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
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.