By Robyn C. Morris, Amish Tour Guide
Introduction: My daughter married a man she had met in India while studying there. She has lived in New Delhi for the past nine years. Through their wedding and births of three grandchildren, plus other visits, I have visited India seven times, each visit for between two and five weeks.
I have spoken to a few of the Amish school children about life in India. I start out by saying that NOTHING is the same as in the US. Now, of course, that is a small exaggeration. People are the same. Everyone eats. Everyone sleeps. But the entire experience of daily life in India is so completely different that it is nearly unimaginable.
I encourage the Amish kids to ask me about anything. Because every question turns out to be a good one! Here are some of their questions, and my answers.
Q: What are the houses like? There is no “typical” house. In the country, people might live in huts, or in concrete block structures with metal roofs. In the city, those with no home live on any unclaimed piece of land (or sidewalk). They use a tarp overhead for protection and privacy. Stand-alone houses are not common in India. In the city, many people own their floor in a multi-story building. My daughter’s husband’s family owns a second story floor in a residential building. They have three bedrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, and balcony. As is standard for such nice homes, each bedroom has it’s own bathroom. Most houses, even the very nice ones, do not have any heat. But they generally do have some form of cooling.
Q: Are their schools the same as ours? Really, nothing in India seems to be the same as here. There is such a variation in schools, that I will only talk about the pre-school that both of my grandsons attended at ages 3 to 5. It is highly regarded, and admission is competitive. There is an open-air playground in the center, surrounded by classrooms that are completely open toward the playground. Sometimes, school is closed in inclement weather. And school is closed anyway during the very hottest months when it would be unbearable. Notice the woven stools on Page 6. These are in common use in every Indian household.
Q: What kinds of jobs do people have? Education is important in certain classes in India. Those children will grow up to be professionals – doctors, lawyers, accountants, ngineers, nd o n.
There are merchants who own stores, and those who have vendor carts of fruits and vegetables. Those with carts might stay in one place, or they might walk through the neighborhood calling out what they are selling. There are service people such as plumbers, tailors, and carpenters. There are men who come to collect the trash, men who tend to houseplants, women who cook for a household, women who sweep floors, or do laundry (in buckets, not by machine), and young women who help take care of children. Oh, and many households have a regular driver. The city traffic is just too hectic for most people to drive themselves.
In a country with over a billion people, there is quite a bit of available labor. Here in the developed world (US, Canada, Europe, etc.) it is common for companies to work toward efficiency and decreased cost. This often means eliminating human labor in favor of machinery and computers. In India, it is more common to put people to work, even in menial labor, rather than to automate those jobs. I saw a building site in India where women wearing saris were actually making mud bricks right on-site. I asked my daughter why the builder didn’t just order a load of bricks. She said that hiring many workers, even at low wages, puts more people to work. This is seen as more important than efficiency, if more people can have a basic income.
Q: What are stores like? In India, even the stores and shops are different! Generally, there are not big all-purpose stores like Walmart, not even big grocery stores like Giant Eagle. Shops are very small. They are only about as big as a large room in your house. Each store specializes in something. Often, you tell one of the workers in the shop what’s on your list, and he gets the items for you. Most stores have many more employees than you would expect, just waiting to help you.
If your shopping list is to get aspirin, oranges, chicken, flour, milk, and chocolates, you might very well go to six different stores. More likely, you would send out your maid or driver to shop for these various items.
Q: Where is India, and what time is it there? (This is when I ask the teacher for the classroom globe.) India is just about exactly on the other side of the world from Ohio. The Indian sub-continent lies between the Middle East countries and the Far East (China). When it is daytime here, it is nighttime there. They are 10 ½ hours ahead of us. This is a handy time to talk about earth science, showing how, when one part of our planet is in the sunlight, the opposite side is in darkness.
Q: Do they have fires in India? When we listen to children, we learn of their concerns and their interpretation of the world. I asked the young student to clarify. Was she asking about forest fires, or house fires? House fires. I understood her concern immediately. Our Amish community has had a few devastating fires in this past twelve months, with loss of property and life. I answered her as directly as I could, comparing and contrasting the Indian experience to the Amish way of life. With no household heat, and with the use of electric lights, the only open flame and fuel in an Indian household is generally at the cook stove, which is tended by the person cooking. House fires are more rare in India than here.
It is my privilege and pleasure to talk with the Amish school children. I enjoy the interaction, and learning, via the questions, how these children see their own world.
The articles in this series, outlining questions about India from Amish school hildren on’t even begin to cover all of the many differences between life in India and the USA. The best way to understand a different culture is to experience it firsthand. But worldwide travel will not be available to most of us. I hope that these four articles of Q&As, plus the first article on culture, give you an enlarged view of the world.
Robyn Morris conducts small group tours into our local Amish area to study and discuss Amish history and culture. She also leads historical tours that discuss the Underground Railroad and general Western Reserve history. In additional to local tours, Robyn can arrange for tours to other areas such as a guided tour in India.