Just when I started to get used to the heat, the spicy food and the bustling journey to and from work… it’s time to go.
Last week I graduated to the level of “local” according to my host family because I now take public transportation to and from work. While the first couple times were exhilarating and a bit hectic, I have settled into a routine. From my house I take an auto-rickshaw to the “Guru Dronacharya” metro station (leave it to me to get the most hard to pronounce metro stop of them all, especially when the ones right before and after are ones like “Green Park” and “I.N.A.”). From there I buy a metro token for less than 50 cents and board the “All Women” coach which is quite the genius invention. My mom and I even remarked how entertaining it is that the women’s car ALWAYS seems to be packed when the regular cars have many open seats. I wonder what the men think when they see that…
Anyway, it’s about a 30-minute metro ride to the “Jor Bagh” stop in downtown Delhi. From here I take another auto-rickshaw, or if it’s not exceedingly hot (which it always is) I walk to the office. The total commute time is roughly an hour and includes several price negotiations and moving among throngs of people. After work I retrace my steps back so by the time I finally arrive home I’ve taken four auto-rickshaw rides, and two metros. All in all I have been very impressed with the public transportation system here, and I have become quite the firm negotiator. The first few times the drivers tried to charge me three or four times the normal fare, but I put my foot down and demanded the price I knew it should be and they finally relented. Now they recognize I mean business and I am immediately treated like the locals.
This past weekend, probably because it’s too hot to do much more than eat and sleep, I had more than my fair share of street food. Apparently my host family thinks I don’t eat enough (which is impossible), because they literally took me to 20 different places to try food from all over the country. I sampled food from south India, coastal India, north India (of course, since that’s where I am), Punjabi, and a few more. I can now say with confidence that there is not ONE type of Indian cuisine that I don’t love. It’s sort of comical how centered around food my trip has been, but then again I wouldn’t have it any other way.
On Monday, I took a break from my normal routine to visit Magic Bus. Magic Bus is an international NGO that uses soccer to teach life skills to youth. Through soccer they mentor kids in urban and rural settings that might not otherwise have access to organized sport. I was invited to come as a coach, but I really had no interest in that - I wanted to play! When I first got to the field I felt pangs of guilt. These kids were playing on a field of dirt and rocks, with one goal and no net. They had a few balls and cones, but besides that, not much. When practice began at 4:30, the coach, Allan, introduced me to his senior team of 16 and 17 year old boys. They all stood up and the first boy politely said “Good evening ma’am” and shook my hand. After that, the rest followed, all repeating what their friend had said. I couldn’t help but to chuckle because I felt like I was arriving at a very formal business meeting, not a dusty soccer practice.
We started with the classic game of 5v2 keep away. They were good and I was suddenly worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up! But after a nice heel flick to clear the ball from danger, they accepted me and realized I knew what I was doing. At first, they wouldn’t let me go in the middle when I lost the ball, but after several sporadic hand gestures (they speak very little English) I managed to convince them that it was actually okay to let me go in. What chivalrous boys!
After this, we stretched and then began a shooting drill. Not wanting anything to do with diving on rocks and sand, I opted to be a forward for the day – which for my DWS teammates is probably a hilarious image. I managed to get a few solid shots off, including one solid volley that smacked the keeper in the face. The other boys thought this was the funniest thing they had ever seen and I got several high fives when I returned to the line.
Finally, after a few other exhausting drills, and having swallowed three tons of dust, it was time to scrimmage. I was told to play in the midfield (perfect for the girl who usually plays goalkeeper) alongside the kid I called Neymar, because he looked like him and was easily the best on the field. We were a good team, and I almost scored twice. But alas, my finishing was a bit off the mark, and I decided to be more of a playmaker than a striker.
You wouldn’t believe how these kids can run. They never got tired, which is an incredible feat considering the 116 degree heat and intermittent dust storms! Finally, and thankfully for me, the coach blew the whistle to signal the end of practice. I immediately ran to my “pani” (water) and sat down to relieve my aching feet. By this point I was unrecognizable - covered head to toe in brown dirt and drenched in sweat. Perfect time for a picture! (see above)
While I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in the car home, I was so happy. In fact, I have not had that much fun in a LONG time. Soccer unites the world. No matter where you are, the game is the same. And even though we couldn’t speak to each other, we were able to communicate and play. My work here has been amazing, but there is nothing that can compare to living it – this was an experience I will truly never forget.
Oh, I should probably also mention that when I got home and my host father saw me so caked in mud I was unrecognizable, the first thing he said was “Ali! Sit down on the couch! Let me get you some water!” I laughed imagining what my mom would have said in the same situation. Probably would have been more of a “stay outside until you have washed yourself off with the garden hose, and don’t even think of touching any of the furniature!”
In any case, I am sad that I have to say goodbye to this place in just a couple short days. But don’t worry I promise not to leave without learning a few Indian recipes first.