On the Banks of the Ganga (Ganges)

Varanasi PanormaDays are starting to run into each other. It’s very hard to keep track of what’s what day of the week and date. So I suppose it was a few days ago that our group took an overnight train to Varanasi. As mentioned in the previous post, the idea of taking the train made me want to pretty much just shit my pants. I am still alive and that is good.

The train ride was pretty hard for me. I mean, we got locks and chains for our stuff, and the people in our section were fine, and I felt like my group was a big protective unit, but with all those horror stories, I was still pretty freakin’ freaked. It was okay though. There were people just sitting on the ground in the train. A few of our group members awoke (it was an overnight train) to opened pockets, but no one had anything stolen. We were all really careful about where to put our valuables.

So then we arrived in Varanasi and spent the first day just getting oriented. It was not the same level of chaos as Delhi, but still very crazy and there are a LOT more animals here. it seems there are always cows and with that lots of cow shit, right outside the guest house where we are staying. Down by the ghats, which is like the riverbank, there are goats (including a goat that we saw in a t-shirt!), lots and lots of dogs, cats, monkeys, and so on. In fact the other day, a monkey jumped onto the roof of the guest house, which shook the whole building. Earlier today, I saw a water buffalo just cruising down the street with a cow. Animal central.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing there is more than anything else is bugs. In the first two nights here, I just got bitten to bits. I am just covered in bites. It makes me really glad I’m taking my malaria pills (the effects of which are negligible at this point, I feel like my body just adjusted super quick to that). It is definitely something to constantly be aware of, the risk of diseases, not drinking the water, or brushing teeth with the water, not touching face, nose, eyes. Another adjustment thing has been getting used to Indian toilets. In Delhi, we had very rustic western toilets, and very cold showers. Here we have toilets that are basically a hole in the ground that you squat over, and for showering, it’s basically filling a bucket with water and using that to wash.

I started to feel a little bit sick the other day, which was no fun at all. It was hard to describe except that I just felt off and kinda out of whack, but nothing was specifically wrong. This was right after getting all the bites, and it could have been a reaction to that as well as getting accustomed to different food. It passed after a day, but at the time I was feeling sort of freaking out, just wanting to go home, missing my bed and hot showers and the people I know and love and just anything familiar. I basically spent the whole day wanting to go home really bad. Another girl in our group went home earlier that day. She was really homesick and having a hard time, and I had a hard time with her leaving. It’s funny how quickly you get to know someone on a trip like this. I had felt really bonded with her, and also like she and I were both having the hardest time adjusting. On Tuesday I really thought I would end up going home, I just wanted to so badly. But I am still here, and that is largely due to my group and my leaders. They have been so awesome and helpful, and I feel like everyone in the group has been super supportive and understanding. I woke up the next day feeling a million times better, mentally and physically and emotionally.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting around has thrown me for a loop as I mentioned in previous blogs. It is just so unlike America. When I was younger, I had mobility lessons, which is basically teaching you how to get around with limited vision, there are lots of techniques, and they are all pretty much out the freakin’ window in India. For example, you learn to cross streets by following the parallel traffic. Well, there is absolutely no such thing here at all. Also you learn to use listening as a navigating tool, and that too is just out the window because there is just a cacophony of noise everywhere, from every which direction. And there are no sidewalks or anything of the sort. And steps are pretty nondescript and uneven, so these things have presented a major challenge. Like I said in the last blog, I have never felt like my eyesight has been as big of an issue as it is here in India. Still, I do feel I’m adjusting. Up until now, I always walked around holding onto someone’s hand. My group was great about that. I was really worried about being a burden, but honestly, people pretty convinced me that I wasn’t and I felt like everyone was equally willing to help me out at any time. There was no set rule of who I would walk with but it alternated a lot and also just seemed to flow really naturally. I cannot say enough how happy I am with my group and our leaders. I just feel like I could not have asked for a better conglomeration of awesome people, and I usually hate being in groups.

Anyway, yesterday I tested the waters by walking around with some people in my group without holding onto anyone, and it went okay! It was scary, with all the chaos and motorcycles and bikes and cars and all number of other vehicles and people, but I managed okay. I am sure it will be a learning process as I adapt to the roads here, and there will still be times when I need a hand, especially at night, but it felt really, really good to walk on my own. And to top that off, yesterday I actually walked from a building where I’m doing an internship, back to the guest house totally by myself, which felt awesome, like I was back on solid ground, being able to do that. It’ll take some time to learn each new place, but I feel like okay, I can do this, and things can change for the better. It was a great feeling. I also feel like it is REALLY true what so many people told me before I left, that this trip is going to change me, that I’m going to come back a different person. I am seriously challenging myself big time and I think it is going to greatly effect my confidence. I am looking forward to all of it.

It really feels like an epic journey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, what else? I have been experiencing a lot here in Varanasi. Watched the sunrise over the Ganga, which is just a block or two from the guest house. It was pretty rad. There was a third quarter moon in the sky as well. I took some pictures. Also it seems there are weddings every day here. And music in the streets all the time. It’s awesome. Smoked some apple hookah at a Mediterranean restaurant last night. Trying allll sorts of new foods. Last night we had a lecture from a really old guy about Hindu philosophy and Indian culture. In the morning we have Hindi classes, which are challenging but going well. I sometimes find myself wanting to speak or interpret things in french, probably b/c it’s my go to foreign language I guess. I feel like even though I can’t read the board, I am doing pretty well in class, definitely catching on conceptually and structurally, and just feeling pretty good about it in class, though still too shy to really speak it to people on the streets and in the shops and all that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are also internships available to our group, like Indian cooking, fire dancing, stone carving, miniature painting, sitar lessons, jewelry making and a few more. I am doing Indian singing, which is cool because I have wanted to take singing lessons my whole life, who knew that I would get to do that in India? It’s awesome. I’m also doing an internship in kattak dance, which is North Indian traditional dance. This I took as a real challenge for myself. In fact, if Elynn reads this she will probably pass out from complete shock that I am taking a dance class.

Dance is something that is very hard for me, b/c I can’t discern the intricate movements people are doing, b/c of my eyesight, and I’m horribly uncoordinated. SO, put these things together, and I have a really tough time. A lot of dance things in my past like even doing dance or other intricate movement stuff in gym classes or yoga classes (though i have had some good yoga classes too), or any sort of group dance thing, or going out dancing and people trying to show me what they are doing, has been pretty humiliating and painful and traumatic to the point that I pretty much NEVER dance. Oh except if I am just sooooo drunk I don’t care, and on top of that really feeling the mood and un-self-conscious. So, this internship is a big deal and challenge for me, but it’s one on one, and my teacher is great, so it’s going okay. I am still having a bit of trouble with the coordination, but whatevs. I wanted to quit my internships when I was feeling all shitty and scared shitless, but partly thanks to one of the group members I decided to give it a go. It’s still hard, but I”m going to stick with it. I want to work on not quitting things that get hard, partly b/c if all goes as I want it to, the school I’m going to in the fall is going to kick my ass, which I want, but I want to be mentally prepared not get psyched out, so I’m trying to build myself up in that way.

Let’s see, what else? I’ve had lots of terrible American songs stuck in my head since I’ve been here, which is a weird phenomenon. I mean, songs that I would NEVER EVER listen to in the states. And I have a lot of guilty pleasure songs, a lot, but these, no way in hell ever. Okay to give a few examples, one of the songs that’s been stuck in my head on and off since the second day here is the umbrella song, you know, “Under my umbrella, ella ella…” Another is “It’s too late to apologize, it’s too late” (I don’t even know what the name or artist of that song is, but if anyone reading this has ever heard it they will know what I’m talking about and probably get infected with that earworm themselves!)

I suppose that’s it for now. I’m taking lots of pictures, there are so many things that a thousand words can’t capture, and at the moment, I’m feeling really good, happy to be here, excited for the rest of the trip, etc. We’ve got about five more days in Varanasi, and then we move on to Bodhgaya. It seems like there’s lots left to do here too. Tomorrow morning we are taking a boat ride at 6am on the Ganga. I am PSYCHED for that. And we are also probably having more lectures and surely experiencing lots more things!

Just for clarification, b/c I started this blog a few days ago, it’s going to say it’s posted on the 16th I think, today is the 19th (Grey’s day) for real.

Currently Reading:
“This is Your Brain on Music” – loving it, totally loving it. I’m still only on the first chapter. It’s great b/c it’s very mentally engaging and stimulating, and totally has the scientific mettle I was missing. And it’s nice to have that as a contrast to the just complete oversaturation of the senses and emotions that’s going on.

Currently playing in my head:
“Scratch” – Kendall Payne – okay this is my favorite song from Grey’s, and I think it’s at a super poignant scene between Meredith and Derek, (oooh and I found out another girl in my group is totally obsessed with Grey’s too, which was just awesome, I’m really psyched to have someone to talk to about Grey’s) and it’s in the first episode I ever saw, “Break On Through.” So I got the song on my home computer and got kinda really into it, and this is the song that has been in my head the most since the moment we arrived at the airport in Delhi, and I’m going to post the lyrics, and there’s a certain line in there which make it obvious why. This song has been in my head so much I dreamed about it the other night. It’s not exactly the sort of song I would totally listen to, musically and lyrically in some ways but that’s the beauty of getting songs from shows, I guess. I dig it. And it’s not often that you stumble on a song you love, that just happens to mention the third world country you’re traveling to. And I can sort of relate to the whole “wish I was small” part of it too, with everything being so overwhelming here.

Scratch

It’s a big girl world now
Full of big girl things
And everyday I wish I was small
I’ve been counting on nothing
But he keeps giving me his word
And I am tired of hearing myself speak
Do you ever get weary?
Do you ever get weak?
How do you dream
When you can’t fall asleep?

I’ve been wondering what you’re thinking
And if you like my dress tonight?
Would you still say you love me
Under this ordinary moonlight?
I’m so afraid of what you’ll say.

Chorus
I’d like to know if you’d be open
To starting over from scratch
I’d like to know if you’d be open
To giving me a second chance

I used to think I was special
And only I have proved me wrong
I thought I could change
The world with a song
But I have ended up in India
With no lamp to guide me home.
The strangest place I think
I have ever been
And all this time
I thought that we were friends
My stubborn will is learning to bend.

Chorus
I’d like to know if you’d be open
To starting over from scratch
I’d like to know if you’d be open
To giving me a second chance

I’d like to know if you’d be open
To starting over from scratch
I’d like to know if you’d be open
To giving me a second chance

It’s a big girl world now
Full of big girl things
And every day I wish I was small

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4 thoughts on “On the Banks of the Ganga (Ganges)

  1. Chrys, you are being so, so brave! I’m really proud of you; I can just imagine how hard it must be from a visually impaired perspective. I especially relate to what you said about the difficulty in keeping up with dance classes; I’ve gotten so frustrated with them in the past that it’s sometimes driven me to tears. I’m glad you’re pressing on and feeling more encouraged in general. And it sounds like you’re striking a perfect balance between asking for help from your group when you need it (I’m so happy to hear that your group is awesome) and stepping out on your own. You’re having trouble reading the chalkboard? I’m surprised you don’t have a monocular with you!!! Maybe you could have the Commission send you one? I know it would take awhile to get there, but you’re going to be there for months, so you’d still have plenty of time to benefit from one even if it took a couple of weeks to arrive. Give it some thought.It stinks that you got a little sick, but if the symptoms you described are the worst it gets, you’re doing very well.You rock, Chrys, and you’re definitely on my mind. Keep shining on!– Yer Big Sis

  2. Chrys — I just got through the past month’s worth of entries here, and I echo silver lining, in that you really are incredibly brave. I knew about the cows and animals and difficulties crossing the street from a coworker who’d been to India last year, but seeing you write it makes me more believe it and completely shocks me, still. Wow. And seriously, I could deal with not drinking the water, or the bug bites, or the smells, or even squatting in a hole for a toilet, but the cold showers or showering with a bucket is where I draw the line! (Now I feel bad complaining about the on/off showers in Barcelona, haha.) I don’t know if I, a sighted person, would have the courage to do what you did, and I think by the time you get back to the States you will feel even more immensely rewarded in ways you don’t even realize! You rock, and I will definitely try to check in here a little more frequently, now that I see you’re posting regularly. Yay!

  3. Oh, also, I think it’s hilarious you have “Too Late To Apologize” stuck in your head. That was the song the singing fountain in Barcelona played, and I had it in my head the rest of the week, and now I just kind of associate it with being in a foreign country. I think when we’re like a fish out of water, we try to grasp for the familiar, even the little annoying things about home we miss. You might be having one of those moments.

  4. Shoot, I th ink juust reading that comment put that song back in my head. It is one of those things that if you know the song, just reading it will get it stuck, it’s sooo catchy, and such a really horrible song. Funny that we both had that during foreign travels. What an annoying song!!!

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