Reminiscing seems very popular in the blogosphere these days. And then Bozo has me thinking about my days in India. I think a lot of Americans have a one-sided perception of this country, and it makes me a little sad.
A couple years ago the pastor at my church went on a short-term mission trip to India. When I had a chance to talk to him about the trip, I was immediately let down. I don’t blame him, but I have to assume the organizers in India made a point to take their American visitors to every run-down village they operated in, perhaps to emphasize the poverty and the need. I get it. Marketing’s a bitch. Either that or my pastor was so dialed into the need and poverty that he didn’t open his eyes to the GLORIOUS RICH HERITAGE and CULTURE that is India!
Even just driving between villages …did he not drive past any low-walled gardens with shrines and peacocks? We used to pass those all the time! Could be a dry-looking stretch of open highway and all of a sudden there’s this garden/shrine thing right by the road! And I don’t mean “low-walled” as in someone slapped a 2-foot picket fence around a 100-square-foot plot of land. The walls are some kind of stone, usually painted, and somewhat sculpted along the top: scallops and domes, stuff like that. I wish I’d taken pictures, but who knew? For me, it was just life. Really, we don’t take pictures of the stuff we always see, do we? We can’t know that decades later it might seem unique.
Yes, cows roam free in India, but they aren’t really in the way, and they aren’t like American cattle. It’s not like someone just opened the gate of a dairy farm. It’s hard to explain. Maybe I’ll tackle that subject some other time.
My school was in southern India, in the mountains. Home was in Sri Lanka, in the mountains. As the crow flies, the two places were maybe…400 miles apart? Something like that. But… BWAHaHAHAhahahaha! Getting there was something else.
|Home was in the dark spot in the Island of Sri Lanka. |
School was in India, probably parallel with the northern tip of Sri Lanka.
(map from wikipedia)
First, we had a four-hour drive (approximately) down through the tea estates of Sri Lanka to the capital city of Colombo. These roads are narrow, with long stretches only one lane wide, and if you came upon another vehicle one of you had to back up until the road widened. The roads were also pot-holey. Motion sickness was fairly common, but not to be complained about. “Suck it up and deal” was the name of the game. We would make a stop around the half-way point and have a snack and soda, or buy pineapples or something. (Oh! The PINEAPPLES! But that’s another post.) Usually this drive was made the day before flying out, and we would stay with another missionary family overnight. That part was good fun, like a going away slumber party.
The flight was only about an hour or so. We’d fly from Colombo to (usually) Tiruchirupalli or (sometimes) Trivandrum – these city names will likely only mean anything to BozoCrowded. Not like in line for the Phillies game. Crowded. Elbow-to-elbow people. Yeah, more like that… Look again at that map. Firmly ensconced within the tropics. Elbow-to-elbow, hot-and-sweaty people. With no A.C., ceiling fans were in plentiful supply. (funny the things you remember, isn't it?), who lives in the region. Either place had an airport unlike any I’ve seen since. First, there was no jetway, just a stairway to the tarmac. The luggage was hand-searched. The waiting area was un-air-conditioned, and crowded with people and luggage. …No-no.
The school would schedule (or have the families schedule) students to arrive at one airport or another on the same day, and send down a bus. …not like the yellow school busses we have here, but not totally unlike. There was a huge luggage rack on top and a ladder down the back for ease of loading the luggage, and the bus was blue, and not air-conditioned, but the seats were similar, as were the windows. …I think it was shorter than the standard US busses. Yep, that's right. I rode “the short bus” to school. (but there was no other length.)
After everyone had arrived and the bus was loaded, off we’d go. The bus trip was about 4-5 hours, as I recall. We’d cross a vast plain before reaching the Eastern Ghats – the mountain range containing a town and small lake, both called Kodaikanal. The plains were hot and depending on the season, dry and yellow or green and lush. But the mountains…
I have never seen this any other place I’ve been. The mountain range rises abruptly out of the plain. No gradual about it. You’re driving a straight road on flat land, watching a mountain range come at you from the distance and suddenly you’re on switchback roads where each hairpin turn creates a new view that is distinctly higher than the last. ...again, wishing I'd taken pictures.
You know how the pyramids just come up out of nothing? Yeah, more sharply than that, though. And with hairpin turns.
I’m sure there’s a specific elevation range where the ecology changes, but come on, I was in Jr. High, what did I know? All I can say is pretty soon we were cooling off; then pulling out jackets or cardigans. Again with the pot-holes, but I somehow remember the roads being a little wider than the tea estate roads of Sri Lanka. Who knows – I was a kid.
The monkeys, though! That’s a noise that just becomes ambient noise once you’re used to it. Like the ocean now that I live near the shore…it’s just there. If the bus stopped for a break, we found out the hard way: don’t sit too close to the trees or you’ll get a monkey in your hair!
...I’m cutting myself off there. I could go on and on, and probably will, but I’m getting a little long-winded. Maybe the next time it will be about the dorm, or hiking, or sunrise Easter service looking out over the plains, or the riots in town when trouble broke out in neighboring Sri Lanka between different ethnic groups. Yeah, probably that.
In other news: Something To celebrate!
I’m so sorry I forgot to mention the Friday was Holi – a Hindu festival also known as the “festival of colors”. Part of the celebration includes throwing scented flowers or perfumes on each other, and there’s a bonfire at night. Sweet.
It’s Commonwealth Day in Australia today, so go out and get some Fosters Lager to toast our Aussie friends!