Daily Archives: June 5, 2009

I Hate Thursdays

So far, we have survived:

5/24 Insane cab ride to our first hotel from the airport.
5/24 Anne where is your passport?
5/26 Strange men following us in Connaught Place.
5/26 Almost getting hit by a line of motorcycles crossing the street.
5/26 Riots in neighboring Punjab state
5/27 Cycle rickshaw ride
5/28 Train debacle
5/29 Departure from the train on incorrect platform
5/31 80 mph down the GT road from Agra to Kanpur for 6 hours. No seatbelts.
6/03 Food poisoning
6/04 Terrorism

The progression would be more comical if I didn’t think our luck might run out at some point soon.

Last night, after flipping through the Hindi music video channels, we saw in big bold letter on the first news station, “US Advises Americans: Don’t Travel to India.” I felt sick to my stomach all over again.

The U.S. had issued a standard warning in the wake of certain events throughout the country on Tuesday. Civil unrest and public corruption in Punjab. A terrorist suspect had been released in Pakistan. The most nerve-wracking: Three terrorists from the LeT sect supposedly have entered the country. Not that this is really news – I imagine plenty of terrorists have been hiding away in the Northern hills and city alleys every day for decades. However, this group is the same one responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Yesterday, one of their members was arrested in Delhi; police in Hyderabad fear a backlash of attacks throughout South India, Hyderabad especially. Tomorrow we fly to this city for a six week study abroad program.

The Indian version of CNN, too, used doomsday caps lock for every scrolling text. We watched until we couldn’t take it anymore. It was too late for decisions and phone calls, so we went to bed, exhausted from the worry and our food poisoning. Our final stop in this whole big bustling country, and terrorist target it the day of our arrival. The irony of these Thursdays makes for predictably terrible sleep patterns. If you remember, last week was the train debacle on this day.

To say, our morning was tumultuous. We made frantic phone calls to our university, our parents, the embassy, for some answers and advice. I don’t write this to scare you anymore than I am frightened myself. Generally, the situation remains stable, and our program remains helpful and concerned for us. We will go directly the university upon arrival, by their car. The university, like this one, lays on the edge of the city. We should be safe, but we are staying alert, and keeping a low profile, as instructed, as best as two white women showing their legs in this country can.

I feel miniscule and mortal. My divorce from America came abruptly in the last twelve hours. Two weeks ago my concerns were if I should take a travel pillow on an airplane for comfort en route to my destination. Now I question whether I should board one at all and if my destination is safe.

Adventure ceases to be funny mistranslations and totters on the edges of close shaves not worth the risk. During our trip, I have felt like an infiltrator rather than a participant in this alluring but inaccessible land. Now I feel as a tiny speck and a target. Every word and face shows a question mark. The sounds are new here. The smells are different. The air more humid. And now the stability that has woven these changes in a manageable and humorous pattern, unravels.

Rather than merely filling passing news reports of a suicide bombing, kidnapping here or there or whatever in the Middle East, terrorism is defining my living moments. This uncertainty is what large splotches of the world deals with on the daily basis, and I have joined it. The difference is that I can escape at any moment. I carry the agency of America in my checking account and passport, even as my national identity peels away like these everywhere temples.

These are the certain risks of traveling and realizing that the streamlines of globalization in America does not translate to the rest of the world. This is what I asked for in coming here, and what I should have considered with more gravity.

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Tied

On the first day, we took bets as to who would fall ill first. Revealing in their vulnerability a bit, everyone thought it would be themselves. We went a solid two weeks inhaling paneer and curry without incident. Then, Anne and I went to the campus restaurant for lunch, and by nightfall the ax had dropped. But it wasn’t the curry that did us in. Nor raw vegetables, nor fruits, not even contaminated water.

It was pizza.

We have been spacing our food curiosities in intervals, ordering spicy Indian food and then counterbalancing with simple rice or tomato soup. Yesterday we craved something simple, and the restaurant touted pizza as a specialty. Why not? we thought. What came to us was a warped personal pan concoction. It was essentially a sponge cake crust with peppers and onions mixed in Cheez-Whiz on top.

Now, we can keep food down, but not in. It was a choice that surely backfired, in every sense.

I am grateful that we have air-conditioning, though, and toilet paper, which has not been guaranteed at every stop in our travels. Dr. Harish and his wife are showing us amazing hospitality. Today he brought us home-made soup, and there was a bit of lost translation when figuring out the meal. I felt so bad inconveniencing him. Rice, alloo, bread, whatever is easiest, I said. He wanted to make us feel more at home, though.

“Katie, what do you eat when you get sick?” he asked, directly.

What we really wanted was this: muffins, waffles, cheeseburgers. We have been dreaming of waffles, I tell you. But honestly, we drew a blank at this question. We had already forgotten our typical diet in the face of its absence. Just no more cumin or pepper, please.

“Perhaps an egg on toast?” I suggested.

“That is going to be a hard one,” he said. “We don’t exactly prepare eggs at home.”

Soup it was, then, and it was deliciously familiar drunken out of tiny bowels from the dining hall. Tomorrow we are getting on a plane bound for Hyderabad, so we hope and pray to every God that by then we will recover. The soup, it helped, and the company.

“I think I will jump in the bathtub…er, shower, er…bucket,” Anne just said. You have to understand, this bucket is multipurpose: bathtub, laundry washer, fruit purifier. But it does the job(s) well. Our toilet, too.

I sent a message to the director of our study abroad program. Please, may Anne and I live together? I asked. After the tiring train, the celebration of steady bowels, and unclogging the toilet drain, who else would I want in the same room as me to curse when the power cuts out? “Nothing is convenient in India!” we will say and laugh, just as we have been while ensuring that the other eats and drinks enough water.

When we leave tomorrow, my deepest regrets to room service.

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