Jaipur is a really cool city. Admittedly laid back and relaxed by the locals, this place is home to the Pink City and a temple in honor of Ganesh, which offers super fun elephant rides... I even got to wear a turban. While visiting this temple several culturally awesome things happened: 1. I saw a hall of mirrors, definitely felt some Oshun vibes. 2. I witnessed Indian tour guides speaking Portuguese with a Brazilian tour group, might I add with lots of plastic surgery? 3. Local photographers spoke Spanish to us because the group ahead of us was from Spain. 4. I bought shoes from a deaf gentleman who wanted to marry me. 5. I bought some beautiful jewelry, also from a deaf gentlemen, including a pearl ring and a necklace of silver, coral,and turquoise. I never buy jewelry but the gentlemen lowered the prices and the jewelry was screaming my name. 6. The Pink City was built in honor of a British prince, like just about everything else. One building is full of windows filled in with stained glass. At night, the place lights up like a multicolored disco ball, so pretty. 6. We closed the evening with a visit to a local Sikh temple of Krishna, where a prayer and blessing ceremony took place. I took some of the candy. The beautiful white marble spiraled up the walls and into a dome which seemed to go on forever.
Across from the hotel in Agra a tailor shop making sarees and Punjab suits was nestled between an ATM and a restaurant. Our tour bus poured eager shoppers into the shop where not enough people were there to help too many people. Happy to help my friends out, I winded up spending more time interpreting than figuring out what I wanted. For this elf you who now me, I got easily frustrated and had to count ten. Folks took over for me and I was able to pick out this beautiful what I like to call bright salmon saree. I felt like a princess.
Thereafter we took off for a dinner out at a restaurant where locals go for good Indian food. Unfortunately, my digestive track failed to find the same appreciation. From that moment ion until the day we left I was grateful for my small bottle of Immodium AD.
After a very long bus ride through what are referred to as highways we arrived to Agra, home of the beautiful monument of love, the Taj Mahal. By before I discuss the amazingness of the Taj, let me elaborate on these highways. Remember India, and damn near everywhere BUT America (just like the metric system), drives on the left. That took some getting used to. Also, the fog and pollution in Delhi and along the way was so thick I don't think I saw the sky or sun during the entire eight hour bus ride. Also just as our tour guide had promised, people lived in shantytowns next to the highway. Not like in California, where a small plot of land protects the homes from the highway in the agrarian central San Joaqin Valley. I'm talkin the highway is these people's front yard. Water buffalo, white cattle, bonfires, drying laundry, shops and such skirted the highways on both sides. When traffic slows down to a complete halt the sellers of kick knacks and mommy-and-me beggars swarmed the bus, sometimes even banging the sides with their fists. India never gets boring.
Finally we arrive to the Taj, and security here is no joke. Because of cultural values, women and men often queue up separately. I kind of like that. Between you and me I think I got more action from the female security guards in all of India than I have in my last semester of grad school. As much as I could go on and on about the Taj, all I can say is how beautiful it is. My ignorant American mind failed to realize the Taj is not a religious building, an emperor form the 17th century built the Taj as a memorial of the love he had for his wife who passed away. Wow, that's a lot of love.
The grounds are gorgeous, and so are the attendees. Again and again Indian men wanted to take a picture with the blonde blue-eyed American. At one point an Indian man approached me and asked if I would pose in a photo with his wife who was dressed to the nines in a gorgeous red saree decked out in all kinds of golden jewelry. I felt so honored.
The next evening we were received with a beautiful reception of Indian hors d'oeuvres, entrees, drinks, and even more beautiful were the people in attendance (and I'm not talking about just myself). I met young vivacious deaf women who sat and chatted with the young deaf undergraduates in my group. I met the NAD president in Delhi, his wife, and many other deaf influentials. One man who had lost his hearing at a later age as an adult shared his testimony of love and enjoyment becoming a part of the deaf community, culture, and world in Delhi. This was another humbling and inspiring moment of the many I was blessed to encounter during this journey through incredible India.
One woman I met works in the advocacy of abused and battered women, fighting for women's rights in India. Meeting such noble people really puts things into perspective for me. She has such a strong and friendly energy about her. Although I didn't know Indian Sign Language and she didn't know American Sign Language, we knew each other's alphabets and found a common place to communicate. This evening was a mere foreshadowing of the life changing and inspiring events I would soon experience.
Yesterday, we welcomed the New Year in with a special brunch made especially for us by the hotel. Butter Chicken is amazing and addictive. Speaking of addictive, I haven't had a drop of coffee this whole trip thus far. I'm so proud of myself. The staff provided chai tea with cream and sugar every morning, which by the way they don't call "chai," they call it "Indian tea." Dr. Madan gave us our morning lecture, which was not nearly as droll as it sounds. His lectures are more like anecdotal discussions about cultural relativity and perspective, prompting us to see deeper and feel deeper about our daily experiences of Deaf Culture in India.
We reviewed some Indian Sign Language (ISL) in preparation for our evening reception hosted by a very generous and successful family a 45 minute drive away. But before that, we spent the morning at Ghandi's Memorial. Our tour guide told us all about his assassination, his philosophies, his relationship with the Indian people and their neighbors, and we learned how Ghandi's sign name relates to both his appearance and his actions: a monocle and a spinning wheel for making cotton thread. Dr. Madan reminded us that the beliefs of Ghandi are found in both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And in the modern Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. The difference between the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement of the 1980s at Gallaudet University, and OWS is: OWS lacks a leader. Dr. Madan is very skilled at giving us quality food for thought.
After the memorial, we piled back into the bus and were off to visit a wholesale marketplace in Old Delhi. We only had an hour to shop for food, crafts, and clothing with our self-chosen buddy. My buddy and I chose one another somewhat randomly, and realized we both wanted to do different things. He wanted to eat, I wanted to shop. Being the strong, independent, stubborn, free spirit butterfly that I am, I chose to wander off and shop alone while he sat and ate his dinner. Before I left we talked about time and decided to meet back soon. I looked at my watch and we had plenty of time left. So off I went to buy myself some goodies. One blouse, one purse, and a lot of walking later, my watch said 5:58. I arrived to the designated area, but there were no Gallaudet students to be found. No yellow shirts, no tour guides, no one. Confused, I looked at my watch again. 6:00 pm. I walked a bit more to try and find my group, but I didn't recognize anyone around me. Checking my iPhone in my purse and to much dismay, in actuality it was 6:18 pm. My watch was late. I was alone in a marketplace in Old Delhi. The group had left and I started to panic. Shocked and somewhat in denial, I continued to look for my peers. Admitting that it was time to stop looking and start doing, I pulled out the business card of the hotel to hail a cab. But how do I hail a cab? Who around me speaks English? How do I know I can trust them?
I spotted a man in a business suit and asked him if he could tell me how to find a cab. He directed me towards the parked police car nearby where they could assist me. Starting to realize this will be no easy feat, I began to worry I could make it back to the hotel not only in time for dinner, but in one piece with all my money. After the policemen spoke for a short time, they suggested I take an auto instead.
"Is it cheaper?" I asked.
"Yes," one policeman answered.
"Is it safe?"
"Alright." he escorted me to an auto, which is a three wheeled apparatus with a driver and a tiny bench/backseat for me to sit on. And away we went. This was better than any Magic Mountain or Disneyland roller coaster. Dodging cars, bicycles, rickshaws, people, wild dogs and fellow autos, this driver lead me on a tour I will never forget. I was still relatively unnerved Andy scared about making it back to the hotel in a reasonable amount of time without being taken advantage of. But back at the marketplace, I noticed the policeman who helped me write down the number of the auto, presumably to ensure I was safe. Thank you Old Delhi marketplace policeman.
My auto driver took a different route than my morning bus driver. We took a a shortcut through the slums of Old Delhi. I saw a small herd of white cattle grazing through a pile of garbage. Children were playing with sticks circling around a haphazardly made fire. People were huddled, kneeled barefoot around a fire pit outside their shanty home. Food was for sale and roads were a free for all. Earlier our tour guide had said something to the effect of: "In America, they drive on the right. In Britain they drive on the left. Here, we drive on what's left." I can testify to that statement. I trusted my driver because so far, I hadn't seen any accidents and I remember the policeman taking down the auto's information. But there were a few times I had to close my eyes and hold on tight. Actually, a lot of holding on tight; seat belts are more of a luxury than a necessity here. There were a few times I thought we had defied the laws of physics, coming so close to hitting both cars and pedestrians.
As the journey proceeded, it began to rain. I felt like I was in a movie. We pulled over three times for him to ask for directions. Luckily, we ended up on the street of the hotel (in retrospect I'm realizing that street must have been THE hotel street in the neighborhood) and I recognized some landmarks like the HSBC ATM and the pet hospital right next door. I made it home spending only 150 Rupees, which is equivalent to about US $2.00, for a 45 minute ride.
With only 15 minutes to change for our reception dinner, I cried when telling people my story... I'm too sensitive for my own good, and got dressed for the dinner. I couldn't believe what had happened to me that day. That's what I get for being so independent, right? What a humbling experience, which I think we all need every now and then. Dr. Asiah, a Gallaudet professor and the lady behind the magic of this trip, found me in the hotel lobby and told me she was so happy to see me back. Later she added, "But I knew you could handle yourself, I knew you'd be fine. You're from New York! I felt confident in you." Those affirming words comforted me and reminded me that I am a strong, confident, independent free spirited butterfly.
Lessons learned in my marketplace adventure:
Communicate with your buddy.
Stay with your buddy.
I'm stronger than I thought.
During the auto ride, I said to myself:
"You're freaking out now, but this will make for one good story on the blog."
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