[Insert “life is a road” metaphor here]

I’m coming to the conclusion that one can tell a lot about an area by its roads.

Not just the physical state of the web of asphalt laid across its face, but the way the people and vehicles interact with the laws and lay of the land that govern the streets. All infrastructure says something about the way a city is run, but roads reveal integral aspects of the priorities and attitudes of the people driving over them. Nowhere, in my opinion, are the roads more indicative of an area’s culture than here in New Delhi.

The winding, hilly roads of rural Pennsylvania were beautiful and sparsely populated, if a bit monotonous. It is friendly driving, and though the scenery is beautiful and open there is not as much to do as in a city. Like the roads, life in rural Pennsylvania is simple and sweet, with nature and your neighbors to keep you company.

Chicago, as a big city, has traffic for much of the day. Just like Chicago’s neighborhoods, though, the styles of driving on different roads vary widely. There’s the drag-race friendly Edens, the commuter-friendly lanes of 294, the scenic and hectic Lakeshore Drive, and the dark, mysterious, and distinctly Chicagoan Lower Wacker. In a city where a large proportion of denizens use public transportation, the variety and personality of the el and the Metra are also revealing.

Much more similar to my current locale, the streets of New Orleans are unkempt at best. Like the people, New Orleans streets are always messy, sometimes beautiful, rooted in history, often littered with signs of alcohol, and always lead somewhere interesting.

In a maddening metaphor, Delhi’s roads are a microcosm of life in this city. First of all, they are crowded. Like the people in any Delhi crowd, the cars on Delhi streets are uncomfortably close to each other. Drivers are not shy about touching bumpers, or pulling into an impossibly narrow space between a bus and a wall. For everyone at home who thinks I am a less-than-perfect driver: come visit me here. We’ll take an auto down the highway and you will never fear again on an American road. Coupled with the densely crowded, law-of-the-jungle driving, there is a soundtrack of a million different horns. At first the sound of so many horns, beeped for no apparent reason beyond perhaps greeting every single car passing by, was funny. When I am tired or frustrated the constant beeping is annoying. But now I barely notice it, like a ridiculous parody of birdsong in a forest. And yet somehow the “look-I’m-driving” honking and the “they’re-more-like-guidelines-anyway” driving has some sort of organization to it. The way that incongruous shards of multicolored glass become a recognizable image in a mosaic, all of these cars somehow know when to turn illegally, and when to stop on a dime at a red light (for once). There is a method to the madness, it appears. I just have yet to find it.

The other thing about Delhi roads is the contrasts seen everywhere. Between a chicken cart and a colorfully-painted truck, one is liable to see anything from a woman in a sari on the back of a motorcycle to a Lamborghini to a pedestrian deaf to the honking around him. Rich cars are cut off by rickety auto-rickshaws and silk-clad women walk by as working men packed 20 to a truck bed stare. There is so much…everything. Noise, smells, sights, every possible sense is stimulated as I hold on for dear life to the rickshaw I paid too much for.

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Images of India

Running on India Time: A Belated Blog Post

Through the South Gate

So here it is, my first blog post from New Delhi…

3 weeks into my semester here.

I know, I know. But better late than never, right? And by IST (Indian Standard Time, also known as Indian Stretchable Time) I’m only a few days late. With my time management skills I fit in as well here as I do in New Orleans. Mama, I know you’re proud.

Though it has become more of a guideline than a law, time has continued to pass while I have been avoiding blogging, so I have had plenty of time to think about the stories and thoughts I want to share here for you, my friends and family. There is so much to write about. In the time that I’ve been here I have seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World (guess which one?), walked past immense poverty and stunning wealth in the same city block, and eaten more daal and jalebi than can possibly be good for me. But each of these deserves its own blog post, so I won’t go into specifics. Instead, I will just say here that, yes, I really am blogging now. So sit tight and hopefully I can impart some of the wisdom, beauty, and frustrations that I have already encountered in India.

On Airports

Photo by David F. Gallagher

So I’m sitting in the New Orleans airport waiting for my suite-mate to come pick me (or wake) up. With time to kill I’ve been thinking about airports and air travel. Most people I’ve talked to find air travel unpleasant and are simply happy to get it over with. The cramped quarters (I have yet to experience the paradise which I imagine is first class), the uncomfortable seats, the security lines, and the expensive airport food are all pretty unappealing, even to an eternal optimist like me.

When I was younger, though, airports were my favorite places to take pictures. When I got my first camera, and was constantly on the hunt for that perfect candid picture, I always knew I could find one when my family flew somewhere.Whether the well-dressed business man flying solo but dreaming of home, or the honeymooning couple, or the stressed yet excited vacationing family with out of control kids, emotions run high in airports. All airports are different, but there is something unmistakeably familiar about the rows of seats and piles of baggage at the gate of a soon-to-depart flight. And in this recognizable environment there are people going home, people getting away from home, and people looking for what home might be. To me airports are the best and worst of people. Airport security, a constant reminder of the evil people can do, and frustrated fliers looking for someone to blame for delayed flights. But they are also this launchpad for possibility: a new job, a new family, a new experience. And like a character from one of my favorite movies, Love, Actually, states:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

I’ve always found this quote beautiful, but I find it especially poignant today, sitting at the airport, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, watching people hug goodbye and embrace the loved ones they’ve missed.

Hello, internet!

Hey there.

Me and my baby, my Nikon FE2.

Hey there! As of now this is my personal blog, but soon it will be the log of my adventures in New Delhi, India, where I will be studying abroad! But for now, here’s some more about me:

My name is Aldona. I am named after both of my grandmothers, because my parents thought I would be a boy (surprise!) and decided they couldn’t name their first daughter Thomas when they found out otherwise. I used to hate my name, but It’s grown to be an important part of my identity (and an easy conversation starter in college). It is Lithuanian, like my entire family, and quirky, like me. It also represents my growth from a girl who just wanted to fit into her small town in Pennsylvania, to a young woman who wants to use her unique history and experiences to someday change some small part of the world. But I have to see it first, which is where this next semester comes in.

I am mere months from what promises to be the most exciting experience of my life thus far: 15 weeks in India studying public health and human rights. I have never spent more than a week abroad, but I have wanted to go to India since I knew how to read. One of my favorite books when I was a child was The Little Princess, because I was fascinated by depictions of colonial India. Since then I have read everything I can get my hands on about Indian history, Indian mythology, and anything else Indian. In recent years my interests have progressed to Indian literature, Indian cooking, and modern Indian politics and news. One could say I’m a bit obsessed. But my interests stem beyond myself.

For a public health student India is a maelstrom of public health issues and challenges that the culture and political situation can create. I have a specific interest in women’s reproductive health, and India presents such unique challenges in that arena. Both so modern, and so rooted in rich history, India produces many of the world’s vital generic drugs, yet uneducated Indians living in poverty still mistrust lifesaving polio vaccines. In India’s cities one can find the most modern conveniences, yet in parts rural India women have little to no reproductive choices and families must have children just to support themselves. India is contradiction after beautiful contradiction, and I cannot wait to bring my camera and my journal to New Delhi.

In the meantime, here are my musings from New Orleans, my current home.