For the past month, Paige and I have anxiously awaited our weeklong trip to Delhi to visit her cousin Stacy, who works for the United Nations. Being with the girls at the orphanage 24/7 is such an amazing experience—but it also wears on us. We have been dying for English conversation outside of each other (we are starting to feel like an old married couple who sits in silence at dinner J) and were simply excited for a change of scenery.
After 12 hours of travel, (literally on planes, trains and automobiles!) we arrived at Stacy’s apartment in the heart of Delhi. We walked in and immediately stopped dead in our tracks at her posh, ornately decorated apartment. Stacy’s work has set her up with a pretty fancy schmancy way of living—from her maid who cooked us breakfast every morning, to her driver who took us where we needed to go—she was living the high-life on their dime.
However, Paige and I were merely excited to use her actual shower—not a bucket!! Little did we know she had Pizza Hut and red wine waiting for us! I’ll never forget that first night of feeling full after pizza, feeling buzzed after one glass of wine and going to bed feeling completely clean after a real shower. We were in heaven…little did we know what the week had in store for us...
The first two days Stacy had to work, so after the maid served us breakfast (Ya I know, it doesn’t even sound normal!) Paige and I ventured out into the city by rickshaw and went to the nearest mall. It was the most gorgeous mall I have ever been to! It was a huge complex with three malls hooked onto it with stores like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and a simple Forever 21. We immediately bought some ice cream and began shopping, since Stacy told us we would be going out to dinner so we figured we shouldn’t wear our poopy/muddy village sandals and pit stained T-shirts. Just a thought.
That night we went out to dinner with one of her super nice Indian friends, Rajat. He picked us up and took us to a restaurant called The Garden of Five Senses. Paige and I were awestruck. This place was something out of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, with floating lights, stone walkways, foggy air and jungle canopies above our heads. The waiter brought out a bottle of white wine, and continued to serve us delicious foods that I couldn’t even dream of eating, having just come from the village. There was shrimp cooked in a sweet wine sauce, rosemary chicken skewers, focaccio bread with olive oil and calamari. It was a flavor overload to say the least. You try chewing on bunny paws one week prior and then have gourmet food placed in front of you the next. THAT in itself was culture shock! We had no idea this side of India existed, and we couldn’t imagine any of the people back in our village even fathoming this lifestyle. It was a bit disheartening and we couldn’t help but feel guilty.
After dinner, Rajat took us to a bar where he apparently must have been a big deal, because we surpassed the entire line waiting to get in and were handed VIP wristbands…I could get used to this. We ventured through the four-story bar to the rooftop and found it full of CAUCASIANS! We became giddy like little school-girls at the sight of attractive European men. We were able to enjoy our first Indian beers and mingle with fellow travelers from Germany, Brazil and Israel. We couldn’t lie; it was refreshing to talk to males again. :) Needless to say, Paige and I felt extremely grateful and appreciative to Rajat for our entire evening… and this was only night one of luxury.
Friday night rolled around and we were invited to go with Stacy to her company’s work party for the evening. We had no idea what to expect, nor did we feel qualified enough to be in the company of these Indian geniuses that work for the United Nations. So we put on our most appropriate outfits and joked with each other that we would try our hardest to come off sophisticated and at least 25 years old…that sounded mature. We thought it would be fun to play a new role for the night, so we sauntered into the restaurant with our heads high; but immediately we were shocked. They reserved the whole restaurant for this party...it was beautiful with gold and white couches in every corner and flowing gauzy, linen curtains and most importantly, a huge dance floor with two DJ’s. We didn’t know how long our sophisticated personas would last…we are typically no strangers to the dance floor.
Instantly, we were being waited on hand and foot by various waiters with trays full of exquisite appetizers. I couldn’t tell you how many kebab skewers I ate, because the minute my hands were empty, the minute the waiter insisted I ate more. Geez sir, pull my arm. I guess I’ll eat this expensive, FREE food you’re shoving in my face. Paige and I looked like the typical American girls, ranting and raving over the food and saying, “OMG, try this! I really just don’t understand how that cheese just melts in your mouth?!”
Shortly following, we were asked for our drink orders, as it was an open bar. The night kept getting better and better. Let’s just say that within the next couple of hours, Paige and I were Jai’ Ho’ing alllll up on the dance floor with the company executives. After being spun around by a 60 year-old Indian IT genius, I looked over to see Paige being taught various Hindi dance moves. It was classic. We didn’t leave the dance floor until midnight, when they brought out a huge smorgasboard of the BEST Indian food I have ever tasted. There was chicken masala, peppered paneer, buttered naan, ice cream, custard…you name it. And when you know you’re going back to village food, believe me, you eat your fill. We went to town on that food-- which is still the understatement of the year. Finally, after declining a 'goodnight cigar' with one of Stacy’s bosses, we decided it was time for her driver to take us home. Seriously! A driver?! It just sounds surreal.
Saturday was one of my favorite days in Delhi. We took the Metro to Old Delhi, which is about a half hour south of New Delhi. It was unbelievable how big the city was and that 20 million people occupy it! Old Delhi is the oldest part of the city and has yet to be renovated in any way shape or form. It was an entirely different world compared to the magical land of kebabs and gin and tonics we had experienced the night before. The entire area reaked of urine, as literally any wall or corner was used as a toilet. The streets have never been redone, so they were as narrow as school hallways—with God knows how many cows, carts and cars occupying them.
The chaotic streets made it difficult to walk, so we hired a man with a cart on the back of his bike to drive us around for a tour. We hit the jackpot with this guy, he was legitimately the nicest man alive. Not only did he take us through the whole marketplace, he parked the bike and helped us through the crowds to a passageway behind a market. There we ventured up 3,000 year old stone staircases and came to the rooftop terrace, with a view of the entire hectic city below us. It reminded me of the place where Aladdin lived, tucked away with a view of the whole city.
Then he took us through another stone walkway and we were unexpectedly above the spice markets we had been at just minutes before. We could the smell the pungent aromas of fresh ginger, chilis, clove and teas that were stored amongst us. With the turn of a corner we were now within the storage area of the flower market. Heaps of majestically colored flowers were piled high, as the pickers leisurely napped on top of them. The hot breeze blew aromas of jasmine, magnolia and lotus all around us; and for a moment we had escaped the frenzied city that buzzed beneath us.
After guiding us through various silver, incense and spice markets, we realized our ride that was only supposed to take one hour had turned into three hours! So we tipped our driver, grabbed some delicious street vendor sweets and finished up our shopping. I can’t even explain how grateful I became after our visit to Old Delhi. Not only for my life that awaits me back home, but also for the way my girls at the orphanage live. Although all poverty may seem relative, the Old Delhi level of poverty is far worse than that of the village life. At least my girls can run and play in the fresh air, eat home-cooked meals and sleep safely at night. It broke my heart to see children beg for money in Old Delhi, it was just like Slumdog Millionaire and I felt so helpless to the cause. But the surprise of it all is how genuinely happy those people are. Tiny men carried huge bags of rice on their backs, with the sun beaming down on their weathered faces—but they would light up and smile when they saw our white faces. We never witnessed anyone treat another poorly; only help one another out with directions or lending a hand. It just blew my mind. I couldn’t imagine 20 million Americans living and working together in those conditions, in such complete harmony.
On Sunday we topped our trip off with our journey to the Taj Mahal. Paige and I were leary about taking a bus alone there, so Stacy said Rajat would gladly take us with his driver (We were starting to love all this driver business). So we comfortably arrived in his car and ventured into the Taj Mahal ON A CAMEL. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. Once inside, we marveled for about two hours—from the malachite flowers carved on the marble to the water reflecting its beauty—the Taj was all it’s talked up to be.
After lunch, we were exhausted from the extreme heat (Delhi weather is much worse than Hassan’s) so decided we’d check out a nearby spa. We tried a Garra Rufa Fish treatment. What’s that you ask? Well basically you put your feet in a big tank and these little fish (that are only found in Turkey, Israel & other Middle Eastern countries) begin sucking on your feet. They don’t have any teeth and are on a specific dead skin diet! We couldn’t even see our feet because they were completely covered with fish, enjoying a nice happy hour on our feet! At first it tickled unbearably, but then we hardly noticed. And afterwards, our feet felt SO soft, like baby feet! It was the perfect way to cap off our fantastic week of relaxation. But by Monday, I was actually homesick to get back to village life. I missed the girls more than I could say and knew they’d been missing us just as much. There truly is something to say about living simply. I feel so fortunate I was able to experience both sides of India—a week amongst the upper class in Delhi and three months amongst the lower class in Hassan.
Sure enough, we pulled into the orphanage to find 83 little girls, waiting up WAY past their bedtimes to see their aunties. Nothing could have made us happier. We could hardly get a foot out of the car door, as the girls were climbing in to hug us. That’s when it hit me…I don’t know how I am going to leave this place. I have grown so attached to these girls, I feel like they’re my own. The next day it broke my heart as various girls asked me if I still remembered their names. I was in disbelief that they wondered if a week away from them could make me forget. I’m certain I’ll remember each unique, little face as long as I live and I’m so grateful for that.