Monday, February 14, 2011

uninspired in Guatemala

We rented a house in San Marcos…..for the last few days Tyler and I have been in the same situation, (but with options), as a billion other people in the world- the billion who do not have access to clean water and sanitation. Let me say though we did buy a big bottle of water- the kind you take the seal off of and turn them upside down on a dispenser of some sort. At work we have the fancy one that cools the water as it comes out. Here in Guatemala we have the kind that you push the little lever and water comes out of the bottom. Anyway, we rented a really cool house in San Marcos la Laguna. It’s perched on the side of a cliff overlooking Lake Atitlan with a slope of deciduous trees, tropical plants and flowers below it. Bird’s fly outside our floor to ceiling windows (that double as doors to open), and small mammals visit us at night. The giant valley facing wall of windows is curved so we are rather like fishes in a bowl, but if a fish had this view, he’d be feeling rather zen- until he remembered he doesn’t have any water.
Isn’t that just perfect for me? The writer and contemplator of the water crisis finally knows, in a very small way, what it’s like to have to live without it. For two days very nice people have been telling us things like “the water will come, we don’t understand, let me try one more thing”….And Fredericka and Stuart really are very nice people. The reality is that I think it is fitting I should get an understanding of what this is like- but I need to wash my hair. And to really understand I would need to not have the 2000Q in my pocket, an ATM card with access to American dollars that can be converted to Q, and a Nikon D90 sitting next to me that I keep picking up to photograph birds as I write this.
We bought the big jug of water and then hired a tuk-tuk to drive us up the hill to our house with it. A woman here, or in India, or Africa, would have had to carry it on her back. We actually get to use a toilet, but we have to fill the tank with beautiful filtered water to flush it. In India, many people go the lake, or field, or side of the road (I have actually seen this).
This morning I’ve had to take stock of how much clean water we have, and what we need to use it for- and even make trade-offs. I filled our water bottles to drink, and two glasses of water to brush our teeth with, a small bowl in the sink to wash dishes, and then the tank on the toilet. The trade-offs are that Tyler won’t get a cup of coffee when he wakes up, we can only flush the toilet once, and we can’t wash our hands. I’ve seen big signs in India, Mexico, and Guatemala that have pictures of a person washing their hands and script that I assume explains about germs and how washing your hands helps stop the spread of germs- and in some countries, actually KEEPS CHILDREN FROM DYING. I’ve often thought when seeing them that it should be so easy and simple, but when you have to make choices about how to use the labor intensive and finite supply you have, washing your hands isn’t a priority. Making sure you have clean water to drink, and perhaps cook with will be higher on the list. I have a bottle of hand-sanitizer in my purse because I can afford to spend a dollar on it, but many people can’t.
So we are leaving our fish tank overlooking the lake today. I’m sitting here in the breeze from the open doors trying to soak up every ounce of peace and beauty I can. I want to remember what it feels like to be here at night listening to the jungle become quiet, with lighted candles, and a beer. But we have a choice, and fortunately, we can leave, get our money back, and find a place with water. As I pack up my stuff, I am thinking about the families that can’t.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The following have been written over the past several days, but they are in order.

Dwelling and dwelling……

I’m enjoying my chai this morning (as usual) while sitting in the open window of my room watching people start their days- men brushing their teeth, women sweeping their rooftops, and the same boy I watch every morning at the water pump. It is also the time of the day that I think most about my flight home in a few weeks, although I try not to dwell on those thoughts. My best option is to stay in the moments I have now and enjoy them graciously, but it is difficult to know I have to leave in only 19 short days. The idea of living on two continents is trying to work itself into a plan in my head. Even as the mosquitoes are buzzing around my ears and I am thinking about having to fill up the bucket in my bathroom to wash my feet, I know the inconveniences would be trivial compared to the experience of dwelling here.

Yesterday my friend Naresh took me on his motorcycle out of the city and into a few of the villages surrounding Udaipur. We rode for 25 kilometers uphill, past cinder-block homes with thatched roofs, past concrete walls the villagers topped with broken glass to keep the panthers out, to villages where I couldn’t even buy bottled water. The familiar sounds of Hindi were even replaced by a new language I had never heard. We hiked up a steep and winding path to the top where a temple has been carved into the earth and used our cell phones for light as we crouched down to find our way to the alter where Naresh offered incense and prayer, and I felt Shiva smiling.

The night before, my friends Robert and Alina and I joined Naresh and Asha with her family for the Shiva festival. We walked through town, visiting three Shiva temples and eating handfuls of sweets given to us by people as we left the temples. I find it fascinating to watch my Hindu friends worship. When entering a temple, each person rings the bell hanging over the doorway before praying with bowed heads and clasped hands in front of statues depicting Ganesh, Shiva, Krishna or others. I feel happy to be witness to yet more private moments- although when I asked Naresh what he says when he prays, he told me it’s private…. ☺)

Tonight I had dinner at Asha’s house again. Afterwards we walked to her parents home where I met several other family members. (Asha’s name means Hope in English by the way). When I mentioned around 11pm that I needed to get back to my guesthouse, her brother asked me why I was going to a hotel when my family is there in that house (their house), and told me I didn’t need to pay to stay in my home.

Yesterday a man I know named Raju stopped me on the street and asked to see my hands. He pressed on a few places and then told me I have a family history of lung problems and that my lungs are sick, that I am happy when in India but not the same in America, and that I have back problems (sadly, and frustratingly, yes) among other things. Everything he said was true.

I’ve watched the level of water in the lake go down every day since I arrived in Udaipur on the 4th of February. Naresh told me it drops by a foot each day.

Notes from India-

1- Never go shopping for fabric, or anything else, unless you go to the local market. This is where Indians shop for everything, and tourists don’t often venture. The prices are at least 70% less.
2- When you go to the local market, always go with an Indian. It’s more fun, and they will take 10% off the local price, which is already pretty cheap.
3- It’s easy to get caught up in looking around at the hustle in the streets, and even easier to step in cow poop when you’re looking around at everything in the streets. But don’t worry if you do, it is good luck.
4- The huge growths that look like bowling ball size tumors protruding from the sides and belly’s of cows aren’t tumors, or babies, but plastic. They forage in the trash for food and consume massive amounts of it (plastic), which they aren’t able to digest. Over time it slowly blocks their intestines, causing them to die slowly, and one would think painfully as well. But don’t worry, they aren’t getting fed massive amounts of antibiotics on factory farms and crowded onto trucks that drive down the freeway no matter the weather to drop them at a slaughter house where they are often still alive when their hide is being ripped off for you to eat a hamburger. Hamburger is not on the menu here unless you are in a 5-star hotel in a big city. Krishna loves cows. Shiva loves ox. They don’t eat them because the Gods have them as friends and you can’t eat a God’s friend. But you can eat a goat.
5- The bags that are often attached to and hanging under goats are not to catch milk as my friend Isabella and I thought, but to catch a baby when the goat is pregnant. They roam the streets by day to eat, so chances are, it will be born away from home. They are too valuable to the family that buys them to miss out on adding another to the herd. Eventually they might be eaten, but they have built their muscle by eating trash, so I wonder how that tastes…..perhaps like trash?
6- I have tried and liked everything I have been offered to eat or drink with two exceptions: lassi’s and fresh cow milk. Lassi’s are made with yogurt and fruit, unless you have a “special” lassi which promptly puts one to sleep. Fresh cow milk is boiled, allowed to cool, and served with “black” salt added. I’m not a fan of milk at home, let alone sour semi-warm milk with pepper added to it.
7- The best way to see the towns of India is from a motorcycle. Sitting sideways on the back with both your feet on the built in ledge is pretty easy too. I used to look at Indian women sitting like that in amazement. Now I find it practical and easy, especially when carrying bags home from the market.
8- Poverty here, though at times shocking and painful to see, is often handled with so much grace and dignity that it doesn’t always look like poverty. While I have seen children with matted hair and no shoes running from rickshaw to car to rickshaw at busy intersections begging for money, I have also seen power and beauty in groups of women sitting together on the sidewalk.
9- When an Indian says 1 pm, it means 2 pm, which means 3pm and so on, except for buses. If you are due to arrive at 6 am, you will arrive at 4 am.
10- If a rickshaw driver takes you to a guesthouse, don’t let him go in with you. You will pay an inflated price for your room to cover his commission for bringing you there.
11- For those that love it, India is like Hotel California, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

Warning: The following could be (will be) a bit negative, but it is a part of my experience, and my journey. I think it is also a way for the universe to guide me in understanding who I am, and to understand the things I want to change.
Today, 2/18/10
I am such a bloody American. Many of us think we are this way or that way, but this country will challenge what you think you know about yourself. As much as I consider myself to be open, friendly, and grateful, the part of me that expects certain things (by virtue of what I am used to) sometimes rears its head. For instance, my traveling companion is from a village. By village I mean a small community where houses are made of mud and have thatched roofs made from grasses. I mean a place where every drop of water during the rainy season is precious so people can grow food and eat. By village I mean a place where all the water for cooking, drinking, bathing, and washing clothes comes from the same green, putrefied lake. By village I mean a place where if there was/were no God(s), it would be necessary to invent them, him or her so that one can develop all the ideology and hope that comes from having a belief in something outside oneself.

By village I also mean that people don’t brush their teeth, bathe often, wash their clothes often, or have any idea about raising a toilet seat to pee. If I wipe pee off the toilet seat one more time I am going to scream.

This morning we walked to the local market to find bangles that match the salwar kameez I had made yesterday. Entering a shop, or stand, or piece of cardboard that delineates the space of ones shop requires that you remove your shoes. I am wearing my precious Rainbow flip-flops and trying to keep my feet clean as I walk through the water being used to rinse the cow poop from the streets. You remove your shoes here so that all the filth you have been walking through in the streets isn’t carried into the shop where people sit on the floor to conduct business. I find a place for my shoes that is reasonably free from shit-water, and step up into the shop. Naresh stands outside, on my flip-flops, transferring all the parasite larvae and who-knows what else onto my shoes where my barefeet will soon be again. The combination of all the gawking at the blond in Indian dress, sitting in fresh pee on the toilet seat, and countless bangles being thrust into my face along with the chorus of “Sister, please, Hello” and Naresh ignoring most of what I say finally got to me. I asked for the key to the room that was in his pocket and stormed off in a hurry to get back to my room. Now I am sitting in on the gorgeous marble patio of my guesthouse deciding whether I want to break another social norm here and order a beer while I write. (The first being that I was obviously mad in the street when I walked off.)

During the long walk home I asked for intervention, a sign, to help me get to the bottom of why I am finding the most normal parts of life in India to be so damn frustrating to me today and was suddenly embarrassed that I felt so upset by it all. I’m frustrated because I am an American who expects things to be a certain way because they are the way I expect at home.
(I just ordered a beer)
They actually close the curtains across the door here if you are sitting in view of it and have a beer on your table-

I miss Asha and Udaipur. I miss the safety and love so freely provided me when in the embrace of her entire family. I miss walking through the streets of Udaipur and hearing my name, pronounced more like N-G here than Angie. As I have written this I have thought about the people I have loved that died from emphysema and cancer. I have thought about people here that cook with dirty water from the lake. I have thought about the dogs in the street that I bought biscuits for last night, and the one that promptly lifted his leg and peed on my back after I fed him, as if to warn all the other starving-for-food-and-love dogs in the street that I was his human. Do I really care if I have to wipe pee off the toilet seat or if I get a little cow poop on my feet? Do I even need to answer that question?

Something else that taught me a lesson yesterday: we stayed our first night in Bundi at a guesthouse that is someone’s actual home. The owner is a completely kind Grandmother and all who work there are family members. The house was small and full of people. The bathroom reeked of urine and all the family members and the guests shared the shower. When flushing the toilet, it emptied into the street where one could watch all ones business move slowly downhill towards the lake. There was no privacy at all there, but it was only 150 rupees a night- about $3. I wanted a hot shower in the privacy of my own room (foreigner alert) so we moved to the guesthouse where I am writing this from after the first night. For about $27 I have a huge room, private bathroom, marble everywhere, and a green courtyard. I took off my dirty clothes, excited to finally have a shower and wash my hair, but there was no water! I sat in the bathroom thinking you’ve got to be kidding me and had to laugh. The monkeys had played on the water tank and messed up the lines that supplied it so I had to wait until they could fix it and refill the water tank.

So here’s to life in India and opportunities for growth that await my every turn. The lesson isn’t to expect more from people and situations here, but to expect more from myself. I don’t want to behave like an entitled American and you won’t learn that you do it unless you put yourself into a situation that changes the resolution of your own mind.
Naresh is truly a good guy. I care for him and brought him with me because after living in India for 22 years he had never been to Bundi- a town only 6 hours by bus from Udaipur. He’s never seen the Taj Mahal, a landmark in his own country, nor has he ever been inside a building like the one where we sleep. He is friendly and good, despite the fact that he pees on the toilet seat and doesn’t answer me half the time when I speak. I know it is because half the time, he doesn’t understand what I am saying. He has a strong faith in his God’s, Shiva in particular, and writes notes to them during the day. I asked him once about why he isn’t married when the children from his village are committed to their life partner by their parents by the time they are 9 or 10. He told me it is because he has to finish his studies and ‘make’ a job first. Besides he says, “God is making me a good person to marry and she will be perfect for me when I meet her.” When he says this, I wonder if I too have that kind of faith. Maybe it is my next lesson.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chai, Coincidence, and Gratitude

I started my day on the rooftop, as many people here do, having chai and reading about how friendliness is only possible when labels & identities aren’t attached to a person. Without labels & identities we can relate to a person without looking through our own idea of who they are. Truth isn’t information. It is an experience. My experiences here in India continuously teach me that the information we think is true about the people in this country, in many ways, isn’t.
Yes, I am obviously labeled a foreigner, and that implies many different things to Indians about me, but I am experiencing many Indians that have a greater capacity than I do to relate to me as a person, not as an idea. I’m beginning to see that there are more givers here than takers, more opportunities than challenges, and more friends than foes. The idea of cheerful, compassionate, friendliness isn’t just a notion here. It’s a way of life.
I told my Dad a few weeks ago that I didn’t want to be so guarded that I missed opportunities for genuine interaction and friendship as I traveled. What I have found is that the more I welcome moments with a relaxed heart and feeling of gratitude, the more my life is filling up with amazing people and exactly the moments that were always meant to be.
I decided to get a pedicure this afternoon before the wedding. India is hard on one’s feet and a pedicure here is only about $1.00. My friend Robert told me about a salon his friend went to so I decided to go there. On my way I stopped to talk to a friend in the street and he told me his sister’s friend owned a shop even closer than the one I was walking to, and that he would walk me there. (By salon I mean a small room with a sign on the door that says “Women Only”) After a few minutes inside a beautiful Indian woman walks in and I notice the henna tattoos on her hands and feet that signify that she is getting married, so I ask her if she will have a wedding soon. She tells me that she is actually there to have her make-up done for her reception that is a few hours away. (In India they have a huge reception 3 days before the wedding). We talk about the groom and how she thinks he is good now but wonders what he will be like in a few years, as she changes into the most bejeweled and exquisite party dress I have ever seen. She gets out a big box from the jeweler and shows me all the different parts of the jewelry (fit for I princess) she will wear to the party. This leads me to ask her what color of bangles would be appropriate with the outfit I had made to wear to the wedding party I would be attending the same night. She is happy that I get to go to a wedding and asks me where it is. I told her that I have no idea as I was invited by a friend who was invited by another friend. During our conversation about my bangles one of her friends came in to check on her progress. They have a conversation in Hindi and then she tells me to go with her friend Asha who will take me to the bangle shops to help me pick out bangles like Indian women would wear. Asha took me to 3 different shops….I have bigger hands than most Indian women and every time we find the right colors they are too small. I think Asha feels bad that I am going to such a fancy event without bangles and offers to give me a henna tattoo for some decoration on my hands. Asha took me home with her, introduced me to her family and then set me down in a chair in her living room. Without sketching, or planning it out, she gives me a lovely, intricate, bad-ass henna tattoo that completely covers my hand and all five fingers.

When she is finished she tells me to sit for a minute and let it start to dry as she retrieves a bag from her closet. In the bag are her bangles. She selects 4 and takes my left hand and begins putting them on my wrist as she is telling me that they are a gift to me from her. I sit there in awe once again at the generosity and friendliness of yet another complete stranger-come-friend-quickly. I’m quickly learning that this isn’t an exception, but a rule. I smiled when she tells me they are gift, knowing that I will always treasure them and think of these moments with gratitude. As I leave to get changed for the wedding we make plans to visit tomorrow and I say good-bye.

Then I ride on the back of a motorcycle in my fancy clothes with a complete stranger (but a friend of Roberts) through the narrow streets of Udaipur, weaving around pedestrians, cows, and rickshaws. I think of the girls I met in Jaipur and smile. Yesterday I thought about how much fun they must have had riding a motorcycle like that. Today I got to experience it.

The wedding turns out to be a reception with at least 300 Indians and two foreigners- Robert and I. People smile and welcome us with friendly greetings and a quick glance at my very Indian attire as we make our way through the crowd to see the bride and groom. I’m sure you have already guessed that it is the women from the salon! As I am standing with Robert marveling at the complete and total beauty of the women and their clothes I feel a hand on my arm and turn to be greeted by the big smile of the salon owner who had done my pedicure. We talk for a moment and then head over to the buffet tables to have another delicious Indian meal. The only thing I ask the buffet attendants is whether it is all vegetarian before I fill my plate with chickpea curry and several other things that I still have no clue as to what it was- besides fantastic food! It reminded me of a time in Sri Lanka when I realized I had no idea what I was eating but decided I didn’t care because it was just too damn good. We walk around talking to people, remarking how startled very small children seem to be when they look at us, when Asha walks up with a huge smile on her face. She checks on my henna tattoo, reminds me not to wash my hand until tomorrow, and then makes sure we have had plenty to eat. We had no idea we were going to the same wedding party when we met earlier!
Between this moment and leaving with Asha and her family and friends I also have a very long conversation with a group of young people (ages 8-19) and eventually a few of their parents. One family invited me to come to their town 165km from Udaipur to stay with them for awhile- and I think I will.

I tell Robert on the way home how grateful I feel. If I had been operating in fear and with judgment in the salon I would have missed out on these wonderful people that came into my life today. The friendliness and ability of people here to simply accept me, and invite me into their lives and homes amazes me. In America we have so many ways of excluding people and separating ourselves from them. I didn’t know until I arrived at the wedding they were all Brahmin caste (the highest you can be) but Asha knew I am 40 and unmarried- virtually unheard of here- The point is that the only thing I considered was how friendly these people were to me, and the only thing they think about is being friendly. It’s strange that I came here to save them, because they are the ones that are saving me.

Sammasati. Remember that you are a Buddha.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hills, inclined planes, and intuition

That monkey needs some sunglasses, I thought to myself as I watched a rather handsome gentleman squinting in the morning sunlight from the window of my room. He was only maybe 6 feet away from me, looking up into the sun to watch me the same way I was watching him. I asked him if he wanted to be my new boyfriend but apparently he hasn’t been to school yet to learn English, because he only stared, not even a Hello.

I got out of bed this morning at 6:45, partly because they needed the room I was in (I was supposed to move into another room, long story, but I was told after a few hours that I could again have the same room) and partly because I wanted to watch the city I felt an immediate affinity for wake up. I fall in love with India again every day, (nevermind Delhi), especially here in Udaipur. I think it’s fair to say it is a city of rooftops and hills. I sat this morning on the rooftop having tea, watching people come out onto their rooftops after their own trips to dreamland. In America our morning activities are mostly personnel, hidden from view. I don’t usually see my friends in the bathroom (well, that’s not entirely true (MICHELLE)) but here it’s normal to see the most private moments in one’s daily routine. This morning I watched a man shaving with a strap on his rooftop. He was bending down to use a small mirror he had balanced against a glass on the ledge of his patio. I watched women wearing vibrantly colored sari’s bring their sleeping blankets out to hang over the edges of their rooftops. I have to add for the sake of visualizing that the wind was blowing their sari’s, causing them to look like beautiful flags rippling in the wind. From across the lake the thumping sounds of women washing their clothes by hitting them against rocks at the lakes edge were carried to me. I turned to watch and noticed there were also women bathing, nude of course.

The sounds announcing another wedding has taken place just started….it is wedding season so I hear this several times a day. I still smile and take a moment to wonder about the bride and groom. Was their union a result of astrology, matchmakers and parental approval, or an attraction that started in secret and a choice they made independently of the stars and their families? Several people have told me that their marriages were arranged but they also had a choice. My friend Anu told her father if he didn't agree to let her marry Sanjay, she would never marry anyone. No one has told me they were forced into a marriage, although I know this happens here in India. All the women have in common that they “felt” intuitively they could eventually love the man seeking their parents consent. Intuition is a real force here. I think in America we consider “real” information, often to our detriment, when making a decision and rely too little on the wonderful capacity of the universe to lead us on our journeys. We second-guess ourselves because we have been taught, albeit perhaps subtly, that instinct isn’t fact. Many times we what-if ourselves out of possibilities, even though magic happens when we what-if ourselves into them. (“Balance” is coming to my mind but I tend to operate best in extremes.)

Anyway, tomorrow night I am going to a wedding. I don’t know the bride, or the groom, but I’m supposed to be there none-the-less. On saturday I decided I wanted to go to a wedding, I made it my intention. I went to the tailor, picked out a beautiful piece of fabric and got measured for a salwar kameez. A salwar kameez is the outfit that has pants, a long shirt, and an even longer scarf that hangs backwards around your neck. On monday morning my friend Robert mentioned that he was asked to go a wedding and said that I might be able to join him. This morning it was made official. I’m smiling as I write this. The power of intention never ceases to amaze me.

I realize this is reading more like a journal entry. I’m not sorry and I hope you like it. Udaipur has narrow, winding streets that barely have room for two autorickshaws to pass each other side-by-side. It is quaint in an Indian kind of way and centered around a lake. People are more friendly here than many of the towns I have been to in India. Walking through the streets I hear a constant chorus of Hello, Namaste, How are you?, and Have a nice day. I meant to stay for 2 nights, but I “felt” like I should stay for more. Yesterday I had a bus ticket to leave, knowing intuitively I should stay, but the universe wasn’t having it. In the hours before my departure several things came up, slowing my progress. Each time it occurred to me that I was supposed to stay, until finally there was no way for me to get to the bus station in time. I’m smiling again. Admittedly, I have only spent a small amount of time here searching out water resources so far- I spoke to Rajendra’s planner yesterday who told me he is in Delhi until tomorrow. I’m staying in this area waiting for him to be in Jaipur where I will get to meet with him and his field-site manager in a few days. My friend Raj here in Udaipur is part of an NGO that has done some water work in a village about 25 km’s from town where several people have flourosis from their well water. One of the moments that added to the proof I needed to stay here yesterday was when he told me he was trying to find someone to take care of his juice stand today so he could travel there, and invited me along. I gave him my Indian phone number but I still haven’t heard from him. I have become a bit desensitized to seeing people use the bathroom on the side of the road, wash their clothes and their bodies in the river, and carry water down the street in buckets. Part of the problem is that we let ourselves come to think of these things as being more normal than a problem after a while. I still don’t know what the women who live these realities think.

Other happenings since my arrival in India:
1- Delhi sucked, again. The cultural sexual repression seems to be taken out on foreign women. One night I was followed home and grabbed multiple times before I finally hit the guy. That little man was either incredibly bold or deaf. The first few times he grabbed my boob I was firmly intolerant but the last time I was getting scared. My rickshaw driver, being from a lower caste, was unable, more correctly, unwilling to intercede so I was happy to see the guard at Barbara’s house standing at the gate when we pulled up. He stood outside the gate yelling “just one kiss”. Thinking about it now makes me want to go back to Delhi and hit him again but what would Buddha do?
I went to the river where 50% of Delhi’s sewage enters the water after being carried through the city. You’d think they would have at least dumped it privately- the giant black pipes were above ground, dumping partially treated sewage into the river next to a small community as if daring people to rise up and do something about it. Of course the smell was awful, but the really awful part was that people were also bathing there. I think about the reality of a life forced into that, but I also wonder whether or not that reality is too normal to those in the situation to see it as something bad. I don’t know how to ask the people I see there without perhaps seeming judgmental, but I need to figure out a way.

2- Jaipur was fun, except for when I was sick. I spent almost 2 full days in the house in Jaipur! Fortunately I was staying with an incredible family (Sanjay & Anu Ochani) and had the wonderful Anu mothering me through it. From telling me I wasn’t allowed to leave until I was better, to running to the store to get me a few bottles of Nimbooz, Anu made it less uncomfortable to be sick so far from home and my own bed. (Nimbooz has the juice of lemons and limes but not in a 7UP sort of way.) Sanjay & Anu live in the state of Rajasthan, in the northwest area of India. Jaipur is the gateway to the great Thar Desert. It's the second largest state in India (twice the size of the England), the 9th most populated, and has the least amount of rainfall, averaging 60cm annually. At the Ochani’s there were 10 or 12 other couchsurfers from Canada, Germany, the US, Italy, Singapore, Switzerland, and the UK. Everyone wants to stay with this family, for good reason. They are a perfectly matched Indian couple that both equally make people feel like they just arrived home- no matter how many miles away home really is. They live in what I think is a great rooftop home above Sanjay's father, with as much open patio area as enclosed space. Around the patio are separate doors leading into a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and a sleeping room with a double bed for couch-surfers. Outside of the kitchen there is a small sink on the wall for hand washing and teeth brushing. My bed was in the living room where we all hung out, next to Sanjay & Anu's bedroom. We had water every night, except for one, the night I was sick. My guts were killing me and there was no water to flush the toilet. I learned to really appreciate Immodium, and Isabella from Italy who gave it to me. Never again will I think I’m immune to getting sick just because I’ve been here before.
2 Biker Chicks and a Dude: I was sitting on the patio at Sanjay & Anu’s when a group of travelers got there (returned there) after traveling around Rajasthan on motorcycles. There are people that vacation, and people that travel. I travel. Hayley, Megan, and Tevon travel times ten. The energy in the room changed when they arrived. I’m smiling again. Hayley & Megan learned how to drive the motorcycle in the streets around the house and then they set off. Some nights they slept under the stars at chai stands and others they spent with families….I couldn’t help but think as I listened to their stories that I hope my kids get to have the same kinds of adventures, have the same kinds of stories to tell, and have the same effect on people that this group had on me. Hell, I hope I get to do it too. And when I say kids, I don’t mean they were kids. They were 20 somethings, except for Tevon. I was completely impressed when I found out how old he is….the point is, I always feel so blessed. Like-minded, inspiring, good people keep crossing my path. I’m hanging out in Udaipur with another one of those types right now.

A few things I’ve learned:
When you feel grateful, don’t let it be in comparison to something or someone else. Feel grateful just because.
Listen to the cues you are given. Don’t confuse them and mess them up with thoughts that aren't feelings.
Trust, trust, trust.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I love it here!
I have a good week planned for visits to sites this week around Delhi- tanker sites, confluences of sewage and the Yamuna River.....looking forward to writing about it but for now I just wanted to say, I'm happy to be back in Delhi!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

back to india!

I’m excited to get back to India, especially as I sit in Germany (which I love), with every part of myself frozen completely. It has been worse than cold every day since I arrived. My feet are numb from the walk to the pub where I am writing this while drinking an even colder weiss bier. Why not coffee I ask myself…well, in Germany one does as the Germans do. Besides that, I don’t really need a reason to drink beer in the middle of the day- I think I must have some German in me.

I have decided for this trip to India, my question will be, what potential for change is there in this system? It’s a lofty question, as I still do not know all the problems. What I do know is that the second most populated country in the world has a mixture of every single water problem known, in varying degrees, in some areas one problem but not others, in some places all the problems, and the poor are ALWAYS disproportionately affected. To be really honest, I have asked myself why I care. Do the problems of India have any effect on us in America? Do the children who die everyday without any of us ever knowing them matter? Do we spend even a moment of weariness when millions of women are walking for miles every morning to secure the water for the day in buckets on her back? Do we have thirst on the days many people in India aren’t able to have any water? Do we get sick when people are forced to retrieve drinking water from the Ganges- one of the most polluted rivers on earth? Physically, no, none of this matters to us. But perhaps emotionally, we have the latent capacity to bring about change. This matters to me because the suffering of others is not unimportant to me, and I don’t think it’s unimportant to you. You have only to look at the response of the people around the world to the earthquake in Haiti to see that the problems of others do matter. The water problems in India are a disaster, not entirely natural, but a disaster none-the-less. Thousands of people die around the world everyday, not from buildings falling on them when the earth moves, but from water, a resource that we totally and completely take for-granted.

It isn’t a foregone conclusion that there is no hope. There is a man named Rajendra Singh, formally a biologist, in Rajasthan (the desert region in western India near Pakistan) that taught himself traditional water-harvesting techniques, once a dying wisdom in India, (thanks to the so-called advanced western cultures that formally looked to colonize it), that knows there is hope. With the help of local communities, he has installed what are called check dams and taken communities from being in a water deficit to having a positive water supply. He recognized that the western notion of supplying water wasn’t a viable option for the communities in which he worked. When your entire water supply comes from the twice-yearly monsoons, perhaps you should work with nature instead of against it (purely a western idea). They built reservoirs in the path of the monsoon water flow and worked with nature to slow the path of the water, allowing more to seep into the ground, thereby raising the water table, and stored the surface water behind check dams to use later. His work in India had changed communities from being those that are forced to send families away to work to those that grow their own food, sale extra at the markets, and use only a minimal amount of groundwater. For his work he has won the Magsaysay Award in 2001 (Asian equivalent of the Nobel prize) and more importantly, given people hope. I hope to get some time with him when I get to India.

So there is potential for change in this system, when Indians ignore our western idea of man’s dominance over nature. Maybe that is why it matters. We have spread our ideas all over the world, thinking our ways are better. But when cultures rely on traditional wisdom that allowed them to thrive for thousands of years before our interference, they are once again able to thrive. Maybe that is the connection; maybe that is why it matters. We can’t keep thinking of places like India as places that lack because they aren’t like us. Maybe being like us isn’t what India should be striving for. Maybe they should seek to be like India, and we should stop putting our beliefs all over every place else.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

what next?

Hey Everybody!
I am home now, by about 18 hours and am already missing India and Sri Lanka in ways I am only beginning to understand. It is with many levels of impact cruising my brain that I will try to start conveying the experience of my journey and working towards being a part of solutions for the countries I have come to love. This includes writing the book about what I learned while there, as well as setting up a non-profit organization to promote graduate research and hope in a country with only a little of the first and an abundant amount of the second.
The fallacy is that we here in America are removed from the struggle, that we have no impact, that there isn't any reason to help but I believe that what can affect one, has an effect on all.
I'd love to hear your suggestions about directions the non-profit should take, and I'd love for any of you who feel inclined to be a part of the planning to come aboard. You can email me at to discuss this.
Thank-you, bo ho ma s tu ti yi (singhalese), Shukriyah or dhanyavad (Hindi), for being a part of this experience. I will post parts of chapters as I get them written!