After 30 hours of continual traveling, we’ve made it to Trivandrum in Kerala.
It’s also Wednesday here since we’re 11.5 hours ahead of Texas time. I’m already overwhelmed and exhausted, as are the rest of the team members.
My ankles are swollen. And we haven’t slept in a long while. But the overwhelming feeling is good (Side note: As I said that, the electricity in my hotel room just went out. We’re told the water may also decide to go out mid-lather as well.)
For the past few months, I’ve been reading about India culture, watching popular, and not-so-popular Bollywood movies, but nothing could prepare me for the up-close look at India.
Indian men, as we were warned they would be, are fascinated by Western women. They stare at us as we’re walking, and it’s not always in a good way. It’s only after I smile, or greet them with a friendly hello, that they attempt to remove the wide-eyed gaze from their faces.
We learned early in our trip preparation that many Indian men have a perception of American women as sexually loose, immodest, obnoxious, loud and generally immoral because of the way they’re portrayed in the cinema. So, there’s now an extra burden of knowing that our group may be the only exposure some of our Kerala Rotarian group members will ever have of American women.
But I think there’s something amazing about that. I suppose if an Indian group ever visited my home and stayed for a month, they would be my standard of India and Indian culture. Also, India looks as you imagine it does when you exit the airport. There’s honking in all directions from the taxis and the famous Indian auto rickshaws, or three-wheeled mini-taxis. They’re loading and unloading passengers as they zip by you, honking at the larger vehicles weaving in and out their lanes.
As we were exiting the airport in the bus that will be transporting us throughout Kerala for the month, we saw two taxi drivers get out of their car and begin a heated verbal argument. One of the guys punched another man through the car window, and military-clad law enforcement officers were called to scene.
But as we're taking in the numerous honking vehicles, a small altercation, and a very unfamiliar landscape, I feel honored to be here.
My team members are incredibly thoughtful and interesting women, and we’re already cutting up like sisters. When we approached the hotel, at 5 a.m. Kerala time, our local Keralite Rotarians draped a traditional Indian garland of glittering sandle wood and strands of beads over our shoulders. We spent another 30 minutes going through the ceremony and taking photos, watching the hotel staff consistently answer questions with a traditional Indian head bobble (A polite way of not saying yes and no, or acknowledging they're listening to you, I discovered).
“It just means they heard you,” said team member Cely Smart, giggling. “It means nothing. It’s like a read receipt on an email.”
We each checked into our hotel rooms where we promptly realized a large bucket resting on the bathroom commode. This is to be filled up before we take a shower in case the water goes out and we need to wash the soap off our bodies.
There were also loud birds crowing at dawn, which led team member Janine Campbell and I up to the roof terrace to investigate the bird songs. We watched the sunrise and stared into the distance. I looked at her as her eyes began to water and she responded, “It’s just such a gift from God to be here. I mean, where else could you see coconut trees growing in the middle of the road, and temples of every religion on every horizon?”
I’m so tired and I want to sleep, but we have a meeting to prepare for in a few hours and I have more work to do. I’m sure I’ll sleep soon ... Until tomorrow, Victoria.
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