Living Vicariously Through Linda Mondol

In the last year and a half since I've traveled to India, I have kept in touch with a couple of the educators I met on that incredible journey. One of them, Linda Mondol, whom I've written about on a previous entry, decided to take a job teaching abroad. She and her husband Denny, are teaching at an American school in Beirut, Lebanon. Their two children are also with them. I wanted to include a link to their blog about their experiences here, so that others who may be interested could also live vicariously through Linda.


Five Things That I Loved About India

   I was just reading a similar list on one of the blogs I follow and it prompted me to share mine.

Well, I've been back home now for two weeks after having been in India for a little over a month.  Although I'm obviously happy to be reunited with my family and friends, I feel like a lover that has been separated from her loved one.  For even though my hometown is also a totally unique place in its own right. Often, life here seems sterile, at least after India. So, since I'm reminiscing, let me tell you the Five Things I Loved About India.

1)  Life Is Not Sterile -  As much as I complained inwardly about being harassed by hawkers, and seeing some unsightly things, like guys peeing on the side of the road, and vendors killing chickens in order to sell them for lunch or dinner, and random people on the street simply taking quick Sunday baths by  street pumps, I realize now that I was witnessing life happening.  There were interesting and different things going on all about me.  I actually looked at people and people looked back at me.  O.K.  I wasn't staring at them while they peed or bathed!  I captured all of that with my peripheral vision.  However, in general throughout the days as you made your way around town, it wasn't unusual to see people staring at you, as they nudged their friends to have a look at the foreigners.  This wasn't done in a lascivious manner!  Well, maybe a couple of times!!! LOL!!!  More often than not however, people were simply curious.  They would stop you and ask for your photo or ask you to take a picture of them.  I have random pictures of people who wanted me to take their pictures, and people in India have random pictures of me, as well.

2)  Traffic -  I will never feel the same way about "crazy drivers" and traffic jams as I did before India.  Every time I would get into traffic in India, I would hear the theme from "The Benny Hill Show" playing in my head.  It felt as if I was part of a mad-cap caper in a silent movie where all hell and chaos are breaking loose.  Instead of being scared, I would start laughing.  It was exhilirating knowing that anything could happen at anytime, especially when riding in tuk-tuks/auto-rickshaws.  Tuk-tuks are a common form of inexpensive transportation in India.  They're used by locals getting around town and to and from work, foreigners needing cheap transportation, and they can even double as private school buses.  And that's just the tuk-tuks...

Indian streets are a smörgåsbord of transportation methods and interesting things to see. (Click on the colored words "Indian Street Photostream" to see). Indian Street Photostream - Check it out. You'll see the usual, like cars, trucks, buses, scooters and motorcycles.  Then you'll get a smattering of things that are uniquely Indian, like the dying breed of rickshaws pulled by humans, bicycle rickshaws, cows (which are not homeless, but do belong to people), meandering and sleeping street dogs (with ever so slight physical differences depending on the city you're visiting), hogs, goats and kids (baby goats), monkeys, elephants, and camels.  Now in and of itself that menagerie seems incredible. However, one of my colleagues, Bill Franklin and I observed after witnessing an accident in Jaipur, a city with well-delineated streets and traffic signals, that the real beauty is in the interaction of all these elements which combine to form a unique "dance" or "symphony", with the "beeping/honking" of horns keeping the pace.  I believe that the "breaking of traffic rules" as we see it is actually a testament to how much Indian people respect one another and nature. They are always aware of where the "other guy/cow/dog/goat" is, they just don't make eye contact or make any false, courteous gestures in traffic.  If you do, you inadvertently set off the rhythm.

3)  The History and Architecture - As a history lover, I was overjoyed to have something ancient to feast my eyes upon almost everyday.  Being able to see things as old as the Buddhist Caves (Karla Caves), near Pune, to the incredible Moghul forts and palaces near Agra, where The Taj Mahal is located nourished my creativity and soul.

4)  And speaking of soul...Indian Spirituality - As a westerner, I had my perceptions of what spirituality in India would look like.  As ridiculous as this sounds, I guess I expected to see people meditating and doing yoga on every corner.  Those things were there.  I took a yoga class with second-graders at a school that we visited.  We went and saw countless temples, mosques, and churches, and oh yes, even a mighty holy river, Gangaji, where people were meditating and praying.  However, Indian spirituality is more subtle, deeper and quieter.  I am not so naive to believe that some animosity doesn't exist between certain religions, but more often, this animosity is overshadowed by the countless acts of worship and good deeds that go on among and between all the religions present in India on a day to day basis.

5)  Last, but not least, my favorite thing about India are Indians!  - Again, I'm not so naive as to believe there are only "good" Indians.  I'm sure there's all kinds of people, just as there are in Euskalherria, the Philippines, Cuba and the United States.  However, I'm so lucky to have been blessed with many encounters with people that I felt an incredible kinship with.  People I may have shared a past life with, who knows? Here are some of them: Click on the word "Connections" to see. Connections


Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

I'm posting this blog after the fact, because things really got crazy and busy towards the end of our journey in India.  However, I didn't want to leave out an entry for Jaipur because its truly a beautiful city with a lot of wonderful things to see.  We visited the city from August 3 - 5 (a.m.).

Firstly, we stayed at a beautiful hotel, The Jai Mahal Palace.  Now although we've stayed at incredible places, I especially loved the modern decor of this real live palace which dates back to 1785.  Everything has been updated so the rooms were interestingly decorated.  There were fabulous modern paintings and prints throughout the hallway, and the piece de resistance was an incredible, human-sized chessboard in the gardens.

On the 4th, we were able to visit the Amber Fort.  What a jewel!  I thought we were just going to ride elephants up to an old fortress, but the scenery around the fort was truly enchanting and I think the bad weather added a certain air of mystery to the whole place, at least for me.

If you want to know more about the Amber Fort, check out this link:

In the meantime, here are some of the pics I took.  You begin the visit by mounting elephants that take you to the fort.

Arriving at the top of the fort.  This is not the highest point.  From here you need to climb on foot.

Our elephant and driver with Flat Stanley.  

Beautiful views from and around the fort.

If you want to see more pictures of this beautiful place, check out my flicker photostream.

The people in the group that had been to China said the fort wall reminded them of The Great Wall of China.

That evening we were treated to a traditional Rajasthani thayli dinner.  

Oh yeah and I even saw the Floating Palace I had seen online when this whole adventure was still a dream.


Farewell Dinner in New Delhi

Well, tonight the United States-India Education Foundation gave us a farewell dinner at The Claridges.  We had a fabulous time!  Those of us that bought our sarees had the opportunity to wear them, as well as those that bought the salwar kameez outfits.

We all felt like we were getting ready for Prom.  We also got the chance to meet other teachers that were recruited by Fulbright.  It was a fun evening!  I have stuff to post from Jaipur.  I will try to do that as soon as possible.