The workshop itself is done, but my time in India is yielding other reflections, especially making me compare it with my time studying in Jordan.
It’s somewhat ironic to compare India and Jordan, at least from the perspective of water scarcity, because Jordan is literally a desert and India, depending on where you are, can be a tropical country. Maharashtra, the state I am, seems lush and green during the wet season, but actually suffers from major drought problems. Thanks to population growth, overuse by agriculture, and inefficiencies water scarcity has been, and will continue to be, one of the government’s most pressing issues for years to come just as in Jordan.
Looks aside, there’s a slew of similarities between Jordan’s and India’s respective water situations. Here, like in Jordan, it is common to have water delivered via tanker. Although my home stay had enough water for all domestic use in Jordan, some of my friends’ home stays did not. Here in Aurangabad, I am again lucky enough to have ample access to water, but there still have been a few days when I wake up and there is no water (pro tip: keep your buckets filled with water at all times ~just in case~). The water usually comes back within a few hours, and I think it is delivered more often than in Jordan, but again – can you imagine turning on the tap and having nothing happen in DC?
But that’s just the start of similarities. In the same way I discovered that the overlap between Italian and Jordanian culture is greater than I imagined (hello Mediterranean), India and Jordan are also closer together. Let’s begin with the food. Two staples for every meal: rice or bread. Jordan definitely had fewer varieties of breads (mostly pita, and here chappati, roti, and naan are all common options), but in both countries the base is essential. From there, dishes vary in their spice and sauce combinations. All standard dishes are also cooked, which often means fried. I’m not sure why raw foods never became popular in either country, but it might have to do with storage (food spoils more quickly in hot countries) and hygiene (cooking kills germs!). Regardless, as a friend told me, a meal isn’t quite a meal here in India if it hasn’t been 110% cooked. The only part of the meal that is uncooked is the curd, more or less dense yogurt as a side – another shared aspect with Jordan, even if the middle eastern version is labneh (both of them also drink yogurt-buttermilk with their meals on occasion!).
If none of these details has convinced you that Indian and Jordanian food are similar, let me also mention the tea culture. Indians usually drink their chai with milk, but it is the frequency of tea and the sheer quantity of sugar that is standard which really make them similar to Jordanians. Even in Jordan, I really questioned 1) why so much sugar and 2) why a hot drink in a hot country (it cools you off). Speaking of sugar, I almost left off the desserts – totally dense and syrupy, also sometimes fried. Buying a box of sweets here reminds me of buying them in Jordan: they all sort of look the same to the untrained eye, feature nuts, and even though they are only one square inch, a small box weighs as much as a few bricks.
To top these physical similarities off, there’s the etiquette and culture around food. When my mom came to visit me in Jordan, she was shocked at the lack of cutlery in a nice restaurant. I tried my best to explain that your pita is not just bread – it is your spoon, fork, and napkin all in one. And who needs knives when you food is tender or small? Indians apparently feel the same way – an idea I share – and will often even eat rice with curry or sauce with your hands (like mansef, there is an ideal saturation point of curry in rice when you can grab it and not drip it all over yourself). I’m still convinced food tastes better when you eat it with your hands.
There are two major differences in the gastronomy of the countries though. First off, Jordan is practically non-veg as a country whereas India is 100% veg friendly to say the least (many “pure veg only” restaurants). Secondly, in India there are not only many spices, but most dishes are also spicy. Jordanian food is mild.
Food is never complete without hospitality though. Like in Jordan, it’s almost impossible to refuse an offer of tea, food, or gifts. And, you better get used to receiving such offers because it is actually impossible to go somewhere (even for 15 minutes) without receiving tea. After the initial stage of being somewhat overwhelmed by this overbearing kindness, I have adjusted to being utterly spoiled by the extraordinary, and I guess customary, generosity. The nice thing is that at least I can compliment people here (on their homes/clothing/décor/etc.) without being afraid that they will offer to give it to me.
There is also the unfortunately familiar feeling of being stared at no matter where I go. I saved this comparison for last, because it is neither what I want to define my experiences, nor is it the most important comparison between Jordan and India. The feeling of “otherness” wasn’t quite as bad in Jordan; I would argue that Western clothing is much more popular throughout Jordan than throughout India (Mumbai is a glaring exception), and my skin color/facial features really stick out here as opposed to kind of sticking out in Jordan. And, like I have mentioned several times, knowing the local language opens up a whole new world. That being said, I almost feel like Jordan was a trial run preparing me to stand out in another country. For that, I’m grateful I studied abroad before coming to India.