Posts tagged ‘Travel’

April 12, 2014

What makes India so special

by Tabitha Kidwell

When people heard I was coming to India, they often said things like “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to India – the colorful saris, the delicious food, such a holy place!”

Well, yeah, I guess that is all here. Most older women do wear saris everyday, and they range from the sari equivalent of sweatpants to stunningly ornate works of art worn for special occasions.

All dressed up for the Annual Day Celebration

All dressed up for the Annual Day Celebration

Younger women often wear saris too, but for everyday, they are just as likely to wear a kurta-shalwar-scarf combo, or just jeans and a tunic.

See?

See?

And they do have amazing food. America’s take on Indian food that seems to be fairly accurate, unlike “Mexican” food, which is basically unlike any food eaten in Mexico. In nice restaurants, and at fancy occasions, you can find chicken tikka masala, mutton biryana, palak paneer, butter garlic naan, and all the other the delicious dishes you might find in the “international” hot food bar at Whole Foods.

Thali - a sampler dish of amizingness!

Thali – a sampler dish of amizingness!

But, for everyday fare, at least in Maharashtra, there is an unending parade of rice, dal (similar to a lentil soup), and chapati (basically whole wheat tortillas), with a different vegetable thrown in everyday. A cucumber and some tomatoes might make a cameo as a “salad.” It got pretty boring for me, especially when I spent weeks out at City of Child, and was basically eating “camp food.”

Surprise! Rice, chapati and dal... again...

Surprise! Rice, chapati and dal… again…

Lunch was a challenge, too. People take tiffins (lunch boxes, but really nice, utilitarian lunch boxes) to school or work, and typically have 2-4 chapatis and a serving of vegetable in there. Sometimes, the vegetable would be something closer to bean soup, and I would spend lunch time trying to scoop it up with a flimsy chapatti. Hard at first, but I got pretty good at it:

Take 1

Take 1

Take 2

Take 2

Take 3 - note the  "chapati cone" technique

Take 3 – note the
“chapati cone” technique

Take 4 - success!

Take 4 – success!

And lastly, how about India’s renowned holiness? Yes, there is something to it. Two of the world’s great religious were founded here. People have beautiful altars in their homes, and you’re likely to get a blessing and turmeric on the forehead if you stop in for tea. There are plenty of ashrams and meditation centers scattered around, and you pass beautiful temples all over the place.

P1050568

But people also do mundane, un-holy things like go to work, go to school, go to the mall, do laundry, do homework, do exercise, show off their motorcycles, show off their mobile phones, throw trash on the ground, etc.

The common thread of a lot of my blogs recently has been the fact that I am just living normal life here – that I’m not heading out to be the tourist. Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve felt a little guilt over this. I think it comes back to this expectation that people have of INDIA: The clothes! The food! The religion! This view, seeing the entire sub-continent as one big fabric bazaar/spice market/meditation center, focuses on India’s otherness. You can find those things if you’re interested in seeing what makes India different . But what has made India special to me are the things that are the same: the relationships with people, the everyday experiences, and the many ways it’s come to feel like home.

January 6, 2014

Visa Woes

by Tabitha Kidwell

There are many things that have kept me from blogging the past few weeks, but one major distraction has been trying to get my visa to go to India. Turns out, it’s a stressful process. And in my case, more stressful than anything should ever be.

I will take full responsibility for this whole snafu because I’ve been fairly certain I was going to India since I got home in July. I could have sent my application in then, but I didn’t even consider the possibility of needing a visa until the end of November, when an someone who had been to India asked me if I had one yet. I’ve been flitting all over Southeast Asia for the past two years getting visas on arrival or online a week before. I just didn’t even think about it.

So, I started working on it all at the end of November. I had to get a new drivers license that showed my new address, new id photos taken that showed my ears, a cashiers check, and a return mailing envelope. That may not sound like that much, but I was spending most of my time at Christmisc. at that point, and it took me like a week to get it all together. I mailed everything on December 6, and they got it on December 9. At this point, I wasn’t worried at all, given that they said on their website that it would take 7-11 business days, and there were still 18 business days before I had to depart for Indonesia/India/etc.

Well, I should have been worried. Ironically, the Indian consulate outsources their visa processing to a company called BLS. BLS is apparently grossly incompetent. I imagined they were hard at work, checking my travel details and making sure my ears were visible in my picture, but they didn’t even “accept the package” and enter my application into their system until December 17, a week and a half after the post office says they delivered it.

At that point, I started to panic a little. I spent $90 to send a new UPS envelope with overnight delivery in case we ran tight on time at the end (unfortunately, they didn’t end up using it). I called and called and no one answered the phones. I considered sending a muffin basket. I got a new number by calling their Indian citizen services line. I called that number and e-mailed and they “escalated” the processing. Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, I continued calling and e-mailing and “escalating” steps in the process until finally it was “dispatched” on Monday, December 30. Plenty of time, I thought. Except that it didn’t show up in the post office tracking for over three days. I called to “escalate” on that third day, was informed that they didn’t know where my passport was, and ended up collapsed on the floor crying and flailing my limbs not unlike a toddler having a temper tantrum. My med student brother suggested I take one of the Percocet from my root canal last summer. Very helpful. Happily, the envelope showed up in the tracking system that night. On Friday morning, I went and talked to some very kind people at the post office and they said it could very possibly arrive on Saturday and I could even come in and pick it up if it arrived Saturday afternoon after the carriers had gone out.

Well, it did not. It is now Monday and I am anxiously waiting for the mail. The tracking system says “out for delivery,” so I feel confident, but wouldn’t be surprised if something else went wrong. I had to cancel last night’s ticket and buy a new one for tomorrow. Here’s the silver lining to this whole saga: I ended up being able to book a one way ticket to Jakarta using frequent flyer miles, and now have a credit on American Airlines. I still have to buy a return ticket, but I should be left with some extra traveling money. And the best news of all: I should be in Jakarta, far away from the “Polar Vortex” currently seizing the midwest, by Thursday afternoon, in plenty of time to do the work I am being paid to do. If my passport comes this afternoon, that is. And if it does not come, I’m probably going to need more Percocet.

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