Category Archives: friends

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not the  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.

Gujarat Haveli…………..

Most people who live in a foreign country want to take something special from that country back home with them to remind them of their experiences. Furniture seems a good choice because it’s also practical – of course I am also a big advocate of the impractical bejeweled souvenir as well. But I digress. Lots of our friends in Delhi have told me about the Gujarat Haveli and we finally made it out there. Holy home furnishings batman! Just on the FYI side of things Gujarat is a region in India and Haveli loosely means (very) lovely place to live and trade.

This place was amazing. It reminded me of antique stores (barns) in the U.S. but with way cooler stuff! I have absolutely nowhere to put something like this horse- but I love, love, love him. He loves me too – I just know it.

This table has brass elephants on the side.

Beautiful pots.

More beautiful pots. The one on the left is made of iron with leather braiding. The one on the right is wooden with brass trimming.

These are dowry chests. The brides family would fill these up with prezzies and they would be rolled with the wedding procession to the groom’s house. My youngest daughter had a hard time understanding all of it until I told her not to worry. She will surely marry someone who will be giving her gifts and if he needs a chest this big to fit them all in – so be it. 😉

He might just have to come home with me one day.

Either him or one of his cousins.

Most of these are the bottoms of Hookah pipes. The ones on either end reminded me of spittoons from the wild west days but the shop keeper told me they were for water. He said that at night you fill it with water then in the morning you drink it. You leave it over night so you get the benefit of the all the minerals in the metals. Not exactly the same, same as a spittoon.

Tres cool statues.

I would not sleep at night if this guy lived in my house.

Oh, the fabulous finds just went on and on.

This chair is for the boy, the girl, and the chaperon. But it would also be great for a game of duck duck goose.

This is a coffee table made out of an old door. Magnificent!

An old swing that doesn’t have to involve a chaperon. Must be for a married couple.

There were a lot of painted things. They aren’t my fave just because I am too practical and I cannot imagine trying to fit these into a room with other things.

And you know how I love my bells! Ding ding!

We left without buying anything – because there is also Sharma Farms that I have heard we should see – but clearly we have lots to discuss. I’ll let you know how it goes. Yes, you should start feeling sorry for number one hubby right about n.o.w.

P.S. I have gotten a few emails asking for the address (I had a super hard time finding it too) so for those of you who are local – here it is….
Gujarat Haveli
Mobile 98100 66925 (you need an appointment)
43 KM Stone Delhi
Jaipur Expressway, N.H.-8
Gurgaon, Haryana
email: kutch@ndf.vsnl.net.in
(I will leave it to them to give you directions – I might get you lost. 😉 )

True love…….

How do you know your dear friend from across oceans really, really loves you? She sends you this…………

If you don’t understand why this would be so special, please read this.

It’s funny how a little smell or taste of home can whisk you across oceans. We totally get it that part of this adventure is quickly learning you can do without the familiar – in fact, it is being without your creature comforts to fall back on that will help you enjoy the unfamiliar – but a little downy or even a single peanut butter m&m or a bowl of Lucky Charms goes a long way on the tougher days.

And nothing says love like Downy in the mailbox. 😉 So, thank you to those of you who have sent us some of our favorites! You really have no idea how much it has meant to us!

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye…….

My dear friend from college put out a request on Facebook to see who might be interested in taking her daughter’s Flat Elizabeth on an adventure.

If you have never been entrusted with a Flat Stanley and do not have any idea what I am talking about, you should really consider what kind of friend you have been. For those of us who are trustworthy and creative and just spectacular in general, sometimes our friends will send us a Flat Stanley (or other cutout doll named after their child).  There is a children’s book about a boy named Stanley who gets smushed by a blackboard and accidentally sealed in an envelope and he ends up on a grand adventure. And some teachers think it is a great idea for kids in their class to create their own cutout doll and send him/her on his/her own grand adventure.

It is a really fun way for the kids to learn about the world.

Being so competitive willing to help another mother out, I raised my hand immediately. And, no I did not knock three other mothers down in the process – remember it was a virtual competition – I behaved myself quite nicely. After all, I am a civilized competitor – but I might have shouted “me, me, me” into the web-o-sphere once or twice. Maybe. And maybe not. But maybe.

In fact, lots of people offered (to no avail) to play tour guide to Flat Elizabeth. My friend is a delightful person and so it makes sense that a lot of friends would offer to help her. And I am not at all suggesting that they are losers in the Flat Elizabeth campaign – but you can see where she ended up. 😉

On a slow train to Ranthambore – the tiger preserve in India. Oh, yes, in case you have forgotten, India is where “I” live. Flat Elizabeth came to visit me! Yahoo! Not the other losers friends who offered to help out. I’m just sayin – I won, I won. tee hee.

She was a delightful travel companion. She didn’t each much and never had to stop for potty breaks. She didn’t even fight with her siblings – of course, that might have something to do with the fact that she does not have any siblings – but she did not fight once. And, yes, she is absolutely adorable. My friend friend’s daughter  is no slacker. She would never send a ragtag Flat Elizabeth to visit.

So Elizabeth went on a tiger safari and saw real tigers.

She went to an Indian classroom and found her initial on the board.

She saw forts and monkeys and learned a lot about the emperors of India.

She also rode a camel and an elephant.

She played in a band.

The only snafu that we hit was that security was tight at the Taj Mahal and they would not let dolls in. Yes, I know you would think the real threat would be guns, knives, or other expl*sives. But apparently, dolls are also on the no-go list. I tried as hard as I could to get them to change their minds. I explained it was for a school project – that Flat Elizabeth is really not a terr*rist and meant no harm to the Indian people. But it seems to have more to do with advertising – they do not want people taking pictures of the Taj with dolls and using them for advertisements. And, yes, I did my best to explain that in the west, we do not consider a piece of paper a doll. No offense intended to Flat Elizabeth – as I mentioned, she is the bestest Flat Elizabeth e.v.e.r –  but she hasn’t actually been offered a modeling career and her intentions were purely academic.

But we did not let that stop us. We found a picture of the Taj and took her picture in front of it and checked the Taj Mahal off our list.

She also had her picture taken with a member of the royal family.

Okay, now you are just being picky. He was a member of the royal family and he is sadly no longer with us – but once we stretched our imagination with the Taj Mahal, anything went. So, yes, that is a picture of her with a king. Truth be told, I think he was actually flirting with her. Don’t laugh – they have a lot in common you know – being made of paper is just one of the fine qualities they shared. Although I think she is from better stock than he is – or was.

She even wore a makeshift sari.

She also got all the diet coke she wanted. Shhhhh. Don’t tell my friend that part. But we loaded her up on caffeine.

Flat Elizabeth also got to stay in a palace. And enjoyed every second of the royal treatment.

And her bath at the end of the day was nothing short of divine.

Somewhere along the line, poor Flat Elizabeth lost an eye. I have sworn myself to secrecy on this one – mostly because I have no idea how it happened. But my dear friend understands that traveling in India can be dangerous. She has assured me that she knows of a very reputable eye surgeon in the U.S. who will keep it all on the down low.

Unfortunately I did not take a picture of her with only one eye because I did not want any evidence of the mishap should I be asked to testify later simply forgot. But I assure you, she was the cutest dang one-eyed “doll” e.v.e.r.

All the votes are in and it is o.f.f.i.c.i.a.l. – I am the best Flat Elizabeth hostess ever. Me, Me, Me.

My friend was so grateful that she sent this note…

Dear Queen of all things Flat Elizabeth,

Thank you so much for opening your heart and home to Flat Elizabeth. Your adventures with her far exceeded our highest expectations. You are just amazing. Our project will be so much better than anyone else’s. You are a rock star. It is as simple as that. We are hereby nominating you to the highest order of Flat Elizabethness and crown you supreme hostess and tour guide. It is with humble hearts and grateful friendship that we thank you for all that you have done for us. Even Mother Teresa herself could not have done such justice to this project.

Okay – what it really said was …

Dear A Reason 2 Write

Flat Elizabeth had a great time. Thanks.

Oh sure, the real version was more toned down than what I imagined it might be. But I know in my heart the Academy will be calling soon. Don’t doubt me. 😉

Guess who’s coming to dinner…………..

Sometimes it is so hard to put words to this Indian adventure. Yesterday was one of those days.

Flower’s birthday was last week and so, of course, she got chicken pox. We had to postpone the party and she was so sad because she had a really fun time planned for her friends. I joked that we had a whole week to make it better and make it unforgettable. Well, unforgettable it was. We hired a camel and an elephant and a guy to fill up 1,300 water balloons. Unforgettable indeed.

Just in case you are wondering – 1,300 water balloons last for about 2 and a half minutes in a full-on water balloon fight. But those knuckleheads didn’t miss a beat – they started a mud fight when the water balloons ran out. Yes, there are some parents who probably aren’t exactly happy, happy with me.


What made me smile the most was seeing our guard and our driver on the camel. Let’s just hope they don’t ask for hazardous duty pay.

Just another chapter in this crazy, crazy adventure.

The Golden Temple Continued…………..

I don’t think I am overstating it when I say that Ann, Julia, and I were in awe of the Golden Temple. It is a peaceful place with such a spirit of community about it. None of us really knew too much about the Sikh faith and we walked away absolutely in love with its ideals.

The fact that they have such a commitment to reach out to those in need is amazing. Our guide told us that, beyond each gurudwara having a kitchen to feed those who are hungry,  the Golden Temple also sponsors between 200 and 300 young women each year for their weddings. They select girls who cannot afford dowries and the temple sponsors them. (And, yes, it would be great to get rid of the whole dowry system but it is a reality and every year hundreds of girls can get married who might not have without the temple’s help.)

Another lovely aspect of Sikhism is that they do not believe in the caste system – every one is equal. Someone told me once that every Sikh has Singh in their name and that Singh means lion. I was also told it means brother, signifying that they are all connected to each other. This concept was in practice at the Golden Temple. So many people come to volunteer their time and they all seemed pretty happy about it. (By the by, supposedly the women all have Kaur in their name which means princess. I could totally get used to that. Just call me Princess A Reason To Write.)

The Sikhs have some lovely cornerstone ideas for their faith. According to Wikipedia, there are 10 beliefs in Sikhism. They are:

1. Believe in one God.
2. Treat everyone equally.
3. Live by the 3 main tenets –
Practice constant meditation and prayer.
Make an honest income and do it honorably.
Share earnings and selflessly serve others.
4. Avoid the 5 sins of ego
Pride, Lust, Greed, Anger, and Attachment
5. Get baptized.
6. Keep the code of honor by abiding the gurus teachings.
7. Wear the 5 symbols of faith:
uncut hair, wooden comb, dagger, proper undergarments, silver bracelet.
8. Follow the 4 commandments:
Do not dishonor the creator’s intention by cutting the hair.
Do not harm the body with tobacco or other intoxicants.
Do not eat sacrificial meat.
Do not commit adultery.
9. Recite prayers daily
10. Take part in fellowship
Worship together and sing God’s praise.
Cook and eat together.
Serve each other.

Sometimes things just don’t make sense until you hear and see them first hand. I never really understood the whole growing the hair thing, honestly. But now I totally get it. If God meant for hair to grow – let it grow. It seems very symbolic of really turning things over to God. I am not going to stop shaving my legs but I totally get it!

And this is it – the Golden Temple. It is beautiful.  The founder of Sikhism was Guru Nanak whose father wanted to raise him according to strict Hindu beliefs.  However, Guru Nanak rejected the idea of the caste system and preached that all humans were equal. He believed that life was given as an opportunity to get closer to God and that all humans were afforded that same opportunity.

Sikhism is said the be the youngest of the world’s religions. It is only 500 years old. But the Sikhs have reportedly already grown into the world’s fifth largest religious group. The word Sikh means disciple. Guru comes from two words – Gu meaning darkness and Ru meaning light. So a guru helps fellow believers turn darkness into light. It is estimated that there are about 26 million Sikhs in the world.

Guru Nanak was the first Guru and 9 others followed behind him. The last human Guru was Gobind Singh and he named the holy scriptures as the 11th and final guru – the Adi Granth which then became known as the Guru Granth Sahib. There are over 50 places throughout the temple where passages from the holy book are continuously being read. We were told that priests can wait up to 20 years to have their turn at reading scripture at this Temple. We were also told that women can be priests and are able to take part in the readings. Equality reigns.

The temple is an active place of worship and people of all faiths are welcome there. We saw Muslims, Hindus, and even Christians in reverent prayer throughout the temple. We even bowed our own heads in silent meditation when we sat a top the Golden Temple and listened to the prayers. The atmosphere was remarkably reflective and we felt so much a part of the worship ceremony. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of any part inside the actual Golden Temple but it probably really is better if you just imagine a light breeze blowing thru a picture perfect sky, us on our knees with eyes closed with hands in our laps, our hearts beating slowly, prayers humming in the air, and everyone quiet together except for the very young child playing with the donations box. Normal Rockwell would have painted it for sure.

At first I felt a little uncomfortable taking the spot of someone who practiced Sikhism on the floor in front of the priest reading the scripture. But our guide reassured us over and over that people of all beliefs are welcome at the temple not only as visitors but as active participants. And I must say I felt very comfortable there.

I also noticed that many of the worshipers would touch the base of the doorway as they entered the Golden Temple complex and any of the smaller areas inside. So I did that too. I am not sure what it represents but it seemed very respectful and reverent. And people also fell to their knees when they entered the temple. You could tell some of them just could not believe they were actually finally there.

The day was truly magical. Our hearts opened to a faith we were not familiar with and stereotypes of brutes came crashing down. Beneath the warrior persona lives men who are compassionate about humanity and dedicated to their faith.

And, if you go to the Golden Temple during the day, make sure you go back at night. You will not regret it.

Over 100,000 served daily……………

Wouldn’t that be fun if that was the number of people who read my blog everyday? Alas, it is not.  In fact, a year and a half into this great blog adventure, I am barely approaching 100k visitors. One hundred thousand is the number of people that are served free food every single day at the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. I did not realize until this trip that every single Sikh Temple (Gurudwara) has a kitchen to feed anyone who comes there to eat. No one who is hungry is turned away. That is amazing. I only have to feed five people and sometimes I struggle with that – and I have a cook. Yikes.

I had heard so much about the magnificence of the Golden Temple – the highest of all Sikh Temples – and was thrilled Ann and Julia were up for the trip. They survived the overnight train and we all really enjoyed Amritsar.

Everyone who enters the Golden Temple must cover their head (yep, the men too), remove their shoes, and wash their feet. Because the water was in a marble basin area, I thought it was going to be freezing – but it was delightfully warm.

These guards stand watch and I believe they know the history of the Golden Temple and are also meant to help anyone with questions.

The name Amritsar means “nectar of mortality” and the man-made lake around the Golden Temple is thought to be filled with immortal nectar. While we were visiting the temple, we saw many men bathing in the water, drinking the water, and/or placing droplets of water on their heads. The women have their own section that is in a building to ensure their privacy and so that crazy bloggers won’t take their picture and post them on the internet for all the world to see.

You might notice that these men have daggers in their turbans. Many Sikh men carry with them 5 things that symbolize their allegiance to the Sikh faith. These things are known as the 5 Ks and they are:

Kesh is uncut hair on the head and body, symbolizing acceptance of God’s will. Apparently more contemporary Sikh’s do not necessarily follow this rule.
Kachh is a white cotton undergarment. It is practical in battle, and therefore symbolizes moral strength and chastity.
Kara is a steel bracelet symbolizing responsibility and allegiance to God. It is also my understanding that the bracelet can protect the owner’s wrist in battle and is a constant reminder to do the right thing – the hand shall not be used for any wrong-doing.
Kangha
is a wo0den comb that represents personal care and cleanliness. Plastic combs cannot be used because they are more likely to pull out hairs.
Kirpan is a steel dagger, a symbol of resistance against evil and defense of truth.

Every Sikh is asked to do all that they can to make a pilgrimage to the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) at least once in their lifetime. And the temple receives 200,000 visitors each day. To accommodate those traveling to the Golden Temple, there is an entire building with rooms for sleeping and the most unbelievable soup kitchen I have ever seen. Both of which are free to visitors. These are just some of the plates.

I know some of my germ-o-phobic friends are thinking Holy Swine Flu, Batman, how many hands are touching those plates. But each plate, cup, and all utensils are washed 5 times before they are put back into rotation. The temple has 3,000 volunteers who come everyday to help out.

I think this might have been the dahl.

This is the main dining hall. You bring an empty plate and sit on the floor and you can have as many helpings as you would like.

Julia asked if we could help out and they put us to work making chapatis. The woman helping me just shook her head and laughed (a lot). I don’t think I will be opening a chapati stall anytime soon. They were all crooked and uneven. I finally got up when I realized she could make 10 chapatis in the time she was “helping” me make one. I was way dumbin’ her way, way down. But I would sincerely argue that it was difficult to keep my big arse scarf out of the way – they should really just consider hair nets. 😉 Julia was much, much better at it. They were actually sad to see her go.

After we made handmade chapatis for the masses, they showed us this machine that can make something like 3,000 chapatis an hour.

There are some things at the temple that are supposed to bring you good luck. One is if fish swim up to where you are standing. Notice 3 fish – 3 friends. That was lovely.

Then this blackbird landed on the branch while we were standing nearby. There was only one bird, but we took three pictures of it just in case.

And then there is this tree. It is the jubi tree and was planted by the first head priest over 450 years ago. It is believed to have very special powers and women who do not have children tie a ribbon on it for good luck. (Please do not even ask me if we tied ribbons.) It still grows fruit but no one is allowed to pick it. It is simply amazing to me that this tree is older than the United States.

This post is getting much longer than I thought it would be so I am going to say goodbye for now and finish up tomorrow. Nite nite.

On our way…………

As I mentioned, I recently had two dear friends come visit from the United States. In true me fashion, I totally mixed up the day they planned to arrive. So, I accidentally put us on the overnight train to Amritsar on the same day that they arrived. Now it takes a full day to get to India from the U.S., so they had not seen a bed or shower in essentially two days – the overnight train is not exactly like home. But, hey, they were a captive audience – what could they do? Thank God they also have adventurous spirits and forgiving hearts.

We started off their first day by going to Dilli Haat – a craft fair that is not too overwhelming – and Khan market – a market with a more Western feel. My thought was to “ease” them in to India before throwing them on the train.

We had a lovely day of shopping and a leisurely lunch at a place I knew they would not get sick, a place where it is even safe to have a drink with ice – they took a shower – we picked up the kids at school – ate a yummy Indian meal at home and then headed out. We were running a little behind because, heck, getting three women fed, showered, packed, and out the door ain’t easy. So we asked the driver to get us there quickly (during rush hour). Welcome to India my dear friends. We weaved and bobbed  and honked our way through 45 minutes of full-on traffic. Jet lag was hitting them hard and just as my friends would drop their eyelids, a horn would blast or the car would swerve and jostle them out of any sleep they hoped to catch.

Not too far into the ride, we had this conversation…

Ann: That car is going down the wrong side of the road.
Me:  Mmm-Hmmm. Yes, it is.
Ann: But he is kind of coming towards us.
Me: Yep. That is true – he is.

And then, let the games begin, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the road.

Our train was scheduled to leave at 7p. Most people will tell you that the trains in India are never late. So when our driver pulled in front of the train station at 6:53p, I told my buddies to grab their stuff and let’s go. I was trying very hard not to let on that I was very worried we would be too late and that I was not at all confident that I could navigate through the station, find our train, and then find our seats on the train.

We went up a very crowded stair case and then thru “security” and then down more very crowded stairs and onto the platform. I was crossing my fingers pretty sure that I could figure out what to do. Luckily there were some very helpful people on the platform. And unfortunately many curious people. Ann and Julia had never really been truly stared at before – but we fixed that right away – you could stare at them for about 10 hours straight now and they probably would not even notice.

Pretty quickly we found where I prayed we thought the train was supposed to come at 6:59p and looked up to find that the train would be about 15 minutes late. We also found our names on the list with one slight hiccup. We had purchased a ticket for Angel to reserve all four seats in the cabin for just us. Angel wasn’t actually coming with us and she wasn’t listed in our cabin. Our cabin had the name of another passenger listed.

Me: That never happens. Trains in India are never late. snicker. snicker. And passenger lists never get mixed up.
Ann: That’s okay, I can wait 15 minutes. It’s really not that long.
Me: Remember, expectations low. We’ll address the extra passenger when we get on the train.

The train station isn’t exactly clean – it is very crowded – and it feels a little unsafe if you aren’t used to it. I felt safe. But I think my visitors felt a little overwhelmed and super duper tired. I would argue that their impressions had as much to do with how tired they were as they did the surroundings – but the surroundings weren’t exactly what they were used to. There were no seats and the ground was filthy slightly dirty. Trash was everywhere. There were men not too far from us using the train tracks as a restroom. There were young children selling things. There were some older men begging. There were lots and lots of stares. And, not having a scratch and sniff blog, I really cannot begin to describe the smell of train smoke, cigarette smoke, trash, urine, body odor, and the like. Let’s just say Estee Lauder won’t be marketing it as a perfume any time soon.

I set my bag on the ground but my friends held tightly onto theirs. They were trying really hard to be patient, stay awake, and hold onto their things. The only thing I could say was “aren’t you glad you came?”

I won’t bore you with how many times we were teased with what time the train would really arrive but we finally boarded at about 8:30p for a 9p departure. We had a cabin to ourselves (the mystery passenger never appeared) and I remembered to bring a bottle of wine and some very fancy plastic cups and lots of snacks. (If you ever travel with me,  you can be pretty sure you won’t starve – I am big on the bag o’snacks. I also almost  always have diaper wipes, hand sanitizer, gum, tylenol, and toilet paper. Yes, you’ll want to sit with me on your next Indian train ride.) We sat down thankful for a place to sit. The cabin, on first inspection, did not seem too bad. But you never really want to dig too deep here. We brought our own pillows and blankets and we had wine. All is well, right? Sure. We’ll go with that. Or maybe not…………

Ann: There is something moving over there.
Julia: It might just be the light reflecting in that silver thing.
Ann: I think it is a mouse.
Me: What?
Ann: Maybe it’s just the reflection.
Ann again: No, I am pretty sure it’s a mouse.
Me: Where?
Ann: Right above your bunk.
Me: Wanna switch?
Ann: I am the guest remember?
Me: Luckily they don’t charge extra for that.

So we broke out the wine and the snacks. I accidentally dropped one of the cups on the floor of the cabin and my dear, sweet friends made sure that was the cup I was served my wine in. After all,  I am more acclimated to the region.

We ate, we drank, and we tried to sleep. I have heard that the overnight train is fantastic. I guess that depends on what you mean by fantastic. I would say it was fine. But it is very difficult to sleep. The train had a slight jerking and many stops and a pretty nasty bathroom – oh, and did I mention that there was  a mouse? So, it is fine. But we didn’t sleep much.

We got to Amritsar at about 8am and went straight to the Ista Hotel. This was the perfect introduction to the reality of India because India is full of contradictions – highs and lows. And they jumped right in. From the train station to the Ista – it doesn’t get much more extreme than that. And we all took the most fabulous showers of our lives before heading out to the Golden Temple.

More to come………..

The people that you meet when you’re walking down the street………..

I find the people of India to be absolutely beautiful. Their faces are so amazing and intricate. Here are some of the faces that captured my attention on my trip with my friends……..

Indian school children seem to find Westerners so fascinating. What they probably don’t realize is that I enjoy meeting them just as much.

This woman’s family wanted a picture of her in front of the Taj Mahal dammit, whether she liked it or not. And no  matter how many times she asked, none of them would sit down with her.

This little boy’s mother very much wanted a picture of Ann with her son – her son was not so much on the same page. 😎

If you love what you do, you will be happy every day of your life. No Kidding!

This guy was sneaky – he coaxed my friends out of an extra 100 rupees on the elephant ride – but they were smart enough not to give him their rupees for his American dollars.

Magnificent!

Where to even begin………

My friends left this morning to go back to the United States. It is impossible to believe that two weeks can actually go by in the blink of an eye – but it did. It was amazing to have them here – we laughed, we cried, we shopped, and we ate our way through a good bit of India. It was fun to rediscover what I had begun to take for granted. We rode the night train and we zip-lined and we even stayed in a palace. I have so much to share – it will probably take weeks to tell you all of it – brace yourself!

But here is how I spent the morning of my birthday with two dear friends and a face that only a mother could love…

I can’t thank them enough for coming and they say they can’t thank me enough for “letting” them come. I begged them to come almost every day for a year – so if they call that “letting” them come, so be it. It was definitely a win-win!