Saturday, March 24, 2012

Final Thoughts on India

I don't think I have ever blogged so much about a single trip. With this final one, it brings the total India posts to five. The thing is that it could be more. We have about 1,000 photos. You've seen about 25. I haven't shared about men getting shaves and hair cuts on the side of the road. I haven't shared moments, stories, and funny things said amongst our group of four. I haven't written about all of the random photos taken of us just because we are white - some outright requested and some from a distance. I haven't written about the monkeys that were everywhere or how I thought of King Louie singing "I Want to Be Like You" from Jungle Book each time I saw them. There are some amazing photos that haven't made it on the blog - some of my favorite from the trip. Yet, life moves on and so must I. Before I do that, I wanted to share some more personal thoughts from the trip.

As Rebekah and I were writing before the trip, she said something that stuck with me. She said, "I like to describe India as a very polarizing society. In this one culture you will meet the very worst of mankind and the very best. I've never experienced anything quite like India before anywhere." After being there, I agree.

I've been asked about the poverty of the country. Yes, it is there. It is very much there. Agra and Varanasi have no sewer system so everything drains down troughs that line the streets. We gave hygiene classes about not pooing in or around your house, boiling water before you drink or cook with it, and how to keep yourself clean. Those lessons are needed. We walked through small streets where people begged for food as people were buying food offerings for the temple. This was one of the most difficult things for me to see. Food bought and given to gods in a shrine while people were hungry just feet away. I know it is a different mindset and most likely rooted in a belief of getting what you deserve from a former life. However, it was still heartbreaking.

We saw people who had been disfigured. Some only minorly (if there is a such think as minor disfiguration). Others more grotesquely. We were told very early in the trip not to give them money as it would go back to the mob/mafia - not to the one we were trying to help. I'll never forget standing at an ice cream stand and a boy crawling up to us like a spider because it was the only way he could move. I'll never forget being paralyzed by wanting to do something and not knowing what to do - willing myself not to cry. It wasn't a proud moment for me.

Yet, in the midst of the heartbreak, a light shown through. As abundant as the need was, the people were truly the best part of India. Our food tour guide was so much fun. Jen and I got to share a rickshaw with him and visit with him about life in Delhi. We met a man on a train that helped us gage where we were, cracked jokes with us, and overall was just a friendly, kind man. We met vendors at bazaars and markets that took such pride in their wares and said some pretty funny things. Hotel owners helped us with pricings for tuk tuks and warned us of scams to be aware of. Another hotel owner brought us local treats to try out and sat with us sharing about local wedding customs. We spent a few hours in the home of a local family - incredibly hospitable and generous with themselves and their time. We met a silk shop owner who was carrying on the family business and was pretty delighted with the results of Kris's request to see ties and Jen's queries of the prices of his scarves. Our boat tour guide was so willing to answer any questions about the local beliefs and be available in case we needed him. We met people on the street that recommended great places to eat. We met travellers who had been on month long trips, giving suggestions for where to go. Boat owners offered their services and then were just as kind when we said we were walking.

But the best part of the people are their children. Kids are kids in all cultures. One afternoon Jen saw some kids flying paper airplanes over some electrical wires and pulled out her camera. Next thing we know there are about a dozen of them all around us as she snapped away. They were so funny and loved seeing the pictures on the camera. Throughout the whole trip we saw boys playing cricket. They were having a great time and didn't care if you watched or wanted to take a turn. They were even kind if you accidentally walked into the middle of their game. There were children that were curious but shy. Their beautiful brown eyes would twinkle when you gave them a bit of your attention. Even the children selling things down by the river were content with a no thank you. On the metro, we found a cute little one who was happy to flirt with Randee for an entire ride.

As if the beauty of the people were not enough, their home was in itself a beautiful place. It was colorful and full of life. The buildings - especially the older ones - were stunning. And it was green. There were trees, plants, and flowers everywhere we went. India is proud of its history. Everywhere we went were statues to commemorate someone significant. (Yes, I was a big girl and did just fine. They only got to me a few times.) They take pride in their historical sites and work to keep them in good condition. The beauty of the people was reflected in the place they live. And their food! A.MAZ.ING.

On top of the experience on a place, I got to spend it with some pretty great friends. I'm so thankful for the group that I saw India with. I missed them this week. Even being upstairs from Jen, around the corner from Randee at work, and a few blocks from Kris, I missed them. There is something special about experiencing something new with people - talking, laughing, eating, and seeing sides of each other we did not know were there. It's a gift and I know that.

Yes, India was hard but it paled in comparison to the beauty. I'm so thankful I was able to spend a short amount of time there. As much as we saw, it was only a small bit of the country. If I found myself back there again, I would be just fine. Until then, come over. I would love to show you some pictures and tell you a tale. India, you were worth it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Best Part of India

When we started looking at going to India, I contacted Rebekah to ask her some questions. As we got closer to going, I asked if I could bring her anything while I was there. She mentioned that what she missed the most was people. I totally understand what she meant. As beautiful as many things were, the best part about India was the people.

So when you go to India....

....look all around you. There are artists restoring the beauty of their forts/homes everywhere.

Look out for their guards. They pack some serious heat.

The kitchens are pretty open. Hang out by the men that make your meals.

As India is a place of tourists, you run in to some interesting individuals.

Look for moms that carry sweet cubby cheeked, henna-handed babies.

If you are there is wedding season, you HAVE to see a wedding procession in which a band, dancers, fireworks, and a wheel of spinning lights lead a groom on a decorated horse to the home of his bride.

As you walk the markets, look for children doing their studies.

While waiting for a tuk tuk, don't overlook the children throwing paper airplanes over electical wires. And if they accidently hit you with one, laugh. You'll become a human target but the joy on their faces make being a bull's eye totally worth it.

If you get the chance, spend time in a home. They were so hospitable (like the Bhutanese) and so gracious even when you look this rough and tired.

During your boat tour on the Ganges, watch for people praying and offering flowers/candles to the river. Even if the pictures are blurry, they help you remember their sweet faces.

If you find yourself in a shop, take time to visit with the shop owners. Not only do they have beautiful things, but they are so proud of their work. They are friendly and can be pretty funny too.

As you walk along the ghats, you will see all kinds of people working and worshipping. Sometimes it is a bit of both.

You will also see cricket. Everywhere. You have to watch where you are going because sometimes you don't realize that you are walking/standing in the middle of the game.

Even if you do interrupt it, that's alright. They may even let you play.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Planes, Tuk Tuks, and Rickshaws

When you are India, you much try the following things:

Take a Food Tour in Old Dehli. Not only is it an amazing way to try new foods but it is also a great way to see the original part of the city. It is crowded and chaotic but in a nonthreatening way. And don't listen to the silly tour guide who acts like you don't know how to cross the street - especially if you are/have lived in Cairo.

As you travel from place to place on the tour, you must ride in a rickshaw. So much fun and it makes seeing everything around you so much easier - especially if you are short like me. If possible, ride backwards once. Coming face to face with various other rickshaw drivers is an experience.
Go see the final home of Ghandi. It is beautiful, infomative, and very peaceful.
(Just make sure you take a back up for when you decided to view Ghandi's final footprints. Just because the path is clearly open doesn't mean that you can go there.)
Ride a train. Just do it. You meet some interesting people and get to see some great country side. Make sure you have some fun friends to keep you entertained though. Especially on an overnight train. Be prepared though - if you stay up too late laughing, the Indian men will wake you up early with various random noises and lots of curious staring. It will be worth it though.
Go see the Taj Mahal. It is seriously the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. I don't think there is anything more breathtaking that has been made by human hands. This could be a post of photos in itself. It still wouldn't do it justice.

When you get to Varanasi, take a night boat tour. Not only is it a great way to see the Ghats, you will get to see a ceremony to the river goddess. Not only is it interesting, it makes for some great people watching.
Go to the Burning Ghat. This is a cremation ground for thousands of Hindus and a place of worship as well. The ceremonies are full of tradition. Unlike anything I've ever seen. You can't take photos there but is fascinating.
Walk the Ghats. There are some amazing buildings and street art. Shrines are everywhere you turn and advertisments are abundant.

No matter where you go, there is always a tuk tuk available to help you get there.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

India #1 - The Group

Growing up and through college, Spring Break was always a time of rest. Lots of people I knew made big plans and went on trips. I usually stayed home with the family and had good time with friends. While I have always loved my time with them, this year things are a bit different. So when you live internationally, you can travel. For cheap. So we did.

Spring Break 2012 = India

It was an amazing trip. It was full of beauty and heartbreak. I'm still trying to process the trip and am waiting for our picture exchange to share the highlights of the trip. Jen and I swapped and have close to 800 pictures between the two of us. And there are more to come. Patience, Dana. Patience. So while I wait for pictures and try to sort out what we experienced, I thought I would introduce you to the group we went with.

(Randee, me, Kris, and Jen - in front of the Taj Mahal. How's that for a teaser?)

This group of friends made this quite a fun trip. We laughed a lot. A. L.O.T. Like, can't breathe and stomache ache laugh. Daily. Can I just brag on this group for a bit? No one got sick. No fights. Pretty incredible! Seeing how we had not travelled together, that is a miracle in itself. Compromise and flexibility saved us. Go team!

This is the first time you have seen the amazing Jen. Yes, this is the same Jen you have been reading about since July. I cannot tell you how great it was to travel with her. Somehow we can "live together", work together, worship together, and now travel together. I don't think we have many of these kinds of people in our lives. So thankful I have her! Throughout the trip we shared brain waves and beds. We were able to talk about what we were experiencing as it happened. We complimented each other photographically. We could get lost behind a camera and have fun in front of it as well. We could read each other like a book. We entertained ourselves pretty well. She can laugh at me and get away with it. When I accidently slip and say something culturally insensitive, she knows its the exhaustion talking, not the real me. We back each other up when unknowingly breaking the rules. What can I say, she's awesome!

Randee was fun to have with us. She had the most random things to say to make us laugh at just about any given moment. She doesn't hold back. She could find randomness around every corner and caught it all on camera. She found what she enjoyed and went with it. Girl does love some puppies! Honestly, they were pretty cute.

Then there was Kris. Now before you get all worked up about poor Kris, the only guy on the trip, let me clarify a few things: 1. Yes, he did travel with three (not always cute) women - alone. 2. Yes, he was a good sport and did various male things for us (check the bed for bugs, take photos while we jumped repeatedly, held bags while we were in the market, etc). 3. Yes, he did see us all seriously grouchy at some point during the week. However..... 1. The man dishes out much, MUCH more than he takes. 2. He looked like a stud to many an Indian man. 3. Just about everything he suggested we do, we did. So don't feel sorry for him. At all. In all seriousness though, he was on full alert for us for a week. He also made a very long train ride significantly more enjoyable and memorable. He can be a pretty good listener too. So glad he was there.

This last person was not one that went with us on the trip but one that we met there. Meet Matt:

Matt and Jen are friends from Houston. None of us had met him before going to India but he definitely made the trip more memorable for us. He went out of his way to help us with train tickets, got a boat tour in Varanasi for us, and showed us what his life looks like in Agra. He had so many more things he could have been doing and yet took the time to help us out. His work there is so needed and we were blessed to see just a small piece of what he has committed to do there.

So that's the group! They made this an amazing Spring Break. Next post, the places we saw. Following that, the people we met. What can I say, India made for some great memories!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Anticipating India

In about 41 hours, we will be boarding a plane to head to India. It has been several weeks in the making - planning, booking, virtually exploring, adventures in getting visas, and so much more. We have a schedule that has tours and places set alongside generous amounts of down time. We will be seeing Delhi, Agra, and Varanasi - the Red Fort, Old Delhi, a food tour, the Taj Mahal, working with local children, various tours around Varanasi, and all of the local stuff that catches your eye along the way. We've started packing lists and daydreaming about markets. My inner tourist is SO excited! However.....

The past few days, I've been reminded about the poverty I'm about to encounter. I've had brief conversations with people, been reading about it, remembering the Compassion bloggers I followed a few years ago. Honestly, it's overwhelming. I know we will see it. We won't be able to help it. I don't want to help it. I've heard the the Taj will overwhelm you with its beauty but it is needed after having your heart broken on the way in. I want that. I want to see the need and be effected by it. I don't want to drive by and not be touched by it. I currently live where people live in parking garages under our buildings. They are lucky if they have walls and a door. They warm themselves by a fire in the street. I have seen poor here. It won't compare to this poverty. I know it. And yet....

If there is only one thing I've learned, it is this - in the broken is the most beauty. That is what I want to see. I want to look at what my mind deems as hopeless and see the beauty of a people. A beauty of their hearts. Hope. I want to be different by seeing them.

I anticipate it will be hard. Most things worth experiencing are. I think India will be worth it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

March Photo Challenge 1 -5

March 1: Up

My boys have decided that their favorite thing to do with blocks is use them ALL to build Carrefour (the Egyptian version of Wal-Mart - and no, it's not any better). They have also discovered that if they put all of the cylinder blocks on the bottom, it rolls. So here are my boys with Carrefour.

However, last week was ROUGH. Three days of sand storm = three days with no recess. At all. For a room full of five year olds. ROUGH. So when I got this email that we got our passports with our Indian Visas a few days early, my day definitely started looking up!

March 2: Fruit
Around Cairo, we get fresh produce. We usually buy them at our neighborhood markets, the souk, or sidewalk stand. Forgive the hazy photo. Sandstorms make car windows dirty.

March 3: My Neighborhood
While there are many interesing things I could post about where I live, I went with a nice shot. You see these basket carts all around town with baskets to buy.

March 4: Bedside
Every night I fall asleep looking at these sweet faces. I'm ready to add a third one!

March 5: Smile
This is Dr. Seuss week is KG2. Today we focused on Green Eggs and Ham. So what do you do when reading this book? Make green eggs, of course! These two liked it - a lot!