I’ve been in Jaipur for almost three weeks and am only now coming up for air, feeling my feet comfortably place themselves on this foreign soil one foot in front of the other and with care so as to see the details that surround me. Until now, things have been sort of a blur, I’ve been taking in so many new sights, sounds, and smells I don’t think I’ve truly been able to see clearly. For instance, the traffic. There are no lines to keep the varied modes of transport (tuk-tuks, bicycles carrying heavy loads such as bundles of rebar, motorcycles, cars, buses, camels and even an occasional elephant) in order but rather they move among one another in a kind of dance, a chaotic rhythm moving to the sound of consistent car honking. It’s jarring. And then one morning last week this chaotic gigantic go-cart race didn’t shake me. I sat in the tuk-tuk thinking about the seminar I would be facilitating later that day, looking at the extraordinary that had so quickly become the norm. The honking cars didn’t cause me to shudder and cover my ears, the smell of garbage and urine didn’t cause me to crinkle my nose. But every day here is different. One day I want to hide and the next I’m eager to see what is outside my door…which for now is a handful of stray puppies I want to adopt.
Jaipur is crazy. It’s chaotic and intense, dusty, dirty and crowded. Men constantly spit everywhere and relieve their bladders casually anywhere there is a wall. The busy roads are lined with both small and large brightly colored Hindu temples with statues of Ganesha, with men sitting cross legged stringing garlands of orange and yellow marigolds, cows roaming freely. The roads are also lined with vendors. Men squatting on wood carts roasting peanuts over open flames, yogurt lassis sold in ceramic mugs sprinkled with almonds, metal pots heating chai for the many men who squat talking with warm cups in hand, and carts piled high with beautiful fruits and vegetables. The favorite fruit here seems to be the papaya, which is so unfortunate because to my senses it smells like vomit. I can’t begin to stomach this fruit. Thankfully there is no shortage of pineapple, oranges and bananas. The few women I see on the streets are draped in brightly colorful fabrics (pink, turquoise, yellow, orange) from head to toe adding so much color and a bit of fresh air into this dusty city landscape. While the sky here is generally blue, it usually seems like I’m looking through a hazy screen, especially along the periphery. It’s rarely clear.
The most common past time I’ve observed is flying kites from rooftops. This past weekend was a kite festival and all through the skies these small square paper kites flittered, swirled, shimmied and swam in an attempt to cut the lines of other kites.
I’ve found myself ok with not knowing exactly where I am and giving over trust to tuk-tuk drivers to get me where I want to go. This is a first. I generally have a city well mapped out in my mind and know where I am, but here, I’ve let myself get swept up in the chaos of it and with the help of meditation, try to be a calm island. Sometimes this works. Just as this post seems to jump all over the place in my attempt to describe India, this is sometimes how it feels to me.
I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t drink coffee here, but for now that is just fine. We drink warm cups of chai at least three times a day and this is quite comforting. Tom mentioned in his blog that he thinks our group might like chai almost as much as ice cream. I’m not sure there is anything our group will ever like more than ice cream though. This past weekend I took a cooking class with some interested students and learned how to make food with such delicious colors and spices that set your mouth dancing with joy… cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, bay leaves, turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander…
I’ve done some sightseeing around the city with my mento group, enjoyed a cooking class, got my arm decorated with henna and continue to work with the students as they grapple with ideas around the purpose of education (more on that soon). This weekend students will explore various parts of Rajasthan on their independent travel but I will stay in Jaipur for the literature festival where some rather interesting authors from around the world will be giving talks. I’m rather looking forward to it.
I came on this trip, decided to leave the comforts of my life, because I felt my experience in Vermont was too small and constricting. I have come to realize it is not our location that makes our experiences small, it is our attitude and perspectives. Our experiences are only as small or as big as we let them be. Traveling can be quite romantic at times, but so can being home and being settled. Ah the Gemini in me…always wanting everything…the city and the farm, world travel and a home.
Hope the snow is falling in New England. Happy birthday to Jodi…I’m there skiing and falling with you in spirit.