Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back in Bharat

Whatever you say about India, you're wrong. I've been wrong for the last eleventy posts, and will be just as wrong in this one. At least India has given me this one thing--consistency. Just as my first sojourn in India coerced me into developing an entirely new skill set--directing plays that nearly cause riots, walking straight into freeway-speed traffic, deciding that my left hand is an appropriate substitute for toilet paper--so did my second. Along with another former Rotary Ambassadorial scholar (Cate) and a few other American women, I returned to Hyderabad with POP Jewelry Collective. POP is a women's handicraft business Cate started in order to employ women in one of the worst Hyderabadi neighborhoods. The women make jewelry, we sell it in the US for inflated prices, and then the money goes back to that neighborhood in the form of school supplies, wages for the women, and scholarships. The goal is to educate ourselves while we help provide a platform for Indian women to become educated, empowered entrepreneurs. Business savvy has never exactly been high on my list of personal descriptors, but India isn't known for keeping one in the comfort zone. Continuing the theme of tackling projects for which I'm under-qualified, I also helped make a documentary about our trip, which you can watch here. I did a lot of the filming, some of the voice overs, and took the photos you see in the first segment.

Part One:
Part Deuce:

Multimedia aside, India was as India as it ever was, crashing into me and filling me with joy at the phrases necessary to describe my existence. My favorites:

  • As I stand at the side of the road, foreign coins lining my pockets, contemplating hurling myself into traffic once more, I am nearly run over by a wobble-lipped camel.

  • I charm my way into an air-conditioned restaurant by bobbling my head indiscriminately, to discover that the featured dish of the day is Taliban Soup.

  • In Mecca Masjid, a turbaned man comes up to us. I am concerned he is angry that we are not properly dressed (and not Muslim), but all he wants to do is assure us that Islam has more people of peace than it does of violence. "Bad Muslims are like the driver of a truck…it is not that truck's fault if the driver steers into a tree."

  • As I sit on the side of the road, a man dressed as Charlie Chaplin walks up and unblinkingly stares at me for five minute, straight, twiggling (it's a word now) his mustache the whole time. I swear, the bats in my belfry are going to form a tenant's union at this rate.

  • I love how trains let you into the lives of people as they slice through India. . .for a moment, I am an old woman carrying a sled-sized tray of dirt on my heed, chest-deep in water

  • In the slums, the smell of cilantro somehow cuts through the stink of fetid water, and to the right, a bus stop is filled with orange and yellow flowers.

  • My friend Bilal, who runs a hotel, comes and sits beside me after checking out a bunch of his countrymen. He sighs, puts his head in hands, and says "I don’t like Indians.”

  • In India, it seems everything is operating in its superlative version--everything is the best, the brightest, the strongest, the most dramatic...and the worst, the most grotesque, the lives so terrible they make god seem heedless and cruel.
And, as always, there were the things that make My India mine--Fragments and pavements and all-day night trains and the assurance that because Carolyn is Carolyn, and India is India, I will be back. To learn stories, to listen to the intersections of languages and consensual realities, to learn none of the things on my list, and all of the things that are not. (As long as I'm sending you to links, you can also check out the jewelry website, as well as another sustainable women's education business that came out of the trip, a tea-selling project to educate women in Darjeeling.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Forgotten Indias

The problem with life in the world’s largest democracy is precisely the same thing as its greatest strength: everyone has a voice. But when you have over a billion voices all talking at once, it’s distressingly inevitable that some voices are not heard—especially when those voices haven’t eaten for almost ten years.

Irom Sharmila, a journalist, poet, and civil rights activist, has been on a hunger strike for nearly a decade. The only reason she is alive today is because of feeding tubes that have been forcibly inserted into her nasal passages by her jailers: the Indian Police.

Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, is fasting for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law enforced in troubled areas of the country (Manipur in Northeast India, Jammu and Kashmir) which allows officers of the armed forces to:

  • "Fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law" against "assembly of five or more persons" or possession of deadly weapons.
  • To arrest without a warrant and with the use of "necessary" force anyone who has committed certain offenses or is suspected of having done so
  • To enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests.

According to Thongam Bipin, a Manipuri native and Ph.D scholar, the laws were put in place during times of severe unrest—unrest caused by the perceived forcible appropriation, structural neglect, and diversion of resources by the Indian government.

Sharmila, in accordance with the Ghandian traditions of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (holding on to the truth), has been in a David/Goliath standoff with the Indian government as a result of this Act. In November 2000, 10 civilians were killed under the auspices of this act. Accounts vary widely, but a huge number of Manipuri citizens, including Irom Sharmila, view this and numerous other killings as examples of official abuse of power gone unconscionably wrong. Sharmila started a hunger strike a few days later, and was almost immediately arrested for attempted suicide, a crime under the Indian Penal code.

She is released once a year, as per the letter of the law, and then immediately re-imprisoned due to her refusal to end her hunger strike. Many Manipuris believe the only reason the government bothers to keep her alive is because they don’t want a martyr on their hands.

This has been going on for Ten. Years. 10.

And, for the most part, it has gone largely unnoticed by the world outside. Indeed, even the world inside. Many Northeastern Indians are accused of being anti-Indian or seditious or worse when they raise objections to the AFPCA or other examples of how the Northeast region has been alternately marginalized or exploited since they became part of India.

When Ghandi-ji went on fasts, the world listened. But with all due respect to Ghandi-ji, he was an upper-caste, classically educated male. Just because he didn’t necessarily subscribe to that superiority complex doesn’t mean it didn’t work to his advantage. Irom Sharmila, a woman from a state most people outside of India haven’t even heard of, does not have that same luxury.

And so, like the Roma in Europe, the Maya in Mexico, and the Native Americans in the US, Northeastern Indians are only heard when they add color or diversity to nationalistic self-promotion. But when they try to get their voices heard regarding the more unsavory aspects of nationhood, they get thrown in jail, a tube shoved down their noses…and are drowned out by a billion voices.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


In Hindi, there is only one word for yesterday and tomorrow--kal. The context lets you know which one is meant, but only today is truly different. As I left India, feeling as if I were dry-heaving through my skin, this idea kept coming back to me.

And so I must look at the past year. What does that kal hold for me?

The mingled smell of incense and baked piss as I walk around the city. Seeing women go bowling in saris. Sunrise over the Himalaya. Writing on a riverbank in Laos. My French friend Sam inexplicably changing his pants in the middle of a restaurant. Train station goodbyes. Directing plays. The kids at the orphanage. Dancing anywhere and everywhere. Praying over a dying baby. Seeing a woman whirl singing around a temple in a religious trance. Hinglish. Eating holy fruit. Rooftop conversations. The stares. The head-bobble. Tandoori smiles. A lime-green dump truck full of men in white-collared shirts. An 8-year-old monk struggling to free his hand from his robes so he could return my wave like the little boy he really was. Listening to some of my students pray at a stupa while the spire and the scent of Lotus flowers pointed at the rainbow-halved moon. Getting my sandals stolen when I left them outside a Buddhist temple. Night paddles in Kashmir. Women’s face veils falling away when they return my smile. Falling asleep in public places.

These things I will carry with me. But where will I carry them to?

Part of that answer is wrapped up in the fortunes of women. India was deeply feminine for me. Women were the first to genuinely welcome me to India, the ones to walk with me and teach me, to protect me from danger and lead me towards wonder. To be in India is to be firmly reminded of your gender at every turn. Where you can go. What you can wear. Who you can touch. What you can do. Of course India is evolving, and gender roles are evolving with it. I had dear male friends there who helped make my experience wonderful and rich. But that doesn't change the fact that my experience has been thoroughly defined by the general cultural perception that, as a white woman, I am both rich and easy.

In response to that, one of my last projects was to direct the Vagina Monologues in order to raise money to help victims of human trafficking. The main reason I did this was because of one piece: My Short Skirt.

It is not an invitation
a provocation
an indication
that I want it
or give it
or that I hook.

My short skirt
is not begging for it
it does not want you
to rip it off me
or pull it down.

My short skirt
is not a legal reason
for raping me
although it has been before
it will not hold up
in the new court.

My short skirt, believe it or not
has nothing to do with you.

My short skirt
is about discovering
the power of my lower calves
about cool autumn air traveling
up my inner thighs
about allowing everything I see
or pass or feel to live inside.

My short skirt is not proof
that I am stupid
or undecided
or a malleable little girl.

My short skirt is my defiance
I will not let you make me afraid
My short skirt is not showing off
this is who I am
before you made me cover it
or tone it down.
Get used to it.

My short skirt is happiness
I can feel myself on the ground.
I am here. I am hot.

My short skirt is a liberation
flag in the women's army
I declare these streets, any streets
my vagina's country.

My short skirt
is turquoise water
with swimming colored fish
a summer festival
in the starry dark
a bird calling
a train arriving in a foreign town
my short skirt is a wild spin
a full breath
a tango dip
my short skirt is

But mainly my short skirt
and everything under it
is Mine.
--Eve Ensler

Clothing is so fraught in India, especially women's clothing. The group of women that came together to do the play--Indians, Germans, Americans, Sri Lankans, Mexicans--all responded powerfully to these ideas. As a group, we made a LOT of people uncomfortable. As a group, we helped each other realize our womanhood in India more fully. But the biggest thing that this project taught me wasn't to appreciate what I had as an American--it was to realize what I didn't have. In a land where a woman's place is somewhat fragile, there are powerful bonds of sisterhood, support, and solidarity. Those things of course exist in the West, but they often exist alongside of acrimony, envy, and tearing other women down.

My Indian woman pulled me through the days when I didn't love India. They cheered me up when I was overwhelmed with the dust, garbage, objectification, dying puppies, hopeless mothers and starving children. They are the main reasons I am leaving India still Carolyn and not a shivering wreck of a Hindified Post-Capitalist Hare Krishna Hippie with a masala fetish.

So aside from learning how to wear a sari and eat when I'm bursting and begging a bus driver in Hindi to stop swerving over mountains unless he wants me to upchuck all over his bus....

India has taught me how to be more of a woman, with all of the joy, sisterhood, baggage, and potential that goes with it. And so as kal turns to kal, I can only hope that my tomorrow will let me pay back the lessons of my Indian yesterdays.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


*Lists I Made in English Instead of the One I Was Supposed to Make in Hindi

Things People Walk Up to Me and Say Out of the Blue

  1. You are from which country?
  2. Hello goodbye chocolate?
  3. London!
  4. You look like Shakira! (I don’t, not even remotely)
  5. Madam please come?
  6. Why you are not married?
  7. Backstreet Boys?
  8. “He is eating fish” (Local man, when asked where the nearest town was.)
  9. You have sex!
  10. Visa?
  11. Are all American women addicted to alcohol?

Ways I am Becoming a Local

  1. I stare at white people.
  2. I am prone to outlandish metaphors, like a field of drooping sunflowers reminding me of the written script of the Telugu language
  3. I can spend large amounts of time squatting.
  4. My day is a romp through contrasts. Sometimes I think I have nothing to do with my feelings or reactions and am simply being pelted with emotional holi (the colored powder Hindus throw at you on festivals or Tuesdays) by the subcontinental equivalent of leprechauns.
  5. I have the uncontrollable urge to welcome people to my home and overfeed them…even when I’m not home.
  6. I can’t get through a day without at least 3 cups of chai
  7. I bobble my head like a mad thing when I’m agreeing…or smiling…or listening…or breathing.
  8. I eat the street food and drink the water and somehow manage not to erupt with intestinal parasites…except for that one time.
  9. I have started to misspell English words, such as "automobile" and "Carolyn."

Things That Have Recently Made Me Cry

  1. China—really must stop reading about resistance movements.
  2. Going to visit a local temple and being dragged outside by a mother who wanted me to pray over her dying baby. She looked at me with such hope, expecting me to be able to stop what would inevitably happen. I will never recover from this…and neither will her baby.
  3. People lying face down in the bakedpissstreetdust, with spines like question marks—questions that will never be answered.

Indian Smells

  1. Coffee that smells like burnt popcorn.
  2. Trains that inexplicably smell like Christmas trees…right before they smell like urine.
  3. Urine.
  4. Food in all manner and magic of olfactory goodness.
  5. Burning garbage, which is actually not as bad as it sounds.
  6. Garbage, which is as bad as it sounds.
  7. Incense in thematically inconsistent places, including computer labs, temples, department stores, kitchens, and security outposts.
  8. Jungle, which smells like green.

Indian Sounds

  1. Car/bike/cycle/rickshaw/lorry/moped horns. Passing lanes, turn signals, right of way, and one-way signs are pretty much non-existent, all replaced by the use of horn. HONK I’m coming up behind you HONK I’m on your left HONK I almost killed you but you wisely jumped behind a sacred cow and were therefore spared HONK that was really just for fun. Honestly, it kind of makes more sense than the American system—why count on others paying attention when you can just warn them?
  2. The sound of Muslim prayers cutting through evening fog and Friday boulders as you overlook the city.
  3. The rhythmic sounds of vendors (wallahs) as they walk through the trains, sell-singing tea, snacks, and meals, all in resounding, repeating, melodic monotones weaving in and out of the train wheels clacking down the line. There is a great hip-hop back beat in there somewhere.
  4. Dog fights, early in the morning. Right outside my window.

Things I Hate About India

  1. A certain kind of staring. Most people who stare just do it because I stand out like a Carolyn in India. White people are rare here, and a white woman alone is an oddity. Plus, staring is not really considered rude in India. Add that to the national obsession with fair skin, and I would make millions if I started charging money to gawk at me. But for most people, it is simple curiosity and that is totally fair…and even endearing in an odd way. But I am genuinely concerned for some people (oh, I don't know, almost ALL MEN ages 14-87) that their eyes will fall out of their heads, expelled by the dirtydirtydirty thoughts that are crowding their brains. I am not a whore, Mr. Motorcycle Driver, get your eyes back on the road. You just hit a goat.
  2. Soul-killing poverty. Poverty is everywhere in the world. This is obviously not news. But the sheer breadth and depth of it here makes my soul bleed out my eyes. Scads of old women wandering around in traffic, putting their hands into rickshaws and open car window. Children stumbling around holding dried-up babies, putting their hands to their mouths in a plea, probably at the behest of the disreputable man watching from across the way. People sleeping on sidewalks, holy monuments, roadblocks, under trucks, and in the middle of a divided highway. Like everything I love here, this too is a part of India. And this too I will always carry with me.
  3. Deeply institutionalized unfairness. Again, not a new concept. Again…the widespread social acceptability of what seems to be hate and superiority complexes gone unconscionably wrong just kills me. Racism, sexism, prejudice…in certain areas and people, beliefs I cannot help but find deeply abhorrent are entrenched to an extent that people would have an easier time changing into fish than changing their minds. This is definitely not everyone…but it is also not rare.
  4. Men peeing on the side of…everything. As a backcountry girl, this particular practice has never bothered me (indeed, it has afforded opportunities for some one-sidedly hilarious practical jokes). But here, I take issue. They can whip out their dangle in public and I'm considered a whore if I show my SHOULDER?
  5. Bureaucracy. Really? You need a copy of my passport, visa, certificate of residence, dorm room number, 5 photos exactly passport-sized that show my ears, a form filled out and signed in triplicate…sent in on three separate occasions JUST SO I CAN MAKE A DAMN PHONE CALL? Really?

Things I Love About India

  1. The food. Oh Gods. The food. Dosa, idli, paneer, masala, chai, ladoo…oh Gods. The original version of this list consisted of roughly 57 different types of food and a vague mention of pretty colors.
  2. Running around barefoot is socially acceptable.
  3. The willingness of men to wear hot pink.
  4. Driving motorcycles.
  5. Eating rice (and everything else) with my fingers. Finally, I get to play with my food.
  6. Mango juice. I would marry it if had a better sense of humor.
  7. When the children at the orphanage call me "didi."
  8. The children at the orphanage
  9. Pretty much all children.
  10. Things lost in translation. At a recent Rotary Club meeting, the president exhorted us to help out with "Breast Awareness Month." I wasn't aware breasts needed a publicity campaign.
  11. Families of six on one motorcycle, complete with at least one baby melted into its mother, who is riding sidesaddle in a sari.
  12. Colors crashing into my eyeballs the minute I wake up. Attending university here is like going to school with confetti. People wear lime green with fuchsia, cheddar orange with cornflower blue, checkered pants with wallpaper-pattern shirts and striped scarves…and flowers with everything. Movie posters have actual gold garlands strung across the jewelry of stars, there are beautiful pictures chalked on the sidewalks of most Hindu homes, and temples look like someone painted them with the 34 colors in a leftover box of Easter egg dye. Even piles of worms dress themselves in raisin colors.
  13. Sliced ice cream.
  14. Playing guitar on the roof.
  15. Men holding hands everywhere.
  16. Three men on a motorcycle, with the last holding hands with another man on a bicycle as they towed him down the road at 40 miles an hour. Sometimes, I even see motorcycles in rickshaws or goats on motorcycles.
  17. Trains.
  18. The fact that everywhere I go, I wish my eyeballs were cameras. India is relentlessly photogenic, and every time I walk out my door, I think to myself that National Geographic magazine was invented for a country like this.
  19. The fact toothpicks here have fancily carved heads.
  20. The rate at which adventure happens.

Things I Don't Miss About the US

  1. Reality TV.
  2. The lack of international news.
  3. Stupid disclaimers on everything so that people won't get sued. Indians just assume that if you don't know not to bite the tires of a moving motorcycle, you deserve to die.
  4. The staggering lack of public transportation.
  5. Men who are afraid to dance (seriously…it's getting them to NOT dance here that's the issue).
  6. Signs about abortion, either for or against.
  7. Cleaning my own bathroom.
  8. Prosaic headlines. In the US, the headlines read like this: "US Senator Has Affair with Staffer.” In India: “Congress Member Killed by Monkeys."

Things I Do Miss

  1. Anonymity.
  2. Car shocks.
  3. Bagels and cream cheese.
  4. Street signs.
  5. Hip hop.
  6. Seeing knees.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Smurf Mafia

I think I’ve been kidnapped by drug-dealing Punjabis.

At the time, it seemed like a really good idea: Friend and I would pay a taxi to drive us up to Srinagar, Kashmir, normally an 8-hour drive, and then we’d stay with a quintessentially Indian connection—friendofafriendofafriendofafriendofafriend. No worries, right?

Then comes the water buffalo stampede. S. PLURAL. The first time was funny…before it was an hour long. Then Driver-ji decides to pull off the road umpti-bagillion times to have conversations in bushes with mysterious turbaned men (god forgive me, a lot of them looked like smurfs…large, hairy smurfs.) At first I think maybe he is getting his homosexual on, until Friend sagely points out that the unmarked car following us up the mountain seems to contain drug-shaped packages. Awesome. Driver-ji is an opium dealer and likes to take hits and weave all over the road, singing in Punjabi and declaring his undying love for me while insisting I sing American folk songs. Inexplicably, all I can remember is “When Doves Cry” by Prince. I don’t even like that song.

At hour 11, our open car door is hit by the Indian version of a semi, and we sit shivering in the Himalayan air while Driver-ji and the other driver get into a yelling match in the middle of the road while the other men vigorously concentrate on staring so hard at me and Friend that I’m seriously concerned they’re going to start pelting us with eyeballs. Then we get stopped by the military. Twice. Turns out militaries like to use machine guns to vaguely gesture at you while they keep saying the Hindi word for paper: kagaz, kagaz! Great, they’re going to take our passports, kill and rape and rob us in some variation of that order and then sell our papers on the black market. OH. MY. GODS.

Oh. They just want a piece of paper to write down Driver-ji’s info in case they decide his bribe isn’t big enough. And now friendofafriendofafriendofafriendofafriend is calling Driver-ji every 13 seconds to make sure we’re still alive and has been waiting in the Himalayan Lakeside Cold for seven hours to make sure he can paddle us out to his houseboat the second we get there. I don’t even think I’d wait in the freezing cold like that for my own children, let alone a stranger 13 times removed. Even amidst fear and ridiculousness, nobody does hospitality like India.

Kashmir itself was lovely, aside from the machine-gun toting military. Even though I'm American, the sight of so many guns very distinctly creeped me out. (Kashmir has long been disputed between India and Pakistan, a conflict which often become militarized, so it's understandable.) There is something very vital about a culture that fiercely holds on to its identity under such surveillance. And if I’m being frank, that fierceness is not always a comfortable thing to be near.

We lived on a houseboat in Dal Lake, which was full of houseboats and loveliness and nestled in mountainsmountainsmountains. You had to take boats everywhere, including through the lovely Old City, which made me think of an ancient Muslim Venice. Instead of street vendors, they had lake vendors, canoes going around and selling everything from flowers to soda to toothbrushes to dress material. We rode ponies up to a glacier and impressed all the warm-weather persons with our flip-flop-wearing ways. At night, I got paddled back to my houseboat by my pal Feroz, and as we wove in and out of gardens and houseboats, slipping through star-scattered lake, we talked of religion and water and I remembered for the thousandth time how much others are not others at all.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pop Quiz #3

Choose the true statement:

a) On a recent train trip, I think I became engaged to a young man named Naveen. My Hindi’s not that great, but he kept giving me jewelry and talking about next weekend.

b) One of the things I love about my current corner of this round earth is that the religions work sensuality into them—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism…there is always something extra for the senses, be it incense, sacred fruit offerings that you get to eat, colored powder to throw at everyone and everything... It makes me think that the religions that focus on the soul to the exclusion of the body might have missed something.

c) I fell asleep on a bus to a village I’ve forgotten how to pronounce, and was awoken by a man poking my arm all over. At first I was ready to start throwing punches until I realized he was counting my freckles.

d) All of the above

Before I came, everyone was always telling me that to live in India would be a great adventure. And, lordy, it has been. You all have read so many of my stories, seen my pictures, and occasionally received a phone call from tomorrow (I love time zones!). I've seen gorgeous things, broken my heart over the not-so-gorgeous, come up with observations that sound profound but quite possibly mean jack (when looking over the tallest waterfall in India, I said to myself "Water always changes color when it falls long distances." Seemed profound at the time) and eaten the longest-running string of fantastic food in my whole life.

One of the funniest things about India, though, is the running conversation I've been having with her people about what it means to be Indian. No other place I've ever been has had a citizenry so caught up with their various concepts of the character (or even existence) of a national identity...or so willing to talk about it. Maybe it's because I've never been to a country with so many living people who remember its beginning. To relay those conversations would, frankly, take too long and quite possibly be boring for you. So I'll limit it to I've been here longer, many conversations have included various claims on how Indian I am. If I'm late, I'm Indian. If I do something good for other people, I'm Indian. If I unconsciously use certain phrases, I'm Indian. But if I want to buy something, I'm definitely a foreigner and will be expected to pay 2-3 times normal price.

It used to not bother me so much. I'd either haggle down or realize it was only 30 cents to me and frankly I can afford that...but the longer I live here, the less patience I have with the various doubletriplequadruple standards, especially the ones that do not apply to me--I get away with a lot as a white woman, and I shouldn't. Part of that is just the old childhood instinct--"that's not fair." But I actually think more of it is that as I live here longer, I feel more and more a part of this country, and it's frankly hurtful when I can't convey that. Even writing this post, I had difficulty thinking of observations to share because I can't quite remember what I'm supposed to think of as "normal" or "different." It's not just that I know some Hindi words now or that I dress in semi-Indian clothes. It's that the very texture of my skin has changed, the taste on my lips when I lick them in the heat, the fact that I can't get hungry before 8 p.m., that nodding my head now includes several previously unknown variations on that simple gesture, that simple American things like Cub Foods have to be explained to me before I remember what it's like to be in my own country.

My own country. That phrase has gotten a lot more complicated.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pop Quiz #2

Choose the correct conversation snippet:

a) "Mirrors? I can't stand 'em! And besides...other people have headlights." Friend with a motorcycle who had ripped off the mirrors on it. Not sure what he'll say when he gets run over by a water buffalo. Will keep you posted.

b) "Now is the time to SWASHBUCKLE"--in my notebook in class. Not sure who wrote it because my brain had shut down due to terminal boringness

c) "No matter what you do, I will not be happy." Professor Chandran in giving us our term paper assignment. An inspiration to all future teachers, I can assure you.

d) All of the above

India is full of "what the..." moments. My most recent was when I was walking back from the Children's Home I work at when a strange man hauled off and hit me on the arm with a bag of vegetables. What? Or it's more difficult to get the paperwork to leave the country than it is to get into it. Huh? Or climbing a lovely mountain only to find a vendor selling the chance to shoot BBs at soda bottles once the view got old. Say what?

Some of them aren't always funny, though. For instance, the most common "what the" feeling I have is about children. Indian children seem to be nailed to opposite ends of the childhood spectrum. They're either insanely pampered and can therefore look forward to a future as a totally obnoxious human being...or they spend every moment from the time they can walk desperately struggling not to starve to death. Dirty children forced to beg on the streets become dirty young people carrying their younger siblings around to beg once they're no longer "cute,” then are married off to some stranger in order to repeat the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. It is so DAMN HARD. It seems there are so few kids who have what I in all my arrogance would term a solid normal know, where you're loved and fed but not given so much attention as to ruin you. And after spending so much time trying to plug up the cracks in the systems so kids can change their future in's even more galling to see that the systems here don't have cracks...because many of those systems just don't exist or are so confusing that they're nearly impossible to navigate. When your country holds a 6th of the world’s population, over a billion seems to be nearly impossible to look after any of them..not enough money, even though to be rich in India is to live in a luxury I've never seen anywhere else.

All the foreigners in India are always rejoicing in how cheap life is here. You can get great things, great luxury services, for incredibly small amounts of money. But life is cheap in more ways than one. Life is cheap because so few seem to value it in other people. Even people I volunteer with, ostensibly kind and honorable citizens, will holler at the busboy or the driver for no apparent reason, as if the nature of their job determines the worth of their life. I was in an auto rickshaw coming home to the university, and we almost hit an old woman. She jumped out of the way...right into the path of a motorcycle which hit her with the worst sound I've ever heard. The basket of grain she was carrying (this was not a rich woman wandering around in the middle of the night I can assure you) scattered all over the road, mixing with the headlight of the motorcycle as it lay on top of her, still running.

And the auto rickshaw driver Wouldn't. Even. Stop. He wouldn't stop. I was screaming at him in my angriest Hindi, then switched to English because I didn't know how else to express my horror anymore. And he wouldn't stop. Later, my friends explained to me it was probably because of what would follow a scene like that---the driver of the motorcycle would probably get beaten up, even though it wasn't really his fault, and there would likely be a riot. I never found out, because the death of a poor working woman in the middle of the city was not enough to make the news.