Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tous les Touts

Agra is a war zone. It's a war between the foreigner and the local, the gullable and the savvy. Many foreigners feel like victims and with just cause. It's hard for me to gauge how the Indians feel - it's a completely different psyche. It's a battle for personal space and peace of mind, for the best bargain and for the contents of your wallet, and even for your own health.

Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, is a tragic mess. In 1653, Emperor Shah Jahan beuested on this city a gift that would last a millennium - a white marble monument dedicated to his dead wife - sure to attract kings, paupers and everyone in between. Yet Agra in 2009 is a polluted, dirty, festering blister of a city. The air is so thick with smog that you can barely see the Taj Mahal. Grown adults, mothers in front of children, dispose of their trash all over the streets. Done with that coke bottle? drop it on the ground - I'm sure the cows will eat it. I saw a woman throw the entire remnants of her family's meal out the window of a train while it was stopped at the station - paper plates and all. Nobody blinked. Worst of all are the 'touts' - the scammers who drum up business by annoying the crap out of you until you give them the contents of your purse in a plea for mercy. The touts are aggressive and they are everywhere.

"Where are you from Madam? US? Michael Jackson! Obama! Come in my shop! Batteries, Madam? I give you good price. First customer good price. Madam! Batteries! You need batteries, I have!! BATTERIES!!"

What they don't seem to understand is that it's not usually the sales pitch that gets me to the battery isle. They're also pushing water bottles, rickshaw rides, postcards and taj mahal snow globes. Someone even offered me a helicopter ride. Do I really look that flush? They grab at you and if you ignore them they get closer and louder. The kids are even trickier and masters of the game. On our street there was an insanely loud Mulim festival the other night for 24 hours straight. You cannot imagine the decible level of the music, which blasted from permamnent speakers installed on the streets. I was out taking pictures and dancing, eardrums-be-damned. I group of beautifully adorned children and women in saris approached me smiling. A few yound girls took my hands and coerced me into the parade with them. After about 50 feet, they started tugging at the small wallet I had around my neck, persisting that I give them "pens! pens!" I've offered to buy food for the kids, but they usually just want the rupees. The other night there were six of us trying to negotiate a jeep ride home from a fort about 24 miles away. After a lot of back and forth nonsense with the driver, we settled on the price that our guidebook told us to pay, and we were on our way. Half way there, we stopped at a gas station on an abandoned strip of road. The driver demanded his full fee to pay for gas. We said he could have half now, which was more than a full tanks worth. He get the gas station attendeant involved, telling us he needed all the money. Once he realized he wasn't getting it, he got back in the jeep, in a huff and WITHOUT GAS, and continued to drive us back. If we had given him the full sum, we might have been stranded at that gas station.

A few years ago a scandal was uncovered in Agra. Restaurants frequented by foreigners were in cahoots with the local doctors and hotels. Cooks purposefully put bacteria (use your imagination) in the food to make the patrons sick, then the hotels recommended the doctors. Several people actually died. We are still cautioned not to eat within 500 meters of the Taj. SO far I have met several tourists who have been violently ill since they arrived - my roommate included.

On the flip side (and there's always a flip side) there are more tourists here than anywhere in India and many could use a good spanking - throwing fits over little inconveniences, like inconsistent hot water in their $4/night hotel. We march into town with 40 lbs backpacks chock full of souveneirs. We whip out our $400 cameras to take photos of women preparing their family's meals on the side of the road next to a filthy cow, but won't give money to beggars. We haphazardly flash 1000 rupee notes while rummaging through our wallets after bargaining down a rickshaw ride to 25 rupees (50 cents). We blatantly ignore people who speak to us and yell at the people who persist. We clutch our bags tightly when walking by children, and step around the legless beggars who beg for a rupee or two. Most of the locals live on less than a dollar a day, and are desperate to make a living. And we haggle over cents.

I can't determine which came first in this chicken-egg scenario: the cheating Indian tout or the miserly foreign tourist. I have been driven to the brink in this town and have laid into a few touts and one lying travel agent. I actually sat in front of his agency threatening to drive away customers until he refunded my friend's money, much to the amusement of the Indian bystanders. Agra calls itself the "city of love". But I hate to say that the Emperor's monument to love only brings out the worst in the locals and it's foreign visitors.

Onto Pushkar next, with great hope for a renewed faith in humanity.

***I just realized that I wrote nothing about the Taj Mahal. It was stunning. Amazing. A feat of human skill and artistry. And I'm still not sure it's worh the trip to this city.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas! Jesus would be proud...

When I was a kid, we lived next to an orthodox jewish family, the 5 kids in their family matched up to the ages of my siblings. Miryam was my age. We spent a good amount of time at each others homes. I remember the day that it finally sank in that her family did not celebrate Christmas. Of course, growing up in Encino, I understood that Jews didn't believe in Jesus and all, but Christmas was another story, surely. Wasn't it?  

"so no baby Jesus ornaments on your tree?"
"nope, no tree."
"but where does Santa put the presents?"
"no Santa."
"wait but who brings the presents?"
"no presents."
"...say what?"
This was mind boggling enough but when she told me that keeping 'kosher' meant she had never tasted a cheeseburger, I nearly fell out of my chair. 

Fast forward 18 years and I'm spending Christmas in a country that celebrates countless amounts of gods and holidays, none of which I include a nativity scene, and certainly no red suited giver of gifts. I'm feeling discombobulated all over again. How and why am I here on this day, thousands of miles from my friends and family? 

Suffering from a decent bout of homesickness, I responded to a flyer that advertised a Christmas Eve gathering at the Oasis Cafe. There, we were served spiced milk tea, cookies and popcorn and they played a movie about Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. A German girl got up and explained the basics of the Christmas holiday, and a Tibetan translator translated for the monks in attendance. Then an Israeli girl got up and explained that although Jesus was from Israel, Jews don't believe he is the mesiah. This left the Tibetans quite confused, and even I had to sit and ponder that one. Meanwhile the Muslim guys in the back are reading the subtitles out loud and the Canadian at my table is explaining to the Hindus sitting next to her what the word 'Mesiah' means.

Passing popcorn and Christmas cookies around during the film, I'm feeling so happy that I've found myself in a welcoming place on this day. When the credits rolled, the two Muslim guys at my table say "wow, that is such a great story, how brave Mary was! And Joseph, what an amazing man.- this is such a wonderful story." that's one of the beautiful things about mcleod ganj, everone here is truly here to learn about and appreciate each others cultures. Needless to say, the warmth of he holiday spirit was all around me. You cannot imagine the feeling of all of these different faiths gathered in one place out of respect for your holiday. Another generous gift from the strangers in this foreign land.

 I finished off the night with a king fisher beer at a pub with some Tibetan guys I've gotten to know. They too are all alone in this strange country (planet?) - many without hope of ever seeing their families again. 

So tonight, my so cal family is hanging out on the beach in del mar - will anyone brave the waves? My norcal family, no doubt, has a crackling fire going in the den. Luca Shallenberger and Finn Griffiths, sons of two of my best friends are celebrating their first christmas, and i will be pleased to make their acquaintance when i return this summer! Santa's logging extra mileage to bring Mia Bowman her gifts all the way to okinawa. Gunner is enjoying a belly rub from Scuba Steve. And John is celebrating with his co-workers in an undisclosed location in south west Asia. He's such a joyful dude that I'm sure he's having a great time. I will be boarding a 13 hour bus to Delhi on Christmas night and then on to Agra. Merry Christmas to all of you, I miss and love you! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Traveling Solo

I can't tell if I'm a people-person or a loner. At certain points in my life I have been a people magnet, consolidating large groups of unrelated individuals into one big happy family. At other times I have been painfully alone, watching the groups around me with sadness and a tinge of envy.  

This trip has not made things any clearer on that account. On days when I'm alone, I find myself looking around longingly for someone to share a meal with. Then on some days where I've managed to attract companions, I've found myself counting the hours 'til I can be alone reading a book. I think that in order to be one of those really engaged travelers who gets to know anyone they share a bus-stop bench/train ride/random glance with, I'd have to be genuinely interested in what others have to say. And truth be told, after 5 and a half weeks, I'm just not interested every hour of every day, in everyone I meet. Often it's the Indian dudes wanting to hold me indefintely in conversation and Ive found myself just ignoring their "namastes" and walking on by. Believe me, that conversation can go from "Namaste" to "Do you want an Indian boyfriend?" in 30 seconds flat.

The more I think about this companionship problem, the more akward I become around strangers. For example, this evening as I was reading a book at dinner, a buddhist monk got up from his table, paid his bill and walked up to me smiling, "where are you from?" he asked . "U.S." I responded. 

**On an side note, I'm starting to hate this part of the conversation, and you can't have a conversation while you're traveling without someone asking where you're from. First of all, "U.S" is a horribly boring name for a country, as I've realized after repeating it 500 times in 5 weeks. And for those of you who haven't traveled internationally of late, I assure you the response to an American in the post-Bush-era is exactly what you thought it would be! The Europeans I do talk to never fail to tell me over the course of the conversation all that they hate about Americans. Now, I like America-bashing as much as any good liberal but when I'm the only yankee around it gets kind of annoying. In case you were curious: we are insincerely friendly but really only care about ourselves. We use the word 'awesome' and 'amazing' in nauseating excess. We are frightfully ignorant of any other languages, and often, even our own. And this is their opinion of the Americans who TRAVEL. God forbid they ever make it to the heartland.  

Many Americans, I've found, also try to avoid anything other than the briefest contact with me, afraid that any extended affiliation might expose the Canadian flag patch on their backpack for the fraud that it is.

So far the friendliest person I've randomly met and spent a few days with was a Korean girl who sold beauty salon products and smoked like a chimney. She told me no one wanted to hang out with Koreans. We became fast friends.      

Anyway back to the monk. 

So the monk comes up to me while I'm reading and asks me where I'm from. In the next sentence, he tells me that he has written a book, and its for sale right over there! He was a political prisoner for 6 years in Tibet. The Chinese fired bullets into his legs. He was in a french hospital for 2 years. And he has written a book about it and it's right over there! Yes right over THERE! This entire exchange takes place in about 12 seconds. At this point I'm kind of stunned. If this had been any old Joe I would have not been that keen to the sales pitch and told him to move along. But he's wearing a freaking monk robe, prayer beads, and pointing to the bullet holes in his leg. I say I will definitely take a look at the book. He smiles at me, expectantly. I say, akwardly "well it was good to meet you, thank you for pointing out your book!" And he shakes my hand and leaves. 

So at this point I'm feeling incredibly akward and on all accounts unpersonable. I feel like i should have asked him to sit down. "So tell me, exactly how many bullets were there? What was the prison food like? And the Chinese - good hosts? Does being a refugee, like, totally suck? I bet the journey to India was AMAZING." Im being flip here, but only partially. I need to be in a certain frame of mind to engage in that kind of conversation, and I definitely have to be eased into it. The truth is that sometimes I just want to be alone, reading about OTHER people having interesting conversations. Does that make me so odd? 

Monday, December 21, 2009

some photos!

Finally I found a place to upload some photos. Here is one of me and my Guru on the Ganges, in Rishikesh. He practically fades into the background. See his dred locks draped around his legs?

This is atop the so-called Beatle's Ashram.

The Tibetan Prime Minister in exile, Samdhong Rinpoche

The view from my hotel balcony. Yesterday some women from the farm and I hiked up to the top of the closest mountain range, right above the red pole in the picture.

The peak of our climb, 2850 meters (9350 feet). It was a bit tough (read: steep) at the end, but so worth the view of the Himilayas when we got to the top, and were greeted with a warm cup of chai masala! We were tempted to spend the night at the top with other trekkers, but it started to snow, and we were totally underdressed and unprepared for that cold of an evening.
All the towns in India are flush with stray dogs, although they seem to be the healthiest in McLeod Ganj. On our way up, which took 4 hours, we were followed by a pack of 5 dogs, which eventually dwindled down to 1. He was an excellent guide, loyally staying with us the whole 9 km and got us safely to the top. Once we departed the top, in order to make it safely back before dark, a beautiful black collie (?) decided to leave his resting spot at the top and show us the route home. He was really amazing, staying with us even when passed by other dogs, and led us directly into the main square of McLeod Ganj at rush hour. He looked up at us as if to say, what next? Can I show you the Dalai Lama Temple? Or perhaps you'd prefer a hot meal? Later we surmised that these wonderful dogs were likely buddhist reincarnations of souls who were looking for a better gig in the next life, so they spent their days guiding foreigners in an act of good karma.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Back to school

One great thing about India and particularly mcleod ganj is all the lessons and schools you can attend while visiting. It's a lot like summer camp (or college, depending on your major). I'm taking Tibetan cooking class today - we are learning to bake five kinds of Tibetan bread. There's also woodcarving which I really wanted to do but it required a 5 day commitment at 6 hours a day, so I had to pass. I am however, teaching English to Tibetan refugees this afternoon at a little cafe. The cafe is decked out with Christmas decorations and was playing Celine Dion's Christmas album which made it a unique place in India on both accounts, and made it feel oddly like my mothers kitchen. The German and swede I met there yesterday said that they are hosting a Christmas eve party complete with Christmas movie. I'm very tempted to stay here until Christmas, but I don't want to devote such a large chunk of time to only one place. But if I stayed, id have time for so many more classes! I saw a sign today that read "December 24: learn self-defense, just in time for Christmas!" This made me think that the Tibetans had not been properly briefed on Santa's raison d'etre, apparently mistaking him for a 250- pound bearded burglar rather than jolly giver of gifts.

There are Hindi lessons, yoga lessons, political movie screenings, Ayurvedic massage lessons. Yesterday I saw a man sitting on the road with a little box of cotton balls and tooth picks and a sign that said "world's best ear cleaner". If it had read, "world's best ear cleaning LESSONS" I might have signed up.   

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

McLeod Ganj

Since this is my first backpacking trip, I'm learning as I go. This style of travel is actually much more condusive to my personality, as I hate to plan. I do not know from day to day, or hour to hour what I would like to be doing at any given moment. Some call me flakey. I prefer the term 'spontaneous'. At the very least, traveling alone makes me accountable to no one which is kind of nice. Case in point, my beautifully detailed itinerary is now in my waste bin and I am currently staying in a town I didn't know existed till last week. I find myself relying on word of mouth rather than my guidebook and it's turned out swimmingly so far. 

It's easy to take it day to day india. Transportation reservaions generally require a day or two of notice, but hotels can easily be found on the fly. When I showed up in McLeod Ganj at 7am yesterday after a brain-jarring 15-hour bus ride, I was easy pickin's for the 'hotelier' who was stalking the bus depot looking for customers. His cottage was a bit of a walk, but the room is huge, the view is outstanding, there is a hot shower, and the price is right at $4 a night. 

I made friends on the bus with a Dutch med student. We went to a small theatre last night to see Darjeeling Limited, which was a hoot to watch in India (and made me miss Lauren and John!). Tonight were going to see a film about the life of the dalai lama.

The Tibetan population in McLeod Ganj definitely gives it a different feeling than the rest of India. It feels like a village in the Swiss alps, with quanit shps and cafes and brisk mountain air. It would be great to have some family here with me as Christmas is around the corner!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ways to pass the days

Rishikesh is stunning. I am sitting at the DevRaj Coffee Corner at the Laxman Jhula bridge at dusk. The ganges river winds between soaring green mountians and the temples nestled on the banks look like 10 story castles in a children book. There are two walking bridges, the laxman jhula, where I am staying, and ram jhula where many of the ashrams are located, about 2 kil away. There are many foreigners here. Mostly Brits and israelis. My Indian friend tells me that the Israelis come here after their 2-3 years of mandatory military service is done. Everyone here seems to be on some sort of yogic spiritual journey which includes hours and hours daily to loll about in cafes and smoke until you can't see throuh the haze. People come here to stay until their visas run out.

My favorite cafe/hang out spot so far is the pyramid cafe in laxman jhula, on recommendation from a 65 year old french lady i met at the farm. You have to climb a fairly steep hill about 200 meters to get to it. It's  cosy, away from the chaos, and has a great view of the river and town. They serve all organic here and they even make their own kombucha! (the vinegary carbonated drink with live cultures that repulses pretty much everyone but Camilla and me.) They have wi-fi access and phenomenal vegetarian food, which explains how I've managed to spend half my waking hours there.

I had day four of cooking lessons today and then just laid out on the roof and read all day, feeling guilty that I wasn't power walking to all the pilgrimage destinations. Then an Israeli girl materialized on the roof with a thick rope, attempting to tie it to the rickety balcony guardrail. She is trying to teach herself how to tightrope walk. Apparently her guru can do it, so she thought she'd try it on our roof. After we deduced that this particular roof might come crashing down, based on the spiderweb of faultlines at the base of the railing, she went back to her own roof. In the distance, over the ashrams of rishikesh, I could see her very steadily and successfully navigate the rope accross her roof. An odd but im sure very pleasureable way of wearing out your visa.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guru on the Gangez

I've seemed to have unwittingly attracted a tour guide/eager companion - a nice young guy who leads treks in the mountains and speaks English very well. Two days ago he showed me some waterfalls near town and yesterday he took me to see the Beatles ashram (of monkey-substance fame). It is a stunning piece of land with these beehive looking meditation rooms made of small stones. The ashram has been slowly retreating back into the earth for the last 17 years, and is covered in vines, wild chickens and monkeys. And of course handfuls of tripping hippies that appear to have been sitting there since the 1970s. I have a particluar affinity for historial spaces, especially spaces where great art was created. The story goes that the Beatles wrote much of the White Album while staying there with their families.

On the way back along the path next to the Ganges river, my friend asked me if I wanted to meet a guru with 7 foot long dred locks. I mean really, who wouldn't? He took me to a teeny tiny hut down on the beach and inside was a fire, an alter to several gods, three painted, dusty men in loin cloth, the guru, and his famous dred locks wrapped about his torso and legs. They are so heavy that he has to fashion them into clothig to keep his neck aligned. They were either so stoned or so enlightened that I don't think they were consciously aware of our presense. After about two hours in there, i verified it was a lot of both.

 So we sat next to them and mused about Indian gods v. christian god (only one? How boring. How many wives did he have?) and about the population of america (only 250 million people? How quaint.) About an hour in, the cushion I had been leaning against moved and I realized that it was a man under a blanket. Even more startling was his clean-shaven face and tidy hair and western looking sweater, when compared to the other guys, who were essentially covered in dried mud and decades of dredlock growth. Realizing that he spoke some English, I asked him how long he had lived in rishikesh? He said he lives in Agra, but was just visiting rishikesh to pray with the long-dreded guru. He comes once a year. He's a political scientist who works for a non-profit, and needed respite from the city. And dred-guru is his spiritual teacher.

An American might rent a room on the pacific ocean and down several bottles of Pinot Noir to get away from the madness of city life. An Indian might snuggle up on the corner of his guru's Ganges shack and get stoned for a week. Tomato, tomaaaaaato. We're not that different after all. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Delhi Belly

A month plus in India does not make me an expert on anything but the daily confusion of an American tourist, but let me see if I can take a stab at the source of the phenomenon called "Delhi Belly".

Delhi Belly is what occurs when foreigners get a crippling bout of food poisoning in India. Even putting this to print is really tempting my own fate, but I have always had a relatively strong stomach. Once in France, Nikki, Camilla and I ate the same salmon for lunch and the two of them spent the night on the train writhing in agony while I did not feel a thing. So we'll see how it goes in the remaining 28 days here. Fingers crossed.

Lonely Planet guidebook explicitly tells you not to eat street food unless it has been fried in front of your face, not to drink fruit lassis (smoothies), not to eat salad and not to eat any fruit that lacks a peel.  I have so far had fruit, salad and lassi and have been fine.  

The cause of the Dehli Belly is not poisonous apples or lettuce, nor an intolerance of hot spices, but the bacteria that abounds on every surface in the country. I'm trying not to speak disparingly of the hygene habits of an entire people, but it is fair to say that American hygene far exceeds the norm here. The result is that an indian's constitution can simply handle more bacteria in their diet than we frail Americans. Hence, the Delhi belly.

Yesterday, after climbing a steel ladder in an abandoned (except for monkeys) ashram, I noticed a peculiar yet identifiable brown substance on one of my fingers. I immediately began rummaging in my purse for my antibacterial wipes only to realize that they were missing. Bottled water and vigorous rubbing would have to do until I found a bathroom. Well bathrooms in India do not offer soap or even toilet paper. (One might put two and two together to determine this as the source of Delhi Belly.) 

So I spent the rest of the day obsessively compulsively wiping, wetting, and smelling my finger to direct if any offending microbials remained. At one point I considered holding the finger over an open flame and then just decided to leave it ungloved and out of my pants pocket hoping the frostbite would sever it.

Cows do their business all over the streets. People inevitably walk in the dung, walk in their homes, then sit on their floor and prepare a meal. This is how we do it in the home of my cooking teacher, Purnima. If a piece of cauliflower jumps out of the pan onto the floor, she makes a noble and obvious effort to wash it off before she puts it back in the pan, but I'm sure that this show of concern is only for my benefit.  

What can one do? Live on the handful of Powerbars I brought with me? No, I just have to close my eyes and eat the food and convince myself that a little dirt never hurt anyone. Or at least not yet. 

And I'll remember the antibacterial gel next time I'm climbing monkey ladders.

Monday, December 7, 2009

This morning, I stood in a steam filled bathroom, drenched in hot water flowing like manna from heaven. I could ruminate on the pleasures of my first non-bucket shower in weeks all day long.

Just wanted to share. 

Last night I ran in two British ladies who'd ID met at the farm, so we stuck together and had a nice dinner together. It's nice to see familiar faces in such a foreign place. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Ahhh rishikesh. I feel like the locations have been getting better. Dehradun (the city near the farm) was way too intense although not as bad as Delhi. Rishikesh has a beautiful charm to it. The Ganga (Ganges river) is a stunning milky pale green. As we walked over the second bridge to laxman jula, the people hushed their voices in reverence of the holiest river in India. I had to walk about 20 minutes to get to the hotel a friend recommended. On the way down a steep hill, a group of elderly Indian women started
laughing and talking to me in Hindi. The ones closest to me grabbed my arm to steady themselves down the hill, all the while looking up at me a smiling with gapped smiles and gold-adorned faces. Lovely ladies. Hate that I know so little Hindi. 

On the way to my recommended hotel, an older man asked me if I needed a room. I'd already declined several offers, but my bag was getting heavy so I followed him to his newly built hotel run by his son and his sweet wife. I have a clean room, my OWN shower and toilet with HOT WATER and a mirror. By the looks of my reflection it seems I could have used a mirror in my room weeks ago. But hey, I've been living on a farm! And the best part? $3 per night. I really like what I see so far in his town so I might be here for a week or so. If I can overcome the intimidation factor I might even join a yoga seminar in the birhplace of yoga! We'll have to see about that as there are copious westerers who look quite serious about their yoga studies here and I am clearly an imposter. Odd how the most critical eyes come from other foreiners?

And this is being sent via a wireless cafe at 75 cents an hour. It is cheaper to live here than in my own home.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Where to go from here?

It's really hard to put into words all that has happened over the past two weeks of the course. Today the remaining attendees are catching rickshaws, buses, trains and planes scattering them about India and the globe. I will head via bus to Rishikesh tomorrow.

Yesterday during our final lecture, an older French woman asked the Prime Minister of Tibet a question. They each struggled in English to understand each other, English being neither their second nor probably third language. It struck me that all these people - Indians, French, Germans, Japanese, Portugese - were participating in the course in what was not their mother tongue. It felt like an incredibly generous gift, one that I couldn't return if I had to. If the course had been in any other language, I wouldn't have been unable to understand. So one of my goals when I return is to become proficient in at least French or Spanish. It's hard to be a global citizen when insisting that everyone know your language.

The theme of the course was "Gandhi & Globalization". We were exposed to the very real, tangible result of our way of life, how what we consume and shape the world, affects the global south and the ecology of the planet.

On a very cynical level, at several points during the course, I felt like taking out a red white and blue switch and flogging myself. Whenever the "west" was mentioned, it was in a negative connotation. Whenever he U.S. was mentioned, it was followed by a scowl. When I brought up the excessive population, I was shot down immediately and lectured that 1 American child consumes the resources of 30 Indian children. Ironically enough it was he Americans who jumped on me. I had already been aware of this statistic, and it's implication. But still it felt that I garnered a different response simply because of nationality.  

My initial reaction was to defend my own country, our way of life, our military adventures around the world. But the objective facts are not on my side. 

In assisting my young Austrian friend with her Tibetan article and interview with PM Rimpoche, I summoned all my recently acquired international relations knowledge to explain to her exactly why international law doesn't really matter. Why the UN will never force China to move on the Tibetan issue (or on Darfur) because China has veto power. Why the US can use torture, even though it's against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, without consequence. And why at the end of the day, in the world we've created, the country with the most dollars and the most tanks win. She is an incredibly intelligent 19 year old with a good understanding of world events. And yet when I finished explaining why no one can do anything about Tibet, she looked at me like I was crazy. How do ethical people, intelligent people, capable and powerful people let this happen? After living in the world for a while, you start to accept things as unchangable But through the eyes of a (relative) child, you can see the madness.  

We've all decided that it will be hard going back to our daily lives. Hard to constantly explain why we don't eat meat without sounding preachy and holier-than-thou. Hard to pay taxes that support violent endeavors but don't pay for the healthcare of my loved ones. Hard to ease into consumerist world around us. Even this paragraph sounds preachy! I don't want to be that girl. But I have seen a sort of raw truth come from our experiences here and overlooking it does not mean it ceases to exist. My challenge will be to bring what I've learned into my world and share it wiht others when hey are curious, rather than force it upon them.

So yes, I'm setting out to the wilds of India. I am much more comfortable with the country than when I arrived. I've learned a few steps of the dance of the busy city streets. I no longer fear the rickshaws rides. I know a bit of Hindi. I think I will be fine. I'll try to update as I go!       

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What did we do back in the olden days?

We've been spoiled with wireless internet on the farm all this time and when it went out last week we were like puppies without chew toys. So much has happened during the course, but I can't go into it now because there is a queue behind me of salivating internet junkies trying to get their fix on the one computer we must share. I will write more as soon as I get some access. Doing fine and eataing (too) well!