india- the best place in the world... so far

India Is unlike anywhere I have ever been in my entire life. I know that every single time I go to a new country I say that it is my favorite, but to be quite honest, India is the most amazing place I have ever seen. It is so filled with culture and I am amazed. I would love to come back here. Above all of the other places, india is the one that I feel like I connected with the most. I think I have more pictures of people in this country than of my friends. The camera you are letting me borrow dad, is amazing. Lisa, you were so right to travel here. This is the most incredible experience of my entire life. I think that this blog is going to be the longest of them all, so please bear with me. it really is long, but if I only had one place to go on semester at sea, this would have been it. this experience beat all others.
Our time in india started with a bit of wandering around the city- I was on a trip that went to agra and varanassi, and I had a good six hours before we left for the airport, so Andrew, Missy, missy’s friend and I asked to be taken to a market by a man in a little buggy. The taxis here have THREE WHEELS. Its like being on a motorized mini scooter with an extra wheel. We were dropped off in a market and walked into a saree place. I bought a saree, it is BEAUTIFUL. We then walked across the street into a random restaurant. We asked the man for his favorite foods on the menu, so he gave us all different kinds of Indian food, and served them to us on banana leaves. The banana leaves were used as placemats and we were given spoons to use. The food in india is the best food I have ever had in my entire life. Thank god I wasn’t studying abroad here for three months, I would turn into a little Buddha. We then drove back to the boat to make it onto our plane. The process getting there wasn’t very difficult, but we were all split up into two buses, and these were the people that we were going to be stuck with for the entirety of the trip. Andrew and I decided that we wanted to be with the lifelong learners (the older people of the trip, teachers, children, etc.) because we knew that there would be complaining from people of our age about this country, and boy were we right. We ended up being on the bus with people who were actually interested in what was going on and we had such a great group of other students on our bus.
We first took a plane to New Delhi. It was really cool here and actually a little bit nicer than I had expected. We then ate lunch an went to the train station to go to agra. We went to a place called Fatehpur sikri- it was a castle, basically. It was so pretty and our first experience in agra. We stopped at a textile factory where these men chisled into stone, and then put actual jewels into each design. The pieces were all so beautiful, but we all left pretty quickly because we knew that we were going to the taj mahal and wanted to spend as much time there as possible. We got back into the busses, and we went to a red fort where the king and his family used to live. It was so beautiful- it was so big. We kept thinking that there wouldn’t be much more to it, but each arch we went into was another courtyard, or room, or walkway of some sort. it was beautiful. But the biggest surprise was when Andrew and I walked to a balcony, and we could see the taj mahal from right across where we were standing. It looked so little because it was so far away, but I was so excited to see it. SO excited. We all got back on the busses, and then got transferred to mini busses to get dropped off at the taj. The security in india was so much better than anything in the united states. We got out and took pictures and were given two hours to walk around.
The taj mahal is easily the most grand and amazing architecture I have ever seen. Apparently, it is a burial ground. A man created it for his wife when his wife died, and it took 23 years to have it completed. I swear it will stand forever. It is literally the largest thing I have ever seen. We all had to put on red slippers to cover our feet as we walked in the tomb so we wouldn’t get it dirty. We all just wandered around in amazement and then sat there and watched the sun set behind it. after a while, we walked back to our busses, and then took a train back to delhi. We got to the hotel, and group B was just arriving to the hotel. I was jealous that they got to go see it again. we ate dinner around one, and then went to bed. We woke up at 8 the next morning, and this was the latest wakeup of our entire trip. We took a bus tour of Delhi and went to a place called Humayuns tomb. It was basically a mini taj mahal. It was created before the taj was, and the fact that we saw the taj first made it not seem as amazing, but it was also so beautiful. The architecture is incredible. These people were so skilled. We took a train back to the hotel to take a flight to Varanassi.
The train station was the most depressing place of my entire semester at sea trip. There were so many poor people, so instead of eating my dinner, I handed it out to the children slowly as they came around. They all played with us and danced with us, but they had nothing. They danced for us to entertain us, but it was so we could give them money. I brought three little boys with me to a food stand and bought them all drinks and little sandwiches. I had tears in my eyes but I had to stop myself from crying. I know it is terrible, but seeing these things made me try to desensitize myself to the fact that it was going on. We refused to give them money, but we gave them our food, and all of our leftover food from the bus ride we had our bus driver hand out to the homeless people that were sleeping outside the station. One woman tried to had a little boy her orange, and an older man jumped up and grabbed it out of her hands and then ran away. It was so scary. There were little girls that were carrying around babies who had no parents. It was exactly like slumdog millionaire. Except it was real. And right in my face. We got off the train and then got on a plane to go to our next stop.
On the positive side, Varanassi is by far my favorite place in the entire world. It was so spiritual. I have never seen so many people in one place at once. We got off of our plane, and then got on buses because we were going to take rickshaw rides to the ganges river to see their nightly ritual. The rickshaws were funny because Andrew and I could hardly fit in it both together, and the man was on a bicycle carrying us. We took these rickshaws through the city and we slowly saw more and more people going into and out of Kashi. Kashi is the place where the ganges river is. It was so dark outside, and we were all made to stick close together. We stuck out like a sore thumb- 70 white people in a sea of Indian people. Something that was cool was that depending on where you are in india, people are more black than Indian looking.  We got through Kashi to the side of the water where the ceremony was being held. There were Brahmin priests giving the ceremony, and people were all around, praying. Andrew and I split off from the group and wandered into a temple devoted to shiva. We took off our shoes and sat down in silence with four Indian men who were all praying to lord shiva (the destroyer of evil things) and then they taught us how to pray. We prayed and recited after the men for five minutes in Hindi. It was so cool. He had us pray for our families, for the world, and for each other being life long friends. We went back out and wandered around the waterside. I don’t even know how to explain it. I never will be able to. I just felt so amazing watching these people.  We realized that we had five minutes to get back to the group, so we went back, and then took a rickshaw ride back to our hotel. When we got to our hotel, it looked like a bar mitzvah. There was a DJ and a dance floor, and there was a buffet line with tables everywhere. All of a sudden, people from group C came walking into our hotel. Apparently they heard music from their walk back to their hotel, saw white people, and knew that it was us. Becca Andrew and I walked back to their hotel, gathered a group of our friends, and we all headed back to our hotel where we convinced the hotel to keep the dance floor open until 1AM. We all danced all night and had such an awesome time. We had to be up by 4:00 the next morning, so at around 12:15, I went to bed. I was woken up to screaming in the hallway around 12:45. Apparently there was a girl who was sick and no one knew who her room mate was supposed to be. I told them to bring her into our bathroom, and Amy (my roommate for india) and I took care of her. Everyone had either gone to bed, or they were too drunk to take care of her. After about an hour and a half, we had to call the hospital and the leaders, as well as the dean on our ship. They came into our room, and we just sat with her taking care of her. At one point, the doctors couldn’t find a pulse, but she was breathing very fast, so they weren’t sure what to do. Honestly, semester at sea was not prepared at all to take care of this girl. I called the front desk, and they called doctors to come and take her. I then had to pick her up and put her in a wheelchair because none of the Indian men felt comfortable enough to change her and pick her up (cultural differences). By this point it was around 3:30 and we had to be down by the bus in half an hour, so amy and I didn’t sleep. We walked down to the buses and everyone felt so bad because they either were sleeping or they didn’t even realize what was happening. The teacher never remembered what my name was, I guess he didn’t find me important enough to remember it, but after I helped with the girl, he told me I was a hero for saving her life, and he remembered what my name was for the rest of the trip. He still says hello to me whenever he sees me.
After that little nightmare, we were on buses to go back to the ganges to watch the sunrise by boat. As we were waiting to load the boats, I sat down and was blessed by a Brahmin priest. No one else did it- we got into the boats, and as we went down the river, we saw people bathing, doing yoga, and praying. When the people got into the ganges river, they were cleansing their souls of their sins. Apparently a british guy died of dysentery from swimming in the river last year, and people either see it as a holy place, or as a polluted place. I saw it as holy. So naturally, Andrew and I took a holy dip and bathed ourselves in the Ganges water. Later that day, our friend brad had a kid come up to him and say “did you hear about those two kids that swam in the water?! They are nuts. I am avoiding them all the rest of the trip, they are probably so sick”. The funny thing is, we are the only two who ate all of the food, swam in the water, brushed our teeth with the tap water, and everyone else got sick. We didn’t. I don’t think Ive ever had more of a spiritual or touching experience than in varanassi.   We then boated by the crematorium where the bodies are burned and ashes are dispsersed. We got out of the water, saw the crematorium and saw smoke coming up from the ashes, and then we walked through the side streets. The streets at this point are waaay too small for anyone to drive through, so we walked throughout these alleyways for about an hour to see the layout of the city. We got our stuff at the hotel, ate lunch, and went back to the airport. A
round midnight we were back at the boat, and we were left a note from Adam telling us what he had done in Chennai while we were gone, and what the best things were to do. He gave us a phone number of a man named Johnny, who we called. Johnny said he would take us around all day for 700 rupees. That is less than twenty bucks. He took becca, missy, a girl named Tara, Andrew and I to an ashram where we meditated and watched prayers, and then to a crocodile farm. There were SO many crocodiles. We also saw snake charmers and then were driven to a temple that was by the side of the water. It was a temple that overlooked the ocean and the beach. It was really relaxing, but there were seven of us packed in car because Johnny was there and he had a driver.
He then had the driver take us to a place where we saw temples on the sides of rocks, as well as a rock called butterball. It is this gigantic rock, that not even twelve elephants were able to move. No one knows how it got there, but it is situated on the smallest part of the whole rock, and it doesn’t move at all. We then went and saw the rock carved temples that were all around butterball. We ate food, and then headed back to the boat to shower. We all decided to go to a hookah bar (when in india, do as the Indians do!) we got to the hookah bar and it was a very relaxed setting. The rest of the SAS kids went to bars and to dance, but we went to this hookah bar where we just sat around and relaxed. It was on a rooftop, and there was a pool on the rooftop with a giant circular clear plastic ball. I asked what it was, and it is called water zorbing. Basically, it is a giant hampsterball on water. So we got into these hampster balls and had hampsterball fights on water. We stayed until the place closed, and then were taken back to the ship.
On our last day, brad, missy and I went to pick up my saree and then ate lunch. We were supposed to meet everyone at 1:30 to go with people to Johnnys house (he invited us for lunch) but we didn’t get there until 2. I am so glad that we were late because we experienced what no one else did. We took a taxi and called Johnny to have him speak to the taxi driver- we were taken into the inner homes of Chennai. Everyone was so happy, and they all wanted pictures- one family even told me to come and sit in their one bedroom/kitchen home. It was a home not even the size of my own bedroom. Johnny had his driver to come get us from the taxi, and we walked through the village to the railroad tracks, where we waited for the train to pass by. Once it did, we walked across the tracks to more homes. I don’t even know how Johnny could afford a driver, because his own home was one bedroom and one kitchen. He invited us into his home, there were 9 of us, and he had his two wives cook for us. I played with his grandson who was two years old. This was the perfect ending to india. I was able to experience how they actually lived. It probably took Johnny a full week of work to pay for the food he made for us, but he wanted us to come visit him so badly. He had a picture on his wall of SAS kids from 1984. He invites them into his home every single time they are in Chennai and he cooks and shows them the actual life of the Indian people. I am so thankful that he did that for us. For my poetry class I had to write poems for my final project, and I wrote one about him. I love you guys and miss you so much, but I’m gonna end my letter here because I know it is way too long already. Here is my poem for Johnny- I’m mailing it to him for his daughter to read. He is illiterate. (we call him Johnny eagle.)

Johnny Boy.
That’s what they used to call him.
Living day by day, 12 siblings,
No father.
Sleeping in the streets every night,
Fighting for shelter through every storm.
“Life was hard”, he said,
“All of my money went to my family.
“None, for me.”
“Life was sad”, he said,
“Growing up with a single mother.”
“Life was fast”, he said,
“For my eight siblings who all passed away.”
“Life was spiritual,” he said.
For it took a long time for the gods to answer his prayers.
But life changed,
For Johnny Boy.
He found a job,
And paid for his home.
He found two wives,
And learned five languages.
Johnny is illiterate.
“Life is good now”, he says as he sits us down
In his one bedroom home,
Feeding nine of us.
This meal probably took him a week to afford.
“We are family. No different colors. We all bleed the same.” He said.  
He is no longer a boy.
He soared above his adversities.
Boy to man,
Man to eagle.
Johnny Eagle.

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