Tag Archives: bon voyage!

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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Adieu Too Soon

I have said little about my travel companions, two very different people, and all three of us thrown by happenstance and the allure of India.

Annette and I made independent decisions to come here this summer. We go to the same school and were friends-of-friends before we realized our common interests. I still am puzzled as to how we didn’t meet earlier, but acquaintances are often concentric in a place as large as KU. When we discovered that our travel dates overlapped by two weeks, we decided to travel together.

We met Anne for the first time at the Newark Airport. She is studying at the University of Hyderabad with me this summer, but goes to school in Utah. Already in these two weeks we have seen each other at our worst and most elated. Now we lounge around in our sports bras together in the heat, as if friends for years.

The choice to travel with two mild acquaintances could have been disastrous. This is something none of us gave much thought to because we are young and face consequences that are resolved emotionally through the simplicity of enough complaining. However, the parts of our trip were a disaster destroyed the reserve between strangers and solidified our attachment quickly. “To get close to someone, go to Delhi,” we keep saying.

But yesterday Annette left us. Her plans took her farther to Varanasi, then moving down South, and eventually, home. Anne and I have to get to school soon, too. We saw her off to the train station in the hostel lobby at 11 pm. Knowing the cruel, hard, wonderful world she was entering in solitude we felt a bit like mothers sending their child to Kindergarten Day 1, especially as she stood before us in her overly large backpack with bleary and antsy eyes.

Annette’s cheer and calm gives her a penchant for quick friendships and will undoubtedly help her on her journey. We are concerned for her safety for this very reason too. She is watchful, though, through the politeness. We miss her already in the flavor of our humor and decisions. The breadth of our independent travels and ultimate reunion excuses it.

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A moment of silence, please

We hired a car to take use from Agra to Kanpur, where I would be visiting the Indian Institute of Technology doing some work for CReSIS for the next week. I was excited to see the countryside. The train had come too late to the station that all we had seen during our ride were the fluorescent lights of houses and passing cities.

Except, there really is no “middle of nowhere” in India. Some is always selling something or chugging along on their bicycle, carrying impossible loads of everything. Even when cities seem kilometers apart and clearly we are speeding past farmland at 80 mph, shacks line the road. Along the way, it was obvious that the rural isolation of Kansas doesn’t translate here. And I have yet to count beyond 10 in between car horns, even in the countryside.

This part of the highway was called the Grand Trunk, or GT Road. It begins in Pakistan and extends all the way to Calcutta. The government recently renovated this road as a part of its Golden Quadrilateral initiative. Last year, I completed a semester project for my metaphor theory course on this road. Riding on the highway completely edified that all-nighter. The term “commuter village,” which Western media coined to describe mass amounts of people commuting on the highway between cities each day for better work, took a new meaning when a multiple buses crammed full of Indians careening between the roadway lines nearly hit us, or us them.

All the way, we saw women sitting side-saddle on motorcycles behind men. They steady themselves with poised, straight backs and dainty hands placed on the motor in back. They remain motionless even as their hair whips from their golden berets and their drivers weave between everyone. Farther off, in the fields, two or three figures in bright red, pink, blue, move through corn or lounge in the shade of a tree. These solid drops of beauty against the red clay brick masonries, the dull brown of the fields, and the cracked grey buildings appear unexpected but not out of place.

While in Kanpur, we took the highway again, this time on a day trip to Lucknow which is a city about 2 hours north. On our return, our driver suddenly stopped. Although the road congestion seems awful everywhere, we have only gotten stuck in an actual traffic jam one time before. Now, a train was coming.

I have never seen this place so silent. Cars idled. A few people roamed about, bored. A beggar in red tatters sat near an intersection, hand extended. When we returned to Lucknow a few days later to catch a flight, he sat in the same place deserted.

The train whizzed past in no time. The minute the tracks bars lifted, every single vehicle started honking, as if on a laugh track. Those unencumbered in the front lines honked for the sake of happiness. Those at the very back honked in frustration. All those in between honked because suddenly they couldn’t wait idle another single minute. We joined into with our own beeping refrain. We twisted into some impossible space between two large trucks, and it was off again into the loud, mad journey of India.

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whoops

no iPod juice

phone charged to one bar

6:11 a.m

2 hrs sleep

too much stuff

but who thought it was a good idea to not bring a hair dryer?

bye America!

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