There are several large cultural differences which I find hard to accept, the main one being the aggressiveness and forwardness of the people. There are no lines or right of way, it’s whoever makes it to the front first, and whoever can be the most forceful to get their way first. People blatantly stare and solicit, being very persistent and just hanging around until they finally give up and leave. There is a lot of cat whistling and honking, people defecating anywhere they please, and no women on the streets. What also surprised me is that there are few places that have been modernized. Speaking with the students about their experiences, a prominent response, and something I noticed myself was the lack of progress within the society. As one of the up and coming leading technological powers, we would expect
Conversely, I find the culture exciting and captivating. From the movies to the outdoor markets to the food (which has made me sick, but was very good while on my taste buds..) to the enthusiasm that the students and staff I work with show, I feel honored to have this opportunity to immerse myself in this experience. The wildlife intrigues me and the people that I have had the chance to get to know and speak with have made me laugh and taught me so much. Their enthusiasm and overall wonderful, carefree persona are definitely characteristics that I can learn from. (The picture to the left is of a barber, working on the sidewalk. I took this photograph from the auto rickshaw, an open-air-pressurized-gas-powered-vehicle that I was taking back to campus.)
I, myself, have already experienced so much in my first couple of days here. Me, the girl that hates it being hot, has adjusted to the humid climate, though I was lucky enough to arrive a couple days before the rain began, cooling the temperature down to about 100 degrees F. My stomach is still adjusting to the food; my first experience of getting sick from the food was last night, and though unpleasent, definitely not as bad as it could have been. The observation that has surprised me the most and really helped put things in perspective is what I've mentioned before - people in the slums with so little, living amongst flies and with little to no money to support their families, are so happy and so welcoming! The children are just like the children in the U.S. Despite cultural differences, they still run around giggling, teasing each other. They still love to be the center of attention, beaming and making silly poses in front of my camera and bursting into giggles when I put my camera down and give them a smile. It is as if we've developed a secret through my taking a photograph of them. The connection that I've been able to get through taking pictures of the people here is incredible. I've always felt that the more I understand my subject, the better the photograph turns out and the more meaning it holds both for me and an unbiased viewer. However, I think this is the first time that I've felt such a strong connection from taking a portrait photograph. It is like an unspoken secret or connection that the click of the shutter has created. Through our eyes, we have crossed the language barrier and the cultural barrier where the core of who we are is all that matters. The human connection is a strong one, and the power of the camera to create this connection has surprised me. I have been struggling a bit as well in trying to gage when it is appropriate to take the photographs. Had I been a freelancer not representing any organization, I would have felt a lot freer, but as a MIT representative, I feel more obligated to be extra careful about not leaving behind any negative feelings. This has gotten in the way of my photography, leading to only a few photos that I actually love. It gets better everyday, and hopefully in the next couple of days, my tentativeness to move around and get the angles that I want will subside.
Despite the Indian students assuring me that I should feel free to move around and take whatever photographs I would like, I do feel a bit intrusive constantly moving around taking photographs, afraid that they will feel like I'm taking advantage of their poor condition or that I am disrespecting them with my constant movements. Because I do not understand the culture completely, it is something that I think only time will cure. But I am rapidly getting better and growing more confident. Another problem is that I cannot take out my camera whenever I want to take a photograph. Due to crime and the lack of females on the streets, not to mention lack of people of my color, I am a prime target and am constantly harrassed to purchase this and purchase that, and have to be on the constant lookout for thieves. The Indian students informed me that yielding my camera in certain locations is dangerous at it makes me an even greater target, so sadly I have found myself not as able to snap the best photographs. It makes me wish I was able to shapeshift into different ethnicities and between genders. Being female, I feel that I am able to be better accepted in peoples' homes and to be able to form a connection with my subjects more easily without them being skeptical. However, it is definitely more dangerous being female.