Monday, January 7, 2008


We have now been in India for several days and I should have died about a dozen times. However, every time we make it out of situations without a ding or a scratch. It is amazing, the traffic should not work, but somehow it does. From what I have learned about India’s government it should not work either, but like the traffic, it does.

Delhi is a several hundred year old city and we have been visiting many of the city’s historical sites. One of the newer attractions is The Baha’i Temple. It was absolutely serene. We also went to the Taj Mahal. It truly is a wonder, and the nearby Agra Fort was just amazing. To have lived in the fort as a Mughal royalty must have been an experience like none other. Sometimes we see small children without clothes and seemingly homeless; that’s hard to take. The general warmth and hospitality of the people we have met pleases us all. English is widely used but not everyone can speak it; even if they do not speak English they try their best to help you as much as they can. - KK

It has been eight days since we arrived here in Delhi and each day has been a kaleidoscope of experiences. From the smell of fresh roasted peanuts, naan (A type of Indian bread), and other delightful treats not normally found in everyday American life to the hustle and bustle of traffic on the streets of Delhi; commerce seems to be everywhere, both large and small scale—evidence that amidst the chaos is a complex economic structure partly disguised as a simple mom-and-pop based arrangement. The entire economy seems poised for even more growth. Many who participate in this economy work more than 2 or 3 jobs just to maintain a basic lifestyle. It is unfortunate that so many spend 12 to 18 hours a day working just to survive, but the reality is that people in India are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. Having said all this, I have one more thing to say. Up to this point the Indian landscape has fulfilled, better yet, exceeded my expectations in more ways than I can recount. – J.R.

I keep telling myself that I need to stop trying to compare India to Guatemala and El Salvador. Some similarities are inevitable: the litter, the tapping on the car windows by the poor, people latching onto my clothing, arms, legs as I walk by (only when I am doing so accompanied by my more-western-looking friends), as well as the kindness and hospitality and shrewd and questionable business ethics of the small and even larger-scale vendors on the side of the road and in the open-air markets and shopping centers.

Haggling is commonplace, expected, even desired. But I cannot dispute prices here. I do not speak their language and they do not speak mine, or at least they do not speak it intelligibly enough for me to coax and prod and threaten to walk away.

Mainly, I am awed by the density of people everywhere all the time. And I continue feeling some despair at realizing the nigh-unto-insurmountable challenge of enforcing laws throughout a country severely lacking in infrastructure.

I used to think that the only way El Salvador and Guatemala could compete in the world and eventually restore their autonomy as sovereign nations was via their human resource – the people. But India has a serious competitive advantage: 7 million in El Salvador versus 1.1 billion in India. So what can the tiny Central American nations do? Will they always depend on the United States and other wealthy nations for their continued survival?

I have enjoyed the lectures at Jawaharlal Nehru University as well as the “outreach activities”. I look forward to learning more from Indians about India. And then I hope to use that information to help El Salvador and Guatemala. – HB

Since I have been in New Delhi, each day has been a different kind of experience. One predominating thing that stands out among the vast amount of activity is the way life is so diverse here. There are traditional Indian men and women and then there are very westernized people. There are very shabby buildings with an upscale restaurant on the top floor. People move about their day with such determination. The pedestrians and traffic are so focused on where they need to be they fail to follow the rules of the road. Yet, since I have been here, I have only seen one accident. Out of all the chaos there are areas of beauty and serenity that at times make you forget that you are in the middle of an over-crowded city. We have visited such landmarks as Humayun’s Tomb, Qutb Minar, Agra Fort and of course, the Taj Mahal. These examples of historical architecture were made with such beauty and attention to detail that I know I will never see such marvels again in my lifetime. I have been honing my haggling skills and still I am not up to my boyfriend’s standard but I believe that I am slowly beginning to understand the art. I cannot wait until I can practice the art more in this city full of great experiences. – AS

New Delhi came to signify many things to me all at once. I have learned that for every assumption I have ever made of this place before the trip, the opposite will nearly always be true as well. No amount of reading or news watching could have ever projected an accurate image of this huge metropolis. The city is at the center of a great population boom and economic growth. Being an ancient city, it has had difficulty trying to modernize the city amidst the chaos.

This growing metropolitan area is trying to grapple with many of the problems that others are trying to tackle today. Unemployment, drop-out rates, pollution control and lack of drinking water availability are among the characteristics of India’s capital that stand out to foreigners first. This initial judgment blinds us from appreciating the steps that the city is taking to bring its infrastructure up to par with the rest of the world.

Telephone communications have come a long way in India. One can take a short walk outside and see several stands with the markings “STD/ISD/PCO.” Each one of these booths provides Indian citizens a line of communication to the outside world. Another improvement the city is making is to ease the lives of its citizens by expanding the metro system. Continual work on the metro means more jobs are available and a future with less congested streets.

I have learned there is some rhythm to the madness here. Everywhere we have gone there is a mass of people, but things still seem to flow smoothly. Currently, the population of the capital territory stands around 14 million. Various religions, languages and economic classes are represented on every street. The disparities between the rich and poor have never been clearer to me than on the streets of New Delhi. Right outside the gates of the rich homes might lay a homeless man resting.

From our seminars at JNU, I have learned that a large portion of rural India remains tied to the agricultural industry, driving migrants to urban centers like New Delhi for work in the off-seasons. But there are too few jobs available to satisfy all the needs of those tied to the seasonal market. We have also been told that less than 10% of Indian high school graduates will enter college. This is a problem for not only the ministry of education, but for the growing services sector of the Indian economy. Another struggle for the Indian economy is trying to balance competition between the black and white markets. While most of our business transactions are traceable for tax purpose in the United States, a large chunk of the purchasing here is done with cash to avoid tax payments. This reduces government revenue and is one of the challenges the country faces. Efficient and fair revenue collection mechanisms will greatly enhance the government's resources.

The staff and students at JNU have been very welcoming to our group. I have truly enjoyed the seminars and discussions on campus. Over the next few days, I anticipate gaining more in-depth knowledge about New Delhi and the political scene of India as a whole. I believe the experience we have had here is so far beyond what any of us would have received in a classroom. -SMA


Anonymous said...

Hola y'all - greetings from South Texas! I am thrilled to see your pictures and read your comments about India, my motherland. You all look so happy! I'm sure you have been inspired and dismayed, elated and saddened, stimulated and exhausted, shocked and awed, all in the same day! That's the beauty of the country, don't you think? I can't wait to hear it all from you personally after you get back. We'll have to get together, and I promise - no Indian food!! Have a safe trip back home. JG

Vinay said...

Hello Heleman:
From an Indian chemistry teacher at Moody high school to an Indian political science professor at TAMUK and finally visiting India. Is there some chemistry going on or what between you and India?
Just kidding, Heleman. So proud of you and all the other participants especially Prof. N. Goswami for undertaking this project. You have done the Incredible India trip. Check that one off.
Vinay Dulip