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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.

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