“I love to travel. I love to see new countries, and get to know new cultures, and taste new foods, and hear new music, and meet local people, and just expand my world views. I just love, love, love to travel.”
I have said those words, several times. So have most of my friends, and probably you, and most of your friends. Honestly, who doesn’t love to travel? I know there are people who really really don’t – but I bet even most of them will still say they do love, or at least like, to travel, because to be a person who dislikes traveling.. well, that would just be weird, and there would have to be something wrong with a person like that. Traveling is just bliss.
I do honestly love traveling, and I love getting to know new countries, and meeting new people, and making new friends and new memories in beautiful surroundings, with colors, sounds, smells and emotions I’ve never experienced before. But then there are the days when I just absolutely, utterly, totally hate it all, and all I want to do is be home again – even though I’m not even sure where “home” would even be right now. Days when I just hate everything in the country I am in, and wish I could be anywhere but here. And I bet every traveler has these days – we just don’t admit to them as easily as we do to all the positive and exciting things we see and experience.
There are days when I wake up, and go to the bathroom – and then, as almost every morning, curse the stupid Indian toilets that never flush properly. I walk to the kitchen, and realize I can’t make myself coffee because electricity is out – and, therefore, I also can’t turn on the water heater to take a shower. I open my computer to read the news, and the internet isn’t working (yes, I know – such a first world problem. But bear with me, you’ve all been there).
After not being able to make my coffee, or take a shower (unless I absolutely had to, and ended up taking a cold shower), or read the news, I finally get ready to walk out and head to work. On some mornings, I can make it to the big road safely – on others, I find myself dodging the barking angry street dogs and hoping they wont’ decide to come after me, given that I never got that rabies shot. Once I find an auto rickshaw, the negotiating begins, and on most mornings I end up paying more that just the meter fare. The trip to the office is filled with honking horns, barking dogs, horrible pollution, pot holes, cursing, crazy driving, a few near-death experiences with trucks and buses, and by the time we make it close to my work, I can feel an inch-thick layer of dirt and crap covering my face. The driver doesn’t know how to get to my office, so I ask him to drop me off a few streets down and walk the rest of the way. I step out of the auto, only to step into a puddle of grey water. Given that it hasn’t been raining in the past 24 hours, it is most likely sewer water. We all know what that consist of. I pass an enormous pile of garbage, and twitch at the piercing smell of all of that trash rotting away in the sun and heat.
I get through the work day, then go through the process of arguing with an auto rickshaw driver about the fare again, and finally agree on some sort of a compromise. I need to run some errands on the way home. I go to a store, and have to check in my backpack at the door – they are not allowed in big stores. The minute I walk in every single person working there has their eyes on me, and they all want to help, or force me to buy things I don’t need – I know they just mean well and/or are doing their jobs, but sometimes I just want them to leave me alone, not follow me around, not ask me if I need help, not carry my basket, not offer me products I really don’t want or need, not ask me to fill out a customer satisfaction survey. I finally make it to the register, and stand in line – only to see at least five people cut in front of me. As anyone who has ever been to India will know, Indians are not the best at queuing. Again, I know they don’t mean it in a bad way, it’s just how things are done here, but on days like this I have to use every ounce of self control in me not to explode on the face of this tiny little old Indian lady, who swoops in from somewhere and rams herself between me and the cashier, just when I thought it was finally my turn.
I walk out of the store, and at the exit, a security guy stops me to see my receipt. They do this in all stores – but I still don’t really know why. The security guy doesn’t check the content of my bag against the receipt – they just look at the receipt, and then make a hole in it. I have no idea where I put it between the register and the door, so I take my time to find it from the bottom of my bags, and finally hand it over. I walk down to the ground floor – and, at the last exit, another security guy wants to see my receipt again. I am ready to scream. I find it, again, and he makes a hole in it – again. I go to the counter to retrieve my backpack, and again wait in line, just to see everyone cut in front of me. After about 10 minutes of waiting, I finally manage to elbow my way to the front, and get my backpack.
I’m not far from home, so I think I’ll walk. After the first couple hundred meters, I realize it wasn’t the best idea. I’m not 100% sure what the route is, the traffic is getting really bad, and, as always when I step out the door, everyone around me is staring at me. I wish I could claim it was because of my stunning looks – but given that at this point, I am sweaty, dirty, my hair looks like Monica’s on the Barbados-episode of Friends, and I probably smell like pee after my encounter with the puddle earlier, I doubt that is the reason. Foreigners get stared at everywhere in India, and on most days I don’t mind nor even notice it really – but, on a day like this, I feel each and every eye on me, looking at me, shamelessly staring at me, sizing me up. They don’t mean anything by it – at least most of the time – but at the same time, when I am walking home by myself and the sun is starting to set, I feel like I constantly have to try to read the signs and stay vigilant and alert, in case someone stares a bit too long, or maybe starts following me, which also has happened before. I pick up the speed – and trip into a ginormous pot hole in the middle of the side walk. I curse out loud in every language I can think of, and feel the people around me staring at me even more. I pull myself up, gather my things from the street, and start crossing the road. My heart skips a beat as a motorcycle rushes past me, missing my toes by an inch or so – and I can swear the rickshaws and buses and cars and trucks coming at me start speeding up, as they honk their horns basically to just let me know they are not gonna slow down or go around me. So I run – stumbling across the street, reaching the other side more or less unharmed, panting and trying to calm down my breathing.
I know I am only a few blocks away from home, but in the dark every little street and alley look alike to me, and I’m still getting used to the area and don’t know my way around that well. I know what street I am looking for, and I know the cross streets – but, as is normal in India, none of the streets have street signs. The ones that do, have signs only in Hindi – or maybe they are in the local language or Karnataka, which is Kannada. Honestly, it might as well be in Klingon -I cannot read even one symbol of the script, so the signs are useless. I try to ask some people for direction, but no one knows English, and even the ones who seem to maybe understand a word or two of what I am asking give me the Indian head-bob-and-hand-shake direction, which can mean anything from “go straight” to “take the first left, third right, forth left, turn at my godmother’s house, follow the brown cow, take another left at the big tree, and you’re there!”.
After about 30 minutes of aimless walking, going around in circles, stumbling on pot holes and garbage piles, escaping from rabid dogs, I finally find the street I am looking for. I sigh from relief, and turn the corner rushing – only to nearly walk into a man who is standing next to the wall, pissing. To make things even better, he is pissing underneath a big writing on the wall that reads: “DO NOT URINATE HERE”. I cringe at the smell (and the sight), veer around him while I am very much aware he is staring at me the entire time, and I speed up to finally get home. I stumble up the stairs with my bags and my backpack, get in the door, throw everything on the floor, and scream on the top pf my lungs:
“I HATE EVERYTHING IN INDIA! STUPID ELECTRICITY CUTS AND SMELLY TOILETS AND PILES OF GARBAGE AND PUDDLES OF PISS AND SHIT AND CRAZY TRAFFIC AND PEOPLE CUTTING IN LINES AND STRAY DOGS AND NAMELESS STREETS AND RICKSHAW DRIVERS AND PEOPLE WHO STARE AND MEN WHO FOLLOW ME AND INSTRUCTIONS THAT LOOK LIKE AN EPILEPSY SEIZURE AND MEN PISSING ALL OVER THE PLACE! I HATE INDIA I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT!!!”
— And then, I take a deep breath. My husband probably laughs at me a bit, asks me to tell him what happened, nods sympathetically as I complain to him about all the horrors of the day, and then either tells me I am being silly (which will result in me screaming at him for not being supportive), or that tomorrow will be better (which will result in me screaming at him for forcing me to come to India in the first place).
..And then, tomorrow comes. And tomorrow might be one of those days when I love everything in India. When in stead of piss, I smell spices, and the auto rickshaw driver turns on the meter without any arguments. When there’s no traffic on my way home and the nice lady selling fruits on the corner gives me an extra apple. Tomorrow could be a day when there’s a beautiful, colorful parade on the street, and I can just stand there and watch it, and enjoy the colors and the sounds and the people. A day when the beautiful sounds of the evening prayers from the Mosque close by reach me when I walk home, the sky is gorgeous before the rain, and the bright, shiny bangles on the wrist of a little girl
make a lovely sound as she runs by me, laughing and playing in front of our house. And on those days, I just love India and living here, and I think to myself: “Why isn’t life this rich and colorful in America or Finland”.
Every traveler has those days when everything goes wrong. When everything feels hard, difficult, strange, weird, and making sense of it all is just too damn hard. Days when we miss home, and hate everything foreign. And having those days is okay – because tomorrow always comes, and in the end, it’s the tough days that force us to grow more, to learn more, to experience more and to eventually understand more of the big, weird world we live in. Easy life is a lousy teacher – it’s the pee-smelling days that truly force us to push the limits of our comfort zone. You know what they say: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. And there’s nothing like stepping on a pile of cow crap every now and then to learn where those limits are – And to push them further.