As I returned to this blog spot to try and begin once again, I found one I wrote last summer but never had strong enough internet to post. Long over due is a little bit about my time in India. Stay tuned for a more recent post soon!
It’s not surprising that I have done a horrible job keeping up this blog, sitting down for a long time to write when there are millions of other things going on has never been my forte. I owe many of you stories from Morocco and the rest of Amsterdam. I’ve got a few more plane rides ahead of me to try and catch up. But for the moment… I’m back in India!! I have been dreaming of this for the past 2 years so it’s time you hear my latest adventure. My 3 days travelling alone in India were good. Not great. Not fun. But what I needed.
It was like the solo experiences I give myself every few years, except in the midst of many crowds. Travelling alone is daunting not because it’s dangerous or because it’s “lonely” but because you end up spending so much time in your own head. This is usually good for me in small doses, but such a concentration of thoughts has been…enlightening to say the least. I arrived in Mumbai at 4am, worried my bag had gotten lost, paid way too much for a taxi, slept outside my hostel until the reasonable hour of 7 to be let in and finally managed to feel somewhat human by 9. I did not feel alert enough, however, to say no to an overpriced tour of the city. The woman I was talking to picked up her son off the street and I finally gave in after a long bargain. I spent three hours being driven to all the cool sites. I could have bought several meals for that price, but it ended up being worth it for my tired self to get a feel for navigating the city and going in to places I would not have felt comfortable going alone.
Sure I saw the Mahatma Gandhi house and a Hindu temple festival, but best was that he took me to a great hole in the wall lunch spot for some delicious dal and I finally gave in to try the buttermilk drink (not quite up there with a lassi). In the afternoon I walked for a couple hours to the local beach being stopped many times along the way by young girls who wanted to say hi and take a picture with me, mothers who let me play with their babies, and little beggar boys who I just couldn’t help but buy ice creams for. Just as I finally made it to the beach and sat down in some well-earned shade a gaggle of tweens approached me giggling. There must have been 10 of them. After a few introductions and jokes they asked me to come play with them, so off I went in to the Arabian Sea (the one body of water I’d told myself I’d listen to the guide books and not go in… so far so good!) We splashed around for a while, a kid lost my sunglasses, got some instant photos taken, learned a little bit more about each other’s lives, and before I knew it they’d convinced me to come home with them for dinner. Oh what the hell.
The 11 of us piled in to one taxi and sped off to one of their homes. The mothers were quite confused, didn’t looked thrilled, but were gracious none the less. We had delicious rice and dal with the best achar I have ever tasted (it was stuffed inside a little hot pepper!) and I kept trying to take fake sips of water. Then one of the brother’s/uncles came home who gave me a ride back to the beach on his motorcycle where I was still in time to see the sun set. As the sun went down all the people came out. The beach was quickly covered in families and screaming children and chai wallas and food vendors and the likes. It was marvelous.
I spent the entire next day just walking. I spent the morning down at the fishing docks where all the fish are caught and traded and put on ice and trucked out. I wandered through all the back alleys of neighborhoods just picking a direction and following it, and loving that I was the only white person I saw for hours and also was hardly getting a second glance from the people who lived there. I marveled at all the vegetable vendors and held back tears for all the street children. I walked my way all over town and just took it in. By evening I sat at the Gateway to India and just people watched. Indian families walked around that gate for hours, stopping to look at the boats or take a picture with me. I smiled at every child and woman that I caught staring at me, which always made the bashfully laugh.
After many delays I finally arrived in Goa early afternoon, checked in to my guest house where I was the only person, and immediately hit the beach. I just played in the waves for hours and walked up and down the beach for the other hours. It could not have been more rejuvenating. Getting out of the city made worlds of difference. I felt instantly more comfortable around everyone, had many great conversations with waiters and beach goers alike, and finally felt myself relax. The second day in Goa I met an old Greek man when he drove past on his scooter. We spent the morning talking and exploring the town by bike. It was such a fun way to pass my last day: travelling to meet fellow travelers.
Once on the train I made great friends with my compartment mates: spending multiple hours discussing everything from influential life changing experiences to online education platforms. They helped me navigate the confusion of the Indian Rail waiting list and found me a bunk to sleep on. But it was so hard to sleep. I was so close to Shanti Bhavan. When I got off the train in the morning I already felt more at peace with the India I stepped in to. Bangalore has a much calmer and friendlier presence than Mumbai. I found the SB driver Babu right away and threw my backpack in to the same vehicle that picked me up two years ago. With each passing minute the butterflies in my stomach grew. On the way out of town we picked up two other graduation guests, a former volunteer Michelle Miller (who I have heard endless stories about) and her friend James. They were staying in a beautiful home of an Indian woman long connected to the school, a hero in her own right. This woman is an artist who helps slum women use the cement and rice bags they have an endless supply of to create jewelry and bags for sale as well as travels to communities around India helping women preserve the craft that have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations. The stories she told of trying to find ways to help these women triumph over their abusive drunk husbands got me speechless. Needless to say both my gender studies and anthropology gears were spinning faster than ever. After too short of a conversation Michelle James and I piled back in to Babu’s car. Michelle had been working with the school since 2005 and has been back many times but not in 3 years, so our excitement and story-telling was growing with each passing mile. After an hour and a half we saw the first Shanti Bhavan and nearly lost it.
Pulling in to the gates a few of my students were already standing at the entrance waving and smiling. I could barely wait for the car to stop moving to get out and hug them. It was the start to a most perfect week, every time I look around this school or see a kid smile at me, I remember how much this place is home.
That was as much as I had written before getting pulled in to the whirlwind on graduation festivities. But below are a few more pictures and happy memories:
When I arrived at 3am the first go-round I was up again at 6 to watch the basketball match. I was glad not much had changed this time. I gathered with all my former students (next to me there is Thanu) to cheer on the graduates vs. SB game.
During graduation week the graduating class and the graduates all get to join the volunteers and teachers and Dr. George in an evening of good food, dancing and lots of laughing. Left is Praveen and right is Prashanth, both who had just finished their first year of college. In the middle is Meena, the young woman who I went back to see graduate 🙂
The beautiful and talented graduating class!
Michelle and I weren’t ready to let Meena go! She has now completed her first year of college and had a fabulous season playing soccer for her school and made the national team as well! So proud each and every day.