Wednesday, 29 January 2014


When I accepted my (volunteer) job in India I already knew I had to wear Indian clothes at all times. It was not a thing that worried me at all. But the problem came when I actually was there and I had to go and buy my first churidaar. In fact I could choose between a salwar, a churidaar and a panjabi. By then (I had been like 12 hours in India) I couldn’t tell the difference among those garments, so I went with an Austrian girl who was there in the same organization. She had been there for nearly a year so she could help me find some proper clothes.

We went to the city centre where we could find plenty of shops. My first surprise was when we had to take off our shoes to get into the shop. For me (I’m a delicate kind of person when talking about cleanliness) it was quite an ordeal. But in we went! While we were having a look at the different clothes a shop assistant was perfuming the shop with incense. That made the experience less traumatic!
We visited like 20 shops. No matter how beautiful the fabrics and the models were, on me they looked terrible! But I had to buy something. I could not wear my jeans and T-shirts! I decided on a churidaar. It consists of loose trousers topped by a kameez (tunic) and a dupatta (veil) to cover your head and shoulders. But the second surprise was when it had no sleeves and we had to go to a “tailor’s” to have them stitched. The same shop assistant who had been scenting the shop took us. We had to go into a building three blocks away, up some filthy winding stairs full of people, along a dark corridor and finally out onto a balcony. There we were welcomed by the ‘tailor’ who, while we drank some tea we were offered, sewed the sleeves to the kameez.

At first I felt uneasy and odd. Whenever I finished my working day I changed into my western clothes. In big cities you can see Indians wearing ‘normal’ clothes. But they are always decorous. Women never show their shoulders. But I lived in a secluded village far away from any kind of civilization. So imagine me! With all my summer Spanish clothes which left nothing for the imagination. It was the women themselves who covered my ‘indecent’ parts! They nicely told me that that was quite gross and lent me their veils to conceal them. I remember once I had to go headlong to school and I didn’t have time to change my clothes. I can perfectly recall the kid’s faces when they saw me wearing my ‘Spanish’ clothes.
But little by little I became more conventional and they also stopped making a fuss whenever I used my clothes. They learned that the suit does not make the man! In the end I preferred wearing Indian clothes even when I went on trips. People looked at me less and complimented me more!

And it was not only the churidaar! Every day I had to (it was not that it was compulsory, but they were happier that way) put flowers on my hair, bangles around my wrists, anklets with bells around my ankles, a bindi between my eyebrows,… But that deserves another blog!

But the greatest ‘adventure’ was sarees! On special occasions (and in India there are a lot since the celebrate the Hindu festivals, the Muslim ones, the Christian ones,…) they always talked me into wearing one. I tried to avoid it by all means, but it was impossible! I ended ‘disguised’ with one of theirs!
They are really pretty; I mean when Indian women wear them. They have a gift for that. They seem elegant, stylish, sexy, majestic,… But me…! I didn’t know how to walk and I couldn’t sit comfortably. They are really hot. The blouse is really tight and then you have like 100 metres of cloth around your lower part and over your shoulder! And what about going to the toilet? That was an agony! Not to mention the intense labour of putting it on! (watch the video). I needed help to put it on and to take it off! And getting on the bike? Mission: Impossible! I once did, though!
But the funniest thing was when the children asked me about the clothes we wore in Spain. I couldn’t stop crying when I began to tell them what we wear on the beach. I say began, because I couldn’t finish! And I didn’t even mention the top-less sunbathing, just the bikini! All of them (but the girls in particular) tried to cover their ears not to listen to me and their eyes not to see the picture of a bikini I had drawn on the blackboard! They kept on saying ‘No sister, no sister!’ so that I stopped talking! I had to; some of them were about to suffer a panic attack!

And on another occasion a friend and I were sunbathing top-less on the roof top of one of the buildings at the boarding school. We had warned the children not to come up, but you know what kiddos are like. There they came! Poor little things! They didn’t know what to do or where to look at when they saw us. One of them began giggling, the other one just turned round and glared at the blue sky and the other just ran away eager to tell her mother what she had just seen!

It’s amusing how they don’t care about showing, for example, their bellies (it doesn’t matter how big they are) but they don’t like showing (or seeing) other parts of the body. Another culture discrepancy, I guess!

You can find how to drape a saree here:

Friday, 24 January 2014


If you have ever lived in a continent, country or even region that is not the one where you were were born and brought up, you have certainly suffered the, so called, culture shock. That feeling, depending on the person is shorter or longer to understand, digest and overcome.

There are various well defined stages.

The first phase is kind of romantic. It begins even before travelling. It’s full of discoveries since the image we conceived tends to be unreal, or at least, incomplete. When we talk about India we picture a country full of colours, aromas, unique clothing, or exotic places. You imagine yourself wearing a saree, riding an elephant or having a mehndi (henna tattoo). And you can actually find all that, but India is much more. You find yourself in a place where time doesn’t seem to exist. You enjoy spots, food, people; that is an environment which really differs from what you are used to. You try to soak this culture using their clothes, tasting their typical food, connecting with the locals,… Every detail seems interesting and special. And you laugh (or at least smile) at every cultural anomaly.
But after some time the differences between your ‘previous’ culture and your ‘new’ one begin to manifest and can create some angst. The initial enthusiasm changes into frustration and sometimes even anger. Things such as the language barrier, the hygiene, the traffic or the food, enhance the sensation of disconnection. Your mental balance gets affected (some of us had no balance at all before getting there) but your health can also get some impact. You can meet with insomnia, lack of your period, diarrhea, constipation, among others. (I’ll write about mine in following chapters).
Nevertheless, the most important change in this period is communication. You tend to feel lonely and homesick (not my case!), since you haven’t got used to the new environment yet and you only hang out with folks you are not familiar with. The language barrier can become a crucial obstacle when talking about making friends. Communication includes not only oral expression but also body language. One of my problems in India was not being able to hug or kiss people. It’s not that I’m a cuddly kind of person, but from time to time I need some caress! And there that is inconceivable! It’s OK for boys and men to hold hands or hug each other. It’s quite common to see them doing it in the street. I was shocked the first time I saw two men (with their moustaches) holding hands while walking! I mean, that would be OK in Spain. But in India where homosexuality is a taboo subject… Anyway, it’s not common for the rest of the people to show any kind of affection in public. Never mind! They show (and so did I in the end) their feelings in other ways.
The next stage is when you create your own routine. Then you get a feeling of ‘not belonging there’. Apart from not understanding many of the things that happen around you, there are added difficulties such as facilities (running water, a simple shower, electricity), poverty around you, public transport, hygiene, bureaucracy or disorganization. I guess it’s quite normal to go through mood changes, depression, irritability and insurgency against the system. Talking about me, I didn’t suffer much of the first symptoms (well, I can accept mood changes). But if you know me a little bit, you can imagine how much I rebelled! I tried to fight the educational system, the cast system, the transport system, the way women are treated,… everything. Nonconformity makes us want to change everything we don’t like. And I tried to change the whole of India myself! But India teaches you how to deal with that, too. Little by little things become ‘normal’. You develop abilities to face those ‘problems’ and a positive attitude towards them. That ‘new’ culture begins to make sense. You assume that the circumstances are different and that you cannot expect the same reactions as if you were in your home country. You learn that it is illogical trying to get the country suit you. It’s YOU the one who has to get used to the country!

In India you always need huge doses of patience and tolerance. There are a lot of things that need changing or modernizing, but it will be a long and laborious process which depends on the whole society.
Have a look at this hilarious video about gays in India:

Thursday, 23 January 2014


OK. Let’s get down to work!

Oh, my! India! What a country! That is what I thought when I landed in Hyderabad.

The minute I arrived there I got the impression that it was the most chaotic country I’d ever been to! (And I’d visited quite a lot! But all of them were ‘developed’ ones!)

The first difference with your country (whichever your country is) is the traffic. That’s a nightmare! There were cars, buses, autos, rickshaws, motorbikes (millions), people and animals everywhere! A tourist guide I once had in one of my trips around India joked about that. She said that in Spain people drive on the right, in Britain on the left and in India it’s optional! And she was right. They don’t stick to a lane. And what do they do to get their way? They sound their horns! That’s it! That simple! So, you can listen to honking all the time (day and night)! It’s deafening!
So, what if you want to cross the street? You don’t have to look to one side. No! You have to look everywhere! Then either you close your eyes, pray and take the risk of being run over or wait for ages till you get the courage to venture it! The first time it took me like 30 minutes to cross a double lane street! People came and went and there I was, waiting for my opportunity to walk across! And the funny thing is that a traffic cop was there, pretending to be working, to be doing his job! I can’t help laughing when I recall it now. Later I learnt how to do it. Everything in India has its method. You just have to become familiar with it!

When I arrived there I was afraid of being driven (in a car because of an accident I had when I was younger, and on a motorcycle because I lost an important person in another accident) so you can imagine how I felt when I got in a jeep. At the beginning I just freaked out, but finally I thought, ‘OK, if I’m dying in a traffic accident it’ll be here!’ And one thing was being driven in a jeep by an apparently responsible person, but on the next day I had to get on a bus. Oh, my gosh! That IS an experience! There were like 150 people on a bus for 55 passengers, plus sacks, bundles, animals and some men on the roof! It took us like 7 hours to travel 275 km. We nearly ran two cows over, we had a race against a boozy lorry driver, and we stopped like 20 times in the middle of nowhere because someone or the other wanted to pee!

And the worst part is that the traffic just shows what the society is like: utter confusion!

The second thing that shocked me most was the heat. It was the beginning of August so, supposedly, it was not the hot season. Well, if that was NOT hot, then what would be? The weather in Vijayawada is especially humid. A solution would be to have the air conditioning on all day long. But what happens when the electricity is cut off for 4 hours a day? The answer is easy: you sweat like a pig! And when I say YOU, I mean YOU! Because Indians don’t! I was told it’s owing to what they eat. I’m not sure, but I can swear they don’t sweat at all. Some weeks later I didn’t sweat either, so it’s possible it’s due to their diet.

Another concept that perplexed me was their timing. But about that I’ll write on another occasion.

Have a look at this video where you can see what the traffic is like (I've seen up to 6 people on a motorbike:

Sunday, 19 January 2014


And last but not least, thanks very much to two sons of a bitch who were there with me (we lived in the same place, but we barely greeted each other) all my stay in India. These two “people” tried to kick me out but they couldn’t. They were mean, perverse and machiavellian to me. Well, not only to me, to everybody. But especially to me and to my friend. As for my friend, I guess because they were jealous of him. Everybody liked him and nobody liked them. As for me, in part because I was a woman in a men’s world, in part because I didn’t sweeten their pill and mostly because I was a pain in their ass (that applies for both my friend and I)!

They tried every single trick to get rid of me, but I “won” every single time! And that made me stronger.

Thanks to them I learnt that some people can be really wicked. They were heartless, rotten, unethical, shameful, amoral, devilish, deceptive, mentally dysfunctional and above all HYPOCRITES. For me those who do not practice what they preach are hypocrites. And that is what these people were: the greatest hypocrites I’ve ever met! And I’ve met a lot! They pretend to have moral and religious beliefs, but their actions belie their stated beliefs. They preach we must be honest and they are not. Not at all!

Everyone in their lives was just someone to use, to control, and to manipulate to make them feel more powerful. Everything they did was harmful, manipulative, and destructive. They dove into abusive behaviour.

I think I’m writing too much about them. I don’t think they deserve more of my time.

I’m glad, happy, giddy even that our paths crossed. I became a better person because of them. Some people come to our lives just to teach us how we mustn’t be!

So thank you for being part of it!

(I don’t have a photo of them, but this one can give you an idea of what they are like!)

Monday, 13 January 2014


In spite of all the people I mentioned in my previous blog my life in India wouldn’t have been the same without my friend. I would have found it impossible to survive there without his support. Due to his profession (these people are kind of weird) I don’t know if it would be appropriate of me to mention his name. So, I’ll call him MY FRIEND, which he’s proved he is!

I never thanked him for everything he did for me. I mean, I always said “thank you” since I have good manners, but I never got to tell him how grateful I am for the way he was (and is) to me. So now it’s my opportunity!

Having lived abroad (in Italy to be exact) he is familiar with what it is like to be a foreigner. He knows how tough it can be to live in a foreign country, above all a country like India (which is everything but easy, specially for women). I guess that is why he befriended me the way he did. Either that or he was practicing Italians’ savoir-faire!

We spent about 18 hours a day together for almost one year. So, you can imagine how well we know each other. You know what they say: You watch anything long enough and you can become an expert at it. With only one look we would know exactly what the other was thinking or feeling. Even now, in the distance, he seems to guess when I’m feeling down!

I’m a quiet sort of person. I’m shut-in. I don’t like talking much. He’s just the opposite: talkative and extroverted. But we got on well together since the very minute we met each other. I can perfectly recall when I got out of that auto which took me from Punganur to the school after a 14-hour trip. And there he was so helpful and polite! (Up to that moment nobody had offered even to carry my heavy luggage for me!). For two weeks he was the perfect host. Just kidding! I used to tell him that he’d been nice to me for only two weeks and then he just forgot about me. But he was splendid to me till the very last moment; till he took me to the airport to get my plane back to Spain.

When I arrived in India I was in a pretty bad state. Just divorced, with a mother who didn’t understand me and without friends (since they turned their backs on me). So you can figure out I had little self-confidence. Every day he used to tell me everybody is special and different from any other human being; we are unique and so was I. And that built up my self assurance. One thing he taught me is not to get attached to anybody, but no matter how hard I try I don’t seem to be doing well, since I miss the people in India more than I’ve ever missed anyone. Another thing he taught me is to be patient! When I arrived in India I didn’t have the slightest idea of what the word “patience” meant. And now… either! But in the mean time, I mean all the time I was there and until I came to the Dominican Republic, I was quite a relaxed person.

Sometimes I told him he was the perfect husband, except for sex (of course, we didn’t have any!). We used to talk about any possible subject. And when I say “any” I mean “any”. We would discuss a lot since nearly most of the times we had completely different points of view and he tried harder and harder to persuade me, but I’m really stubborn. I’m the most stubborn person I know apart from him!

We used to do everything together. We worked out, we went shopping, we washed clothes, we cooked, we tidied up (that was very rarely!), we were each other’s stylist and hairdresser, we went for walks (which was not his cup of tea), we had our meals together (always, it didn’t matter if we had to wait for each other for hours), we.... In the long evenings without electricity we would sit on the floor of the corridor and talk or play the guitar (he did, not me!), or sing (also him!), or play Briscola (by the way I hardly ever lost). I miss all that!

The boarding school where we lived was in a secluded spot, so I depended on him to go out. I mean, I could go walking in the country, but I could not go anywhere where I could find civilization! So, he gave me rides on his bike (he’s still having problems because of that!). We went to see festivals in the villages nearby or we simply went to visit people. That, for me, was a way of escaping! At the very beginning it was tough for me, being an extremely independent soul, completely self-contained. Because of the language I had to depend on him for everything. EVERYTHING!!! From getting a bus ticket to getting something from the chemist’s, EVERYTHING! But then I learnt that it’s not that bad having to depend on somebody! What’s the big deal? I also did things for him! I hope the year I spent there was a little less shittier for him thanks to me!

Some malicious people misunderstood our friendship. But both of us knew clearly what our closeness consisted of. So I didn’t care what people said (I never have!) and, definitely, he didn’t care, either (deep down he loves the thrill of these challenges). We used to joke about that. Only in two occasions did I see some sort of doubt in him whether to comply with the “orders” he had or stay by my side. In those two particular situations I got cross but he reversed. In the heat of the moment I couldn’t understand his decisions, but in the end I ended up realizing I had nothing to lose, but for him a lot of things were at stake.

I don’t remember getting mad at him. Well, only once! Because he was utterly tactless. And you know that you have to be careful with women, especially some days every month! This sounds chauvinist, but it happens to me! He had a lot of patience with me. And when I say “a lot” I mean tons! And that is laudable.

Oh, my! I didn’t know I could write so much non-stop! I’ll have to wind up!

I can say I’ve been lucky to meet interesting people in my life. But he is really special. He’s authentic. With his creativity, his convictions and his particular way of seeing life he’s made me ask myself countless questions I’d never asked myself. He heaped me with knowledge and contents. That’s how I got the freedom that now fills my existence. (This last sentence is a bit too snobbish for a blogger like me!!!). He is something like a knowledge tree, like a fruit tree. But instead of having pears or peaches hanging, he has tales, anecdotes and legends ready for anybody to indulge in. He is a kind of Indian griot (if that existed). He knew exactly which story to tell me depending on my mood or on my needs. In this time of general conformism we should do our best to be surrounded by people who make us add up. Having intelligent people with sapience and sensibility near makes our life more profitable. His way of thinking was an invitation to reflection and to knowing myself and my feelings a bit more through words which got deep into my soul and ended up changing me.

The problem of having great people around (him and the other people mentioned in the previous blog) is when they are not there anymore. Then it’s when you feel some emptiness inside that nobody or nothing can fill. (Gosh, this is tougher than a divorce!). But I think (unlike him) that missing people is not that bad! My only relief is that I think I have helped them to feel a little happier and I’ve made their lives a little more pleasant.