Saturday, July 14, 2007

the last of India-- in the Himalayas!

Here is a wrapup of our last week in India with a few reflections at the end.

After almost three extremely intense weeks in Jagdeeshpur, we flew back to Delhi for a last week of travel and adventure, hoping to process but also to let loose some...

Highlights from the trip:
-Visited the Taj Mahal-- albeit packed with tourists (though mostly Indian ones), the Taj was beyond words. I had been a bit skeptical of it all, but was stunned by the symmetry, lighting, reflections, patterns, and exquisite carvings. It was one of those things I thought wouldn't be much different from the gorgeous pictures-- but was I ever wrong on that. We travelled with two californians we had met at the hotel (one had been outside delhi for 10 months writing a biography on an incredible woman) and spent our time goofing off, taking leaping pictures, discussing our experiences in India, watching the light change, exploring the carvings, chilling in the grass waiting for the sunset and fighting off people wanting to take our pictures (never had people so interested in posing with us). Jamie even had one couple come up and say, "take our baby" because they wanted her in a picture with their baby. We also took a picture with these random guys who we later were driving next to. They laughingly held the picture of us out the window. absurd.
though the story behind the taj could be another rant, I will leave it at the wonderful day we had travelling together, especially because that certainly best represents the day :-)

-- spent the night at an ashram, a peaceful community in Haridwar, a city on the Ganges north of Delhi. We spent the day winding through the markets and riding a cable car to a Hindu temple, then enjoyed the thousands gathered at the Ganges for the night ceremony sending colorful offerings into the Ganges-- Jamie and John joined . We also had a morning of yoga in an incredible yoga hall, starting our day panting like dogs (one of the exercises our instructor repeated again and again, probably so he could laugh at us)

-travelled to the hill town of Mussourie, about 7000 feet up in the Himalayas. We had a family from Punjab share a taxi with us on the way up and enjoyed the singing of their two little daughters as we drove the winding road up the mountains. We journeyed to a beautiful Buddhist temple in Happy Valley, shared conversations with an extremely intelligent couple from Punjab about the failings of American society and lack of our citizens' knowledge of the world (on top of a hotel balcony looking into the valleys below), ate lots of Tibetan food, explored the markets, and made an early morning hike to the highest point in the area, within view of some of the 20,000+ foot peaks. I LOVE THE MOUNTAINS, and it was wonderfully refreshing to have the cool air and relaxing time to close out our intense trip.

Funny stories from our time in Haridwar and Mussourie:
-met up randomly with this French guy who ended up tagging along for a day
-John had his face stroked on the streets of Mussourie by curious males
-Jamie got a meow on the streets of Delhi
-we saw three people in Mussourie we had met before, one of which who was a fascinating English woman who has travelled literally all over the world and liked to say, "wanker!"
-we went on a mission to find food at 1 am in Delhi and ended up at this ritzy and disgustingly overdone hotel coffee shop (only place we could find open) with VELVET carpets and waiters in denim suits
many more to tell...

and now for a few reflections...sorry this is so broken up, but it is the easiest way not to drag on for hours.
- The Buddhist monastary felt peaceful and free of the caste ridden India we had experienced. I kept wondering though, especially when a monk pulled out a wad of cash, if it was not similar to the experience we had in the rural area, that those who talked about being no caste, those places where it seemed to be devoid of caste and peacefully equal were simply places that were privileged enough to separate themselves. This may not have been as true of the monks, especially as many nowadays are not the most privileged, but it just reminded me of our time with Brishop, the old, welcoming man who told us of the new India without caste, who we were so taken by (and still are) but later learned that he was of the highest caste in the area, able to say that because he was not struggling to get by every day. THis is all not unlike racism in the US it seems, in the way that most of the privileged are the ones who can comfortably and even honestly (in their limited experience) deny that racism exists.

-speaking of privilege, I struggled more with my privilege on this trip to India than ever before, yet I still embarrasingly got drawn into using it at times: to stay in a nice hotel in the Himalayas, eat at that ritzy coffee shop in our dirty clothes (only allowed in because we were white-- our casual clothes were way out of place), to get put into separate lines at the airport (grant it, we tried to fight this one). I kept thinking that it was ok to half splurge the last few days, to relax since we had lived so simply. But I still could not rid myself of the thoughts that in the one night at a nice hotel, we were each spending two months worth of our maid in the rural area's salary for a MONTH (10 dollars a month), or that on my trip this summer, I am spending enough to provide food and shelter for the 28 orphans in Jagdeeshpur for almost 5 YEARS! Is this, as I once heard it claimed, the same as choosing a nice room for one night over providing a month for the orphans? Sure, I can excuse myself by saying I live simply, give pretty generously, and rarely buy things. But does that really allow me to clear my conscience over decisions that pick material over humans, sitars over beggars, mountain views over hospital equipment? My life must change, but I also know I can't live torturing myself. THe guilt doesn't help, but I still can't excuse it. I can do something. I can give up a ton. I can use my life, my resources, my knowledge, love, ability to listen, and more in order to at least be a part of change, however far fetched and idealistic it may seem. I am not willing to let things just be "the way things are". Though it certainly would be paternalistic to think I can go in and help bring about change, I don't think there is something wrong with being willing to make sacrifices, to make changes, to spend time and energy and spirit to help transform some small part of the suffering we experienced in Jagdeesphur, saw out of the train of Delhi, and ignore all the time in America.

I have been reading Mountains Beyond Mountains and found the section criticizing white liberals extremely powerful. Paul Farmer talks about how lots of people always talk about the poor as being happy so that they don't have to do anything about it, give anything up or change their lifestyles. This trip was yet another trip in which my idea of romanticizing the poor was turned on its head. It is not joyous to be starving. It does not feel good to have curable illnesses become life-ending diseases because of a lack of health facilities, or to have infections last years and lead to amputations. It is not pleasant to watch kids wish for a better tomorrow and women work in an overwhelmingly oppressive system. Yes, the hospitality is remarkable, the community is a model for us who have gotten so caught up in our affluence, but that doesn't allow us to excuse the fact that we must be a part of a change for the situations of oppression that leave these children without the proper resources to live. We can't live comfortably in a world in which so many are suffering because of our excess!

Anyway, I will end my rant there, more for my own sake than for the one or two of you who have made it this far (mom and dad). This trip opened my eyes to a lot that I haven't ignored but have certainly let sit uncomfortably without impact. One I will have to discuss in depth is the oppression of women, not just in India, but simply the ways it opened my eyes to it, the ways I have been ignoring it and even adding to it in my ignorance. More to come from Israel and Palestine!


Anonymous said...

I am staying right with you on this blog of your journey--thanks for taking me along. I am eager for you and Greer to tag team in Israel. Blessings my beloved kin.
Brother Gregory

Taylor said...

i love the image of the english woman who repeatedly says "wanker" while traveling with you three.

i read mountains beyond mountain this summer too (finally catching up with amit and the rest of them). aside from temporarily making me think i should start over and become a public health expert, it was one of the most inspiring things ive ever read.

as far as privilege, i had a great conversation with anna thompson last week when we met up in dc. she (as admirable and selfless as anyone), was talking about guilt over ever eating out in restaurants. we semi-concluded that indulgences are unavoidable - even if not monetary, everyone has them. it's by being aware of these things as unnecessary but natural that you can find some fair balance. you should have been there for it.

i can't wait to hear about the west bank. are you at the friends school where brian and stephen will be working?