By Lindsay Mower, Staff Reporter
Escaping Maine’s cold winter by traveling 7,800 miles to India, Community Health Education majors at UMF Minarva Craig and Bri Martin are spending their semester abroad studying and spreading health advocacy to local children and their families.
The pair are now settled into New Delhi where they are trying to fully immerse themselves into the culture by learning the basic vocabulary and eating the wide variety of foods.
For Martin, this adventure is a mental promise to embrace the physical chaos in India as she lives outside of the country for the first time. Craig, who grew up in Maine but was adopted as a baby from India, says she is excited to be spending her last undergraduate semester back in her homeland. “When I go to a village and see people I wonder if they may be someone I’m related to,” she said in an online interview. “I will forever thank my birth mother for doing what is best for me,” she said, “My mother in America is the best person I know.”
Craig and Martin have both created blogs where they are documenting their traveling experiences for their family and friends back home. Martin’s blog, “Finding Solace in the Chaos,” is dedicated to reflecting upon her new lifestyle as she deviates from her daily schedule of attending classes in Farmington. Quoting Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho who once said, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal,” Martin’s says in her blog post that while taking in the new spicy smells and admiring the intricate clothing patterns around her, she can now see that Coelho couldn’t have said it any better. “I am so beautifully disoriented; so immersed in beautiful chaos,” she says, “My inner stressed out perfectionist missed the flight, but I’m not terribly worried about it.”
Craig says that it’s sad to see the major health disparities she has witnessed among the families in New Delhi. Martin agrees, saying she feels slightly ashamed for not helping any of the people asking her for rupees, after being advised not to for safety reasons. “On a practical level, I understand. On an emotional, and spiritual level, I simply cannot comprehend the rule… I don’t think I will ever be desensitized when a child approaches me for money,” she says.
As part of their exchange, the pair have visited an unorganized living area, also called a slum, where they noticed the community members seemed to have all the necessary amenities, but generally didn’t have an abundance of material possessions. “I saw kids playing with toys, women washing clothes and men sitting in chairs smoking and enjoying each-other’s company,” said Martin, adding, “I got the overall impression that the area was a truly strong community. Neighbors seemed fond of one another and people were laughing.”
Recently, Craig and Martin went on an excursion to Udaipur, “The City of Lakes,” and, Jaipur, “The Pink City,” in the state of Rajastha to visit rural communities and community health centers. Along with their classmates (students from around the world studying in the same program as Martin and Craig) the pair visited a “medicine man training organization” where a 60 year old man with a permanent smile took them on a tour of his herbal garden. Martin, who commented on how he even had a plant to slow the progression of tumor growth, was impressed by his ability to provide natural treatment methods to villagers who otherwise would not have access to medicine; a health care practice that is different than most approaches in the U.S.
A more emotional experience for the pair was visiting a child malnutrition center. Martin says she tried to make the mothers laugh because her Hindi probably didn’t make much sense to them. “‘What’s your name?’ ‘beautiful child’ and ‘nice to meet you’ was the extent of our conversations, but it was nice to create a connection,” she said. Another intense moment for her was seeing a man missing one of his legs, shimmying himself down the street. Martin says, “You wonder, is he severely impoverished? How did he lose his leg? Was it infection related?”
The cultural adjustment is made easier for both of the girls with the help of their host family. Martin admits she is struggling with learning Hindi, but has gotten some assistance from her host family’s woman helper who is around her age. “The funny part is that she’s learning English at the same time that I am learning Hindi. Her and I have become good friends. We often like to quiz each other on English and Hindi words.”
Craig commented on how time in India works differently than in America in her blog. “When someone invites you to their house at 8:00, it would appear strange to arrive any earlier than 9:00,” she says, joking, “I have been in India for about a month and it’s nothing like Elizabeth Gilbert’s, ‘Eat Pray Love.’ I don’t wake up and partake in meditation, I eat way more then Elizabeth Gilbert and I am constantly on the move in New Delhi.”
One of Martin’s most recent blog posts gives an update on her adaption to the crowded streets. “I am still scared as Hell of crossing the street but I’m trying to think of it as an extreme sport,” says Martin. “I have not picked up on the honking cues, but I am convinced that I will learn another language other than Hindi while I am here; the Delhi Honk.”
In a new country where they can barely speak the language, the girls are adapting quickly. Craig says, “I have learned the best experiences or adventures are when you go out of your comfort zone. I will continue to learn more Hindi and enjoy every moment of it.” In the meantime she manages to find others ways to communicate; she says, “Everybody smiles in the same language.”
You can follow Craig’s blog at minagoestoindia.wordpress.com and Martin’s blog at findingsolaceinthechaos.wordpress.com.