Saturday, February 27, 2010

20,995 Miles Traveled

Feb 19 and 20, 2010
Mumbai, India
Smoggy, hot, humid
Yesterday was a huge all-day tour of Mumbai – we started at the laundry center, where hundreds of people were scrubbing the clothes of the city, then went to Mumbai University, the famous train station, then to the India Gate, learned the meaning of POSH, strolled through the Taj Mahal Hotel, ate at Leopold Café, did a little shopping, saw the hanging Gardens where the Zoroastrians leave their dead to be picked clean by the birds, and drove past the Marina. One of my favorite parts was at the hanging gardens, where some orange flowers attracted uncountable numbers of blue, green, red, orange, white, and purple butterflies. The rest of the highlights can be found in pretty much any Mumbai guide book.
That night, Dariya Mahal hosted a gigantic Muslim Indian wedding reception. We had sent our laundry away and it hadn’t yet returned, so in our slightly questionable, mismatched outfits we sat on the balcony and watched the guests arrive in their most sparkling clothes. Eventually, Harish walked down and introduced us to the bride and groom, who gracefully received us. We watched everyone walking around and mingling, and ate some of the delicious food. My favorite part? Unlimited gulab jamun, the best Indian dish in the entire world. Imagine balls of pancakes soaked in cardamom-flavored sugar syrup.
The party lasted until two in the morning, and I could still hear people talking and laughing long after I went to bed. This morning, we woke up at nine for tea, and spent the morning working on our blogs. In the afternoon, Max Chinai had arranged for a Swami to speak with us about the human interaction with the environment. He told us that it is traditional for Indians to have their bodies burned when they died. Subsequently, Indians are supposed to plant three trees in their life: one on their first day of school, one when they are married, and one when they have their first child. At least one should survive, and in this way they have a net-zero impact on the earth. The tree that is used to burn their body is replaced by the ones they planted during their lives. The Swami told us to produce more than we consume, to give more than we take.
After the lecture, we sat in the garden sipping chai and watching the sun set. This peaceful moment was interrupted by the Fed Ex guy. Becky had left me with her package and I thought I could make an easy drop-off. Instead, I had to fill out four different forms, including a personal receipt copy, a company receipt copy, a normal Fed Ex form, and a textile export form. The package weighed five kg, but the Fed Ex guy eyeballed it at eight and a half kg. A fight between Harish and the Fed Ex guy ensued, and ended with the intervention of a customer service agent on the phone. By the end of the event, I was nearly in tears. I was frustrated, I was sick of bureaucracy, and there is never a moment of quiet in this country. Today had been a particularly rough day for a few reasons, but I’ve felt like I was barely holding it together.
Denny and I had a good conversation about herculean tasks. When you’re put in such an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation, simple things like sleeping or sending a package or just functioning normally become these herculean tasks. Sometimes, I want to go home. But most of the time, I know that I need to be here in order to overcome those challenges and emerge a less anxious and more adaptable person.

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