Sunday, September 15

All the love from London!

 This is going to be a long one – bear with me. I’ve been sitting in a hotel room all day with nothing else to do. ;)
Well, this time at the airport my bags went through with no questions asked. They are not too heavy and they are not to many, praise the Lord. After getting through the checkin last night at Indira Gandhi airport, I was relieved, but there was also the note of sadness in my heart. I’m really leaving India now, I thought. I walked toward the security checkpoint. I tried not to use too much Hindi - I know that my Indian friends really appreciate it knowing I made an effort to learn their country’s language, but even though my Hindi is nowhere near comprehensive I also know that using it makes me look like a showoff in a place like an airport where everyone knows English.  But when I got through to the pat-down, the lady asked me for my boarding pass, which I’d sent through accidentally with my hand luggage, and on the men’s side of the luggage operation. Oops. I couldn’t get to my bags because they’d passed through security and I hadn’t, so I had to get help. To expedite the process, I walked up in front of all the men and spoke directly to the policeman working the machines.  “Bhaiya,” I spoke loudly but sweetly, “Meri boarding pass udthar hain. Maf karna, lekin zarurat hain. Mujke ko dedijiye? Dhanyavad.” Brother, my boarding pass is over there. So sorry but I need it. Can you please give it to me? Thank you. 
He started looking and I knew it wasn’t out in the open, I’d packed it away. So I said, “Bhaiya, brown bag me hain. Nahin, nahin, Chhoti chhoti walla me. Hannji! Dhanyavad!” Brother, it’s in my brown bag. No, no, the small one. Yes sir! Thank you!
He looked at me amiably and instructed me to be more careful with my things and to close my bag properly. He smiled as he took it back to put it with my other luggage again.
I waited again in the line for the patdown and when I entered the small curtained room, the lady looked at me and started a conversation – she spoke only Hindi - “How long have you been in India??”  She’d heard my exchange with the policeman. I told her about my time in Delhi and that I was leaving for marriage. “But,” she asked carefully, “aren’t you going to come back?”  I told her that I had met Andrew here and that we had plans to return after I get a PhD. “You should really come back. Come back, okay?”  “Thik hain, di. Hum aungi.” Okay, sister. We will come.
I smiled in my heart as I left the curtained room. India wants me back.

As I was reaching my terminal, I passed one of the duty-free shops in the airport. I had kept some money in rupees just in case I needed to make calls on the payphone again, and I figured I’d better use them before I got out of the country. I stopped in at a shop called Lotus just to see if they had anything cheap enough for me to buy. I asked the store clerk, in Hindi again, if he had anything cheap to show me. We talked a little in Hindi, too, and he was so delighted that he took me through every item in the shop that was within my budget, along with figuring out how many of each item I could buy with the money I had left. He was very kind to me. I found out he’s from Tripura, and he’s here in Delhi alone working to support his mother and his little sister. He complimented my Hindi numerous times, gave me a little discount on the goods, and I wished him all the best as I left the shop.
I feel very accomplished when I can communicate effectively in Hindi, even with all my grammar and vocabulary deficiencies. I’m going to miss that.

I was sitting at gate 7b waiting to board the plane to London and Lufthanza was making an announcement. They made it in English first. Then in Hindi, which I understood. Then they made the same announcement in German. In high school I studied German, and I probably knew almost as much of it then as I know of Hindi now.  I was really tickled to understand the same announcement in three different languages.  I smiled and looked down at my lap, pleased with myself, and just then I noticed my name on my British Airways ticket.

It reads:
“Terrall, J. 
World Traveller.”
That’s right.
Okay, one last amusing Hindi story.
The night flight from Delhi to London, on which we had two screaming babies and one lady who laughs hysterically in her sleep (real weird), was mostly fine. I got some sleep and skipped the terrible food and had an aisle seat next to a guy with a cane, so that was a little obnoxious. As we were landing, though, I listened to the overhead announcement from the cabin crew. It was a very typical “Welcome to London, we hope you enjoy your stay if this is your final destination, it has been a pleasure serving you today.” Then came the translated announcement in Hindi. I have always assumed they translated them fairly directly for both sets of passengers but I was amused to find that in the Hindi version, there was a lot less cordiality. “You are most welcome in London,” I caught, and, “we have not stopped yet. Do not get crazy. Stay in your seats. Wait for others. Please have patience! Don’t push and shove!"  Yes, that is a rough paraphrase, but it was the translated meaning of the message. I chuckled at the appropriateness of the announcement tailored to fit the situation and the temperament of the different  people groups. Oh, Indians. Oh, India. Incredible India.

As it should be, It’s raining in London.
I was dealing with a good bit of culture shock just standing in the customs line at Heathrow. One too many fuzzy sweater+short shorts+patterned tights+ankle boots combos had me feeling dizzy. Everybody’s copious scarf lays perfectly around their neck in Europe. The ladies’ hairbuns perch high on their heads and their fashionable tattoos peek out from beneath their shirtsleeves.  At least three quarters of them have incorporated leather into their outfit in one way or another. I saw a girl wearing a vest as a shirt under a heavy down jacket and hotpants above bare legs and winter boots in some kind of bizarre layering fail.  (what season is it, anyway?) There was another girl in the line with us and – I kid you not – she was wearing two hats. One right on top of the other.
I was really struck by the strength of the feeling that I did not belong. Having done a fair amount of traveling, I usually don’t suffer from culture shock, but coming from saris and salwar suits into the London airport turned out to be a lot to handle!

I was proud of myself for taking my 150 pounds of baggage and figuring out the bus system – instead of taking a $47 one-way cab to my hotel five minutes away, I sat out at the correct stop (there are about 40 different ones in the Heathrow parking lot) and got my stuff on the shuttle which took me to my hotel. I realized once I got here, I don’t think I’ve ever checked into a hotel alone before aside from the one time I had to crash in the airport hotel in 2010. The concierge who checked me in seemed to sense my impending weariness and as a woman in her twenties herself, caught onto the fact that I was alone. She told me she’d get my bags up to me – yes, those three heavy ones I stashed in the corner back there by the door because they were broken by the airline and I didn’t make the effort to put them on a cart before checking in. I thanked her and went to my room. About five minutes later, there was a knock on the door, and there was the same sweet lady standing in front of me with my bags! “oh my goodness! YOU brought them up yourself?” I was blown away – a line had formed behind me downstairs at check-in, and I knew she must have left them to help me out. “Oh, not a problem,” she said in a thick cockney accent, “I got one of the taxi drivers down there to help me with them.”
She asked me if I was going home, so I told her I was coming from Delhi. We exchanged a few questions; I thanked her warmly and then in terrible form, asked if I could tip her. She flatly refused money and wished me well, leaving me in a beautiful room with a soft bed, a terrible view, and complete silence.

I remember now the coming home from Delhi in 2010 – the contrasts are so stark.
 Sitting alone on a 60-degree restaurant patio this evening all to myself, I think of the feeling of sharing public transportation smaller than an SUV with ten strangers in the 105-degree heat. Even on the way to this hotel I had the entire bus to myself.
It’s hot in Delhi and it’s raining in London. But even the predictability of the places doesn’t prepare me for the leaving, the going.  There is so much leaving in this life and so many people to miss in the world.
Regardless, I’m thankful to be missing them because it means I met them and I loved them. I’m thankful to find kindhearted people, like the payphone operator in the airport on Wednesday and the security baggage girl there yesterday and the man in the lotus shop at my terminal and the concierge at this hotel, no matter where I am.  I’m thankful for another day to live and breathe, wherever I may be.
All praise to the One who keeps me living, keeps me serving, keeps me going. I know that He is Good no matter what I am.

Love from London,
Julie, gone.

Thursday, September 12

Just kidding!

it was all a joke!

This morning, Pastor Uncle came and sat down in front of me in order to tell me a story.
"Long ago, I witnessed a flood," he said.
"There was a man who had floated out of his house. He was on top of something that looked like a blanket. The villagers nearby were telling him to leave the blanket and swim to safety.
"This is not a blanket!" He said, "This is a bear!"
"What?!" The villagers were so alarmed. "Leave that bear right now and swim away!"
But in its own fear, the bear was holding on to the man as they both floated in the water. The man, with a shrug, shouted back at his friends,
"I want to leave the bear, but the bear does not want to leave me!"

Uncle laughed and laughed, and i smiled as i got his point.
I want to leave the bear, but the bear does not want to leave me.

You see, i went to the airport at midnight last night to fly away from the bear. I brought four bags: two to check and two to carry. That's hardly an unreasonable amount of stuff to have amassed over the period of a year, right? Well, because of different restrictions on the way to Africa, I was going to have to pay over $650 to take the one extra bag which exceeded their limitations.
That's the price of the flight alone.
I simply didn't have it.
After a series of events, we had found a way for me to consolidate my things, send one through international mail and one as the maximum baggage allowance on the flight. But then, the stewardess asked to weigh my hand luggage. My laptop bag was about 4kg over their standard weight for carry-on luggage. Because of that, they refused to let me board the plane.

I want to leave Delhi, but Delhi does not want to leave me.

I fought with the check-in staff for four long sleepless hours between midnight and 4:15 A.M. After numerous trips to a pay phone in a far corner of the check-in terminal of the airport, and after getting an afterhours message from my travel agent and a voicemail on my fiance's phone, i began to cry. The payphone operator had come to know me a little bit, as I had been back and forth with him several times he had asked in Hindi what was going on. He watched his lap carefully as i held my hand over my mouth and tears streamed down my face, and a few other people started to gather gingerly because my tears made them uncomfortable. The operator undercharged me for the two calls i'd just made and he began turning from person to person, telling my story to everyone around in simple, soothing and empathetic Hindi words. "Why on earth won't they just let her on the flight? Poor thing. For 20 kgs they want 40,000 rupees. What is this? This lady is so good and sweet. She has been in India for one year. Now she can't go home. And she speaks Hindi also so nicely!" Those listening to the story clicked their tongues compassionately and shook their heads. That man was the only person in the entire airport to care about me in any sense of the word, and he touched my heart.

I left them to find a cab and came back to my home in Delhi. I've had to convince everyone who has seen me so far that they are not dreaming, that I am truly still here.
Another day, another mango shake.

My Africa plans are done. I'll do my best to get any possible refund from the flights i'm missing and head home ASAP. My visa is also up on the 14th, so some way or the other i have to leave the country by tomorrow.
To tell you the truth, I sort of have a peace about Kilimanjaro. It was a little unsure and a little dangerous, and maybe this hassle is saving me from a much bigger trouble. Who knows? There's no point in being agitated about it anymore, and at the end of the day money is just money.

Moral of the story, you can plan your way in your mind but the Lord directs your steps.
Second moral of the story, maybe don't fly Qatar.

Love from Delhi still,
Julie: ready to leave the bear.

Wednesday, September 11

My Work Here Is Done.

What do you do on the last day of your year in India?
Trying to accomplish too much in the last 12 hours will make you feel helpless.
Mostly what you can do is remember.
Since last September, i have consciously formed quite a few memories. I'm naturally forgetful. I'm not a person who simply remembers most things - i have to decide to remember them. I carefully encrypted the scene and the feeling of leaving American soil on September 1, 2012. I intentionally stored the sound of the uncle in our nearby shop saying, "Don't keep ya money like this!" as he pointed to my 500 rupee note that i'd laid on the counter as i searched for change. I cherish the feeling of all of the planning and putting on of my Indian engagement party - the day i was surrounded by almost everyone i currently love. I remember my housemate Gloria telling me that i looked fresh on countless Sunday mornings. I filed away the lumbering motion of the elephants i rode through the Nepali jungle on, and the unbelievably vast himalayan mountain range surrounding Mount Everest. I stockpiled the conversations with Linda Fleming and the best teaching methods I learned during my time as an English teacher. I carefully preserved the proper way to put on a sari and a fannek or a mekhla. I treasured up the feeling in my heart when a dear brother told me, "You understand how we live here. You really should come back." I willed myself to record the shadow of my hands on the pavement rushing under them as i held them outside my speeding rickshaw in the sun, waiting for my bridal henna to dry last week.

So today i'm taking lots of photos, printing lots of photos, handing out hand-written notes and gilded wedding invitations, drinking one last mango shake, finalizing my packing setup and just smiling softly as i remember.
I'm happy to hear from almost everyone that they feel good about the way i adjusted here, and that they don't think of me as an American - that i've come to fit in. I'm happy to have a new memory to keep - as just yesterday a foreigner friend of mine smiled at me knowingly and said to me, "I feel like you'll be back."
I guess i feel like i will, too.

There is nothing else to say; my words have all run dry.
There is nothing else to do; my work here -for now- is done.

Love from Delhi,
Julie: done.

Friday, September 6

Birthday and the last week blues.

The sweetest bits of my time in India have been the first three months and the last two weeks.

My birthday was immensely special. The Babel Language Institute regulars pulled together and gave me such a wonderful surprise birthday party. They invited my friends from throughout this whole year; some of my students from the very first English class that i taught even showed up. All of these people who showed their love by coming really touched my heart. I was made much of - there were surprise elements and special songs and wonderful homemade food, a gorgeous fruit-decorated cake and a huge and festive Happy Birthday sign along with well-wishes on the wall. People wanted to take pictures with me, and i got to give a short speech in which i shared the whole reason i came here: I told them all plainly the Good News in a way i never really would have otherwise had the chance to do. I had a captive audience full of people who love and respect me, and I pray they were affected in some way by the love i so desired to share with them. The whole thing just went well - and what's more, it was well tailored to my preferences and personality. The atmosphere was comfortable and warm and wonderful.
I've never had a better birthday party.

Afterwards some friends came over to sing in our living room, and after some time my friend Dika started into one song he seemed particularly excited about. When they heard the chords, everyone recognized it - they started laughing and they all sang me a song from an old Bollywood movie. The lyrics of the chorus are: "Pardesi, pardesi, jaana nahin! Mujhe chor kar! Mujhe chor kar." "Foreigner girl, foreigner girl, don't go! Don't leave me - you are leaving me." 

It is one of the sweetest of all my Indian memories. Maybe, actually, of all my memories anywhere.
I felt so close to each one of those people - I looked at those who worked so hard on my party and sang to me that night and i know their faces. i know their favorite foods. i know their hearts.
i feel so close to each of them.
Of course now, every time I feel close to someone here, there is a twinge of sadness in my heart.

Yesterday i was joking with a different friend of mine named Krishna. He is in an English class and he had come out to talk to me instead. I acted angry with him, because i've earned the right and the trust to be able to joke with my friends here. His teacher - my friend Nirvan - came out and ushered him back in as i yelled after him to work harder. Nirvan scolded him, stern but smiling. I laughed at the way their personalities interact, because i think they're funny and sweet people. Because i know them.
At that moment i was suddenly sad as i thought inwardly that now, every time I laugh with someone here it makes me feel like i'll never laugh again once I get to America.
Obviously i'm being dramatic.
What can i say? I have the last week blues, the rose-colored glasses, the 20/20 hindsight.

But today i paid a man 40 cents to pull me and my friend Praise behind his bicycle to a place ten minutes away - it took us twenty because of heavy and dangerously unpredictable traffic. He took us both to a huge street market that exists only once weekly. All of the shops are set up on that day and torn down on that night - Thursday - every week. I took only a small coin purse because the last time we went to Thursday market, my friend's bag was cut from the bottom with a sharp knife, and she never even noticed; neither did I, and i was right next to her the whole time. Right when we got there i bought fifteen cents' worth of some candied root off of an open sales cart. I ate it directly out of a bag made of today's newspaper and Taco Bell hot sauce packaging. I ate it as we browsed and picked up a few small things as i saw them, if i thought they would be useful or a good memorial of my time here. I bought a skirt, three pairs of earrings, and four sets of bangles. I spent under $8. On the way home i gave an extra 35 cents of tip to our electric rickshaw driver, and my friend scolded me for spoiling him.

And it's not dramatic to say that certainly none of that is going to happen again once I get to America.

i mix metaphors here, i drop the object of my sentence, i wear harem pants and everybody calls it a 'traditional conservative' style. I gain two pounds and people start asking me if i'm overeating because i'm stressed or because i'm happy - yes, they notice, and they comment. I wait for the vegetables and the cobbler (not food cobbler - he fixes my shoes... yes, that guy) to come to my doorstep. I use a blend of two languages in almost every sentence. There is deep history in architecture and museums and whole neighborhoods within my city, and the amount of public transportation options i have to take me there is simply unbelievable.  More than all that, I have abundant opportunities to serve, and on a daily walk i pass at least five or six temples that implore my heart to pray for hope to reign. Being good is hard everywhere, but doing good is easy here.
India has been hard on me.
But these are the things i can take away from India.

The kids in the slum. The spice market in Old Delhi. My church. The way to wear a sari. The subji-wallas. The chai being made openly on the street. The Punjabi chants coming from Sikh temples. The microphoned warbling during Hindu gatherings in neighborhood homes, sometimes for days at a time. The cloth and sari shops, the tailors, the gorgeous tassels and prints and colors. The simultaneous diversity and unity of the great culture clash in the Delhi metropolis. The monkeys hanging from the fences. The Mahatma Gandhi Marg. The way to eat rice with my hands. The old men with full beards tied and turbans on their heads who ride motor scooters. The way to ask for change for a five hundred. The unbelievably long black hair of a million beautiful young women.
These are the things I'll never forget.

after a number of upcoming parties including a huge birthday bash for my favorite five-year-old and a bridal shower for me, i'll be headed out. This Sunday I'll be in India. Next Sunday I'll be in Africa. The Sunday after that, I'll be in America. 
Globe-trotting is tough duty, but i guess somebody's gotta do it. 
I'm feeling incredibly blessed, but even more nostalgic. My heart has grown this year; broken and grown and healed. To you, my Indian friend, reading this sentence: I will miss you more than you know. I promise not to forget you.

Love from Delhi,
Julie with the last week blues.