Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stepping Off the Plane

I arrived back in the United States on Sunday. I was looking forward to the journey home for some time now. I was sick of living out a backpack and I wanted to feel like a part of a community again. The members of my program definitely fulfilled some of the need to be a part of a community.

I miss them.

The little blonde haired girl in the photo below is Megan Campbell. Her parents brought her to India when she was just 18 months old. They were crazy, and I think they would agree. But she made the whole experience a lot more interesting and often times more fun. In that picture she is downing chocolate. To her, I hope I will forever be remembered as 'baby Sydney' or 'Sydney fingers,' or 'Sydney Color!'

I think I could last in India if I had a bit of space to make a routine. What can I say, I am a creature of habit. While traveling, I felt like I was in a stage of limbo. I was always traveling, 'sightseeing', trying to understand the 'true India,' when most of the time it felt like i was seeing what foreign tourist had altered India to be. In the village, I lived among people and although I still had to fight to be treated as an equal, the people let me live like a member of their community, with some exceptions. Since leaving the village I have had to fight a lot more to be treated like I expect to treated, which is cultural. It is one of those things I can't leave behind.

I hope I have come back slightly altered. I have a different perception of the world. Currently, I compare every thing to India, and I know that can get a bit annoying. I have come back tired. I may even be a little 'traveled out.' I know, me, a Lambson, traveled out, how could it be? Just give me a month or two and I will be itching for the chance to leave again.

So, thanks to everyone for reading my stories of India. It really was a grand adventure. Before I left, a woman told me, after finding out about my trip, "You really are lucky, there is not going to be another time when are able to do something like this." I told her then "I certainly hope that's not true." I have thought about her comment a lot. Listen, this really is the most 'convenient' time of my life, I am young, not married, I don't have a job and no real home, this is prime time. But I'm not about to die, I have my whole life ahead of me. You do too. Getting married, having kids, getting a job, doesn't equal death. If we have dreams, shouldn't we follow them? Within reason, right? Look at my Mom, she is almost fifty and she is traveling to every country and roughing it as if she were twenty. Don't let moderation and disillusionment slow you down. There are things to do, people to meet, languages to learn.

Everyday we got to keep on rockin' in the free world


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My program has finally finished. I watched all my friends leave for the airport with over stuffed packs, filled with ethnic clothing, Ganesha shrines and memories. They were going home, after a hard three and a half months. I gave each a hug and watched them ride to the airport where a plane would sweep them to their beds, their homes, their lives and their mothers. I choked up with jealousy. Only one more week. What could be the damage? Its not so terrible, not at all really. On Thursday, my mother, in her usual way of doing things, came to spend a week with me in India. In her words, 'who knows when I will have another child in India to come visit.' I have been so excited to see her. The day she came in we spent the day in Dehli but that night we were going to take an overnight bus to Rishikesh. This small Hindu pilgrimage site is set on the banks of the ganga against the foothills of the Himalayas, It is well known for being the world capital of Yoga. I thought this might act as the perfect place for my mother to see a softer side of India besides hard core Dehli and it would be a good place for myself to rest and catch up on some work.
I decided I would try to make this three day trip from Dehli easier than most of my travels in India. For most of my time in India I have arranged my own travel and that travel is mostly local, state run transport. It is very cheap but you pay in other ways, do you all remember my story about the 45 hour train ride? I thought my mom deserved better so I stooped to let a travel agency book my mother and I on a 'luxury' bus, one with a/c and reclining chairs. I think my definition of ‘luxury’ is different than my travel agents.
We arrived at eight sharp, just like my travel agent said because the bus was going to leave at eight-thirty from this location. We sit inside for an hour when finally we are sent on a cycle rick-shaw, with all of our stuff, to the bus stop. I am a little ticked off because he said the bus was coming here and we were already an hour later than planned. So my mother and I pile on this cycle rickshaw. I am embarrassed. Could there be anything more neo-colonyist? My butt is more than half way off the seat and I am keeping my self on by using all my leg muscle to stay on. Our travel agent told the rickshaw peddler where we were going and told us that we were going to go meet the bus. We started down one street but were stopped by the police. The police man turned to us and asked where we were going 'the bus stop, we are going to our bus,' 'Do you know where it is you are going?' 'Yes, the bus, we are going to Rishikesh,' After He had asked my mother twice he turned to me and asked the same and i answered the same. He finally said "oh, do you guys not speak english?' I was shocked. I raised my voice, slightly, 'we are SPEAKING ENGLISH!' 'Ok, where are you going?' 'to the bus.' He told us we needed to know the exact location otherwise the peddler would take us to a foreign place and demand money. Even if we did know the location we wouldn't know what it looked like. The officer would not let us pass until we knew where we were going. Our peddler decided to bypass the government and off-roaded a bit to get the street the government had so loosely guarded. We arrived at our bus stop with no bus and 15 other people waiting for the same bus. They said wait until nine-forty five. Finally around ten-thirty we boarded an alternate bus that would take us to our real bus.
Twenty minutes later we board out actual bus. It is so far from luxury. The seats are crampt and there is definitely no ac. Around eleven we are all seated. A group of Koreans are forced to sit in the front of the bus with the driver where their are benches instead of seats. They are not happy and demand a refund. There is stand-off between the koreans and the bus conductor for an hour. Eventually… eventually, they reach a compromise, and around twelve we begin what we should have started three and a half hours ago. It is supposed to only take eight hours and so eight am was the new ETA. Meanwhile, my mother is in shock. She already thinks i have started to take her on this crazy journey. For me.. so far nothing seems out of place, a bit typical for our situation and our location. India was going to have to throw a curved ball in order to shock me. Bring it. Oh and she did, she certainly did.
Immediately after we left our gas station our bus would stop to pick up people to take to local destination. They would stand for the duration and get off. This practice was not legit. They did to pocket some extra money. It was 2 am and Dehli was glowing with activity. So many people were walking around and shops were open. We were stuck in stand-still traffic at one in the morning. I started to wonder when this city sleeps. I was dreadfully tired, the night before i had stayed up talking to my mother, catching up on months of silence from one another. I sat in my chair awfully tired and jerking every thirty seconds from the bus creeping in the traffic. Around that time the bed bugs appeared. i don't know if that is would really are but you can't see them and they make your exposed skin itch like crazy. I had the same thing happen a couple of time previous. That was awful. As I scratched fervently at my arm, I saw my mother do the same. I meant for it to be easy for her.
Around five we stopped because the radiator had gone. We sat there for about forty minutes. The crew decided to keep going but every thirty minutes we stopped to put two buckets of water in the radiator.
Around six we stop for our half-way point rest. Here, my mother told me I was the craziest out of her children and what sort of journey had i brought her on. I forget how rough India can be on a person.
The last event is the one that topped the beautiful cake made of corruption and greed. An hour outside of the final destination, our bus driver decides that he doesn't want to go so he stops. After four hours of driving on a broken bus he won't go one more hour to go the place we had paid him to go. Luckily, we had a European who spoke fluent English, Hindi and Japanese. The bus driver would not give in. If we wanted to go to Rishikesh we had to pay for our own rickshaw there. NO WAY! We called our travel agents, we pulled out all the stops. We were going down with a fight. The driver had us go into rickshaws. Since there were like sixteen of us, there were like three rickshaws. after we all had put our luggage in the rickshaw, the driver decided he was losing money and asked us all to get on the bus. Fourteen hour later from our starting time we were checking into a hotel.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I Stand For Tibet

I attended this candlelight march tonight in Dharmsala, a Tibetan settlement of the Dalai Lama. It is a beautiful town set in the foothills of the Himalayas. Among the landscape are prayer flags draped across the mountain ending at monasteries built into the mountains. The streets that curve up the mountain side are lined with tea shops, book stores, and kasmiri goods. With Tibetan refugees outnumbering Indian residents it makes for a completely different feel than any other city I have visited while in India. In this backdrop I joined Tibetan monks, Tibetan refugees and other foreigners. I walked with candle in hand along the one way streets all the way to the temple where earlier that day i had seen the Dalai Lama and heard his teachings. in the temple grounds we sat, segregated. On the far right side sat the monks and the nuns with shaven heads adorned in robes of maroon and gold. They were the face of the tibetan resistance. in the middle were Tibetan families and to the other side were the foreign tourists. I wonder if most of them joined the march for the same reasons i did. I had just come out of dinner and saw there was some sort of rally forming. I went to go see and i was told I could join the march . I took a candle and joined the crowd. In my head I was thinking, this is pretty rad, two days before the Olympics and I am with a bunch of Tibetans protesting and asking for human rights. No one could top this story. I am an advocate for human rights, I'll join. They made the foriegn tourists go behind the monks and then the tibetans could follow. I hated that, I hated having being divided when it would have felt more comfortable to be among the other tibetans, the one's were fighting for. I think the committee was really excited to have international people involved.
But we sat as the youth, mostly young adults, talked with great passion about their homeland, human rights and China. One of the speakers addressed us in English. He told us of the many human rights violations. Time had come, Tibet would not be ignored. Free Tibet! They went on to show an hour long documentary about the uprising that happened in the former Tibet in spring 2008. The documentary was mostly in Tibetan but a man assured us, via the microphone, that he would show the english version for all the non-tibetans. The documentary displayed Chinese guards cracking down day after day on peaceful, or what looked like peaceful, protests that were supported by the Tibetan monks. It was moving and convincing. Where was I when this was happening? How did I not know about it? This candlelight march was in memory for all those that had lost their lives in Spring Uprising of 2008, most of them monks.
At the end of the documentary there were only five tourist left. There were about fifty at the beginning. Which leads me to believe that the tourists weren't very passionate about the cause but maybe thought it would be a cool story. One of the organizers approached me and said it looks as if there are not enough non-Tibetans to show the english version. He invited me to come by his office to get the documentary for free. I am going to come by so that I can talk him more, because I don't know enough. I would love to hear his story, how did he end up displaced from Tibet? Tomorrow there is march to lower Dharmsala, it is to protest the Beijing Olympics, which I am all about, but I think I am going to skip it. I need to rest for a minute, gather thoughts about protesting and write.
First of all, I feel silly being among the white people that protest. The is the Tibetan's cause and I feel I would be most effective supporting them in my own country where their voices are muted. Sometimes I kick myself for my apathy, where are my causes? I don't need to be passionate about everything but don't i need to passionate about something, stand up for something. I think it is a shame to come from a culture that is extremely moderate.