Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits

Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany

Laughing all the way...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Few Hard Lessons

I'm fully understanding now that in India, as a single woman, I am a little more than a liability.

There is no place for me to go, and no one can help me without risking castigation by society. In my mind, I understand that it's not personal, but in my heart I am struggling. I am an American woman. I am outwardly friendly and liberated. I hold myself with a confidence not seen in Indian women. I am accustomed to doing as I please, when and where I please, and I am privileged enough that these things come naturally to me. Only now am I finally learning to keep my face expressionless in the streets.

I was told by the Foreigner's Registration office not to leave Delhi. But as it gets more and more difficult to stay here alone, I long for the "ease" (all things being relative, of course) of the backpackers' circuit. A place where I am forgiven for being a foreigner. A place where no one "commands" me to do anything.

But in true Indian society I am not given any special consideration for being foreign. Everywhere I go I must hide, keeping my eyes on the ground and implicitly apologizing all the while for the crime of being female (and it certainly does not help me that I look Indian!). Is this the sad reality for women all over the world?

The trials and abuse suffered by the incredible women in my lineage are an undeniable indication of my life's purpose. How can I stand by, enjoying the privileged life of a truly free American woman, while so many others are held captive by their societies? My short time here and my minor difficulties have left me tired and spent. I feel I have lost my way. And yet, God tells me there is a purpose for it all.

One of the only ways to develop real compassion for others is to endure real suffering ourselves. In this case, I will gladly continue to suffer...

with deep love and gratitude for my dear friends and family,


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hapless (but not hopeless) in Delhi

I had to move out of the guest house where I was (my time limit was reached and the place was getting full and it was slightly expensive), so now I'm staying in the girl's hostel on campus with Gazala (my Indian friend), at least until I find yet another place. The campus is an interesting environment. Five times a day we hear the Muslim call to prayer, whereupon the campus fills with Muslims wearing little caps and kneeling in formation around the mosques. And for some reason there are monkeys being walked around on leashes. I really just can't explain this one.

I'm continuing to fast in the traditional Muslim fashion for Ramadan and finally it's getting much easier. We wait until nightfall, specifically until the moment when one cannot distinguish between a white thread and a black thread (approximately 6:45pm), whereupon we take "iftar," breaking the fast with mountains of delicious food! Nothing makes food taste better than a fast..

Now for the good news and bad news...good news is my passport finally came through (YAYAYAYAYAYA!!!!). It's in a new style I call "All-American"; gaudy, garish, and overstated with huge pictures of eagles, the statue of liberty, battle scenes of manifest destiny...God gave us this land, right? I'll need to find some cover for it as soon as possible.

Bad news is replacing my Indian visa will take minimum two weeks more, and a well-placed attorney friend of mine believes it will look more like two months! Apparently, the problem is that I failed to dress in a suit and I neglected to bribe anyone when I applied for the replacement...

So now I'm looking for a slightly longer-term accomodation, and there are not so many options. Ideally I would rent a room for a month, but everyone agrees that Delhi is a dangerous place for women, and at the moment I'm feeling sad and misplaced and homeless. I'm not alone and I'm not in any danger and I'm healthy, but you know how it is when you're couch-surfing and feeling like you really just want a space of your own where you can wash your underwear?

Yesterday I finally caved and bought a mobile phone (about 2,000 rupees)...the good thing about the mobiles here is that they're pay-as-you-go, so no contracts for me to cry about :) I'm not sure how to dial the mobile from abroad, or even what the cost is to recieve calls from abroad, or even how to operate the mobile here, but it's impossible to overstate how much fun it is to change the music settings.

I was hoping to spend my birthday (The big 3-0!!!!!!) in the Andaman Islands, but now it looks like I'll be stuck here instead. But as they say, plans were made to be broken, right?

until next time,

I love you every one...


PS: A comment from a loved one about The Chicken Incident;

"It is difficult for me to believe your masterminding of creature death."

Yes yes, this is precisely what Maria and Eduardo were saying, and I understand the sentiment. But the idea was this: chicken is one of the most commonly eaten things on the planet, but how many of us have actually seen how they are killed? We all "know" about slaughterhouses, we all "know" about the shaving off of chicken beaks, we all "know' about the horrible conditions of their short lives, but......
The chicken I helped to kill had a high-quality life. It roamed freely in the village streets and munched fresh corn. I pushed for the experience to highlight the irony between the cruelty we all condone and the "cruelty" we can't accept ( i.e. killing a chicken ourselves). Of course, I have never killed anything before and I never want to again. But one tenet of my philosophy is to try new things at least once. And like many of the things I've tried, I can now check "chicken assassination" off the list.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Salaam Alekom...And The Adventure Continues

I arrived in New Delhi dirty, tired, apprehensive and ready to fight the masses of Indian touts...or so I thought. I was so overwhelmed that I simply found an empty, filthy corner to sit down and cry. When I finished, I stood up, muscled my bag onto my shoulders, and went in search of a telephone to contact my friend. He told me where to meet them, a hospital about an hour away. I hired an auto rickshaw and settled in for the bumpy ride.

Both of my friends are students at Jamia Hamdard, a Muslim University here in Delhi. They met me at the hospital and took me directly to a guest house on their campus called the "Scholar's House" where I checked into a nice, comfortable air-conditioned room (AC!!!!!!) They waited while I cleaned up and then spent the entire day escorting me all over town to get my new passport arranged.

Of course the American embassy was a pain in the ---; I had to stand in several queues and get physically searched two times before I could even make an inquiry about my application (some obsessive freaks even took my water bottle away)! I really lost my cool when my Iraqi friend was refused entry into the building for no apparent reason. But I kept promising myself I wouldn't fight with the officials no matter what, so I complained very loudly only once and then forced myself to be quiet. Then, my passport photos were not the right color background so we were off again for more photos...blah blah blah...and then, many hours later, we finished and they took me home to my guest house.

Turns out it's Ramadan, an entire month of fasting for muslims. So no food until it gets dark, whereupon we feast on mushroom soup, fried rice, butter naan, chicken momos...I have offered to keep the fast with my friends for several reasons; one, it feels awkward to eat in front of them and two, it is my way of showing respect. The only exception is that I take water, while my friends take nothing.

We are a group of seven or so..five Iraqi boys, one Indian girl - also Muslim - and me. Last night we went to a posh hotel playing live Arabic music, which I absolutely LOVE by the way, and I smoked apple flavored shisha for the first time, or traditional Arabic hookah pipes. We danced and clapped in the traditional Iraqi-style all night long. I have to admit I am enchanted with my first experience of Arabic culture, and already I am speaking some Arabic. Many times I am laughing out loud at the improbability of it all...

My passport should take two weeks to complete, assuming no problems. In the meantime, India is a million miles away. For now I'm in Iraq...

until next time,
I love you all so much it hurts...


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Where Am I?

Yesterday I wandered the labyrinth of Old Varanasi in a daze. It had just rained and the air was thick with many things...human ash, motorbike fumes, pooja incense, stinking cow craps. The narrow stone streets had become a small river of sludge. I stopped to admire a huge cart filled with tsuri (typical glass bangles that all Indian women wear, usually 12 on each arm), and pointed to the ones I liked. Soon the tsuri-walla (literally, "the man who sells tsuri") was forcing tsuri onto my arms three at a time as I winced in pain. It wasn't long before a crowd of children gathered to watch, smiling and shouting their support. Some of the older ones counseled me as to which bangles I should have and which were most beautiful. Several of the tsuri broke during the brutal process, cutting my hands. But what is a little blood when nothing makes the locals so happy as to see a foreigner partaking in a most simple and widespread tradition?

Later in the streets I had many many smiles of approval from men, women, children alike.."Vedy niiiice, madam, vedy vedy byoo-ti-ful..."

I think one part of the reason I am attracted to this city is because it is overwhelming and unpredictable. Each and every encounter has the potential to turn into a passionate fight or an unexpectedly powerful connection. They are extreme encounters, all of them.

Varanasi is the city where people come to die; The city of death, dead and dying things. At this moment there is a sick calf lying in the street, breathing faintly and covered in flies. Just another obstacle in the busy street. Another thing to step around. In two days more it will be dead, whereupon they will carry it, like everything else that it dead in Varanasi, to Mother Ganga.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Chicken Incident

While I'm wasting time until my train leaves tomorrow at 7pm, let me share a little story...

During our week of Nepali-style cooking fun in beautiful downtown Bandipur (Nepal), I unwittingly managed to inflict a significant amount of stress on my companions.

Early on, I had suggested - half jokingly - that we should kill and cook a chicken for dinner. After all, chickens are killed and cooked every day all over the world, no? Three of the four of us were not vegetarians, so it seemed like plausible suggestion. We agreed that Jose would kill the chicken, Eduardo would clean it (pull off the feathers), Maria would cook it, and I, being the only vegetarian, would supervise (actually, I don’t recall what my official role was…I was more the instigator).

After the arrangement, we all quickly forgot about the plan. Until one day when I began walking around town asking for a chicken. I simply made chicken noises (bok bok bok) and asked "kati rupia?" (how much?) to the great amusement of the local Nepali people, who I suspect had never seen a westerner looking to purchase a live chicken. Being the designated assassin, Jose accompanied me on the search, which we never thought would result in an actual purchase. But then we met the tailor on our street, whose house was surrounded by chickens. Turns out a big one cost 500 Nepali rupees and a small one cost 200. We bought a small white one and carried it home.

Eduardo and Maria were shocked and - it's fair enough to say – rather horrified. Maria put the chicken in the bathroom with some water and corn bits while we suddenly needed a serious group discussion about "the plan." Maria and Eduardo were overwhelmed; they needed to have a short walk to get some air and consider the proposition of actually taking the life of the cute little chicken. That’s when Jose suggested that we simply handle the job ourselves while they were away. Which we did.

While I did not physically kill the chicken, I was there watching as its life was taken. My heart pounded and I shook, pacing the kitchen for almost an hour afterward. It was a harrowing experience to say the least.

In the end, Maria managed to eat a leg, but Eduardo couldn’t eat anything. I felt badly for subjecting them to such a stressful experience in the middle of our brilliant holiday, but honestly I never imagined they would take it so hard! After all, what we did was actually humane, and our chicken had a good life, right?

So, was it wrong? Am I now being punished for taking the life of a helpless chicken? After all, “non-killing” is one of the main tenets of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy…

Only God knows for sure..

Until next time,
The Heartless Chicken Assassin

Monday, September 17, 2007

Plans Were Made To Be Broken

After six months of problem-free travelling, my luck has taken a turn...

After arriving in Varanasi, I immediately fell sick with a head cold. Could be worse, two of my German companions also fell sick, and one of them is in hospital now for the last three days. He was lucky to be admitted; four days before a doctor was shot and killed in Varanasi, and in protest the entire medical community shut down all their facilities. Except for one, which just happens to be the best one in all of Varanasi.

Turns out when a westerner shows up at hospital in India, we have immediate priority. While hundreds of Indians camp for weeks in front of the hospital, my friend is rushed to the front of the queue. In five minutes they have kicked out some Indian people from an air conditioned room to accomodate him. And I must say, after the grim state of Nepali hospitals, India looks first rate. So the last days have been spent at the hospital, all of us popping paracetamol and checking temperatures. I am lucky all I have is a common cold and no fever or stomach problems. A miracle, actually.

Then, last night I discovered the worst...along with 2,000 Indian rupees, 4,000 Nepali rupees, and another 25 dollars, both my ATM card and passport have disappeared! I've watched other people in the same situation have a literal meltdown, but I quickly recognized that nothing could be done. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both for about 30 seconds and headed to the internet to find out what I needed to do.

First stop: police report. Unsurprisingly, the Indian police are completely worthless, and my time there was completely wasted. I was planning to head south to Gandhi's Ashram in Nagpur, Maharastra, but now I must go to one of the major cities to apply for a new passport.

Luckily, I have two friends in Delhi: one from Tanzania and one from Iraq, so I'm thinking to head there where I will have to spend two weeks while my new passport is processed (insert long, rueful groan here).

My heart pains that I've lost my beloved passport filled with stamps and memories...but as they say, what to do? Thank God I still have my health!

with love, hugs and kisses for all,

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Home Again!

Bathing with elephants is a singular experience. Over and over I climbed up onto the back of an elephant only for it to toss me off, screaming, into the muddy river. It was like being 15 years old again! They have rough, leathery skin with long, wiry hairs and big eyes with eyelashes every woman would envy. But the river water was not so nice; dark and muddy and perfect for lurking (if you’re a crocodile, that is). I was just a little apprehensive…

The animals of Chitwan are exciting and exotic, but Mother India was at the forefront of my mind. I was nervous about venturing back to the Indian border alone, as border crossings are notoriously difficult and India is not as shantih as Nepal.

Planning to have one last shower before a full day or two of grueling travel, I woke up early Thursday morning to discover there was no running water. Normally I am unfazed by the lack of water, but this time I was stressed. I finally secured myself a bucketful from a nearby water pump with barely twenty minutes to spare...better than nothing.

But my luck improved when I climbed the ladder at the back of the bus to discover three huge Germans heading my way...nothing is safer or easier than walking through the streets of India flanked by three 6+ foot men! Now I could relax and settle into six difficult but exhilarating hours on the roof of my last Nepali bus. I was a bit shaken by the three overturned busses (one was a truck) we passed along the way, but we had no mishaps and the only damages sustained were of the sun and windburn variety.

At the border we grabbed one last plate of veg momos and passed through Nepali and Indian Immigration like a breeze. It wasn't until we reached the Indian side and began negotiating for a jeep to Gorakpur that I realized my Germans were of the "easily agitated" sort. It wasn't long before we were all arguing with the Indian touts. It was the first fight of a series of fights, in a day that seemed to last for a week. I was forced to weigh my options; stay with the three Germans as they fight their way into India while I myself remain relatively unhassled, or venture off alone, peaceful but subject to harassment. I decided to continue along with the Germans.

After a bumpy three-hour jeep ride to the train station at Gorakpur, we boarded the 11pm train to my all-time favorite place to suffer in India: Varanasi (aka Benaras, aka Kashi)! We piled into the guard's car in order to isolate ourselves from the Indian masses and slept intermittently in awkward and uncomfortable piles, arriving the next morning exhausted, sweaty, stinking, bruised, and me with one puffy eye.

I had initially intended to avoid returning to Varanasi but something about the place draws me back. Maybe someday I will have an explanation for it.

In spite of the trials and tribulations, it’s great to be back…

until next time,


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's an Elephant Party!

Turns out Sauraha is THE place for elephant fun. Every morning around 9am a procession through town begins (I'm watching them now) as elephants make their way to the river bank to have their daily bath. I was initially drawn to Sauraha with intentions of swimming the Rapti River, but I was unprepared for the crocodile situation...

The locals do not recommend that I swim in the river as dogs and other unfortunate mammals are often consumed by hungry crocodiles. Luckily, there is one exception; I can swim in the river as long as I am accompanied by an elephant, making bath time the perfect opportunity since there are five or six elephants bathing at the same time.

With elephants regularly strolling the streets of Sauraha, I have the opportunity to become familiar with their ways and I can now add elephant craps to my repertoire of crap identification skills. Elephant craps are huge, greenish, and straw-like. Much more attractive than cow and water buffalo craps.

Besides elephants and crocodiles, there are plenty of rhinos, tigers, wild boar and other intimidating animals roaming the jungles of Chitwan. But their close proximity is enough for me. I have no need to enter the jungle to find them.

It's time to join the procession!

all my love,

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bandipur...It's Tailor Made

It was another late night snap decision; Maria and I found two Portugese who inspired us and the following morning we all climbed onto the roof of a bus and headed three hours East to Dumre, then one more North to Bandipur, to an enchanting village on the mountain where we all finally fell in love with Nepal!

We played with the village children, walked to other villages nearby, visited Siddha Cave (aka the largest cave in Nepal), played cards, but most of all...we cooked!

We were lucky to find a rest house with a kitchen on the top floor, so we spent our days planning, shopping and cooking up mass amounts of delicious food! No more begging for vegetables in the local restaurants...we prepared aubergine, okra, green beans, red beans, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes...banana crepes, apple cinnamon crepes, egg omelets, daal and rice, sweet Portugese rice and much much more. All accompanied with the delicious local wine (roxie)!

So, I must admit, the last ten days have been something of a holiday from my holiday. Bandipur was so wonderful that we began to inquire about renting a small house for several months. The attic we viewed was offered at 500 Nepali rupees a month, plus 50 rupees for electricity and another 20 for water for a total of less than 10 USD a month. I suspect I will return to Bandipur again.

Alas, the time came for us to go our separate ways and this afternoon I found myself once again on the roof of another Nepali bus heading for Chitwan. Alone once again, I am feeling good and preparing myself mentally for re-entry into Mother India. I have approximately one week to leave Nepal.

all my love,