I suppose there is some experiential time line for Western travellers as they move through their days in this country. The initial shock, the chaotic confusion, the permanent haze that continues to linger on this day the start of day 6. I am likened it now to stepping through the looking glass.
What you see at first is poverty, dirty streets, garbage and a standard of cleanliness that changes the meaning of that word. But if you start to look past that and look at how people live you start to see something different. And at the risk of romanticizing this all it's not all good believe me. And these are the lessons that travel teaches us.
I am a Westerner. I do know this but today I am more aware of being so and what that means. My first night in India I saw an interview with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates (who could sleep). Asked by an audience member what we can do to end poverty he replied: "You were given two gifts by God. You were born in the West and you were born with intellect. Use both of those."
Wrestling with my conscience, my guilt and my privilege is a minute by minute task. And while I can't change the state of the world I can offer grace and gratitude as I meet others in this country. I travel the world to learn about culture, place and history. The gift is that as I do this I learn about myself and who I am--the good, the bad, the ugly. Hey I'm not perfect but I can change.
So two days ago when we were at the banana auction I was given my first gift. The group of 15 of us were in the interior market. The market is organized chaos. It is loud, hot, sticky and smelly. Men are bee-lining for delivery destinations with burlap-tied bundle of cauliflower, bananas, and apples on their heads. We tasted the small, sweet finger bananas that Kerala is know for and frankly make my daily Cavendish look mealy. Taxi drivers hang these bananas from the passenger side of front seat and feed on them during long shifts. Efficient, eh?
The group was causing a stir. Most think we are European and then are surprised when we say "United States." I think they don't see a lot of our type. I was in the middle of the group and then well I turned to someone behind me and well they weren't there. In a second I was completely alone in this market. I knew this would happen sooner or later. On. my. own. in. India. with. no. way. to. blend. in. And then something happened. I told myself that you make of it what you create. I went to my Zen-base. Hold no judgment. People are people and at the heart want to be kind.
I started to nod and gently smile. One banana seller stretched out his hand and yelled "HELLO." I shook his hand. As I moved along another man had stepped out from his stall to take a look at the spectacle. He smiled asked me to take his picture and gave me a banana. I felt like I was on parade. I started taking others photos and decided to show them their image on the back of the camera. The laughed, called over others and pointed shyly at their images.
I was "lost" for 15 minutes. Nothing really. I'm as much the spectator as the spectacle.
No photos, this computer at the hotel is pieced together and USB ports aren't working. I nearly rolled down a tiered tea plantation yesterday. Religion is so predominant here. Wild jasmine is more heady than what we know in the states. Fresh wild black pepper is vibrant and dances on the tongue. I found my masala dabba. I have problems negotiating in this culture--I do it but don't go to the haggle stage. Really the pashmina was US$2.30. Today we tour a spice plantation--as they say here cardamom is queen and pepper is king.
It's August 14th here. HAPPY BIRTHDAY DADDY-O!