Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Downs

For the past three months (yep, it's been that long already!) we have been sharing bits and pieces of our journey with you. We've shown you places we've been, monuments we've seen and people we've met along the way. We recently realized that we've really only told you about our ups. Here are some of our downs:

1. The Beggars.
The beggars in India are unlike any we've seen before in the U.S. First of all, the sheer number has been overwhelming. In every town we go to and on every train we ride, we are asked for money. If they have a deformity (clubbed foot, no hands, a hunchback, a blind eye and on and on...) they are not shy about shoving it in your face to let you know just how bad their life is compared to yours.

Sometimes, they 'work' for our money. Young boys on the train will crawl on their hands and knees on the disgusting floor to sweep up trash from underneath our feet with the shirt off their backs. Afterward, they hold their hand out for payment for this service.

Women carrying infants will point to the sleeping child and then to their mouth as if saying 'feed my child because I cannot.'

We are still frustrated that beggars seem to only hold out their hands when they see us, the white people, approaching. We are automatically assumed to have more money than anyone else because of the color of our skin. It is true, that relatively we possess extreme wealth compared to slum dwellers, but we have also met many Indians who have a lot more money than we do.

There are so many beggars that we can't possibly give every one of them enough. Early on, I would give someone a few rupee coins and still they held out their hands wanting more. Children tugging on my pant leg staring up at me with huge, sad, brown puppy dog eyes was enough to make run to the other side of the street in tears because I didn't think there was anything to do to help them. I was overwhelmed with guilt as I clutched the days souvenirs in my hand, thinking that with the amount I just spent I could have fed that child for a week.

I started following a self-made protocol in which I would give children biscuits or fruit and ignore the adults. This worked for a while, until we were at the train station in Hospet. There was an elderly woman walking from person to person. When she came to me, I gave her a piece of fruit that Andy and I had bought earlier that day. She accepted it into her apron and continued on down the line of people. A few minutes later, my conversation with Andy was interrupted when I felt a slap across my face and shoulder and realized that woman had returned to throw the fruit back at me! Her was twisted in anger as she grumbled something at me before leaving. Apparently food wasn't she wanted even though she held out her hand and pointed to her mouth signalling 'food'.

Since this incident, I have not given another beggar anything. The longer we stay, the more desensitized we become to the poverty.

2. The Cities.
Indian cities continue to be a source of frustration, annoyance and disgust for me. It is in the cities where my American arrogance really shines. The streets are jam packed with trucks, busses, rickshaws, bicylists, motorcyles, cows and (because there are often no sidewalks) people. I will be so happy to get back to the states and have sidewalks! Since traffic laws seem to be non-existant there is constant congestion and endless honking. So noisy! Always the honking that never makes any difference anyways because you can never tell who is honking at whom.

Trying to cross the street is a real life version of Frogger which leaves me digging my fingernails into Andy's arm as we dart into oncoming traffic like a pair of squirrels.

There is trash everywhere: on top of roofs, in the gutters and the ditches. People will just throw their plastic cups or food wrappers right on the ground.

We often pass through areas that have the nauseating smell of human waste. The lack of proper waste management is why India struggles with issues of poor water quality.

It is for these reasons that we have avoided cities at (nearly) all costs.

3. Diet.
Diet has been more of an issue for Andy than it has been for me. Andy seems to get sick every new place we go, while I for some reason have survived without any stomach issues. We don't know what causes Andy's stomach issues but we think it may have something to do with his radical diet back home. This trip has generated much discussion on the state (liquid, solid or gas) of our poop.

While I do not suffer from stomach issues I am more than ready to return home for some American food. Around the half-way point in our trip. I realized that I could no longer eat another dosa, idly, chapati or any more rice, curry, sambar or chutney. We have many conversations about what we can't wait to eat when we get home. Like the Indians, Andy and I admire cows-but only when on a plate covered in A1.

We are counting down the days 'til we return home...


  1. We'll have to have a big BBQ when you guys get back!

  2. Unfortunately, the case with many beggars in India is that they usually "belong to" a kind of begging syndicate that's run by whoever the local thug is. In order to beg at a certain spot, they probably have to pay some guy a proportion of their earnings. I think you're taking the right attitude towards the begging by only giving food. I'm sorry you were treated so badly, but that's why that woman threw the food back at you. At the end of the day, she would probably rather have the food, but people can do some pretty crazy shit to extort money.

    I think it's insane how desensitised I feel when I go back to India, but the poverty is just a reality I've always lived with.

    Most people that get sick in India probably do so because of the water. Don't drink any drinks that haven't been made with bottled water. If you're buying something off the street, they usually don't use bottled water, but if you ask them to, they will if you pay a couple of rupees extra for the bottle. Don't eat raw vegetables at restaurants because they're washed with tap water. When you buy your own fruit and vegetables, wash them in bottled water - which is really cheap there. Oh and you should probably buy it in a place that isn't just selling you tap water.

  3. Devbala is the best . Stop talking shit about it!!