downtherabbitshole.com

Adventures from Here and There

2 Years in a Nutshell, Part I December 16, 2012

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 9:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The posts over the next couple of weeks will be in no apparent order, but it will document my memories of the last 2 years, specifically related to my work and travels.

I think that I have seen just too much sometimes, that things that might phase the ordinary person, do not always get to me. I mean, I have had my fair share of interesting sagas- I was almost locked in a restaurant on hotel grounds, with the music being turned up so loud that I could not even hear myself. Then 3 men walked into the restaurant from the back entrance…good thing my instincts told me to bolt out of there. I learned, that in some countries, you should never be the last person dining, especially the last woman. In some hotels, people come into your room when the do not disturb sign is up! Men will shake your hand and hold it for a few seconds too long. I sat next to a woman on a plane, chanting loudly and making tsk tsk sounds every few seconds. Oh and yes, how about the man who was clearly having too much fun under the blanket on a 9 hour plane ride! No joke.

Never mind the cockroaches, ants in my hotel bed and mice I’ve had to battle. Oh yes, I cannot forget the 2 children who massacred the plane, as their parents watched. The best in flight video ever….different types of cutlery are shown on the screen above the toilet with a big red X on them. Seriously, how many people take their meal trays in the bathroom with them? This lady cried once because she wasn’t allowed on the plane. It was about to take off and she was too busy shopping. Apparently, it wasn’t her fault that the gate was so far away. She screamed to let her on the plane while it was in taxi. Then she made the person at the desk walk her back to the main terminal to pick her bags up. I watched all of this as i waited for my delayed flight. And yes,I have missed 3 flights this year alone.

A bachelor party took place on the plane from Majorca to Geneva. They were a fun bunch though, dressed in pink. In front of me sat a little boy, about 2 years old. He was traveling with his father, who left him alone twice to go to the bathroom, unbuckled and who then fell asleep before we were even all the way up in the air. The poor boy was so bored, tearing up a magazine and crawling under the seat. At one point, I got up, reached over the father, and brought the child back to sit with me. At least we could entertain one another. His father didn’t even blink. We played games on the iPad and took funny pictures with the iphone booth app. It was great fun. It wasn’t until the pilot announced that we would be landing shortly, that the dad awoke and panicked. I tapped him on his shoulder to tell him the little one was with me. He just said ok and closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Of course, sometimes the journeys are chilling. Like when the helicopter had to land in the middle of nowhere in Kyrgyzstan. There were about 11 of us if I recall correctly. How would 11 ppl find their way to the city while in the middle of the mountains? A trailer type thing drove by. An Australian and New Zealand couple were on a road trip. They were on their way to Afghanistan. Imagine they had exactly 11 seats left in the vehicle. Divine intervention.

I was forgotten once at 3am when I landed in Islamabad, Pakistan and recovered my lost luggage, which was dropped on the runway and later found. Instead of doing the obvious and heading to the Serena with one of their cars which would have been the safest thing to do, I found ‘mommy’. He claimed to know where the hotel was that I had to go to. I told him there were two with the same name and I needed the guest house. He said he’d been living there all of his life and he knew where he had to take me. To make the story short, we ended up at the wrong place, got lost going to where we were supposed to after he got directions to the right one and ran out of gas. I was left alone at 430am in the middle of the road, while he went to find a cab, which he didnt get. He called a friend to get us…yes, I know, mad thing to do. I finally insisted he take me to the Serena and I’d sort things out the next day. Lucky for me he was a nice man. Honest. And he really did make sure I felt comfortable. He actually made his friend stay behind on the road and watch his car while he dropped me.

I must say that anyone that I know that has been to India has had a nightmare story. I was rather lucky to have met great people for the most part. No rickshaw drivers took me for a ride- well a joyride! Once one got lost but it was my fault because I didnt realize there was more than one Taj hotel, and he was super apologetic. I then decided to walk at 11pm, having no clue where I was and not knowing that Delhi was one of the unsafest places in India to be romping around, let alone. After all these years of living alone, I rented an apartment in Delhi, well a room. The other room was empty and I honestly did not think after a month of being there by myself, that someone would move in. Yes indeed, Hugo from Paris. A 20 something year old who was there on an internship….to party! Beer bottles lay around and chip wrappers were left here and there, along with the countless number of pizza boxes. But leaving the doors unlocked and the iron on….gees. He fell in love with a Russian model and soon I saw Hugo less. She had a 10pm curfew so they tried to make the most of the evening. He was a nice boy though, always offering me his pasta with ketchup or trying to get me to come out and party.

Of course, there was Josephine from Uganda who journeyed with me from Dokollo, Uganda to Kampala. She shared her tragic but inspiring life story- a woman who had fought all odds. However, about 6 months ago she emailed me to say that her caregiver had gotten her pregnant. Sometimes, life is made too difficult for people. However, her baby is negative as Josephine was infected with HIV.

I have been asked to climb on the back of motorbikes without a helmet and almost attacked by baboons. I have had to sly away from stray dogs. Walked with keys in my hand just in case I needed to poke someone’s eyes out. Been spat on. Sunken into mud. Hugged and been hugged. High fived. Been adorned. Laughed so hard it hurt. Danced in the rain. Been drugged. Been eaten alive by bed bugs. Thrown up on an airplane. Seen flight attendants throw up because the turbulence was so bad. Shared intimate conversations with strangers. Fallen a few times. Had nice, strong strangers help me with my bags. Had some of the best, unhealthy foods. Loitered at the grandest hotels. Smiled with glee. Loved. Been peed on….

I have gotten lost plenty of times, including in the subway station in Moscow because I couldn’t find my way out amongst the hundreds of people in there and that made me a bit anxious. I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. I saw a bus driver in Delhi get beaten. That made my arm hands stand up. I’ve watched children play all sorts of outdoor games. Gotten rashes and DE. Seen some of the best beaches in the world. Listened to some of the loveliest tunes around. Lost things. Found things. Melted in the heat. Gone blue in the cold. Seen different kinds of wildlife. Gotten stuck in the most horrendous traffic jams. Shopped till I dropped.

It is true what people say….once you start, you can’t stop!

Advertisements
 

Goodbye India July 26, 2012

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 12:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

I leave India tomorrow. I know I’ll miss it for sure. Geneva will seem rather bland. And small. And no good food and no McDonald’s and Dominos delivery! I won’t get pushed and shoved on the metro, causing me to lose my shoe. And which old ladies will give me dirty looks when I watch movies on my iPad that show ‘ adult ‘ scenes that I was not aware of. No more shopping. Nothing to buy in Geneva. And can I make deals with the auto drivers? Nada. I will miss my favourite antique store in the Red Fort, Tularam, where I spent time amongst the antiques, listening to the shopkeeper talk history and his mother, about modern life. No one to practice my Hindi with. And I busted out words in Gujarati that I didn’t even know I knew! Whose going to call me Madame? No more women in colorful Indian suits. No more men seen spitting or peeing on the side of the road. No more messy Hugo. And no more places to hang out after 7pm, when everything closes in Geneva. How about the many temples and gorgeous hotels? And no more red velvet, but I’m alright with that! I will move out of E52 in Saket area. Hand in the old skeleton like keys. Leave behind the Time Out Delhis. And my tin box from Nepal. No room in the suitcase for that. No more dodging traffic and having to run across lanes frantically. No more bag and body screenings everytime I use the metro or go to the mall. Hauz Khas galleries will be missed. And having to find Airtel recharge for the mobile at the worst times, no more! Goodbye to the young boy at PVR near my place that sells me jhanjar (anklets that have bells). And no more American shows in English! The crazy cat that rips apart my garbage will be history. She’s still super skinny, despite the McDonald’s fries I leave behind for her! Oh my goodness, no more mangoes, mango shakes, mango sandwiches, mango soup or mango paneer! And those Bihar bananas are the best I’ve had in my life. Yes, you will be missed India. I will never forget the flight from Gujarat to Delhi. Second worst ever. And cant forget the friendly flight attendant who buckled mine and mansi’s carry ons into the seat next to each of us. And how he played along when we told him they were our children. He even brought bottles of water for them!

But I am looking forward to the beautiful summer in Europe. I have a month to enjoy it. Wearing nice clothes and carrying fun handbags.  No one will look at me funny if i walk around with wet hair. I wont have to worry about sewage smells or jumping over liquids on the streets. I will see blue skies and mountains and breathe in fresh air again! Maybe my sinuses will unblock. Fresh, white chicken and great salmon again! And chai lattes from starbucks! Walks near the jet d’eau. Seeing friends and catching up on the drama over the last 3 months. And yes, many visitors coming through in August! A normal toilet that works all the time is the best. French instead of the other many languages spoken in India. But thank god no more hooting! That is the worst. Dude, there is nowhere to go. Stop hooting! One lock on the door only? Yes, no more bolts and chains and grills on windows. Such different worlds.  No matter how many times I do this, I am still amazed, as if it is my first time to such places.

Things to see and do in Delhi
Red Forth! Chandni Chok, Lotus Temple is supposed to be amazing, though I did t end up there, Khan Chachas for kebabs, Oberoi Hotel to chill, Hauz Khas village for everything, Humayun’s Tomb, GK 1 for shopping of all sorts, SouthExtension 1 for sarees, Try Frontiers. Khan Market for many things. Geetanjslis for spa services. Dili Haat and INA for local market experiences, take the metro, have a coconut, Connaught Place to wander, Wenger’s for dessert, Modern Art Gallery, Kingdom of Dreams…never got to it but hear it is worth seeing, Silver Line for jewelry, Turtle Cafe in Khan Market for books. Great carrot juice there too. Fabindia for organic products and cotton kutis, DLF and Emporia Malls, Mamagato for great watermelon martinis, Elma’s  in Hauz Khas for dessert, Napa Dori for great travel bags. Go to an all you can eat and drink buffet on Sundays. There are many. Great mangoes. ESP. during the season. Global Desi for  funky kurtis. Forrest Essentials for natural face products. Lodhi Gardens.

 

Back to the Motherland May 8, 2012

Filed under: Projects in Countries,Travel — travelchokri @ 11:36 am
Tags: , , , ,

The CIES conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico in April was informative and interesting. I presented for the first time, as one of my colleagues from Kyrgyzstan did not make it. I took one day off prior to and one day after the conference to see some of San Juan. Of course, one of the days was dedicated to the beach. It was nice spending some time with Linda and Nafisa, who also work within the network. On the way to San Juan, I had an 8 hour layover, which was planned, so that I could meet with friends. The bus ride from Manhattan back to Newark only took 45 minutes on a Friday evening. I met up with a friend of a friend’s to chat about education and development. Faizal K happened to be in NY too at the time for his birthday, so him and I met up for lunch. It was nice and warm and definitely walking weather. I headed back to the airport, met up with Linda and off we went to SJ. Linda and I have roomed together for the last 2 years. I learn quite a bit from her since she has been in the field for a long time, not to mention an AKF employee for ages! She is one of those genuine and honest people and you know that what you see is what you get. I ended up getting tendinitis somehow in SJ and could barely walk mid week. So of course, lucky me, fell not once but twice in the main lobby, hurting my other foot! Oh Shez.

On the way back, I reconnected with my long lost soul sister, Tasleem. Everything was the same in the sense that even though we had not seen each other in years it was almost like we had never left each other. We went for a great brunch and I got to see her place in Manhattan, which was warm and welcoming. It is amazing how her and I experience similar emotions and events in our lives at the same time, truly understanding what the other feels. Then I met up with pal Shaffin, whom I stayed with on my first trip to New York alone. Seeing him is always entertaining and light hearted. Farah, his tiny wife, met with us very late! I missed my connection from NY to Geneva on the way back from the conference. Luckily, I was re-routed but had a longer flight since it was not direct, but had a layover through Frankfurt. I ended up getting to Geneva 4 hours later than planned and went to work.

Back at home in the evening, I began to pack for my long trip to India. My flight was scheduled for the next day. In addition to the India packing, I also had to pack for my US trip, which is soon, since I will be flying straight from Delhi. In my hurry and scurry that evening and my 2 bad feet, I ended up getting into a small accident which sent me to the emergency room for 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours while my head bled. I am not sure if I was tired, physically and mentally exhausted or what. But I alternated between crying and laughing fits, that I think the staff thought I belonged in a straight jacket. My friend Kahila, who was super supportive, even though her and the doctor were flirting insanely, was amazing to sit with me through all of it. I had to ask the doctor to focus and concentrate on my head as I felt the conversations between the two were insanely inappropriate. What does dating mean in America vs Switzerland? Are Kahila and I lovers and would she be staying the night to take care of me? Yes, this was some of the conversation. He was very kind of course to email me only an hour later with a report and to let me know it was a pleasure to treat me. And of course to pass his regards on to my friend!

So I did end up packing for both trips in a timely manner and of course, forgot a few super important essentials, like underwear! Yes, I brought a few, but will have to pick up some things next week while in Amreeka! I am very much looking forward to that trip. For now, I will not mention what the plans are, but will write about it once I return to Delhi. The plan is then to be here for a month and a half in the sweltering heat. I am enjoying staying in my place. The last time I was here in March, I found an apartment to rent during the duration of my stay. I have TV, with English channels for the first time in years. Except for a brief moment in Kenya, I have not had TV in about 6 years. It is close to the metro. Oh yes the efficient metro. I must say something about that. It is fast and clean and there is a lady’s only compartment. However, at one station the compartment becomes mixed male and females, where there is a transfer. Never be the last person on this train. I almost got mowed down by the men. I have never in my life witnessed grown men running into a train, pushing each other so that they can get a seat. How did other countries learn about ‘subway etiquette’? Or is that just part of courtesy that some learn over time depending on the context within where they live? I mean how do you not wait for people to get off before you get on? So today I did something that I have seen other women do on the train. Yes, I am already becoming Indian…not sure that makes much sense when I am. I wanted to sit down and I saw a small space between 2 women and so I squeezed myself in and then I looked over at the other lady and with my hand told her to move aside and make room as she had some extra space there. Yes, I have integrated into society here. The metro station is not that far from my apartment which makes it quite convenient as walking alone after 6pm can be an issue in some areas. I feel safe in the neighbourhood that I live in- very residential. And around the corner is a plaza with food, such as McDonalds, which I have been indulging in. Yesterday was a spicy chicken wrap and a strawberry milkshake! There is also a cinema if I feel like watching a Bollywood flick, without subtitles. But then again, if John Abraham is in it, who needs subtitles anyway?! I will meet him soon. i can feel it in my bones.

The temperature has changed drastically since I was here a month ago. Dry heat. In some ways it feel like Mombasa heat actually. I think it is 40 degrees today. There is no beach of course as Delhi is not a coastal city, but there are some exquisite and superior hotels in India, which one can frequent. I believe a day pass can allow you to dip in the pool. I hope to travel over the weekends within India. When I am back in June I will head to Bihar again and Gujrat for work. I flew to Bihar the day I got into Delhi for an inception workshop on one of our proposals. I did not get to see any of it as we were out by the morning and back to our hotel when the sun had already disappeared. My grandparents are from Gujrat, so it will be nice to locate where they were born and grew up.

For now that is all I have to share. Will post soon. It has been sometime.

 

Delhi Time! March 19, 2012

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 4:25 am
Tags: , ,

Delhi time! i arrived here on thursday night…well at 2am…i was picked up from the airport this time and all went smoothly. I have had a bit of an issue with accommodation, but now that I am here, I can sort that out. This trip is only 10 days, so I can survive it. I may be back here in April for a week, but that is still tbd. May, 2 weeks, all of June, and 2 to 3 weeks in July. Yes, the grossest time of the year in terms of weather!

Delhi has been good so far. I feel quite comfortable and safe on my own…even though I keep hearing horror stories. The rickshaw driver only got me lost once, and he was really nice about it. I just couldn’t find another one and walked miles to the main road and that was late at night, but it was totally fine. No one has really bothered me here, compared to my trip ten years ago. Knock on wood. I have found Connaught Place, known as CP to most, and it brings back memories of my last trip here. It does not seemed to have changed much.  Khan Market is a more upscale area, lots of expats and well off Indians. There are a ton of restaurants, cafes, shops and salons in the small block. Needless to say, I have found my fav. Delhi salon. The set up is strange in that 3 floors of a building are occupied. So a restuarant can be on the top floor and you wouldn’t even know unless you were really familiar with the place.

The streets of Delhi are packed with people, but no surprise. Tuk tuks and cars swerve in and out of every lane and the constant honking…well how can one get used to that? It is ever polluted and smoggy and I have not yet seen blue skies. The streets are full of dirt and garbage, some areas more than others.

Yesterday, I ended up going to the Delhi Jazz festival, which was really nice. It was closing day and there were 3 bands, one from Germany, Mexico and Spain. The music was fantastic and the crowd was totally into it. It was set in Nehru Park. People had brought their blankets, snacks and other concotions. I ended up going there with a friend of friends who is with the Spanish Embassy and helped to organize the whole event. So it was a good great experience for me. My first red carpet in Delhi.

Oh yes, there is a metro now, works well. There are women’s only compartments too, which is really helpful. What’s cute is that there are no doors closing off the women’s apartment that is connected to the unisex one and that one is always packed with men, perhaps trying to find their suitable girl. Love it.

I have not done a whole lot of sight seeing yet, as I do have some time, being back and forth here from now until July. It will be interesting to see how the 3 lives unfold over the next few months – the life in the field with the local people, the expatriate in Delhi life, and the life with the better off Indians. It will be somewhat similar to Kenya I suppose. Balance.

I love chai!