One of my favorite days so far…
was when I rented bikes in Cambodia with Augie, Karl and Kristen and explored the temples at Angkor Wat for hours in the blazing sun. We stopped at every temple along the 20 mile route to explore, to take silly photos, to video Kristen dancing, to be silly, to enjoy the vast expanses of bright green rice paddies. I was able to be carefree in a way that has been
too few and far between thus far. I’m hoping to cultivate this spirit and bring it back to life. At one point while biking alongside Karl, he commented on how his friends were all busy taking exams back home. He looked to me with a smile and said, “I win.” Amen Karl.
India thus far…
Cambodia was amazing and I miss it already as I begin to settle into the routine of India. Vanessa now understands when I said how much I loved riding in tuk tuks in Cambodia because of their ease and quiet as we rattle along loud and busy roads in rickety tuk tuks here in Jaipur. I have to say, I am not shocked by India this time around. What a privilege to be able to experience a place two times; coming to it with different perspectives and expectations, with different people and senses. I’m not shocked by the noise, although the constant and deafening sound of horns causes me to cringe. I’m not shocked or super annoyed by the constant haggling to buy just about anything. I’m not shocked by the random elephant walking down the busy street although I’m tickled and I’m not shocked by the camels slowly pulling carts of rebar or sacks of onions, although I definitely take notice and smile. I feel more comfortable and easy. I think I understand it better. I have more patience to deal with the countless papers one needs to sign solely to get a sim card only to have the phone not work for days, or the miscommunicated 20 minute conversations that end up in more miscommunicated conversations. After having to sign a receipt three times for one meal I shrug my shoulders and look at Niv, our Indian guide who looks back to me and simply says, “This is India.”
There are a couple of things that I am shocked by and don’t think I’ll be able to get used to; one being the poverty and the other being the constant stares by men as I walk down the street. We are staying in an apartment sponsored by a hotel but we take our meals at the hotel, a five-minute walk away. From the roof of this comfortable hotel I can see swaths of dirt where makeshift homes have been built out of sticks, canvas and plastic and I see kids squatting in garbage to pee and others holding their hands out when I pass. It is so striking to see beautiful women draped in brightly colored fabrics of pink and orange and turquois against this dusty brown backdrop. In America we hide our poverty in ghettos and trailers at the margins but here poverty is everywhere. People set up these makeshift homes along the sides of busy streets, on bridges and under them, next to homes and hotels. I’m currently reading a book about a slum in Mumbai called The Beautiful Forevers and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a glimpse into this world and for a fictitious and well-written book about India I recommend A Fine Balance.
We spent Christmas at the Taj Mahal and toured some other forts and temples around the area. We are constantly bombarded by people selling goods (postcards, mini games of chess, magnets, cheap jewelry, pens, etc.) and they are relentless. I don’t mind it so much, although it is annoying to our American sensibilities of space and privacy, hands thrown into faces, hands tugging shirts. It is the students who struggle. Some get annoyed and complain. Some buy gifts out of guilt, especially from the barefoot children whose teeth are yellow from chewing tobacco. Yet the students board our private clean bus and tune in to movies on their computers or retreat into their ipods and I stare out the window and think about the young boys trying to sell me goods because they are human and I don’t want to ignore them even though I don’t want to buy their stuff. I ask them their names, how old they are, why they aren’t in school, how much money they make in a day. They ask where I’m from and when they hear the U.S. they give a thumbs up, smile broadly and say “Obama” or “Obamastan.” I don’t know really what I’m trying to say here except give a description of what a day for me is like as a tourist here in India and what I think about. I don’t blame my students for retreating. It’s a lot to take in. I do hope, as they enter slums every day to teach students English and other skills over the next month, that they will begin to have a greater understanding of these kids lives and choose not to turn their backs on them, or complain at their attempts to survive. More to come on our unit on the purpose of education. You could follow along by picking up a copy of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed!
Writing to you as a red full moon rises over the hills and kites fly all around from near and distant rooftops. Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year filled with adventure, laughter and love. Thanks for all the letters, for the chocolates and for the dancing video. I miss and love you!!