On what was the first of many excursions to architectural wonders (this one, Mughal):
Though I’ve never been out to sea, the only comparison I can draw to growing accustomed to getting around in India is growing a pair of sea legs, but for India.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been born with a spirit for adventure and an insatiable desire to see the world (and the willpower to save the money I’ve earned, only to spend it on travel). Even after five continents, after roughly two years of living abroad, nothing was ever going to prepare me for this.
With a very thorough and infinitely helpful introduction to Delhi from a friend and a willingness to get lost, screw up, and spend a lot of time wandering, I found myself growing my India legs in time.
Interspersed with observations from my journal, here are a few pictures of growing India legs in Delhi.
“…the smells waver between completely mesmerizing and revolting. But they are mostly the former.”
On the day of Divali, while looking for leather jootis (leather shoes) in Chandni Chowk, a large man, having taken an interest in me hopped into my rickshaw and professed to know exactly where I needed to go. En route, he proffered a business card explaining his palmistry skills. He told me that I had a very good heart (a common theme I heard countless times in India), that I would develop a health problem within 1-10 years, and something about my mind and power that he couldn’t fully explain and I couldn’t understand.
As the ride continued, he put his arm around me, making me feel extremely uncomfortable. I shoved it off and told him to stop it.
I tried my best to evade him once the rickshaw ride was over. The alleys of Chandni Chowk are twisting but we both had distinctive features that made us stand out in a crowd – me, my height and my white skin, and him, his red Sikh turban.
“He then proceeded to follow me around the glasses shops and the shoe shops of Ballimaran for the next 20 minutes or so. I kept on telling him I didn’t need his help, but he insisted.”
While I’m used to doing things that other people might consider brave, it was scary being followed by an older man in a country I’ve spent less than a week again. India was full of painful and unsettling reminders of power and gender. More on this later.
I ducked down smaller passages, stopped into shops where I had no intention of buying anything. I quietly slipped into a shoe shop, intending to buy a pair of shoes for Divali that night. Luckily, this threw him off my trail. Watching him from afar, I noted his confusion, wondering where I could have disappeared to.
It was here, in Old Delhi, where I had the chance to bring back my pay-and-dash skills I had perfected in Hanoi. Whenever I know I’m being cheated, I figure out how much I should actually be paying, pay that amount, often get the driver riled up, and then dash off before anyone has a chance to do anything.
I consider myself so lucky to have the friends that I do, friends that are still willing to sit down and talk with me about this. One in particular, Kirstin, spent three months in India when she was 18 and knows what I’m talking about when I babble on and in. In talking about India, it’s easy to resort to generalities – India is an overwhelming place! There’s no place like it on earth! It’s crazy and intense!
Kirstin told me that when she was in India, people often told her, “For every generalization you make about India, the opposite is also often true.”
So take all of these generalizations with a grain of salt.
What on earth does 19 weeks of freedom look like? 19 weeks without a job, sometimes without a home, sometimes without a purpose, sometimes without friends. 19 weeks of no new posts.
The first and largest chunk of time was spent decompressing in Bangkok and traveling by myself through India and Nepal. These are the stories that will be forthcoming.
The middle chunk was spent at home, in the company of my family and mostly crying from laughter every day. That, or dealing with leftover medical woes from India.
And this last chunk, this closing chunk, has been spent searching for employment in a city that isn’t new but isn’t exactly old news either. This period of liminality is now coming to a close. Things are falling into place and it feels good.
I promised, however, that I would update my blog with some of the time I have left now.
December 17, 2012, I rose early. After discarding the last of the dingiest clothing and jamming spices, tea, and yak wool songs into my trusty backpack, and layering in thermals and fleece. I was unaccustomed to the Kathmandu valley cold and slept under six layers of down blankets – I’m sure my subtropically-adjusted body could take no fewer than six.
I passed through Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport for the third (out of four) time that year. (Remember my first time?)
And many, many hours layer, I made it to Bangkok. I shed multiple layers upon my arrival into Suvarnabhumi. Five weeks was a long enough time to develop a strong craving for Thai food, even if I had had it each and every day for over a year. So with my craving in mind, I sat on the skytrain with plans to meet friends for a big Isaan feast in Bangkok’s Ari neighborhood.
With thoughts of som tam (papaya salad) and khao mu yang (grilled pork neck) in my head, I lugged my luggage off the skytrain and through Ari’s soi-side dinnertime crowd. Let me tell you, I was so happy to see a table of smiling faces waiting for me. I was there, with kind and fascinating people, eating food I can’t get here in the US, and feeling dewy and more than a little ripe after a day of international travel and an evening of navigating the Bangkok heat with a giant backpack. I remember gushing about the past five weeks and everything I’d just been though, because really, other than my journal and conversations with strangers here and there, my stories and experiences hadn’t had a chance to come forth yet.
Immediately upon relieving myself of my backpack and sitting down, my friend Kyle asked me, “So, did you find yourself?”
Half-jokingly, half-seriously I snapped (the literal kind of finger-snapping, not the angry speech type) and replied, “I was never lost.”
“Finding yourself” in India has become trite, to say the least. But I wasn’t lost before going to India and I’m not now. So while I can’t speak to India’s life-orientation skills, I can say that my time in India was as personally enriching as I had hoped (and I hoped for a lot, believe me).
I feel like this a bad, privileged thing for me to admit, but after being in India, I felt like it was the first real place I had been to. I can’t even describe what I mean. All of humanity is on display and it constantly requires attention.
So with time and with photos and with a few words too, I hope to share with you what I saw.