Wednesday, May 30, 2007

ringo left because he hated the bugs

And now the story of my excursion in Haridwar and Rishikesh, the second of which is the place where the Beatles went all transcendental meditation in the 60's. It was full of ups and downs, the highest of which was the coolest scam artist ever and the lowest was the bed bugs.

The scam artist (...or was he?) was this ascetic with perfect British accented English who said he had been a secretary for the Indira Gandhi administration and then later renounced all his possessions. He also said he had a granddaughter in Alabama going to college and he himself had gone to horoscope "school" in New York. Then he gave us some delicious chai in dirty glasses (he told us not to take any drinks from holy men since they would be roofied. I drank his chai anyway.) After that he told our fortunes - this is what he said about me:

I am ruled by Saturn, and I should wear a lot of black. I would have one marriage, but not until after many lovers. I would die at 65 UNLESS I changed my name at age 60 (then I would live to 100!). I should be an actress - and this was an ingenious plan if I say so myself - I should start in Bollywood and go to Hollywood. Like Aishwari Rai.

The other cool part of the trip was bathing in the Ganges, which was not as dirty where we were (the foothills of the Himalaya) as it is in other places. I'm actually pretty glad to be back in Delhi, something I thought I would never say. They don't take as many photos of me as a tourist attraction here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

not in kansas anymore

This is going to sound weird.

Never in my life have I felt so aware of being female. It's not just the stares or the fact that people want to take pictures of me with their families for the sheer novelty of it. It's to be expected especially in an area relatively free of tourists- to them I look weird (especially my eyes which scared a small boy away today). I think I underestimated the Muslim influence here, for one. At the Sufi temple earlier this week and today at another mosque there were places women were simply not allowed to go (men could go anywhere).

At the Sufi temple, it was because of the incidences of women being pinched and harrassed inside Nazamuldeen (spelling?)'s tomb, which was very small and packed with people. That really sounds like an excuse to me, since the women were not doing anything wrong and should not be excluded for something that wasn't their fault. The other mosque, which encompassed the tomb of one of the Sufi poet's predecessors, had the same rule. But I really can't say this sort of discrimination is solely religion based, because most major religions have misogynist tendencies. Also the Hindi and Muslim cultures here in India anyway are relatively close; the sexism is simply part of the culture. Of course I expected to have to adapt somewhat, but it's harder than it seems to stop smiling at people because they will take such a simple gesture the wrong way. But it's better than being harrassed; I've learned to scowl.

I certainly don't mean to paint a negative picture of the country. It's full of life, smells, sights, sounds to the point of being overwhelmed, usually in a good way. But this issue, especially coming from a Western background, is something that is much harder to deal with when you're not in your own culture. Actually seeing women on the street with only their eyes showing through a veil is not nearly the same as reading an article about burkas in Newsweek. I find myself, to my surprise, being much less accepting of cultural relativism than I was at home. But at the very least, I now can truly appreciate my upbringing in the global context.

On a lighter note! (I swear I will stop whining)

The traffic in Delhi is sort of like going on a rollercoaster ride. Three lanes of traffic take up the space for two, and there are mere inches in between cars. A honk means: "move or I'm running you down. I might anyway." For the constant craziness, the drivers here are all so skilled. Even when they run red lights and drive on the sidewalk, they drive like they mean it. I mean, I did see a teenage girl get run over. But she was standing in the middle of a road with no median. The roads here are pretty Darwinian in that sense. It's certainly not like Bangkok where motorcycle drivers show off and weave in traffic - here they get out of the way or will probably get hurt.

My favorite foods here so far: Chai, these hand made donuts they serve with ice cream, samosas. Everything is so sugary, I'm not surprised I heard the other day that middle class Indians have a huge rate of diabetes.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

the road out of orlando...may it come quickly

I leave in two days. That's a kind of scary thought and something I am not ready for (sleep catching up wise. I'm always mentally ready).

This is what I was doing this time last year! (That's my brother and me in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge). More's changed than just my hair color...but I've still got my expensive travel habit to support.