Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sankrati is Celebrated with Kites....And I Celebrated

First of all-2 BLOGS IN ONE DAY! I feel like a celebrity tweeter..

So after my morning to early afternoon soul introduction to "Toby the Traveler", I decided to do what anybody staying in a 5 star resort would-decompress by the pool.

About an hour into my book, surrounded by other ex patriots,  and burdened by the lack of energy poolside, I get bombarded by a kite. Straight out of nowhere, crash, right next to me.
 Then it dawns on me....The youth of Hyderabad celebrate Sankrati by flying kites.(youth=4yrs-30yrs)  So I look up and there are dozens of kites dotting the skyline. Most barely visible, all higher than the circling hawks of early evening.
Then I hear the music. Loud party music in the distance. Slightly muffled, coming from somewhere far behind the 20 foot walls of the hotel pool.
I try to ignore it and go back to my book.....YEAH RIGHT. I'M OUTTA HERE.

Back to the room to put on some sensible shoes and I head out in the direction of what seems to be a party.

About 2 miles into the twisty back streets of Hyderabad, I finally seem to be on the trail. I had lost the music all together at one point and went on gut instinct and general feel. I kept checking around me to make sure that I could see the occasional rickshaw, so if I got lost I still had a way out. My 3 wheeled breadcrumbs.

Down a long narrow alley, full of suspicious stares I finally hit my most encouraging landmark of my treasure hunt. Children scrambling madly on the surface streets running towards the next downed kite. Then I look up. 7-10 stories above me on multi-leveled roof tops are young adults blaring music and flying kites.....THOUSANDS OF THEM.

I have found what I was looking for. So I do what anybody at a finish line does....sit down and watch.

Enter Maruthi (sounds like Martin). Smiley 20 something full of questions. All questions are answered graciously while I crane my neck skywards. 
"America". "Yes Obama". "Medical Clinics". "ITC Hotel". etc.
Then he asks the best question of all...."Do you want to fly a kite?" YEAH I DO. I was instructed to wait right where I was for 10 minutes...don't leave.

15 minutes later (the extra 5 minutes were loooong) Maruthireturned with 2 shiny metallic kites, no string.
"Come-I live up there". To the top of the tallest building I have been staring at for the last half hour.

Up a narrow stairwell full of cement steps pitched at an impossible angle, we ascend higher and higher, until we break out into the sun.
We are on the roof with 3 of his friends who have climbed a latter to the top of Maruthi roof top apartment in an order to get 10 feet closer to god, and kite wind. The very perch I have been watching from below, which is now impossibly far away and dizzing to look at.

Around us on other rooftops are young men blasting Indian Club Music, and sporadically bursting out into Lawrence of Arabia Camel Race yells form roof to roof as they compete to get their kites skywards.
I can see the whole city from here, including Hussein Sagar where the Buddha Monolith still holds vigil 10 blocks away.

We flew kites until sundown, and the image of silhouettes against the sun with their outstretched arms, connected to a piece of tissue paper hundreds of feet in the air.  The sounds of distorted club music from speakers not built to handle the volume, the high pitched tongue flick yells of successful liftoff, and the jumble of Hindi being spoken by our roof top aviators was too rich not to sit down and write about.....Even if it is the second time today.

Today I Met My Traveler Self

I am not sure if it is because in India, today is Makar Sankrati-the holiday to represent the transition of the sun into Makara Rashi (Capricorn) marking a day of harvest.
I am not sure if it is Sunday, my heritages linear day of peace and rest.
I am not sure if it is because I started my day logging on to my computer to find out the the 49ers beat the Saints.

What I am sure of is that today I set out on foot into the streets of Hyderabad with no direction, no destination, and no schedule, not unlike what I have done quite a few times now in the not so distance past in Africa and here. But today, for reasons unknown, as soon as I left the hotel property, I was enveloped in a bubble of confidence and peace. A tranquil comfort that scripted a permanent grin on my foreign face. A lesson understood seemingly for the first time.

Here is what happened: I did not walk blindly. I walked with a purpose, but very careful to physically stop whenever something caught my attention for any reason and really mentally explore how I felt about that from an Indian me and American me. For instance: I left the hotel hungry. I wanted food in a locals only, cheap, "don't gauge the American" place with good food. I wanted to show that I belonged there. I walked right up to the first open aired cafe I found and ordered the Chicken Tikka (because I had eaten that before and could tell if it would be different). I paid the exact amount like it was my own currency and instructed him that I was going to climb the narrow ladder to the loft to take my meal at the table up there, please send up my food, and thank you very much. All with my plastered genuine smile.

The shop proprietor seemed to congratulate me with his eyes on a transaction well done and nodded his approval.
Then I climbed, sat, and picked apart the experience to understand it viscerally.

It was the same all day. I walked past the poor begging woman like I didn't see her instead of stopping to try and explain that while my heart wanted to give her money, I realize its not the answer. No need for wordy explanations. Smile and pass...tough love.

I relied on my ignorance when it suited me without even thinking about it. I asked for answers to questions that were obvious to locals but obviously not me. Then I turned right around and acted like a local when it suited me to survive, like crossing traffic. No hesitation, no surrender, all senses heightened.

I admired local street art, and the people doing it, but politely asked permission to take their picture...

.....all with my permanent smile.

As I returned back to the hotel, I realized....that was interesting and very natural.

I now realize that being a traveler calls for attributes. Attributes that may even attach themselves to the 7th Chakra that is so prevalent here in India. The Crown Chakra. The 3rd eye. The seeing of the unsee able. The understanding of the untaught. The calculated certainty of an anticipated event. A natural comfort in a potentially uncomfortable environment.

Today, after months of training, I became a traveler. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The National Language in India is Horn

and the local dialect is "beeeeep, hoooonnk, wwaaaaahhh".

I'm now in possession of a brand new obsession and theory.....motorized rickshaws and their ability to open a door of understanding cities on an intimate level.

For 3 seconds I began to feel bad that I never rode in one of these contraptions that seem to be everywhere BUT America, while I was in Africa. Then I remembered that I walked and took public transportation everywhere allowing, NAY, force feeding dirt and dust consumption in quantities that are uncomfortable to think about. I physically ate so much African dirt and exhaust that I should have been forced to claim it at customs upon my return.

Imagine if you will a three lane road cutting through town like the formula one race tracks in Italy. (Ok-imagine the final race scene in Cars 2).
These 3 lanes are fat enough across for one bus 2 motorized rickshaws, and 3 motorcycles....well not really, but that"s what they fit here.
Now imagine if you will that they all go 35-45 mph, are never less than 5 feet from the vehicle in front or behind, weave in and out of their designated lane paying attention to only that in front of them and letting everything behind fend for themselves, and use their horn a minimum of 15 times a minute.
SIDE NOTE: none of these numbers are massaged for affect.

Scary enough to watch from the hotel window on the 11th put yourself into the rickshaw. This is  a 3 wheeled golf cart with motorcycle hand controls, vinyl seats for maximum slippage and no doors.

This all amounts to AWESOME!

You see, you smell, you feel heat everywhere, you get close enough to people in other cars to tell the time on their wrist watches, and you feel alive.

I loved it so much during the day, that I just got back from my night trip, and no there will be no photos of that. I needed all my faculties to survive! That story has to be told in person, but here is the movie trailer..."In a world, where a white man in India decides to tackle the streets at night in a  rickshaw. Only one man holds his fate in his hands and he is angry, has ADD, a learning disability, and no sense of direction. He is....THE RICKSHAW DRIVER". Coming soon to a Sunday Dinner Table near you.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

India-First Impressions

Ok-so I had less than an hour to get to my gate in Dubai, landed in Hyderabad at 230 am Sunday morning, and am writing this Sunday afternoon. What does all this mean?
First of all, I have no idea what Dubai looks like short of knowing that the airport is large, clean, and streamlined (and the lovely person checking my boarding pass upgraded me to Business Class just to be nice.)
Secondly, even India is barren at 230 am, however; the airport had a go cart race track in front of it and batting cages next to the taxi stand (very strange) and people in both....230 am...things that make you go hhmmmm.
Third, I have not left the hotel, so I have experienced very little.

I can tell you that it seems more modern and more American friendly here than Africa. What i mean by friendly is television has HBO, CNN, American sports, etc. and I have already seen a Burger King which says alot. The pigeons are the same as America and the hawks are the same as Africa...low flying and large.

I ate at the Sunday Brunch Buffet (Indian Style) and it was marvelous! India makes eating vegetarian a worth while experince  and I can appreciate that, and its always note worthy  to have 10 things for dessert that you have never eaten before in your life.

The hotel has the coolest looking swimming pool I have ever seen...with no water in it. So what if it is 85 degrees...its January, which means routine maintinence in the off season. No swimming for me.

Everybody in uniform seems to love the word "Sir" because they use it 8 times per sentence, and in case your ever here, recognize that when they bobble their head back and fourth while you talk, it means they understand what you are saying....not having a seizure, so best to keep from shoving your wallet in their mouth to prevent them from swallowing their tongue and smile right back.

Tomorrow I venture out, and by the sounds of the constant horns in the distance (seriously they never stop) I will have much more to write about.

Till Then

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Africa is My New Tattoo

I have been home now all of three weeks, and felt the responsibility to NOT share feelings in written form until such a time that I have truly been able to wrap my mind around them.....I am jumping the gun.

I don't think that I will ever be able to place, isolate, dictate, recognize, or share the waves of cognitive emotions that wash over me in regards to my time spent on the Ivory Continent. However; of one thing I am certain-Africa will never leave me.

No I have not taken the illustrious, and predictable "Toby" way of actually having Africa tattooed on my body...not yet. If for no other reason, I feel as if it is the first real tattoo I have ever gotten directly on my heart between God and myself.

When I returned home, of course everything seemed the same. Familiar. However; there was this unseen shroud that moved everything 1/8 of an inch to the right...just not quite the same as it all was when I left. I waited for the old familiarity to take hold, but alas, to no avail.
This is when I realized that I have been changed. Things are never going to be quite the same again. Not unlike looking down at my forearm now and seeing my fathers childhood image staring back. My forearm will never be just a forearm again, and my heart will always see Tabitha happy in her flip flops and owning nothing else, or the lady that walked 12 blocks out of her way in downtown Nairobi to make sure I got to where I needed to go, or the young boy in the clinic suffering from Malaria.

Am I sad or scared? Absolutely not! The promise of reshaping my spirit is more than exciting.
As mentioned I will be travelling to many far away places, and not to sit pool side at a Marriott. I will be going to inject myself into cultures and everyday lives. I will be conversing with their sick. I will be asking the locals how we can make things better. And I will most certainly be having my heart moved 1/8 of an inch to the right every time I do.

In addition I will  be bringing it all to you, as I take it on myself.

I leave for Hyderabad, India the day after tomorrow and I'm bringing my heart with me....won't you come along?