🗓(I think it will be fun to release these one at a time; since we’re at the 20th anniversary of her adventures, I’ll try to post them as they were first sent — from early September through mid-December, 2002)
I’m very pleased to have this picture to start things off with — Helen has always had a very relaxed “when in Rome” attitude towards culture and language, always sort of fitting in despite being in unexpected places, and yet never really sacrificing her own unique identity.
In addition to her salwar kameez, the camera case she’s holding is a reminder that this all happened before digital cameras or smartphones (and you’ll hear a lot more about bananas as her adventure unfolds 😛).
- Subject: Bangkok
- Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002
- Subject: Delhi!
- Date: Sat, 7 Sep 2002
- Date: Sun, Sept 8, 2002
- Landour Bazaar
- Tue, Sept 10, 2002
- What excitement !
- Thu, Sept 12, 2002
- Mon, Sept 16, 2002
- here I am again!
- Sat, Sept 21, 2002
- Something Devi Temple?
- Sun, Sept 29, 2002
- a true group e-mail
- Wed, Oct 2, 2002
- Neia Gar
- Sat, Oct 5, 2002
- just chillling. . . :)
- Mon, Oct 7, 2002
- cobras and saris
- Tue, Oct 8, 2002
- Dysentery walli :(
- Thu, Oct 17, 2002
- Sun, Oct 20, 2002
- K. continued
- Sun, Oct 20, 2002
- "continued" continued
- Sun, Oct 20, 2002
- Sun, Oct 20, 2002
- a taylor and a thali
- Sun, Oct 20, 2002
- Tue, Oct 22, 2002
- musical chairs
- Tue, Oct 22, 2002
- Holy Water
- Thu, Oct 24, 2002
- muchas gracias!! :)
- Sun, Oct 27, 2002
- 183% better?!
- Tue, Oct 29, 2002
- Divali in Varanasi
- Tue, Nov 5, 2002
- What to have for dinner. . .
- Wed, Nov 6, 2002
Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002
Dad, Ana, Cathleen, Ashu --Hola muchachos! I'm chilling in Bangkok. I've been chillling for five hours. The airport is nice but not exotic or anything. Full of Indians and Pakistanis and a tribe of short Mexican guys all speaking Spanish as fast as they can. Everybody is waiting around. This seems like a waiting sort of airport. But in two hours I leave for India! I just changed four dollars into bagh? --whatever it is, it's bought me a bag of "mixed nuts" that look like an Asian snack mix. It was the only thing that didn't have something to do with squid or dried jack fruit or other things a little too adventurous to be my lunch-dinner in the Flower and Fruit store. That was eighty bagh. The rest of my bagh are paying for fifteen minutes of internet. And I'm using the rest to check my mail. I'll try to write again from Delhi tonight, but if not I should at least manage tomorrow morning--afternoon. I'm going to sleep in as long as I can. It's all very exciting, but in a very sleepless sort of way. :)
I love you guys!
Date: Sat, 7 Sep 2002
You guys really should have taught me how to make a sending group or whatever it's called before I left. All this time typing in e-mail addresses!
So fun to be in the middle of India, and go over to a computer and have e-mails waiting for me, with fresh news about pergo flooring and dance apprec. classes, and computer techie interviews. Everything is really, really nice here. I figured when everything was so easy getting to Bangkok, that I was probably worrying more than I needed to about arriving in Delhi.
I didn't give you guys any details of the trip to Bangkok really, and I feel like I should go in chronological order. But at the same time, everything since then is so fresh. And chronology itself seems very fragile right now. All these different time zones and my horrible sense of time (witness my inability to foresee microwave buzzers and boarding calls) leave me unsure of whether it was only yesterday that I left Turlock, or a week ago. Is time still going at the same pace there as it is here?
Here it is Saturday, 11:20 pm and I'm sitting in the internet cafe in my hotel (wearing the pink salwaar kameez with white scarf but otherwise standing out very much from all these Indians). I got up at seven this morning, and took a bucket shower--carefully following Ashu's instructions, except that there were only two buckets instead of seven, and just one spout--more like the normal bathtub faucet, aside from it going right onto the bathroom floor. I wonder how many rupees I'm spending to describe my room's bathroom? And I still haven't even told you about the flight to Delhi, or anything!
Okay. I'll start where I'm supposed to, as soon as I've given you one other random bit of news. When I went to buy my train ticket from the hotel travel agency this morning, it turned out that the guy knew John Mock. They were colleagues, or something, and his younger brother was a colleague of David Mock, John's brother? The guy grew up in Mussoorie, but hadn't even been back for six years. And didn't seem to think it was a big coincidence at all that he would also know someone I knew.
Like the Nepali taxi driver last night who expected me to know his tourist friend from San Jose, since we were both from California.
After I e-mailed you from Bangkok, I was hailed over by an Indian looking woman who had a giant diamond in her nose and was about to explode with conversation. She'd pulled me over because of my clothes--was horrified that I might be a foreigner marrying into Pakistan and all it's evils. It turned out she was from Fiji, and married a Pakistani five years ago. She had just left him, and was on her way from Pakistan back to Fiji. It was the first time she'd had her head uncovered since she married him and converted to Islam. She had left her children from her previous marriage, left her country, left everything to go live with his relatively impoverished family. Her husband wanted her to do everything exactly like his parents and his sisters and all the women in his family had "for centuries"--everything from the way she wrapped the saran wrap to walking six steps behind him in public to taking beatings at home and meekly listening while he joined his relatives in calling her a prostitute, other terrible names. She wasn't at all happy about my dating an Indian, though her reasons didn't seem to have much to do with the Pakistani. She was half Indian, but had all sorts of prejudices against them. I think Indians must have low status in Fiji. I showed her a picture of Ashu, and she agreed that he was cute, though she still didn't completely approve of my dating him-- even as non-Pakistani as he seemed, the name Shah made her suspicious. She was still telling me more stories of her evil mother in law when I looked down at my watch and saw it was ten minutes till my flight!
I ran through that hot humid airport like you would not believe. (Ashu, I would have left you in the dust, easily!)
Then, after getting through security and feeling absolutely sure that my lungs were going to implode and my heart explode, leaving a very big mess outside gate fifteen. . . I found out the door to the gate was locked. I was ready to panick, but I calmly walked over to one of the petite thai women in her security uniform, and asked her why the door was locked. She explained that it was because boarding didn't even start for another half hour. I'd set my watch wrong for Thailand time. I leaned against a wall and commenced dying, much to the curiosity of a tall man in a turban and his elderly punjabi wife. More and more Indians showed up as boarding time approached, but even once they opened the door, there weren't more than twenty of us. As people kept trickling in after boarding should have begun, and after boarding should have ended, and as our flight should have already taken off, I began to wonder if flights to India go by Standard Indian Time. Pretty soon the room was crowded with Indians, and there was still no sign of an airplane outside.
I played with a little girl who sat next to me in the waiting room, though in my exhaustion I wasn't completely entertaining, and she would often ramble around, to the opposite end of the room from her parents and me, and then return. A two year old, and completely independent in the crowds. Finally the plane arrived, though very delayed and we took our seats. The man next to me seemed embarassed to be sitting next to me, some strange woman, and he nicely explained that he would go sit in the center isle so that I could have more room to sleep. I didn't need room to sleep, though it did feel more comfortable having that little extra bit of space. There were so many men on the plane and so few women. I think a lot of the people were travelling on business. I slept, so I don't really remember the flight over the Bay of Bengal, etc.. In the night, you really couldn't see much anyhow. Everyonce in a while I would open my eyes and there would be half naked Indian superheroes and heroines running around across the screen, brandishing swords and running through curtains of flames. Finally I opened my eyes again and the movie had been replaced by a monitor tracking our flight to Delhi. Only twenty miles left!
Landing was normal, except that none of the Indians even made a show of waiting till the end of the taxi to take off their seatbelts and start crowding for the exits. The airport was normal too--airconditioned, and extremely straightforward. As soon as we got through the little tunnel to the terminal from the airplane, we were at the luggage place, and there was my suitcase, already unloaded and waiting for me. It all was almost too smooth and fast, because I already had all my things before anyone else was ready to lead the way to customs, etc. I waited. Then followed them to immigration, which was very fast. They had almost ten desks open and working, with little boquets of flowers as decorations. Once I'd had my passport stamped, I was in another hall, where I found a Thomas Cook exchange and traded sixty dollars for rupees. There was a British guy and a couple young girls there as well. He was travelling alone and would have shared a taxi with me if I hadn't had someone waiting. His hotel had offered pickup, but when he heard the difference in price of getting picked up versus grabbing a cab himself, he thought he'd just do it. Then he saw the exchange rate and realized he was just saving himself about a pound, and he should have called. He was in his early thirties, and seemed like he could deal for himself, so I left him arguing with the exchange desk about some bureaucratic problem, and went through customs. That really just means I handed a security officer a piece of paper as I walked through the door. No one really even looked at me. The area on the other side of the doorway was strange--sort of like the celebrity paths outside movie premieres or something. Everyone on the other side of the rope was completely quiet, and completely squished in. Some of the faces came with big signs, and there, on one towards the middle right, had my name and Hotel Ajanta and the magic passcode all printed in big letters on it.
The sign was attached to a short little guy in a blue shirt, with a friendly looking face. I motioned to him and we met at the end of the roped off area. He welcomed me to India, and we then hiked out into the wilds of India. I don't really know if it was exciting of not, since I was just focused on following him and not losing him in the crowd of Indian men, and tourists, and baggage carts. It was dark and misty, and felt a lot like the outside of the Morelia airport. My driver and I talked about the weather and about how many people he'd picked up that day, and whether or not I'd been to India before, and how long I had been in airplanes and airports since I left home. We had a lot of time to talk. We must have walked a mile, and all along I rolled my little trusty little suitcase. We passed fewer and fewer people, went through a tunnel, went past one fenced in parking lot, went along another muddy paved road with stray dogs and past a few more men in Indian clothes and then into another parking lot--sort of like fairground parking--that had a big sandwich board type sign saying staff only. I didn't point out that neither of us really qualified as staff.
Then he loaded my suitcase into the front seat, opened the back door for me, and we were off. Getting out of the parking lots was bumper to bumper gridlock. I admired the grapes he had hanging from the rear view mirror, asked him about his religion, practiced my Hindi on him, learned about his family, his job, his experiences in Delhi. . . He was very nice, and even being tired, it was interesting to learn about his life and Delhi and his mini-version of India. He has a three year old and a six year old and a wife to go with them on a farm with his family in Nepal. He talks to his wife two or three times a week. He thought it was funny that I wasn't married, though he apologized for his astonishment, remembering that we were from different cultures, and that in my culture it isn't as common to marry at fifteen or sixteen. He showed me his travel journal, with entries from different tourists he had driven with to Rajasthan and other parts of India. All of them wrote very nice things about his cautious driving, and his calm, pleasant demeanor, and his amazing ability at aiming them towards good restaraunts and away from touts and other unwelcome aspects of travel in India.
His driving seemed safe enough, though we were using the line in the middle of our one way traffic lanes as a sort of third lane. Outside the car were lots of Morelia type businesses and other rather worn sorts of buildings, and all sorts of people, except for women. Things seemed to move twenty four hours here.
Everyone was awake at the hotel when I got there. My driver handed me and my luggage over to the eight different men still working at the front desk of the hotel. A manager sort of person took me over to a little side desk with comfortable seats and a quiet, dark bearded fellow brought me tea while they first took down my passport information, filed the information for the tourist police sort of office, and asked me about my flight and where I'd learned my Hindi and how long I would be staying in Mussoorie. I didn't drink the tea, but took the passport cover they gave me to make it "safe" and paid for the two nights and the airport pick up with rupees. It turned out that it cost half what I thought--only eleven dollars or so with tax per night. The bearded guy led me to my room (in complete silence) and left, after I had had him show me how the fan and things worked.
The room was really nice. Three good locks on the door, one a churchkey style. The bed was king sized--maybe from twins pushed together. The bed was just made with a tightly fitted bottom sheet (starched, I think) and two folded blankets, plus pillows. The fan hung from a very high ceiling. There is a window above my bed, but it leads into a space, not a real courtyard or anything. There's a nice carpet, a sofa, a television, and then the bathroom--with western toilet and twenty four hour hot water.
I had an Indian style breakfast in the restaraunt downstairs this morning. You look right out onto the street, and everyone on the street looks back at you. When I first came in, there were only men in the restaraunt, and they all stared at me sort of curiously. Later on, more tourists came. I stayed at the table long after I'd finished my potato pancake thing, and banana and yoghurt and glass of water. The street was so crazy. It's small, the size of our alleyway, and has people just flowing through it. Little boys in school uniforms, their arms around each other’s shoulders. Women in white veils riding behind men on motor scooters. Women in saris, women in Salwaar Kameezes, men in suits, men in work clothes, men sharing scooters and wearing funny toy looking helmets, women riding in the back of cycle rikshaws, pregnant dogs, tiny children running around and throwing pieces of ice, honking jeeps, honking taxis, but mostly pedestrians. There's a little shop across the street too, selling film and things, which makes it all even more interesting.
But I haven't actually walked outside of the hotel yet. It is an intimidating sort of street, with the mud, and the wide eyed men, and the sniffing little dogs. A man walked by with a puppy under his arm, as if it were just a briefcase. And later a man walked by with three small children in tow, clinging to his suit--one sitting in his arms. I think it would be different if I had a place to go. For now it's enough just to sit and watch, and there are two meals left to go. That should be a lot of excitement.
I booked my train to Dehra Dunn this morning after I had eaten. I'll take the express at seven in the morning tomorrow. The manager is sending someone with me to help me find my seat and get me settled. The people at the hotel are all very serious and respectful and make life far easier than it ought to be. It can't really count as an adventure while there are all these people around taking care of me!
So, what shall I have for lunch?
I think I'll go scope out the menu. Funny that I can do so much without ever leaving this safe little oasis. Afterwards, maybe I'll watch some TV. They shoved the Indian Express newspaper under my door this morning. Looks like the Indian cricket team is doing alright.
I'll keep you up to date.
I send much much love!
Cathleen has to take lots of notes in her dance apprec. class for me. . . I'm so excited for her!
Date: Sun, Sept 8, 2002
I'm in the most beautiful place on earth. It feels like the highest place on earth too. Looking out in either direction I have to almost catch my breath, it feels as if the mountain sides just slope down and down forever. They're bright green now too, because of the monsoon, with all sorts of flowering bushes and plants. It's well forested--somehow the trees manage to hang on to the sides of the mountain, and there are two different types of monkeys that. . . well, I feel as if they ought to be springing from tree to tree, but all the monkeys I've seen have been loping along the ground. The silver ones are langurs or something. I saw them for the first time as we were driving up in the taxi. There were at least twelve of them, some just babies, all casually picnicing on some sort of seeds that had fallen in the road. They showed absolutely no fear at all of the taxi driver, which, considering the width of the road and the speed that he was driving, was remarkable.
Yesterday was so intense. I know I should write all the details of my trip from the hotel to the station and from there to Dehra Dunn, and then the taxi ride, but I don't know how. I spent an hour writing in my journal last night and never even got to the part where I got on the train, and my train left at seven in the morning. Describing the day feels like writing a novel to rival Vikram Seth's in length, and meanwhile, all I want to do right now is tell you about my room and my breakfast and the birds that were calling at dawn outside my windows.
I know if I'm not careful, I'll spend my entire day in this internet cafe, and completely miss all my Hindi lessons. But my first one doesn't start until afternoon, and I'm not guarding my rupees so carefully that I can't at least spend some time describing yesterday's journey and the guest house and the amazing luck I've had ever since I left the Hotel Ajanta in Delhi.
I woke up at three in the morning in the hotel. There was so much going on all night. I have the feeling sometimes that Indians don't sleep. Not that this is an entirely new or original suspicion. There were a zillion employees in the hotel, and since most flights into India arrive in the middle of the night, all the different facilities of the hotel are twenty four hours too. So many people talking and people walking around the outside of my room, and glasses breaking, and toilets flushing. . . I didn't let myself get out of bed until four thirty, but I really hardly slept at all. By the time I got my wake up call at six, I was already completely packed, and comfortably curled up with the newspaper (more cricket scores). One of the zillion identical looking employees (same blue shirts, same exact mustache and hair cut, same aloof and professional manner) noticed me coming out of my room and helped me with my luggage. Then I found someone, there were zillions of employees just waiting to be found--one of them was deeply sleeping behind the money exchange counter--and explained that I'd like someone to go with me to the train station and set me up. The guy who'd been asked to the night before wasn't there--or maybe he was and I just lost him among the other blue shirts and mustaches.
After some discussion, and my changing a little bit more money with one of the consious employees, me and my luggage and an old man with a black shirt and no mustache (!) were loaded into the back of a little green rickshaw, in the middle of all the early morning chaos of my street. The rickshaw drove us through alleys, along big streets and small streets, through crazy intersections, past extreme poverty, cows, lumber shops, chai wallas, resting employees. It's funny how scared I was before I got onto the airplane when I wasn't experiencing anything at all to be frightened of, and how actually being in India, propelling through early morning Delhi at rediculous speeds on the back of the least stabil vehicle I've been on in my life, didn't seem like anything frightening at all. Maybe my senses were too full of all these other new sights, the craziness of this new place, to have room for fear. Instead, I enjoyed the ride, and happily chatted away in Hindi with the guy who'd been sent with me. We didn't have a complicated conversation, since my Hindi isn't that proficient, but we talked about my stay in India and my return to Delhi and studying Hindi in the mountains. I didn't really believe we'd reached the station when we got there.
We were still in the sort of underworld, or land of limbo that we had been driving through. Everything was still washed of any color but brown, and covered in dirt. People were still lying face down in the dust. Such hopeless people wandering around. It felt a little like I imagine Egypt must have felt like during its terrible famine, when parents had to protect their children, because there were people desperate enough to capture them and eat them. We parked outside a motorcycle (also dust covered) rental place, and walked through the brown muddy pavement across puddles and between walking corpses, to a platform where we stood in line while my companion got a platform pass and I watched the suitcase. It was all so surreal. But nothing terrible happened, and I didn't feel like a different person having been so close to poverty in real life. Such poverty isn't really easier to believe in person than it is on television or in movies. For our sanity, I think even our imagination sets limits. So I stood and stared at my suitcase, next to a pile of human feces, and waited for the guy to push his way through the crowd until his wrist slid through the little hole at the bottom of the glass window, and came back out with the pass. He had to struggle to get his hand back, there were so many other hands trying to push their way towards that glass.
Then my suitcase was on his shoulders and we were walking past that building to the relatively empty, but equally dirty platform, and walking and walking to find my car, and then my seat in the old train. I gave the guy some money after he put down my suitcase. I think I gave him about fifty cents. Then he cheerfully explained that it had cost sixty cents to get the pass, so I gave him another twenty ruppees (forty more cents) and he smiled very big, and talked about my coming back to Delhi, and seeing him again. Then he pointed to my baggage and said "baggage", nodding and smiling over and over again. And then he left.
The train was old, and worn, and the seats were narrow with three on the left and two on the right. More and more people came on and took their seats. Snack guys walked through passing out their goods. A man in kurta pajamas, with ret betel nut stained teeth came and quietly sat next to me. He took out a cell phone to check the time. I asked him if he was going to Dehra Dunn. He said yes. He asked where I was from. I asked him about the sociology of modern India book he was reading. Then another man came and sat down. We talked about my Hindi (in Hindi, the nice slow kind) and about Mussoorie, and about the best ways to learn. The train kept filling up. I kept looking up to see that my baggage was still there, though I couldn't imagine how anyone could manage to sneak it away.
He insisted that I get a hindi newspaper, instead of the Times that I was reading. So he and the other gentleman and I all got separate newspapers from the boy passing them out. The kurta pajama guy was very short, and played with his feet, just like Dr. Lutke, so that he reminded me very much of an oompa loompa. He turned out to be a lot more like Marieke's Dad though. He even had the same greying beard. The other man, the one seated on his other side, next to the window, was more of a mix between Grandpa Norm and Mr. Ozga. The paan addict turned out to be an anthropologist from Delhi university. The Ozga type fellow was an oil businessman, who had travelled in Russia, and kept the Hanumman Chalissa in his front coat pocket. The train employees kept on bringing more complementary chai trays, and my new aquaintances drank it non stop the whole time we were travelling. They also insisted that I follow their example and take one of the bottle of purified water the boys were handing out, though neither of the other men actually neglected their chai long enough to even sip water.
We were on the train six hours together, and my kurta pajama guy was extremely outgoing. I found about the NGO he was going to meet with in Dehra Dunn, and his family, and his kids. All this was in English. The oil businessman also spoke English, though not as well, and he also was very happy to practice it with me. I got lectures on life, long discussions on Hinduism and caste, advice on the best way to get to Mussoorie, how to make friends in life and be successful, interrogations on my hobbies, my past travel experiences, my family. Six hours, non stop talking. I showed them the Lonely Planet book , which they perused carefully and finally approved. I showed them the pictures of you all, which they also inspected carefully.
They were incredibly friendly, and very interested in my welfare and my safe arrival in Mussoorie. I really felt as if I had ended up with two new grandparents. They got along with each other well too, though the anthropologist, who had studied five years with tribes on the Nepalese border, and should have been more patient, could hardly bear to wait for the other man's English. So the anthropologist spoke a lot more. He exchanged e-mails with me, and gave me his cell number, and made me promise to call him when I got to Mussoorie, and to look up him and his wife when I return to Delhi.
And the whole way we were passing exceptionally interesting things, so that I didn't feel bored for a second. The train seemed so distant from the women sitting down to relieve themselves next to the tracks, and the pigs, and the trash, and the crumbling brick buildings where so many people were living. There were little kids playing in drecky water, there were white egrets in green fields, there was a wild peacock. It was very flat outside. Then, after hours and hours, and many cups of chai (I held off, thinking of my bladder and the prospect of the train toilet) and a meal of peas and four stale french fries with ketchup covered vegetable cutlets, we reached the hills. The rivers were flowing more, the villages looked better cared for, there were blackberry bushes, sawmills, men out of fairytales walking through forests with giant sacks over their shoulders.
My elderly gentlemen asked the family in front of me if they could fit me into a share taxi with them, and the family aquiesced. But then the pajama guy decided he wanted to introduce me to his NGO director friend, who might know of other NGOs in Mussoorie. He was also hoping to introduce me to paan and chai wallas and all the other mandatory (in his mind) experiences of a trip to India.Which wouldn't have worked with my sharing a taxi and leaving at once with the family. So instead I met the NGO director, though it turned out they had an appointment, and then followed them and the director's son, who carried my bag despite my protests ( so sexist!) to the taxi station across the street. Dehra Dunn reminded me of Morelia or at least, Patzcuaro. Nothing too intimidating, but it was still nice to have people watching out for me. And then, in the midst of their discussions with the taxi driver, who didn't know my hotel in Landour, but could get me at least to Mussoorie (drivers don't like driving up to Landour, because the road grows even narrower, and is very very steep). Then a guy in his twenties with an Australia t-shirt asked if I was going to Landour. He and his friend were as well, and they knew of my hotel, though they lived nearby. Would I like to share a taxi? We could all split the cost.
I left my anthropologist and the NGO people with warm goodbyes and then set off with Clint, the Texan (despite the shirt, I know), and his wife, an Anglo-Indian girl from Pune. Clint is a little older than me, and has lived in Mussoorie four years. Stephanie, his wife, moved here a year ago when they married. We got along really well. Stephanie was impressed by my knowlege of India (I asked her if she spoke Marathi) and I was impressed at her knowlege of everything else. You should have seen her buy vegetables when we stopped at the stand in Mussoorie. She is maybe my age? And teaches at English lit and geography at the Woodstock boarding school to ninth and tenth graders. I found out way more than that about them. . . I think we already really count as friends. The road up to Mussoorie was very narrow, and windy, but perfectly maintained. There was even a little stone wall the entire hour and a half up the mountain. Lots of scooters passed us, women in saris sitting side saddle on the back, without helmets. Maybe because of all the other cars we encountered, and scooters, who seemed far more exposed than we did, I wasn't frightened by the straight drop off on the edge of the road, or the incredible speed with which we took turns. Our taxi driver did a good job of honking as we passed turns, so that whoever we ran into head on would have at least had a chance to notice us before the accident.
It was so unbelievably beautiful. I almost wanted to cry--the mountains, the waterfalls, the stone walls above the road to keep back mud slides. The mountains were partly veiled in mist.
There's so much more to tell you. But for now, know that I am safely here, and meeting very friendly people, and settled in a quaint rustic room with beautiful windows out onto the mountain, and my own western style bathroom (though I still haven't gotten the shower to work). It's so quiet and peaceful here. I can walk up to the language school or the hotel, and not see a single person on my way, or even a car or scooter. Just the forest, and the monkeys, and the himalayas in the background when the sun burns off the mist.
It's so amazing to think how easily I could have gone my whole life without seeing this incredible place.
I wish so much that you were with me, to see it with my eyes and feel the sunshine warming the crisp cool mountain air.
But I will write more e-mails, and do my best to describe the churches, the cows, these mountains, and this winding street that goes down to the valley. Imagine that crooked street in San Francisco, but with stone instead, and with pines and other mountain trees in between, and dogs barking furiously at brown and grey monkeys that don't even care enough to give them a single look.
I send so much love!
Tue, Sept 10, 2002
I feel as if I just walked up and down half dome, though I really just walked down to Landour Bazaar. The road is incredibly steep, much more difficult than the walk from the guest house to the school or down to Char Dukan ("four store") where I e-mail. I hadn't realized how far a walk we were from Mussoorie. Landour bazaar, which has a couple of egg stores, an e-mail center, a bank, and a bookshop, plus a couple snack shops, is about twenty minutes down the mountain, past lots of quaint little houses, all displaying brightly colored collections of wash hanging out to dry. The view the whole way down is incredible, but breathing is such a challenge for my lungs, unaccustomed to the elevation and such climbs, that I can only really appreciate it at the times that I stop to catch my breath. My intention had been to buy an umbrella, since the monsoon season doesn't end for another two weeks, and a perfectly blue sky can turn into dark thunder clouds in twenty minutes, easily. Umbrellas are also a good defense against the more agressive brown monkeys, who are known for chasing lone pedestrians.
As it turned out, none of the little street shops were really up to umbrella sales (or at least, none that I could find). One of the little egg shops did display several fat caged hens though, with the cooked versions sitting on the open counter of the sweet shop facing it. The book store was very small, and had many books on Landour and Garwahl. They had two dictionaries too, but they were so bulky. And now that I've realized I probably won't be able to change money, much less withdraw it, without going down to Mussoorie, an hour's hard hike, even three dollars of my current reserves seems terribly expensive. I think I'll end up going to Mussoorie Saturday morning, when I don't have classes in the way, and see what I can manage with the banks. All of them are closed by four, when I normally finish.
Today is my third day of classes, but somehow I feel as if I've been here forever. Urmila ji, Dinkar ji. . . those are my favorite of my four teachers. They are both very challenging, so that by the end of the class I am almost sweating after all of the drills on new expressions and conjunct verbs and conjuct participle sort of things. "Having seen Mussoorie, I became happy" "Mussoorie dechkar mujko khushi hui" "Having seen Mussoorie, they became happy" "Mussoorie dechkar unko khushi hue" and over and over again, a new grammatic construction, a couple of examples and then drills until I can hardly remember my own name. But I like them very much. It's challenging and I really feel myself learning. Urmila ji has also been having me read stories, and she doesn't let me get away with a thing. I flinch every time I realize I've forgotten to touch my mouth with my tongue for the dental t's--for really she has no mercy as far as grammar and pronunciation go. She is a really neat person. She reminds me a lot of my friend Marisa, in Santa Cruz, the Chicana American Studies major, except with a bindi and lots of henna in her hair and on her hands, and a sari--that is always wrapped in a brown homespun sort of shawl. (The ensemble is completed with a pair of tennis shoes and an umbrella).
The other two teachers aren't as good. Joshi ji is interesting--his family comes from a village, and I got to interrogate him about the crops I'd seen on the way from Delhi(apparently they were sugar cane, which his family also grows) and electric and diesel tube wells and all the other things I'm interested in. I made him tell me all about his family. He didn't see his wife until the day of their wedding. Now they live below Landour bazaar (he walks all that way every day!) with their small daughter, and their sixteen year old neice. My other teacher refuses to speak to me in Hindi, so that the only time we use Hindi is when we sit reading together. I am learning a lot as I read and she translates. I can feel my vocabulary expanding. But it's not as stimulating and challenging as the other two classes with Urmila ji and the older gentleman, Dinkar ji.
The Italians have explained to me that next week I should be able to request which teachers and time slots I'd prefer, so maybe I can try another couple when that time comes. The people in the guest house are all so wonderful. The gang of Italians is very loud and boisterous.There are about ten of us right now, plus an elderly Indian gentleman and his servant, who have come from Delhi with their dog, Buddy, a yellow lab who is treated like a king while the servant, an adult man, is treated like less than a dog (though without any malicious intent whatsoever, it's just the customary relationship). We are served incredible dahl and subzi and rice with yoghurt and roti, family style around one of the big tables in the central room. Last night, the Italians finished dinner with an hour of singing at the top of their lungs. Kiri, a girl from Cambridge, and Padamma, from Hamburg, also joined them intermittantly. Padama and the Italians knew every Simon and Garfunkel song every written, but the Italians also serenaded us with soap commercials from Italy and rather irreverant impressions of Eros Ramazotti (holding their noses to get the perfect nazalized tones). The Italians are totally crazy. Kiri is more serious, but in a friendly way. She's taught French in Africa and lived in Ecuador and Dubai as well. Her Mom is English and her Dad Punjabi, so she actually spent her first ten years in Delhi, but only speaking English. Padama's Dad, who died two years ago, was Tamil. She doesn't speak Tamil though, just very good Hindi. She's been to India on and off since she was a baby (she's gorgeous, when I met her I was sure she was a model, and maybe she is) and is very very confident in her Hindi with the men at the guesthouse and the other teachers. She does the best job of fitting in of any of us, and is actually good friends with one of the teachers. Lots of the girls have clothes taylored for them in Mussoorie, but Padama's are something exceptional. . . she's very good at picking materials and styles, and her shalls are also gorgeous. She's sort of aloof, but not in a mean way. I'm hoping we'll be friends, since she's staying another three weeks, while Kiri and the Italians will only be here another week or so. Kiri will be here two weeks. I guess I'm outlasting them all. But I'm glad I'm staying six weeks. I really want to be able to speak fast, and be able to have conversations with all the different people, and I know in six weeks I will only just be reaching that level.
I miss you guys. I don't feel so far away though. Somehow I feel much closer to you than I do to Delhi. Delhi feels as if it is on the other side of the world.
I may not e-mail again for a day or two, just until I can get to a real bank. But I send tons and tons of love and extra big hugs to Cathleen for her birthday.
Will you e-mail me photos of the house when you move in the furniture?
I love you all so much.
Please take care and stay well. I'll see you again in no time at all!
What excitement !
Thu, Sept 12, 2002
And I was worried that with all those old geezers Dad and Ana would be getting bored. Now they have their own Western style gunfights going on right on the street! I'm glad the electrician was able to fix the breakers, though I don't understand why anyone would steal them. What do people use breakers for?
Yesterday in my conversation class, Joshi ji taught me how to jam a meter, so that you can steal electricity. And about how to bribe people in government offices. Really you should only bribe people that you know well, who won't turn you in, and you should be very discreet as far as higher officials go. There are actually a lot of honest ones. He's never bribed anyone, but before teaching he worked in an office, where he once accepted a bribe of twenty dollars. He considered it fair, since the guy was having him go through a lot of extra loops to get whatever paper work the guy needed.
Twenty dollars is tons here, a rediculous amount. I went down to Mussoorie yesterday inbetween my classes, in the pouring rain, that just let up this morning after over thirty hours of straight buckets. The walk really wasn't at all bad. After Landour, everything isn't half as steep, and Mussoorie's bazaars are full of all sorts of interesting clothes shops, and cloth shops, and snack shops, little booths where you can get a shave, other booths for a shampoo, more of the egg shops, shoe shops. It seemed like a very nice town, and that was in the rain.
I had to go to three different banks before I got someone to give me money for my card, and even that was an adventure. You should have seen the bank--not at all like in Mexico. This was like something out of the middle ages. I had to sort of crawl under a chain into a shed that had been turned into an office space. In the corner were two big cages, one for deposits, the other for withdrawals. No one came over to help me, and there wasn't a line anywhere. Finally a cleaning lady motioned to me that I was supposed to walk around the counter and approach one of the men drinking chai, smoking cigarettes, tickling each other. . . I found a man at a desk who nodded to me, and understood my credit card wish. He decided to use me as a learning experience for another under office employee (bapu instead of bapu ji), showed him where to put my passport number, my name, all the other little things on the slip. Where he should check my signature. After some struggle on his part, the lower peon guy finished filling out the slip, and the bapu ji brought out an old fashioned plastic credit card slider. He carefully showed the other guy how to place the card in, and the paper, then bang! he slammed the slider thing across the card, which had slipped slightly out of place in the process. What a sick feeling I had in my stomach! More force was used in trying to unjam the little contraption, more men appeared from other desks, one offered a metal stake/ spike, one of the ones men were occasionally coming over and skewering receipts and things with. For a while they prodded at the card with that, attempted loosening the different parts of the slider. Finally my card reappeared, still in one piece, but bent at the corner. It took another half hour of time for the bapu and bapu ji to actually figure out which number to dial to authorize my advance, and finish the paperwork. Then, I got my passport and credit card back, but I still had to go and trade a metal token saying "Bank of Baroda 6" with a man in one of the cages, before I could get my huge stack of bills and leave. I withdrew about two hundred dollars, though if I'd known what a challenge it would be, I might have chosen to withdraw more. Next time I'll know.
On my way back I bought a big black umbrella with a plastic blue handle, and a bar of cadbury chocolate, all for less than two dollars. The umbrella is very nice, though I felt funny walking back holding two umbrellas (the other was borrowed from the school). Outside of Mussoorie I got lost and ended up having to ask directions from three different people (you should have seen how many people I talked to before I got to the different banks!), who did get me back to Landour, but I think each person was thinking of a different path, so that none of the different ways I ended up using seemed very directly connected, or even vaguely related to the way I'd come down. By the end I was on a little dirt path (more of a river than a path) going up the mountain through the jungle and wondering if I wasn't on my way to Delhi rather than anywhere in Uttar Anchal. But the nature of the path, zigzagging every ten feet, with a two foot high step at each corner, was reassuring. Almost all the paths that go steeply up seem to somehow arrive at Landour, or at least Char Dukan.
And here I am, back where I'm supposed to be. And the rain has finally stopped. A couple friends and I are plotting a trip to Rishikesh this weekend, if the weather allows. Kiran goes back to England next Friday, and many of the Italians have already left, so I feel as if I ought to go travel with her, just in case the people who arrive later aren't people I enjoy quite as much. Kiran is very very fun, and the other woman we're planning on going with is also very nice. She reminds me very much of someone, but I haven't figured out who.
Everything's going alright with Cathleen's classes? Is she going to do anything for her birthday?
I think of all of you very much. Soon I think I'll buy stationary and start writing letters. Internet works well, but it costs money, and isn't of much comfort after dark when I'm thinking of my day and wanting so much to share all the little events with you. Being able to write letters will make me feel much better. And then I can sketch my shower, and the mountains, and the umbrella, and all the other little things words are so inadequate for. And maybe then I'll be able to practice my Hindi on Ashu as well. :)
I send much love to all of you. Keep on writing to me!
Mon, Sept 16, 2002
Dear Ana, Dad, Cathleen and Ashu,
It's nice of you to forward my e-mails to people. I felt so guilty for not writing to Aron and Laura and all the other important people I really do want to write to, that I almost put in other people's addresses this morning. But then, much to the amusement of the Italian next to me (there are three computers in our booth) and much to the impatience of the Italian waiting to take my place, I couldn't write. (I kept on deleting my first sentence) It's so impersonal to send out a letter to so many people, and there are different things I want to say about Machli and the floor and oompa loompa's, and Ashu's new job, and I really don't want to say those things to everyone.
I don't mind your forwarding my e-mails, but I think I am going to continue just writing to the four of you for now. You can edit out whatever is too personal or obscure to be shared. E-mail time is so precious and I want to be able to write to you without having to edit my thoughts or worry about my spelling or the accuracy of my descriptions.
We left for Rishikesh Friday afternoon, Maria, Kiri and I. Maria had a taxi come and pick us up from the guesthouse at the top of the hill, and then drive us down to Mussoorie. It was drizzling when we left, and we still had to veer around mudslides, but after veering around other taxis and cows and monkeys and scooters and villagers, mudslides really didn't phase us. We were a little unsettled by the clouds that we entered halfway down the mountain though. Even with the warning honks going around curves, we would have preferred to be fully visible to any oncoming traffic.
It was cold in Mussoorie, but very warm in Dehra Dunn when we got down there. It had been drizzling, and the streets were very muddy, the air was full of exhaust fumes. We had to dash across a very busy street to get from the prepaid taxi stand to the bus station, which was a muddy gravel parking lot. The bus that we wanted was getting a tune up, with an indefinite departure time (they weren't sure how long it would take to put the pieces of the engine back together), but another bus arrived on the other side of the lot, also supposedly headed for Rishikesh. We ran across puddles and around exhaust spewing buses, and got there as it was already almost full--and only with men. We pushed our way on, but then decided the prospect of a busride in a bus full of men, without any place to sit down, wasn't worth the forty cent ticket, and got back off again. It was starting to get dark, so rather than wait for another bus, we went and found a taxi driver from the prepaid stand, who agreed to take us to Rishikesh for 360 rupees (about seven dollars?).
It was a long ride, and we were all grateful for having chosen to take a taxi. By the time we arrived in Rishikesh, after driving back up into the mountains towards the single patch of lights that the city provided, it was very dark. We were dropped off at another of the prepaid taxi stands. From there we took a motor rickshaw through streets and alleyways, water from puddles splashing up on our clothes, until we had reached a bazaar near the bridge that we would take to cross the Ganges.
It's hard to describe rivers--their sounds, the different currents in the water, their width and depth. The river was far bigger than I expected, and after we had walked through the well lit streets of the bazaar full of stuff for Indian tourists, glass necklaces, little puja accesories, Garhwal shawls, prayer scarves, sweets. . . we came to the bridge. It was suspended high above the river, and with wire mesh on either side instead of railings, but wide enough that it still felt safe, even for someone as chicken as me. The river seemed so huge and powerful below us, and so black even with the lights from the city. It took some time to cross the bridge, and we were almost alone on it. One scooter, with a man and a sari clad woman passed us, as well as two men with umbrellas. Everytime another person or bicycle or scooter came on, the bridge would bounce just slightly. None of us spoke as we walked. I think the size and power of the river, and being suspended there in space above it, made all of us feel very small.
Our hotel wasn't far from the end of the bridge. We chose one of their most basic rooms, with four cots with thick mattresses and an Indian style bathroom with a cement floor. In the middle of the room was a refrigerator sized air conditioner, badly in need of paint. There were also two big ceiling fans. I think in all the room cost two fifty rupees (five dollars?) per night.
We didn't go out that night, just ate in the little restaraunt next to the reception, and then stayed up late talking about Cambridge and Delhi shopping and education systems in our respective countries and different things to see in India and Nepal. Both Maria and Kiri like telling stories, and proved to be very entertaining people to travel with. Too entertaining, since we didn't get to bed until quite late. We woke up the next morning to the bells of a Ganga arti at the temple near our hotel.
Rishikesh in daylight was completely different than I had imagined the night before. Outside the hotel were several cows, being shooed away from carts of limes and bananas and other vegetables. Next to us was another hotel/ashram with a pretty garden in front. They advertised ayurvedic massages, and after enquiring at the front desk, Kiri and Maria booked some for themselves for the next day. Then we wandered along the shops and temples at the edge of the river. The streets were full of Sadhus and beggars and pilgrims, and people from all over India. Kiri gave me a lesson in telling Sikh turbans from the other turbans, which I should have been able to do before, living in Turlock, but I hadn't seen enough other turbans to be able to tell the difference.
No one was bathing from the ghats. The river was quite high, and the current seemed dangerously fast for anyone to even consider getting in. Just a month ago, an Israeli man jumped in and never came up again. There are so many undertides, and whirlpools and things. Kiri went river rafting on the river as a child. I don't think she went during the monsoon though. Even for rafting, some of those waves and currents looked too dangerous.
We had breakfast at a well known little restaraunt near the river, with a man dressed up as the "Chote walla" sitting in front, his body covered in purple paint, motioning to people to come in. But there were so many sadhus and odd looking people about that the purple paint hardly seemed out of the ordinary. After our dosas and paranthas we walked for more than an hour to get to the Lakshman temple. Now that it was daylight, all the temples were overflowing with people, and the two main bridges were full of people and cows, stray dogs, donkeys and ponies, all moving across in either direction.
The temples were beautiful. The river was beautiful. In places on our walk, we felt completely alone in the jungle, with only a couple of monkeys, or a woman out hanging her laundry sharing the silence and the view of the river with us. Other times we were surrounded by Sadhus or families. The weather had cleared up completely from the day before, and now it was sunny and hot. All three of us were soon drenched in sweat--a novel experience after being bundled in all our warm clothes in Landour, and still not being able to keep warm.
We sat in a German bakery, well shaded on a hill directly above the bridge, and opposite two big temples, and watched the people and the animals, filling the bridges. There were school children too, and so many different types of salwaar kameezes and saris and old people and young people--little old women holding hands and struggling to keep up with the rest of their families. Entire groups from villages, with their feet bare and the women's saris and the men's lungies tied up around their waists so that their legs were exposed up to their knees.
If we had sat there people watching the whole day, I wouldn't have minded, but I grew hungry, and there wasn't anything in the cafe that would have matched my appetite. We had been drinking lime water, which only seemed to make me hungrier. We decided to walk back, but in the process ended up on many new streets, in different shops. . . little tables were set up, selling sandlewood and big piles of asfoetida, that strange gummy spice. Every shop seemed to have its supply of prayer beads, of all different sizes and varieties. Poor people had coffee cans filled with burning trash, upon which they roasted tortilla type things to sell.
There was so much to see and watch. We were very much tourists, but it was a beautiful, incredible place to be a tourist. The light was so beautiful, and being next to that river, in the middle of the hills. . . Maybe they were like Sonora, or Patzcuaro. But the river was bigger than any of the other rivers I have seen. We took a trail back along the river back, through isolated ashrams with their own private ghats. Inbetween two ashrams, there was a set of steps that went down to the sand and rock on the shore, and we walked down and washed our feet in the water.
We spent the evening, and dusk just sitting watching the river flow by, the different artis on the other side. It was all extremely beautiful.
We came back yesterday afternoon with the bus to Dehra Dunn, then took a taxi back. Both were harrowing experiences, but we were too tired to be fully impressed.
Now I'm back in Landour. It's chilly, but not freezing. I should go eat soon, and then I will have the rest of my classes for the day.
I loved all of your e-mails so much. Reading them makes me incredibly happy. I feel like reading them a hundred times, but then I won't have time to write at all. So I am disciplined, and only read selected bits and pieces over again before I click on compose.
I send very very much love.
here I am again!
Sat, Sept 21, 2002
Hey you all! I've sent the Rishikesh e-mail from last week again. This time tell me if you get it, or not. I'm sorry that I haven't really written much since then. My stomach discovered it was in India towards the middle of last week which made excursions anywhere far from a restroom rather risky for some time. It didn't help that I couldn't resist just "tasting" the spicy food the guesthouse kept on feeding us. Pounds of rice won't make up for a bite of their bhindi, but I really completely lose all good sense when I see a plate of okra. I really think it's an addiction. Then Thursday night was Kiri's last night here, so she and Maria and I all went down to Mussoorie after class (I ate nothing but parle G biscuits the whole day, just so I would be feeling well enough to walk down with them). We had a really great time. We took the chairlift up from the middle of the two bazaars, all the way to the top of the hill above Mussoorie. There were beautiful views of all the valleys, and then the Himalayas on the other side. Sometimes, the valley is blurry because of the humidity, and looking down from up at the guesthouse, it looks a little bit like the view from College eight. There are the mountains which disappear into a grey blue ocean, with light sparkling off the metal roofs of the city. But Thursday night everything was clear, and you could see all the rivers branching out into the different valleys, the different terraced fields. . . the details of the villages on the other mountain ridges. At the top of the rather long and steep ride in the chairlift, was a little fairground of souvenir booths, rides for little kids, and photo booths. We managed to escape the touts, who were probably especially persistant because it was nearing nightfall, and enjoy the views in solitude. They (the views) were really incredible, as was the sunset over the mountains. It was an almost full moon, and even after the sun set, the sky was full of pink and blue. . . so beautiful. But the line to get down was quite long. Lots of people must have spent the day up there. So we decided to go have a drink at the little hill top cafe. I was good, and had a seven up. But then the line was still long, and we were enjoying sitting there and talking so much that we didn't want to leave. I know, I know, it's awful, but I let them talk me into sharing an order of vegetable pakora. It was incredible--like the texture of the best french fries ever, freshly prepared and light and crisp, and very very very spicy. I think they had powdered it with lemon juice and cayenne pepper. So irresistable. I really only had a couple pieces. But I shouldn't have even touched the stuff, even if it was heaven, even if it was the nicest thing I've eaten in ages. By the time we left, we were the last women to actually go down, which made us feel a little bit uncomfortable, but all the men around us were respectful and nice, and the chair ride down was even more gorgeous than everything so far. All the lights from the houses around the different hills, and the lights of Mussoorie, and the thousands and thousands of sparkling lights from the Dehra Dunn valley below. I sent Dad and Ana a postcard with a photo of Mussoorie at night. It's so incredibly romantic. I completely understand why people would go there for their honeymoons. Plus, it has clean fresh cool air, and all those views during the day, and a very pretty little bazaars, and monkeys, and nice walks along the mountain sides. We joined all the Indians on the streets and walked around so Kiri could see more of the different buildings before she left. Then we went to a little second story restaraunt with views out onto the street and ordered the least spicy things we could find. I barely ate at all, but the least spicy things were still full of peppers, and just dipping my roti in the sauce gave me a pretty good dose of spices.It didn't seem so sinful at the time. I had a salty lime soda with dinner. . . so yummy! Like a fresh margarita without the taquila. After dinner we walked to the taxi stand and took a taxi back to our respective dwellings. And then I spent the night. . . well, let's just say I didn't feel especially inclined to leave my room the next morning. I cancelled my classes and my trip to Haridwar with the Italians for that weekend, and, once there was really nothing left in my stomach, intestines, entire digestive track, at all, I went to sleep. I woke up a couple hours later feeling extremely weak, but drinking more water helped. I was strong enough to get dressed and go down to the little shop in Sister's Bazaar for arrowroot biscuits, and after eating, strong enough to even take one of those bucket showers. Anyhow I spent the day eating biscuits and drinking water and reading my Hindi children's books.The biscuits really were a good idea. I felt a hundred times better by the end of the day, though still very weak. When I woke up yesterday morning I almost felt like my old self. I ate some crackers and decided to risk walking down to the internet booth at Char Dukan. It was really really warm outside, and kids were playing in the street, everyone in the world had done laundry and it was covering every wall and fence and roof, sitting in the sun to dry. But the power had gone out before the internet walla's generator could charge. All those dark little monitors! I was feeling so much better though, that I decided it would be alright to walk down to Landour bazaar, to buy paper and envelopes, and when I'd walked all the way there, I decided I'd be alright going all the way to Mussoorie. I had a really nice day, though I spent a lot of it sitting in a chai shop writing and people watching. (no chai, just an orange fanta) My diet of biscuits wasn't leaving me a lot of spare energy, but I did do some shopping in a bookstore, where I found a big Hindi-English dictionary and a women's magazine in Hindi to use it on. And then underwear at a pharmacy, from five male employees, where they had to bring out their available pairs in shoeboxes from some back shelves!
On the way back I was feeling really weak and faint, but I stopped and bought a couple of bananas to eat when I got back. I'd only gotten about half a block (imagine more winding blocks, with little children running around, and overburdened coolies from the mountains, and fruit stands, and cows and dogs, and horse manure as well) when I felt a tug on the plastic bag of bananas in my hand. I looked down and there was a brown monkey pulling with both hands on my produce. It only took him a second to rip open the bag, and by the time I realized what had happened and had shouted after him, he was already long gone. Such a theif!
I bought more shortly afterwards, and this time was much more careful and alert while passing dark allyways!
I love you all tons and tons. Forgive my spelling, and keep on writing to me. I spent time writing letters yesterday, but now I feel as if it will all be old news. Maybe by the time you get the letters you'll have forgotten! :)
I send gigantic hugs.
Something Devi Temple?
Sun, Sept 29, 2002
This weekend has gone so quickly. I went downtown with Jonathan and Maria yesterday, as well as touring hostels since he has to move for his second (and last) week here. We walked all the way to the end of the town to the old Savoy Hotel up on the hill. It was incredible. Like Sleeping Beauty's castle, waiting for everyone to wake up again. The skeleton of what had obviously been a gorgeous hotel, with several buildings, beautiful grounds, servant's quarters, etcetera. The three of us sat and had coffee in the drawing room and imagined being here during the Raj, what it must have been like. It truly felt enchanted, or haunted, depending on the lighting in the different rooms. Jonathan and I stayed up late last night talking about ceramic ovens and a particularly good NGO based in Delhi that he has some connections to. Meanwhile, Megan, the anthro grad student who advised me before leaving, showed up at our hotel with her boyfriend, also from Santa Cruz! They were in India for her research and decided to go up to Mussoorie to escape the heat. She immediately caught a cold which she's still trying to get rid of. So crazy to see her here! Sometimes Santa Cruz and California seem minutes away, and other times, in another universe.. Maria, Jon and I got up early this morningto go on an incredibly beautiful hour's drive --the whole way the road was really a lane carved into the side of the mountain--such backdrops! Valleys and ridges below, limestone outcroppings, cliffs, pine trees, meadows, wildflowers, and off in the distance the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas. And then hour long hike up to a temple with even more incredible views of the Himalaya. We just got back a bit ago. It wasa really really nice day. I'm so excited about the house, and how it must look with the furniture and the floors. As wonderful as it is here, I can't help being impatient to see it all myself! I send much love to all of you.
Many giant hugs!
a true group e-mail
Wed, Oct 2, 2002
Well, closer to a group e-mail than the letters I've been sending to the private India club of just Ashu, Cathleen, and Dad and Ana. Sorry that I haven't been writing as much. It takes so long to read your e-mails, that by the time I finish I've run out of time. If I weren't so selfish, I would write and then read, but my spiritual development is still in progress. :) Yesterday was Gandhi ji's birthday, so we didn't have classes. I spent the morning chatting with a Slovenian woman who has been teaching in a village for the last couple of years, then I ran into my two Italian friends, Monica and Maya and walked with them down to Landour Bazaar (hiked down to Landour bazaar?). I had an errand to run with my taylor. I wrote about the used sari I bought in Rishikesh? Well, I took it down to one of the bajillion taylors in Landour Bazaar, one who had been recommended to me by my Urdu teacher (the recommendation might have had something to do with their incidentally being brothers) and in less than five minutes from the time I stepped into his little booth, he'd figured out what I wanted, determined where I wanted elastic, what I wanted lined, what my measurements were (I got to measure my bodice measurement myself... he was very professional). We agreed on the price of the sewing and elastic and lining as well. It will cost a whole whopping 130 rupees (less than three dollars!) and be ready on Tuesday. I still can't really believe that having something made could be that easy. . . Part of me expects that I'll get there and my sari will have been turned into a beautiful blue and silver pair of gym shorts. :)
I ran into the Italians again down in the Kulri Bazaar in Mussoorie, and was privelaged to watch their bargaining skills in action. Prices of necklaces dropped by more than half, even when I was sure the seller was never going to budge from their original price. Fifty cents was final. But no, down the price went, and down and down and down. Twenty cents for a little shell necklace. Funny how shopping changes depending on who you're with. We went and had chai afterwards, then I left them to climb back up the mountain and have lunch back at my hotel/guesthouse. On the way I bought bananas, and inspired by the Italians, brought the price down from eight rupees to three and a half, though I'm strongly suspicious that the going rate for five sweet little bananas is more like one rupee. It's still hard for me to make myself bargain hard when it's just a matter of cents.
On my way up the hill I also stopped by the Northern Store. My sari-tennis shoe clad reading and pronunciation tutor, Urmila ji, had recommended the store owner for a more Hindi-speaking living environment. I an old man standing in front about the possibility of renting rooms. He somehow understood my Hindi, and led me through a gate behind the little shop, along a little cement walkway past more small doors, through a tiny alleyway, and sure enough, there was a cute little room. The shower room is across the way, and then, around the corner is the very clean squat toilet with a bucket of water outside to carry in for flushing, etc. There's a little garbage bin too, for anyone not yet sophisticated enough to rise beyond toilet paper in their personal hygeine habits.
He introduced me to his wife, and his two screaming grandkids, the servant Talak who will help me with meals and things. . . We discussed the price a little bit (I brought him down to 225 from 250, though I'm sure if I'd wanted, he'd have given it to me for 200--even he looked sort of sheepish when he first threw out the idea of 250). I think it's a fair deal, considering that I get to eat breakfast and dinner with his family, and they'll heat water for me when I need it, and speak Hindi with me as much as my heart desires. Plus, I get a free workout as part of the deal. I'm going to look like a professional body builder by the time I complete two weeks of climbing up that hill to class everyday. Luckily Char Dukan is on the way, so I'll be able to stop for a cup of chai on the way, and restore some of my energy with hot milk and sugar and caffeine.
After my morning climb, I wasn't entirely disposed towards the idea of another hike, but I'd promised Rabindra and Maria and I'd already told Ashu I'd go when he'd called that morning--it always looks so wimpy to back out of that sort of thing. We set out after lunch, on a series of roads and lanes and paths that finally brought us to "Flag Hill" which was the steepest part of the hike. It took us an hour to walk there, then an hour to climb to the peak and the view over the surrounding mountains, a set of prayer flags. . . the limestone and bushes along the trail, as well as the oaktrees and pine reminded me a lot of the foothills around Columbia and Sonora back in California. Now that the monsoon is over and we get such hot sunny afternoons, things are beginning to dry out too (though the clouds/fog/mist that rolls/sweeps/creeps in in the evenings keeps it from really feeling arid) and the smell of the dried grass reminded me very much of home. I enjoyed walking, the crunch of gravel and stones, the different plants and trees along the way, the peacefulness of it all very much. We sat on the rocky outcropping at the top for a long time, talking a little bit about our different views on God and Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, clouds but spending more time in silence. The views were amazing, but just being here, walking along the roads, living at the top of the mountain, you are constantly surrounded by incredible views. Now that the monsoon has ended, the snowy peaks of the Himalayas rise above the other mountain ranges in the East, and are visible till the late afternoon. Somewhere past them is Nepal, Tibet, China. It's strange to think how close we are.
The three of us hiked down to Mussoorie afterwards, and had steamed momos in "The Rice Bowl" restaraunt. There were lots of people wandering around downtown, shopping, eating popcorn, eating sweets, eating icecream. . . We sat and people watched from the balcony of the restaraunt for a long time. We had only just finished eating and had started motioning to the waiter for our bill, when suddenly every light in all of Mussoorie went out. We couldn't even see each other, around the same table, but we could hear each other, and hear the laughter and excitement of all the other invisible tourists and couples and families down on the street. After a couple minutes, generators started to kick in, and one by one the different shops in the bazaar reappeared. We walked across town to a couple sweet shops, then took a taxi back up to Landour. In Landour we had the taxi drop us off at the missionary guesthouse, Rokeby, where Maria lives.
We went up to the cozy living room for the guests, and found Jonathan busy working on his laptop, writing more reports for his waste management position with Shell. The four of us gathered around a dim light, and a candle and exchanged reviews of different Indian characters in US entertainment, British entertainment. I got the entire sequence of Simpson's episodes recounted to me--at least, all the ones in which the character Abu plays a part. I contributed a chocolate bar to the conversation (a splurge, I know, but I was feeling generous in the bazaar that afternoon, and I sort of owed the others for treats of Old Monk and Jon and Maria's Indian whiskey). Jonathan gave me the website of the organization he has contacted about me possibly volunteering for after the next two weeks. They are based in Delhi, but have several branches in the neighboring states, and have been highly praised by both John Mock and Jonathan, so I'm going to write and at least see if they'll have me.
For now I'm still in a rediculously beautiful hill stationworking on my Hindi causative verbs and immanent constructions. I send very warm greetings to all of you!
Sat, Oct 5, 2002
Hola muchachos! I just wanted to let you know that I've moved in with the Indian family in Landour bazaar. If you need to contact me, you can call me at their house, behind Northern Stores (their little shop). The number there is 0135 631422. I should be there for the next two weeks. Afterwards. . . I don't know yet. Maybe Delhi. Maybe Kajuraho. Write and let me know how you're doing when you get a chance. I send lots of love.
just chillling. . . :)
Mon, Oct 7, 2002
Glad to hear that the floors are coming along alright. It's going to be so fun to come home and see them in December! Fun to see you all too. I've been craving Christmas music, Christmas food, Christmas everything lately. I think it's all this autumn weather. When I woke up at six thirty this morning, it was still beautiful and clear and warm outside. After eating breakfast (a hardboiled egg, toast, a banana, a few crumbs of salt, and ginger chai) outside my room, I walked down to Mussoorie and whiled away the time until the Bank of Baroda finally opened. It took me forty five minutes there before I got my money (for paying the Hotel up at Sister's Bazaar), but this time I came armed with a newspaper, and the chai walla came around to everyone in the bank and offered us chai in the little glasses on a tray. . . it was much less stressful, though my first request for a charge was denied. I think my limit must be around ten thousand rupees. It was alright. . . I got my ten thousand rupees (the same routine of the little coin and the man in the cage again, except that this time I sort of had to push my way through a crowd of white shirted business men all waiting to trade in their coins as well. One of them loaned me a pen for the last series of signatures inbetween me and my rather worn fistfull of hundreds)but then I only had forty five minutes before my class. Usually it takes me at least an hour to get from the language school down to Mussoorie, and that's going DOWN hill. But, the new in shape Helen (I really am getting visible muscles in my legs!) paced herself and took the extra steep way past the roosters and chickens and got to Char Dukan with fifteen minutes to go. I made it to my class right on time. Then got to sit there and catch my breath for five minutes while Yusuf ji chatted with the other teachers, got a breath of fresh air. . . It's very hard to be late here, I've noticed. :)
I went down to Char Dukan at lunch and chatted with an American couple from Colorado who are working for one of the big Aid agencies, based in Delhi. They had flown back to Croatia last week for a development conference, and just got back to Mussoorie this weekend. I ended up eating part of their pizza (I don't know how the Dukan walla makes pizza in his little kitchen, but somehow he manages) in return for all my advice on clothes shopping in Mussoorie.
I had just enough time after my pizza and mango slice drink to read my e-mails. Then I headed back up to the school, where I realized that I didn't have another class for an hour (new schedules) so I spent some time ploughing through the newspaper--so much vocabulary that I don't know. Sometimes I feel as if I don't understand a word on the page, and other times, there is so much English I can barely find the Hindi. As I struggled, clouds appeared out of nowhere, and then thunder, and hail, and giant drops of rain. Soon it was pouring. I was just in pants and a light blouse and a cotton scarf. Oh, and sandals. Such cold wind too!
Dinkar ji and I spent our class together discussing the odd weather patterns in Missouri. I was so tired from the morning, and the trek up the hill that I wasn't much of a pupil, but I did participate in our conversation and learn some new vocabulary. Air pressure, hail, flood, drown. . . Very useful stuff. Urmila ji and I talked about breakfast, and the sangit, and pujas and fasts, and the family that I'm living with. As we talked, the clouds slowly moved away. By the end of class it was peaceful again, but bitter cold. She walked down with me and Rabindra. I wasn't very social--just an ice cube. She, in her wisdom, had brought a Garwali shawl and was too well insulated to mind the cold as much. And Rabindra had his little sweater. Really, this morning, the weather was so beautiful. . . almost hot!
When the other two had left me at my gate, I walked across the walkway, and saw a big, ugly brown monkey disappearing around the corner towards my room. When I came around after it (rather cautiously) Tilak, the Nepali servant boy, was chasing it up onto the roof.
I went to my room, where I immediately proceded to put on all the warm clothes I could find. Seconds later there was knocking and Tilak appeared at my door with a tray--a big glass of ginger chai and two biscuits. I could have hugged him, but rather than have him die of shock and embarassment, I just said "thank you" with my shaky Indian accent, and smiled hugely. The chai was soooooo good, and hot and sweet, and then to have biscuits as well.
I felt very very spoiled.
I drank the chai alone in my room, while going over a letter that I wrote to Ashu (I'm not going to send it. Reading it made me realize that the Hindi in it didn't make sense at all). Then I put on my jacket, locked the door of my room behind me, went through the gate onto the street, and then headed down the hill to the other end of Landour bazaar and the internet cafe.
Rabindra is next to me, typing away. I've only been here under half an hour. He's been here forty minutes. The internet cafe is the reason he's down here in Landour. It's forty rupees per hour instead of sixty, and it's faster too.
What else shall I write about before I end the e-mail? I understand how busy everyone is, but I still think I should get tiny bits and pieces of news from Cathleen. If she doesn't have time to write, maybe Dad or Ana or Ashu, if he has any minutes left, could call her and then write to me and let me know which parts of her are still visible under the pile of books and activities and college applications? And why does she need her passport? Is she going outside of the country before Christmas?
Write, and tell me all about the things that are going on in your lives. And what you want me to write about, or I'll keep on giving you detailed accounts of what I've been having for breakfast!
I love you all tons and tons. And send giant hugs.
cobras and saris
Tue, Oct 8, 2002
Another group e-mail this morning, but not as public. The more people I write to, the fewer replies. . . Lately, only Ashu has been writing. And I do want to hear from my family as well. I miss you all so much. I told you I bought that pretty white sari with blue print to use as a sheet on my bed? It's too skinny, or the bed is too fat, but it still feels very nice sleeping in it. I really like the feel of cotton. But I'll bring it home with me, maybe as a dress or something--there are so many things you can do with a piece of cloth here.
I talked Urmila ji into walking down to the chai shop at Char Dukan for our lesson yesterday afternoon. She's still fasting, because of Durga puja or something, but she was able to have Anil's wife make her a cup of tea from the inside kitchen, where everything is untainted by eggs or garlic or onions. We hardly got to drink our tea though, because all the women from Sister's bazaar--well, six of them, had gathered around a travelling sari salesman with his boxes and packages of saris. He called to her "Auntie ji! Aunti ji! Deckiye!" and pretty soon we were over there in the sunlight, chatting away with the rest of them, and bargaining. "How much does it cost?" "Looking doesn't cost anything. Come look! Come look!" "No, no, just tell me the price. These are the only colors?" "Four hundred for that one, I've made it fifty less for you." "No, that's too expensive. Give me an okay price." "That's an okay price for these beautiful things. These are good quality." With that we went back to the table and our chai and my biscuits (though I waited till later, when I was alone to actually eat them). A cobra sadhu came over, with his bags of rice and milk, and his bagpipe, and his basket with a beautiful black gleaming snake, quite large, and beautiful in a dangerous, frightening way. . . the snake started to climb out and crawl towards Urmila, and she smiled and cried out, her voice slightly higher than usual "ne, ne, ji. Keep it a little farther away, na? A little bit farther?" and then when the snake had been pulled away a bit, she asked, "can't it dance? Won't you make it dance?" But apparently it couldn't. She gave the snake five rupees anyhow--a paper bill that she folded up and tossed into the basket, among all the coils.
And then, then she couldn't help calling over to the women in the corner with the sari man whether or not the price had gone down. And of course it had, and now it was two hundred fifty (dai sau rupiyee--or five dollars) and the colors she had liked were still there. The sari man brought a couple over to our tables. Urmila ji was planning on going to a wedding today, and wanted a gift, so she spent some time looking at the saris he had brought over. . . She bought a lavender one, then asked me if I wanted one, and since the other one we had left was green, and lighter colored, and light colors seem to be nicer with my skin, . . . Well, now I have a green sari for wearing. We're going to go over how to wrap it tomorrow, when she comes back. And sometime I'll get the choli top to wear with it so I can actually wear it in public.
But from now on, no more clothes shopping. I really can't be packing all these things into my suitcase, though I did pass my hiking boots on to Mahindra ji's son--the Hindi dictionary and the magazine have already made up for that new space. I went to pick up the clothes I brought to the taylor yesterday, and Yusuf ji was there with his little son. Fun talking to little kids, though little Abdul won't even look at me, he's so shy. Maybe he's just conservative and thinks all these adult ladies shouldn't be walking around on the street without burqas. Yusuf and I have had some really interesting conversations about his family and being Muslem in Mussoorie, and India as a whole. We've talked about women and missionaries and politics a lot too. Sometime I will tell you the story of his marriage. It is definitely interesting stuff. I like Yusuf very much, but he's still Indian, and his family still works on the same schedule as Indian taylors. . . "tomorrow, tomorrow it will be ready." So I'll go by this afternoon and see what the sari has become, and whether or not "tomorrow" will have become "the day after tomorrow".
There are so many other things to write about, but it is already ten ten, and my class up at the school starts at eleven twenty. I should probably go. I came down to the internet cafe early this morning, but almost all the shops were still closed. I decided to walk down towards Kulri bazaar and pick up the literature on the Punjabi guy's sikh mission. He gave me the papers in English and Hindi. His beard was still wrapped in his morning setting rag. On my way back, I stopped and bought bangles to go with the purple salwaar kameez I'm wearing (the one from the aquarium). I bought eight gold brown glass ones, and four purple glass ones.For twenty cents total. I'd have bought more, but it's hard to wear them on my other wrist because of my watch. And even with my watch, I never end up getting anywhere on time. I can only imagine without it!
I send lots of love. A little sweeper woman is mopping the floor under my feet with a rag. Otherwise, the morning is so quiet, I could be anywhere.
Is it okay if Ashu comes for Christmas?
Will the floors be ready by then? :)
I love you all tons and tons and tons!
Gigantic hugs, with lots of clinking bangles that I'll never be able to get off my wrists again. . . !
Dysentery walli :(
Thu, Oct 17, 2002
After missing classes yesterday, and then feeling pretty miserable this morning as well, I finally decided to go to the doctor. After all the stories about Indian hospitals, I'd really been dreading it. Really really dreading it. The hospital is just a ways down a path from the Northern Store. It's off by itself in the woods, and as I walked there I passed women washing laundry in a little spring, and then a group of sheep grazing on the bushes next to the road.
The hospital itself barely had anyone at all in it.
There were lots of signs in Hindi and a little glass window at the entrance, where some of the Korean missionaries were standing in line to check in for dentist appointments. Such a small building--it was hard to imagine that it could have ultrasound and an operating room and a dentist, and even a lab. But they'd tucked them all into the different little rooms. The two women behind the window spoke perfect English, and after I gave them eighty rupees and filled out a form with my name and parents name and local address, they sent me to wait outside room number three. There were several hard wooden benches there on the cement floor, where I went over and sat with a couple of villagers to wait for my turn. I'd hardly waited five minutes when a tall blonde woman poked her head around the curtain hanging in the doorway and called me in. The room was a normal doctor's examining room, with a desk and chairs as well. I sat at the desk and told her about my symptoms. I guess I've been sick for five weeks or so, but since it's been on and off, and I kept on expecting it to go away by itself. . . And since I was a complete chicken about going to the hospital. . .
She asked me a few questions about what country I was from, whether I'd taken any medicine or antibiotics, whether there was cramping or fever. Then she had me lie on the table and as she probed my abdomen I talked with her about Ashu and my Hindi classes and my plans for Kajuraho. She was really nice. She suspected I had giardia, but I needed to have a stool test before she could be sure of what to prescribe. So off I went with a little piece of paper, to the end of the building and around the corner to the accounts window, where I stood in line with two village men, and then passed the people behind the counter fifty rupees for the lab test. They didn't have change for a hundred, but luckily, the nurse who had gone down to the bazaar to get change for the five hundred I had handed her when I arrived, came over and among the change were five tens. The people behind the window gave me a receipt, which I took back around the corner to door nine, screen doors which I stood in front of, obediently following the orders of the sign that said "staff only beyond these doors. No exceptions."
Maybe I should have guessed that since there wasn't a Hindi translation, it didn't mean anything. A man in shredded clothes and his foot swollen to twice its size walked past me and through the doors, and no one complained, so I decided to risk following him. The "lab" looked a lot like Dad's old classroom in the science building. A plump, short little Asian woman in a white lab coat pointed me over to a cardboard box full of little terracotta pots, about half the size of a computer mouse. She had to explain to me that they were for the stool sample, and then, when I just grabbed one, that I should grab another as a "cover".
So I took my little pots and walked out of the lab, through the waiting room with all the women covered in jewelry, the babies, the men impatiently fidgeting with their neck scarves, to the women's toilet--one room Indian style toilet complete with a sink and a little cup for wiping (no toilet paper). Somehow I succeeded in not making a mess--I'll spare you the details. :)
Then I took the little terracotta pot, covered by the other one, back to the lab, and put it down on the counter where the Asian woman pointed. Then I went outside and sat on a bench for fifteen or twenty minutes. It really wasn't long at all before the doctor came to the lab and got my results, and called me back into her little check up room. Not only did I have giardia, but I also had dysentery!!! Ikkkkk.
The doctor says that it's actually pretty common--especially the giardia--and that in India she ends up prescribing much more antibiotics than she ever had to in Africa or South America, just because there are so many heavy duty types of bacteria in the water here. Even the local people here end up with giardia if they don't boil and filter their water. She promised it wasn't just because I was from America.
And she also promised me that unlike the less harmful types of bacteria that travelers so often run into, giardia and dysentery aren't the sort of things you just "shit out" (which had been Kiri's advice after her time in Africa and Chile). So then I got another piece of paper, and went to the accounting window--this time to give them a whole hundred and twenty rupees for my prescriptions, and then to the pharmacy window, where they handed me the two paper bags with individually packaged pills inside. On the Tinidazol's brown bag, they had drawn three circles, which means "three times daily", and on the ciproflox (cipro--the miracle drug that kills everything) two circles. And then I left!
I was so happy I almost didn't see the little goat outside the hospital door, but a man who was hearding them out grabbed my arm before I ran into it. And then I jaunted down to the bazaar, bought myself a bag of bananas to go with my newly aquired pills (golis) and went up the hill to school. I was probably just as sick as yesterday, when I decided to stay home, but the knowledge that I would be well soon, and that all the stupid things that had been bothering my stomach would be gone gave me so much energy. All of my classes went super. And now I've reserved rooms at the hotels in Delhi and Kajuraho (I don't think it was necessary, especially for Kajuraho, but it only took a second, and it will give me an extra sense of assertiveness when I have to convince the rickshaw driver that I really DO want to go to that particular hotel tomorrow night). I've reserved a room at Hotel Payal (tel 3520867) in Delhi, whose area code is 011.
And then a room at Hotel Gem Palace (07686-74100) in Kajuraho. I know this is a huge amount of details, but maybe being around all these Indians makes me just expect you to worry! :) So. . . I'm leaving on the Dehra Dunn Shatabdi Express tomorrow at five o'clock. And I'll be in car C1. Then the Bhopal Shatabdi leaving Delhi at five the next morning for Jhansi to Kajuraho. I think I'm in car C7 for that one.
Keep on sending me e-mails. I love you all tons and tons!!!!
Sun, Oct 20, 2002
Well, I'm here in Kajuraho. But I'm not tempted to spend a lot of time. Being a tourist here and a woman at the same time, even with my Hindi, takes too much energy. There are only ten thousand people ("peoples") as the boys keep on explaining to me. The female half are all inside houses, hidden away. And the male half are all sitting in plastic chairs in the shade outside buildings waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists and drag them to their hotels. They don't explain that part. They don't need to. My train ride to Delhi was a little bit hard, but only because my antibiotics leave me really weak--especially if I don't eat enough. Before I had breakfast this morning, I wasn't sure if I'd even be able to make it down the stairs. After breakfast I felt like superwoman again. :) I ate lots on the train, and there was an Indian woman travelling back to see her family, so she and I spoke some Hindi--and by the time we got to Delhi around 11:00 I had energy for carrying my suitcase again. The station really wasn't that different than a German train station, in a big city--I mean, you have more diverse people, villagers, different homeless people, but it was still just a city train station. And I didn't get badly hassled on the way out either. . . just the normal "Taxi madam? Taxi?" without invading my personal space. I did get totally ripped off on the rickshaw--fifty rupees! But so late at night, it's hard to argue over whether or not to pay someone a dollar or twenty centy cents to get you to the hotel.
One second, the internet service isn't that great, so I'm going to send this and then continue, just in case the computers crash, the power goes out again. Whatever.
I love you guys tons.
Sun, Oct 20, 2002
My hotel was only a block or two from the station, but a very bumpy two blocks. Paharganj is a bad neighborhood--I'm really not going to stay there again. I can't believe Lonely Planet recommends it. Everyone I've talked to says the same things about it being crummy. And being a woman on the street at night--at least I was in a rickshaw, but it still felt shady. A whole bunch of guys lounging around half dressed, some drunks. . . Other parts of Delhi are supposed to be a lot nicer--where the middle class people also go. Jonathan and his Dad were both in Delhi that night, from Lucknow, leaving to Mussoorie the next morning. They were staying at Connaught Place, one of the nicer areas (their hotel charged seven as opposed to my three dollars), but Jonathan came to see me before I went to bed. He'd written to tell me that he would be in Mussoorie, and I really did want to meet him again, and see his Dad. . . I just felt like I'd been in Mussoorie so long, and my time in India was slipping away. Maybe I should have stayed an extra couple days just to be able to hang out with them. As it was, Jonathan stayed long enough to drink a mango slice, and observe my rather disgusting room (Lonely Planet recommended it for cleanliness, but the bed was so dirty I didn't even want to put my things on it, much less sit on it or sleep!). He and his Dad went to Orcha last week, and met with Development Alternatives there, and he talked with them some more. They're taking so long to get back to me about volunteering. It's just as well right now. I think it's good for me to kick back for a while, get back my energy, but I really do want to work with them before I go. It was a little awkard seeing Jonathan so late at night (the whole time, I was thinking "what in the world would Ashu think about me meeting with a guy in the middle of Delhi at eleven o'clock?!". . . I think being in India also makes me feel more conservative) but it was still really nice to have someone familiar there, even for such a short time. After he left, I stayed up and wrote in my journal, showered, and then read in the guidebook about Gujarat, South India, the places that I'm not going this trip, but would like to see some time. The bed was so disgusting, and there was so little time left before my train early in the morning, that I decided to skip sleeping. At five o'clock, I carried my bag down the stairs. The whole hotel was still dark, and the fat man from the front desk was sleeping on the counter in his underwear. Another little servant was down on the steps, unlocking the front gate. He'd probably heard the thumping of my suitcase coming down. He woke up the counter guy to tell him I was going, then went out and stopped a bicycle rickshaw for me. There were only a couple people and some cows on the street, and it was still dark. For ten rupees, the driver took me the short way to the railway station.
Okay, I'm going to send again, and then continue.
I still love you. Tons and tons.
Remember you're at the Delhi Railroad station, at five in the morning, just having crossed through busy traffic in a cycle rickshaw.
Sun, Oct 20, 2002
English in India is so funny, and I'm sure it's contagious, so disregard my more and more warped sentence constructions. At least I also have the excuse of the time ticking away in the internet booth.
So. . . there I was in the Delhi station, an hour early for my train--which is excessively cautious, but oh well. . . and surrounded by a whole bunch of men in red blouses, with red scarfes around their heads or necks, all trying to talk me into letting them carry my luggage. Finally I asked a short pudgy man how much it would cost me if I let him, and he said "fifty rupees!" All of them were smiling so big, that I don't think even he was really serious. I said ten, and they said "no, no. Fifty is a good price." But somewhere in there I must have said something about "expensive" in Hindi, and they were all very delighted at my Hindi, and maybe my bargaining too. I don't know. I sort of liked them. Anyhow, they brought it down to thirty, and I said, "no, no!" and pointed to the wheels on my suitcase, and started in wheeling it through the parking lot. Then they started joking that for fifty rupees, they would put me and the suitcase on their head, and carry it in. I said "no, no, no" and turned and really did get ten feet away before they said "wait! wait!" and a guy who reminded me of Sukminder, Ashu's old roommate from Santa Cruz, laughed and said "okay, okay. ten rupees, but only if I can put it on my head" in Hindi. And it was okay. He put the red scarf in a ring on his head, lifted up my suitcase as if it was nothing (lately to me it feels like lead) and balanced it on his head and we walked through the parking lot quite fast, past all the parked taxis and rickshaws and into the early morning railway station.
Still it was dark outside. I asked him where he was from. He was Rajasthani. So we talked about Rajasthan, and about different parts of India, and then which train I needed, and which car number. He dropped off my suitcase for me, next to a little middle class family all brushing their teeth on the platform. Rats were running around on the track down below, and lines of people were buying chai from the cafe window in the station. Oher lines (well, not lines, but mobs?) of people were crowded around the magazine and book windown. The Rajasthani baggage carrying person stood sort of embarassed as I stood talking with him, even after I'd handed him the ten rupees (which is still probably a lot for just one little bag--the day before yesterday in Dehra Dunn I saw village women walking with entire metal trunks on their heads!) and finally he asked if it would be okay if he went back to meet with his friends. It was another forty minutes or so before the train arrived (I asked some of the people around me to make sure I was at the right stand).
Sun, Oct 20, 2002
I didn't have trouble getting my suitcase onto the train. I really am travelling relatively lightly, but getting it up onto the racks along the sides of the ceiling is hard. When I was in Dehra Dunn, a little old woman took off her shoes and climbed up onto the seat to help me. People are rediculously nice here. This time, a seventy year old man came over, and together we got it up and sitting the right way, so that I'd be able to get it down again (hopefully without decapitating anyone). Before he went back to his seat behind me, he asked where I was from, and how I'd learned Hindi. . how long I'd been in India. He was taking the train to Gwalior, the stop before Jhansi. He had relatives in the US. I didn't talk with him long. I hadn't slept all night, and then the train ride the night before, seeing Jonathan again. . . I just wanted to get into my seat and sleep. But then more people got seated, and the little old man popped over again and asked if it would be alright with me if he traded with the man next to me. It was, and then he was sitting next to me, and soon we were talking about Mussoorie, and economics again. . . Indian dress. . . what I wanted to do when I got back. Everyday I think something different. But I was thinking about NGOs again, and knowing that he knew about my degree, I probably felt especially like I should be using it, so I said maybe working for the World Bank. Everyone in India seems to know them, and consider working for them respectable. As it turned out, he worked for the World Bank, or used to--overseeing their projects with damms. Before that he had worked for the government of Karnataka, in Bangalore, overseeing damm projects. Now he feels very differently about damms, but at the time. . . Well, everyone felt different about them. Now he still works with the government and the World Bank, but as the head of an NGO that works with villages and water issues, modifying legislation based on British times, so that the decisions about water use and taxes, etc. are made by the people using the different water tanks, instead of the central government. Because of his work with the World Bank, he'd been all over the world, and he had been at the lot of the world conferences on water--things I studied in my international politics classes, some of the more famous protocols. His children live in Philadelphia, and he's gone to visit them, as well as other people he met through work, so he had seen lots of parts of the US that most tourists never go to. Detroit, Yale University. . . His favorite part of the US is La Joya. . . that or the North East. We talked and talked, for almost the full four hours. Chai came, toast came. We got our newspapers from the train compartment boy. We got our french fries and peasalong with 100 percent mango juice and the big package of maggi ketchup. It's so frustrating to me that I missed Mango season! Though it's so hot in Kajuraho right now, I can't even imagine what it's like in summer.
The computers still haven't had problems. The power went out as I was checking my e-mails this morning, so I feel really cautious. But it takes so long everytime I send, I think I'm just going to risk continuing writing.
Anyhow, I was really impressed by the old man, and the NGO. A lot of NGOs in India are just crap, but we talked a lot about the structure of it, and the actual projects, where they're located, how the different people in the NGO are hired. None of the board members are paid, but sociologists, economists, legal analysts are hired when there is money. He had just been in the US meeting with a group of non-resident Indians, thousands of Kannada speakers from all over the US. I asked him about whether they had some outside person to measure the effects of the NGO on the communities--to see whether money wise and water wise things really are more efficient now. Jonathan works doing that for groups like Development Alternatives. Since the old man's NGO (sata yoga?) was only three years old, they were just starting. But the girl from Yale who he'd visited is doing her phD thesis on water rights or something like that in India, and for her research, she's researching the results. She's also an economist. He had good advice for me if I do decide to find work for one of the big organizations with an economics degree. And talking with him, and his actual projects, I suddenly did feel like I knew a lot--especially after that Soc of Dev. class--and that I could actually be good at working in an organization, looking at development projects.
I really hope that the position with Development Alternatives comes up. Maybe they would even have something in Orcha. That's close to Jhansi, so I wouldn't have to travel to far. After the four and a half hour train ride through the Gangetic plains (really super flat land--mostly little fields of crops. Not even any ponds or anything.) we finally got to a bunch of little ravines. It reminded me of Northern Spain and the area around Barcelona. The old man said that earlier, lots of people would get robbed there, especially on the roads, because it's so easy for robbers to hide. It was beautiful, and towards Jhansi, there were big fortresses on the hills (the way that Spain had castles). Still, the ground just had dry brush. It was a little how I imagine the desert in Gujarat or Rahasthan. The old man got off before me. I had to almost slap myself to stay awake. There was Hindi film song music playing on the train, just softly, and then the gentle, and not so gentle rocking from the old train tracks. . . But I forced myself not to sleep, and somehow got my suitcase down, and got off of the train when we got to the Jhansi station.
a taylor and a thali
Sun, Oct 20, 2002
So the boy asked me for a chai, and I did feel very much like a chai, so I went with him to a little clothes shop across the square, and we sat on the couch/mattress--well, he sat on a plastic stool. And his friend who owns the shop went and brought us chai. The boy's name was Sanjay--all these different s sounds in Hindi--and we talked about all sorts of different things. My gosh--I must have been at this computer for hours. It seems like it's finally getting cooler. He's nineteen, and still in school, and wants to go to Japan some day. He writes letters to lots of tourists who came to Kajuraho, one of his friends is a fifty five year old woman from Arizona. He seemed very disappointed in me that I hadn't been to Arizona. He lectured me on the problems of Kajuraho. Apparently there is a lot more pressure on the tourists since so few people came this summer, and everyone is so desperate for business. We looked through the door across the square and all the garbage on the ground to the street, where two or three men were following a blonde middle aged woman through the crowds, probably trying to sell her a tour or rickshaw ride or something.
After I'd asked Sanjay more about his family, and his ideas about marriage--he wants to have a love marriage, ideally with a Japanese woman who would be his friend first, and who could have good conversations with him. Most of the guys I've talked to at the hotel have never been outside Kajuraho, or at least, not more than ten miles or so. It's so much more rural than Mussoorie, even with the tourism that comes. Mussoorie had so many universities and colleges, and then there was so much going on in Dehra Dunn, just an hour away. This is very different.
It scares me, not having women around anywhere--except for the few old women that clean the streets. Any questions I have, I have to ask men. But Sanjay is definitely nice. After I'd asked him about marriage and everything else, and made sure that having a boyfriend, even if you don't sleep with him, doesn't seem like prostitution to him, I told him about Ashu and Ashu's family and everything. Then we went back to the hotel, and I went back to my room and went to sleep--well, after I took off all the disgusting, sweaty dusty clothes I'd been wearing and wrapped myself in the blue and white cotton sari from Mussoorie. India doesn't believe in top sheets.
WHen I woke up, it was too late for dinner. One thirty in the morning. Sometime the air conditioner had turned on, and the bathroom light was still on. I took my cipro pill, and the other pill, even though I didn't have food to eat with them. I think that's why I felt so weak this morning. One of the men brought a pakora from the restaraunt next door for my breakfast. Then I walked across and gave some material to a taylor, to have him make pants for me. Everyone here thinks it's so strange that I speak any Hindi. I guess in Mussoorie, they were used to the language school. For two dollars and twenty cents, he will have the pants made by eight thirty tonight. And have hemmed the white khadi scarf I bought to go with them when I was in Dehra Dunn with Robindra's family.
In a little bit I'm going to walk to the Eastern Temples with Rajindra. Maybe I should just go alone, but all the guys at the hotel insisted that I not. They also insisted that I go by bicycle, but I think that' s because the hotel charges thirty rupees a day per bike --sixty cents? A guy from Northern California, who I met as I was eating lunch--the only woman in a packed restaraunt of Indians--and had join me where I was sitting with one of the guys from the hotel, who was waiting to bring an order of pancakes and chai over to the hotel "restaraunt." Oh, so many modifiers. Anyhow, he just walked to the temples, and it took him twenty minutes. Sof if we leave at four, we should get back by nightfall without problem. And if its a choice of going with some guy I know, or going and being a woman alone. . . ?
Being in India seems to require making so many decisions about who to trust, who not to trust. I sort of wish Ashu was here--in addition to missing him, he would make things easier. But this way I probably meet more people.
Maybe in Orccha I will be able to meet someone who isn't male.
I send much love to both of you. Cathleen--will you forward whichever e-mails to Dad and Ana? I'm off to go see the Eastern temples--maybe have another cup of chai and a samosa or two along the way.
Take very much care, and write soon.
Tue, Oct 22, 2002
On my way back from the internet cafe on Saturday, I ran into Razindra again, the guy from the hotel who wanted to bike with me to the Eastern Temples. He was cool with just walking, instead of taking bikes, and before I left with him, I checked with Sanjay (they little guy who took me to chai in the little clothes shop) to make sure that Rajindra was being honest about just wanting to practice English--not wanting money or something else. We left for the temples at four o'clock, so it was just baking, instead of broiling in the village. It was really interesting to walk outside of the tourist area, and through the residential area of the village--all the pigs, naked kids in the dust, women with their saris pulled so far over their heads that they could only see their feet and our sillhouettes.. . they passed us on their way to gather water for cooking,cleaning. Water is such a huge issue here. The sun was setting on the mountains far off in the distance. We walked down little lanes through fields, past guys playing cricket, and to an incredible house-sized temple,next to a little pond full of big black water buffaloes.
Tue, Oct 22, 2002
I've been going from computer to computer to find one that would use yahoo and whose keyboard would work. The first one's spacebar was sticking really badly. It's so frustrating, when all these words are pouring out of my head, not to be able to type more quickly. Before I write more about Kajuraho, I should write where I'm staying in Varanasi--in case it takes longer for me to get to the important details. I'm travelling with a really nice Australian couple who I introduced myself to in Kajuraho. Their names are Mike and Moira, and they're from the island of Tasmania. He's a doctor. She's been working as a trekking guide, but will find out if she's been accepted back in university when they return in a couple weeks. They started out in Nepal, then came through the Himalayan hill stations down into India, and had already spent a lot of time in Varanasi when they got to Kajuraho, so I thought it would make sense to go along with them on their way back--get a chance to see Varanasi with people who'd already figured out what was where. It's very nice to have company, though travelling here really feels much safer than I imagine Africa or South America, Mexico. . . Other people I run into keep on saying the same thing. There are such strict religious codes, that as long as you're in Indian dress, there's really hardly any hastle at all. Moira got bothered in the trainstation in Satna last night, but she was wearing tight pants, and a tang top. . . almost like going out in your underwear.
Anyhow, Banaras/Varanasi is very very beautiful and laid back (though very hot). We're staying at the Vishnu Guesthouse (there are tons with similar names, but this is the one recommended by Lonely Planet). It has incredible views down onto the river. It really is right there on the shore, but vertically there's some distance because of the fluctuating water levels. You climb and climb the stairs to get to it.It's centered around a mediteranean style open cafe where you can sit and write or eat or just think for hours if you want. It's very popular with foreign tourists, especially the younger crowd (but not the druggies), and all the rooms are full tonight. I'm sleeping in the dorm tonight--then moving to a triple with the other two tomorrow--they're in a double without a bathroom, just for the time being. We're also sort of travelling with a couple of Belgians and a nice Greek guy whose interning for a German company while he's here. I've met such interesting people.
Vanarasi, the bits that I've seen since we got here this morning, is totally different than anywhere else I've been. Intensely India--and then in pockets, just foreigners--if you just looked at this internet cafe (the first real internet cafe I've been in in India--with tables and food up a couple of steps, and very appreciated ceiling fans hanging above us) you'd be sure it was Santa Cruz. People's clothes, their attitudes--partly hippie, partly yoga, partly just exotifying other cultures. The hotel cafe has a whole range of funny foreign things on its menu, like chocolate crepes, and mashed potatoes, Spanish omelettes. I'm eating lots, and I've cut down my antibiotic dose from 1500 mgs to 1000 mgs. . . Scary self dosing, but every one else I've met who had giardia only took that much, and I was so weak when I was hitting myself with three pills a day. Two is much more bearable--I still have the bitter taste in my mouth, but I can deal with my suitcase, have energy for making my way to internet cafes in an old bazaar. All these white guys trying to be sadhus--it is so straight from Pacific Avenue. Indians here must really think Westerners are crazy.
But then there are the Indians, brushing their teeth in the Ganges! The Ganges isn't half as clean here as it was up in Rishikesh. Down here it's wide and slow, and there are as many bodies floating down the river as there are boatmen, gracefully rowing their boats down the stream. I'm going to go on a boatride with the Belgian couple tomorrow morning at sunrise.
I still haven't heard from the NGO--since they told me they needed time to talk about what to do with me. When I had my late night visit with Jonathan in that seedy part of Delhi, he recommended I contact them again, and let them know I was waiting to hear from them--that I'd finished my classes and was available.These last few days have just been so full. I was too tired to trust myself to be coherent the day before yesterday, and then yesterday morning I went to see the Western group of temples at sunrise (they were beyond words, and I had them to myself for the whole first hour--aside from the security guards and the gardeners in the park and the chipmunks and green parrots) and then spent the rest of the day trying to get from Kajuraho to Satna.
We had a bus adventure to go down in the records, and didn't get to Satna until nine or so (we left at 3:30, after they finally got our bus running again) and since the reservation office was closed, had to tiptoe over hundreds of sleeping bodies of Indians in the station, buy general rail tickets, and try our luck at getting reserved sleepers on the train. Luckily we were able to. So strange to walk through the cars just full of shelves and shelves of bodies--men, women, children--all sleeping as if the plastic coated benches were the softest most comfortable beds in the world. Which they were, compared to the cement of the station floor. I slept really well on the train--the Australians and the Greek guy and I were all able to get shelves in the same little nook. There were mosquitos, but a nice breeze from the windows, and such a beautiful full moon.
We got into Varanasi early this morning. I spent the day visiting with people, and looking out at the river, and eating different versions of crepes. :) It's a pretty good life. But I'm going to try to contact the NGO and get the ball rolling, have something set up for the end of the week. In the meantime, this seems like a really neat place to hang out.
Keep the e-mails coming! I send much love.
I'm taking very much care, I promise.
Thu, Oct 24, 2002
I've been sitting at this computer for ten minutes waiting for it to finally get me logged in. As I waited, the old man who runs the store came over to do puja at his little shoe box sized shrine above the computers, and he sprinkled, me, the shrine and the computers with little drops of holy ganga water, then showered the floor at my feet with flower petals as he refreshed the shrine with new marigolds and rose petals. Now the newly lit incense is filling the room with the smells of jasmine and sandalwood. The streets are still pretty quiet, even though it's already 9:30. I'm in the old city, only an alleyway away from the couple corner's turns to the Vishnu resthouse. There are several internet cafes on this little street, but I haven't found a fast one yet. It takes some luck to even find an internet cafe that's running--the power goes out so much.
It's too bad, because I really ought to be e-mailing much more than I am. This place hardly seems real--much more like an exibit at Disneyland or something. So many colors and smells and tastes, and every bit of life overflowing onto the street with the garbage and the sewage. Ashu suggested I stay here if things with the NGO don't come through, and I'm tempted to follow his advice. There is a way to stay with families through the tourist center, and there is a language school here that also has some sort of homestay program. I suspect there are also NGOs I couldvolunteer with, if I'm able to find them.
I know I'm bad at e-mailing, but keep in contact with me. It means so much to me to hear about your days and what's going on. Evenshortone line e-mails are nice.May I ask another favor of Dad or Ana? The Australians who I've been spending so much time with, and sharing a room with, know the tune to "Estas son las mananitas" and lots of the words, but they've been trying all over the place to find the complete song. Would one of you e-mail me the words so that I could give them to them before they leave? If you can remember them. Moira and Mike have decided to stay here in Varanasi until Diwali (the fifth of Nov?) so there's time. It would mean a lot to them, and even being able to do something little for them would make me happy. Not only are they really neat people, but they got me to Varanasi and out into the bazaars, walking on the ghats along the river in the evening lights. . . I've introduced them to the packaged version of paan, and yesterday evening I treated them to chai at a little street stand (less than ten cents for all of us together--and the best chai I've had since I got here!!) but I still feel in their debt. I want them to feel compelled to give me a mango milkshake if I ever visit them in Australia, and that will require evening up the balance a bit, I reckon.
Fun to meet such neat people while travelling (though eventually I am going to start hanging out with Indians, rather than just observing them over my cups of chai and servings of masala dosa). The young Belgian couple are leaving for Nepal this afternoon, and Yanni, the Greek guy that shared a section of bed-shelves in the night train with us from Kajuraho, left yesterday for Rajasthan.
Let me just send this before the power goes out or anything. Then I'll try to write a little more before I go off on my walk.
I send much love--especially to that amazing guy who called up the hotel yesterday morning!!! :)
muchas gracias!! :)
Sun, Oct 27, 2002
I'm here in the internet cafe waiting for the Australians to meet me for more shopping in the bazaar. I love walking through the bazaars so much, especially in the oldest parts of the city, but I'm resolved that this time I'll leave the buying up to Mike and Moira. My little suitcase is heavy enough as it is. I left my jacket and a bottle of shampoo, and the big bottle of insect repellant with the cook at the hotel in Kajuraho, and still I'm carrying a lot of baggage for my wee small self. You should have seen me trying to rollmy little suitcase through the mud on the banks of the ganges as we walked from the main ghat down to our hotel, twenty minutes up the river.
It's so beautiful here. I know I've said it a hundred times, but a thousand wouldn't do the view justice. . . This morning I sat out on the terrace and watched the early morning boatmen row their little wooden boats down the smooth grey surface of the river. Always boats are rowing by, the river keeps on moving down the edge of the ghats, the edge of the banks, but still I'm not tired of it. Or tired of the bananas and fresh yoghurt and banana crepes for breakfast. Or tired of India. Though I am tired from India. It takes a lot of energy to put days together. And as soon as you have, they've passed by. Yesterday I spent my first day alone in the city. I e-mailed in the morning, then spent a lot of time back at the guesthouse, writing in my journal. In the evening, I walked down to the bazaar near dasaswamed ghat, through all the little vegetable stands and tourists and rickshaw drivers and men who follow me for at least fifteen steps every time, asking "marijuana? you like some good marijuana?manali brand. very cheap." I've been craving sweets, and samosas, and all the street food and yesterday, I decided that my stomach had been well long enough that I could risk it.Two samosas, with steaming hot garbonzo bean sauce and a sweet red sauce (that I was suspicious of, but couldn't resist) . The stall was right off the bazaar, and had one very decrepit wooden table that I had all to myself. Several of the stand's workers came in and said namaste to me, but I didn't reply. Sometimes walking through the alleyways and little streets around the areas where the tourists often pass is like walking a gauntlet. Everyone is saying "namaste!! Stop Madam! See my beautiful blouses! I have pens, biscuits, shampoo? What you need? I have!! Come see!" "Madam!, Madam! Where are you from?" Anything to slow you down, to draw you in to at least look. Meanwhile, the Indian women in saris, the three year olds, running hand in hand around corners, the mud covered bull whose genitals swing with each step, the old sadhus in fluorescent orange mini skirts pass undisturbed. It feels rude ignoring all the "namastes" but really, they are all just advertisements with fake smiles--and I'm sure that Indians would ignore them too. You don't namaste strangers on the street--except sometimes people do namaste cute little kids. It's so different around the internet cafes and the main ghat than in the other parts of the city, where people don't care if you are foreign, if you're stupid enough to pay five times the local prices for rickshaw rides, masala dosas. . . They smile shyly at you, or ignore you, or hiss for you to get out of the way of their scooters or vegetable carts or bicycles--not that anyone ever really has somewhere important to go, or a reason to hurry. It's so much more pleasant there. After enough time in the bad sections, you don't feel like saying "namaste" to anyone. Because "namaste" starts to just mean "come, buy! buy! buy!" to your ears. So I didn't reply to the men in the samosa shop, just ate my samosas, and then paid the three rupees (six cents?) and left. But I didn't turn back towards the river yet. First I scouted out the sweet shops I'd seen yesterday. All day I'd been thinking about barfi--that white fudge like stuff that Jaspur sells in his little shop. . . But the sweet shops in our part of the bazaar are all so little, and so often empty, that I don't trust them to be fresh. I bought from a little shop on one of the main roads, two pieces of barfee for four rupees. It's a lot to pay for something so simple, but it tasted wonderful and was thickly frosted in silver, which always makes it feel even more like you're eating something out of a fairy tale. I managed to find my way back to the resthouse before night fall. Mike and Moira were sitting, reading on the terrace (Mike is reading "roots" about an African American man's experience, and Moira finished "Of Marriagable Age" just this morning). I joined them with my journal--I wrote so much just yesterday. The sky was full of little black birds chasing mosquitos, and a handful of kites from kids down by the river.
Did I write about the silver anklets I bought? It was a couple days ago. . . no. . . more than a couple? The day that we went and saw the really awful, almost soft porn Hindi film and I ended up with egg pakora instead of plain vegetable pakora because the waiter mistook "ek (one) pakora" for "egg pakora". . . ikkk. Batter fried hard boiled eggs, really aren't my thing, especially when they comprise the entire meal.Anyhow, in the morning we had been in one of the oldest bazaars, near the Golden Temple, and Moira and I had been talking about the silver anklets that so many of the women wear, and whether or not we would be able to find them (a lot of the jewelry shops are more focused on glass bangles, or bindis, or the gold plate stuff) and then, on our right, in a little nook in the wall, we noticed a display with some silver rings, so we ducked into the dark little room, with Mike in tow. Mike and Moira are really just how you would imagine Australians. They're tall, and a little bit--not wild, but maybe just a tad bit rough on the outside?--they have Dad's complexion, and both have long curly red brown hair. Moira is incredibly beautiful, the way Julia Roberts would be if her face was more delicate. She and Mike are both very tall, and Mike has a stocky rugby player thing going on. I think both of them are sort of intimidating for the Indians around them, because of the way they communicate too--the cultures are just so different. Anyhow, the three of us squeezed into the shop, and the little old man did have anklets. He pulled up a wooden box and a couple of bags and packages from down by his feet, and showed us different designs, little kid's anklets, waist chains for babies. . . and lots of different thicker silver anklets for both ankles as well. It's impossible to tell the quality of silver, though you can usually tell if it isn't silver at all, and just white metal. As we were standing in the shop, three police men with machine guns ducked in the shop with us (there isn't room in India for personal space) and observed the whole goings on, chatted in a friendly tone with the shop keeper. I had him weigh a pair of anklets that had a simple chain and camel bells at the clasps. We talked about the going price for silver, and the price of the work. Urmila ji told me before I left Mussoorie that bargaining for jewelry isn't standard, since the metals all have fixed prices. But I don't know about the price for the workmanship. Together, the anklets cost 230 rupees. I just paid it and we left, the anklets safely tucked into my pocket.
I waited until the evening to try them on. They're so beautiful, but they didn't fit! They were almost an inch and a half too tight to be worn in the Indian style, with the chain sort of draped around the base of your ankle. I spent the evening thinking about what else I could possibly do with them. The chain is really pretty--little silver balls coming down from the braided silver at the top--and so delicate. But it is definitely an anklet chain, even if they could work as bracelets or a necklace back in the US. They look so beautiful on ankles. I showed the anklets to the Belgians, the other travellers around at dinner. And finally, I decided I'd at least try to get it extended or something at one of the jewelers the next day.
The next day, I went out with Moira and we bought bangles (yet more bangles) and a sari petticoat, had dosa and chai, spent all our energy on bargaining for things we didn't buy. When we got back to our resthouse, the padlock on the door had jammed, so we were locked out. We sat at the cafe and had some water, visited with Mike and a couple other people, then went back out into the city in search of a jeweller.
We only went a ways down the little street--alleyway before a man popped out of a clothes store and rather than the usual "namaste! wait madam! wait!" said something like "remember me?! Madam! Madam!" and it was the little man who'd sold me a soft blue cotton t-shirt two days before, from the same shop. He'd noticed us when Moira's eyes had strayed over to his silver anklets, and recognizing me, quickly had us, shoes off, legs folded, sitting on the carpeted floor of his little shop discussing jewelry making. His good friend just two shops away might be able to do it. But the friend wasn't there. He would come back soon. Maybe we could go walking and then stop by on our way back? Back on went the shoes, and we went on our way. I bought fingernail polish remover from another tiny shop.(I've been wearing the remnants of the Dushera nailpolish from Dehra Dunn all this time.)
I'm drawing this out much more than it merrits.Anyhow, the friend had silver, and couldn't match the design, but could weave in the chain part at the top and extend it--just without the tiny balls coming down. For the silver--one and a half inches on each anklet--and the labor, two hours--the cost came to a total of eighty rupees. And again, I didn't bargain, not knowing what it would have cost in the US or what it should cost in India, just knowing it would definitely be worth the two dollars to me to be able to wear the silver chains around my ankles, rather than walking around with them in my pockets. Instead of walking back to the resthouse, Moira and I ended up back on the floor of the clothes shop across the way, where we sat and chatted with the shopkeeper till my anklets were ready.
We talked about our families, my Hindi, the clothes he sells just for westerners. (Indian people would never wear any of the stuff--it's totally made for the hippie crowd at Santa Cruz) and then a little kid came by and bought a kite. It turns out that for a couple weeks in January, allthe shopkeeper does is sell kites. He takes all the other goods off the shelves, and the shop overflows with little boys and bits of paper and sticks and string. Each kite only gives him like half a rupee profit (little kids aren't really big spenders) but he sells so many of them so fast, that he and all the men in his family are busy for days and days just selling and it actually ends up being some of the best business he does all year. Even though the price of a kite is infinitely small compared to the price of the stone marijuana pipes or the batiqued blouses, or silk prayer scarves (the shop really is straight out of Santa Cruz), the kites add up.
Especially when the kids invest in the more expensive fighting string. There is so much strategy that goes into flying kites here! The fighting string is really wicked stuff. First he showed us the fluorescent orange nylon string that people usually buy for their kites. It was very strong, and neither of us could break it with our hands. After yet again offering us chai, which we yet again refused politely, he continued his demonstration. We had a "kite war" with Moira and I holding on to either end of some orange nylon string, and him holding a bit of what looked like brown twine. The orange string barely even touched the brown string and it had severed. Then we tried it with two strands of nylon string, and then four strands. Eight strands thick, and all the man had to do was pull his string against ours, all together, and ours broke as if they had been cut by a knife.
Dusk is falling outside now (I saved the first half of this e-mail as a draft this morning) and I should go back before it gets dark.
The brown twine turned out to have bits of silicone in it, and the glass cuts right through the nylon. But the brown stuff, the fighting string, isn't strong at all in itself. Moira and I could easily break it in our hands.
Maybe if I don't find NGO work, I'll just spend the rest of my time in India studying kite flying techniques. :)
I went and enrolled in a Hindi language school in the North of the city this afternoon. It's like 260 a day for two hours private lessons, and CJ (my friend in Mussoorie) recommends them. The only problem is that half of finding them this morning was luck. I'm not really sure if I'll be able to find my way to them through the maze of the bazaar again tomorrow morning. I've seen incredible stuff every day I've been here, but it is always stuff I stumble on. It's hard to intentionally end up somewhere in this city, though people do manage it. I'm learning. And if I have to, I can always cheat and grab one of the cycle rickshaws.
I think I'm going to head back now. Tell me how dinner was with Uncle Mike and Jack and Ellen. And the progress of Ashu's cold and Cathleen's college applications. Is she taking time for herself? Any other ideas for what I should do while I'm still in India? Several people have told me I should go to the Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan in mid November. It's tempting. . .
I'll see what happens. I've moved into my own room, as of this afternoon, though my things are all still with the Australians. . . this is the first day since I met them that they've actually had their room to themselves. They've been too much fun to leave to themselves for a single second. My new room (100rs a night) is fine, good enough for my purposes,especially with its own attached bath, and in Varanasi, India, with a view right out on the Ganges. How incredible is that, do you reckon?
I love you all tons. Keep on writing lots and lots and lots.
Take very much care.
Tue, Oct 29, 2002
It was so nice getting e-mails this morning. After I read your e-mails, I went down the different alleys and streets to my class. I'm almost getting used to walking around the cows and the processions of corpses, pushing my way through the human traffic jams, stepping into doorways to let the vegetable carts pass each other, playing hop scotch around the cow patties and barefoot feet and little dogs. The different winding alleyways led me to Thakurry bazaar, with all the pots and pan stalls, and the paan stalls, and the grain shopsjust on time.Well, I was a minute late as I ducked through the alleyway that leads to the little three story house where the family holds language classes. It's not even an alleyway, really--it's just three feet wide, and hardly any light gets down between the buildings. But there is one little girl who sits there with her clay pots and her big metal kettle of tea, waiting for anyone to come by for a chai fix. And there was a mouse I saw, running along the side of the path and out of sight. I ducked through the wooden doors at the front of the house. They are around the corner in a wider, better lit alley. Then I went across the little courtyard and the sunlight and up two flights of stairs onto the little balcony on the second floor. There were four pairs of sandals outside the door, so I knew the other two students were still having their lessons, but after a few minutes had passed by, I pushed open the doors and walked in. There are two little rooms, divided by a soundproof wall and a glass window. Both brothers were giving classes. I sat and listened to the end of the Japanese boy's class. Then my class started. We just do conversation, with a little vocabulary. I could probably go talk to cloth sellers or incense sellers or vegetable sellers for free, but this way I get someone who talks slowly, and clearly, and I don't have to worry about why they're so interested in having a conversation. The older brother is Abi ji, and the younger brother, who I have at eleven, is Ashu ji. But not like my Ashu. His real name starts with "A" but doesn't have anything to do with Ashutosh. Dinkar ji said that Ashutosh is one of the names for Shiva. When Ashu ji, the younger brother, is called "Ashu" it's meant as a pet name, meaning "baby horse". He doesn't remind me of a baby horse at all though. I told him about my plans to go to Pushkar, and he thought two weeks would be too much, especially with the fair going on. The fair should be incredible, but a very hectic place to spend that much time. He thinks I should go to Jodhpur, and visit his families' friends, who own a lot of land in a nearby village, and have a cute, two year old little boy (little kids here are yet another thing I'd like to stick in my suitcase and take home with me). The boy, and the village are both tempting. Then there's Udaipur, and Jaisalmer. Everyone I've met who's been there says I should definitely go. What should I do, oh wise ones?
Speaking of travelling, when is Cathleen's trip with Cottey? Will she stay in Europe for the other bit of spring break, or is she going somewhere else? Has she applied to any schools yet? And what happened with the Udall project? I really think someone should give me her phone number eventually.
I was going to send two postcards (yes, I know. . . I've been here a whole week now, and still not sent anything. . . but postoffices are hard to find in such a big city) yesterday, but for some reason the traffic in the afternoon was really terrible. People, bicycles, and rickshaws, scooters. . .we all got sort of jammed in the middle of the street. Abi ji had errands yesterday too, and it took him almost two hours to get the seven kilometers to the printer's store. I don't know how long I was stuck in the street, moving a couple inches at a time, but it was a long time before I got to the post office. And when I did, it was packed with men. I couldn't believe how long the lines were--a big building, and the lines were coming out the doors. They weren't moving fast either. After ten minutes, the line I joined still hadn't moved. I finally left, deciding there must be other simpler places and times to send mail. Today I found out yesterday was the last day people were allowed to send in their telephone bills. And everyone waits till the last day. The traffic getting back to the resthouse was just as bad, and finally I turned off the street into an alleyway and decided to see where the emptier little streets would lead me. I went through so many bazaars. It's really incredible that every winding alley still has so many people in it. I followed the different streams of people, which were moving much faster than the mess out on the street, but not knowing which streets I was turning on or whether I was even headed towards the right part of the city wasn't a much more efficient alternative. It was just more pleasant. It still took me ages to get through all the bazaars to an area that I knew and then back to my own alleyways and homeless people and streetchildren and sweetshops, and lemonjuice stand man.
Today, getting back here to the internet cafe next to the lemon and orange juice stand didn't even take half an hour!
I had a bowl of fresh yoghurt and bananas (my second helping today) and checked my e-mails. Now I'm going to head back to the Vishnu resthouse and see if the Australians are back from their last bit of shopping. They leave for Calcutta tomorrow at four. I miss sharing a room with them, but I also sleep much more soundly without their company. And my new little room down the stairs is so sweet. It's very spartan--just a cot, and a couple fans, and then the bathroom, cement floors, but bright yellow stucco walls. . . a sort of studio feel, even though it's so little.
I send much much love! Send me Cathleen's phonenumber, and more news, and tell me what I should do before I come home.
Divali in Varanasi
Tue, Nov 5, 2002
I'm still feeling a little under the weather, but nothing major, and I'm doing my best to rest up. I went to the language school family's house yesterday afternoon for Divali festivities. I got there a couple hours early, due to some miscommunication (you really have to interrogate the brothers even to get the most basic bits of information. They would make terrible witnesses.). They were all still taking their afternoon naps, so I sort of thrust the couple pounds of sweets (everyone walks around with boxes and boxes of sweets this time of year) at Abi ji, who not so graciously accepted them in his underwear and undershirt and went back to sleep. His sister smiled at me and thanked me before I took flight down the stairs to meet CJ and his very cute, African-American girlfriend Jen from Cambridge, who is in the middle of vacation from her yearof study abroad in Morocco. I wasn't sure whether or not they wanted my company (they'd just spent twelve hours on the train from Mussoorie) but i didn't want to walk all the way back to my place, so I sort of invited myself on their sweets shopping trip through the other side of the bazaar. Jen is used to the crowds and the dirt, the garbage on the streets of the bazaar, the human traffic jams, but the colors of all the bright saris, the divali decorations, the fruit stands, the blinking Christmas lights with digital Christmas carols blaring from their little speakers, were new and wonderful for her too. India really is pretty incredible. We pushed our way through all the cows and people and rickshaws on the narrow main street for a while, but once we had our box of sweets, we turned off onto an empty little alleyway that wound over to the river and the ghats. It was so nice to get out of the crowds and be able to breathe again.
The sun had just set, but the sky was still light, and the first little candles were floating down the river. Such a beautiful panorama: the river winding away into the distance, the temples, the steps leading down to the water, the boatmen quietly rowing their boats along the ghats. An Indian family slowly drifted past us in their little wooden boat, and as they passed us, the little girl took out her camera and took a photo of the three foreigners sitting on the steps. Little kids were playing with a bonfire down at the bottom of the steps near us. A punjabi guy, alone at the water's edge near us, sat practicing his flute. You wouldn't believe how incredibly romantic it was.
When it began to really get dark, we walked along the ghats down to the main steps, Dasaswamed Ghat, where they were holding a special arti for Dipawali. Some of the . . . what do you call them?. . . pandits? sadhus? I don't know, young guys in orange skirts from one of the Ashrams stood at each of the little altars on the edge of the water, and swent through the motions of scenting the air with the incense, warming the god with fire, waving around giant heavy candelabras for at least fifteen minutes. Meanwhile little kids sat pulling the ropes to all of the bells, so that for a whole hour, there was non stop ringing. Cows came and went. People came and went. Bugs mostly just came, and crawled, and bit, and stung. We moved twice to get away from them. The electricity went out twice, and then it was much more pleasant--there weren't the giant floodlights attracting bugs from across Varanasi. Without the floodlights, the candles going down the river, the men waving around the candles, and then the flaming pots, and then more incense. . . it was all much more impressive.
At seven we started back toward Abi ji's place, since we'd said we'd get back around 7:30. Normally it only takes fifteen minutes. We went on one of the biggest roads through the city--really no bigger than a regular little street in the US, but packed with cycle rickshaws, and carts, and people with giant burdens on their heads, sometimes six guys all using their shoulders together to lift one single, giant sack of stuff ( I don't know what it was, but it looked heavy). Then the power went out. We stopped and bought popcorn from a little popcorn stand,by candlelight, then wound our way through the scooters and carts and things towards the edge of the chaos. After half an hour, we'd gotten close to our little alleyway--street but even as we got close, the crowds started to get so thick that we could hardly move. When we got into the alleyway, CJ wrapped his arms around Jen's little body and I grabbed onto his backpack. Thathury bazaar is in a Muslem part of the old city, where there are hardly any women on the streets. It's just as well--there wouldn't have been room for them. :) For at least ten minutes, we really didn't take a single step. I was squished inbetween a rather fat man with one of those white Muslem hats, and a guy with a giant basket on his head, that he balanced with his hands, and then, on my other side, a scooter, that had three men trying to shove it forward through the mass of people. And around us all, arms and legs and giant packages, a sea of white hats. A rather frustrated sea. People were shouting, and in front of us, a guy shoved another man, who he thought had shoved him. People pushed me from behind, I pushed the guy in front of me, we were all squished together with nowhere to go.
Then a man with a stick, and a green shirt, particularly adept at pushing, came towards us in the other direction. He was a policeman, and with his authority, somehow managed to bring the scooter next to me a bit farther forward, and then a scooter coming from the other direction through a couple feet as well. People started to move an inch at a time. CJ pushed Jen forward--only four feet farther than I was, but the gap was full of more men, not willing to give up even an inch of their progress. It took what seemed like ages for my bit of the crowd to push through to the turn off into our little alley way. But it did! And upstairs, Abi ji's family had gotten all the candles and popcorn and seeds and things ready for their puja. It was so cool, and the fireworks afterwards were unbelievable. The deserve a whole e-mail unto themselves. But that will have to wait.
I send much much love!!!!
Write to me soon.
What to have for dinner. . .
Wed, Nov 6, 2002
I feel like all week I haven't eaten anything but rice, honey crepes, and bananas. It's so tempting to go wild and have something like ramen. But I've seen their ramen noodle bowls here at the cafe, and they're big enough to feed an entire army. And I suspect that the Indian cooks don't go light on the chiles either.
I just got back from visiting with CJ and Jen. I spent the first half of the day at the hospital--another adventure. Then I took a cycle rickshaw back across the city to meet my friends. Jen can't eat spicy food and hasn't had anything she could really eat since she got to India a week ago, so I took them back to my hotel for pancakes. It was a long walk since we decided to walk to the river first and then go along the ghats. I felt like we could have been in Morocco or Egypt or something--all the pale yellow dust along the steps, and the yellow color of the stone in the buildings and temples. Lots of people, men, women, children were down at the water washing clothes, bathing, swimming. Other men were herding water buffalo (they still scare me--both the men and the buffalo). We walked through the piles of logs around the cremation gats, through the gatherings of untouchable men crouched on the step, waiting for the next body. It took almost an hour to finally get to my guesthouse, and then up the steps to the terrace.Both Jen and CJ were excited by the menu, and the cool breeze that always seems to be blowing up there. We had a really nice time. They're such fun people. We talked about Morocco and Thailand, interracial relationships, intercultural relationships, Lousiana, their parents, Indian roads. Afterwards I walked them along my "street" and we stopped and bought some sandalwood for one of Jen's friends in Morocco. Then I led them to the beginning of the bangles and jewelry and silk odds and ends bazaar, which CJ hadn't been introduced to on his last trip. What different experiences men and women have travelling. He's been all through the Muslem district, where I don't go by myself, but he's never even gone into the jewelry and silk and bangle bazaars, which are right in the middle of everything. :)
CJ had brought back pictures of Mussoorie--half the pictures are of the mist. He and Jen both really enjoy photography. I don't know how photographers deal with India. You could use up rolls and rolls and rolls of film in a single hour--every cow, every women with her baskets of eggplants and cucumbers, every intricately designed cage around the windows above the street. . . all of it is screaming to be photographed. I just enjoy it all with my eyes. When I come back to India, when it is not so new that I feel as if I must have my eyes wide open every second, maybe I will take more photos.
Now to eat, and then go home and shampoo my hair.
I send much much love.