Posted by: lilyhamburger | March 28, 2010

Mid-point adventures

This is the picture of my life:

Elf, Pop and Lil see the Taj at sunrise!

So, I am schvitzin in the domestic terminal in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu in the south of India. I have been traveling for the last 2 weeks, and this weekend marks the half-way point of my 10-month fellowship. It’s hot here, but I am feeling refreshed from recent events: first, my parents came to Dharampur for a long weekend (Elf takes her first rickshaw ride, Pop re-learns how to bathe with a bucket and practices saying everyone’s names using pneumonic devices), which was one big love fest! Showing them around was endlessly fun, and they even got to come out to Mamabhacha village and see one of my health education sessions in action. We spent a few days travelling in Rajasthan together seeing some of the most gorgeous art and architecture India has to offer. (Mom’s pics are here: http://picasaweb.google.com/ellie.hamburger/20100321India2010#) We stayed in a LEGIT PALACE one night. That was culture shock, but somehow I survived… we ended our blissful and HILARIOUS time together in Agra, an ancient city that felt like Mecca to a family who has dreamt of adventures like this, and knows love as big as that. Having that week together – both showing them this life I’ve created on the other side of the world and travelling to see the wonders of the globe together – was deeply meaningful and important to all of us. Especially at the Taj Mahal I felt a real connection to them because we had all individually dreamed of being in that AWE-some place, but I also felt ties to my entire family – from my late grandfather Hamburger who served in north India in WWII, to my grandma Ruth who always dreamed of seeing India, to my Kravis grandparents who had a table made of Agra marble at their apartment in Philadelphia from their trip to the Taj decades ago, to all the inspiring aunts and uncles I have who have instilled in me the desire to see the world and appreciate the comedy in life, and to my brother who is forming his own sense of adventure and appreciation of travel as we speak but has always had an eye for the aesthetic treasures of the world.

After parting from two of my favorite people on this big wide planet, I headed to part 2 of the Mid-Point rejuvenation operation: a week-long retreat and check-in with the AJWS fellows and staff in Kerala. Moving from homestay to hotel to beautiful little rooms in a garden on the water, we spent the week indulging in friendship, English, beer, and deep reflection on what we are going through as volunteers working on all kinds of social justice issues in a country so STRANGE and different from our home. We talked about the challenges of working through cultural curtains and language barriers, trying to do good in a place we don’t belong to. We revisited theories of development – including the complex interconnected issues of human rights, natural resources, and economic growth. (two interesting articles: http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15719200 and http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jan/07/nation/na-gatesx07) We were silly. We wrestled in the grass. We ordered multiple desserts and drinks to the room, all the while discussing our impact as foreigners and how to deal with the guilt of being wealthy in a poor country.

When we took a half day boat tour of the beautiful coconut palm jungled backwaters of Kerala, we all decided to jump of the side of the boat into the murky canal…with all our clothes on. We got out soaking wet at the bank and found ourselves in the yard of a home where a family demonstrated for us how to make rope from coconut fibre, yummy chips from banana and tapioca, and we tasted peppercorns, nutmeg and mace, and juice from the flower of a cashew straight from the trees.

I am returning to Mumbai now, for a last dose of the rush and noise of the cosmopolitan world (and a makeshift Indian seder with my Jewish friends!) Tuesday evening I head back to the peaceful, quiet atmosphere of Dharampur where the mental noises of creating a hygiene and health education program, building a website from scratch, speaking Gujarati, and navigating this odd and surprising daily life will fill my brain once more.

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