The change from Rio de Janeiro to India was massive. In general, when you travel and you get to a new location, you need some time to readjust. I felt like I had built a little life in Rio – I had my own room in a friend’s apartment, I had people to hang out with, I knew the metro station close to home, and if I would end up by myself at 2 am in the morning, I could find my way home. Not that I ever ended up myself at 2 am in the morning…
And there I was, in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, the east coast of India. about to set up the first _SocialStarters programme in the region. It was a totally different feel, and I admit that at first I felt a little lost. I didn’t know anyone, I barely could place myself on a map, and as soon as I got off the plane a film of sweat would form on my forehead. And that wasn’t all – the cultural differences could be easily described by ying and yang. There is Rio, a buzzling city full of music, people, passion and lust. And here we have Auroville, a quiet community, an experiment of human unity, the epidemy of peaceful living. Or take Brazil in general, a country that encourages boobs and butts, where women compete with who can wear the least amount of clothing whilst still covering the essentials. India, in comparison, is a little more conservative. Women cover shoulders and legs, and not committing to the dress code can earn you some very scolding looks. Two cultures – two charms.
I think my main worry was loneliness. Coming from Brazil, having met amazing people in the city and whilst traveling, I was worried that I would not fit into the lifestyle that I imagined India to be. I was worried that I would get bored, not having people to socialize with outside the program, and in general feeling like nothing is going on. Oh how wrong I was.
Walking into the UnLtd Tamil Nadu office for the first time I thought I might have entered the wrong building. Around a big table in the middle of the room were people sitting, chatting happily – and they were my age! There were people my age! I could barely believe it – especially because I imagined ‘Victor’ to be a comfortable Indian guy in his mid-fourties, who took on a Western name to make it easier for people like me who completely fail at pronouncing Indian names. Infact, Victor is (somewhat) my age, and the Frenchest guy you’ll ever meet. Naveen on the other hand (in my imagination) was a skinny young boy who was still a little wet behind the ears. Or at least damp. He also proved me wrong – he has far surpassed any expectations I could have had around his ability to support our programme. He’s great.
It was when Naveen took me out for a ride to Pondicherry for India Independence Day that I developed a crush on India. By that time I had been exploring a bit more of Auroville and Kuilapalayam, the next door village. I had gotten a motorbike for emergencies, and was still too scared to drive it to the big city (Pondicherry). I had hung out with the people from the office and realized that I might not be alone. But it was on the back of this skinny Indian boy’s motorbike that I came to the conclusion that I am starting to fall in love with India. I am talking about the crazy driving, the women offering food and love without questions asked, the delicious curries, and the creativity and spirituality that seems to surround this place. Trying not to look ahead in the busy traffic lines, where certain death would await me, I watched the people near the road. And finally, when I saw the city and its buildings lit up with the most intense fairy lights I have ever seen in my entire life, I thought to myself “this will be great”. So that is how AnnaB developed a crush on India.
The lesson I learned? It always takes time to get used to something new, to accommodate change. No matter if it is a new place, a new job, a new relationship. The key is to be open, and not to walk into it with pre-conceived conclusions, assumptions and judgements.
Usually, it’s what you make of it, and I’m planning to make it unforgettable.
#JoinUs on a programme and volunteer with grassroots social entrepreneurs.
India – 24th October (6 weeks) || Brazil – 31st October (6 weeks) || India – 31st January (6 weeks) || Sri Lanka – 13th February (6 Weeks) || Brazil – 19th March (6 weeks) . To apply, send your email with a cover note to firstname.lastname@example.org and clearly state in the subject heading which programme and what date you are applying for. If successful, you will invited to a Skype interview with one of the team!