No doubt some of you think I’ve suffered a nervous breakdown after my last two posts. I’m actually doing great, the last two posts were the accumulation and result of more than two months of travel and study of some pretty impoverished places, the sum of the knowledge gained in our Global Studies course on human rights indexes, women’s right’s indexes, health and family indexes, education and literacy indexes, environmental reports and of course, our day to day interaction with each other and the locals that we are blessed to meet.
As one commenter points out, of all of the people I’ve met and observed as we are traveling around the world, all of them have a base “joy” that owes nothing to materialism. Almost without fail, everyone I’ve met wants to talk about themselves, their family, their community and life. And there really isn’t much that separates us in the general sense. I’ve just come to a place personally where I’m “fully” (I think) aware of my privildge and acknowledging that I no longer want to keep my head up my @#$ about the world and my place in it.
What that means I don’t exactly know yet (maybe nothing beyond that?). Nor do I harbor condescending thoughts of “saving” anyone, colonialism already took care of screwing many people out of their land, culture, family and in most cases their freedom (think slavery in America and Brazil, Apartheid in South Africa, the plight of Native Americans and the indigenous ethnic groups of Mexico. And I’m not sure about missionary work which looks to me like it trades bibles for food, money and education-things I think should be free regardless of your religious affiliation. This is just my opinion.
That being said, despite my heart’s pain at the poverty I encountered in Brazil, Africa, Mauritius and India…I wouldn’t trade a minute of this trip for anything. I also hope that my descriptions of India in particular, do not dampen anyone’s desire to visit this amazing land. India and South Africa are tied for my favorite places that I want to return to. For very different reasons. In India I felt like a real traveler. The culture shock was larger than any I’ve experienced so far on this trip. The smells, the pollution, the bargaining, the traffic, the heat. The diversity of the Indian people, the beauty of the land, their unabashed love of all things Bollywood and sing along dance numbers. Their devotion to their families and communities.
I loved packing my backpack to head down to Kerala. The Pepto, hand sanitizer, headlamp and book. Check. Underwear, spare roll of toilet paper, bag locks, picture of my parents. Check. T-shirts, sarong, sunscreen and deet. Check.
I also enjoyed using the eastern style “squat” toilets which take a little getting used to. Fortunately, I quickly recalled my technique from using the “squatters” in Kenya. What else? I enjoyed the Welcome Committee, and the daily game of guessing how many people I would see on one moped/scooter (the most I saw was 5!). I couldn’t get enough of the Masala Dosa (potatoes, etc in a thin dough wrap spiced to perfection). Sweet, hot, coffee is a must on those early mornings when we had to get up before dawn to see/do more things in 24 hours than I ever thought possible.
My first overnight ride on the infamous blue trains of India. Even the rat that ran towards my feet made the adventure that much sweeter (and made me jump onto two bunks faster than I’ve moved since middle school!). We dubbed the Kerala trip “Rats on a Train” from there on out, but the cars were clean, the people were friendly and Man We are in INDIA! The daily surrendering of your life to auto traffic and rickshaw drivers really makes you face your mortality and move on. The markets for EVERYTHING from onions to fish. The Temples, Churches and Synagogues. Divine. Cooking Pepper Chicken Masal-I hope its not the last time.
You also have to love Squat Toilets! Even when we had the choice, I chose “squat” over “western”. For example in the trains there is a squat and a western at the end of each car. Sandpiper beer (and others) made the heat and dust almost worth it. Every night we’d drag ourselves to some restaurant or watering hole looking like all shades and sizes of Indiana Jones crossed with Laura Croft (Tomb Raider) with a little bit of Pigpen (from Charlie Brown) thrown in.
More than anything I enjoyed the people. The scenes of daily routine in a foreign land make me think about my own routines when I’m at “home” whatever that is anymore. I really enjoyed watching people go about their day in India in a way that made me feel like a cheerful voyeur. But it is their languid pace, the fact that everything has to be done from beginning to end, and there are few short-cuts. There are no Wal-Marts or Targets, no Ikeas or laundromats (outside of major metro areas). These scenes make us all reflect on how we spend our time, what “convenience” versus necessity really means, and how appreciative we are (or how appreciative we ought to be) for the many ways our lives are made easier.
I loved floating through the Periyar game reserve. The Monkeys! The trip down Kerala’s backwaters was something I’ll never forget. These are things that are indescribable and even photos do them little justice. I can’t tell you what it feels like to stand in a temple, church or synagogue that was built in the 1500’s. The craftsmanship, the caretaking and maintenance, the joys, secrets and pains those walls must know. I laughed my head off talking with the fisherman and hauling in a net of “catch” and strolling through the markets and seeing the wide variety of fresh fish and seafood. I enjoyed seeing the sights from the back of Adil’s (pictured) motorbike, zipping from church to church to snake charmer, holding tight to his beltloops and and even more tightly to the moment.
Snake charmers. Fishermen. Mothers. Daughters. Fathers. Sons.
Finally, here’s an example of the type of traveler that I am. We returned from Kerala via overnight train at 0600 (early morning) on our last day in India. I hadn’t slept much on the train but was in good spirits, if a little grubby and greasy around the edges. One of my colleagues (Erika) who was on the Kerala trip was also on another trip due to leave the ship at 8am and she feared that she would miss the trip because we were getting in so close to departure and she wouldn’t have time to shower, etc. I was like “eh, just dump your gear, and go”.
By the time we got on the ship it was 7:30am and after a long, pretty involved but very cool story…I ended up with a ticket leaving at 8:00am for that very same trip (a long day trip out to some amazing temples). I literally didn’t even have time to go to my cabin and change my t-shirt, shower, or even store my pack/gear. I just dumped it in the admin office, prayed it would be safe (aforementioned belongings including iPod etc) and grabbed my Nikon D50, a bandana and a bottle of water and ran for the bus. Erika laughed and said we should be seatmates since neither of us had showered, washed our faces or anything.
But the sunlight streaming into the bus windows on a beautiful morning as a foreign city wakes up and doesn’t feel quite so foreign anymore, is worth a missed shower any day. I pray that you all have a chance to visit !ncredibe !ndia one day, she’ll take your breath away and you’ll love her for it.
**Turns out from a spiritual perspective that I was “supposed” to be on this last minute trip. about 2.5 hours away at the first temple we visited, one of the students got really sick with diahreah (sp?) and vomiting, etc. Everyone on the trip was really into it (about 40 people and three other staff), and the student didn’t want to leave the trip and tried to make it through. I made the call and told her I was hiring a car and we were going back. It was only going to get hotter, dustier and more uncomfortable for her. Her face showed her relief that someone was making definitive decisions. We hired a car for $30 (for a 5 hour round trip for the driver-crazy) and got her back to the ship. The driver stopped along the way as needed so that she could be sick in decent facilities. She recovered nicely by the next day and I was only too happy to be in a situation where I could actually DO something. The upside is that I was also showered and in my pajamas by sundown.