer with their phones out. As our tour guide was giving us some background information on the Red Fort, many men started approaching again, circling our group to listen. I felt a bit uncomfortable as I had never experienced that before, which made it a bit hard to focus on what our guide was saying. As I heard muffled words in the background, my eyes could not help but wander at the beautiful architecture. Even pictures cannot capture the detail and beauty these historical buildings have. I appreciated how at every turn there was something new to admire. 

Something I found interesting was that married Hindu women mark their scalp with sindoor (a bright red powder to visually mark their marital status), whereas single women wear Bindis. After doing further research on this tradition, I learned that the color red signifies power and passion, and sindoor represents fertility. Sanjay also mentioned that men in India hold hands if they have a close bond formed through trust and affection- however, it is not a form of romantic relations. In Seattle, this act is not uncommon between men— however, it is more seen as a romantic gesture. As much as I loved sightseeing and learning the history of the Red Fort, the heat was brutal. I don’t think I have ever sweated that much in my life — I was truly humbled. Towards the end of the walk, it was getting a bit more uncomfortable for others as well, but we all powered through. As the visit came to an end and we all got on the bus, I could hear voices of gratitude. I was sweaty, tired, thirsty, and a bit cranky… but it was worth it.

At last, we headed back to the hotel but I wasn’t ready to go back to my room. I knew if I even laid down for a second, I would immediately fall asleep. Instead I went to the lobby and decided to try a coconut vanilla frappuccino and fruit rhubarb. I’m not a huge fan of coconut, but this drink was absolutely AMAZING. 10/10. The rhubarb was pretty good, but I would rate it 6/10. Since this hotel is definitely on the fancier side, the prices were a bit more than past hotels but as Abhinav knows, I’m a snacker so I couldn’t resist. Netza and I sat in the lobby for a few hours reflecting on our day and the trip overall. Eventually we got moved to another location because a French lady was doing opera practice while her boyfriend was playing the piano. It was cool being able to see them practice for a bit. Closer to dinner, I ordered room service for chicken wings with chili sauce, and pesto pasta. Both dishes were absolutely amazing. Not only was dinner delicious, but room service was very kind and mannered.

Overall, I can easily say today was one of my favorite days during this program visit. Not only was I able to learn about MESH, who they are and what they do, but I was able to reflect on their practices and values in a way where I can incorporate them in my own life. Today felt like a great opportunity to learn, but also to enjoy the present moment with my classmates through beautiful scenery, meaningful conversations, and jokes. The most challenging part of my day was the heat and feeling uncomfortable at times. This made it difficult to fully focus on the things I wanted to be more involved in.