Saturday, March 7, 2009


“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” - Rudyard Kipling

India smells. Like spices, diesel, gasoline, urine, and feces.
India sounds obnoxiously loud. Like car horns, shouting, and construction.
India feels grimy. Like humid muggy filth, sweat, and dirty skin.
India tastes bad. Like dry, filth-filled air.
India looks clumsy. Like crowded streets, litter, unclothed children, and cows.

But India smells. Like rice and jasmine and banana.
But India sounds like a symphony. Of voices speaking excitedly in many tongues.
But India feels warm. Like a tropical country should.
But India tastes delicious. Like coconut candy and naan with yogurt and cucumber.
But India looks beautiful. Like bright color, and smiling people and Hindu temples.
-Laurie, March 2009

India is variance. And here I am! And here I try to capture this country in words…..

My heart beats so fast and my breathing has become short. I don’t know if it’s the smog or the excitement.

There are rickshaws zipping through traffic and blaring their horns. There are cows with their horns painted blue, pulling carts full of yellow bananas. There are pick up trucks with beds stacked as high as they can go with vegetables. And a man fast asleep on top of those vegetables. There are women walking, carrying bowls of water on top of their heads. There are children with no shoes. Some have no pants either. There are monkeys playing in the trees. There are goats in the middle of the road. There is a thick smog that covers the city of Chennai.

And my arms are black with soot. After walking through Chennai, I feel as though I worked a day in a coal mine.

Darshan- the Hindi word for "sight" seeing or beholding a vision or a glimpse.

I had a glimpse into Indian life. As I paint this picture, let me describe my last three days.

Day 1: We arrived. My friends and I took an auto rickshaw (small motorized vehicle like the size of a golf-cart but dirtier and goes faster- pictured above) to a shopping center called Spencer’s. Reminded me of a very dark and dingy mall with unusual shops. India has beautiful shoes. I bought some and so did my friend Sarah:
Sarah, Lisa and I also bought outfits for the Welcome Reception. The outfits kinda remind me of the sun:

Welcome Reception. We were greeted with leis and red dots on our foreheads. The fragrance of the leis took me back to Hawaii. When I was there in 3rd grade I remember the leis smelling exactly as they did here in India. What is that fragrance? Hibiscus? Jasmine? Lilly? Plumeria? I don’t know, but it changed my mind about India’s smell. There was Indian food, there were Indian dancers, and Indian University students who were eager to talk to us and greet us.

Day 2 and 3: Trip to Disabled Children’s Home and Village. The program is called RIDE and their aim is to take children out of the rock quarry and bring them to school instead. Child Labor is illegal but many kids are working there anyway, carrying heavy rocks and bricks from one end to the other in the hot Indian sun. This organization attempts to save them and they built a school for them.
Some wear uniforms and some do not. The ones not in Uniform are still working in the rock quarry and they are transitioning them out. I noticed one of the buildings at the school had a sign that said “Donated by Semester at Sea”. We visited the school and I brought them all Blow-Pops.

The Director of the program came on the bus to pick us up. Her phone was ringing the entire time and guess what her ringtone was? The Cuppycake Song! This is a children’s song “You’re my sugarypie, honeycake, pumpy umpy umkin, you’re my sweetie pie…” (It goes on about all the sweet things to call your lover_...) Anyhow, I found this humorous, as we used to play it and crack up. It was my myspace song at one point. Here we are in rural India and this lady has the Cuppycake Song.

We spent the night in the village. The accommodations reminded me of an orphanage. Large rooms with lines of beds. It was very hot and at several points the overhead fans shut off for some reason. There were mosquitoes. I slept in my pants and my shirt and I wrapped the sheets tightly around my arms.

Indians do this thing with their head. The Figure 8 head bob. Whether they are nodding in agreement or just listening or just moving, their heads are moving. It’s like a bobblehead, but their heads are just always making a figure 8 type of movement.

On this overnight trip we also went to the village where people live. RIDE also provides money for this village. Many do not have running water. There are cows and people everywhere and most people do not wear shoes. The Director of RIDE informed us that this is the first time the village has seen American people. I could tell they dressed up and put on their best clothes for our visit.

Indian homes have these patterns in front of their homes. They are done by chalk and flowers. The Villagers loved having their pictures taken and begged me to photograph their work and they were so grateful when I did so.
They know very little English, but they knew how to say "thank you" and "please come" as they led us into their homes.

The only Hindi words I know are “bobi” and “bonchaud”. A former co-worker Deepak taught me this phrase and it means something nasty and vulgar. But I kept saying it in my head…….Bobi bonchaud. Bobi bonchaud. Bobi bonchaud. BOBI BONCHAUD. BOBI BONCHAUD!!!!!!!

Laurie! ReRestrain yourself! Do not let go of this word vomit! Hold it, hold it, hoooooold it.

I didn’t end up saying it accidentally, but I could NOT get this phrase to leave my head. Hate when that happens.

Look at this blue orb in the photo below. If you read my blog wayyyy back inthe fall, I went on several ghost tours and captured orbs. In India the orbs are blue. Wonder if that's because their God, Vishnu is blue in color. Weird, right?

Shortly after the picture below, I somehow ended up carrying this baby, with the mother nowhere to be found. She was so sweet and didn't fuss at all as I held her and carried her through the village. I wanted to take her with me back to the ship.

The children tugged at my sleeve and would not let go. My heart has melted. They pulled at my sleeves to get my attention and to have me take their picture. After taking their photo, they would run up to grab my camera and see the photo I had taken. In addition to my sleeves, they tugged pretty heavily on my heartstrings…..

See video below....They love to practice English:

Well….except for these two:

Disclaimer: These two women were tugging at my "flip video" begging to be captured on film before I shot this. So I didn't catch them off-guard as it may appear!

The camera was blurry from the children grabbing it to look at the photos I had taken. At first I was annoyed and agitated with the blur. But now I understand. It fits. My eyes have been blurry the whole time I’ve been here, so it would be appropriate that this image appears to be covered in a teardrop.

Don’t worry- today and the next day will be much lighter….. I’ve only got a reunion with an old friend of mine, whom I’ve never met face-to face and a visit to a Disabled Children’s Home……

Ay yi yi.


Kat said...

your paragraph about the blurry photo def just brought tears to my eyes. Wow, it sounds like you've had an incredible couple of days so far that you will forever remember and appreciate. Can't wait to hear more Laurie. :)

Mendy said...

This is my favorite one so far. Just beautiful, Laurie. This experience (all of it) is wonderful to see through your eyes and heart.