“Where are you going, sir?…Sir! Where are you going?!“
“I normally don‘t discuss where I am going with strangers on the street“
[Surprised] ”Oh…but I know a very nice place over there!“ [points towards one of the tourist places close by and mentions its name]
“I have already been there”
[I walk further but the stranger follows]
“Oh…but where are you going, sir?”
“I’m just going to my hotel, OK?”
This was in New Delhi, as a foreigner there you are bound to get attention. I ignored most of it, but occasionally I responded. The most common question I’ve got is “Where are you from?” and second comes “What is your name?” The majority of people have not heard of Iceland before, so the conversation tends to go somewhere along these lines:
“Where are you from?”
“No…Where are you FROM?” [I like how they simply deny my answer and decide that I must have misunderstood their question]
“I’m from Iceland”
“Ah, Ireland, ok”
“No, not Ireland, ICEland”
“But it´s part of Britain, right?”
…and so on.
Of the few people that have heard of my country, one said “Ah, volcano!” which wasn’t far off the mark. For this reason I am slowly but gradually becoming convinced that my country doesn’t exist in reality. Making things up again, even countries, my bad…
Then there is my name. Usually it´s hard to pronounce for foreigners, but for the Indians it seems to be extra hard. Gudmundur is my name and Gummi is my nickname, but the Indians have said:
Goormi, Goormondor, Mr. Gud, Mr. Katmandu (“I will call you Mr. Kathmandu, because it sounds similar. You know Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal?”), brother Gudu and more.
I finished my first week at work last Saturday. I have a six-day work week and this first one was strange, summed up shortly below
Day 1: I got some papers to read on what they do at my workplace. I had to ask for some time off though, to go to the Foreigners Registration Office along with another intern and one of my program coordinators. In this office we spent three hours (no time waiting in line though), signed our names around twenty times along with various other information and giving seven passport sized photos, going between offices in the same government complex to get copies of required documents and more. I know I’m not in this country to judge, so I will not comment any further on the procedures at this office.
Day 2: On the next day my boss asked me to read a book of around 200 pages. I did that, but somehow it occurred to me that they had no idea what to use me for – “Oh, shit, one more intern… that we have absolutely no idea how to use! Ah, let’s give him a book to read, that will keep him busy for today!”
Day 3: I went to the field, to be specific it was a hall where elected representatives had the chance to meet and discuss their opinions amongst them, but also with the training staff and officials. This meant I sat and listened to three hours of speeches in Hindi. I had an interpreter that gave me the basics from their talk, but this was for sure not the most entertaining thing I have done.
Day 4: Field visit to nine villages of the Udaipur district. Undoubtedly the best day at work so far, we drove between the villages on dusty roads in a jeep that had no windows on its sides. We handed out flyers about upcoming trainings for the elected representatives, that begun their five year terms earlier this year, after elections. On the way there were many things to observe for me – the people and their activities, women carrying water or fruits around in huge jars on their heads, camels, donkeys, funny looking sheep etc. I had never seen a real camel before I came to India, but they were my favorite animals when I was a kid (based on images and descriptions from books) and when I saw one for real finally, it makes perfect sense.
How can it not be everyone’s favorite animal, especially when considering its goofy looking teeth sticking out while it´s chewing air, bubble gum or grass?
Day 5 and 6: Developing a work plan for the coming months and a few other things.
As mentioned above, I get a lot of attention from strangers on the streets. Kids often smile and say “hello” when I walk by. I imagine seeing me is for them similar to when I saw a zebra in a zoo as a kid. Before that, I had only seen pictures of zebras and sometimes they had popped up in cartoons. “They couldn’t have been born with these black stripes! Someone must have painted them!” I thought. Or were they born black and white stripes painted on them by some weird person? This kept me wondering for hours as I recall and I smiled when I saw a real zebra, maybe I also said “hello”, can’t remember. The Indian kids must think that someone has painted me and the other interns in this strange color – and there you have a good reason to smile and say “hello!”