Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Survive a Breakup from Halfway Across the World

I have been debating whether or not I should write about this, but it is undoubtedly a part of my experience here and I'm hoping that in a month or two, when I look back at this, I will be able to note my progress. 

I also debated making this a private post instead of sharing. I'm still not sure but this is where I am and what I'm feeling so here we are. I know that most people reading this know my history in this relationship so that makes it a little easier.

On Friday, Courtney ended our relationship.  I won't say much about the breakup other than it was a complete surprise to me and it left me in a position to reevaluate the value and honesty of a lot of what has been the only real romantic relationship I've ever had, not to mention totally changing my view of the person I love.  It also really did a number on my self-esteem. 

This is me in the very early stages of the breakup and I'm a bit of a wreck (sleep deprived, sick, all the usual crazy that comes with something like this).  It would be one thing if I were at home; it's a totally different beast from South Africa.  So, in light of that, here's a guide to surviving a breakup from halfway around the world.  I'm writing this as therapy and a reminder to myself that all of these things help, because I really need that right now.  It has also only been a few days so this is a plan much more than it is a point of reflection.  I'll reevaluate in a month or two.

1. Reach out to the awesome people in my life

Last night I went to bed feeling loved and this morning I woke up the same way.  There were emails of support sitting in my inbox, text messages with cheesy jokes, and steady reminders that I have people who love me and support me no matter where in the world they are or I am.

Here in Cape Town there are great people who welcome me into their spaces, go out with me and share their own stories or listen, and drink tequila at whatever time of day necessary.

These folks also don't mind if I burst into tears randomly (still a thing that's happening but as a friend/coworker reminded me today as I was apologizing, "It happened on Friday.  Don't make me slap you.  Then you'll really have something to cry about."). 

More importantly, this gives me a chance to be more connected more frequently with some of the most awesome people in the world.  As one example, Katie Klein drew me a cartoon guide of how to get over an international breakup featuring a hipster dinosaur.  How did I get so lucky as to have these people in my life?

2. Take care of myself

I'm running again, which is good and, as a bonus, makes me exhausted so I can sleep (not that I am but I'm hoping in weeks to come that will change).

Although I still have no appetite, when I do eat, I eat delicious and healthy things that don't make me feel gross.

I have a huge gift in terms of where I am right now.  I have months of time to be in a beautiful place and be totally invested in a project that I love and in myself.  When I come home, I want to be as happy and healthy as I can, and this is a major part of that process.

3. Music

I don't want weepy stuff.  I have to feel sad for a little while because I am hurt and still in love with someone who does not love me anymore, but I don't have to wallow.  There are tons of emotions but I can fuel the ones I want, and right now that means lots of songs about personal strength, anger, and happiness (let's be honest mostly the first two).  So here we go.

Since U Been Gone-Kelly Clarkson (or the Pitch Perfect soundtrack)

Gold Digger- Kanye West

Stronger- Britney Spears

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together-Taylor Swift

Survivor- Destiny's Child

Hell on Heels- The Pistol Annies

Happy- Pharell Williams

Shake It Out- Florence + The Machine

Better Than Revenge (Live)- Taylor Swift

No Scrubs-  TLC

Bossy- Kelis

Landslide- Fleetwood Mac (or the Dixie Chicks cover)

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)- Kelly Clarkson

You Oughta Know- Alanis Morissette

Brave- Sara Bareilles

Gone (Featuring Consequence and Cam'ron)- Kanye West

Ten-Twenty-Ten- Generationals

Fighter- Christina Aguilera

There will undoubtedly be more. Any recommendations are welcome.

4. Date Myself

This sage advice comes from Ivor, who works at what is probably my favorite place in Cape Town, the Backpackers in Greenpoint (BIG).

Over the next few months I am going to date myself.  I'm going to do the things I love: read, eat excellent food, maybe take a cooking class but definitely cook nonetheless, talk to the people I love, go see movies, and explore.  Being in South Africa makes this particularly fun.

I have always been okay doing things by myself.  The Watson has only made me more comfortable in that position.  I'm at the point in my life where I'm still developing and figuring out what kind of person I want to be and what I want to do (I hope that process never ends for me no matter what age I am) so giving myself this time to enjoy myself for its own sake will be nice and hopefully leave me well-prepared to love my friends, family, and anyone else who comes into my life better as well.

Spending time with myself will also most likely help to rebuild some of my self-worth and self-esteem, which really took a hit over the course of this relationship and especially given the circumstances of the breakup.

5. Let It Be

This is where I am emotionally right now and I'm not going to try to pretend like it isn't.  I can cry or rage or rant or whatever needs to happen because it needs to happen.  I need to process this for a minute and then I can be done, but it will take the time it takes.

It is especially difficult knowing that the other person has moved on already and is not struggling the same way, but that's the reality and it won't change the way I'm feeling to dwell on the fact that I'm feeling it alone.

I don't like being sad or angry or betrayed or resentful, not to mention not good about myself, but I am feeling all of those things and I can't help it and it's okay.  I need to take responsibility for and acknowledge these feelings in order to process them and come out of the other side of this thing.

6.  Crazy is Fine

I am going to get a haircut, get a new tattoo, climb a mountain, and do whatever the hell I want to do, even if it's not normally something that I would do.

7.  Watson

This year is unbelievable.  I am exploring the queer community and getting to know more and more people and it's a gift.  I'm going to continue to embrace it. 

8.  Go to Church

Even though my personal beliefs about God are shaky, there is so much comfort in taking part in a ritual that has been a part of my life since before I can remember.  I walked into church on Sunday and was immediately reminded that I am a beloved child of God who is welcome and loved as I am.  Of course, I was a little weepy in the pew.  The community at the church where I will continue to go is making a conscious effort to create a space where all are welcome and valued and loved just as they are, something that is admirable and comforting and inspiring no matter what my spiritual beliefs. 

9. Know I'm Better Off

As mentioned previously, my life is full of people who are great in every way.  I am surrounded by people who build me up, inspire me, and make me want to be better.  I will focus on my relationships with them and with myself.

In terms of any future romantic relationship, I deserve someone who loves and respects me for who I am.  There were good things about our relationship but there were also major issues that were highlighted by the breakup and are now much easier to acknowledge.  I deserve better and I will find someone who treats me the way that I deserve to be treated. Moreover, I will demand to be treated the way I should be, because I can't put all the blame on someone else when I let myself be in that position.  This experience has only made me stronger and more aware of what I want and don't want in a relationship and in a partner.  I will be better equipped to take care of myself and my needs, making me a better partner overall. 





So here we go.  This is all easier said than done but I'm working on it and I have no doubt that this is just one more piece of a year that is making a different, stronger, more confident person. 

Thank you so much to all of the incredible people in my life who are helping me through this process and reminding me over and over again with their kindness, humor, anger, and empathy how lucky I am.  Y'all are wonderful. 

Hopefully in a month or two I will look back at this and feel like I am in a much better place emotionally. 







Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Vagina Monologues

The Vagina Monologues have been part of my life since I picked up a copy of Eve Ensler's printed version of the play during high school.  When I was a first year at Rhodes, I went into Blount Auditorium with some friends and watched and laughed really hard, even though my face was probably beet red the whole time.  For the next three years, I had a speaking role in the Monologues and it was always a favorite part of my year.  Participating provided such a good opportunity to meet new and amazing people and to push myself personally (stage fright and Southern sensibilities made being on a stage for the purpose of talking about vaginas doubly challenging but also insanely fun) while being part of a movement that, while it might be complicated and problematic in terms of what it is trying to do by stretching the play globally and what is saying about women, is also doing something that is undoubtedly important.  

This year, the fabulous Andrea Tedesco asked for student submissions to the monologues so I wrote something about vaginas and me.

Thanks to Andrea and all the cast and crew for making a vagina safe space at Rhodes.  I wish I could have been there to see it!





I love talking about vaginas.  Academically, socially, politically, in a large group of people or over dinner with friends, I am all about a good vagina conversation. I love my vagina and appreciate all vaginas and want them to be comfortable and have all the rights they deserve.    

But getting here was a process.    
   
If I went back five or ten years, things would be different.  Back then, I hated my vagina. I hated my sexuality.  I was insufferable, angsty little lesbian that I was.  

I wish I could go back for a minute, catch myself holed up in my room, wearing a terrible puka shell choker and reading bad fanfiction.  There would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer box sets on the bookshelves (some things never change) and Nirvana on the stereo.  There would be posters of muscled men on the wall, God help me.  

I would tell myself this:

Now, I know you have all the feelings but you don't have to let them turn you into some miserable monster.  The family calls this room the cave for a reason; you're the scary thing that lives down here. 
So check yourself.  Appreciate the people in this world who love you.   

One day those awful journal entries will be nothing more than a good laugh and a slightly shameful blush as you read them aloud to your girlfriend. She'll laugh with you and beg to hear more and you'll hide your face in a pillow but turn the page and keep reading anyway.   

When you finally tell them, your friends will still love you.  Some of them already know, and they're just waiting on you to say it.  No, there's no magical gaydar, but I will tell you that there are only so many times that you can talk about sleeping with a woman before it becomes obvious that it's not a passing interest.     

There will be rough patches.  For all their good intentions, our friends and family will not understand some things. They will hurt your feelings, over and over. 

"Love the sinner, hate the sin." 

"I'll pray for you."

Things with Dad will get worse before they get better.  He will say: 

"Gays deserve what they get from AIDS.  They brought it on themselves.  Monkey fuckers."

His wife will say, 

"I hope you can change."  

You'll get stronger and learn that Dad's wrong, absolutely, and that you have no responsibility to keep pretending like he isn't spouting hateful bullshit.  You will always love him but it won't always mean that you have to hate yourself a little, too. 

Talking about sex and your own sexuality will not always be so painful.  It will eventually be something you love.  You'll spend lots of time talking about vaginas.  I know it's hard to believe.  

You will get asked the following question at least 50 times, sometimes from drunk friends at wine night, sometimes abashedly, over coffee. 

"Okay, I just have to ask, how does scissoring work?" 

You don't know now, and you won't know then.  It doesn't work, outside of porn.  Maybe for members of Cirque du Soleil?  Anyway. Your friends will be briefly disappointed and move on to questions about strap ons. 

Then there's this.  

"Just don't be one of those lesbians."  

Of course what she means, what they all mean, is don't be butch. 

Unfortunately, we are.

Fortunately, we are.

I want to tell you now, because it's important: 

There is more than one kind of woman. 

I know it feels like you're failing, all the time, but you're not. You're just different, scary as that is.   

There will be at least two awkward haircuts on the way to what our brother calls the "soldier look," but one day you will leave the dorm room in a blazer and button down and feel like your clothes fit your personality.  Finding clothes for your body type?  Another issue entirely, but don't worry, that will work out too.  

In time, you will come to own your butchness and to love it, and women will find it attractive and pull you closer to them by the tie you're wearing, picked as carefully as any pair of shoes or earrings.  
You'll fall in love and it will not be like the movies, but what movie ever told your story anyway?  Even when it ends, you'll be grateful for every moment.  She'll be smart and funny and beautiful and she'll get you a bowtie for Christmas.  Yes, bowties are cool.  Better, she thinks they're sexy.  

On that note, you will not live in abstinence forever.  

College will be rough at first but you'll leave a different person, a better, kinder person, and you'll be forever thankful to the people who helped you get there.  You'll stand on a stage with a bunch of lovely feminists and talk and yell and laugh about vaginas, of all things, and somewhere in there, you'll feel like a whole person instead of a broken one. 

It seems impossible to love yourself at this moment, I remember, but try, just a little, to get over yourself.  It is possible to give the love you have to others. Thank them and love them and eventually, you'll love yourself too. You'll be fine.  You'll be great. 


Trust me.   

Third Quarterly Report

This is my final quarterly report!  The next time I interact with Watson HQ it will be at Rhodes for the conference.  I can't believe this.  I can't believe it has been nine months already.  Time is passing so quickly now and in just a few short months I head to Canada for my final stop before returning home. 

Below is my third quarterly report, sent off to the Watson Foundation as a summary of my months in India and my transition to South Africa. 


To the Watson Foundation,

Hello from Cape Town! 

I arrived here a few weeks ago, but when I last wrote from Delhi, the Indian Supreme Court had just issued its ruling on Section 377.  The ruling reaffirmed the validity of 377, the piece of Indian code originally introduced by the British that criminalizes any "unnatural" sexual acts.  In theory this would apply universally to heterosexual and same-sex couples engaging in anything other than procreative sex but in reality it is clear that the intention of the law is to effectively criminalize same-sex relationships. 

Being in India during and after the ruling was such an educational experience.  Every week there were protests and meetings about how to proceed or how to challenge the ruling, and I was able to attend a variety of discussions throughout the city, including a national meeting held in Delhi and attended by activists and community members from across the country.  While the intention of the ruling seemed to be to shame same-sex and non-traditional couples, it brought many queer people and their allies out of the closets and into the streets.  

The privilege of witnessing queer India rise up and fight against the 377 decision is difficult to articulate.  Friends dressed in black with rainbow bandanas, belts, and arm bands distributed leaflets and told their stories. Groups marched and gathered throughout Delhi and around the country.  At Mumbai Pride, the first celebration since the ruling, there was a huge turnout, and I was so shocked and excited to see the mass of people stretching further and further back as we walked the streets.  Being able to watch the community mobilize and to listen to the conversation and attend the meetings and marches that accompanied this mobilization taught me so much about the strength, energy, bravery, and determination behind a social movement and protest like the one happening in India now.  I was able to listen to some of the major debates, about everything from how to support and include people of every socioeconomic status to which language should be spoken at meetings that included multiple regions to whether or not there was an imperative to speak against a major political party, which had many supporters in the queer community prior to 377, because the party supported the ruling and spoke against queer rights.

In between meetings and marches related to 377, I spent time at TARSHI (Talking about Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues).  I loved working in that office.  The work that they are doing is so important and the opportunity to learn from them was fantastic in itself.  On top of that, the people who work at TARSHI are incredibly intelligent, progressive, and kind and talking over lunch with such an amazing group of people was a highlight of my day.  My last day at TARSHI was really sad for me.  All of the people, the things they taught me, and the conversations we had remain with me; the office also gave me a gorgeous gold ship bookmark that is carrying me forward on my journey.  

In addition to work with TARSHI and 377-related activity, I attended meetings of an LGBT social group and spent time with many of its members regularly.  I found a strong community of people in Delhi, for which I was extremely grateful.  Between the queer community I met through pride, 377 events, and the social group, everyone at TARSHI, and the unbelievably generous group of people, mostly Fulbrights, that had me for Thanksgiving dinner just a few days after I arrived in the city, I had a strong support network and was able to learn so much about queer life in Delhi and in India.  Through more structured interviews and through everyday conversation, I heard a variety of stories and opinions about coming out, relationships, and thoughts on being queer in India since the Supreme Court decision. 

Although I spent most of my three months in Delhi, there were some fabulous side trips as well.  Three friends took me with them on a pilgrimage to Mathura and Vrindavan, sacred sites in the life of Krishna, and I went with them to various temples, dancing with a really nice family at one aarti and learning how to offer prasad at a temple famous for the magical eyes of the deity.  Vinay, Abishek, and Chitrang introduced me to a ton of delicious street food (I miss Indian food so much) and sent me home with a statue of Krishna in his childhood.  We also went together to the Taj Mahal.  I visited Varanasi and met some new people via a Queer Couchsurfers group.  We ended up back in Delhi together at a 377 protest.  I also made a trip to Rishikesh and Haridwar and, in a very small world moment, met a friend of a friend from Delhi on the street and spent the afternoon with him and his wife and friends.  

My last three weeks were spent in Mumbai where I attended Pride and some of the events leading up to the parade as well as a performance of the Vagina Monologues, which was a really interesting experience.  I have been a part of the show at home for the last few years and seeing the show in an Indian context made clear how much of it is, as one friend put it afterward, "really American."  Mumbai Pride was much bigger than I had anticipated and there were several after parties and a week's worth of events leading up to the march, including a great short film screening and a sort of open-mic night that showcased all kinds of Indian performers.  Mumbai also brought a visitor from home; Mimi, one of my best friends and college roommates, came to visit.  It was so good to see her. 

So much of India was beyond description.  I already miss the friends I made there and I learned something new every day.  At the same time, India was without a doubt the most challenging place I have been so far.  There were cultural differences that I anticipated but there were many conflicts and interactions that I did not.  These ranged from the practical, like finding safe and clean housing, to the extremely personal.  I became hyper-aware of my gender presentation.  Because so many things in India are gender-segregated and because I am somewhat masculine in appearance, I regularly dealt with questions bordering on harassment as I tried to enter the metro or train through the women's security or even just walking down the street.  I identify as butch and am comfortable falling somewhere in between normal standards of feminine and masculine appearance, but it has never been the case that this presentation has made me stand out in the way that it did in India.  I have never considered myself gender non-comforming, but now I do.  These interactions regarding my gender have made me think about gender and physical presentation in a whole new way, and I am still working through my thoughts.  One way of doing this has been writing; I had a piece published by a queer blog in India and have found writing to be an important outlet for working through various personal and political issues (not that they can be separated).  

Living in India also made me aware of poverty and urban development in ways that I had never been before this year. I will never again take things like potable water and reliable electricity for granted. There is a serious concern in Delhi about women's safety and when I was not with friends, it was not uncommon to experience harassment.  I was told by my landlords, roommates, and friends to avoid walking at night, even the very short distance between the metro and my apartment. There was one particularly scary experience, where a car stopped beside me at the metro and, when I declined a ride, followed me in an auto for a bit, that made me totally sure that following the advice of my friends about walking alone at night was a great idea.  I was sick so regularly that it became a normal part of life.  (In fact, I brought a bacterial infection with me to Cape Town but a doctor's visit and lots of antibiotics fixed it for good.)  I also had a number of housing issues that led to me hopping around the city quite a bit.  Still all of these things were important learning experiences and I am grateful for the new perspective and for the ways that I was challenged and pushed to find new solutions or confront totally foreign situations.  

A few weeks ago I said goodbye to India and arrived in Cape Town, where I found a happy and unexpected home in a local hostel and an internship at Gender DynamiX, a non-profit working on queer issues, with an emphasis on transgender and intersex issues, something that has come to be much more personal to me since India.   The city is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever been and just walking outside seems too good to be true.  

Cape Town Pride was smaller than I anticipated and gave me a chance to speak to many groups and also to ask about some of the tensions here in the community, including many built around race and gender (the parade is often seen as very white and very male).  Additionally, with the recent legislation criminalizing same-sex relationships and queer identity in Uganda and Nigeria, there are a number of important conversations happening here about how to react and support queer Africans.  I am privileged to be able to listen to these conversations and am still working through how to be supportive without overstepping my bounds as a visitor.  

Overall, the past three months have been some of the most challenging but also some of the most formative and impactful of my Watson year so far.  I am a different person than the one who left Memphis nine months ago and I feel that regularly.  I continue to be amazed every day by the people and organizations working under the banner of queer rights and am hoping to stay, as one of my favorite English teachers recommended, a sponge ready to absorb and try to process as much as possible in the beautiful and complicated world around me. 

All the best from South Africa,

Sarah Holland Bacot 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Week Thirty Three: Mumbai Pride!!

The flight to Mumbai was short and easy, and there were some beautiful views along the way.  I landed around sunset and took a cab to my hostel/hotel in the city.  This was my first introduction to how big Mumbai is; the cab ride took a very long time and I got to see a diversity of housing, businesses, and sights as we drove and waited in traffic. 

I arrived at the hotel exhausted so I ate dinner and headed to bed to get ready for the next day.  



On the way to Mumbai 


Landing at sunset.  Apparently there is something about the pollution that makes Mumbai sunsets particularly beautiful.  Ironic but they are incredible here. 

The next day I explored some and then headed to a pre-Pride event that was a combination of films from the queer festival here, Kashish, and a panel on 377.  I should note that somewhere around 5 hours was spent in commute.  Did I mention how big Mumbai is? 
The films were great.  Here is a trailer for one of my favorites: 

Pride 



I wish I were able to attend the festival in full.

The panel on 377 was also excellent and included representatives from diverse backgrounds who were related to the ruling and the fight against it in a variety of ways. 

One of my favorite speakers, whom I had seen a few times before, is a mother who has been a named party in the case for several years. She always speaks very passionately and frankly.  There were also speakers from some of the LGBT organizations in India, activists, professors, and others.  It was a great introduction to Pride festivities in Mumbai and it gave me a chance to see a considerable amount of the city.  



The train station


At the film series


The 377 panel

The next day I explored on foot and started researching and emailing organizations here and also in South Africa!  It is time to get ready to go, which I really can't believe.  Cape Town is my last majory stop before home, meaning I am weeks away from the last leg of my Watson journey.  I have incredibly mixed feelings about this and I am working through them but right now it's my goal to enjoy exactly where I am and where I should be. 

I was really looking forward to Friday night because a group of us had tickets to go see Dirty Talk, a pre-Pride event with a happy hour and a bunch of performances from musicians, actors, and comedians.  In a super delightful coincidence, Sara and Rohini were both in Mumbai visiting and Eliza works here, so we all met at the Three Wise Men, where the even was set to take place, and grabbed some drinks before settling in to watch.  

The bar was packed.  It was crazy and there was definitely not enough room.  We ended up sitting on the ground in front of the stage, which gave us a great view but also left me a little nervous because it was prime space for audience interaction a la Sydney and the drag show in Cordoba. 

In the end it was fabulous and funny and there were a number of great acts.  My favorite was probably the comedy group that ended the show.  There were definitely a fair number of jokes that went straight over my head culturally but the ones I understood were very funny, and the ones I didn't were a huge hit with people who knew what was up. 

We grabbed dinner after the show at a delicious schwarma place in Bandra and then I headed back for some pre-Pride sleep!



Walking around the city


Opening act


Gay India version of If You're Happy and You Know It


The host

All the pictures reflect my awkard angle, ha. 

Mumbai Pride started at around 3pm on Saturday. Early that afternoon I had brunch with Kavya, Eliza, Sara, and Rebecca.  Afterward, Kavya and Eliza and I took a train and then a walk to the starting point.  The crowd was massive, much bigger than in Delhi and much more than I was anticipating.  It was really exciting to see such a big turnout at the first major Pride event since the 377 ruling.

We marched for several blocks, and there were representatives from many organizations and many different places, including Delhi. Partha was there, which was fantastic, and I can't believe I forgot to get a picture of the two of us but I did manage to snag some pretty great ones of him dancing during the parade (see below). The march was inspiring and fun, as they tend to be, and it was interesting to see the similarities and differences between Delhi and Mumbai in terms of the way they celebrate and protest.  

Many of the chants with which I am now familiar didn't make an appearance, and I am not sure if it was because of the celebratory atmosphere or because those things change regionally. Those that were used were confined to a very small portion of the crowd.  Maybe it was size that made getting united voices so much more difficult.  

The march ended with a bit of a whimper in the middle of traffic but there were a few places where the party continued, and we visited at least four of them, including Cafe Ideal, the beach, Cafe General, and Liquid (the club where the official after-party was held).   
I love a good Pride day.  Seriously, I cannot emphasize enough how invigorating those days are. Especially here in India, where same-sex affection of a romantic nature is restricted to the extent that I generally see it only in all-gay groups or most commonly, on Facebook groups meant only for the community, these days are a chance to create a safe space, however fleeting. 













Always music, always dancining, love it, love it



Partha Dancing



Partha


Passed this appropriate advertisement on the march


Partha!




With Kavya and Eliza


On the beach after Pride

By the time the after-party began we were a little tired and not sure whether or not to go but I thought I would at least go for a little while, and I am so glad that I did.  There were openly affectionate couples everywhere.  I saw couples making out, which is taboo even between straight couples. (I once had a friend showing me some pictures of vacation and he and his wife were leaning toward each other in one, as if to kiss.  His friend looked at me and laughed, "They were pretending to kiss! In public!" I am not sure what the equivalent would be at home, not that I believe there should be one, but it was an interesting adjustment in perspective.) 

The crowd was skewed male but there were a fair number of lesbians as well, definitely a more balanced representation than what I generally experienced in Delhi.  It was overwhelming in the same sense that every crowded club is, but I was not annoyed by it the way that I generally am because it was so great to find that space and just be there for a little while.  We didn't stay terribly long.  It was ridiculously loud and impossible to talk or really meet new people in any meaningful sense, but it was a great way to end the evening and it definitely introduced me to a new aspect of queer life in India. 

We said goodbye and I headed home, really excited to wait for Mimi to get in for a visit early Sunday morning!

This week I am particularly thankful for: 

1. A new city and a new chance to experience Pride and its impact and importance

2. The Fulbrights for continuing to be so awesome and providing me with a totally unexpected and totally fabulous community of great, interesting people

3. Safe spaces 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Week Twenty Nine: The New Year, Haridwar and Rishikesh

Unfortunately, I started this week in sickness.  It seems to have become a semi-regular thing.  I think I became overconfident after avoiding sickness for so long at the beginning of my time here.  Anyway, on Monday and Tuesday, I headed to work at TARSHI.  Again I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoy working in that office with such cool people.  For the most part I help Shruti and Anisha where I can with various things. 

Although I didn't do anything particularly exciting on New Year's Eve, I did get to see a friend that afternoon and eat some good food that reminded me of home before chilling and watching movies by myself that night.  


Pizza! 


The temple in Malviya Nagar near my apartment.

As a sort of New Year celebration, I headed to Haridwar and Rishikesh, both holy cities near the base of the HImalayas and on the Ganges. I took an early train from Delhi and arrived at my hotel early in the afternoon. The view was gorgeous. 



The river from my hotel

It was a short trip so I headed out as soon as I put my stuff in the room, walking to the river and Har Ki Pauri, the ghat that is famous and holy as the site of a visit from Lord Vishnu, who left a footprint there.

Haridwar is awesome in part because it is so beautiful and not touched by smog in the same way as Delhi.  The river is mostly clear and the sky is blue and walking through the city was a really nice change from what I am used to in the capital.


View down onto the river


Cow enjoying some treats from a local stall


At the Har Ki Pauri ghat


Cows at the ghat


The river


Ghat from one of the bridges


From the other end

I walked around for a bit on the river before heading toward Mansa Devi and Chandi Devi, two temples in the mountains.  I wanted to return to the river for the aarti that evening and see the temples that day before heading to Rishikesh the next morning.  

I took a cable car to the see Mansa Devi first and then hopped on a bus to drive over to Chandi Devi where I took another cable car up the mountain.  Photography is not allowed past a certain point, but both temples were beautiful and beautifully located.  



Heading up 


Cable Car Selfie





The temple


A little closer

While I was wandering, I met a student from the engineering school who was also traveling solo, so we spent the afternoon talking and making the second part of the trip, from the top of Mansa Devi to Chandi Devi, together. It is always nice to find someone else who is traveling alone or who is interested in going to the same places.  

We had a tea and talked before heading our separate ways. 

I made my way down to the aarti but along the way I ran into Praveen, a friend of a friend from Delhi who happened to be traveling with his wife and friends at the same time.  It was such a nice surprise to run into him and we planned to meet up in Rishikesh, where they were staying and where I had intended to spend my day anyway, the next day. 

In the meantime, I headed back to Har Ki Pauri and watched the aarti, the religious ceremony that takes place along the river.


Chanting


In the river


Offering



Someone's pooja


Someone offering pooja



The crowd on the other side of the river


On the side of the river where I was sitting


The ceremony





On the river


Prayers 


Offerings waiting to be sold


On a bridge over the river

I headed back to my hotel after the aarti and did some reading before bed.  

I woke up and took an auto to Rishikesh, which is about an hour away. 

Rishikesh was even more beautiful than Haridwar and walking through the city and along the river made for a great day.  I spent a lot of time exploring and visiting various temples and ashrams, of which there are many.  


View of Swarg Niwas from the cafe where I had breakfast


Not too shabby


View along the river crossing the Lakshman Jhula Bridge



Bathing in the river


On the bridge.  I carried my luggage with me that day and was glad I packed lightly. 


Baby monkeys are the best


Cow crossing


Stereotypical


Great view


Cow crossing part II.  

I spent a bit waiting here because Praveen and I had trouble catching each other.  Eventually I headed across and began walking down with plans to meet up later in the day. 

Some of the sights along the way: 






Swarg Ashram, which is massive


I spent some time resting and watching these cows play fight


And also this sneaky dude, same as above, try to steal from the vegetable vendor.  He never managed to do it but he was persistent and adorable. 





Ghats


Cow on the Ganges








Beautiful view from the bridge



I trekked a long, long way down to try to find Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ahsram, where The Beatles made the White Album, and although I thought I found it, turns out I did not.  I was directed by a monk who told me that the place had been closed for a long time and his directions were very helpful but apparently I stopped at the ashram just before the one I wanted, sad day.  I will not put the random closed ashram selfie here because it is mildly embarrassing but just know it exists. 

Finally I made my way back up to find Praveen and his wife and friends.  We sat and talked on the beach before having chai and street food.  Unfortunately we talked a little too long and I ended up missing my train because our car got caught in traffic and the train was running on time (never a guarantee).  

Praveen was super helpful and found me a different train back and helped me to, errrr, talk my way into a better compartment and seat.  This involved Praveen telling me to look downtrodden (and explaining that begging and bribary are generally effective in this area) while he spoke to a train official about me being a lady tourist.  It worked, thankfully, and although I paid more, I was happy to be able to be in a position to sleep.  I was even happier when, horror of horrors, some virus/food poisoning/curse for bribing my way up in the world hit me and I was a sick, gross, fevered mess and extremely happy for access to a Western toilet.  

Despite that, it was a beautiful trip and overall a fabulous way to start the New Year and continue my adventures. 

This week I am thankful for: 

1.  Everyone who made this year what it was and helped me through many major milestones, including graduation and leaving for the Watson. 

2. The fact that it really is a small world and I got to spend more time with Praveen and his lovely wife and friends. 

3.  A chance to see the Ganges and be close to the Himalayas