India = Meltdown

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Finally feeling rejuvenated I found the strength to keep India on the itinerary. However, contrary to my original plan of going overland to Northern India, I took the lazy way and flew directly to Delhi. I thought I was prepared by organizing a homestay with a local housewife from Couchsurf. The hostess, Sonu made me feel comfortable by assuring me that upon arrival at the airport her cousin would greet me and take me directly to her home. Which in the end was the case but not before a little excitement which went something like this:

First of all Meehar arrived almost an hour late which defeated the "comfort upon arrival" plan. I was also baffled by the fact that Sonu quoted me $20 when the pre-paid taxis rate to center of town is less than $6. But my question was answered when I learned that Sonu lives in the slums where a regular taxi wouldn't reach.

So I went with Meehar and the two other men in the car. However we barely made it to the highway when the car stalled. Nearly 6:00PM at this point, and after sitting with no A/C for the last 40 minutes, we were we reached the point where cars can’t enter. I was starting to understand Sonu’s warning. Meehar carried my suitcase on his shoulders as I kept close on his heels and for nearly 10 minutes we scurried up a small grade of unpaved road passing the bustle of the neighborhood.
I was relieved to reach Sonu’s home, only to find less than modest living facilities. Sonu, a petite young Nepalese woman greeted us at the door. She walked me past a very narrow concrete entry to a closest size room with no windows. Once, I managed to lift my suitcase over the large metal pipes blocking the doorway I sat with a bit of horror on the hard surface of a bed. Sonu pointed out the bathroom just opposite my room. It looked like a dangerous science project with a hole in the ground and a large metal rod with cords floating in a bucket of water. Next was a simple Indian kitchen with a table top burner and no sink. Last was the renovated room with a loft which has since been renovated to serve as a classroom for Sonu’s “school.” The room smelled of fresh paint but with no windows anywhere, everything was dusty and musty. Still working on building up the courage and enthusiasm to tour India, I regret to admit that I was not of the capacity to endure these modest accommodations for more than the one night. Note to self: read more testimonials when requesting next Couchsurf host. Needless to say, between the tirade of mosquitos that ate me alive, the hard plank of a bed and the lack of fresh air, I didn’t sleep a wink that night. And by 9:30 the next morning I had relocated to Paharganj, the backpacker melting pot of Delhi. 

Fortunately, prior to my departure, I was able to share a treasured moment with Sonu over a masala chai. Sonu shared how she was raised in an upper-middle class in Kathmandu, Nepal with servants and all until she was 17. At that point her parents arranged her marriage to her current husband who comes from the same Sikh background. She was happy to fulfill her responsibility but with one stipulation, that she be allowed to complete her education. Both families honored her wish and shortly thereafter she relocated to India. Never learning how to cook or clean Sonu soon found she was caring for her sick mother-in-law and husband and ultimately residing in her current home with no running water. But with a smile on her face she shares only gratitude for a supportive husband and the opportunity to educate as many of the less fortunate as she can possibly affect. 

In my book, Sonu is an exemplary human being. She is on a successful mission with her new facility to educate the under-privileged children from her neighborhood. Additionally, she has found time to provide a bi-weekly, hour long session of entertainment for the poorly treated nearby women. Had I been in a better frame of mind I would have enjoyed sticking around longer to help her with teaching but honestly I was still so fragile and in need of a good night sleep, that I only lasted the one night. However, if this story touches you, and you are interested in sponsoring Sonu’s school, please contact me for more information.

November 22, 2011
For two days I didn’t leave the four block radius of Paharganj and it was then that I realized that until I settled on a yoga teacher training course, ashram or yoga retreat that I wouldn’t be able to relax. I narrowed it down to Sampoorna Yoga located in South Goa and decided to go there and speak with the current attendees to confirm my decision.

I had until Nov 29 to catch the end of the course which gave me time to first visit Joy, an American Couchsurfer I met online. I jumped at the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving with Joy and Cedric after Joy responded to my CS request stating that she had the exact same freak out reaction upon her arrival in India. Within moments of her invitation I booked a flight to Goa. Joy and Cedric were fabulous hosts and amazing chefs to boot. Thanks to Joy and Cedric I had a traditional Thanksgiving feast except we had to substitute turkey with a pair of chickens but otherwise we managed to cook up stuffing, yams, veggies and gravy. I very much appreciate their hospitality and wish them much success as they work on making Goa their home.

Ironically Goa never made it on to my original itinerary because so many people had warned me that “it is a beach filled with foreigners and partying and not true “India.” It’s all true especially since Goans have a huge Portuguese influence dating from 16th century until annexed in 1961. Regardless, it is where I have landed and exactly what I need.
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