Thursday, August 28, 2014


     I suppose it would be a good time to let everyone know my plans (or as much as I know of them) for these next 8ish months. I'll be here in Nasik, the city I lived for my exchange year, with my old host family, for a month. Then my dear friend Laura will be joining me and we'll travel for three months all over India. After that time, we'll renew our visas in Thailand, presumably having a few adventures there, and then I'll be spending the remainder of my time back in India volunteering (the details of which I don't have quite lined up yet). I'll be back in Portland when the sun comes back, likely around late April.
     This blog will be largely a continuation of the last blog I kept while here- and I will try not to repeat myself too very much, while still providing some context. This one will be a little different from the last, beyond just the change from the 16 year old self who makes me smile and occasionally cringe when I read back. This trip is not about making a home in a new place or understanding a different culture from scratch, although both of those are probably inevitable. This will be a chance for me to travel on more or less my own terms.
     These days I am mostly with my family, watching grating Hindi soap operas and laughing with my sisters and eating good, salty and spicy food. We are in the middle of a Jain holiday (the religion of my host family) which means a lot more time with the extended family and no fruits or vegetables as a sort of fast or penance.  I have nothing to compare with my aunt who is fasting for 11 days taking only water. Still I find myself daydreaming of big salads with plump sungold tomatoes, and my journal is increasingly filled with detailed descriptions of stir fries I'll cook next summer and love poems to zucchini. It is amazing that there are so many delicious meals you can make without meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, or fresh herbs, but somehow we are living well on legumes, grains, milk, and oil. I've been cooking with my aunt, meaning occasionally stirring something while watching her throw ingredients together with a seemingly haphazard grace that produces consistently wonderful results.
     I've also had a bit of time to explore the city more, taking walks through the neighborhoods and busy streets, making exciting little discoveries while trying to avoid stepping in anything or running into a motorcycle. The rainy season is still upon us, providing billowing clouds and occasional downpours to shield the heat. The other day I went down to the Godavari river, which runs through Nasik and attracts lots of Hindu pilgrims to the holy waters. I sat on the ghats, the concrete steps leading into the river, right in the center of the water and all the life around it.
     On the lower steps women and a few men wash clothes. When you look down, there are hundreds of colorful articles of clothing being scrubbed and swung around to wring them out. The woman beside me in a dazzlingly bright sari gives me an inquisitive look, pours large silver bowlfuls of river water, scrubbing the steps to clean them and then the clothes, soap foaming up and disappearing into the river. Some trash floats down, but in this part it looks mostly clean. Someone above throws a pair of pants into the current and I watch as they drift down and slowly sink to join the other random treasures the river holds. Boys scream jumping into the water just where it channels into a stronger current under the walkway. One boy clings to the corner, singing at the top of his lungs, I am a disco dancer, I am a disco dancer. The slap of children's wet feet on pavement is the same everywhere. There are swallows and white birds above me, cows with painted orange horns on the banks, men flinging trash into a truck, some sweeping it into the river. The smell of burning incense and trash. The temples are so beautiful, the paint doesn't look too old, but the stone crumbles giving way to cascades of plants on the roof.
      I cannot pretend I am an invisible observer in this scene. As more women come to wash clothes, the conversation always comes back to the foreigner in their midst. I can barely understand any Marathi, which is the local language, but I talk with them a little in Hindi about where I came from, what the heck I'm doing just sitting on the steps, and eventually what the heck I'm doing in India. One woman speaks English, and I find out she's a middle class law student whose water had just gone out that day. It is always healthy for me to shatter my stereotypes with encounters like this. I didn't even know that I had romanticized these women until I found myself slightly surprised. After a while I fade into the background, their background at least, across the river and peripherally I can see people watching me. I don't mind too much anymore, curiosity is more than understandable, and I find myself watching a foreigner who passes by with the same unapologetic scrutiny. A group of teenage boys approaches and one stands in front of me as if to say something and touches my arm as he walks by, probably a bet with his friends. I tell them to get lost. These are always the strange in between moments, what to ignore and what not to. Sometimes calling attention to a situation just makes it worse. The women around me yell after them and call over the watchman. A woman instructs me on how I should have hit him, ideally with my shoe, and they're right. I need to remember to make a scene when I need to. It has been a long time since I've had to be assertive in that particular way. I tell this story not to make anyone worry, but to document my own learning process and to let people know who do worry about me travelling here that for every person with less than good intentions, there are dozens of aunties and didis and uncles who watch out for me.
     Some days are like this, the great wonder of India in all her confusing glory. Some days I sit around and do sudokus and eat and don't do much else. Life feels pretty darn pleasantly normal and occasionally boring until I write it out. It's always strange to be in a new place and realize how much can happen in a week. 

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