07/09/2018 – 10/09/2018
The tray table bowed down under the weight of my head, slumped uncomfortably on my arms. I woke up in the dark, drooling and surrounded by the loud hum of the plane. Slightly disoriented and restless I checked the time: 4 AM. On the TV screen the little animated plane was hovering over Iran. “That’s amazing!” I said, or maybe just thought. This is real now. It hit me. To subdue the excitement and fear brewing inside, I leaned back in my chair, wrapped my scarf around my head and waited for sleep- it never came.
A few hours later I was sat on the ground, wearily watching the baggage carousel spin around and around. I felt sick with worry and heartbroken from the recent goodbyes. But airports aren’t quite real places, so when I stepped outside for the first time everything that had been stifled by the rush of passport control and long corridors was suddenly around me. A veil had been lifted and India shined down. I felt overwhelmed and relieved that it is in fact everything people said it would be. I expected the extremes: massive crowds of people, scorching heat, chaos and intense smells. But the early morning sun was hanging low in the sky and the air was filled with birdsong and the distant sound of beeping traffic- it was surprisingly peaceful and oh so beautiful. I have never been in a more alien setting, but it felt familiar and I didn’t once feel uncomfortable or out-of-place.
In the one hour bus journey from the airport into the centre of Hyderabad I saw more than I did in the entirety of last year. It was like watching a coloured film for the first time, the quality of video turning to HD. That’s how I would describe the mismatched buildings, the vivid colours and the lush wildlife, the madness of the traffic (so similar to Mario Kart), the brightly dressed people and the random cows roaming free. My eyes would land on something crazy, heart breaking or stunningly beautiful but only for a moment before we sped past. The blur of these people’s lives is nothing like I’d witnessed before.
All the volunteers stayed together in a guesthouse in Hyderabad for a few days for ‘Orientation’, to learn more about India and specific information about our projects. Without our mobiles working many games were played, diaries written and deep discussions were had. It wasn’t until the Sunday evening, three days later, that we were driven in the dark on the mad roads to the train station. Walking along the platform we were met with hundreds of staring eyes, it was the first time ever I had been the minority and it made me feel quite uneasy. The train left at 23:00 and we would arrive in Ongole at 06:40 the next morning. We travelled in 2(AC) which is the 2nd tier with air conditioning meaning that in our compartment there were two bunk beds and an old whirring fan in the ceiling. Despite the lack of sleep, I lay happily in the dark listening to the rhythmic sound of the wheels against the track and enjoyed being gently shaken by the motions of the train.
“Elsa you have to wake up now”. I slid down from the top bunk and still not awake I hastily gathered my belongings. Swaying we made our way to the door, which was opened 15 minutes before we’d even arrived. The landscape outside was bare and rural, with sparsely distributed trees and buildings, golden in the sunrise. As we got closer the setting quickly turned urban until finally a sign read: ‘Ongole’. The train slowed to a stop and we got off.