Friday, August 29, 2008

if you watch this without choking up you might be a robot

Whether you're a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, a Libertarian, a Socialist, a Fascist or an Anarchist, whether you love or hate Ted Kennedy, whether you'd love another 20 years of W or if you've thought about moving to Canada at one point in the last 8 years, whatever you are or your personal opinions, I'd imagine it would be hard to watch this clip without getting a little choked up. I think it's a good thing when politics gets emotional. I think it's a good thing when people get swept up. I think there's something in this video that we all can relate to, a desire to go back to what was good.

Indian Summer: Chapter 3

Journey to Jaisalmer

It took a broken down auto rickshaw in the pouring, monsooning rain of Delhi, followed by a twenty one hour train ride to get to the little desert town of Jaisalmer in the heart of Rajahstan. I have never in my life traveled for so long, but I would do it again in an instant if all of those hours would take me somewhere as magical and beautiful as Jaisalmer. Picture desert, miles and miles of it out of a train window, vast and broken only by shrubs and women in impossibly colorful saris carrying buckets of water or leading a goat. And then out of this desert rises a city made up of a fort, huge and imposing, its sand colored walls blending seamlessly into the desert around it. All of the guidebooks describe Jaisalmer as something out of a fairy tale, an image straight from Arabian Nights, and as our train pulled up to the station I couldn't help but feel like all of those lush descriptions were exactly, improbably right.
I was dirty, smelly and tired. A night on a train is an interesting experience, especially in India. Each compartment has four sleeper bunks, and in the middle of the night Lucy, Kevin and I were woken by several armed and uniformed men who came worldessly into our compartment and started making up the fourth bunk. A few minutes later, a non-uniformed but clearly important man climbed into the ready made bunk. He stayed only a few hours, and got off the train before we did. We never exchanged words, but it is very possible that I traveled alongside some Indian nobleman or dignitary. If so I would like to think that he found us suitable travel companions. Other than that the train ride was unremarkable, broken occasionally by men coming through the compartments with bottled water or more often, steaming cups of delicions Indian chai (sooo much better than its American counterpart). And in the morning we finally arrived at our destination. For the first time in my life I showed up at a new city without a hotel already reserved. Yet my experiences in Delhi taught me that it would not be a problem to find a ride to a hotel along with numerous hotel recommendations. We walked out of the station to a wall of men shouting and holding signs with hotel names on them. Jaisalmer is a big tourist draw and the drivers there clearly know that the majority of people getting off a train will be sweaty and travel weary backpack clad Westerners who want nothing more than to be taken to the nearest hotel. All it takes in India is a nod and a little eye contact and you've found yourself a driver. From then, it's a matter of the driver half leading, half dragging you through the crowd of taxi drivers. And the other taxi drivers pursue you all the way until you are literally pulling away from the station. A good taxi driver in India not only has to know directions and a little English, but they also have to be willing to fight vocally and sometmies physically for their customers. We were hustled and bustled all the way to a waiting auto rickshaw, and off we zoomed to our hotel. If you ever have the pleasure of going to Jaisalmer I am going to highly recommend the Shahi Palace Hotel. First off it was one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in, with sandstone walls, lushly colored wall hangings and decorations, built in window seats stacked with orange and red pillows, views of the fort out of every window and a rooftop bar/restaurant/computer room with achingly beautiful views of the fort and desert in every direction. But the kindness of the staff was just on another level. We arrived without a reservation, but were quickly assured a room could be found, and that all we needed to do was leave our bags in the lobby and go have some complimentary chai on the roof while our room was readied. In the two days we were there, every request was met above and beyond the call of duty. They arranged a camel safari for us, told us it was no problem if we wanted to hold on to our room a good eight hours after check out so we could take a shower before our train left (with no extra charge) and were just all around open hearted and generous people, always ready with sound advice and helpful suggestions. And it cost us about 25 dollars a night (not each, just 25 dollars period).
Showered and refreshed, with our camel safari booked for the next morning, we set off. For my out of shape body, it was a difficult climb to get up to the top of the fort, but once we were there I knew immediately that I was in a very new kind of place. In my mind when ever I pictured forts, I pictured stone, medieval towers and drawbridges and knights. But India taught me that Western forts cannot even compare to their Asian counterparts. Hundreds of years later, these structures are still fully intact, and the one in Jaisalmer isnt just a bunch or ruins or a museum but a living, breathing place where people live and work (too many people in fact, one of the sad things about the fort in Jaisalmer is that it's in serious danger of not being around too much longer-overuse of water and drainage problems pose a serious risk of causing the fort too literally fall apart-that's why most guidebooks doesn't recommend any of the hotels inside of the fort's walls). After Delhi the last thing I wanted was another big, sprawling Indian city, and Jaisalmer was the perfect antitode. Of course there's still some of the old Indian craziness, the stall owners who vocally and persistently try to sell you their goods, the occasional glimpse of enduring poverty, but I was struck by how different Jaisalmer was, and how silly and ignorant I had been to even come close to thinking I understood India after a couple of days in Delhi. Jaisalmer is a town of around 8,000 and despite the tourism it feels like a small town, with small homes next to internet cafes and cows and goats mingling with the English and Australian and French backpackers. Everywhere you look there are textiles, intricately emroidered or mirrored blankets in deep hues of gold and red and purple (beige and cream, those standbys of American linen are nonexistent in an insistently, gorgeously colorful India). Stands lined the curvy, steep streets selling fried deserts (made on stoves right on the street) or bread or meat. Kids in school uniforms (everywhere I went in India I ran across kids in uniforms-I'm wondering if it's a universal thing with their educational system-no matter what it's really, really cute) play impromptu games of cricket or help their parents stir large pots of tea or more commonly run alongside tourists with waves and repeated "hellos." Jaisalmer is a craft town and everywhere we looked their were textiles or leather (camel, not cow-killing cows is a biiig no no in India-sorry no steak) or bangles or any number of handmade trinkets. And the fort's palace, now converted to a museum was great, worth the admission for the view off its roof. Jaisalmer sort of encapsulated a lot of the fantastical elements of India, the things people, or at least I associated with India in my mind, or at least old India. But despite some definite modernism, that age is still there-and walking around Jaisalmer it was hard not to feel completely transported, to a land of exotic words and names, of maharajahs and gods and endless desert, of beautiful dark skinned men and women in saris and turbans.

So after strolling around the windy, cow filled streets (seriously there were many occasions where I nearly had to flatten myself against a wall to let a cow pass, they could care less about humans, cows always have the right of way) we went to a really neat place for dinner, near our hotel outside of the fort walls. And there I had my first tali. Let's just say that I may not have been as adventerous as I could have been with food in India. I stuck to curry a lot which is only scratching the surface of Indian cuisine. But in my defense, eating in India is a somewhat daunting experience, especially after an hour in a travel doctor's office where I was lectured on all of the evil germs that could be carried in salads or other normally harmless foods. I wanted to experience Indian food but more than that I wanted to experience India, and I knew I couldnt do that if I was glued to the toilet. So I played it relatively safe, and I didn't get sick, so even though I may have missed out on some really cool and interesting food, I'm not sure I'd do it differently. But anyways, upon my sister's urging, I strayed away from the ubiquitious chicken curry (mmm how I do love that food, especially with a big bowl of naan) and tried tali. Now with tali you don't necessarily know what you're getting, but from what I understand it sort of just means melange (that's my word, not the real translation). You get a lot of food, each in their own little compartment on a silver plate-and you get rice and bread and you dive in. And I'm very glad I strayed somewhat because my tali was delicious and the restaraunt was neat, a packed and very busy little place with a lot of locals, wooden tables and a very no fuss atmosphere.

And I plan on eating a lot more Indian food here in the U.S., where I can be somewhat more adventerous and try vegetables and fruits and all of that "dangerous" stuff. And if you haven't eaten a lot of Indian food I recommend it. It's delicious, extremely flavorful and complex but with the feel of home cooking and traditional cuisine.

So we went to bed early that first night in Jaisalmer, wanting to be refreshed and ready for our camel safari (but really how does one prepare for a camel safari?) And I remember sitting on the little window seat that first night, our windows thrown open to let the warm night air in. Through the darkness I could make out the outlines of the fort. There were lights of course but they weren't the lights of a city. They were the lights of a town, of a place far removed from urban sprawl and congestion and pollution. On the roof across from our room, a family was gathered. (Rooftops were huge in Rahjastan-I guess living in the desert people learn how to take use of the coolest spaces in their house). The noise of their converstaion, although completely foreign to me in meaning, was comforting. It could have been any family in the world on any warm, summer night-moms gently chiding, dads firmly discussing, kids contentedly playing. I felt a million miles away from home, but I felt at peace. Jaisalmer took any remaining negative culture shock I may have had (and trust me there was a good bit after Delhi) and showed me a new kind of India. This India was still very different from home, but for the first time I saw the beauty and possibility in these differences. There's always a moment on any trip to a new place where you get it, where you stop looking for the place you expected and start enjoying the place where you are. In Jaisalmer that first night, with the desert surrounding me and everything I knew or thought I knew so far away, I got it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Indian Summer: Chapter 2

Life Lessons In Delhi:

I remember my first day in India as a sleep deprived blur of auto-rickshaws, dogs, and heat, topped off with some Kingfisher beer. But more than all of that, my first day in Delhi was a day of lessons. Let's just say, a tourist in Delhi, particularly any relatively Western looking tourist, is going to start their first day naively and end that first day with definite traces of weary cynicism and hard earned pragmatism. I don't think it's too far off from what anyone experiences on their first day in a big, new city. Even in our own country, it's easy to set off to NYC or DC with Frank Capra dreams or romantic ideals and then end the day with stolen belongings and a suspicion of anyone selling anything, anywhere. But the life lessons in Delhi seemed to come hard and fast. Never before have I transitioned so quickly from wide eyed tourist to a seasoned traveler who scoffs at an overpriced auto-rickshaw fare. So what did we learn that first day in Delhi?

Delhi is not the friendliest city in the world. When you first get to Delhi, you walk out of your hotel and a half hour later it's hard to shake the feeling that for all of its mess and chaos, Delhi just might be the friendliest place on earth. Why the second you move your feet in any one direction there are a dozen helpful young men eager to show you to wherever you want to go. Need to find the way to a landmark that just happens to be a block away?-without even asking someone will find you and take you there. Looking for hotel or restaurant or shop recommendations? There's going to be about five different people determined to give you their picks. I remember feeling slightly absurd when we stepped out of our hotel in the wee hours of morning on that first Indian day. Because we had barely gone a few feet before several Indian men began competing over who could help us bewildered tourists find what we were looking for. Now over two weeks time I learned for a fact that there are many very helpful and friendly people in India, but what I learned within fifteen minutes of leaving the hotel in Delhi is that the friendly and helpful Indians are not the ones who track you down on the street and practically run along side you to keep up. No these are the Indians who receive commissions from a variety of souvenir stores, restaurants, travel agencies and hotels-Indians who know for a fact that the tourists they are "helping" have no idea where they are, where they're going or what in the hell is going on around them. I guess the best way of describing "helpfulness" in Delhi is like a giant Victoria's Secret (bear with me). You walk in and you kind of just want to browse, but every two minutes a very persistent sales associate descends upon you, and in the guise of "assistance" proceeds to harass you to the point where you're practically willing to buy the new 75 dollar bra or open ten credit cards if only you could be left in peace. In Delhi, as much as we wanted to be left in peace to browse, more often than not, these helpers decided for us that we were desperately in need of assistance.

The same craziness goes for getting auto-rickshaws, but at least the drivers don't try to pretend to be your pal. They're selling something definitive, they just have a very persistent way of selling. I'm used to the system in Charleston, where cabs have to be called on a phone a half hour in advance. In Delhi you walk anywhere near a road-hell walk anywhere-and every driver from a mile around will quickly descend upon you, shouting loudly at each other in an attempt to win the ultimate prize-clueless Americans who don't know how much anything costs. So there we were on that first day, happy go lucky and innocent. We took an auto rickshaw to the train station and happily paid four times the amount it should have cost, and the second we mentioned the word foreign booking office to our driver-we found ourselves speeding away from the station to a place across the street. We arrived at a solid block's worth storefronts, all of which displayed the words Government, Tourist, Booking, and Office-but in varying combinations and types of phrasing. I think we must have looked a little confused-but our driver pointed to a particular building then looked at us. "Foreign Booking Office," he said, in heavily accented English. Obligingly we got off the auto-rickshaw and went inside. Surely if the building said government on it, it must be in some way official. Fifteen minutes we walked out, ticket-less and fuming. The "government booking agency" turned out to be nothing more than a two bit travel agency, clearly one that pays auto rickshaw drivers on commission. So we set off to the real train station-where the real tickets were. We fought our way through the crowds and the shouting drivers and made it the front steps of the station this time. "Excuse me," comes another heavily accented voice from nearby. "Are you looking for the foreign booking office?" Why yes we are, we nodded, confident that this clean cut looking gentlemen with the fancy watch must work for the station in some capacity. We follow him like children up the stairs of the station (side note, as I mentioned last time, dogs are freaking everywhere in India, well this includes places like train stations-dogs on the stairs, dogs by the tracks, dogs in every corner and crevice) and down a hallway until we ended up at a darkened room. The Foreign Booking Office, obviously closed. "Come with me," the man says, "The office has another location." Now we didn't want to be asses and get fooled again, but the man seemed so professional, and why would he have taken us to the closed office if he wanted to trick us? Plus by this time a few other clean cut looking gentleman had joined our little band and they all seemed in agreement with him. Off we go, following blindly, out the doors of the station, through the busy parking lot, across the traffic clogged street, and towards, oh you've got to be kidding me, to another freaking travel agency. By this time we not only feel like complete asses but we've missed the train and have discovered a helpful passage in our guide book which states in no uncertain terms that the ONLY foreign tourist booking office in existence is inside of the train station on the second floor. Only it doesn't open until 8. Defeated, slightly humiliated, and more than a little ticked off (but a little wiser) we hailed an auto rickshaw (well I don't know if we ever exactly hailed an auto-rickshaw while in India-it's more like they hailed us) and sped back to the safety and peace of the hotel where our jet lagged selves napped for most of the day. Despite the frustration, our first morning in Delhi was incredibly valuable. We learned that whether or not we knew what we were doing, everyone around us assumed we had no clue, and that there was really no way to combat crowds of people from following us around, shouting contradictory suggestions and "helpful" tips or offers of assistance. We learned that the word government held very little weight in terms of determining if something was in any way official. We learned that an auto rickshaw from Connaught Place to the train station should cost no more than 50 rupees rather than the 200 rupees we paid originally. Basically we learned that all the old rules were out the window and that in India and in Delhi in particular we were dealing with an entirely different ballgame.

Other first impressions from that day in Delhi:

1) McDonalds is hoppin' in Delhi-like people out the door-almost all of them young, loud music, no place to sit, freaking the place to be if you're young and living in New Delhi.

2) Auto-rickshaws can seat three full grown people but it is a tight squeeze.

3) Tips can be expected for literally walking someone across a street or down a city block, even if that someone was already heading in that direction.

4) Security in Delhi is nuts, understandable given the recent terrorist attacks, but we're talking medal detectors going into neighborhoods, full body pat downs to go visit a fort, security way stricter than anything I've experience in a very security conscious U.S.

5) While riding through certain parts of Delhi on a rickshaw you can pass an internet cafe and an ATM one second and then a cow and a temple the next.

It would be nice to delve deeper into Delhi, but on that first day all I really had were impressions-because everything came so fast and so intense and so strange. Delhi seems to be a necessary stop in India, and I wouldn't trade my experiences there, but the first couple of days in India were less about enjoyment and more about processing and acclimatizing and gradually getting used to the sights and the smells and the sounds of a very complex and different kind of society. Delhi was over stimulation and a barrage of color and light and noise and sprawl. But after some life lessons and some sleep-I was ready to leave Delhi, as well as any leftover cultural hangups, and head west-towards the desert, towards the India I had dreamed about.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Indian Summer: Chapter 1

I've been back in the United States since Saturday, have recovered from jet lag and returned to Charleston and to work and normalcy-and there are moments when India feels like some long, crazy dream. Juxtaposing my life here with my experiences there, it sometimes seems like it must have been a dream-or at least a different planet. When I was in Paris, everything felt so different, but there were definite moments of familiarity-echoes of home. Plus I could walk down a street without everyone immediately recognizing me as a foreigner. Only when I spoke did my true outsider status become apparent. But in India, 95% of what I saw and did was unfamiliar. For the first time in my life I was in a truly foreign situation, not just foreign because it's not the United States, but foreign in the sense that there are no cultural guide posts or signifiers to help you on your way, foreign in the sense that my mere appearance proclaimed loudly to everyone around me that I was from thousands of miles away. It was the scariest, strangest, most exhilarating, most exhausting, most rewarding, most challenging, and most amazing trip I have ever been on. It was one of those all too rare experiences where you're fully aware of life not just as a static state of being, but as movement, as something dynamic and active, life not as a noun, but as an all caps verb. To summarize the whole journey in one blog would mean typing my fingers raw. So I'm going to split it up, dive into the details and little moments of the last two weeks. Because as much as I write these blogs for others to read (and I really hope people will enjoy reading about my trip) this one is going to be unabashedly, selfishly for me. Because when I'm old and gray I don't just want to remember the 150 or so frozen seconds on display in my pictures. I want to remember it all-the good, the bad, the sad, the beautiful. I want to remember everything.

Chapter 1: Journey to Dehli

Going into this trip, I was fully prepared for two weeks of "roughing it." From what I read in guide books, half the hotels in India didn't have running water (which proved to not so much be the case in the places we stayed, which were by no means luxury hotels). I was prepared for sweaty, non AC days and cold showers at nights, and holes in the ground passing as toilets. I even packed for such an existence, with high tech clothes that could ward of sun and bugs and dry almost instantly. For all the technology that the tags on these clothes advertised, I wouldn't have been too surprised if they were also bullet proof and capable of flotation. I bought a fifty dollar water bottle with a filter designed to stop even the most persistent little microbes and parasites from invading my body. I bought a first aid kit and stocked up on a medicine cabinet's worth of over the counter and prescription drugs. To sum up, I was ready. Even though I had already done the whole hostel thing in Europe, I was convinced that India would be rougher and more difficult, not to mention more dangerous than anything I had experienced. Lets just call it Western Fear of Nations East of Greece.
So there I was, primed for a real rough and tumble, bare bones existence. I made it to Chicago without incident, other than a two minute bout of insane turbulence that almost caused me to promise my life away to a variety of different gods and religions. And then came the fun part, a fourteen and a half hour flight to New Delhi where I would meet up with my sister and my brother in law. So I did what any sane person would do with four hours to spare and a mind numbingly long flight in coach ahead of them; I found an airport bar. This was the first time I had flown since turning 21, and to my delight I discovered the wonder of airport bars. Whoever thought up this concept deserves a series of accolades and maybe a Nobel Peace Prize, because if there is any place on earth where a tall drink is in order, it's at an airport. People with hours to kill at airports are almost always tired, stressed, nervous, or just bored. Before I would buy a pile of magazines and sit by the gate, watching planes land and take off outside. But on this trip, I realized how much better airports are from the inside of a little bar. Almost everyone else at airport bars are alone, so you don't feel weird or alcoholic for getting a drink by yourself. So while in Chicago, I whiled away a couple of hours with a couple of pints, reading my magazines and quietly enjoying the company of other travelers. After two beers, I felt ready for my flight, maybe even capable of a good sleep if I got one more drink in after take off. Now I was really ready to start my adventure, to be a true backpacker. I hadn't even packed a hair dryer after all. This was going to be a new kind of trip for this normally, medium(ish) maintenance gal. About ten minutes before boarding, my name was called and my heart dropped. The last time I flew overseas I had to deal with satanic airport workers, delays, missed flights and mixed up baggage. I thought that surely this had to be something bad. So I walked up to the boarding counter and was promptly greeted by a lady with a dour expression on her face. Again I was sure it had to be something bad. But then, she hands me a new ticket and with zero expression tells me that if it was "alright with me" they had upgraded me to business class. Then she thanked me for my cooperation. I had to stop myself from skipping away. For twenty two years, I have only flown coach. I have walked through many a first and business classes, but never have I been one of the few, the privileged fliers who get their own security line and their super special Group 1 boarding status. And I was getting this upgrade for a flight that was more than twice the length of what was until then the longest flight I had ever been on. Immediately all of my philosophical notions of roughing it and traveling in true, frugal backpacker style went out the window. All I could think as I boarded (first, of course, because only peasants have to wait in line to board a plane), was that I could not be more happy to ditch all of those suckers in coach and move on up in the world. And business class, well it was just everything I thought it would be and more. I sat down in my seat and almost burst out laughing. I stretched my legs all the way they could go and I still didn't reach the seat in front of me. I had so much room on either side of me that I could practically extend both arms and not disturb the gentlemen to my right and left. I looked for the lever or button to press to manually recline my chair, but wait, levers and buttons were long gone. On my remote control, not only could I control my ac, my television, my lighting, but I could recline my seat into a multitude of positions, with separate controls for my fully extendable foot rest. I couldn't stop looking around my seat and inspecting things. And it only got better. First flight attendants came around with a tray of champagne, complimentary of course and before the flight even took off! I quickly gaged that the reason they do this is so when the poor schmucks in coach file past, your gloating can be at a maximum when it comes between sips of champagne. And oh did I gloat (silently of course, give me a few more flights like this and I'll actually start evil laughing). It's stunning how quickly I went from a nice, practical girl who was perfectly okay with flying coach to a haughty and entitled flyer who began to think that it would be impossible to go back. I mean could I really be expected to go back to a bag of cold nuts when in business class they give you a ceramic bowl of warm nuts-and oh would you like some more?-then sure, here are some more perfectly warmed nuts, because what kind of person eats cold nuts. It's sickening how immediately I was seduced with this lifestyle and how increasing disturbed I became when thinking of how I used to fly, and how I lived through flights where I wasn't given a full menu to choose from at the onset of the flight or BOSE noise canceling headphones. I mean to think of all of those times I lived without a goodie bag of moisturizer and lip balm and cozy socks. How did my feet stay warm or my skin moisturized? I must have been some kind of commoner. Oh yes it all went to my head, or maybe it was the free Pommery Champagne that I was able to order again and again. But let me just paint you a picture of this and tell me you wouldn't go over to the dark side: you're lying fully reclined-as in completely horizontal, no part of you touching the floor or the person next to you or the wall of the plane. You can't hear anything except the movie on the screen in front of you because these BOSE headphones are so amazing you're already thinking how you might be able to keep them. You're full from a five course dinner, food that wasn't just good for airplane food, but excellent by food standards in general. You're very warm and cozy because you have a massive down comforter over you and you're wearing the fuzzy blue socks that came in your bag of free stuff. And you sleep, like really sleep-on an airplane! I may have been ready to sell my soul for a lifetime of upgrades but can you really blame me? I'm ruined forever now, and I hope American Airlines is happy.
So anyway, well rested and moisturized, albeit a little stinky (sadly there are no showers in business class, although honestly I wouldn't have been surprised if there were) I arrived on time in Delhi. I departed the plane and now came the interesting part. I had three hours until my sister and brother in law arrived at the airport, and after going through customs and retrieving my bag I sat down to wait. I could have gone to the hotel, but the thought of venturing out alone into this crazy different country was way too much for me. Despite their flight arriving an hour late, they got there, and off we set. The first thing I noticed was the air-and it took me a moment to place what I was breathing and smelling-pollution-smoggy, hard to breathe pollution like I had never experienced. Unfortunately that's just one of those things about Delhi-there are so many people in this country and it seems a great deal of them reside in the sprawling, endless capital city. And I guess if you have that sheer number of people and cars and auto rickshaws and cows (they create their own type of pollution so I've heard)-it's just inevitable unless there are a lot of measures in place to prevent it. The second thing I noticed was how many men stood around the airport with signs for passengers to hotels. We found our own driver supplied by our hotel in Delhi, and followed him to his car in the airport lot. I remember trying to process the fact that I was in India, that the dirt below me was Indian dirt and the air I was breathing was Indian air, but it was almost impossible to process. I do remember that everything felt distinctly new and that I was definitely somewhere different from anywhere I had been. This feeling was only confirmed with the drive to the hotel. First lesson learned in Delhi: traffic is insane-like bonkers you're going to die or hit a small child or animal or be hit by a bus kind of insane-or at least that what it feels like because no one stays in their lanes and there's this constant chorus of beeps to the point where it's impossible to tell if you're driver is beeping or if it's from the cars around you. Gradually I learned that the beeps aren't so much aggressive, screw you, American type beeps but simply beeps for the sake of beeping-kind of more for drivers to announce their presence it seemed. It was night time, but I could make out a lot and I stared out the window the whole time, trying to soak things in. I remember being shocked the first time I saw a dog lying on the side of the road, because I thought it was dead, hit by a car or something. It's funny now because after a day in India, I realized that dogs on the side of the road or on the road or on the sidewalks or anywhere really aren't strange or unusual sights. They're not dead but sleeping, because these dogs live on the street and they're alll over the place. I also remember being shocked to see people sleeping, not because I'd never seen a homeless person before, but because of how many people I saw sleeping on sidewalks or in yards or even on medians. And most of them are young men, who look normal except for the subtle dirt on their clothes if you look a little closer and the obvious fact that they're sleeping outside. I knew India was poor, but I guess nothing prepares an American for the first time they go to a country with legitimate, widespread poverty. Because as horrible and sad as it is for poor people in the US, it's nothing compared to the poverty outside of our country. When we arrived at the hotel there was a woman who came immediately up to us. She was holding a sleeping baby and she asked repeatedly for money. Again the feeling of shock crept up on me, and I almost expected the taxi driver or the hotel bellman to do something. But it didn't take long in India for me to learn that devastating, women and children on the streets poverty is not unusual. It's not welcome or encouraged obviously, but from the first few minutes in Delhi, I began to understand that I knew little about what it really means to be poor and hungry in this world, how blessedly sheltered I have been from these realities in the United States. And again, I know there are some people here who are homeless and starving, and kids who don't get enough to eat, but the depth and severity of the poverty in India is on an altogether different level.
We clamored into our hotel, were shown our room which was pleasantly modern, if small, with a functional, modern style bathroom, ordered some very late night room service and talked about the next couple of weeks. We flipped through channels and saw a blend of Bollywood, Indian soap operas, and random American reality television (hello Survivor). And in one short hour, from the time we had left the airport until the time I pulled on my pajamas, everything I had expected about India was smashed into bits. I realized that India was going to be new, all of it, every moment and every thing was going to be outside of the scope of my imaginings. Preconceptions about what hotels would be like were out the window because the hotel we were in resembled in many ways any hotel you would find in the US. But then again, preconceptions about just life in general here were also changed, because all of the things that are minor or at least well covered up in the US, the poverty and the dirt and the smog-all of those things were completely in your face in Delhi. I remember lying back in bed, and feeling a lot of things, the residual glow from my luxury flight and determination to get an upgrade on the way back home (this was altered dramatically when I learned how much upgrades cost on a flight from India to North America), the relief of connecting with my sister and brother in law and not having to navigate Delhi alone, the shock and excitement of that half hour cab ride from the airport-all of the things I had seen swimming in my mind without much order or understanding at that point. But most of all I remember through my culture shock and through my exhaustion, feeling excited, truly excited about what was still to come.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...