Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

a snapshot of the city in the spotlight

it is electric.

it is palpable.

it is teeming over with excitement.

it is 75 degrees in november?

no longer the "second city" by any stretch of the imagination, the eyes of the world rest on chicago as we prepare to usher in one of the most historic presidential candidates of my time. i often struggle with my decision to live in chicago, but right now, there is nowhere else i would rather be. we are throwing down. people are smiling, walking with a confident swagger, and doing everything to contain the excitement that is culminating in this moment.

the city is beaming. we are so proud, so full of hope, so moved, so motivated to be part of it all. we are hosting the greatest party of this generation, a celebration that will close businesses early, utilize a huge police presence, and cajole a city to the streets. the city celebrates amidst the legacy of saul alinsky who put community organizing on the map here in the 1930s. for anyone who has participated even a small bit in the obama campaign, it is clear that the tenants of community organizing are paramount in its design. and fundamental to its success. what was the object of giuliani's guffaws at the RNC is now becoming the unraveling of the republican hold on the country.

the grassroots organization of this campaign was apparent in my small time in indiana as i attempted to give that swing a little push in a better direction. as my friend said, indiana is changing from light pink to light blue before our eyes. can i stress the significance here? indiana, birthplace of the ku klux klan, may vote in the first black president of our country. the state that boasts the legendary "u.s. out of the u.n." billboard that i grew accustomed to seeing on every roadtrip through indiana may vote in a president committed to negotiation and compromise. the crossroads of america may just turn the correct corner at this critical juncture.

and the weather. my god, the weather. there are record highs as we enjoy the very unseasonably pleasant weather at a time when we usually brace for snow. of course, we know this is a sign. the universe is pleased. we will be rewarded with great weather for our celebration party.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


despite my apparent bliss india, i wanted to be sure to communicate exactly what is going on around me as i have landed in a very interesting place in a very historical time.

i am in a place of peace, but also a place of protest and pain. i am living among tibetan refugees, many of whom have been brutally hurt by the war. the monks chant while leading daily peaceful processions through the streets at 6pm. these have been almost beautiful despite what they are protesting, as there is a lot of solidarity portrayed and sharing of pain. i am in this town at a time that is considered an extremely high tourist season, but the place remains relatively unbusy. locals suspect it is out of fear of the political situation. but there is no danger here. these protests are like anti-war protests in berkeley. there is no one to protest against. everyone agrees here that tibet should be free.

today, the olympic torch is being run through delhi. most of this town has closed except businesses owned by indians. most of the tibetans have left in droves, stacked into and above trucks, to go to delhi to protest as the torch gets relayed about. most tibetan shops are closed in protest as an act of support. since i have been here, there has been a constant hunger strike being staged outside of a temple.

this has been a peaceful town for me, but one with a greater purpose. and despite all of the violence that many people have experienced before reaching this place, the overall feeling is that this struggle should be completely peaceful. the tibetans have been really lovely to me and they have shared many parts of their culture with me in a very generous way. keep an eye on delhi in the news. and please don't worry about me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


i am gratefully tucked away in the himalayas in a place called mcleod ganj, the home of the dalia lama and the tibetan government in exile. getting here was one of my favorite adventures of the trip. after spending a really lovely time in a hill station, we took a 12-hour bus ride through the mountains to get here. i sat in the single seat beside the driver offering panaramic views of everything, including the tires slipping off the road and near very-frequent crashes. most people's stomaches couldn't handle it, so i got the "queen" nickname from my friends by directing the bus upfront where not even the indians wanted to go. i loved it.

despite grand plans while here, i am passing the days getting lost in the streets and running into friends wherever i go. despite all of this alone travel, it has been difficult for me to get any time to myself as i am surrounded by lovely people and random run-ins from friends along the way throughout india. i am also coming to some amazing revolutions of this trip and have had some time to digest what has happened before and even look forward to what i have back at home in chicago in a precious few weeks.

i don't know what i have done correctly in my life, but i am spending another consecutive spring in the mountains. my spring in the rockies last year was extremely meaningful for me and spending time in the himalayas has certainly not been without inspiration. there is something about the gushing melting waters of the mountains that really makes me motivated for new beginnings. and although i am wearing everything that i have brought to stay warm, the rest of india is completely burning up without my presence. and for that, among many other things, i am grateful. i spent last night with friends watching violent, beautiful storms glide over the himalayas from the porch in our guesthouse. it was beautiful.

and speaking of grateful, i have been able to leave my sequestered 3-foot distance from any bathroom to write this blog. while i am in the best space emotionally and spiritually here, i have had a bit of the skids health wise. i am struggling with a strange combination of mountain parasite and likely a bacterial intestinal thing. plus, i have some old stress fractures in my feet resurfacing that i am trying to stay off of and learn my lesson from the past hip fractures. i am so happy to be stuck in a place that i enjoy and in which i have friends who have found 7-up and toilet paper for me in my greatest need. but despite these things, i am really having the best time here. and that isn't sarcasm.

AND, i have had the opportunity to add visiting an indian hospital to my traveling repertoire. doesn't that just make you want to kick back and have a drink with me when i return? yes, there will be many stories. and this one includes paying 25 cents to see the doctor, elbowing monks and other sick people to keep my place in "line," then paying $2 for an x-ray. once said and done in 5 hours, the doctor couldn't find breaks in my foot by holding my x-ray up to the sunlight (although stress fractures don't show anyway) and i got to spend some quality time among people fighting TB and other diseases i don't even want to know still exist. plus, one of the most aggressive monks must have respected my fortitude, as he even stopped to give me a free lift in his cab up the very steep climb back to town.

still, i swear, i am extremely happy and having the best time of my trip. there is something about india that makes these things seem normal and you just come to a place where challenges are just part of the every day. i have come to the realization that india is about overcoming. so much of travel here is, frankly, unpleasant. and the most astute and fearless traveler will confide in you how difficult it has been over a shared chai or ginger tea when you get him alone. budget traveling circles can get very competitive and i have shown my vulnerability without shame to people with my fears and frustrations.

i think traveling alone also makes you face your demons. and i'm sure there are many more on the way, but i feel like i have figured some things out for myself. for now at least. and the best part is just how much you come to terms with in what you possess in your life. and between my family, friends, abilities, and sheer luck in my life, i have much to think about and be grateful for. and also think of how i want to improve on all of these things i am grateful for in my life. and so struggling with daily stupid things becomes overshadowed by this overwhelming sense of what i DO have instead of what is lacking.

i am registered for a weekend at this buddhist center where i will be learning some things that i think will help me in my future career. it is about facing death so that you can live your life in a better way. it is also about helping people at the end of their lives. i find this interesting on many personal and professional levels right now in my life and am excited about being a part o this program. then i decide if i want to stay for a 10-day retreat where i will learn the fundamentals of buddhism and meditation.

so here i am, in a place more feeling like tibet than india. i am studying buddhism when i thought i would be studying hinduism. i am sitting in one place when i thought i would be stretching my body at a yoga ashram. i am cold and wet when i should be baking elsewhere. but such is my life. and i am happy that my travels have brought me here. and again, i am grateful.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

holy cow

march 28, 2008

it seems everyone assumes the presence of cows in india. yes, they are here and very docile and usually just avoid traffic and eat garbage. they even watched the sunset beside the sun worshippers at goa in a very peaceful, south indian way. the cows o far have not taken too much of my attention, but turning a corner and coming face to face (or face to knee) with a camel in the middle of a huge capital city makes me take notice. my favorite part of jaipur is that camels and elephants are a normal part of urban traffic, either transporting goods or people. they are everywhere.

walking through pushkar with my kiwi friends sarah and ben, i was prompted to reconsider the mind i pay to the sacred cow. this cow had an extra, yet flimsy, limb growing out from it's back between its front two shoulders and behind its neck. it was skinny and short, and kind of flapped around as it attempted to hold the weight of the soft and inadequately-formed soft hoof. a birth defect (and a bit nauseating) to some, a reason for further worship to many in india. as the festivals celebrating the anniversary of rajastan continued throughout pushkar, this holy cow's natural beauty was further adorned with capes and flower necklaces in the following days along with an accompanying holy man mumbling down the narrow streets.

ashram living

i have arrived in rishikesh after covering much ground in the desert state of rajastan, then a brief stint in goa. upon arriving in goa, it became apparent that the season is the south is near over and the action is in the himalayas. so i devised my plan as i stayed in a room situated on a cliff over the ocean, stopped over in delhi to refresh with my adopted indian family, spent a day at the taj, and headed north to a rainy, grey, and graciously cool rishikesh. i am staying in a very clean and chill ashram and will be headed to evening prayer on the ganges in a couple hours. i have committed to 3 days, so we'll how i feel upon my departure. i hope to head even futher north and trek amidst hindu pilgrimages throughout holy places and hilltop villages.

having been here over 2 weeks, i think i may have a greater sense of the speed to which this country moves and the possible method to the sheer madness. this understanding subsequently increased the enjoyability of this experience and i have fallen into a nice rhythm. a little confidence goes a long way and i am avoiding harrassment better as well as perfecting the art of simultaneously jumping on moving buses while throwing my large backpack at the appropriate person in the front of the bus so that i can fight for space among the bus-goers.

as an interesting twist to this trip, i have met but one american tourist and have crossed paths with people from all over the world. noteworthy characters include travelers from botswana, denmark, germany, new zealand, england, and australia. on the way to goa, i also met a man from ghana, now living in london, who went to university of chicago's graduate school of business (the building next to mine). despite all these meetings, i am usually the only western face on any transport that i am on. i always expect other tourists on my routes, but this has not been the case.

i can't believe how much i have already seen despite booked trains and changes of plans. as i am spending double what i thought (bad research before trip and single traveling), i am going to have to split my trip in half. i booked an open-ended ticket to accommodate this possibility, so i am not heart broken about it. there is so much to see here and the country is so vast and diverse. i feel grateful for what i will be able to fit into 2 months and the fact that i am here. plus, this type of travel always motivates me and i may just find myself somewhere steady after these 2 crazy years.

i am posting several stories from the time i arrived. sorry if they are out of order and confusing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

things change

quickly. i have gone through the ups and down of travel and back again. this country is unexplainable. someone has said that india is like africa on steroids. i think it is like pieces of the entire world on crack, speed, and mostly, lsd. you can look at the same 10 square feet of space and see 1,000 things in 5 minutes. and the person standing next to you will see something completely different. you turn a corner and run into something you would never, ever expect to see. you meet other tourists and you share how relentless the harassment is, how you are getting ripped off every second, how shameful the poverty is, how terrible it is to be sick, how ungodly hot the temps reach, and how unsafe it is. then you immediately start to discuss plans for your next trip there.

it seems like all of sudden here, you just accept the madness and see the beauty. you have to. the make-shift barber stands on the urine-soaked streets of jaipur. the endless color that splashes everything: women wearing saris, street stands selling mounds of bright powdered dye, hindu cloths over doors, elephants' faces smeared with beautiful patterns for festivals, and the men's turbans that they tie skillfully and quickly around their heads after bathing in the blessed ghats. the way that you walk down the street and a festival just takes over with a marching band, decorated animals, fire torches, a huge flower filled monument to brahma atop a gigantic gold carriage, then followed by a man put-putting pulling a generator behind it all. the flowers. the way many children are loved by their parents. the way people dance. the music.

as i was taking a very dodgy bus to pushkar today, i was going through my head how i was going to fulfill my grand travel plans to all of the places i want to go to in india amidst bad trains, the extreme difficulty of booking tickets on anything, and the daunting reality traveling as a single woman. then a clear realization hit me. it doesn't really matter where i am in the country. it truly is an experience, as cliche as that sounds. and there will be billions in a day no matter where i am. then i stepped into a paradise. and even better yet, a man from our guesthouse picked us up from the bus station and drove us through it.

now it may be because i am traveling with a couple and am not fighting every battle on my own. and it may also be that this place is built for hippy tourists. but i have relaxed here and have seen some of the most amazing things in my life in just one afternoon. i took a yoga class, watched the sun set over a ghat where men were bathing and washing their very long and very bright turbans, gushed over the most intricately detailed sewn textiles, and ate at 2 beautiful rooftop terraces overlooking a lovely lake enjoying a sweet breeze after a morning crammed into 2 non-ac buses. this is supposedly a place where tourists come to take a break, and apparently india has been tough on the dread-toting israelis.

i'm just glad i can wear shorts here.

and to top it all off, i walked a good 3 minutes alone before someone harassed me. ok, maybe it was actually one minute, but it felt like an eternity. i also get the sense that the people here might actually feel bad if they killed you on the street with their autorickshaw or moto. at least they would turn around and check to see movement. i love the hospitality of pushkar. whenever i ask for anything, i am answered with a confident "why not?". food continues to be amazing, although i have to say that devon street has consistently proven to be on point. the only difference is that i have yet to have a mango lassi, but am offered every other fruit type lassi on menus. papaya ones are particularly lovely, but the lemon one is not worth repeating. i am collecting knowledge on many culinary goodies to benefit my friends in chicago on our beloved indian dining nights.

i am not immune to it all here. as seems to be the theme, i got a boob grab from a begging woman near a ghat today. and an old man whacked me on the shoulder after giving me the namaste hands. it's great to be a woman.

now i find it all the more befuddling that one of the biggest feminists i know in chicago is an indian man. and at the same time, it makes almost perfect sense to me. i really never thought it would be this bad. traveling with this new zealand doctor couple (who, by the way, are younger than me), particularly with the 6-foot plus man, has really shown me a different side of india. i am really left to hang to dry on my own. all of the travel advice from men or from women who have traveled with someone else is somewhat moot to me now. i simply don't have the same options to do some things on my own. i am hoping this will change and my experience will lighten. honestly, i just hope that more travel companions come my way as i'm sure they will. i also would love to share a room with someone as this would cut my expenses in half (many rooms are double occupancy) and add to my security.

i thought this whole traveling alone thing would be normalized once i got here. i thought i would find scores of people traveling alone. in fact the opposite is true. at my age, it feels as though everyone is coupling everywhere i go. in the year i left chicago, it seemed every independent soul had been paired by the time i was home. and that honestly never phased me as relationships tend to ground me and i want to make decisions based solely on myself right now. it took traveling to india to make a very small part of me crave the security of a pair. but at the same time, this is the most insane expression of my independence of my entire life. there was a shady bus transfer today that was eased completely by the presence of another person to watch bags as i squatted in the toilet or tried to interpret crazy hindu schedules and misinformation.

you know that if you jump on the wrong bus in a pair, you're in it with someone else. you don't have that luxury alone. and squatting over an indian bus station toilet with a 30 pound bag on your back is no picnic either. but i also know that if i had to that today alone, i could have. and it wouldn't have been as fun, and it certainly would not have felt like vacation, but i would have done it. because i would have to. and because i can. and that makes me feel pretty good right now. and feeling good amidst sexual harassment is not such a bad place to be.

i think it all comes down to one of the biggest surprises of this trip, for good and for bad. india has remained true to the past. this means i am immersed in a rich culture and completely other place where things exist entirely outside of a western persuasion. and that is exactly why i travel. i am disappointed when i fly 15 hours, get off the plane, and find people speaking english and sipping on starbucks. western influence exists, for sure, but on a much smaller scale that i would have imagined. so with the opportunity to experience something completely foreign and magical, i give up the comforts of the culture that is my own. india is stuck in the past. and i am not. and this is where the stories will stem.