Sunday, December 4, 2011

Final lesson of the Himalaya's: Everyone has a story!

I apologize that I’m finishing this story two whole months after the fact…but please forgive me I promise to get my blogging back on point.

So the hail storm only got worst as we went down so we tried to find shelter under a rock. We includes me, Kristen, the guide, and the horse. I had an umbrella so it made things somewhat better but all I could think about was how was this about to end? Would we have to wait another three hours to try to go down again? Would we end up staying the night on the mountain? The hail seemed never-ending, but after another hour or so it stopped and we started our way back down. At this point Kristen and I are soaked and just want to get the hell off this mountain but on the way down we run into another Aussie woman at a small tea shop. Of course Kristen could not resist a chat w/ her home girl. This is when it gets interesting.

Were sitting around talking and Kristen poses the question what’s your story to the Aussie woman, let’s call her Fran. Kristen believed that everyone in India had a story. Kristen’s story was that she was a relationship counselor from Australia who was dealing with a failing marriage. Two years ago she was in a terrible car accident and was told that she was paralyzed. After intense therapy and clearly God she managed to get the strength to travel. So she told her husband she was taking some time for herself and decided to spend six months between Nepal and India. This story wasn’t that new for me. I had met two other women who also fled to India because of failed marriages. The only thing that confused me about all this was why they picked India? I think they all wanted a spiritual awakening…I mean they were all there to see the Dalai Lama. I didn’t really feel like I had a story but after opening up a little to Kristen she assured me that I was also heartbroken and seeking love from a man and developing strength within myself. I didn’t know how to take that but since she said she was a relationship counselor I figured some of it had to be true. Our stories however were nothing compared to Fran’s.

Fran told us that her and her partner were in India celebrating 10 years. Now originally when she said partner I didn’t even assume she meant a woman. She tells us how she and her husband had also been having hard times. (At this point I’m wondering who is having a successful marriage) They had an on and off marriage and had been separated for some time. Then one day he comes to her and says that he has to be honest with her….he proceeds to tell her that he believes he was born in a man’s body and is indeed a woman and that this is the reason why they have been having so many problems. (That awkward moment when you just smile and say wow) Fran takes this information and decides that he’s right. Since then they have been to Thailand to have the full operation and her husband is now Jane and they were in Dharamsala to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. Kristen blurts out “so would you consider yourself homosexual now?” Fran says “I guess so; this all just proved to me that it was about the person he was within.” I didn’t know what to say but that she was a strong woman to truly accept this new life and I was proud of myself because I really wasn’t judging her, I was truly listening to her perspective and thinking “damn girl…you ride or die for real ” in my head the whole time.

Kristen was right. Everyone I met in Dharamsala had a story. There were people who were working with Tibetan refugees, hippies who were just enjoying the scenery, backpackers searching for their purpose in life, and monks seeking inner peace. I spent another two days taking a Tibetan cooking class, learning about the Free Tibet movement, shopping for elephants, getting a Tibetan massage,trying  to go paragliding but never being successful, and going to the Dalai Lama’s teaching.

My trip to the Himalaya’s was everything I needed and since it’s been about two months since then I could use it again. I am so proud of myself for doing this all by myself. I took creepy Indian buses throughout the night for a total of 30 hours, climbed a mountain, and scored tickets to see the Dalai Lama…all by myself. I always knew I was a strong person but this trip reiterated the strength I have within myself to continuously challenge myself to become a better person.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Playa in the Himalaya's: Trek Day pt.1

Trek Day

So I started off the morning at 7:00am. After doing research with the locals I was told that it was unnecessary for me to pay a guide for the trek. Everyone told me there was no way I could get lost and that I would see many people along the way. So to save some money I took their advice and geared up to do the trek alone with the hope that I would run into other tourists. After having a hearty breakfast I find a taxi that can take me to the Govi Temple. I could have walked but I would be saving myself 2km by taking the taxi and starting the trek from the Govi Temple. This sounded great until the roads were blocked and I was forced to get out the taxi and walk. The driver assures me that it will only take me five minutes but of course 20 minutes goes by and I still don’t see this damn temple and more frightening I don’t see any tourists. I finally make it to the temple and see two guys enjoying a chai. I ask them for directions and they direct me towards what they call the “path to Truind”. Truind is the top of the mountain that I ‘m trying to get to. They tell me it should take me about an hour or two.

Happy that I saw two people I start out on my trek. What was supposed to be a smooth path was jumbles of rocks…I had no idea where to go but up. At this point I’m wondering if it was a bad idea for me to do this by myself. I’m looking down and see that all it takes is a small slip and I’m dead. I’m not exaggerating that’s forreal. Did I mention I’m afraid of heights? I take a second to get my head together and then I give myself a pep talk saying “you got this Marty”. After 20 minutes I’m again in this forest alone, wondering if I’m going the right way, and feeling like I can’t breathe. This continues for another hour with me stopping every 20-30 minutes to sit down and give myself another pep talk. The worst part and the best part about this trek was the unknown. I had no idea if I was going the right way and I had no idea when it would be over. I had to just have faith and keep going.

I keep going and after another 30 minutes I finally see a white woman and I’m so excited! She was very short though, so my excitement didn’t last long….all hope wasn’t lost though. I had finally made it to the mountain tea shop which was midway. While I was there I met an Aussie woman. I didn’t get to keep up with her for the rest of the trek up because she was on a horse but she was nice enough to give encouraging words as she rode by each time. The other woman would just walk by like I was in her way. Umm, maam! Do not throw shade….I’m a black woman in the damn woods, climbing a damn mountain, by my damn self! They both had guides though so it made me feel better to just stay behind them and follow the way. After about another hour and a half I had finally made it to the top.

To my disappointment there was nothing but fog! I had purposely set out early to make it to the top before the afternoon fog…shady! I didn’t spend much more than 10 minutes at the top. I couldn’t believe I walked all that way and didn’t even get to see the view of the mountains. Even worst, everyone was leaving because a storm was approaching! ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?

The Aussie woman Kristen suggested I stick with her and her guide for the walk down. With the storm it could get very dangerous. So I listened to her and feared for my life the whole walk down. For the first half we waited in a cave; it wasn’t raining too hard so I thought we should do as much as we could while it wasn’t too bad but our Indian guide advised against it. That was until it started hailing and he realized the storm wasn’t stopping anytime soon. So there I was idk how many feet above the ground on a mountain, trying to go down in a hail storm! All I could do was pray with each step. I slipped about five times on a rock and each time I felt like I was dancing trying to save myself from falling over.

Read the next post to see how this all ended! I usually write too much so I’m trying to break the stories up; there’s just so much to tell you all!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Playa in the Himalaya’s: Days 6-8 FINE ASS RAJ lol

Day 6: So in day 5 I told you about my mountaintop boo Raj but I didn’t give the entire scoop. After I played in the waterfall I trudged back down and found a cool teahouse overlooking the small river bank. My plan was to get a cup of chai and read some more but that plan was thrown out the window as soon as fine ass Raj said “Hello”. And for the record his name through this entire post will be “fine ass Raj”. At first I took him for any other Indian guy but thought he was a little cute but after talking to him for about five minutes I realized I really enjoyed his company and conversation. I was almost upset that I introduced myself in my Indian name “Malika” because he could only address me as such for the entire rest of the trip.

Raj had many jobs in his 23 years he was a yoga instructor, a trek guide, played the sitar, did some other stuff and has decided to pursue being a tattoo artist. Each time he finished a sentence he would take his whole palm and glide his fingers through his hair. Any other time I probably would have thought that to be such a “girly” thing to do but with fine ass Raj it seemed so normal. I sat at that café for an hour or so before a thunderstorm kindly came by to interrupt my “Eat, Pray, Love” moment. The good part was that by then we had already exchanged numbers. He asked me out to get pizza….claiming to know the best place in Dharamsala. I don’t know if he suggested pizza because I was American but for once I didn’t care about being stereotyped. We met for pizza and again got stuck in the restaurant due to a hailstorm, but this time it was for three hours and we had plenty cups of chai to keep us warm. It was at this restaurant Unity Bistro that we met Babagi.

Babagi is just a respectful way to address an older Indian man with baba meaning father and gi being a little extra. Babagi kept referring to me as the Hindu goddess Parvati and fine ass Raj as her husband Shiva. You could tell fine ass Raj was so embarrassed because he kept trying to tell Babagi that we were not married and he kept covering his face in embarrassment. Eventually Babagi let it go but not without a Hindu song! He sang, and sang, and sang the same song over, and over again. I eventually learned the words but after awhile I was praying that the storm end and we get out the place. Eventually it did and we spent the rest of the day at the Dalai Lama Temple with the monks.

Day 7: I simply spent the morning at a café reading and spent the rest of the day shopping! I got all types of stuff…a wall hanging, furry slippers, satchels, and my best buy; the cutest ELEPHANT PANTS! All for other folks of course.


I just realized I have too much to say about this and it will have to have its own separate post lol.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Playa in the Himalaya’s: Day 3-5 Chillin and Cryin at the Waterfall

Day 3: So after seeing the Golden Temple and all its beauty I felt the heat overcoming my body and I had to divert from the original plan of staying the whole day and sightseeing turned into me catching the first bus out of there. Again I sat in the front of the bus next to the driver and held onto my luggage for dear life. After another 6 hour bus ride I arrived to Dharamsala at about 9:00 at night. As soon as I got off the bus almost four Indians ran up to me “room Madame?” OMG. Let me get off the damn bus! I finally succumb to the continuous offer of a cheap hotel because my original hotel plans fell through. As I’m walking to this new cheap hotel I have another moment of fearing my life as I walk down the dark streets and finally arrive at stairs. I immediately put my guard up “Wait, where is the hotel?”….” just down these stairs Madame…not far”. As much as I didn’t want to go down those steps once I took the first step I knew I couldn’t turn back because at that point what were my other options? The hotel was sus but it did the trick.

Day 4: I spent the morning sitting at a café sipping cappuccinos and trying to convince my family that I’m alive and well. The rest of the day I spent trying to find my original guesthouse; House Om Tara. On the website this guesthouse was supposed to be a peaceful get away from the hustle and bustle of Mcleoganj but I missed the part that it was a getaway in the forest. I follow the directions of taking an auto to a neighboring town and call myself following the roads that should eventually lead to this guesthouse. After a half hour with my backpack killing my back, sweat running down chest, and nothing but trees around me I admit to myself that I’m lost. I feel helpless because my phone isn’t working to call the owner and the one guy I did see has no idea what guesthouse I’m talking about. BLOWN! I finally walk another half an hour and find an internet café. I use someone’s phone and finally get the help of the owner. Turns out I was going in the opposite direction and once I started on the right path to the guesthouse I wanted to die….the owner kept saying…”not too much further” as it became further and further. To make matters worse once I arrived…it turned out to be a squatter toilet and a damn bucket shower! So much for a relaxing shower. The real blower came once the crazy thunder storm invaded the mountain and didn’t stop the entire night…creating a frigid night’s sleep that could only be somewhat alleviated with “The Devil Wears Prada”. I went to sleep hoping tomorrow would be better.

Day 5: I spent my entire day reading! I brought a new book Shantaram. It’s all about an Australian guy who was a heroin addict and breaks out of jail. He flees to Mumbai, India and ends up starting a free health clinic in the slums, becomes a part of the Indian mob, acts in a Bollywood film, and gets thrown in an Indian jail all within eight years. I don’t know if it was the reading or the fact that I was alone in a forest but this was my most emotional day. Waking up to the beautiful view of the mountains and being alone made me sad. In between reading I couldn’t stop thinking about my family. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing too much from my family’s lives. Especially my little cousins, some nights I cry because I feel like I’m failing them by not being there. I try to remember that I’m far away for them; because I want them to have an example and something to aspire to but it’s really hard not being a part of their everyday lives. With that, I decided to dry my tears and do something. So I decided to partake on another draining journey to the Bhagsu falls. That didn’t help my emotions because I just cried more once I was there because I was sad my family wasn’t there to see it. The walk up to the falls was exhausting to say the least but the time spent splashing around and swimming in the falls was exhilarating! There was a feeling that came over me that I struggled to define for about 12 minutes but I’ve settled on that feeling being pure happiness, I was just so happy that I was there, and more importantly that I was truly enjoying myself. The best part about this day though was meeting FINE ASS Raj aka my mountaintop boo! You must read the next post to find out all about him lol.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Playa in the Himalaya’s: Day 2- THE GOLDEN TEMPLE aka CLUB GT !!!!

I know I may have left you hanging and wondering what happened….but that’s the point right.

Day 2:

Luckily the bus driver was a nice guy and decided to make me move. At first I didn’t know how to react to this but I listened and once I got to the front of the bus, he warned me that I wasn’t around safe people and that I shouldn’t fall asleep near them. He gave me the okay to fall asleep in the front of the bus but after his warning I still didn’t feel comfortable. After a 12 hour ride and what turned out to be the best chicken I’ve had since in India from the side of the road, I finally arrived in Amritsar at 7:30am. I came all the way to see the famous Golden Temple. It is known as one of the most beautiful and the most sacred site for the Sikh faith.

Before entering the temple I was instructed to cover my head, take off my shoes, and wash my hands and feet. The security took these rules very seriously; I put my shoes in my bag because although it was a temple, I remembered that scene from Slum dog Millionaire when Jamal and Salim steal people’s shoes from the Taj Mahal. The guard saw them in my bag and would not allow me to enter without taking them to the shoe stand, then once I returned he questioned me several times about whether I had tobacco or alcohol in my bag. I repeatedly told him no but even after letting me pass I could tell he didn’t believe me. Upon entering I literally stopped at the top of the stairs and could do nothing but say “ WOW”. That was just the first of my many WOW moments on this trip.

I walked down the stairs and stood across from what I thought was the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. An immediate reverence came over me. I stood and just looked for about twenty minutes then I sat and looked for another 20 minutes. There were fish in the water and people dipped their feet in, washed their faces, and some had their full bodies immersed in the water as if they were going for a swim. I couldn’t dare put more than my feet in the water. Everyone was looking at me like” Why is she here?”, but I was grateful that rather than asking me questions that in the temple all they felt was appropriate was a simple stare. The stares only heightened once I decided that I was going to actually go inside the temple and see what goes on. As I stood in the never ending line of people with offerings known as “langars” I could only imagine all that was going through their heads, and I know they were dying to ask me something. Once I finally made it inside I was greeted with drums and singing. There were elaborate decorations of orange and fuchsia flowers to compliment the gold everywhere. I really don’t mean to offend anyone but being inside made me think of being in a nightclub. You know the fancy ones that have 3-4 levels and every floor has something different? That’s exactly what it felt like, upon entering each floor there was a different drummer ( dj) and form of worship occurring (dance). I went all the way to the rooftop where there were very little people. The people up here were devoted worshippers and engaged in their praise. A man came over to me and asked me where I was from. I kindly told him the U.S. and geared up for the many questions that would follow. Instead of questioning me he simply shared some advice and you couldn’t tell me God wasn’t speaking through him. “ You know, you may be having a hard time with your job, feeling uneasy or like things aren’t right, but this is very peaceful place; sit here for maybe five minutes and just think and clear your head, everything will be ok”. For those that don’t know, I have been more than uneasy and unsure about my job here in India. I’ve shared about me doubting my purpose but over time it has grown to just being frustrated with everything about the job. Just before leaving for this trip I had a hard week, and felt that I was becoming a target but prayer helped me handle the situation the “Spelman” way. I read somewhere that if you don’t like the situation you’re in, you don’t have to settle for it. So I asked God to send me a sign because I seriously started to consider if I was settling. Now, I usually struggle with signs because I’m a very direct person so I was nervous that I could miss it, but God knowing how I am gave it to me straight on that rooftop. This man not knowing anything about me decided to share that of all things with me. I sat down on the rooftop and prayed and cried. I had an overwhelming gratitude for what I had just received.

I walked away from the Golden Temple knowing that God has a plan for me and that India and the challenges that come with it are a part of it. So from the words of P.Diddy in “Let’s Get It”....” I was born ready….I was already on fish and spaghetti...take that”. LOL. I know that was a lot but I had to give yall that…it was only right.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Playa in the Himalaya's : Day One!

So as you all know I went on a mini-vacation to the Himalaya’s! More specifically, I went to Dharamsala, a city in the state of Himachal Pradesh which is comprised of many cities that lay in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Dharamsala is the city which is famously known as the home of the Dalai Lama so I felt that if there was no other city I visited it had to be this one. My journey started with a short flight to Delhi, a 12 hour night bus to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple, and another 10 hour bus ride to Dharamsala. What I thought would be an intense spiritual or adventure vacation turned out to be a relaxing vacation of reflection, although day one of this journey had me thinking it would be my last days.

Day One:

So even before leaving Hyderabad I got into an argument with two auto drivers. One because he told me he would take me to the airport and then midway wanted to change the price so I got out, and the second because he took me to the airport using a meter but then wanted to charge me a price different than the meter once we arrived. Both of these experiences left me thinking that I made the right decision to get out of Hyderabad, even if I was going alone. I will be honest and say that I had mixed feelings about traveling alone. At first I was so down for it, and then after entertaining the idea of going with someone I felt a small comfort so then when the plan went back to me going solo I was somewhat nervous about traveling so far without a friend or a weapon! My flight went smoothly, finding the train station went smoothly, so I knew it was too good to be true.

Upon arriving to New Delhi railway all of a sudden there were throngs of people. All running! I didn’t get it because everyone was running to nothing. I made my way through the crowd and was told that my train to Amritsar would be leaving from platform one, I go to platform one after walking 8 minutes to find out the train to Amritsar is leaving from platform two. I go to platform two and learn that there is no train going to Amritsar. At this point I’m confused….so is there no train from this platform or from this station? The attendant assures me that there is no train from this station. Somewhat blown, but still optimistic I go back to the tourist information office to make sure I’m receiving the correct information, especially since this was the office that directed me to platform one. I sit there for twenty minutes waiting for someone to help me even though no one is doing anything only for them to confirm that there are no trains to Amritsar leaving until morning. The first thing I think of is that maybe I’m supposed to miss Amritsar and go straight to Dharamsala, so I ask about a train there but got the same result. There was no way I was staying in Delhi for the night! The city made me feel too uncomfortable and on guard. I’m informed that I can take a bus and still stay on my schedule to arrive to Amritsar in the morning. This seemed to be the way to go, so I brave up and walk towards the metro. At this point it’s about 7 or 8 at night and here I am not only the only foreigner in this metro station but literally the only woman within sight. I push it out but only grow more uneasy once I get off and realize I don’t know where to go. I ask a police officer for help and he starts to lead me towards a dark alley. I feel bad to admit but even though he was a police officer I still felt like he could be tricking me, this was Delhi, and everyone I’ve ever asked about the city told me that everyone there is out to get you. He leaves me at the end of the alley where there is light and tells me that it’s ok for me to go down some steps.

This is when I’m so mad at myself for trying to be brave and do this alone. I did not want to go down those steps. I couldn’t see that there was anything down the stairs but I said a quick prayer and went for it…what else could I do. So after going down the stairs that felt never ending I had to squeeze through a passage which opened up to a small parking lot with buses. I was grateful to see the buses but nervous about what I saw. Again, nothing but men and buses that looked like they should have been out of service. I try to explain to a man where I’m going and ask for his help about which bus to get on. We go back and forth about a bus leaving at that time for Jaldahar which is close to Amritsar and waiting another hour for a bus that may go straight to Amritsar. I felt like I had no choice but to get on this bus to Jaldahar but I will admit that I was so damn scared. I felt like I was straying from the plan and that I was helpless because I didn’t know where I was or how to get where I was going.

All of a sudden a man speaking English comes up to me and explains that getting on the bus to Jaldahar was the best for me to do. He ensures me that he’s going to Amritsar as well and will show me. So I listen to him and as the bus is pulling off I run to jump on. I sit in the middle of the bus and the English speaking man sits next to me. Again, I’m scared as shit because he has a bandanna on his face and I just don’t know what to think because again I’m the only foreigner and woman on the bus. He sits next to me (only making me more uncomfortable) and starts asking me questions and talking to me. I answer all his questions with short made up answers, and then I realize that he’s asking me to come to his house. “What?” I ask because I’m confused. “Yes, you can come to my home and meet my family, my wife and kids, daughters” he says. “No thank you” I say in the nicest tone possible. “Why not? You don’t ‘want to meet my family, it is my wife and daughters”. So I ask him “You have daughters, what are their names?” He pauses and starts to stumble…SUS! “ Deb…” and I can’t remember what he said his other daughter’s name was, I think I forgot because that’s when I realized I was sitting next to a man that was trying to get me off the bus with him and do God knows what. I also realized that I definitely couldn’t fall asleep because who knows what could happen as soon as I closed my eyes. So there I am at 9:00pm on a bus filled with men, with the English speaking man next to me still talking to me about how it’s ok and I should come with him, everyone else on the bus staring at me, no weapon, and feeling like anything could happen to me. All I could do was think to myself “Martice, WTF are you going to do?!!!”

Monday, September 12, 2011


Everyone is wildin out! For my readers that may not understand my lingo, “Wildin out” means having a moment where you are crazy, crunk, or simply outside of your normal character. And when I say everyone I mean everyone! From roommates to rickshaw drivers.

I was talking to one of my roommates after one of her “wildin out” moments and we both agreed that here in India everything is accelerated and because of this everything about you including and most importantly your emotions are heightened. It is for this reason that if one of my roommates has a fit about the dishes or who drank their milk I don’t get crunk, because I realize how even the smallest things here can bring out the worst in you. Now for the worst in me…lately I’ve found myself more aggressive than usual. Some of you may find that hard to believe but for all those that truly know me I really am a sweet, loving, person. So let me share my “wildin out” moment.

It all started with a simple bus ride to the mall. I was excited because I was treating myself to KFC which had me in such a good mood. All I could think about was the crunchy goodness that I was about to indulge in. As I'm having my crunchy good chicken thoughts in my head the bus comes to a stop and I’m about to get off. At the very same moment almost 5 Indian women literally jumped on me trying to get on the bus. WHAT THE HELL?! Immediately all crunchy good chicken thoughts left my mind and I immediately kicked into my West Philly mode and pushed them off of me saying” WHAT THE HELL! WAIT FOR THE BUS TO STOP! (Now I understand that here in Hyderabad the bus doesn’t always come to a stop and sometimes you have to hop on to catch the bus but still this was overboard) They look at me and laugh…probably thinking in their heads the African (yes because black Americans do not exist) has gone mad. So of course I’m not done because I’m still not off the bus and once I get off I see that my roommate is still caught in between the madness! This is when I say “do you think it’s funny, get the hell off of her”. I wanted to add “when I slap you it won’t be funny” but I thought that was taking it too far, even throughout all this I didn’t want to be the angry black woman. Lol. So we walk away and have our crunchy goodness.

Now my next story is when I really started “wildin out”. So my friend Malika and I go to the mall (yes to have more KFC) and were enjoying our night until it begins to rain and we have to get home. It’s already known that autos outside the mall will always overcharge but considering the rain we’re thinking we may give in. So we go for it and run into the rain to flag down an auto, and when one stops we begin bargaining until a traffic police officer and an Indian couple come over and attempt to get inside the auto. Immediately this is what runs through both me and Malika’s mind….WHAT THE HELL! I was too livid and confused to speak so Malika says to the officer “are you giving away our auto?!” he looks at us says something in Hindi/ Telegu and gives us a smirk…at this point we told the couple to get out. I guess for repayment the officer makes the auto move on and not service us. So now were in the rain…just standing in the rain. I had it. “What the hell is wrong with you, do you think you can’t just treat people like that you asshole!” It came out of nowhere, I found myself cursing him out with my own language of Hindi and English. I just started making up words!

We walk to the bus stop because we refuse to give in at this point and we kindly get on a nice metro bus. Now the metro bus is more expensive than my normal bus so I was prepared to pay a little extra. Of course it couldn’t be a smooth bus ride. We sit down and everyone stares at us (were used to it now). The collector comes by us and sees two other darker skinned men and tells them to pay for 4 (assuming that since we’re all dark, we must be together right?)

We tell him that’s not the case and he tells us 12 rupees each (shout out in a shady way). Now, we know it shouldn’t be 4 rupees, but 12 for the next stop? Nope…sus! We explain to him that we're getting off at the next stop and it shouldn’t be 12 rupees, he looks at us and just responds by saying “12 rupees”. So we tell him we’ll get off because after all we’d been through we refused to be cheated! As were getting off the driver asks “Madame what is wrong?” I tell him that we were getting off at the next stop and it’s not 12 rupees. He responds by saying “yes Madame its 7 rupees”. This seems to make sense so I step back up towards a seat and tell the collector what the driver has said. (At this point, Malika is over it and not moving). This is when it gets tricky. The collector says no and yells to the driver. Next thing I know the driver says “8rupees Madame”. WHAT! DID YOU JUST TRY TO PLAY US?!

All I could think was that they needed to get on one accord. At least if you’re going to cheat me let the driver know and agree on the tourist rate. TRASH! Of course we stopped the bus and got off. Everyone is looking at us like were crazy and talking to one another about us, and the collector is saying we don’t know what we’re talking about. Ooop….Sir. We both tore into him. “We know what we’re talking about, you tried to cheat us and we caught you” yells Malika. “You think we never take the bus because were Americans, and don’t know the rates? “. I became heated and irritated that we were the crazy ones after they tried to take advantage of us. Next thing you know both Malika and I are following the bus yelling “F**K You!” with our middle fingers waving in the air because we knew they would understand that. This is when I really “wild out” and picked up a sandal on the ground and threw it at the bus.

For some reason at the same time Malika and I burst out laughing. It was such a classic “frustrated with Hyderabad” moment. We laughed and walked the whole way home in the rain, cussing out anyone who looked at us twice.

Just another day in my hood. Lol.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

School Daze

Hello All! I hope you’ve been anticipating my next blog post! I’ve spoken a lot about my experiences in India but I wanted to post more about my purpose for being here. As stated before I am working as a social enterprise fellow with Hyderabad’s Affordable Private Schools. For those that are not familiar with the social enterprise industry, the most simple way to explain it is to describe the industry as business that measures not only financial returns but social impact as success. Hyderabad’s Affordable Private Schools are seen as social enterprises because the school owners benefit monetarily with the small cost they charge for students but their genuine interest is making quality education available for the poor. I have been matched with Grace Model School which happens to be the most inexpensive school out of my programs pool. My school owners are a husband and wife team Irfan and Ayesha who have over twelve years experience in education. They have welcomed me into their school and officially made me apart of the family after Fast breaking with Haleem and an Independence Day gift of a kurta outfit!

My day begins with the dreaded experience of anything here in Hyderabad…getting there. Every morning I take a bus and a shared auto to school. On a normal day it takes me about 30-45 minutes to get to school but there have been days when it literally takes an hour and a half. This is how those days could go. Waiting at the bus stop and no bus actually stopping. You see here in Hyderabad, there is no real schedule or bus stops on every corner and the driver can pretty much do what he wants. So once a bus actually stops for you then the next person to deal with is the ticket collector who depending on their mood will either charge you the fair price of 4 rupees or decide you’re foreign and don’t know the difference and tell you 10rupees. As stated before I refuse to be treated like a foreigner so when this happens I usually jump off and wait for another bus. After making it through a crowded bus I then have the luxury of sharing an auto with average Indian citizens that have a common destination. Every day as I approach the auto driver’s fight over who will take me to my neighborhood. I will hop in one auto and literally be screamed at to get out of one and into another. That’s no biggie though. The real delay comes from waiting for the auto driver to think its full enough. After five women are cramped into the back with one sitting on the rail hanging out the window, sometimes an auto driver will still wait for three men to join the fun! Which can take all of 30 minutes.

After my crazy travel I walk to school and pass the clothes shops and always stinky meat stand and finally arrive to my beloved Grace Model. Before getting close you can already hear lower kindergarten practicing the Hindi alphabet. I start the day with a brief meeting with Sir and Madam and then I’m free to roam and do whatever pops in my mind. It’s a lot of pressure because it leaves me with the responsibility to make my day productive but its creating a whole new sense of initiative for me. I usually always start the day by observing a class. Lower Kindergarten is my favorite thus far. I think it’s because the students are such characters! As an American most of the students see me as a celebrity and literally hold their hands out just waiting to be the lucky one who gets a handshake and often times the students nor the teachers feel comfortable exposing their true self, but it’s something about the little ones. They are so unapologetic, from taking their turn at the board to slapping each other when they feel like it.

After spending my morning observing I usually talk to students or teachers during lunch to get a better idea of the school and the way it operates. Somehow this conversation always gets back to the question “how did you do that to your hair?” (the braids). After lunch sometimes I get a chance to type up some notes and work on my case study of the ins and outs of the school but mostly I have no time to myself. I end my day by visiting the second building of the school and helping the 5th graders learn English through mobile phones, which may sound like I just give them a phone and they play games but it involves never ending questions and technical problems every five minutes. After all of this I report back to the office, say my goodbyes, and prepare myself for another exhausting trip home.

Sometimes I question why I’m here and what my purpose is. I really wonder how productive I am each day, and most times I guilty stay up all night at home researching or typing ideas to make myself feel better. What I’m learning from my spiritual journey is that God reveals his plan with time which makes patience my everyday struggle. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Psalm 3:5-6 NIV) It’s the questions I get every day from students that prove their genuine interest and this scripture that keeps me going. September will be the month that I get my feet wet. Student Government elections are coming up and that’s all me so you know it’s going to be intense! I’ll have photo’s and videos of the speeches and campaign material.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

My Spiritual Journey with Ramazan

As you may or may not know during the month of August the Islamic faith celebrates their Ramazan holiday! Some of you may know the holiday as Ramadan.  Ramazan is marked by the ninth month of the calendar and for that month participants fast from eating, drinking, and sexual activity during the day to develop patience, humility, and submissiveness to God (Allah). I am not Muslim however I work in a school that is 90% Muslim which means that everyone I am trying to build a relationship with is a participant of Ramazan and fast. After doing some research and learning the meaning behind this holiday, I felt that patience, humility, and submissiveness to God are all things that I need to work on as well, and I asked myself what I have done for my God lately? So I’ve decided to fast! Not as a participant of Ramazan but as a young Christian wanting to build a better relationship with God.  I am following a model from Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. I tried this fast before but didn’t do as well towards the end. This time I am making a commitment and sticking to it. What I realized is that everyone has to do the fast that is right for them. Fasting is about sacrifice but it’s also about developing yourself so there’s no need to set unrealistic expectations. No matter how big or small your sacrifice, it is still a sacrifice, and for me it’s still a start.
On August 1st I began my 31 days of a partial fast. Each day I pray for something or someone ranging from my purpose in life to the fruits of the spirit.  I read relevant passages from the Bible and write in my journal to God.  I am only on day 7 and I feel that I have already been tested. The biggest lesson I have learned thus far is to allow God to take all your fears, doubts, worries, and insecurities away. This has been difficult for me because being in a new country is nothing but fear, doubt, worry, and insecurity. I have found myself fearing for my life during the night, doubting my purpose in my program, worrying about my health, and being insecure about who I am and what I can offer. I will be honest and say that I am struggling and most times I have no one to talk to about how I feel. Let me be clear and say that it is not because I am alone, but it is because you truly cannot understand unless you are here with me. The good news is that I am learning to fight fear with faith and that I have blessed with a “Hydrabestie” named Malika who makes me feel like everything is ok.  She still say’s I’m crazy but she knows that I’m not that crazy!
I went to church for the first time here and met every person of African origin in Hyderabad and saw almost every other expat in the city. The choir was replaced by a soft rock band and by the end of the service I felt like I was at a concert! Different but refreshing! I’m excited to see how many lessons I will learn and how many amazing people I will meet along my spiritual journey.  I already have three new friends and seven lessons and I’m so ready for more!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Robbed and Married in the Same Week....Almost : Part Two

 The weekend comes and I realize that I will be beginning my full time job in three days and this is when I can’t take it any longer. I cannot continue to live like this! After much research from Nampally and the Internet I tell my program manager how 2500 rupees just isn’t going to cut it and I convince her to give me another 2500 bringing me to a grand total of 5,000 rupees for a wooden wardrobe despite the fact that every wardrobe I found was 10,00-13,00 rupees. I tell myself that I am going to make the most out of this 5,000 and after hours on the Internet and two lost in translation calls I confirmed that there was a wooden wardrobe on sale at a furniture store that could deliver! This was exciting to me because not only did the store have a website, (which is so progressive for Indian businesses) but because there was a delivery truck not a tiny auto.  I was so excited until I realized it was almost 45 minutes away from my house which automatically spelled ADVENTURE! Despite the fact that I’m wasn’t looking forward to riding in an auto for 40 minutes and being ripped off, I woke up Saturday morning ready to get it over with.
It all began with the daunting task of finding an auto that would not only give me a fair price but actually know where the furniture store was! Many auto drivers (taxi drivers) do not know how to get around the city which is an adjustment for me because in the US we are accustomed to just jumping in a taxi, giving the address, and getting there; but again I recognize I’m not in the US. I flag down an auto only for him to quote me 200 rupees!! HELL NAW! I keep walking, telling myself with every step “Martice you cannot allow yourself to get cheated, you still have eight months here”. The next auto agrees to take me and turn on his meter which may be expensive but at least you know what you’re being charged for. This almost worked out until I realized he lied to me and didn’t know where he was taking me. He literally turned right when we should have turned left and this was within the first five minutes! So again, I already promised myself not to be taken advantage of, and I jump out.  Yes, I jump out of a moving auto and walk away.  The driver follows me for awhile saying I have to give him money but the only thing I pay him is no mind. I get to a central area of the city and get in another auto, this time after meeting another Nigerian who sees stress on my face and wants to help (how this keeps happening I do not know, but it’s starting to freak me out, especially because when I studied abroad in Barcelona there was a Nigerian who called me twice a day).
This is when it gets ugly because again this auto driver doesn’t know where he’s taking me and has already cheated me with a price of 160 rupees, so again I jump out.  This time it didn’t go so well. The driver starts cursing me out in Telegu and keeps shouting to give him money. I ignore him for as long as I can until something takes over me and I’m standing on the side of the road in an Indian kurta with my middle finger up saying F**K YOUUUUUUU!!! I was so upset. In some crazy way I felt like this was a Civil Rights back of the bus moment and I would rather boycott the bus ( auto) then sit on the back( be cheated).
 I walk towards a group of auto drivers knowing that my auto driver from hell will be there but by that point I don’t care, I’m in full West Philly mode. I get to the throng of auto drivers and ask them all if they know where my furniture store is and who will take me.  “Auto driver from hell” is now telling all the auto drivers that I have to give him his money and how he won’t allow anyone to leave without receiving it. I find a kind driver who says he knows where he’s going and he will take me but I have to pay my “auto driver from hell”. Again, HELL NO! I know I can be a brat, but he literally took me down one stop light. So my new kind auto driver gets enough balls and after much screaming and small hits we pull off. Again, I don’t know what came over me but once we stopped at a light I realized tears were coming down my cheeks. I was crying. I am known to be a cry baby but I honestly didn’t understand how emotion engulfed me so quickly at the light. I think I was just tired, not from the heat or from being in the country, but tired of fighting for everything.  Having the ability to fight for what you want and believe builds character but it is also draining and sometimes you want things to be a little easier.  The kind auto driver, whose name is Adil sees my tears and ask “Maam, why are you crying?”  I can’t answer him; I just close my eyes and tell myself that everything is going to be ok.  I think that it was in this moment that he fell in love with me.
For the entire ride he questions me about marriage, and love, and if I have a boyfriend or someone special in my heart. I answer all his questions honestly saying, “No” but not realizing that I should have lied saying I was married to a crazy man! He takes me to the furniture store waits for me to be done so that he can take me back home and offers to buy me a small snack of sprite and chips.  I realize that his questions are suspect so I decide that he will not be taking me home! I have him drop me off at a nearby landmark and pay him a little extra since he was so nice. He tries to give me the money back and says “May I be frank with you?”  I’m starting to think that I haven’t given him enough money but then he blurts out “I am in love with you, from the bottom of my heart, you seem like such a good person”. AWKWARD SILENCE!  I finally say “thank you” because I didn’t know what else to say.  He responds by saying “so do you understand and accept my proposal?” This is when I get confused.  I say “yes” because I did understand what he was saying but he thought I said yes to his proposal and quickly added “really? So you will come with me to my home and meet my parents tonight or tomorrow?”
This story has been long enough but of course I didn’t go to his home and meet his family but I did tell him that I was sorry and that I was not in love with him. It hurt his feelings and he said he could wait for me. He has my number now from when I called him at the furniture store and calls me four times a day.  For now I’m safe but if anything should happen to me, know that it was Adil from Kothapet who drives the auto and went to college, it may not seem like a lot of information but here in India it will get you very far. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Robbed and Married in the Same Week.... Almost : Part One

This week has had its fair share of ups and downs….actually there have been more downs than ups to be honest. Since arriving to Hyderabad I’ve battled not having a mattress, water, a toilet, a wardrobe for clothes, a phone, and last but almost most important in our world today… internet! Settling   in has been a nightmare but I’m slowly but surely building my perfect room that will provide calm from the chaos. In the meantime I will continue to share my chaos with you all.
So back to the part about no wardrobe for my clothes. This was one of my many to do’s that needed to be accomplished since I’ve been living out of a suitcase. My program manager gave me 2500 rupees ($ 56.00 USD which was shady because you can’t even find a dresser for 50.00 at IKEA) and tells me I can find something in an area called Nampally.  Quick background on Nampally. The area is known as a suburb of Hyderabad and in my opinion is Muslim as hell with little to no foreign visitors.  So here I am with two other male IDEX fellows’ one black and one clearly foreign with white skin and ginger red hair. We fit right in with the women in black burkas and men with long beards with our jeans and my braids (the real give-away). We decide to split for five minutes so the guys could get keys made and I could find a wardrobe. Somehow we didn’t find each other in five minutes so I searched for them at every key story with no sign. I finally decided to continue looking for the wardrobe because I had already invested in the auto ride and refused to come this far to leave empty handed.
I go to store after store and find the same in each one…steal lockers! Some look like wood on the outside but it was just for decoration because on the inside it was also steel!  Now, just in case anyone is wondering why this means so much to me to have a wooden wardrobe let me help you understand.
1.       As Oprah says “your home is your salvation” and who wants their salvation to be tacky?!
2.       My roommates who pay 2,000 rupees less than me have huge Mahogany wood wardrobes with cute little shelves to organize and a mirror! So I felt like I deserved the same .Does this make me a brat, maybe a little, but so what?
Now back to the story….As I wander from store to store it becomes darker and I’m walking deeper into Nampally. Men are beginning to direct me to dark alleyways to find my treasured wardrobe and this is when I start to feel uncomfortable. As I walk down a small dark street I start to think “what if this man told me to come down here and he paged his friend to meet me and rob me!” now this may sound crazy but after looking back and seeing the man on the phone while yelling for me to keep going it didn’t sound too far off to me. I turn around because I didn’t want to be the dumb person in the horror movie that goes towards danger when it’s so obvious you should turn around!
At this point I’m almost about to freak out because more men are looking at me and pointing and speaking in Hindi. Some start to follow me but not for long, so I calm down and decide it’s time to go home. I began to walk around to find an auto when I hear someone say “Hey”.   I don’t stop walking, because it’s normal for Indians to say “hey” or “hello” to someone they think is American.  However something makes me look back, and that’s when I see what was THE most comforting thing in 3 hours. Little locks and dark skin.  A BLACK MAN!
To make this long story short, he saved me and made sure I got home safely. He happened to be a Nigerian named Jango and even introduced me to a Nigerian church in my community! I haven’t visited yet but of course you all will get all the details. So I made it home without being robbed but I also went home empty handed, and of course that means my journey was not over….. read part two for more on the madness!

African Diaspora in India!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

F**K You !!!!!

So I've arrived in Hyderabad, India and I have been trying to remember, why did I decide to do this again? I arrived with feelings of indifference. Of course I had my moment at the airport telling my mom goodbye but other than that I felt like my overall feelings about this “new exciting adventure in life”  was really blah blah. Well of course, actually being here changes that. 
I get off the plane that was supposed to arrive at 8:00pm at 8:15pm. Not a big deal but definitely my first introduction to India. Here in India the concept of time is pretty much non-existent.  The 15 minute delay in my arrival is nothing compared to ordering furniture for next day delivery and literally waiting a week or paying for Internet service for three months then not hearing from the Internet guy in two days. The saying that begins “to be on time is to be early….”  In India begins “to be on time is to be a damn fool”. If you are supposed to meet someone for coffee at noon you shouldn’t get worried until after 1:00pm if they haven’t arrived.  But hey what’s the rush, right? 
So I spend almost two hours between customs which isn’t bad until I spend another thirty minutes trying to find my driver who should have a big sign that says MARTICE.  As I’m walking around trying to look like I’m ok while the entire airport stares at me, a young boy comes up to me asking if I need a taxi. I try to tell him that I’m ok but he continues to introduce himself anyway and persists on staying around to say that he will take me where I need to go for 400 rupees. So this is when I tell him again that I have a driver and I tell him my name. He responds by saying “you are Martice?” I say “yes”, and then he honestly saves me another thirty minutes and says “Your driver is upstairs looking for you”. I thank him politely and begin trudging my baggage back up to the elevator and he follows me, so this is when I get a little nervous because although he is a young boy, I am in a dim lit corner in India with a boy who has already made it clear he wants my money.  I say to him again, in a more convincing tone that “I am ok” so he walks away.
 I start to feel a little better until I get off the elevator and the boy is there again screaming my name, “Martice, Martice”.  I felt like I had no choice so I walk over to him giving him a shy smile and say “hey, thanks again”.  But he insists on showing me where my driver is, I follow because of course at this point I’m so ready to get home.  I find the driver and another fellow and was off to the taxi. As I’m walking I see the boy near but I’m assuming he’s just headed outside in our direction until I see him walk to our taxi and patiently wait while my baggage is loaded in the trunk. I get in and close the door and look to my left and see the young boy no older than 14 with his middle finger on the window pointed directly at me! He had a stern look on his face that matched his finger with a F**k You!  I couldn’t believe it! I knew that I would have to deal with children begging but not children flipping me off.  All I could think was… Welcome to India. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

India Calling

So it’s finally starting to hit me. I'm going to India. It's not a dream about visiting landmarks; it’s a reality of finding an apartment, going to travel clinics, and applying for visas.  I have always wanted to come to India. I'm not exactly sure why I became so fascinated with the country or when exactly, I just know that I can think as far back as being in middle school and thinking about what it would be like to be there. I'm sure me falling in love with the motion picture Slumdog Millionaire also had something to do with it.
I became serious about my passion for India once I was in college. It seemed to be a place that encompassed all that I wanted to do.  The international studies major in me wanted to go there to fight for women's and children's rights but the marketing concentration side of me wanted to research business development. So now I'm finally going and I was able to mix a little of both in my profession. I will be a part of the IDEX fellowship for social enterprise. As an IDEX fellow I will be consulting Affordable Private Schools of India on ways to improve education for the poor.
Despite my intense fascination. I realized. I knew nothing about Indian culture outside of curry, Bollywood, and caste. I decided to read as much as I could before leaving which is how I landed on the book India Calling by Anand Giridharadas. In the book he provides insight on the "new India" that has emerged and his experiences within this new place. He describes the "new India" to be a place filled with dreams, ambition, pride, anger, love, and freedom. What I found to be most important in the book was that the change was not so much in the "new India" but in the new emerging generation. It is the generation of young millenials that dream beyond the reaches of their ancestors, that have ambition to overcome obstacles that stopped others, that have pride in their hard work and ideas of change. The new generation has taken anger and fostered it into action that encourages love throughout the world and freedom for all. I am a part of the new generation that strives for change and my first stop is Hyderabad, India.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dreams of Adventure

Last night I dreamed that I was running up stairs in India. I don't know where I was in India or what exactly I was running to. All I can remember is talking to my conscious and saying "keep going". I remember seeing small glimpses of what I was dying to see, but in those glimpses I could only tell that it was an Indian landmark. It was similar to the Taj Mahal but smaller and more secluded. It wasn't the grand wonder of the world that the Taj is and it didn't have the swarms of tourist that the Taj has. Although it was only a glimpse it was a sight of a peaceful beauty. A place that created a peace so quiet and tranquil that it could only be described as a divine, radiant, beauty.

I chose to write about this dream because in exactly 24 days I will be traveling to Hyderabad, India. I also chose to write about this dream because my birthday is June 26th and according to a book of birthdays one of the words that should describe me is adventurous. Now, I am the girl who is afraid of rollercoasters, most times needs to have a plan before going out, and usually the last person to follow anything but the yellow brick road. So imagine my surprise when one of my words in adventurous. Outside of this inexplicable choice to go to India I didn't feel that I could identify at all.

But after reflecting for some time I realized that adventure doesn't just describe crazy ski diving and treasure hunting. Adventure can come in so many forms. When you really think about it there is adventure in almost everything. Books, religion, food, languages, literally everything. I find the adventure in these things. Eating paella in Barcelona, sitting in a tomb in Marrakesh, reading about a young girls life in Nepal; these are the adventures I have experienced.

So will I climb the highest point in the Himalaya's while I'm in India?....I'm not sure, and since I'm afraid of heights probably not, but I will have my share of adventure; from learning Hindi, to working in a Muslim school, and even the simple pleasure of tasting chicken masala.  So the birthday book was right all along, I can be described as adventurous and my dream was only a foreshadowing of all that I am about to experience.