Email 15: June 10, 2006
Greetings from hot, hot, hot New Delhi, India!
This email will recap my Safari/Egypt trip with my mom, India, and also reflect upon my feelings only three months before coming home.
I do not know even where to begin. All I can say is that once again my mom and I had an amazing time together, loads of laughs, and time to just talk. I forget how much I miss just talking, well "rambling." I have become very content with silence or being alone, but I forget how nice it is to see family and someone who will listen to you and not expect to have an all-important socio-political conversation. My mom noted how "independent" I have become, but at the same time as soon as "mom comes," I become needy. There is no one like your mother: a best friend, a travel companion, and a guide.
I can say with assurance that my mom's life long dream to go on safari was fulfilled and a complete success. I am so glad that I was able to share this special moment with her and we both agreed my father and brother would not have enjoyed all the driving and staring at animals. We were mesmerized. Kenya is one of the most beautiful countries, full of human, animal, and plant life. Their indigenous Maasai Mara culture is vibrant and intriguing. My mom was fascinated by every animal and even by the last day, her excitement was still high. Although, she did seem more excited by the donkeys carried heavy loads or carts that the actually game in the parks. We managed to see all of the Big Five: lions (both male and female!), cheetahs, rhinos (black and white), elephants, and buffaloes. We also saw 1 leopard and a cheetah/hyena kill! And there were also many zebras, giraffes, gazelles, topi, and hippos. We saw everything and no rain.
She was impressed with the Kenya way of life, everyone smiling and greeting one another. She quickly learned "African English." (She can no longer criticize my emails and their grammar.) She became quick with the camera and I thank my dad for looking at 700 photos of animals. She learned about the Indian culture with my host family and the 90 Indians who were on the same safari program. She witnessed "white/high class" Nairobi and saw "everyday Nairobi in town." She experienced slow internet, lack of internet, using a water heater, and locking up our Nairobi home like Fort Knox. And most memorable, she experienced a matatu (taxi van) and City Hoppa ride. (It took two trials). It was hysterical. Our first attempt on the City Hoppa, I was a little nervous because my mom was wearing jewelry and her purse. I had yet to witness any Nairobi violence and didn't want today to be the first time. We got on the bus and of course one stop later, an "interesting" gentleman got on the bus as well, sat next to my mom, and leered/smiled/ at her for the next 10 minutes. We got off the bus and took a taxi. The next morning we tried again and it was a success and "cultural experience." I was happy that my mom experienced a true matatu experience equipped with loud, blaring rap music, 13 other people, and little room. Mom loved Kenya!
As for Egypt, well we had a different, not-so-pleasant experience. We loved all of the Ancient Egyptian artifacts . . . the Pyramids, the Sphinx, Luxor , Valley of the Kings, and all of the temples. The ancient Egyptians and the hieroglyphic writing were truly fascinating and unlike anything I have ever seen. However, other than the historical monuments, our package trip was a nightmare because of the local travel agency. I don't want to complain because in all honesty, I saw what I wanted to see and spend quality time with my mom. It was still a "cultural experience," the good and bad.
And most importantly, if after 9 months of travel, the only bad comes in Egypt with my mom, I am pretty lucky. I always knew I wouldn't make it through the year without my camera being stolen and losing some money.
In addition, after 5 days and sunburn, I realized that I should not take my malaria medicine in the morning. (Something I never did until I went to Egypt). I could not figure out why I was getting so burned and why my fingers went numb in water. Well, my thumbs and pointer fingers both have severe burns and blisters to prove how the sun can affect your medicine. (It's funny to think that I am still learning small "travel tips" even after nine months).
Egypt in general is very different from anywhere else I have been. I don't have any real interest in returning. I consider myself very "culturally appropriate" and I adapt easily to new places, but in Egypt I could not get over all of the harassment, haggling, leering men, etc. It was unlike anywhere else I have been in the world. Not to mention it was nearly 130 F! I don't think I would have enjoyed visiting Egypt on my own. We found it weird how the President's face is blown up on posters all around Egypt. Can you imagine if George Bush's face was all across American Billboards?
Moreover, I was annoyed, furious, and disturbed when our tour guide in Cairo took us to a "Carpet School" after visiting Sakkaara Pyramid. These so-called schools are everywhere lining the sides of the roads.
This Carpet School, or Child Labor Factory is everything that I stand against. The shop owner or manager paraded us around the "school" and showed us how the "girls" make fine carpets. He even had my mom and I make stitches in the silk rug! I was dying. Of course, when I started to ask questions, he was not as friendly and generally moved on to his next point. The girls we sewed with were 13 and 14 years old. He said the girls start to come to the school at the age of 10 years because they have small fingers. They receive no "schooling" outside of making carpets. They do not learn any other subjects. They come from the villages and live in housing near the school. He claimed they make a salary/month plus commission on any rug that is sold. I do not believe him. The girls do not talk to one another. They sit on wooden benches in front of huge looms looking at a pattern. One carpet takes months. The owner prided himself on his many "schools" and their fine quality. Needless to say, we went to his store room, had "Egyptian hospitality" (free drink) and listened to his sales speech for nearly 30 minutes. We could not wait to leave. Of my entire year, I think my visit to a Tourist Carpet School will be one of the strongest visual memories.
However, I should mention it was very different and interesting to be in an all Muslim Arab country. Arabic is behind complicated and I could not help myself from staring at the women dressed in burkas, full black Muslim dress. I wanted to see their faces. I did not understand. I did not understand our guide in Cairo who explained to us how taking 2 wives was to protect the woman and her rights. Mom was surprised every time we heard the "call to prayer" 5 times a day.
All and all, we had a great time and the three weeks flew by and the trip was very different than Peru.
Delhi is hot, very hot. I knew at some point my travel planning would be affected by the weather. Just like I visited Guatemala in hurricane season, I decided to go to India in the hottest part of the year and during monsoon season. It has not rained in Delhi yet, but I hear the rains start next week. Even though I have only been here a few days, I feel like I have been here longer. After living in "Indian Nairobi," I am not too surprised by the Indian way of life and I have had my fill of Indian fried food. I have been treating myself to cafe sandwiches and Subway. I don't need anymore rice and spices for this week.
I do miss Africa. East Africans are some of the friendliest people in the world. They are always smiling and greeting you. I have not found this in Delhi. Everyone is on the move or engaged in their business. I have not had one person outside of my hotel staff or waiter say hello. It does not feel as busy as I thought it would be. Where are the billion people? Nairobi felt much busier in town.
I find Indians a little pushier and less relaxed than Africans. I have been surprised that some restaurants and bars are "couples only" after a certain time. I am thankful for the AC box in my shabby hotel room. I was thrilled to see tuk-tuks (here called auto rickshaws) again! I haven't used them since Guatemala! However, I am slightly shocked that they drive on the main roads, but I would never want to get on a Boda Boda here in India. They are crazy drivers. Many cars are all scraped from where they have been hit, but they continue to drive. I was surprised that in the Bombay Airport that homeless women were allowed to sleep in the terminal gate bathrooms. I noted how the bathrooms are either European or Indian (squatters). I have noted the dress of women and how it is becoming more western in the city. And unlike the Indian Kenyans, I don't see too many smokers.
I think India (and Cambodia/China for that matter) will be very interesting and the most different from where I have visited this year. I am in Delhi for one week as I wait for my Chinese Visa. I leave next week for Ahdmedbad where I will visit SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association) for at least one week, hopefully more. I am also going to Agra sometime next week to visit the Taj (which I assumed was in Delhi) and visiting with the mission director of USAID here in India!
Graduation was nearly 13 months ago and I come home in less than 3 months. I have only come to realize both of these facts in that week or two. Although I feel like my days at Vanderbilt were only yesterday, I am starting to think that after one year of travel I will be ready to come home. I hope to enjoy the next three months to the fullest knowing that I most likely will never have this opportunity again regardless of my career path.
Most of my other emails comment about how I am anxious to return overseas after I come home, but after nearly three weeks after seeing my mom, I realize how important my family is to me. If I decided to live the rest of my life overseas, I am also neglecting that part of my life as well. In a modern day America where the divorce rate is 52%, I am fortunate to have such a loving family. I could ask for anything more or less. They have been so incredibly supportive this year and continue to push me to follow my dreams, either in the US or abroad. And at the moment, Chicago, where I have always called home sounds safe, secure, and welcoming.
For the first time all year, I think in three months, I will be ready to see friends and family. Before now, I was extremely worried to see my friends because of "reverse culture shock" and how I would react to their post-graduate lifestyles. How would they understand me? Would they want to look at 10,000 photos? Would they listen? Would I listen to them? What about the friends who I have not remained in contact this year?
Most importantly, who will I become? A daily question.
Will I go back to my pre-travel ways, both physically, mentally, or emotionally? My hair is now long and brown, a stark contrast to the bleach blond short hair I have always had. I made a comment to my mom about my hair and how maybe I won't go back to "superficial blond." She responded, "I like your hair long, but you'll be blond in no time." Will I focus my attention on telling others about my experiences and how they can be better global citizens, or realize that not everyone cares deeply about international issues? Do I try to change my closest friends? At the same time, will I be receptive to issues they "care deeply about?" Or, will I start to focus my attention on the problems and realities we have in our country?
Finally, the personal aim of this year was to determine my passion and how my passion will drive me to pick a suitable career when I return. Well, to be honest, I am more confused that ever!
A part of me still has faith in the NGO (non-governmental organization world), but the other part of me has a very jaded view of these organizations and what truly can be accomplished. I have seen strong organizations, bankrupt organizations, weak organizations, local organizations, international organizations, and international government organizations. The bottom line is that development work is expensive and it takes time. Change does not happen over night. Change does not happen in 6 month contract periods. Change does not happen only by the hands of foreigners. Change is not charity. Change needs strong, charismatic leaders. Change requires a focus. Change does not force an organization's beliefs on the people they seek to help.
Despite criticisms from smaller organizations, I am beginning to believe that it takes international governments, local governments, and the private sector to bring about change. To put it simply, they have the money, the force, and the skills to carry out change. However, it is necessary that they work with the local people and their governments because foreigners are not the best to implement change. In addition, how can developing country governments expect the international and NGO community come to their rescue, if they themselves are not helping their own people. For example, NGO development money becomes corruption money in the case of Uganda and the Global Fund. Maybe "true democracies" are needed before development can be sustained. Is that possible? Many African countries are so-called Democratic, despite their presidents' changing the constitution to stay in power longer, high levels of corruption, election fraud, increasing poverty, and of course the presence of HIV/AIDS.
Another interesting point that I have read in different sources discusses the role of service learning and precisely what I am trying to achieve this year. I am visiting many countries and trying to partner with NGOs for a short period of time to learn about what they do, their target issue, and how they plan to carry out their mission. As a result, I have learned about numerous topics, witnessed incredible people, and been exposed to the challenges that face people in developing countries. At the same time, what do the organizations gain from my visit? They hope to gain awareness, but more importantly money. One way or another, I have been solicited for money to help the organization. Obviously, I am not in the position to donate large sums of money to every organization I visit. Secondly, there are those who critique visit such as mine. They say that I am only "making myself feel better about myself." I don't necessarily agree with this comment because I do think that in my future I will continue with development work. But, there is no doubt that I do feel good about helping others, listening to their stories, and sharing them with you.
After this year, I expect that my life will be forever changed. I hope that I will remain true to myself (as I always have), but also approach my life in the United States keeping in mind that the majority of the world lacks our daily luxuries. I will be more thankful for what I have and expect others to do the same.
I will appreciate the rights I have as a woman, the opportunities that are available to me, our structure of government- despite political differences, access to information, voting rights, traffic and street laws, pedestrian rights, the environment and nature, electricity, food, personal hygiene, access to health care, education, basic security, non verbal communication, and so much more.
I will return with the drive to work. I am fortunate to have an education and the opportunity for employment. I will work hard and be grateful for a job and salary over $2.00 a day. I will respect myself and see how I present myself to others. Like the men and women in both Uganda and Kenya, it is important to look "smart." For example, you would never wear your "plastic sandals" out of the house and for work you are required business wear and appropriate foot wear. Shoes are considered very important everywhere I have been. They are a luxury, not to be taken for granted. I think about how I rolled out of bed and wore a sorority t-shirt and jeans to class almost everyday for nearly four years at Vanderbilt, and how the students fortunate enough to attend university (in every country I have been) are wearing their finest attire. They are showing respect to their peers, their professors, and themselves. I think about my father who wears a full suit to work every day and finds anything less unprofessional.
I think about the people I have met, the conversations I have had, the smiles exchanged, and the places I have seen. We are all different, but all human. We share different successes and different struggles. I watched a lady at Seed of Hope complete a well-stitched dress. Her success is just as important to my educational success - both successes determine our futures.
I have challenged, witnessed, and begun to understand my father's motto: "Economic freedom begets personal freedom."
I have challenged my own beliefs, created new values, and strengthened old ways of thinking. My end goal is to become enlightened, not cynical.
I have hard time putting these feelings on paper because they are not truths, only feelings and change almost daily. Before I opened my computer, this is not where I thought my email would lead me. By tomorrow or next week . . . well, who knows?
The irony of this email is that I am typing this email from New Delhi, in a pseudo Starbucks-like coffee shop next to my hotel.
Have a wonderful week! Happy June and summer . . . It's funny, I always think of everyone at home in cold weather, but I was reminded of Chicago summers when I saw photos of a Cubs game, the skyline, and summer nights!
Trying to stay cool,