Filed under: India
Hello all, great to see you around the Internets. My self-imposed sabbatical from BrittanyGoesGlobal has been a wonderful respite (though not a restful one, as it never is in India), and one I plan on continuing for awhile longer. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been out in the world doing a little blogging about India!
- Over on Pink Pangea, I wrote a piece on The Top 10 Things Every Female Traveler Should Bring to India. So if you’re a female and thinking of traveling to this awesome country, it’s a worthwhile read.
- On the ‘AIF Fellows’ Blog, I wrote about what it was like having Dengue (I caught it in September).
- Apartment-Hunting in Delhi? Here’s a piece I wrote on 10 Steps to Finding an Awesome and Cheap Flat.
- Check out my attempt on slam poetry on What It Is To Be In India. I originally wrote this while I was in Hyderabad in 2009, but with a few edits it still stands fresh today as a good depiction on what the sights, smells, and feelings of traveling here is like.
- And of course, feel free to wander on over to my other blog, 365 For Year 25, which I just updated with pictures of my daily life in India.
Generally, I am really enjoying my time in here, living in New Delhi, and working at my placement organization. Life is extremely busy, but that’s how I like it.
Happy reading and stay tuned for more updates! I have a great blog post coming up on Pink Pangea soon on comparisons between Paraguay and India.
I’m excited to officially make public that I will be going to India on a 10-month fellowship! I will be a William J. Clinton fellow at the American India Foundation for the next 10 months, working with an NGO in New Delhi. I am very excited about the fellowship, and I feel quite blessed to be able to take part in such a prestigious opportunity while heading back to the number one country in the world that I love: my India. I leave TOMORROW (!!!!) for a week-long orientation with 35 other fellows, and my bags are all packed for another adventure in the world.
Another announcement: I am taking a hiatus from brittanygoesglobal. I love this project dearly and it has been such a pleasure writing on here for over 4 years now. It has been a great outlet to express my feelings on traveling throughout the world and living within different cultures. With that being said, I feel that one of the benefits of being in the Peace Corps has taught me to fully appreciate the present moment, so over the past year I’ve found it increasingly challenging to write about all of my experiences when they happen. It’s gotten to the point where posting has become sort of a chore, something to cross off my list. As much as I love writing about my life and there are times when inspiration strikes (those are always the best posts), I would like to wholly step into this new experience in India- and after thinking about it a lot, I have decided to take a break. I’m not sure how long it will be- it could be a few weeks, or a few months- but you can still keep up with my life and travels on Pink Pangea, where I will be a foreign correspondent and posting once every few weeks about India.
Thanks for reading and for the support in all of my travels throughout the world. See all of you in a bit!
It´s been awhile since we talked. It´s almost been two years since you´ve passed, but sometimes I like to pretend that you´re just off in another exotic country, without access to internet. The older you get, the rarer true friendships seem to be. I always considered you a true friend. And I miss you.
When you passed away, it came as a great shock to me. I´ve never had a friend die so young, so suddenly, and so tragically. I couldn´t believe that someone who was so full of life, who had so much left to do on this planet, could leave so quickly. For awhile, I just couldn´t understand it. Grief would hit me at different times, in the most random of places. Everything just felt so…unfinished.
While processing this grief over the first year of my service, I gradually came to a realization. You may be gone, but you will live forever through the people who´s lives you´ve touched. And so I decided to continue your legacy and your greatest love in life- teaching children- and bring all of your love, energy, and passion to 50 children in Paraguay.
Over the past year, I taught English to a 4th, 5th, and 6th grade class in my community, in your honor. I never considered myself passionate about teaching English, teaching to children, or just teaching in general- but this project ended up being one of the highlights of my service. Because I always brought all of the love and energy I knew that you would to each class, these kids returned just as much. They loved the classes. Every Tuesday became the highlight of my week- the day that I got to play fun games like Twister (to learn colors and body parts), English Jeapoardy, Hangman, and do great projects like creating family trees in English with these wonderful kids.
The looks on their faces every day I came to teach English
Receiving American Flags as a pen pal gift from 6th graders in the United States
With the end of my service in the Peace Corps drawing to a close, I´ve recently spent some sleepless nights wondering whether I´ve made any sort of difference here in my community, Caazapá. Today, as I went into my final English classes, all of our kids (yours and mine) surprised me with posters, handwritten notes, lots of cheering and hugs (and a few tears), and a cake. The director of the school presented me with a special Paraguayan lace tablecloth as a thank you. Those last few hours with my students made my entire two years of service worth it. I wish I could explain better how much it meant to me, but some things are just beyond words.
I had one final activity for all of the students for our last class. I told them about you, and what an amazing person you are. I told them that we traveled to India together before Paraguay, and that every place we went to you would always go find a local school to teach English to the children. I told them that the first day of my service, I found out that you had passed away. And that instead of being sad, I decided to do something in your honor- and so you inspired me to teach them English.
I asked them to help me create a banner thanking you. Each class decorated every word, and wrote messages on the banner like ´we love you Becky,´ and ´Rest in Peace, Becky.´ They finished by signing all of their names on it.
So I guess I am writing you this letter because I wanted to let you know that even though you´re gone, you are never forgotten. That because of you, 50 kids in Paraguay were able to fall in love with a language. And that one person in particular- me- will never, ever forget these kids. I find it very classic Becky that this project was something I did to honor you- yet a year later, I could never repay you for this gift that you gave me.
Thank you, Becky.
Filed under: India
This is really hard for me to write, but I’m going to do it anyway. Last Saturday, a bright beam of light was lost to the world.
I met Becky Schaffer on the most amazing experience of my life: my three-month program with Carpe Diem in India. As the history of my life goes, lost and confused at age 19, I decided to go to India to find inspiration. Those three months of my life changed me forever. That experience with Carpe Diem woke me out of a life-long hibernation and to my true purpose in life. It opened my eyes to the world and pushed me to apply to Global College, to travel, and was my inspiration for joining the Peace Corps.
Along on this trip were nine other amazing souls who were all fundamentally changed from this experience. One of these people was Becky Schaffer. We didn’t get along very well at the beginning, but Becky helped me grow to new heights and we came to really respect each other as individuals, and even became friends. As the trip went on, we all came to love one another dearly and see each other as family. After our trip, Becky and I stayed in touch and became closer. I visited her in England while she was in Exeter, and we kept in touch consistently over Facebook. She hooked me up with her friends in Kenya while I was doing my Kiva fellowship. She was there for me when I broke up with my boyfriend. She was there for me when I was going through my antsy phase of waiting to join the Peace Corps. We talked and I provided input on what she wanted to do with her life, and joining WorldTeach. She was applying to the Peace Corps too. I wrote her recommendation.
Becky left for Micronesia three weeks ago for a WorldTeach position. While visiting local waterfalls, Becky slipped on a rock, hit her head, fell into the falls and died. She was 23 years old.
Some things in life don’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that a beautiful, wonderful person who gave so much to everyone, who touched so many lives, who had so much more to do for the world, tragically died. It doesn’t seem fair that someone so kind-hearted and so invested in other people’s lives should go so young. When I look back on Becky’s life, I am astounded by the things she did and people she touched. She loved children. I remember when we were in India together, EVERY single town we went to she would go out on her own and find local schools to teach English to. For no reason other than being selfless. After she graduated from McGill in 2010, she went to Kenya for 2 months to work at an orphanage, just because she loved the children there. She was always pushing herself to new heights. She pushed herself to climb mountains in India. I remember spending three days together huddled in a tent after climbing the Himalayas. She hiked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the tallest mountain in Africa.
I still can’t believe that she is gone. It is hard to believe that a light that bright could be snuffed out so easily.
Becky, thank you for everything you have given to the world. Thank you for impacting my life. Thank you for being one of the most kind-hearted and selfless people I’ve ever met. I know that you wanted to save the world, but you were part of something big that saved me. You already have saved the world. As my promise to you I am taking on some of your mission to make the world a better place. I will be carrying you with me everywhere. You will never be forgotten. Just look at these people down at this picture, and know that we will always remember you.
Our last day in India together.
Rest in Peace Becky.
Yesterday marked the third anniversary of my stepping out into the world, and stepping into myself. On February 15th, 2008, I stepped out of the United States, out of my comfort zone, out of anything I had ever experienced before, and I stepped into India. I stepped into a sea of staring faces at the Delhi airport, hundreds of Indian eyes boring into my own at arrival. I stepped into the lives of nine other perfect strangers, who would soon come to know me fully and change my life in ways I would’ve never imagined. I stepped into stray dogs, rambling cows, rickshaws, betel nut stains, dingy buses, half-finished hotel rooms. I found myself through the gut-wrenching, mind-numbing work at a center for the destitute and dying in Calcutta; through a little mountain village in Palampur, teaching English to children and the Macarena dance to their mothers; through a sixteen mile walk to a 10,000 year old tree in Bodhgaya; from sitting in RamNagar Fort over-looking over the Ganges River in Varanasi, feeling the breeze ripple through my hair; through an amazing family in Dharamsala who would force me to make a choice that completely redefined my life. India changed me forever.
Three years and nearly thirty countries later, I still can’t believe where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. I now marvel at how easy it is to connect with anyone I come across, whether it’s in a little falafel shop with a Sukran to the Egyptian chef, or singing Bollywood music to an Indian woman draped in a sari in passing, or greeting a Tibetan monk in Tibetan at a Whole Foods Market. Seeing that twinkle in their eyes, that smile that passes between us, makes everything in my life sweeter. Being able to travel all around the world and help others reach their fullest potential makes my life worth living. I feel so contently full from all of the love in the world. I feel so incredibly grateful and honored for my next step in life to be a Peace Corps Volunteer and to continue this winding journey. To be able to smile within myself and know that I am still yet only at the beginning of such a fulfilling life- that there will be a Year Four, a Year Five, a Year Ten- all because of that spark from three years ago- well, I have to say that I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I would really like to take the time and space here to honor how amazing this all is.
As I come into Year Three, I hope that life will continue to bring me more insight, patience, flexibility, humility, and love for others. I hope that I will continue to learn and grow, that I will keep on branching out, connecting, inspiring, and be inspired. That is all that I can really ask for.
Thanks for reading and following my journey, friends. Here we go, Year Three!
It’s story time again!
Few people realize that I actually have a dog that I brought home from India. I found her in India at the beginning of my travels, decided on the spot to take her home with me- then had a harrowing adventure of actually GETTING her to the United States- and now, two years later, Lucky is currently lying on my bedroom floor, stretched out on the carpet and growling at dustballs.
Whenever I (or my parents) tell people that I brought home a ‘dog from India,’ the first question they usually ask is, ‘How in the hell did you accomplish THAT?’ And so my friends, I give you the story of Lucky.
Lucky March 2008
Today one of my very best friends, Mira ( Lady the Tramp) and I met in Manhattan for tea and sweets in Curry Hill. We plopped ourselves down at an Indian restaurant and requested Chai and Gulab Jamuns, an Indian delicacy and dessert (essentially they are fried dough balls soaked in honey. Sickeningly sweet). The Indian man mumbled something for a good minute with Mira and I merely catching some resentful mutterings about us only ordering dessert, and then he whisked off to give us tea (not Chai! What kind of Indian restaurant is this?) and stone cold gulab jamun (usually it is warm). While we laughed at the strangeness of it all and caught up on each other’s lives, I noticed a shop across the street- Om Saree Palace, a retail store for, what else, sarees, a typical dress worn in India. There was also a variety of shawls, men’s clothings, salwar kameez’s, and jewelry.
After paying the disgruntled employee for our cheap meal, I told Mira that I wanted to check out Om Saree Palace. We headed over and walked inside to see a kindly old Indian lady folding shawls.
“Namaste, Aap Kaise Hai?” (hello, how are you?), I asked in Hindi.
“Chik Hai, Aap Kaise Hai?” (fine, how are you?) The lady responded, positively beaming.
“Chick Hai,” I replied. “Torrah Hindi bolti hu.” (I speak a little Hindi).
The woman’s smile widened even further. “I am so excited that you are here in my shop and that you speak Hindi!” she proclaimed. “So many tourists come through here but they don’t speak Hindi. Were you in India?”
I recounted my story to her- three trips, six months, all over North and South India. And I loved every second of it.
Sarla, the old woman, was from New Delhi. When I told her that I had been to Paharganj and Majnukatilla in Delhi, she nearly jumped up and down with excitement.
While Mira and I chattered with her incessantly about India (Mira has spent time in India as well) and perused the clothes, an absolutely gorgeous salwar kameez caught my eye. It was orange, red, and black, spread into a pattern that looked almost tribal. I knew instantly that I had to try it on. It fit me absolutely perfectly. Sarla clapped her hands.
“I will give you a good price for this salwar,” she said. “I had very good business today and you made my day, so I will give you a special price.”
While my phone played Hanuman rapping in the background for Sarla’s utter delight, she slashed 10 dollars off of the salwar kameez (she sold it for only $45, which is cheap even by India standards considering the quality!), and gave me a pair of gorgeous black and glittery earrings to go with it for free, as ‘a birthday gift’ (I had told her my birthday was tomorrow).
Standing there, basking in the warmth and loveliness of the beautiful lady who was so giving and so happy that I knew and understood her culture, I felt so unbelievably happy to know people in the world that have gone out of their way for no reason at all other than kindness. There are rare occasions when I’ve come across this when traveling- that is, meeting a foreigner and the only thing that ties us together is a few words or a gesture- but this forms a bond and a kinship that are beyond words. It is the very power of humanity. And it says that even though we are very different people, from very different backgrounds, we can understand each other. We can love each other.
Thank you lovely Sarla, for making my day, maybe even my whole experience, in New York. We need more interconnectedness like this in the world.
Filed under: India
This past week, I’ve been in Dharamsala, India, with my amazing Tibetan family.
I first met my Tibetan family when I was with Carpe Diem in the Spring of 2008. We did a homestay in McLeod Ganj (part of Dharamsala) for a week, to learn about Tibetan families and issues. Dharamsala is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. Many Tibetans fled Tibet (which is now part of China) in 1959 after China invaded Tibet. It is still a very controversial and heated issue today- my stance on it is of course, that Tibet should be a free country. You may say I have a biased opinion considering I am so close to a Tibetan family. But that is where I stand and will always stand.
Anyway, I ended up homestaying with this family in India and I just completely fell in love with them (four brothers, one of them has a wife and two kids). I barely knew them, but I fit in with them immediately. I absolutely loved their family- I loved that they had so little, but loved each other so much; that they were always playing music and dancing, laughing, and spending time with each other; that their home was incredibly small, but incredibly cozy and comfortable for me; and that they went out of their way immediately to make me feel like I was part of their family. I also felt this strange connection to everything Tibetan- the language, the food, the dress, the customs, the way of life- to such an intense extent that I felt I should stay there. It felt like the right place to be in my life at the time, and so I made a very hard decision to leave my Carpe Diem group, and I stayed with my Tibetan family in India for the rest of my time there (the remaining six weeks). It was the best decision I’ve made in my life, and it’s pushed me to make many other important decisions in my life (such as choosing to go to Global College). It was the first decision I made where I wasn’t doing it for anyone else but me- and I made the decision because it felt so right at the time, and I trusted myself enough to follow that.
Making the decision to stay with them in Dharamsala has reaped huge benefits in my life, the first and foremost being that I feel I’ve gained an entire new family in the past year, as well as experiencing a completely different way of life (and with that has come many new revelations). They are my brothers (and sister), and I am their little sister to them. I’ve kept in touch with them over the past year by phone, and I’ve talked to them at least once a week. Finally, I had the chance to come visit them again for a week after I was finished with my internship in Bangladesh- and once again, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Meet the Family:
This is my brother Nawang. He is 25 years old (or 23? They all don’t know. Age doesn’t matter in Tibetan society and they don’t even know their real birthdays). Nawang was the first person I met in their family. When I first met him he was incredibly shy and only spoke in Tibetan to his brothers. But after about two weeks of me staying there, suddenly this quiet guy turned into this loud, crazy, dancing machine, always laughing and cracking jokes. I feel very close to my chocho (brother) Nawang, and I talk to him (or rather he rambles on for hours) on the phone quite often.
This is my ‘Pala’ (father in Tibetan). His name is Minjig but I always call him my Pala, for one of two reasons. One being that when I was given my homestay assignment, I was told that Minjig was my ‘Pala,’ and his wife Chemi was my ‘Amala’ (mother), because their parents are dead, so I was given a young Pala and Amala. The other reason why I call him ‘Pala’ is because I respect him so much. This man is only 26 years old and has two kids (Lobsang, five, and Choeying, 4 months), and he works so hard to keep his family together. You could say he is the glue that holds his family together- everyone looks to him for advice, and he is very respected in McLeod Ganj. I respect him as much as I respect my own Pala.
This is my Amala (mother) Chemi. She is the sweetest and nicest person I know. She takes care of all four of the brothers, and puts up with all of them living in the same house. Not only that, but she has a job and two kids to take care of, and the way she handles all of it is quite courageous and admirable. And as you can see, she is amazingly beautiful. My Pala is very lucky.
This is Lobsang, my five year old brother. He is Chemi and Minjig’s first son, and he is a wild and crazy boy. Whether he’s throwing out curse words and giving everyone the finger, or kicking and punching everyone, or screaming and laughing, this naughty little boy sure knows how to grab everyone’s attention. But he is endearingly naughty, so much fun to be around, and life wouldn’t be the same without my little Lobsang.
This is the newest addition to the family, baby Choeying. He is four months old, and the cutest baby I’ve ever seen. Everyone absolutely adores him, and life seems to center around him in McLeod Ganj- everyone is always coming to Chemi’s store to play with him, and all of the brothers are always holding him, cooing at him, feeding him, or trying to get him to sleep.
This is Tashi, the oldest brother. He is 38 years old and has two kids. Tragically, his wife died giving childbirth to their second child- you could say Tashi hasn’t been dealt the best cards in life. But he still takes everything that’s been given to him in the best light possible, and I have a lot of fun with him. We laugh together a lot, call each other ‘porto nyonpa’ or ‘morto nyonma’ (crazy old man/crazy old woman), and sit around for hours talking. I love my brother Tashi to death, and he is an amazing individual.
The little girl on the left is Yankgyi, Tashi’s first child. She is seven years old and very shy. She is at boarding school at TCV (‘Tibetan Children’s Village’), which is about 20 minutes away from McLeod Ganj. She spends all of her vacations at home with the family, but spends most of her time up at the school. She is very cute, very smart, and speaks English fairly well for an eight year old.
This is Dawoe, Tashi’s second child. He is the most quiet and calm child I have ever met, and he is very serious. He lives with Dawa (also in the picture), their older sister (she has five children of her own, but she lives in another house in McLeod Ganj so I don’t know her as well).
This is Tsering, the fourth brother. He is 29 years old, and currently he’s living in another small room in McLeod Ganj. He’s a very nice person, very smart, and speaks English the best out of his family. He wants the best for all of them and is always hatching plans to make things better for his brothers. He is the one that I’ve gotten to know the best and talked to the most.
It’s been the most amazing week, and I’m so glad I made the decision to come see them again. Whether it was learning Tibetan curse words from my five year old brother Lobsang, or tripping over stairs and falling (twice) with my brothers Tsering and Tashi after going out for tea, or learning how to make Tibetan tea, bhale (bread), and gonga (half fried egg) from Chemi, or eating mutton momos (momo is a Tibetan dumpling) again at Norling restaurant (a place I frequented often last year), or just BEING there again in the most intoxicating place on earth to me- I. love. Dharamsala. I love my Tibetan family, and they are some of the most important people in the world to me. And while I’m very sad that I left, and that I will probably have to wait a whole entire year before seeing them again- it is worth it, because I am so lucky and so glad that they have come into my life, become like a family to me, and have made everything so much richer for me. I am truly a blessed person.
My family and I together in the Spring of 2008.
Sangmo (my Tibetan name my family gave me- it means ‘kind girl,’ and it was their mother’s name)
Note: This post was written before I left for Dharamsala, but I never had the chance to post it. Please read this as if you have been transported back in time to a week and a half ago. Thanks friends!
My last weekend in Bangladesh, I went to Chittagong (the second largest city in Bangladesh) and Cox’s Bazar (‘the best beach in SouthEast Asia’- this will later be refuted) with five French interns. Yes, I was the only American. Yes, I learned some essential French phrases this weekend (“Your Mom is crazy”). Taking a seven hour bus ride to the middle of nowhere with five other French speaking people? Classic. Basically when we arrived in Chittagong at 5 AM I ended up sleeping the day away because the bus ride was the most uncomfortable experience EVER.
Cox’s Bazar… is supposed to be the big ‘tourist’ destination in Bangladesh. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I went. The beach is actually relatively clean (by Bangladeshi standards), and it was nice to spend the day feeling a cool breeze on my face. However, it was quite literally going to the beach, Bangladeshi style. Everyone stared at us like we were aliens. Hawkers came by every two minutes with jewelry, coral, horse rides, beach motorcycle rides, you name it. Every other two minutes beggars came along. People would find excuses to sit by us so they could stare at us and discreetly take pictures of us on their phones. Truthfully, I almost feel like I’m starting to get an inkling of what a celebrity must feel like. When you want to just ‘get away for the weekend’ and not be stared at by continuously- it’s impossible, even in Cox’s Bazar.
Bangladeshis are always trying to get foreigners to vote Cox’s Bazar as one of the ‘seven natural wonders of the world.’ Okay, first off, the smell is overpowering (and not pleasant), the ocean is the dirtiest I’ve ever seen, and to call it ‘the best beach of SouthEast Asia’- obviously these folks have not been to Thailand. But I am kind of going on a complain train here so I’ll end with- Cox’s Bazar was nice and it was nice to visit, but the hassle getting there and back was not worth it, and if you come to Bangladesh I would highly recommend the tea gardens (Sylhet) over Cox’s Bazar.
Then I spent my last day going out in style- getting ripped off by CNG drivers, sitting in traffic for two hours sweating in a tiny corner of a taxi, and getting some intense food poisoning for my final meal. It was almost like Bangladesh wanted me to experience the worst things possible about Bangladesh on my last day so I could appreciate India even MORE when I got here. Now I am in Delhi, at the Tibetan Refugee Settlement (Majnukatilla), slurping on a banana smoothie and readying myself for a grand 13 hour bus ride. Dharamsala, here I come!