I'm sitting at an internet bar in the middle of Bhubaneshwar, India on the east coast by the Bay of Bengal. Indian guys all around me are watching New Zealand and Australia's cricket match and playing internet games. What a whirlwind the last 10 days have been!
Two Fridays ago I turned in grades for my Sophomore university students and got on a train for Hong Kong. I'm on Chinese New Year and traveling with 3 other people for 6 weeks. We took an overnight train and arrived in Hong Kong, my favorite city to date! The skyline was incredible, on the water, so clean and full of international flair. We were full blown tourists for 3 days visiting SoHo and taking a water ferry to Victoria Peak and finally eating some Mexican food! Being a Californian, it's been way too long! We went to church on the Kowloon side and met some incredible people from all over the world. Then we jumped on a plane and went to Bangkok and then to New Delhi, India. In New Delhi we got caught in a tourism bubble that we've now coined the "Indian Tourism Mafia".. it's this web of high priced accomodations, taxis etc. and everyone knows each other. At one point we thought we had escaped and made plans to travel to Agra and Jaipur to see the Taj Mahal.. and in walked one of the mob guys again to our "new" travel agency. We sighed knowing that eventually we'd we flying to a friends hometown in India.
The Taj was great and my feeble words here in this internet bar cannot do justice to the insanity of the past week. Picture the Amazing Race and you have our team of 4 (Heather, Jev, Michael and I). We've gotten along great and our personalities really complement each other. We're in a bit of culture shock coming from 5-6 months in China yet still being treated like Americans in India.
We then flew to Orissa (Bhubaneshwar) to a fellow Indian colleague (in China) home in India. We've ridden elephants, got stuck in a cattle drive, visited indigenous people, and eaten curry for every meal. This has been the best part to be in the village with them, eating at their home and learning the culture.
I'll tell you about yesterday and just multiply it by 10. Last night our friend's family treated me like a dress-up doll, putting bindhis (sp?) on my forehead, bengals on my wrists, braiding my hair and putting big gold earrings in my ear. I've even worn a sari! Last night we ate from banana leaves with our hands and drank some questionable water (the verdict is still out on sickness)- pray for me! We went on a 4 hour boat ride yesterday day to an animal reserve on Chilika Lake. We landed on an island with an indigineous tribe that worships the Hindu god Kaliji. Ah, I'm frustrated that I can't get everything into an email!
Our host Pradeep (a friend of our China co-worker) is a journalist/activist for the poor (Dalits, etc.) here in India. He raises awareness through an organization named ODAF (funded by a German organization) that works primarily with the tribes in the upper jungles of India. They help them learn how to grow sustainable products and how to defend themselves legally against "corporate development". We are going to one of those tribes tomorrow for 3 days!! They are primitive and definitley not a tourist attraction. This is only made possible by the NGO that Pradeep works for. If you know me well, you know I'm squirming with excitement at this opportunity! I've been able to show off some of my Aveda knowledge being that India uses Ayerveda medicine. Seeing activists doing the very thing I learned about during my time at Aveda has been really encouraging.
I've spent long enough typing this email and internet has gone out a couple times, so I'll end this now. Miss you guys and I'll try to write again from our conference in Thailand. Can't wait to post pictures on Flickr and email when I have more time and more clarity.