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September 20, 2012

We're not in Kansas anymore

-- — Picture this: You are standing on a “sidewalk.”  The weather is overcast, and you wonder whether it will suddenly erupt into a deluge or dissipate completely from the heat of the sun lurking behind the clouds.  

  Before you is a bustling street with all shapes and forms of transportation, moving quickly, heedless of any law that wouldn’t be enforced.  Those that go by on motorcycles — the most popular vehicle — are wearing bandanas and facial coverings to protect against the dust in the air. It may be a one-way street that you stand on, but don’t think for a second that you shouldn’t look both ways before crossing.

  The buildings are low, nondescript structures that are partially hidden by the disorganized vegetation growing along the street. The street explodes with the exquisite colors of the women’s clothing and the roadside temples.  At the same time, the street is smothered by the darkness of the dirt and debris that pervades every clean corner.  

  The air smells of incense, which, thankfully, covers some of the other scents of the street.  Beside you is a chai stand — giving off a sweet smell — with a group of young men around it, shouting to one another over the din of the street.  

  Your ears are punished by the incessant honking of horns and barking of stray dogs.  The Muslim call to prayer sounds from a nearby mosque.  A rickshaw driver is shouting to you, looking to make some extra money on a foreigner. It is true, you are just as foreign as everything you see.

  Things seem to be progressing in an indifferent kind of way. You are being stared at by seemingly everyone with eyes, indifferent to however rude you may find it.  You get bumped in the hip by the horn of a passing cow, indifferent to your presence as it lumbers down the street.

  You are, had this been reality, me.  And just like me, you are probably bewildered.  Not overwhelmed, but definitely bewildered.

  Since my vision is limited to the horizon, it is very easy for me to think that I am, in fact, on a different planet.  I had seen the photos, read the books and watched the movies, but in the end, you have to be here to believe it.  You have to live it to accept it.  The latter is much easier said than done.  

  Before I had become accustomed to everything, it all seemed so very confusing.  It was confusing how traffic managed to continue at the rate it does when there aren’t any traffic signals or street signs. How a gaudy glass and steel shopping mall can exist within sight of homes held together by coconut fiber rope. How the same sun that shone on my life in Milford, shines on the spectacle before me, here, 7,500 miles away.

  However, it is not confusing as to why a foreigner would want to travel to this place.  Not confusing at all.  The foods, the people, the streets and the excitement of everyday life is irresistible.  That is what is overwhelming about India.  That is why I am here.

 Sam Aldridge is a Rotary Exchange student from Milford. To read more from him, visit


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