Coming to India can be a massive culture shock. It's not like taking a holiday in the Algarve! So when my parents and sister said that they were going to come and visit me in India, I was apprehensive to say the least. Not because I didn't want them to come, but because none of them had ever travelled anywhere like India before and I wanted them to have a good holiday!
For various reasons, my family were flying into Delhi and doing the “touristy” bits around that part of India (Taj, etc) and then I was going to fly to meet them and we were all flying down to Kerala together for a week. This made me even more nervous – I wouldn't even be there to greet them in Delhi and help them settle in!
This blog isn't going to be about Kerala (although I'm chucking in some pics of the place! We stayed in Cochin, which is a lovely little town btw). Instead, I want to talk about the reaction of my family and why I think it's so important....
This blog has been my record (of a sort) of my time in India. It's not a 100% detailed account – it's the stuff I think people will find interesting / amusing / thought provoking. My natural style is to make light of things, paint things in a funny light and to be generally positive. The end result was that it was a bit of an eye-opener for my family when they hit Delhi....
I live in Hazaribag. I talk about the power cuts, the muddy roads, the cows in the road. People laugh, they think – wow, rural India must be pretty bizarre to live in. The thing is – Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai – they aren't that much different. By western standards they're dirty, loud, chaotic and pretty intimidating. There is poverty everywhere you look, and it can be quite distressing. People will try and rip you off because you're white. There is little “tourist infrastructure”, public transport is almost unintelligible and the majority of people speak only rudimentary English.
My family stayed (for the most part) in western hotels. Marriotts etc. These places are like little bubbles. They aren't India. Staying in them means you miss out on so much of what makes India brilliant (or, more specifically, makes it brilliant for me!), but perhaps more importantly, they enable you to forget the country that you are in. In these hotels there is the hot running shower, the mini-bar and the spotlessly clean bathrooms. If you put the hotel in England it would be luxurious – in India? It's like a completely different planet.
I think this made the experience even more extreme for my family – the contrast between the life in the hotel and the life outside of the four walls of their rooms. That might have led to them enjoying the experience less than if they'd stayed in a more “authentic” place, I don't know. But I do know that they're now far more aware of the living conditions for the vast majority of this country's 1.3bn population.
I am so proud of my family for coming to India. I know it was a huge step outside of their comfort zone and I respect them hugely for doing that. I've travelled to a lot of places off of the beaten track, which made it much easier to adapt to life here. I think that also when you know that you're in a place for a long period like I am, you force yourself to take a different perspective on obstacles. You can't do that as easily when you're only in a country for two weeks.
I had a fantastic week in Kerala and I hope my family enjoyed it as much as I did. I have a feeling that it will be a holiday they won't forget for a long time and hopefully it's been one that they will look back on and be glad that they did!