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Friday, July 25, 2014

A Birthday in India

On the morning of my 33rd Birthday, I woke up thinking, "Oh crap" I hadn't taken my malaria medicine the night before, so I popped a doxycycline in my mouth and started checking Facebook, and found quite a free people had already written on my wall.  As I shuffled through the wonderful messages my stomached started feeling funny, I tried to lay back down and sleep it off, but my body had other ideas I was going to get sick, and in a very disgusting toilette, at that.  As I leaned over the toilette that had not been cleaned in at least 6 months, except maybe the seat, I thought between heaves, "Happy Birthday, Terri this is great way to start the next year of your life." I got the nasty green pill up and out and then proceeded to dry heave because it was all so disgusting.  With some more self talking, this time, "Terri, this is NOT how you are going to spend your birthday." I pushed myself off the floor and washed my face, being careful to keep my mouth shut, from the bucket for bucket showers sitting next me.  I slowly got up and made it back to my bed, where I slowly feel back to sleep. 

About an a hour later I woke up for the second time on my birthday, with both of my roommates gone, I was a bit grateful as was a bit embarrassed about my  the first start of my day.  I decided to take a shower, using the bucket I had filled before.  I needed to restart my day.  About ten minutes in there was a brisk knock on the door, "Terri, when are you going to be finished?"  Oh, crap my roommates had returned and probably thought I was getting sick again.  "In about 10 minutes," I replied to Shiva.  I finished up and walked out of the bathroom and instead of finding two grossed out faces, I found big smiles and a a small chocolate cake with three candles on top.  They laughed asked if I was okay, and when I smiled proceeded to sing me happy birthday.  It turns out when they left in the morning it was not because they were grossed out, but instead to get me a cake which we all had for breakfast.  Shiva eating three pieces, Andoni two, and I one, I was still a little weary.  It was a great gesture and I couldn't help having a few tears come to my eyes, which would be the first of many that day.

We had a slum walk for 5 people that day, a student from Mexico, an intern from Germany, and a family from Britain which included a mom wearing heels. Chunky heels, not stilettos but heels non the less.  This was going to be an interesting group.  As we walked towards one one of the new places on my favorite places in the world list, I reflected on some on my past birthdays.  Last year's crying over an idiot boy and my roommate brining me tiramisu to cheer me up, the year before that convincing my mom, her best friend / my 2nd mom, and my best guy friend to go to burlesque show that was complete crap so we left in the middle, my 30th in Seattle with amazing friends including one who shares the same day, a stripper class for another, one I spent in a train, plane, automobile and bus, the one I dragged everyone back to the Ye Olde Plank in Imperial Beach for.  I have been pretty blessed. And now I am in India playing real life frogger, with me as the frog and cars as logs, the tuk tusk as lily pads.

I tried to keep my birthday on the down low because I didn't t want to take away from the guests experience but my new friends had other plans. As we walked in to Kathpulti Colony to the usually hellos and handshakes, their were a few Happy Birthdays mixed in thanks to Laxmi.

Our first stop was the kindergarten, but with the large group and the fact that their are typically 15-20 tiny bodies, 2 teachers smashed into a tiny room that is equivalent to a sauna Jhon, one of the guides and I decided to hang out on the Main Street.  Suddenly arms were thrown around me, and for a moment I stood there shocked, this had never had to me in the slum before, until I heard a giggle and a Happy Birthday whispered in my ear, it was Arti, one of the vocational school girls. I couldn't help but join in her laughter and also laugh at myself.  She then led me to the vocational school where I was greeted with more hugs, happy birthdays, and two home made cards, drawn by two of the talented girls, who just a few days earlier proudly showed me their handiwork.

We had some chai and biscuits and then went on to weave through the streets and faces that were finally becoming familiar to me.  This was the punjabi area where my favorite puppeteer and his family lived, this is the Muslim area where a family had crammed a different tour group and myself in their tiny room to serve us chai and a tapioca pudding mixture in celebration of one of their many festivals, around the corner is the school where the fortunate children if the slum go, a short walk from their you can find the ladies cutting strings off jeans for a rupee a piece, through the recycling area, and to a new surprise five spider monkeys.  I had seen a monkey in the slum before, just one, and knew it was for the monkey show, but this time a few yards from that monkey their were five, with one ready with his butt towards the group ready to spray!  I am happy to report that it is the almost getting sprayed and not actually getting sprayed that I will remember from the monkey with giant gonads on this crazy birthday.

Onto an area where puppets are painted on the wall and where the kids know I will play the hand slapping game I know from my childhood with them.  It was an area some of the musicians knew to find the tour group if they wanted to make a few extra rupees.  On this particular day, they put on a show using traditional instruments, singing traditional songs, with one girl in a beautiful bright pink dress with silver edging and beadwork dancing along.   On a previous trip they had used things, such as styrofoam, boxes, pans, they had found in the street or had at home.

As we came out of the house where they had performed for us, we came face to face with one of the vocational girl's, secret boyfriend, that I had meet earlier in the week.  He heard it was my birthday and asked the whole group and I into his tiny home to put on a special " free, no charge" show, as he was a great musician.  Five foreigners, two volunteers, two guides, seven or eight family members in a space a little bigger than a Cali king bed. He pulled out his harmonium, a mixture between an accordion and a tiny piano, and proceeded to sing us a welcome song.

His father, an older weathered gentleman with a great moustache dressed in a thin undershirt and sarong, heard all the commotion and decided to join us.  A moment after we found a spot for him on the crowded floor called for a dohl, a type of drum for his son so he could take over the harmonium.  The welcome song was replayed, a few more, and then they were singing me their version of "Happy Birthday!" As the family serenaded me, I couldn't hold back the tears as they happily fell down my face.  The funny thing being another son filmed the whole thing, so some where out there is a video of me crying on my Birthday, the bright side being that anyone who could identify me in wouldn't be surprised.  Another song was played and a grandson dressed in his best joined in with a traditional dance.  He asked us all to join and soon enough were all doing our best Indian dance interpretations.  The family asked us to join them for a meal chai, part of me would have happily stayed, but the western part said no thank you they already had given me so much.  As we left the old man hugged me, which doesn't happen to much in India, adult males hugging females, at least in my experience, and said something my English only ears couldn't understand.  Laxmi quickly translated and said you are now a daughter and welcome any time you want.  I thanked him the best I could, with a huge smile and a promise that I would never forget him and his family.

As we proceeded with the rest of the tour, I apologized to the rest of the group for the side tour and extra time, they all said no problem and were grateful for the unique experience.  The German intern saying it even brought a tear to his eye.

My birthday was capped off with me reading more birthday messages via the internet and opening a card from my parents that had been waiting in my bag since I had left home.  Inside was a ten dollar bill, typical daddy-o, and a note that they were proud of me, loved me, and to have a great time. We did a quick skype call where I told about my special quirky special birthday and they reiterated the same things that they had in the card. I am so lucky to be born such amazing parents.

Only a month before I had thought about delaying my trip until after my birthday, I was afraid I might be alone.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would be the most heartfelt and warm one I would ever have.  I only hope I can learn to be as generous as my new friends, savor the joy of giving, and rock heels anywhere like the British lady.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

India, What Did I Get Myself Into? Part 2

I was dead tired after traveling for 28 hours, getting on and off sleep, and being in a time zone 14.5 hours ahead of my home in Wisconsin, but when Andoni, the volunteer from Spain, who rescued me earlier, and Laxmi, the proud staff member, asked me if I wanted to visit the slum an hour after I arrived, I of course said yes.  This is why I had to come to volunteer, to see and try to understand what slum living is, and if there is anything I could do to "help". 

 We walked down the road, and I started soaking everything in literally and figuratively, the 104 degree Fahrenheit heat, the pollution making me wrinkle my nose, the smells of piss and feces, mixed with frying food, the way everything looked so used and abused, the bright colors from the saris of the few women I saw walking by, the abundance of men, the dirt between my toes, and thought to myself I am not sure, not sure at all if I am going to like this place.  I made idle chit chat, but more than anything I observed and tried really hard not to get ran over by the motor bikes, tuk tuks, rickshaw, taxis, cars, trucks that whizzed on by honking their horn.  At first I thought they we aiming at the foreigners, as they were within inches of our group, but soon realized the honk was for everyone, the language of the street; sometimes a tap to say, "Hey, I’m right next you.”  Sometimes an angry long honk, saying, "You idiot why did you just cut in front me, you know I can kill you, and I just might next time."  A super loud honk, saying, "Ha Ha, I made you jump."  Because the noise is constant, and not just during rush hour, it is 10 times worse than New York, but somehow you find a way to tune it out.

A small left turn after a few shops on the side of the road, and Laxmi, suddenly turns to me and says, "Terri, you are now entering the slum."  I didn't know what to expect, you have images in your head from movies, books, and what people describe, but at the same time you have no clue.  All I can say is that it was different than the roads we were on before, and everyone saying hello and wanting to shake your hand.  I literally walked two feet and shook more hands than I had in three months.  The children were dirty, some with sores, some with clothes, some without, but the thing I remember most was their smiles and the true delight in "meeting" you.  Yes, a few asked for money, and some boys were rude, touching my butt and pointing and laughing, but then that can happen anywhere in the world.  I was cautious, unsure, but my new friends kept walking so I went too and kept shaking hands, saying "Hello."

I was lead into one of structures and was told it was one of P.E.T.E.'s schools, Nirvana Kindergarten.  The front was a small area where the cooked one meal a day for the 35 students, and back was a 14x14ft room filled with children ages 2 to 10 years old and their teacher and a helper.  The students were children of men and women who worked all day in the slum, the kids would get some basic education and learn a bit hygiene, but mostly it was a place for the children to see an adult eat some food, as most of the kids don't have an adult watching over them during the day.  The oldest brother/sister/cousin would kind of watch over them, but they just did what they did, coming and going as they pleased.  After distributing some clothes, that Air France had donated a few days before, we headed to P.E.T.E's other school, a women's vocational school based out of one families home. 

This home was a bit nicer then the school we had to just a few minutes before.  It had running water from a tap in their "courtyard", a bathroom/washing area of sorts, and the house was 22x22 ft.  The best thing being it at an air conditioner of sorts, basically a fan that blew over cool water into the side of the house, so it is actually pretty comfortable place to be, especially when it was crowded with students, like it was on my first visit. 

I was invited in and asked to sit, and since I was new I had to sit on one of the small stools (we would have used it as a foot stool in the states) while everyone else sat on the floor.  Soon the beauty teacher arrived, who also lives in the slum, but also has another job at a salon.  This is not the norm for women of the slum, the majority of women have house cleaning jobs, or their husband won't let them leave the slum to work. So why is there a women's vocational school in the slum then, because with a skill/trade the women could make a little extra income from their neighbors, friends, etc.  The slum is truly its own thriving community.   

 As beauty shop stereotypes go, before we got started we had to gossip first.  I was introduced to everyone, asked where I was from, how old I was, and the most interesting question to them, was I married?   I told them, that I wasn't and they laughed asked, "Boyfriend, then?"   I replied, "Nope, no boyfriend either."  They looked at me in disbelief, and I added, "Maybe, someday."  To them this is a huge deal as they are typically are married off around the age of 16, through an arranged marriage.  All the girls confided that they had the same choice I had. 

After getting the necessities out of the way, they moved on to the day's lesson, manicures and pedicures, and asked if I would I like to be their example.  I easily agreed and soon found myself with my feet in a bucket, which felt amazing after the trip I just had.  A good soak and then two teenage girls each had one of my ugly feet in their lap.  They scrubbed away the dirt that had been collected and then pulled out the lotion.  I had two people massaging my feet at the same time, I about died in luxury, except I had twenty faces staring at me.  Then they moved onto my hands and I received the same treatment but from two other girls. They painted my finger nails a brilliant red with pink sparkles, they were going to do my toes too, but didn't have any nail polish remover to remove my 4th of July paint job from two weeks earlier.  So, in my first day in India, in the slum no less, I was receiving a mani and pedi.  I guess this place is not too bad after all. 

Following beauty class is sewing class, two new teachers arrive and they pull four out hand propelled machines.  Here the girls are taught how to patch, alter and sew new clothes; another useful skill in the slum.  Sadly this was the time I started falling asleep on my little stool, until few giggles woke me up.  Laxmi and Andoni were nice enough to ask if I wanted to go, a bit embarrassed I said, yes, please.  They assured me we go back tomorrow and this was only the beginning. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

India, What Did I Get Myself Into?

I left Seattle, Thursday evening, and finally arrived in New Delhi 28 hours later on Saturday morning.  Walking off the plane I was grateful to find that the airport was actually pretty quiet, so I could find my bearings and leisurely go through my tasks ahead; picking up my bag, finding my power adapter, that I should have carried in my carry on so I could have used it in London, where I should have also used the internet to get the latest currency exchange rates as I had to pull out cash at the ATM and didn't know exactly what I wanted to get.  I finally just went with the maximum amount of 10,000 Indian rupees (rs.) about 160 US dollars.

After getting situated it was off to find a taxi, as I had decided not to use P.E.T.E's welcome service so I could find my travel legs and, lets be honest here, because I am cheap.  Being this way can cause some anxiety and today was no different. My mind was running with the words of my friends telling me that Dehli was unsafe, and that I had also read that the local cab companies, including the prepaid service ran by the Indian Police, will try and scam you, which I'm not completely sure if they tried on me or not. I'll let you decide.

I had learned online that the fares usually cost about 350 rs. and that when you give them a 500 rs. note they distract you and then tell you that you only gave then a 100 rs. note.  They told me my fare would be 400 rs. and I was okay with it as I figure the prices might have risen since what was posted online, and if they had not they were only scamming me out of the equivalent of a US dollar.  So I handed the booth attendant 500 rs. note and then he asked me the exact address where I was going, somewhere in the shuffle a 100 rs. note appeared. It was then I said I had given him 500 rs. note and he quickly said in his Indian accent, balance, I repeated, that I had given him 500 rs. and he showed me my 500 rs. note and said the 100 rs. was the remaining balance.  I laughed realizing he meant balanced owed not balance due, and I told him where I come from we tend to use the word change.  I believe I am the one that truly screwed up, but who knows.

That uneasy feeling stayed with me as I got in the taxi.  I had no idea where I was really going, I could read some of the signs but it felt more like maze, and this awful thought that they could take me anywhere and say I had arrived or worse...damn why was I cheap?  Signs, finally, started showing up for Patel Nagar the part of the city where I wanted to go, and then we turned in one of many bustling neighbors off the main road, where my cap driver asked again for the exact address, and I wondered how he could now in this entire city where I needed to go, but it turned out he didn't.  He knew what area but not the exact location, so he asked some police men who gave them a general direction, then he asked a rickshaw driver who gave him more directions, and soon we were driving in some sort of circle trying to figure out this areas address system.  It was then I realized if he was going to this much trouble, I must be safe and worse come to worse if we couldn't find it, I would just have him drive me back to the safety of the airport where I could figure out a plan B.

Instead he asked me if I had the number for the place I was going.  It took three calls, but finally a volunteer at P.E.T.E decided to meet us at a "main" intersection (they basically all looked the same to me) and we would go from there.  Finally a western looking man walked by, and I hoped it would be the person that could make this part of my journey finally end, but he walked on by just thinking my driver was just trying to offer his services.  After a little commotion and him finally seeing the driver's cab with a western, aka white, girl sitting inside it did turn out he was my literally my "white" knight for the day.  He helped me gather my things and I decided to give my driver an extra 100 rupees for going, to what seemed to me, the extra mile for getting me to the correct place.  So with all that I saved about 10 usd.  However, my travel legs felt a bit better, and I quietly reminded myself people are inherently good, not angelic good aka they might hustle you, but good none the less.

Extra information: I found out, after the fact, that the driver was complaining to the PETE manager, that we called for help, that I would not get out of his taxi. He was right I was not going to get out until I knew if I would be safe, lol. I gave foreigners a bad name in his book while he gave locals a good name in mine. LOL

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mt. Si - I actually made it to the top, well kind of.

With the winter being so crappy and the spring almost nonexistent in the Midwest I knew I wanted to do something outdoorsy when I got to Seattle, and that Vince would be the perfect buddy with him loving it and also having Friday off.  Little did he know I was not the perfect buddy especially since I had not done anything physical in such a long time, unless Zumba and short walks count.  He got a glimpse of this the night before when we bouldered at the local climbing gym and also my nervous questions about where we going to hike.  We decided on a Mt. Si trail, a popular 4 mile hike that climbs 3,500 feet, just 45 minutes out Seattle.

The first mile was definitely the worse.  Only a pathetic half mile in I was huffing and puffing, silently scolding myself about the situation I had put myself in.  Vince seeing my distress was quite the coach, telling me to take three steps, breathe in, take three steps, breath out, as it would help my body regulate what I needed. He also had me make small goals, like to to the tree only a few feet a head, or just get past this bend, instead of thinking about the top.  Little did he know, well he probably did, but at that point I had given up at reaching the top, my new goal was just half way.  Finally my breath finally stated to feel okay, and my lungs didn't seem to be doing so much work.  Also my pride started to kick in as people of shapes and sizes, to put it nicely, came down the mountain. If they could do it I better as hell be able to do it.  All of sudden we were at mile marker 1.3, and my confidence in the original goal increased.  Vince also assured me at mile 2 we would take a break and refuel.  I didn't think I needed to refuel, as I couldn't imagine myself feeling better after one power bar, but boy was I wrong and Vince right, which I actually admitted to him.
As we set off again I knew I had to make it to the top.  Vince told me stories to kept my head occupied as possible, and also let me take as many breaks as possible.  He also told me how he basically ran a up the trail the last time he did it which included a few of snow where the trees hadn't blocked the snow from reaching the ground.  I don't if it was to make me feel better or worse but it worked, we were at mile marker 3.  We walked some more and then you could see a bit of blue sky and then a bit more.  Vince told me the top was not to far only 4 switch backs, if he remembered correctly.  I pushed on through and finally 3 hours later, if I am recalling it correctly, we made it to the top.

We scrambled up some rocks for a beautiful view of Mount Rainer to the south west, Seattle to the east and tiger mountain around there too.  We sat down to enjoy our sandwiches and beers, as it part of Vince's tradition to drink one at the top, because as he told me it is a celebration and also a great way to give your body what it needed, alcohol to numb a little of the pain if you had it, which of course I did, and some nutrients to recharge your batteries. When we had picked up beers earlier that morning we had decided on one of my favorite beers, Maui Brewing Company CoCoNut PorTeR, but after being in my bag all day they were not as good as I remembered.

After relaxing for 45 minutes, Vince tried to convince me to go to the highest point of the mountain with him, by climbing the summit block known as Haystack.  It is a class 3 exposed scramble, which means basically crab walking up a lot of rocks.  The going up didn't look to bad but the coming down did, so I said no thank you, I'll just chill with the view I have already.  Vince was up in down in just 45 minutes.  He said the view way a lot better because you had a 360 degree view but I was just fine with my 270 degree view.

Then we made our way down, where we passed tons of people coming up, some were seasoned hikers like Vince, but quite a few were like me.  I could feel their pain, but of course they could not see it since on the way down I was all smiles as it is so much easier.  I tried to give them words of encouragement, some seemed happy, but most gave you that sarcastic smile, that I think probably meant screw you as it had I when I was in their position. 

We kept going down singing silly songs, talking in funny accents, and Vince repeatedly asking me if I needed a break as he was so use to it from the way up, so I had to keep reminding him down was way way easier for me.  We did take one more break at the half way mark to eat some more snacks and drink our final beer but that was it. And before you knew it were at the bottom.

It was a great hike, but I was glad to be done, and I´m sure Vince was even more glad that is regular hiking buddying, Thea, is a lot better then I am.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Seattle, Always a Good Place To Start

After three years I am heading back to Asia which has been harder and easier then the last time. It comes after a couple of weird years where I am still trying to find the place that works for me, and instead of finding it exactly, I am finding what does and doesn't fit. Because I was going West I figured I make my first stop Seattle once again, but since the last visit two big things had changed; my past trip hosts, Tracy and Chris and their son Harrison, had in increased their little family by adding a beautiful daughter, Nora and very furry dog, Hendrix, to the mix so I couldn't stay at their place again, but thankful two friends I had made while in Japan, Thea and Vince were now married and living in Seattle with a comfy couch. 

I arrived at 5:45pm to a crisp blue sky, the feel of summer, and Vince only 5 minutes away.  When he arrived I jumped in his car and we were once again chatting like no time had passed since the last time we had saw each other, when we were both facing new adventures his leaving New Orleans and my arrival.  It only reconfirmed that he he will one of those people in my life no matter how much time passes or the circumstances of how meet back up that we will pick back up where we left, always hopefully sooner than later but then life happens.  With a quick stop at the gas station and Vince making sure I got a proper hug before we were of once again, this time to his him and his now, wife, Thea.  I had also meet her in Japan but due to the lack of our time overlapping in Ofunato had not been able to get to know her as well as I had Vince.  We decided burgers and beer for Vince and I and a BLT and butterscotch shake for Thea at Uneeda Burger would be a great place to catch up.  They told me the ups and downs of being newly married, about both being away but in the middle from their families in Japan and South Carolina, and their hopes for the future.

The next day Thea had to work so Vince and I had to fend on our own after a leisurely start.  We headed over to West Seattle to check out the beach and tried to rent a kayak but to our dismay found they were only open at that location on weekends, so instead we walked so I could soak in the amazing scenery which makes Seattle such the beautiful city that it is.  If it was as warm as San Diego and without the gray, that I seem to miss every time I  visit,  everyone would be living there.  We also saw one huge kid, closer to seven foot than six, who we hoped played basketball as it look like he was youth enough to probably still be growing.   We then headed over to Fremont Brewery where we agreed Ports and Stouts our are mutually favorite and that more craft brewery's need to make them their signature instead of Indian Pale Ales or worse yet double IPAs.  It probably won't be the case anytime soon for Seattle though since most of the Unites States hops are grown about an hour away.  Vince was then kind enough to take me back to his place so I could take my daily "unemployment routine" nap before Thea got home and we all headed over to Rock Garden in Ballard.  There we purposefully put on shoes tight enough that they curl your toes so you can better grip the rocks.  As I was "bouldering"  on 0, 1, and 2 level courses I realized, not for the first time in my life, that I have no upper body strength and how out shape I really am.  I also learned you should really cut your toe nails before you climb, woo eeee.  We closed the night with some fish and chips at The Sloop Tavern bar across the street, which reminded me of a bar back home, but a lot more expensive.

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