Well, I'm back to Andorra, the booming Principality! My Christmas holidays were fantastic, definitely full of curiosities, colors, sounds, smells... overall, a fantastic Christmas. If you ever get the opportunity to go to India, do not think about it, Just Do It! (thank you Nike). It may not be a country where you would like to live but it is certainly a country that is worth a visit. I guess I'll start at the beginning.
#1 First of all, the 22nd of December was our school's Talent Show. Wow! Hiliarious, first off, only one brave boy participated in this talent show and he was fantastic, he is a great guitarist. Secondly, virtually every single performance was a group of different girls performing some kind of dance and lipsync to music that was altogether not appropriate. There is something that is coincidentally very funny and sad about watching girls 'shake it' except they really don't have anything to shake... haha, anyway, despite my mild discomfort with both the lyrics and actions of these girls I was impressed with the amount of effort and passion they put into their songs.
#2 The 23rd saw Amanda, Antonio, and I on an early bus to Toulouse, France-home of Airbus most famously. We dropped Amanda off at the airport before Antonio and I headed off to explore. We proved to be excellent companions as we both enjoyed spacing any kind of formal cultural visits to churches, and/or museums with long stops at cafes! :-) We did see Thomas Aquinas' tomb which was super cool, a black Virgin Mary which was curious, and saw lots of cool statues in the Musee des Augustins. It was nice to be once again in a country where I can communicate more or less fluently. That evening Antonio left and I went to the airport to begin my airport vigil till the next morning. One of the french teachers from my school met me at the airport to hang out for a bit before I truly was solo. It wasn't a bad stay though, for real.
#3 Trip to India. Of course, the 6 am flight (first of the day) from Toulouse was late leaving somehow making the connection between Paris Orly and Charles de Gaulle extremely tight. I, along with 4 other stressed, late passengers, jumped on the RER train and got to the airport 20 minutes after my flight had stopped accepting passengers. I was lucky to have a super kind gate clerk who let me on the flight and in the end we sat on the runway for 2 hours waiting to be de-iced. I was very thankful to be there and having slept realistically only about 5 hours total in the last 48 hours, I collapsed into sleep. My flight was enjoyable, the passenger next to me was a very nice Sikh man who was entertaining. He was all about pocketing sodas and the gift boxes we got. :-) haha, I got to travel in Premier Voyageur which is a new class Air France started that is between Economy and Business and is quite nice. You get plugs which I find sweet! I arrived in India Christmas Morning at 2:30 or so.
#4 We stayed in Mumbai until the 27th getting to relax, meet Jane's boyfriend, some of her/their friends, and explore Mumbai a bit. What a giant city. Over 20 million, which is still mind-blowing to me! After our trip, we returned to Mumbai for another four days which was a nice way to relax at the end of the trip before a long flight back to Europe and work on Monday! Throughout our time in Mumbai were many highlights: seeing Jane's school which is gorgeous and clearly a place of constructive learning, getting to meet her friends and her bf's family kindly invited us over, riding around in rickshaws (a super entertaining means of public transport-box on top of a motorcycle), walking around in shorts! :-), watching Mumbai locals throw on winter jackets against the bitter cold gripping the city (15-20 Celsius!), going to the Taj Hotel to get a coffee, looking at many fascinating architectures throughout the city especially the old British colonial buildings, Victoria train Station, a nice dentist appointment and of course for me... FOOD! FOOD! Delicioso. We also went on a powerful tour through Dharavi where I learned that the slum which is 1.1 million people on 1.75 km2 but it produces more than 500 million $$$ of output. Crazy right? Money flows out and into the pockets of some but not the residents. It was interesting to hear the perspective of our guide-a resident and the resistance of slum dwellers toward any type of gentrification or reorganization-lots more stuff I learned which if you are interested in, you can ask me. Throughout all of these activities, just being together with my awesome parents and sister was a super big blessing that refreshed me more than sleep did! It is always nice to be around people you know have known you throughout all the stages of your life and love you anyway! Haha.
#5 We got to see some amazing things during our trip in India. We began on the 27th with a “14 hr” train trip. This began badly because it was 9 hours delayed, but during this time we got to eat at Leopold's Cafe which is a famous Mumbai eatery and I will be the first to say: worth the hype. The train was late leaving and then further delayed because the Gujars (a semi-nomadic tribe) was protesting government policies by both blocking the road and the train tracks. This proved to be a good reminder to me of how complicated it must be to run a country as diverse and as complicated as India. Anyway, this train trip turned into over 25 hours BUT I pretty much slept the entire thing! Haha, and when I wasn't sleeping I was virtually always eating as the Indian rail company just keeps bringing you food. Two thumbs up there. We arrived into the capital of Delhi well past midnight having already missed the day we were supposed to have there. A complicated rescheduling followed and we were able to get one full day in Delhi. We saw the Jama Masjid Mosque, an amazing old palace/temple whose name I'm forgetting, the place where Gandhi's ashes lie, were entertained by the ubiquitous melange of cows, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, cars, trucks, buses, etc. Incidentally, India is pretty darn crowded, while at the station in Mumbai I saw people sleeping on top of the snackshop roofts, underneath sidewalk shops, pretty much everywhere there were people. Also, we saw some MASSIVE rats-only beat out by rats I spotted in New Orleans a few years ago! Which wandered the tracks free at will feasting on the multitude of trash and other less appealing things on the tracks.
From Delhi we took another late and delayed train to Agra (hometown of the Taj Mahal). We stayed at a nifty little hotel within a short walking distance of the Taj. My biggest observation: there is a lot more around the traditional image of the Taj than I knew existed. Also, the symmetry of the whole place is pretty fantastically amazing and detailed. Inside the Mausoleum within the walls are these precious stones which come from India that glow only when the moon hits them! How cool is that? Once again, I was amazed by the detail that went into the Taj Mahal. After the Taj, we then got an opportunity to visit the Fa which is heralded as the largest gate in Asia. While I have neither the interest nor the ability to defend that statement I will say that it was incredibly large! 70 meters total. Inside was the tomb of a Muslim holy man who was credited with an ability to predict things and also for granting an emperor the life of child by sacrificing his own. It was neat to see people of various religious persuasions all joining together to offer prayers and gifts at this shrine.
We then drove from Delhi to Ranthambore National Park which was about a 8 hr. journey as I remember-again slowed by the Gujar protests. But the protest meant we got to go through a lot of villages which was honestly really cool as it helped us see better what the countryside looks like. Biggest observation: there is virtually NO free land at all, everything has either people or farms on it. It seemed like every inch of the country was covered! This park is famous for tigers but alas we were not able to see any. We did get to see a ton of other animals all of which were new to me so despite some disappointment I was very pleased overall. We celebrated New Years Eve at the hotel just outside of the park. We ended up eating a delicious Indian buffet-style dinner at another hotel. Anyone who knows me well will know that I enjoyed that event immensely as I feasted for a few hours! :-) This year, I was so proud as everyone in my family made it to New Years Eve (albeit barely!)
The 1st saw us make a 4 am trip to Jaipur to catch a morning flight to Ahmedebad which is the biggest city and defacto capital of the province of Gujarat which is the province from which MANY of the Indians both in the US and in Africa come from. It is a fairly affluent state which is dry and also the home of where Gandhi lived within his Ashram or community. Getting to visit the Ashram was a special treat. Additionally, we were there shortly before the international Kite Festival (envision the movie Kite Runner) so we were able to go to a street which only sells Kite products and watch them making the glass covered string which is used in these fights. Here we were the honored, honored guests of a friend of my sister at her wedding! People were so unbelievably generous as hosts, making us feel incredibly at home, giving us rides, always asking if we were doing okay. My whole time in India I was humbled by the kind welcome everyone gave us. Another example of this in Ahmedebad was the opportunity I got to see a friend of mine from Wake Forest who happened to be there at the same time for his sister's wedding. Despite the fact that the wedding was the day after we were there, he and his family were kind enough to have us over to a traditional Gujarat lunch full of delicious foods and he helped us plan the rest of our day there. Throughout Africa I have always felt welcomed too, but India truly was something extraordinary.
This vacation was remarkable in many ways. Two personal firsts: 1) I never once tickled my father-which many of you know is a difficult thing to NOT do, 2) this new year has marked my commitment to not biting my nails. This is my first serious effort at this so hopefully it goes well. I already had to clip my nails which was the first time in a very long time.... haha. So, keep me accountable!
This is kinda random but... flying reminded me of something I cannot understand. It is almost as difficult to understand as such mind-blowing complexities such as why do monkeys make opening bananas look so smooth, why do we call the bone a “funny bone”-it's never funny to you, and of course, why exactly do we as men continue to be attracted to women when we know our entire lives we will never be able to predict what's going on...? Oh yah, the event which brought this to mind: why is it that the same people who look like they are fleeing the apocalypse while boarding an airplane are the ones who also attempt to climb over you in their attempt to evacuate that SAME airplane?! Is it that they just forget that they don't actually like flying when they are smacking people with the briefcase rushing through line into the plane? Anyway... just musings from me but... for real?
Of course, my time in India had to finish eventually and I returned to Andorra on Saturday, just in time to have a Fulbright friend from Barcelona come to stay with us for two days, he ended up leaving Tuesday night, but he promises to be back! :-) Unfortunately, as ya'll know, Mondays and Tuesdays are fairly hectic days so I wasn't able to spend much time with him after Sunday (as in I did not see him at all Tuesday)
Now I'm back in Andorra, enjoying the high life as I live away. I am finishing up this email at night and we just had a fun birthday bash with some of our close friends here and it was a great time. It is fun to be able to have friends over and just feel relaxed. Haha, it is surprisingly nice to be back to “home” and hopefully this term will go as well or better than last semester. As always, thanks for reading and thanks for who you are! Hopefully this new year will be challenging, fun, and hopefully will end the year with a job! Despite the work and stress/excitement I look forward to being relaxed in the moment as I continue to seek to FULLY live and learn what Love is all about!
As always, Peace and Love from the Principality!