Wednesday, February 10, 2010

14,534 Miles Traveled

Feb 3, 2010
Agra, India
Clear, about 70°F with fog in the morning
This was one of those long, long days where I couldn’t possibly give an accurate description in a journal entry. We woke up at four in the morning to get dressed and get on the train from Delhi to Agra. The walk was about ten minutes, and of course it was absolutely harrowing, even at 4:45am. We waited for about an hour on the train platform, and then boarded uneventfully. We had morning tea and breakfast on the train, looked out at some scenery that David said was just like Northern Germany, and then arrived in Agra around nine.
This is when the day really began. A man was holding a sign that said “Hiram College Group,” and we were led off to six tuk-tuks. I didn’t know what the problem was, but Brenna, Matt, and I ended up sitting in our tuk-tuk, just waiting for everything to get settled. As soon as we were holding still, hoards of children came up to us with upturned hands asking for money. Two women holding newborns approached us and quite nearly shoved the babies in our faces. “Money, money, for the baby.”
Matt was in the front seat, and Brenna and I were sitting in the back. They must have seen the sucker looks in our faces, because people exclusively begged from us. It was so hard to look at them and not give them anything, but it would result in being swarmed by countless other people and I doubt any of the money would go to feed, clothe, and educate the women and children who did the begging. Brenna and I looked at our hands and mumbled no, no, go away. I wanted to look around but on every direction there were children waiting to catch your eye and approach you, so I mostly sat with my head down.
One of the people wandering around the train station was a teenage boy with elephantitis of the feet. Both of his feet were blown up to unbelievable proportions, and were topped with gigantic toes. Brenna and I were horrified, but Matt said, “I just want to think those are fake. They must be fake. Just like big slippers.” I’m so glad he didn’t come up to me and ask for money, because I don’t know what I would have done.
The drive through Agra made Delhi look luxurious. It seems so strange that the city of the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort is now a city of slums and waste. I looked out the window and didn’t know what to do or think. We got to our hotel, which as usual, is not in a very nice part of the city. Our tuk-tuk drivers let us out, and at noon we had lunch. After lunch, David organized a tour of the city, so we got back into the tuk-tuks and drove off to the Red Fort.
The fort is a gigantic complex made of red stone, designed by a Turkish architect hundreds of years ago (I’m not sure the exact date, we didn’t hire one of the tour guides). Apparently, it was impenetrable in the middle ages, and there were gigantic palaces with courtyards, and a gorgeous view of the Taj Mahal and the river. One of the most interesting parts were the monkeys that were absolutely everywhere. Not a week ago, we were all vying for a close-up of a dusky languor, but today the monkeys came right up to us. They hung out on the lawn, on the buildings, they sat next to us, and there were even babies. About three-fourths of my pictures are just cool monkey shots.
Afterwards, we went to a shop with fabrics, scarves, and clothes. We spent some time there, and I picked out a pretty blue scarf. Next, we went to the “Baby Taj” – I’m not exactly sure what it is, we didn’t go in, we just dithered a little bit. Finally, we were driven into a more rural area and taken to a look-out point near some barbed wire and watched the sunset over the Taj Mahal.
Sorry this entry seemed lackluster, but I left out many of the details that seem almost insensitive or callous to include. I don’t know how to work out my feelings about the poverty, or the desperation, or the role of children in the whole mess. I don’t know how to write about the hopelessness I feel when I see starvation. I don’t know how to tell you what it’s like because I don’t know what it’s like. Most of what I see is nothing more than a shallow diorama of reality.

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