I cannot believe how fast the time is passing. I’ll be back in sunny California in just over one week! My oh my how time flies!!
So last week I was in the office for only two days because I went to visit two grantees of the Ford Foundation: Breakthrough and SAMA. Both were amazing experiences and I am feeling extremely lucky to get to meet the real movers and shakers in India’s fight for equality.
The more people I talk to and the more I read about the issues, the more I am appreciating the hard work happening here in India at the grass root level. The Ford Foundation has given me an awesome opportunity to create my own internship and because I am gathering so much information I want to deliver a final product to the foundation upon my departure. Thus, I have decided to create a multimedia presentation on the issue of child marriage. Child marriage is a HUGE issue in India, and especially detrimental for young girls. My presentation is going to be geared toward an American audience so that we can understand and appreciate what rights we have in the US, and why we should go to great lengths to protect them!
While working for the Ford Foundation has been for lack of a better word, life-changing, I want to write blogs that are somewhat lighter and less focused on the depressing nature of women’s rights in India. So I’ll focus more on the fun I’ve been having!
Friday morning my mom flew in to visit me! I tried to surprise her at the airport by telling her that the office was sending a car to pick her up and it was too early for me to come, but when she finally walked out of the terminal, I was playing a game on my phone and didn’t even notice her. She had to say “Ali!? Is that you!?” before I even looked up… Surprise ruined!
In any case, we spent the morning at this beautiful monument in the heart of New Delhi called Humayun’s Tomb. This beautiful edifice is said to have inspired the design of the Taj Mahal. After seeing the tomb, we decided to take public transportation back to my host family’s home just outside the city. If you know my mom you know that she LOVES to do it how the locals do it, so we took an auto-rickshaw to the metro station, and then the metro, and then another auto-rickshaw to their home.
Friday happened to be the marriage of my elder host sister, and while it was just a court marriage (the real Indian shebang is happening in December), there were over 50 people at the luncheon back at their home. We arrived just before the bride and groom and got to enjoy the ceremonies, traditions, food and spectacle that is an Indian wedding (not that anyone is counting but my Indian wedding tally is now at 3!). Also, after the commotion had died down a little, my mom got to meet the wonderful people that have adopted me into their home.
The next morning, my jetlagged mother and I woke up for a 5 a.m. departure to Jaipur. Jaipur is the colorful and historic capital of the state of Rajasthan (which means land of the king) and is a six-hour drive south of Delhi. After the adventure of driving a long distance on less-than-developed highways we finally arrived and went straight to our beautiful hotel.
The hotel was a converted royal palace and was extraordinarily spectacular. Even the entrance was unreal. Upon arrival we were transferred to an old-fashioned Ford and rode to the lobby in style where we were promptly showered in rose petals and lei’d. My mom and I looked at each other and wondered if we should even leave the hotel.
But that was just too good to be true. Knowing that my mother hates just sitting around in the air conditioned room of a hotel in a foreign city I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that she organized a walking tour around the city in the middle of the afternoon. For the next 3.5 hours in the 117-degree heat, we toured “The Pink City” which is aptly named because it is literally all painted a shade of pink. Within the walls is a maze of artisan neighborhoods. One block was known for its marble statue makers, another for its silver and gold jewelry, one for its bangles, etc.
For ‘foreigners’ (what Indians call anyone not from India) who were unaccustomed to the Indian summer heat, we were literally dragging our feet by the end, but our tireless leader kept us on a strict schedule and would periodically take us to the special sweet shops so we could replenish our systems with some overly sweet but delicious Jaipur specialty. As if I wasn’t tired enough, at one particular stop I was coaxed into joining a pick-up game of cricket with some young boys. After I hit a few “sixes” – cricket’s equivalent of the home run, they started to take me more seriously and started to “bowl” the ball really fast. They told me I had some potential… for a foreigner.
Finally, after we had blisters on our feet and had walked what felt like 10 miles, we were driven back to our hotel where we collapsed in exhaustion around 10 p.m.
The next morning we woke up early again to see the Amber Fort. Just outside the bustling markets of the Pink City was a massive fort nestled at the top of an intimidating hill. There are many ways to get up to the fort, but the best way (according to the locals) is to take elephants. So after hopping aboard, we embarked on the twisty trail to the top. Now despite the elegance you might think comes with riding an elephant, it was in fact less glamorous than I thought, and actually quite bumpy. And while “Sarah” was quite the nice elephant, she was extremely slow and we got passed a few times on our way to the top.
After touring the overly lavish but equally beautiful Fort, we looked out across the valley and saw up close what seemed to be a replica of the Great Wall of China twisting its way round the hills above the city. After our elephant-less walk back down the hill, we told the driver that we hadn’t had enough of the mountains and wanted to climb to the top of the “Great Wall of Jaipur” via the set of 500 stairs. Apparently this is seldom done because he looked at us as if we had three heads and said, “You want to climb to the top… in 112 degree weather…” and shook his head as if to say ‘crazy Americans’. But we did it anyways, and the view from the top was so worth the exhausting climb (although it was so high I was much happier when we got back to flat ground).
After our apparently “insane” climb, we took a tour of the City Palace (which is where the royal family of Jaipur still lives) and then took a short chai break. In the afternoon we decided to try our hand at bargaining for sandals. After bumping the price down from 500 rupees (10 dollars) to 350 rupees (7 dollars) we congratulated ourselves and walked out of the store. After passing two more vendors, we passed a guy selling the exact sandals I had just purchased for only 150 rupees… We laughed and decided that we were not meant for the bargaining life. After that we decided we still hadn’t had enough climbing for one day, so we hiked to the top of a Minaret in the middle of the city, which is the tallest structure in the middle of the city, and from the top you can see the entire city. That evening we asked our driver to take us to a restaurant that the locals go to and again he thought we were insane. But he ordered for us and it was the best food we had all weekend.
The next morning we packed up and drove back to Delhi where I had to drop of my mom at the airport so she could go to the south of India for a little work. Such a short visit, but ill see her again in about a week!!