I really like public speaking, everyone has to listen to me.

Oh, hey.

I opened the doors
of the refrigerator to
A winter of thin wire.
Metal racks and decaying

And my neck hairs stood up.

(A poem a friend wrote on the first page of my new journal. That’s all I’m telling you.)
This blog thing won’t let me tab, I like doing the tab thing, it spaces things out more. I’m feeling pretty restricted right now.
So (Ah, that should be indented) I gave a presentation on Human Trafficking to my psych class, and it went really well. I read over all my India entries last night, looked over old notes, went to STOPTHETRAFFIK.org (if you never have, go do it right now please.) It stirred me up, raised a familiar block in my throat. I felt really connected during my talk, told personal stories of girls I met in half-way homes and the brothels. My 15 minute presentation turned into almost half an hour, people kept asking me questions. I didn’t want to sit down when it was over, so many things were popping off in my head, stories I wanted to tell, contributing factors I saw that people don’t hear about, NGO’s and volunteering.
Afterwards a bunch of people came up to me to ask questions about organizations, how I got involved, questions about my trip. It was amazing to see people inspired to help and get involved, it reminded me of when I first started learning: “Yeah, but what can I DO?” Right now, I think what I need to do is keep telling my stories.

keep Austin weird.

I’ve been trying to find a thread, something to make this blog stick. I’m not in a foreign country, nothing in my life really updates interestingly enough for me to tell you about. But hey, maybe it’ll come.

I’m in Austin, TX right now visiting my dad and the Haney family. I caught some of the South by Southwest music festival, Cayah has a new-ish french bulldog puppy named Banner who isn’t fully house-trained, throws up sometimes and doesn’t like his leash, but is so adorable, and it’s St. Patrick’s day. Meaning I’m having an entertaining and successful trip.

It’s nice to get out of the the Bay area. I’ve been debating the merits of both places. So far the most deciding factors have been: the Bay has the ocean,people in Austin are really nice. Has anyone else noticed how mean people in California can be? Is that all of California? I’m sure there are pockets in the middle where everyone’s nice, but it’s probably farmland or near Bakersfield, which I don’t really consider California. I think they should chop it up into two states, make the middle part of Nevada or something.

Back to the mean-people thing. I see it in huge contrast when I get back from Denver, Raleigh, or someplace where people make eye-contact and chat with you in line at coffee shops. As someone who talks to everyone, frequently people behind me in line or waiting for the same bus (who am I kidding, I don’t take the bus), I go through a mild culture shock when I arrive in a new city and strangers are friendly.

I guess what I’m saying is if they picked Austin up and dragged it closer to the Gulf of Mexico I’d move out here in a hot second. But if that happened, I’m sure the cost of living would skyrocket, plastic surgery would take off, and everyone would get snotty and rude. Back to square one. So I guess I’m better off just staying in the bay or braving the heat.

I think I’m going to continue here.

I was checking my wordpress just for the hell of it, and the option “Write” in the upper left hand corner of the screen looked so inviting. I love writing, so I decided to keep on with this blog, even though I have nothing of real consequence to say. Maybe Marie or my sister will check it every month or so, that’s enough for me. I’ve been writing a ton in my journal since I got back, but there’s something about sharing what I put down with other people that I like. I’m definitely going to have to revise that last statement, I don’t think it made much sense.
I keep trying to write stories, mostly cause I haven’t since I was 16, but it’s HARD. I don’t know what to write about, so many other people’s stories bore me (sorry), and it feels stiff. I should probably start with my own. Story, that is. Why is it so much easier to write about Nothing than to write about Something? Or am I just weird?
Today I was signing up for classes (I’m on the 12 year program, it seems, for undergrad. Life is so distracting), and I was telling my mother how frustrated I was getting with their website. I was feeling very criticized by it. She looked up at me from her coffee and asked if I was really having an emotional response to a website. Well, yeah, I was. It kept re-routing me, using pretty condscending language, making me log in again and again. All in all, a very rude and churlish website. not a fan.
Oh, and I decided not to revise my need-to-share thought. I can’t be concise and super-readable all the time.

save it

I figure if I don’t write something here soon, I never will. I feel a responsibility to sum up .. well, something. I’ve been home for almost 5 days now, mysteriously skipped any kind of jet lag, and feel the most intense gratitude for my family, my friends, space, my coffee maker, and hot showers. I’ve felt like a little kid every morning, I can’t believe I live here.(!) I’m considering trekking to another country 2 months out of every year, partly to re-experience this.
This trip has given me so much- a greater capacity to understand, be patient, see things without a lens of idealism, a calm I didn’t know I had. I learned in a very real way to respect people who are different than me; I realized how hard that is. My knee-jerk response is often to decide things are wrong, inefficient, or ridiculous instead of Different (and probably beyond my understanding at that point). I learned a little bit of how hard it is to be a foreigner, to be treated like my ways of doing things are wrong, inefficient, ridiculous. I gained a fair bit of cynicism (still leveled with some leftover idealism), saw the frustration of working toward justice, and realized, like the sky had opened up, that people whose case studies I had read, the ones who are suffering, are real people. The laugh, they cry, they live, and they try to heal. They don’t need my pity, they deserve my respect.
Finally, I learned that if you want to save the world, you should start with the world you live in right now. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but it took me two months traveling on the other side of the world to really figure it out.
I don’t think I would have done this any differently if I could go back. It was a delicious soup of difficulty, pink bubbles, doing admin, overcrowded trains, curry with roti, mosambi juice, festivals, hotel hunting, chai, decompressing in Coffee Day, markets, making friends from everywhere imaginable, finding gaudian angels in every city (thank you Roonshing, Abbas, Salman, Steve, and Vishal!), skipping dinner in favor of dessert, learning the fine art of crossing the street, book trading along the way, trying to lean Hindi then giving up, quotes of the day (“I can’t think of the word, that whole scenario when the rickshaw driver wanted to take us to his shop…A SCAM!!”), balancing work with play, and trying not to be a stupid American.
It was pretty amazing. So thanks for following me, for your emails and comments, for picking up my phone calls at 7am, for encouraging and supporting me, for your faith and love and belief in me. It was huge, and I am so thankful to be living life with you. Much love.

Show me Bombay in a whole new way

I’ve been trying to get to a computer for days, but the only time i had a decent amount of time in an internet cafe, my computer turned off halfway through my post. Bummer.

The rest of our time in Calcutta went really well, we met with a guy who works in villages, he explained the close link between disease, poverty, and trafficking. He sees the same story played out of famlies getting sick from unsanitary conditions, getting into debt to pay for medicine, then making up for it by selling their children to traffickers (often there’s a cover story of waitressing, or something of the like). He told us that 80% of disease in developing countries is preventable. They work a lot to educate them on disease prevention.

We went to the International Justice Mission office in Calcutta. A ton of the people we’ve met are ex-IJM’ers, so it was good to actually see an office, sit down with them. A few people had just arrived from the states to work, so we went along for a walk-through of the red light area. We stayed on the street walking single file down alleys. It was about 5 in the evening, and girls lined the streets. I was suprised how many there were, heavily made up teenagers in western clothes stood with their hands clasped behind their backs, one hip thrust out, women in saris looking distastefully bored. Many of them yelled out to us, reached out to clasp our hand in theirs. Rachel and I wanted to stop and try to talk to them (since I speak Bengali and all), but we had been told to Keep Moving. The woman from IJM told us we had seen a tenth of the girls in the area we walked through. Most are kept inside.

Yesterday was Diwali, a huge Hindi holiday. From what I gather, it’s something between Christmas and 4th of July. We awoke to what sounded like bombs going off outside (fireworks.) We were pulled into a neighbors house who fed us puri and baji (I am definitely spelling that wrong), took picures with us, and told us we were “daughters of wealth.” They were so loving; the wife kept pinching our cheeks, it was adorable. Walking around last night was pretty overwhelming, fireworks went off above and all around us, every alley filled with boys lighting crackers. Every few minutes an explosion shook the sidewalk. It felt like being in a war zone. But fun. Yeah.

So now I’m in the Bombay airport (Calcutta heat drove us here a few days early), waiting for roughly seven hours before my flight takes off. And Sunday afternoon (I can hardly believe it), I will be Home. Land of personal space and real coffee, nonfat milk, water pressure, no communication barriers, and my family. I am pretty excited.

Welcome to the City of Joy

We are in Calcutta

Our second night, I found a phone booth while Rachel headed for the room. 20 minutes later I enter our hallway to find half of our stuff piled outside the door. I ask what’s going on. “We’re moving.” Why? She deadpans me. “Go Look.” I walk in: every surface is covered in tiny bugs. They cover the bed, rim the sink, clog the toilet, nestle in our luggage. (The bathroom window was left open.) In our new room I arm myself with a book, and take to killing bugs that rode in our bags. We call down for water. Five minutes later a 15 year old boy walks into the middle of our room and sets bottled water on the table, looks around as if he has no intention of leaving, continues to ask if we need anything. Rachel finally pushes him physically from the room.

Today we visited Mother Teresa’s Mother House. We got out of a cab and a little boy ran up to us and pointed down a wide alley, said “Mother House!” We thanked him and walked past several nuns wearing the white, blue-trimmed saris into a stone courtyard. A room off to the side held photographs and gave a chronological explanation of her life. It struck me how ungaurded she looked, even at 18. I think most people try to come across a certain way. She looked pretty okay being where she was. Until I saw that in her face, I didn’t realize what a big thing honesty can be. Overall, reading and seeing what I did (which wasn’t much), she seems to have been very, very human. Which I love.

Walking out, the sound of nuns singing slowly filled the courtyard. I couldn’t tell what direction it was coming from, and the sounds of Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia began echoing against the high stone walls into me. I had a hard time speaking for the next half hour (anyone who knows me can understand the significance of this.)

I didn’t come out with any real head knowledge I can say, but my eyes feel a little wider.
Dealing with street children has been a fun/hard/interesting/heart-wrenching thing. We buy them food, smile at them, hold their hands. It feels very trite, seeing what they deal with. But apart from all the stigma and bigger-picture stuff, they’re just kids, and we are treating them as such.

We had Muslim food. I’m thinking of converting.

I have to vent on today before I lose it. Left at 7 to the Taj Mahal. Slept in varying degrees of discomfort on the 3 1/2 hour drive (during waking hours we saw a snake charmer -eerie-, camels, and men with monkeys on rope leashes. Everyone wanted a tip. Suprise.) The Taj was beautiful, huge, and smelled like feet. No one’s allowed to wear shoes inside, but it’s kind of fun walking around barefoot on the marble; in a hippie-ish, earthy, I’m-on-a-pilgrimage sort of way. Honestly, it didn’t stir anything big in me, but was very pretty and worth the jacked-up foreigners price. AND they include mineral water and little booties if you’re germaphobic. A steal.

On the way home we got a flat tire (I can’t believe this doesn’t happen to everyone every 5 miles or so), and we pulled into a roadside open-air restaurant where about 20 locals sat and stared at us. Rachel and I ordered tea while our driver trekked off to find a tire. An old man wearing a kurta and a neck brace walked up to our table and deposited two tiny rabbits. They tried to get us to come see the litter, we said no. So we sat for about half an hour drinking chai, ignoring the men, playing with our bunnies. We named them Oreo and Snowball.

Back in New Delhi we ate at Karim’s, a famous Muslim restaurant that’s been written up in National Geographic, and recommended to us by pretty much everyone we’ve met. The menu was so overwhelming that we called Salmon (we’ve dubbed him our gaurdian angel), told him to order for us, and handed the phone to the waiter. Fifteen minutes later we were served chicken biryani, kebabs, mutton, lamb shank in tomato sauce, the fluffiest roti EVER, and I think some other stuff.  Seriously, we almost finished it. It was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. It was… I don’t know, it was just so good.

Quote of the night: “I’m never going to see these people again. All I need is your love and support and I’ll be Just Fine.” (Rachel as she devoured what appeared to be an entire chicken. I was too busy eating lamb to respond properly.)

PS we were enlightened to the Three Points of Driving in India today by our driver. They are: Brake, Horn, and Luck.