Jaipur, the Pink city, once my home

Last bit on the road, with Ram Narayan, my driver. On the one side, I can’t wait to be in Jaipur because it has been 5 years since I left the city, tears in my eyes, in my heart and pains in the belly…and wonder how I will feel being back there again, and having missed the place so much and for so long, if I will recognize it or not, and on the other side, leaving lovely persons found on my path is not the best part of meeting new people…

Ram Narayan is from Jaipur and once we reach our destination, he will have 5 or 6 days off and will spend this time with his family at home. We stop one last time before arriving, having a chai (Masala tea) together. I told him the background of the story and he knows this is an important part of the trip for me. As soon as we arrive, he says: “Welcome to Jaipur!!!”. It comes from a local and it is all the more valuable!

I settle in the guesthouse where I will be staying for those 8 days (friend of a friend’s house) and well, I am now a few miles only from my Indian Family’s home, who I was living with five years ago. I have waited for that moment for so long…and now I am a little stressed about how it will go. I wouldn’t want to start crying or even having tears in my eyes! Self control is needed! But anyway I have to go now, they know I arrive today in Jaipur and they will expect me to come…and from the bottom of my heart, I want to see them NOW!

First thing, jumping in an auto rickshaw direction Apex Mall in the Lal Kothi area. It is only a 40 rupee-journey (yeah I wouldn’t know the distance in km…maybe 2!). Just saying my destination to the tuk-tuk driver, I felt I was telling him “I am going home!”. Sitting in there again is a wonderful sensation, rushing between the cars and motorbikes, feeling the vibrant city all around you, that you can actually touch!

Apex mall has not changed at all. I start walking the usual way to my family’s home but there are so many houses that have been built in 5 years that I get lost. I ask a local where number D31 is and he gives me the answer me in Hindi¬†but believe it or not, I understood the directions! Yeepee! Happy days! ūüôā

When I finally get there, at the end of the street, there is the blue shop (part of the house) where they work and the house where I lived. I am there again, after 5 years. I made it! Sudeep sees me outside and smiles at me, making a sign that I should go inside. Sushant, my little Indian brother, is waiting for me, and smiles at me. He seems to know who I am. He was only 5 years old and now he’s 10, it’s half his life, I would understand if he didn’t remember me…I ask him, he smiles and says he does remember me. My heart drops.

He goes in¬†the back¬†room, calls my Papaji (Papa = Dad, Ji ¬†= a postposition showing respect, in Hindi), his grand father (Dadaji – in Hindi they differenciate the grand parents from the mother’s side: Nana & Nani¬†and the ones from the father’s side: Dada & Dadi). When I see my Papaji appearing behind the curtains, I can’t prevent myself and call “Papajiiiiiiii!”. “Haan betiii” (yes, my daughter) is his reply, and he takes me in his arms, which makes me feel emotional, as physical contact between a man and a woman is not that common in India, in public I mean. That tells me how special this moment is.

News from him, I have had, all the time, every week since I left him, during those 5 years, but seeing him again, in front of me, with all the wisedom I see in this man, and his pure heart. The house has more light then before because they have painted the walls in light green, and removed the cyber cafe part they used to have. So definitely more space, very nice! I sit, and there, I am lost between the past and present. Am I in 2008 living here and working in the slums, or in 2013 visiting and on holidays?

He asked about my trip beginning in Mumbai until I arrived here: how was the weather, what did you see, was your stomach okay with the food, do you bear the heat, do you sleep well at night…the same, still worrying and taking so much care of me as usual!

I ask how life is around here, what’s new and he tells about his relatives (some of them I have met), stories from the NGO I was working for, and a few volunteers staying with them, some spanish guys saying they would be back home at around 11pm and not there until 2am, when my Papaji is waiting, sleeping in the living room to open the door as soon as volunteers are back, some mad Norwegian sick with fever, making a mess to train on his skateboard in front of the house, pretending if he does not practise, he will forget all about it *smile*, and putting Sushant on the damn thing, a mother and daughter who left after a few days only because the daughter was missing her boyfriend, etc…so many stories of volunteers, …my fellow volunteers…

But also nice stories, all Ireland-related, a coincidence, I am not sure ūüôā … such as Sara Mc Murry, an English woman married to an Irish man, living in Ireland who I was lucky enough to meet at the EIL network week-end in Cork last year (November 2012), a very nice woman indeed, who came back several times in a row to Jaipur volunteering and then learning Hindi, like me, or Emer Jackson a lovely Irish woman who was also staying with my Papaji, who I also met at the EIL network week end but the previous year, in November 2011. I had taken a picture with Emer, and one with Sara to send to my Papaji, he was so surprised that we had met miles away from his house, in Ireland! And he also told me about a nice fellow, Irish guy (of course !) called John if I remember well, who works in a jail in Dublin. I don’t know him but from what I heard, I already like him!

After a long chat, poor Sudeep, who had worked all day at the shop with his wife, took me home on his motorbike, through the noisy streets of the Pink City, ¬†as they thought I was not safe enough taking a riskshaw back to the guesthouse. I insisted that I would be grand, but when your Indian Papaji says you should do something…you’d better do it, and discussion is over. So off we go, my hair flying all over my face, being part of the mess on the road, together with the locals, belonging for some time to the Indian chaos…I could not be happier!

Culture Shock, a learning process in itself

India and Japan, to me are the 2 extremes in terms of Cultures. I was well aware there would be a transition before I adapt to my new environment. This transition is called ‚ÄúCulture Shock‚ÄĚ. Fortunately my Irish sending Organization (EIL, Experiment in International Living) have a fabulous pre-departure book with exercises to make you think of the issues you might have once abroad, and even more important, how you might react to those situations, and some advice on dos & don‚Äôts.

Culture shock can be described as a stress, anxiety due to a new environment. Of course, it is a very personal experience but most of the time common feelings of loneliness, homesickness, uneasiness, being overwhelmed, being irritable, arise. The picture of a fish out of the water is often used to refer to Culture Shock, which I think is quite appropriate.


And how we react to it, is a learning process and adaptation to the new environment.

We generally say there are 3 main phases to Culture shock, and call it the ‚ÄúU curve‚ÄĚ process:

  • Honeymoon: the excitement of a new experience‚Ķ
  • Culture shock: the stress of unfamiliar situations, new codes of communication‚Ķ
  • Cultural adjustment: benefit of the immersion in a new culture and growing from this experience‚Ķ

One of the things that have affected me was the lack of sleep due to the humid and hot weather at night…I was finally falling asleep early morning when it was time for me to get up and teach in the slums… But just thinking that the day ahead, I would learn something new, a word, a tradition, a culture fact, or meet new people…helped a lot in the process and gave me the energy to keep going.

Every day I remembered why I was there, my initial passion for India, I had finally made it possible for me to realize my dream and had to make the most of every minute of this experience abroad!

I was also surrounded by wonderful people helping me and giving me the keys to their culture, always happy to share things with me and who made me understand how it worked, how Indian people thought…..which made the experience even more enjoyable. I will eternally be grateful to those people (you know who you are ūüėČ ). I have learnt so much during my stay in that country, and have come to see the world with their eyes too. There are things I don’t necessarily agree with, but that I can understand where it comes from and sometimes it can me much more complicated that it seems, from occidental eyes. Such an experience teaches you to see the World with different eyes.

Then of course, the return back home is another experience that can be quite difficult. It is called the ‚ÄúW-curve‚ÄĚ process (the above described process + return back home‚Ķ).

Things have happened back home which we have not fully experienced with relatives, changes have happened…and we need to readjust to those changes, and settle again in our environment. It can sometimes be a long process too!

When I came back from India, I started working (a week after landing home) for an oil company in Geneva, Switzerland, where there is a lot of money involved, big parties, 2 week days spent in Chamonix with a group of colleagues skiing, a Jacuzzi in the chalet…and I found it quite difficult to switch from the Indian slums…to that.











Cinema experience at Raj Mandir

Rajmandir front

Indian people need to dream. The film Industry helps them to dream. Common belief is that Indian cinema are only romantic films. False! There are, like in any other country: thrillers, horror, comedies, dramas and so on. But it is true that in a society that forced marriage and arranged marriage, Indians need to dream about falling in love and choosing the person they will live with forever.

For that reason, those who do not have that much money in India, will very often try to save for a cinema session from time to time…to escape a reality that can sometimes be hard.

The host organization was bringing this group that was in Jaipur only for the orientation session (then going to volunteer in some other parts of India) to the cinema to see a Hindi film, ‚ÄúSingh is King‚ÄĚ (Singh, being a popular Indian name). Amit and Gaurav told me about it and asked if I wanted to go with them and I decided I would join.

The cinema is called Raj Mandir (Raj Temple, in Hindi) not far from M.I. Road, the main avenue in Jaipur. Very central.

The first thing that stroke me is that Men and Women do not queue in the same file. There were 2 different queues, and 2 different counters. Meaning that a married couple going to the cinema together cannot buy their tickets together. It is something that never came to my mind before seeing it with my eyes.

Once you have your ticket, then you can enter in the building, after showing it to the man at the door.

The inside of the cinema is like a palace and there is a lot of space near the front door for people to wait that the room opens, a few minutes before the film starts.


When the staff opened the doors, everybody ran into the room to get the seats they wanted, and shortly after the film started.

You know the way it is in Europe, once the lights are switched off, people are supposed to be quiet to let the others listen to the film?

In India it is much more cheerful¬†ūüôā Every time a very popular actor appears on the screen, people shout, or whistle. That is their moment, they want to relax and let the pressure outside the cinema, and express themselves!

As you may know Indian films have loads of music…and that is also why they last most of the time around 3 hours!¬†The music in the movies is the music they have on radios, everyone knows the songs.

So they might even know the songs before the films and when the song comes up during the film, they will freely start singing with the actors, at loud! Well in fact the actors do not sing themselves, it is just playback.

I feel it makes it a great atmosphere, they share something with the rest of the audience in the room.

…and that is the feeling I had¬†about India in general…it was mainly about sharing all the time.

Water saving and hygiene

My father was travelling quite a lot with his work since I was a child, and sometimes my mother and I used to go with him. I am not sure why but from that time, I had kept a soap from each hotel I had been to and put them in a box, that I had kept at home for years.

When I went for my Indian journey, I thought I would do nothing with them and they would be in¬†better hands with the Slum people in India, so I brought them on the journey with me…

One morning, I brought the soaps and decided not to give my little students a usual class and took them to one of the few taps in the slums where I was teaching. I asked them to line up, and queue to wash their hands one after the other.

By instinct they left the tap open so I explained that switching it off between each person would be better, as Water is very precious (even more in India, and in Rajasthan!). Water is useful to make things grow in the fields and this is food for families. Also people need to drink a certain amount of water everyday to be in good health. Animals too.

This brought up the subject of drinkable water and they asked why some of the water they could drink¬†and some¬†not, and I explained as best as I could, with my non-scientific background…

By that time it was almost time for lunch, the food provided by the Indian Government would be there soon so I asked them to wash their hands again before lunch, because Hygiene is very important to keep healthy too. And this applies even more to Indian people who eat with their hands.

This was like a game to them, but I know some talked to their families about what they had learnt in school that day so hopefully it will remain in their minds.


Tuk-tuk drivers


Auto-rickshaws are for me one of the musts of the Indian Folklore! The sight of one just reminds me of the whole experience as it was my daily mean of transport at that time. Most of time, the same rickshaw driver was picking me up every morning and then he was picking up some children to take them from a nearby school. Those kids were adorable, came from middle class families, very polite, saying ‚Äúgood morning‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúgoodbye‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúhave a nice day‚ÄĚ and were wearing school uniforms. Once, our rickshaw driver had the radio on, and that song was on. The children started singing, when I realized it was one of my favorite songs, ‚ÄúRock‚Äôn roll soniye‚ÄĚ (from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, an Indian film that was released in 2006) that I have on my Ipod, so I started singing with them, ‚Ķto their great surprise! Then the driver joined us! And here was a happy rickshaw driving around Jaipur¬† ūüôā

Traffic in India is impressive! It seems each vehicle is going its own way without considering others or even the rules, crossing intersections at what could look like any time, all driving really close to each other, whether it is a bike, a bus or a car, it is sometimes scary‚Ķ but in the end, accident statistics are surprising, in a good way! Oh and of course, I was going to¬†forget to mention that if a Cow is in the middle of the road…then only, the whole (Indian) world will stop to give space to the adored Creature. Even if it decides to take a nap in the middle of the road! The Cow is the symbol of Earth and Life and Indian LOVE it! Anyway, to sum it up, Indian traffic is an organized mess‚Ķfor those who understand it, but I don‚Äôt think I am part of that group of people ūüôā

However I learnt to trust the locals, and keep away from my European mind. I decided not to worry. Because even if I do, what will that change?

During my free time, to travel around the Pink City, I used auto-rickshaws which have an engine, if I was in a rush to meet someone for example, but if I was just wandering around, I liked to get the option to climb in a cycle-rickshaw which is led by a bike, by human power only. Because Indian people lived there and were into their routines, they chose auto-rickshaws most of the time to go back and forward between their homes to their workplace and vice versa. The cycle-rickshaw drivers were often quite old and you felt the weight of the years on their shoulders just looking at them, sometimes only wearing a few lot of clothes, because of the heat and the physical effort to make for only a few rupees, so I wanted to help a little bit. Arranging a price (cheaper than an auto-rickshaw) with them, and then giving them the price of what it would have cost me with an auto-rickshaw ‚Äď after living in the city you know more or less the distances and tuk-tuk prices. I could not help the whole country‚Ķbut I could help the few people I met on my way.

Some of those Tuk-tuk drivers told me a bit of their stories along the way, how they came to become rickshaw-drivers, what they liked doing when they had no customers during the day (drinking Masala Chai with their rickshaw-drivers fellows!), one used to go shopping for his Mom whenever there was an empty moment, they told me about their families, the other foreigners they had met, and sometimes even… their dreams, what they expected of life…

They all always spoke highly of their job. Listening to them, being a tuk-tuk driver was going out to meet the world around the city, where they could get to know Cultures of Countries they would never go to, listen to languages they would never hear otherwise, if they did not have those customers speaking it in the back seats of their rickshaw, and also they were fairly proud to show those foreigners their lovely city – because yes, Jaipur IS a lovely city ‚Äď even though I find it lovely because it is now (in my heart) my home town in India!

One driver had even a guest book that he had signed by his customers, where the said customers said how happy they were about their ride when they travelled with him and I could see stars in his eyes reading the compliments, heartwarming, I swear to God! He even asked me to translate some French and Spanish comments that some people had left in their own languages, and I could see a smile growing on his face as I was translating them for him.

Also I think their vision of me changed when I told them I was actually living in the city and Volunteering. I was not a tourist like others, I was here to help their people the best I could, to understand their Culture and integrate into it, they could see my interest in the language, they tried to teach me a few things in Hindi¬†on a way, and often, they opened their hearts even more…

Affection in India

On May 22nd, the people of Ireland will vote YES or NO to Gay Marriage. It reminds me of one my first experiences, a few hours only after landing at Mumbai Airport, waiting for my flight to my final destination: Jaipur, the Pink city.

I was sitting in the big modern hall of Mumbai airport, the international flights section, struggling not to fall asleep as I have had a baby crying the whole way from London Heathrow to Mumbai and could not rest a lot, really. So reading was definitely not an option, I would have fallen into the arms of Morpheus, and I was alone with my suitcase, having to look after myself. So I was watching the movement in the building. Among the travelers, I saw 2 men, I came to a conclusion they were both airport staff from their uniform, holding hands.

I knew already that in Indian Culture, couples do not show affection towards each other in public places: holding hands, holding each other, more generally, touching, and kissing are considered an inappropriate behavior.

That is why those 2 men holding hands surprised me. So later, when in my Indian Community, I asked about this and my assumption was right: those 2 men were not a gay couple but really close friends. And in that case holding hands is acceptable (same sex people) and indeed very common in India. However they must have been on their break, otherwise it would not be professional, as I have been told.

Would that mean that FRIENDSHIP is acceptable to be shown in public but not LOVE?

Well, in Indian people‚Äôs mind, the reason for that is in public places, no behavior should suscitate sexual excitement. Under the Indian Penal Code, causing annoyance to others through “obscene acts” is a criminal offence with a punishment of imprisonment up to 3 months or a fine, or both. By ‚Äúobscene acts‚ÄĚ, they more generally mean public display of affection.

Those things should definitely stay in the private sphere, at home, behind closed doors.

I would not say it is the right thing to do, but having seen the other extreme in the West, I kind of understand where they are coming from with this idea but of course this is going too far.

The Indian Family

First, the notion of “boyfriend/girlfriend” in India does not exist. That is something they know vaguely from Western Culture, people they have met or things they have seen on¬†TV, but in their own traditional¬†society, there is no space for it.

My “Papaji” (Indian Dad) used to ask me, what does it mean and what¬†is the whole story about “boyfriend/girlfriend”?¬† – That is something I never had to explain in my whole life. I found a way¬†but still it was not making any sense to him (he was 74 years old at the time). Then every time¬†he heard from Volunteers about “boyfriend/girlfriend”, he was smiling at me in a way “I still don’t know what it means but yeah…” and it became a kind of joke between us ūüôā

Then, Parents choose the husband (pati) or wife (patni) for their children (Arranged marriage). It¬†is¬†perceived like a benevolent intention from the parents, that is how they take good care of their children and choose the best future for them. It is indeed a duty for Parents. And it is commonly accepted by children. Love will not be a criteria. As Indian people say “Love come after marriage”. Economic and social criteria will be taken into account. Social would more specifically refer to the¬†original “Cast system”.

You have 4 main Casts in India (from upper to lower):

–¬†Brahmanas (Religious people)

–¬†Kshatriyas (Worriors)

– Vaishyas (Traders)

– Shudras (Peasantry)

Then at the very bottom you have the “Dalit people” (the Intouchables): other casts should not have any physical contact with them. This is the situation they were born in, and nothing can change it, therefore it is extremely difficult for those people to raise in Society.

Religion is also a criteria: the bigger part of the population in India is Hindu. Other religions on the Indian territory are Jainism, Islamism, or Catholicism (only 2% though).

Love marriages are exceptional and not well accepted by older generations.

After marriage the girl leaves her own family house to live with her husband and his parents. And other couples, in case there are brothers who are also married. In Tradition, the girl cries when she leaves her home and parents and photos will be taken as any other key moment of the ceremony (that lasts several days).

A young person would rarely have lived independently before marriage,

Once the couple is married, the Family (which extend further to just parents, brothers and sisters) can sometimes put a huge pressure on the couple for them to have children. The reason for that is usually a matter of what others families living in the area might think and rumours.


Before jumping into the project, I had an Orientation session with the Host organization, IDEX (standing for Indian Development EXchange). Their office was 400 meters away from where my host family was living which was very handy. On that day I had:

– a Hindi class with my coordinator Kehari: he taught me the basics, what I could be using with the children giving the classes in the slums…(the Imperative mode was very useful but the vocabulary I had already thanks to my classes): “bolo” (say), “beto” (sit down), “chalo” (go)…

– a presentation on the Day Care Centres (“Anganwadi”, in Hindi) with Subhadra: what is the purpose, how do they work, who own them, who are the employees…

I was informed that many families send their children in the morning only¬†because the Government provide the present children with the food at lunch time, but then they go home in the afternoon. One of¬†IDEX’s objectives was to have the children stay in the afternoon for more activities.

– a presentation on Women’s conditions in India: Education & literacy, how they are perceived in the family, what is their “role” within the family… – I think it makes sense a Woman gives that presentation.

Therefore I was asked to give more attention to the girls at the Day Care Centre, so they can have the attention they were not getting at home. That would give them self confidence.

Рa presentation on Indian Culture: Basically, Subhadra explained the things that a Western person could do and make people uncomfortable in our new community in India, in order that the Volunteer can go ahead smoothly with his/her experience. Everything she told me, I knew or was just common sense for me, really.


India was my dream.

Everything has started with the music. I had fallen in love with an Indian instrument called the¬†Dhol. Most of the time, you hear it in Bhangra music, which is originally from the region of Punjab – oh you don’t know where Punjab is located?¬†You see the men with turbans on their heads? Well, this is their part of this World (North West of India, at the border of Pakistan). A majority of the people in this area are Sikh, which explains the Turbans.

As I always wanted more music, I started watching Indian¬†films¬† (as you may know there is a big part of music and dancing in those films), and that way I have discovered the Hindi language. I just loved the sound of it. I found it relaxing. I felt good after watching a Hindi film at UGC Dublin. That would erase all the stress in the world ūüôā

So I looked for Hindi classes in Dublin and started following them with the Sandford Institute, once a week after work. I am well aware that Hindi is absolutely useless in Europe but to me, everything that makes us happy is good to take so here I was learning Hindi with a teacher from Calcutta (Kolkata), in the Capital of Ireland…

Note: Hindi is the language / Hindu is the Religion. I’ve seen a lot of confusion everywhere so just to make it clear.