As soon as we left the house for Friday night paletas, I knew. I could smell it in the air. That tell-tale mix of earth, minerals and water.
The rains were coming.
I was teased into thinking they’d arrived a week earlier when, on my walk home from school, a quick drizzle sputtered down. When the first droplets hit my arms–my arms, hot and sticky after a day spent herding teenagers in classrooms that grew hotter and thicker as the day wore on–it was as if I were electrified. Every cell in my body began zinging and bouncing and reaching for those rain drops. Those precious few drizzle drops that sent me home in a skip, only to be dashed by Nico’s solemn head shake, “No, no es la lluvia. Es muy temprano. Y lluvia ahorra es muy mala, muy mala. La próxima día será más húmedo y con mucho más calor.”
Life moves a little more slowly in India. As an Indian American living in Dehra Dun reminded us, there is Central Standard Time…and then there is Indian Standard Time. And when you’re hanging out in the quiet towns ofUttarakhand, in winter nonetheless, life seems to whisper along.
Case in point: While in Rishikesh, we’d while away the first hour or so of our day sipping Nescafe in our hotel lobby, watching sensationalist Delhi news accounts and giggling over the matrimonial ads. Time inched along, not bothered by car horns or diesel fumes or much of anything, save a sadhu or two. Glancing up from our almost-coffees and newspapers, we’d spy a cow eating breakfast on our hotel stoop, ladies gathering for an early morning chat, delivery men desperately wishing cars were allowed in this part of town, monkeys making mischief. Life moved slowly (and dare I say: peacefully) on that Rishikesh street, aflutter with life at daybreak.
Ten minutes in the life of a Rishikesh street (including a cow who seemed to be inspired by our dawdling).
While other kids traveled to Washington, DC in middle school and high school or on family vacations—visiting the Air & Space Museum, touring the White House, marveling at the monuments to president-upon-president—I never did. In fact, I did not set foot in our nation’s capital until I was 30, when I spent my one day in the city traipsing around the Mall in gale-force winds, desperately trying to make my way to the FDR Memorial. A snippet of the city: It was beautiful, historical, with some edginess. I liked it. I wanted to go back.
Amid thunderclouds and ripening corn, I drove to work this morning, sleeplessly and deliriously marveling at this strange new parallel universe I have entered: Wisconsin. Ross and I have been residents of Madison, WI for nearly two weeks now, and every day seems to pack a whopper of a ‘sconi punch
Our last day in Central America is bittersweet. Bitter because we’re forced to spend it in Cancun (aside from partying twentysomethings, who comes here?!). Sweet because we have fallen in love with Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
Imagine this: Thousands of butterflies—orange, white, blue, brown, red, and yellow—flitting around you as you cruise down a swift river in a kayak-like wooden boat. Beyond the palm roof of your lancha, you can see jungle, thick, sweaty, and alive. There are vines, palms, banana trees, and giant tree trunks oozing ancient Mayan bubble gum. Monkeys lounging in trees, monkeys howling and grunting in the distance. Bromeliads hang in fuschia splendor from a towering ceiba tree; yellow and purple orchids float on a draft of wind down to the river. And as a soundtrack to it all, birds twitter and sing while cicadas and tree frogs add an incessant bass rhythm.
Greetings from Chiapas! Yes, Chiapas…home of the infamous 1994 Zapatista uprising. Sounds scarier than it is, though: Today, Chiapas (or at least San Cristobal de las Casas, the cultural capital of Chiapas) is more of a gringo-filled tourist pit stop than any place yet that we have been in Mexico. This town is seething with Brits, Aussies, Frenchies, Danes, Americans, Canadians, even Israelis. All are in town ostensibly to take in the colonial architecture, the surrounding indigenous villages, the Mayan textiles, and the cool mountain air. But I think that the Zapatistas are the real draw. They’re everywhere! On t-shirts, on windows, on little woven horse tchatchkes. Even in bars…
Buenas tardes from the tropics! Or the rainy tropics, I should say. At over 7000ft, in July Mexico City is a rainy, thunderstorming megalopolis. Like clockwork, at 8pm the drizzle, then the thunder, then the downpour arrives. It miraculously misses rush hour every day, although it tends to interrupt the nightly excursion for dinner and cerveza. Our best Mexican purchase so far—a ginormous paragua, an umbrella perfect for protecting both of us from the rain, but also sending little old ladies off the sidewalk in fear of its stadium shadow.
The Goddess of Fortune visited me on a South Indian beach that has since been washed away.
She was not quite thirteen, with Pippi Longstocking braids and a sprightly yellow smock dress to match. Lakshmi (the name of the Hindu Goddess of Fortune) spent her days smiling spryly at European tourists while peddling shells, pens, and other trinkets to the sunburned visitors. Her father, a local fisherman, would send her out among the tourists, knowing full well that his daughter’s charms were irresistible.
With only two weeks left on the Subcontinent, I’m starting to dread our imminent departure. After the shock of the first week, I quickly fell into the rhythms of India: I am asalwar-kameeze-wearing, jasmine-beflowered, toe-ringed, namaste-greeting, puja-attending, tanned begum. Sometimes I don’t even need raita to cool down my food. and Kingfisher…Budweiser will never taste the same again. I am still puzzling over much of Indian existence (still I wonder: Why no garbage collection? Lack of traffic laws, however, I have no problem with), but for the most part I feel settled.
I’ve been in India a little over a week, but I’m not sure…we’ve lost all track of Western time and Western luxuries and Western garbage collection. We’ve finally left Delhi, and have now ventured into what Sally, our group leader, calls “down home” India: After a quick stay in Agra to see the Taj Mahal, we’re now in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. There are no tourists, no white people, no blondes. I’m getting a lot of stares. Even in agra, perhaps the most visited city in India, Indian families were coming up wanting to take their picture with me. One family even did a series of photos of each family member and me. Sally thought it was the American t-shirt; I think it’s my movie star sunglasses. Surely I must be Julia Roberts?!
So I have safely–if sweatily–been in India for four days now, and I am overwhelmed.
Of course, there is the heat. Or rather the humidity. Our arrival brought the monsoons, which are refreshing once they fall, but for the day-long build-up, it is sweltering. I try not to think about it too much (or the multiple ice cold showers I crave, but alas, Delhi is in a severe water crisis), but it definitely defines our experience. What’s remarkable is that Delhites don’t sweat. Ever. Well, that’s not true. Today was record humidity, and a Kashmiri woman who runs a school we visited was whining about the heat. But I’m not sure she counts…after all, she’s from the Himalayas. This is all brutal to her.
Our last day in Cape Town and I’m left noticing all the things I will miss about this city,this country, this experience: the smells of African spices; the musical welcomes everywhere we go; all of the South African children who are eager to talk to and hug us; finding an excuse to say “yebo” as much as possible each day; the animals who pop up in unexpected places (cows wandering the townships, geckos falling on me in the shower, wildebeest roaming a field in the middle of Cape Town); Table Mountain magnificently orienting us to infinite bays and neighborhoods; our own students finding song mid-way through the trip and then peppering each day with selections from The Lion King and The Prince of BelAir. Just about the only thing Iwon’t miss is pap, a cornmeal mush that’s been served to us a few too many times.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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