Asia Nepal

Getting Carried Down a Mountain and a Modern Case of Trench Foot: 24 Hours to Escape Everest Pt. I

 

Only 24 hours ago from writing this, I was sitting on the side of a road sobbing uncontrollably, unable to put any pressure on my foot as the top layers of skin had ripped away, leaving only raw, sensitive flesh that felt like razor blades every time I took a small baby step. The closest drivable town named Salleri still remained 2 whole hours away. This is where a jeep of my friends was waiting for me so we could leave the God-forsaken mountain trek and return to Kathmandu. I had put myself through hell for that jeep and 2 hours from the finish line I was left immobile. In 48 hours I had walked for 15 hours and around 50km up jagged rocks, through thick mud, over landslides, straight up for 4 hours, straight down for 2 hours, up a waterfall, through a river, exposed to leeches… I had done it all. For 4 days every action I took had been in order to leave the Everest region and return to Kathmandu as quickly as possible. Mentally, I was over it. I wanted to go home. I had waited 3 days for a plane that never came. I had agreed to pay for a helicopter but the weather was too bad for it to fly. I was feeling jittery and ready to get back to India to enjoy the few days remaining on my new tourist visa before my flight to the US. So jittery, I actually agreed to redo the most taxing and difficult part of the entire trek in half my original time. And it seemed like, just as I was almost there, just as I could almost taste the freedom, everything was caving in on itself.

Unfortunately, my foot would prove to be only one of many problems that occurred in those 24 final hours.

Taking a moment to back up, I have just finished my trek to Everest Base Camp (yay!). Most people doing EBC (as I discussed in my last blog) fly from Kathmandu to a mountain town named Lukla to do a moderately difficult 12- to 14-day trek. However, for those of us that like to make life difficult for ourselves, you can also take a jeep to Salleri, a town 55 km (34 miles) away from Lukla. This adds an extra 4 grueling days and the path is significantly more rugged and demanding compared to the more popular route. I told everyone that would listen that this was the hardest part of the entire trek, and I was happy about being able to fly from Lukla back to Kathmandu instead. Even on the third day of white fog blanketing Lukla and preventing anyone from leaving, I was telling my new trekking buddies in foul language how horrible that trek was, how crazy they were to attempt it, and that I was never repeating it.

Ten minutes later my bags were packed and I was walking down the mountain with them. I had panicked. The weather looked bad for more than a week and I worried that I’d get stuck in Lukla forever. I desperately wanted to get back to India for the mere week I had on my new visa. My friend’s Nepali guide said if we worked hard we could do the whole trek in two days and then take an overnight jeep. It seemed like a sure thing. The flights didn’t. So I took off.

Our group consisted of 2 Nepali guides from different tour companies, their clients (1 Aussie guy I had met early on, 1 Chilean girl no one knew), an American guy I met near the beginning of the trek, and 1 solo, lazy chick (me). We were all pretty desperate and determined to get out for different reasons and I believed we would, no matter how terrible it was. You can only drive to Salleri, after that the path is too choppy for a vehicle. Let me stress this: the only reason I agreed to this trek was because it would only take two days and a private overnight car. Any extra time and I would have mortgaged a house in Lukla and just given up on leaving the country.

The first day was taxing, but we made it halfway. The second day was brutal. It consisted of a 4-hour steep uphill climb full of blue skies in which we could watch airplanes and helicopters happily busing relaxed tourists out of Lukla while we sweated and panted underneath them. We had made the wrong decision. The weather was beautiful. It taunted us. By the time we were only a few hours out, I was significantly behind my group due to a pain in my foot. I told them to go ahead though, I’d hobble down the mountain as fast as I could to the jeep waiting for us. The hard part is over, I thought. Now it’s a gentle downhill for only about 2 hours. No worries. I even joked with one of the guys about the two of them leaving me in Salleri since I was too slow and he said, “that would never happen, we’re in this together.”

So let’s return to 5:24pm September 19th: Gwen is sobbing uncontrollably trying to remove a wet sock but the pain of even that is so much she can’t take it.

It will get dark in an hour and I’m two hours out. How do we solve this problem? Two Nepali men walked by on the path and saw me bawling and stopped to see what was wrong. They made a moaning noise upon seeing my foot. One tried to touch it and it made me sob more. The overly saturated skin was falling off leaving raw flesh. Luckily one spoke English quite well, better than most of the locals I had met. I explained that I needed to get to Kathmandu and my friends and a jeep were waiting for me in Salleri. I told him I had no phone and no number to contact them. I asked if I could arrange a horse; they said they didn’t think it was possible but convinced me to stand up and start walking with them. One of them took my bag and the other gave me an extra walking stick.

IMG_1330
My foot before it was too bad to walk (August 19, 2pm)

They stopped other locals to inquire about a horse but it wasn’t a possibility. They suggested I stop at a house for the night but I explained again that the jeep was waiting for me and I had no way to tell my friends that I wasn’t coming. Maybe my friends would wait for me for hours or even cancel the jeep. What if they sent a rescue party? No. We needed to get to Salleri as fast as possible. Plus, selfishly, I desperately wanted to leave. I guess I was hobbling at an extra pathetic pace because then one of the guys turned to me and said, “Ok. We carry you.”

And that’s how two Nepali guys started carrying me down the mountain.

The taller one took my bag and my walking stick. The smaller one, no taller than me and probably around my weight, bent over and threw me on his back and took off down the mountain in flip flops. After about 5-6 minutes he would get tired and I would go back to hobbling.

I guess two Nepali guys carrying a beat up looking blonde down a mountain sparked some curiosity among the locals (there were no other trekkers in the area at this point in the day) because eventually another random Nepali guy joined our group of aid workers. Mostly only the small English teacher took me, but once the taller one gave it a try and, despite his appearance, he wasn’t as strong as the little English teacher.

At one point the English teacher, carrying me best as possible, came across a small flood on the road. Instead of just walking through the ankle-deep water, he decided to walk to the edge of the cliff, and in a moment of sheer terror, he jumped on a large rock on the edge with me on his back and then proceeded to hop from rock to rock. We were literally playing a piggy-back hop scotch game on a rocky ledge.

 

Anything to get to Kathmandu.

 

Yet another guy joined us, bringing our entourage number up to a whopping 4 Nepali locals and me, the sun-burnt, trench foot ridden, smelly trekker. The fourth to join our crew was a similarly short guy but it didn’t take long for us to realize he was the strongest of them all. He carried me for significantly further than the other two had at any point and would put me down for only a second before lifting me again and running across a swing bridge or up a river bank.

Dusk set. We stopped and asked a woman if we could borrow her motorcycles parked in front of her house but she said they didn’t work. More carrying. We stopped for tea and they ordered a jeep to be brought as far up the road as it could go. They said only 15 more minutes of carrying me. It was 7pm now and pitch black so they strapped a headlamp to me.

At first I felt a bit guilty for what these men were doing for me, but at some point I had a feeling they were enjoying it a bit. It seemed like they wanted to see who could carry me the longest and go the fastest and they would laugh and joke around. I heard one of them saying he wished he had a head strap to carry me the way porters carrying their 50 kilo loads through the mountains. At some point they experimented with innovation and slung a jacket under my butt to help support my weight without touching me anywhere inappropriate.

15 more minutes. I suspected my team arrived in Salleri at 5pm. I had mentioned to them that I may be an hour or so behind them so I hoped, knowing that I was injured, they were waiting patiently and weren’t too worried about me. I hoped they wouldn’t be angry at having to wait; I knew how desperate we all were to get to Kathmandu. More than anything I hoped they hadn’t assembled any sort of search party for me yet. As we finished our trek, I scrutinized every flashlight-holding passerby to determine if it was one of my friends or one of their guides.

And then finally we got to the beautiful jeep and drove to Salleri. And then we drove around Salleri looking for any foreigners in lodges. And then, when I didn’t see anyone familiar, the jeep driver called his jeep driver buddies and told me,

“Yeah, a jeep with some foreigners left an hour ago.”

But no. It couldn’t be my foreigners. I barely spoke with the Chilean girl so sure, maybe she left. But the two guys? We had been in it since the beginning. We’d talked about life and death and every juicy detail in between. They knew more about me than most of the Indian people I’ve been hanging out with for a year. They knew I wanted to be back in Kathmandu so badly that I had agreed to walk 48 hours in the worst trek I’ve ever done. And the one had even laughed at the idea of leaving me behind as if it was a ridiculous statement only 5 hours ago. He told me we were a crew now. We were in this together. And I had told him, “You guys leaving me in Salleri is the only thing I can think of right now that would bring me to tears” while chuckling at the absurdity of the hypothetical situation.

“Yeah, its your friends,” the English teacher said, “They are in the next district over.” He handed me a small cellphone that looked like it had been rejected from the year 1998.

“Hello?”
It was one of the guys.
“Where are you?”

            He said something I couldn’t understand. I asked him to repeat. Again just gibberish. I asked a third time as politely as I could muster.

            “We had to go,” he said.

Four words. We had to go. And then silence. He hung up. Just like that. So I was stranded in Salleri, alone, with a destroyed foot, 4 Nepali locals looking horrified at the situation, and a driver who wanted his 800 rupees ($8) for rescuing me. The English teacher told me to spend the night in a lodge and I could go to Kathmandu in the public jeep the next morning. But I was devastated. I felt totally dejected and abandoned. Betrayed. Friendless. Plus, I wanted time to see a doctor about my foot in Kathmandu and I wanted to get back to India.

So I told them I wanted to take the jeep to Kathmandu that night and we agreed on a price: 16,000 rupees for the 9-hour ride. $160. It was a lot. Cheaper than most tourists get a jeep for (the going price is $200), but they typically split the cost between multiple people. More expensive than my plane ticket from Lukla to Kathmandu. I can’t stress how upset I was in this moment. I hadn’t washed my hair in three weeks. My foot was swelling and tingling. The time on my India visa was dwindling. And at this moment in time I really hated Nepal and really wanted to leave. Plus, emotionally, I was wrecked. I had opened up and been kind of these people and felt as though, since I was the weakest link, I was too inconvenient to wait for.

So I agreed on the price and it was agreed that two of the Nepali guys would accompany me to Kathmandu for free (my way of saying thank you for their help). And we left.

I spent most of the car ride thinking about this kind of balance, about how these men who didn’t know me had gone out of their way to help and the people I felt closest with hadn’t. I thought a lot about the type of person I wanted to be and how Westerners are so much more selfish than the people I have met in India (and Nepal) when it comes to favors.

A lot of emotional stuff went through my head that night. Eventually I drifted off around midnight with the jeep bumping manically up and down the rocks of the jagged rock and dirt road from Salleri. But soon I would wake up at 4 am on the side of the road to an empty van….

I’ll post the second part of my 24 manic hours finishing my EBC tomorrow. Before you hate too hard on my friends, the pt. 2 involves a bit of redemption and a visit to the police station.

Everest Base Camp
Asia Nepal

When You Flee India via Mount Everest



I was completely blown away with the response I got from my last blog. I’ve never had so many shares, comments, and views. In three days I had over 600 people from 25 different countries read my blog. Yes! This is the most exciting thing to happen to me in months. Seriously, I check my blog stats like a crazy person and get really excited when anyone comments. I then wondered how I would ever top that, especially since yesterday my Indian visa expired so I had to flee the country.

No, I’m not back in the US. Despite how much I complain about India (sorry, Indian friends), I’m not ready to leave. Since I can’t convert my employment visa to a tourist visa while still in India, I’m currently sitting in Kathmandu, Nepal! I’m going to apply for the 30-day e-tourist visa which usually takes about 4 days to process. I considered just waiting a few days while my tourist visa processes and returning to Chandigarh to write full time. But then I thought, “why not make it a memorable visa run?”

So I’m climbing Mount Everest.

Ok, so not for real. But sort of. More or less, I am “climbing around Mount Everest.” A friend jokingly quoted this to me a few months ago (its from a movie, I have no idea which one). But now, reflecting, that’s basically what I am doing. To actually climb Mountain Everest (to the summit) you need about $100,000 USD, months of acclimatizing, and years of experience. Let’s be honest, I don’t want to spend $100,000 that way (if I had it). Also, I’m just not that in shape and I’m 100% fine with not being in “Climbing Mt. Everest shape.” I also don’t love heights. And I hate cold. So I don’t think it’s right for me.

But I am trekking to Everest Base Camp, so technically I’ll be at the base of Everest, which is (5,380 meters or 17,6000 feet). I’m pretty excited about the trek, though also questioning my own sanity. I did a trek to 3,600 meters last summer and thought I was dying. I’m extremely sensitive to altitude. Honestly, it’s probably going to be horrible. I’m expecting to complain most of the way.

But like I said in my last post, I spend a lot of time obsessed with my own mortality and in a month I could be 6-feet-under from a freak disease (I’ve had one), a gun/terrorist attack (see last blog post), or, let’s be honest, just crossing a street in Delhi (that many cars should not be in one place at one time going that fast). So I should take the opportunity now. And I tend to enjoy these things even when I hate these things (like scuba diving). Plus, it looks absolutely stunning and I love the idea of actually getting to stand on Everest, even if just a little bit.

The best part of EBC is that there are tea houses (little lodges) all the way up since people actually live in the area, which means I don’t have to camp. It also means I don’t have to hire a porter or a guide. This sounds riskier than it actually is. I visited Nepal in April and everyone I spoke to told me the same thing: there is no point in hiring a guide, there are so many people on the trek that you won’t get lost. Also, my colleague from Jaipur, April, put me in touch with a guy she met traveling in Northern India from the Netherlands. We met up yesterday and are going to go together (for at least some of the trek). So I won’t even be alone as I originally thought.

Most people fly to Lukla from Kathmandu. Instead, we are waking up and leaving at 4:30am in order to take a shared van to Salleri and we will walk a few extra days than required in order to better acclimatize. I found an itinerary from a travel company and we basically decided to just follow what they do (except not pay them or have a guide and just rough it on our own). It looks a bit like this:

Day 1: Drive to Salleri (9-10 hours)
Day 2: Salleri to Taksindo (5-6 hours)
Day 3: Taksindo to Kharikhola (5-6 hours)
Day 4: Kharikhola to Paiya (5-6 hours)
Day 5: Paiya to Phakding (5-6 hours)
Day 6: Phakding to Namache Bazaar (5-6 hours)
Day 7: Acclimatization Day
Day 8: Namache Bazaar to Tengbuche, 3870m (5-6 hours)
Day 9: Tengbuche to Dingbuche, 4350m (5-6 hours)
Day 10: Dingbuche to Loboche, 4950m (4-5 hours)
Day 11: Loboche to Gorakshep and to Everest Base Camp, 5365m (8-9 hours)
Day 12: Kalapatthar, 5545m to Pheriche, 4200m (6-7 hours)
Day 13: Pheriche to Namache Bazaar (5-6 hours)
Day 14: Namache Bazaar to Lukla (5-6 hours)
Day 15: Fly from Lukla to Kathmandu
Day 16: Return to India

You can see the actually itinerary here. Also, I booked a flight back to Lukla for September 17th instead of September 15th just to work in a few extra rest days/exploration day. I think my trekking partner wants to spent more time in the mountains than I do, so at some point we may split off. Let’s see.

People are living in all of these places, except for Everest Base Camp. But even there, the Everest mountaineers are essentially living there for a few months as they slowly ascend and descend Everest in order to get used to the altitude. Altitude is the biggest danger. I even bought travel insurance (which I NEVER do) just because one blog I read said that they saw 12 people airlifted off the mountain in 15 days from altitude sickness. Essentially, I paid $90 so that if this happens I won’t owe $25,000 to the Nepalese rescue services. Also, I read that the next biggest danger is yaks. People have been herded off the mountain by yaks passing on narrow paths. That sounds absolutely terrifying so I’ll try not to die by yak or altitude. Both sound like pretty obnoxiously strange and preventable ways to go out.

So, how does one prepare for trekking to EBC?

I spent a large chunk of the day buying supplies from a nice lady who gave us pretty decent discounts on everything in the store. I’m going to put the costs of everything for the trip so people can get a good sense of how much a trip would cost:

Kathmandu:
Hotel stay in Kathmandu for 2 nights: 800 rupees ($7.50)
Taxi from the airport: 1000 rupees ($9.30)
3 (nice) meals in Kathmandu: 1400 ($13)

Supplies:
Trekking Boots: 3800 rupees ($35.45)
Sleeping Bag rental: 65 rupees/day + 2000 rupee deposit ($18.65, which I will get back)
Coat +rain jacket with hood: 2500 rupees ($23)
Socks: 150 rupees ($1.40)
Sunglasses: 250 rupees ($2.33)
2 boxes of water purifying tablets (50 tablets/box): 400 rupees ($3.73)
Snacks (including medicinal lip ointment): 1900 rupees ($17.72)
Walking sticks: 750 rupees ($7)
Transportation:
Jeep from Kathmandu to Salleri: 2500 rupees ($23.32)
Permit: 3390 rupees ($31.62)

Total so far: 20,840 rupees ($194)

 

Everest Base Camp
New Equipment

 

Everest Camp Camp
More Important Equipment
Everest Base Camp
Apparently I’m assuming there will be no food for the next 15 days

Then we will be paying for places to stay, food, charging our phones, showers, etc… I’m planning to bring about 50,000 rupees with me (though I’ve read that people get by with much less). Since I’m not sure I will have internet for the next 12-20 days, keep a look out for my future stories which will (hopefully) be entertaining and not disastrous.

*Featured Photo from Kasol, India. It is NOT of Everest. But I’ll have plenty of those soon 😀

Orange High School Shooting
North America USA

When The Man With the Gun Started Shooting at Me (Or “Happy To Be Alive Day”)


Happy to be Alive Day

My eldest cousin is 19 years my senior. I have a feeling I’m “walking in his footsteps” so-to-speak. He spent two decades living in New York City in the film industry, now he owns a Drive-in theatre in the Catskills, dabbles in mixology, and even hosts his very own podcast, “Cinema with a Twist.” Considering the atypical career goals I’ve been harboring for awhile now, leading me to experiment with a year of self-employment, I’m happy there is someone else in my family going about life the way they feel works best for them, even if that doesn’t mean a steady 9-to-5, a pension, and a suburban home.

Near Death Experience
Sometimes you will see me wearing this green shirt to support the Drive-In

If you are thinking my cousin tried to shoot me at some point, he didn’t. This is not where the story is going. Thank God. Actually, years ago, the studio in which he was working in NYC was robbed at gunpoint. Since then, he celebrates a holiday on the anniversary of this incident, aptly dubbed, “Happy to be Alive Day.”

Today, I’d like to borrow this tradition for myself.

The Shooting

Exactly ten years ago today, on August 30th, 2006, I was sitting outside Orange High School’s cafeteria on the lower patio for lunch. My friends and I always sat at the same picnic table everyday near the railing, about 30-40 feet from the student parking lot (or something like that, I’m not exactly spatially inclined). On this particular day, I remember hearing a popping noise and looked in the direction of the sound. On the edge of the parking lot I saw a cloud of smoke. Senior prank, I thought. But then, from the smoke, a figure emerged with a long coat and a gun.

I didn’t see anything else. I didn’t hear any gun shots. I didn’t even think. All I know is that I clamored out of that picnic table bench and took off running up the stairs. I don’t remember any of the other people running, just that they were definitely also running. I didn’t check to see if my friends were following me, just that they weren’t ahead of me. I ran from the upper patio to the doors where two things happened:

  • Some of the people who had run from outside to the inside of the school stopped as soon as they entered the hall. How they simply stopped in the hall I have no idea. I believe teachers told them to “sit down” (from stories I heard later). If the gunman had entered the school, those kids would have been gunned down immediately.
  • A girl, who I imagine was inside this entire time and trying to discern why the hell dozens of students were running hysterically into the building, decided to peak out the door as I ran inside. As in, she was blocking the door frame while I was literally running for my life. If I ever try to tell someone that in times of panic we humans are compassionate, I am lying. I pushed the girl out of my way. I have no idea if she fell down (but I don’t think she did) and I never looked back. Ten years later, I am finally extended a half-hearted apology: “Sorry, unnamed girl.” (But I’d do it again in a heartbeat).
Orange High School
This is the patio area where we ate lunch

So I ran in the hall connecting the patio to the cafeteria but I didn’t stop there (like many others). I kept running. I turned the corner of the hall and took off to the end and ran in a random classroom. As in, there was no one in the hallway. Just me. And I ran in an active science classroom without saying anything, ran directly past the teacher and the shocked students, and into the large storage closet. I ran to the very back, and sat down.

People must have been following me because within a fraction of a second, a whole heard of people were also sitting in the closet with me. I remember deciding in my head that if the shooter came into the closet and began shooting that it would be very chaotic and since I was small and in the very back maybe I could pull their dead bodies over mine and the shooter would think I was dead too. (Yes. I actually had this thought. Call it dark; I call it thrifty.)

I also prayed for the first time in maybe a year or two. It was also the last time I prayed. I prayed that, if there is a God, and he let’s me survive, I would go to church that Sunday and I would consider believing in God again. I know they tell Christians in church that “you can’t bargain with God,” but I didn’t have much to lose. So I did. And I did survive. Obviously. And I did go to church that Sunday. And, no, I don’t believe in God again. Not the one you learn in church anyway. Maybe I should, but it’s hard to forced yourself into these things. But I’m eternally thankful to…..well, I’m not sure. The universe? Chance? The deputy that stopped him? My survival instincts?

We waited inside the storage closet for a very long time. Some of the girls cried. I only cry for useless things like when there is mold in my refrigerator or when my boyfriend leaves for the weekend without telling me. For some reason I don’t cry over serious things like when someone I know dies or when a man with a gun starts shooting at me. Maybe I was in too much shock. But at some point, after some period of time that is now lost to my murky memory, we realized that no one was coming to shoot us. And then we started chatting and calling our parents. We took turns borrowing the cell phones of people who had theirs. Mine was somewhere with the gunmen outside on the picnic table. Or confiscated by the police as evidence. Who knows.

I’ll never, ever forget the conversation with my mom that followed. My mom picked up and I explained the situation. Ten years later I don’t remember the exact words but I believe it went something like this:

“Hello?”
“Hi, Mom, this is Gwen.”
“Oh whose number are you calling on?”
“____Insert name of person I forgot about____. There is a guy shooting at the school. I’m okay, I’m hiding in a storage closet.”
“Damn.”

After about 5 minutes we all started getting phone calls from our parents again. They, being the little researchers all parents seem to become, gathered as much information as possible on the subject and reached out to us to quell our little worried minds. The first phone call was to a girl. Maybe I knew her at the time. Maybe not. I definitely don’t know her now.

“It’s okay!” She announced. “My mom just called. She said that she called the police to tell them what happened.” A minute later a boy who I actually was friends with also announced that his mother had called the police. In quick succession, something like 5-6 people proudly publicized to the group, still sitting cross-legged in the closet, that their mothers had called the police. The police were not giving any information at this time but officers had been dispatched.

Finally my turn came. The boy who had lent me his cellphone got a call from my mom and he handed me the phone.

“Hello?”
“Hi? Gwen?”
“Yes, hi.”
“Ok….I called the news….”

Hundreds of parents calling the police and mine calls the news?! My mom defends this decision to this day, and she should, she was the only parent who called who was able to provide any new information. But I still can’t stress enough how hilarious this was to me. I narrowly escaped death and moments later I was back to laughing. I love my mom.

Seriously though, she did get better information. The news confirmed that the police had been dispatched, the shooter had been taken into custody, no one at the school died (though a few suffered minor injuries), and the police were still investigating a second shooter (there wasn’t one). And that was that. They took him into custody. We spent the majority of the day in lock-down and writing witness reports to the police. And then they let us go. We weren’t allowed to take any of our things that we left outside.

Orange High School Shooting
The shooter at his trial

My friend, Cory, drove me home. On the way he made a sharp turn around the bend of a road and I joked, “We survived a school shooting and Cory kills me on my way home!” He didn’t find it funny. Too soon? I have a habit of finding my own jokes particularly more entertaining than anyone else does.

Orange High School
Orange High School

Residual Effects

Some people said that since no one died, it wasn’t a big deal. But in reality, the shooting actually did mess me up more than I realized at 16. Some of it seems pretty typical. For a few weeks I kept seeing people with guns everywhere. I still wake up sweating thinking that I am running away from shooters (though in the last ten years they have become more and more infrequent). Recently I considered running the Bombay half marathon and hesitated thinking maybe there would be some attack. Large, crowded spaces still make me a bit nervous. And when I eat at a restaurant, my anxiety goes through the roof if I have to sit with my back to the door.

That being said, I don’t think the shooting has made me more afraid of life or people besides these random quirks. I’ve actually gone off in the opposite direction. I’ve become very accepting of the fact that I am going to die, which has been good and bad. Bad because, well, becoming obsessed with your own mortality can make it a bit difficult to get out of bed some mornings. When you don’t believe in an afterlife (I so wish that I believed in an afterlife), it’s hard to deal with the fact that I simply live and die and in the end, I don’t think it matters that much when or how. And even when I don’t feel emotional about it, turning a fun night of drinking into a discussion of how strange it is that only humans are self-aware of their own death doesn’t generally lighten the mood. I’ve noticed I’m very good at bringing people down at parties….

But I actually owe a lot to that day. I’ve done a lot of really amazing (perhaps risky) things in the last ten years that I don’t know if I would have done otherwise. Feeling like life is all you have really inspires me to live it well: to travel, to meet people, to understand, to do exactly what I want and feel passionate about. I have housed strangers and they have turned into friends. I’ve been to over 50 countries because I’m not sure I will live until 70 or 80 or 90. So why not now? Ultimately what one person defines as success is how they define success, I can agree or disagree. It doesn’t matter if they think I am living my life “successfully” or “stupidly.” That doesn’t mean I’m afraid to work hard or to create difficult goals for myself. It just means I’m not going to pursue something I don’t love because I may never have the time later to do something I care about.

My sister once told me, after a solo trip through the Middle East (including Southern Lebanon and the West Bank during the last war), that my mom once mentioned that maybe my “risky” behavior is partially due to the shooting. I’m not totally sure, but I agree to an extent. Compared to the majority of people I have met, I do seem to be less cautious than them. How much of this is related to the shooting? I have no idea. How much is this related to traveling solo my year out of college? Potentially a lot. It’s hard to judge.

I do sometimes think, “If I die right now, am I okay with the things I have done so far?” And I’d say, 95%, yes. Not 100% because now I really want to write a novel before I die. So that’s what I am doing. And when I finish that, I’ll have some other goal. But who knows? It’s India in the monsoon. Maybe I’ll get dengue and that will be that.

My mom wasn’t thrilled about me moving to India. She, like any sane parent, was worried about my safety. Fair enough. But I still rather have died in India than have lived longer while being bored in Chicago. And after the shooting, why am I guaranteed more life staying in America? I didn’t almost die in the Middle East. I didn’t almost die in India. I didn’t almost die couch surfing in Ukraine. I almost died in high school in a small, safe town in North Carolina.

*****

Living and Dying

When I was 15 years old, 9 months before the shooting, my parents and I visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris. For whatever reason, I was afraid to go to the top. What if there is some sort of terrorist attack and I am stuck up there and die? My dad told me that, yes, it is a possibility. We can’t avoid these things. But, ultimately, we can’t stop living just because some crazy guy on a suicide mission, or an emotionally disturbed man with a gun, or the numerous other people who make bad decisions based on mental health problems, anger, and indoctrination, decide to cause a panic. We can’t stop living because we are afraid of dying. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s honestly the best advice he has given me.

And I’ve taken this advice very seriously. I definitely don’t want to die and some days it absolutely terrifies me that I will. I feel guilty for watching television or not waking up at 6am to go to the gym and I feel absolutely overwhelmed that I need to do everything because I don’t have very long. I need to learn the guitar, and speak 7 languages, and how have I not visited North Korea yet? And Brazil? And the moon? Shit, I need to join NASA and learn to fly a helicopter, and become a professional chef, and pet a kangaroo.

But then other days I feel completely fine with it. Some days I think about the last ten years smugly, like I crashed a party I wasn’t invited to, and so I might as well mingle with every single person, eat all the food, drink all the alcohol, and just enjoy this free ride I was given. I won the lottery, I got TEN extra years that maybe I shouldn’t have gotten. Statistically, I shouldn’t have even been born. So let’s go!

Memes of girls standing on mountains with inspirational quotes about traveling and living each day to the fullest don’t appeal to me. Yes, I am aware that my main photo for this site is me standing on a mountain. But its me. It’s something I actually did. And I was shit scared on top of that mountain. And the other day on the train the cops were investigating a mysterious package behind my chair and I got nervous about that too. And, yes, I felt scared that time in Palestine when I went to a protest and couldn’t see anything because of clouds of teargas and canisters and rubber bullets rocketing through the air. The first time I went scuba diving I was 99% sure that I would die. And don’t even get me started on trying to cross the street in Delhi….

The point is, despite being scared, I still do this stuff because I rather die climbing Everest than living an extra ten years and dying of cancer after spending my life behind a desk in a corporation that doesn’t even know I exist. Not everyone wants to climb a mountain, fine. Some people have “normal” jobs and are happy. Great! Go for it! But the point of “happy to be alive day” is just to appreciate that you’ve made it to wherever you are in life now, and to remind yourself of the things and people that are important to you, and to do whatever it is that you want, even if it is shit-scary and possibly stupid to someone else oven if it is dull and boring to one person but you are super happy. Just do you.

Other Happy Things

And now, two somewhat unrelated videos, and yet ones I still watch on repeat when I feel like I’m not making good life decisions. I don’t have very good advice to give, so maybe you should listen to these people instead:


 

More on the Shooting

*UPDATE 2017: Recently a friend in Buenos Aires asked me about my feelings for the shooter. I harbor no resentment. My friend seemed to think this wasn’t normal. I should hate him. But I don’t. I’m not angry in the least bit. I’m thankful. I’m thankful no one died and I’m thankful for the way this incident has made me appreciate life. Plus, I honestly believe his mental health was suffering drastically and he mad a series of very bad decisions based on this state. Having delved deeply into depression after the shooting, I don’t feel like I can judge anyone when they are in such a state.

You can read about his conviction and trial from CNN here.

(1) http://images.usatoday.com/news/_photos/2006/08/31/shooting.jpg
(2) http://chapelboro.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ohs2.jpg
(3)http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/newsoforange.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/41/341c33d6-f9b1-11e4-b0c4-43d374492501/5553b92b61c78.image.jpg?resize=760%2C570
(Feature Photo ) http://il3.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/6035231/thumb/3.jpg?i10c=img.resize(height:72)

Asia India

Full Circle: One Year in India



One year and one week ago today, I stumbled sleep-deprived out of my plane and navigated my first 24 hours in India. It consisted of walking out of the Delhi airport into a cloud of polluted heat and finding out from my IIC-sponsored taxi at 2:30 in the morning that I did not, in fact, have my own hotel room for the first two weeks of training in Delhi, but I actually would have a roommate. Something IIC failed to notify me about. I then met said roommate (Priya) when I entered the hotel at 3am (luckily she was awake and we had a nice chat), slept for literally two hours, and then woke up for training. I remember really enjoying the two first weeks (mostly because I liked the hotel and my colleagues and India thus far). I also remember sitting in my room thinking about what things would be like a year from now.

I predicted that our project would run seamlessly. I envisioned myself succeeding brilliantly in the work, hopefully getting a job with MDSF or BCG, and being in the works of moving somewhere new. Everything would line up just right. I’d go to Rachel’s wedding, get a new visa, and be off somewhere exotic like South Africa. The only thing I was nervous about was living in Chandigarh. It sounded boring.

Needless to say literally none of that happened. Yesterday I finished my final presentation for my year-long project in India. The project was okay. I can’t stress how much I do not want to work with MSDF or BCG. Not that I am harboring negative feelings for the organizations, I just simply don’t want to pursue that line of work anymore. And to top off how bad I am at playing Ms. Cleo, I’m also staying in India. In Chandigarh, for that matter. Who would have thought?

I originally wrote a post attempting to articulate the top 5 things I’ve learned from living here. It was vomit-worthy. Entirely too sentimental. Not the type of writing I pride myself on. I’m not really a big fan of blogs where people talk about how much they have grown through traveling. Honestly, I generally sort of roll my eyes because I don’t like publicly talking about my feelings and it seems a bit self-indulgent. Like, really, a sunset in Spain made you feel like a more complete person? But I shouldn’t judge. Sunsets in Spain are pretty spectacular (so I assume). I’ll summarize the warm-fuzzies blog by saying that it’s made me rethink work culture, sex & dating, friendship, family, the meaning of “innovation,” and why/how people travel. But I’m not going to elaborate on those things on a blog. Instead, I’m going to share some anecdotes and some “very Indian” photos from the last year:

 

  • I recently return from Croatia and I am showing Rohit the three dresses I bought:
    Me: “So, I went in Mango in this nice mall in Zagreb and saw this beautiful red dress but they didn’t have it in my size. So I went to another mall and found it but then I liked it in green and purple too so I bought all of them. And, guess what? I got all three for the price of one!”
    Rohit: “How? By Bargaining?”
  • Priya is in the kitchen with her maid and a monkey jumps on her balcony, runs into the kitchen, opens the refrigerator door, takes out a package, and runs out again.
    Priya’s Maid: Did, what do you do about monkeys in America?
  • In a fancy hotel in Delhi the phone rings in the room. Kathy answers it.
    Kathy: “yes?”
    Pause
    Kathy: “What?”
    Pause
    Kathy: “….They are….very good?” *hangs up*
    Us: What was that about?
    Kathy: I think they called asking me for feedback on the hotel slippers….
  • After a conversation about the power of the dollar versus the rupee, I was trying to explain that there is begging in the US but not as much as in India. I was telling my friend here (who is a doctor) that you never see children begging and adults are begging primarily in the urban centers.
    Her: “Oh….Do they pay in dollars?”
  • It’s monsoon season. It literally has rained everyday for the entire summer. Today, Rohit looked out my window and said, “Oh! It’s raining!” and then ran screaming “bluhblahlalalala” through my house and out the door.
  • On the train from Chandigarh to Delhi, after getting our snacks and waiting for our ice cream, a man walked down the aisle handing out instant oatmeal. No hot water, no bowls, just the oatmeal packages.
  • Me: “I went tanning this morning.”
    Rohit: “How? The sun wasn’t working today.”

Now, some photos for your amusement:

The most efficient sink

 

cycle-bike-funny-india
(2) Vroom
Shimla
Monkeys everywhere stealing your stuff

 

bathroms India
Entering a creepy underground public toilet with a snoozing bathroom attendant

 

India Photos
Tourists flocked for photos

 

Indian School Bus
School bus walla (3)

 

Indian Innovation
This is just smart (4)
Child Labor India
Outside of KFC in Chandigarh

 

India Streets
This is pretty common (1)

 

Photo References:
1) http://www.bajiroo.com/
2) http://fun2video.in/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/cycle-bike-funny-india.jpg
3) http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-rZ9dFzNRRa4/Vac9SCfbI2I/AAAAAAAAA0w/TZlXuI3jRSg/s1600/1_1435984786.jpg
4) http://www.oddee.com/item_96471.aspx

 

 

 

Trim Ireland
Europe Ireland

Finding Baby Bones in a 16th Century Graveyard

The summer before my final year of University I decided to participate in an archaeological excavation. In fairness, it was part of UNC’s Archaeology major. Plus, how cool is that?

You’d be surprised how many field schools there are across the planet offering course credit for a summer excavating. If anyone is interested, here is a database of current excavations looking for volunteers or students worldwide. I literally chose Ireland because the semester before I took a class called The Medieval Expansion of Europe and we discussed British rhetoric of Ireland in the late Medieval period, which is how the stereotype of Ireland as mystical and full of magical creatures became perpetuated. I figured, why not try to dig up a Leprechaun or two?

Here’s a very weird and very, very vulgar short film about a leprechaun. I strongly urge anyone who dislikes anything remotely weird and vulgar to not watch it and judge me.

I’m writing this blog post at 3am IST. So forgive the inappropriate content on my otherwise tasteful blog.

Obviously, I imagined myself as Indian Jones (Gwendiana Jones), digging up ancient relics and consequently stumbling upon some sort of crazy mystical quest in which I save the day. I was only slightly disappointed to find out most of my archaeological dig consisted of labeling roof slates from the 14th and 15th century.

Archaeology Excavation

Archaeology Excavation
There are worst ways to spend your time….

 

The Site

The month of July 2011 I worked on the site named “The Black Friary” (An Mhainistir Dhubh), a Dominican Friary located in Trim, Ireland, built in 1263. If you aren’t sure what a friary is, think of Friar Tuck from Robin Hood.

friary
Disney’s Robin Hood is clearly the superior Robin Hood

Friars give up their worldly possession and follow a simple life dedicated the God. They are similar (though slightly different) than monks.The Dominicans are one of the biggest orders.

Anyway, in 1540 King Henry VIII decided no one was going to be Catholic anymore and so all the Irish monasteries (and friaries) were abandoned or destroyed.

Four and a half centuries later, our job was to find out where the friary walls were located and to make sense of the general structure of the building. Instead we just kept  digging up skeletons. So many skeletons. We even changed where we were digging to avoid skeletons and found MORE  skeletons.

Archaeology Excavation

Some people found some pretty cool stuff. Like this girl Malika from Washington who found a great example of an intact skull. People were pretty excited about that.

The Baby

But no one was really excited when I found a dead baby. Everyone got really sentimental and sad.

Archaeology Excavation
Itty Bitty Skull
Archaeology Excavation
Itty Bitty Legs

I really tried to look misty-eyed about the whole thing and I think I did a damn good job pretending to be sad. But it’s kind of hard to be sad about a baby that died in something like 1300. My guess is that a lot  of babies died in 1300 (that factoid brought to you with my fancy B.A. in History. And they said I’d never use it…) When you think about the disease and violence of the time, most babies didn’t stand a chance. Academically, I find it an interesting mental exercise to think of all the reasons the baby may have failed to reach childhood. The Plague? Exposure? Hunger?

Excavating a baby is extremely difficult, not just emotionally From what it seemed, the baby’s coffin must have slid into a vertical position at some point as I found most of the baby upright. The legs were laying horizontally. Almost the entire thing had turned to dust. Baby bones aren’t nearly as sturdy as adult bones. I couldn’t even move it into a box, it pretty much just crumbled before my eyes.

Archaeology Excavation
Malika with her adult skull

Despite not feeling particularly sad about the baby, I did take issue with the way the Irish handle human remains on digs. While the team “got sad” about the baby, skeletons of people sat idly on the top of an oven.

Actually, I’m not really sure there are  any regulations on dead bodies in Ireland. In the US, the regulations are actually quite strict. For decades, archaeologists dug of the remains of Native Americans and kept them in shoe boxes or beer cases. This is problematic since some tribes believe in ancestor worship and the burial of the individuals is very spiritually important. Totally fair. These skeletal remains have since been returned to the tribes for reburial. Although I don’t believe in ancestor worship, I do believe we should respect the dead.

It doesn’t help that the rest of the summer I was pretty certain I was being haunted. Which I wrote about here.

Does anyone else feel particularly strongly about the idea of being dug up a few centuries from now?

Archaeology Excavation
The Remains of an Irish “bog person” on display at the National Museum in Dublin

*Friar Tuck Image from: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/b/b7/Robin-hood-disneyscreencaps_com-3534.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20111125171645

Croatia Europe

Why Not Send you Ex’s Crap to the Museum of Broken Relationships?

A few months ago I told someone I’ve had a different boyfriend every year since I was 20. They looked sort of disgusted. Fair. But I move around a lot. I’ve had a lot of relationships blossom and whither. It’s part of being a bit of a vagabond in your twenties, I suppose. I could get sentimental and say I have hoards of wonderful memories, a few regrets, and years of “romantic life lessons,” but more than any of that— I just plain have a lot of stuff. Seriously. Boxes filled to the rim of old boyfriends. A plethora of shit.

Some Normal:

My corsage from junior year which I pressed; jewelry from birthdays; a shirt that accidentally got into my suitcase the last time I saw him and since he loved it so much I feel bad throwing it out.

Some Excessive:

One of my ex’s moved cities and literally left me all of his stuff— utensils, plates, cups, a toaster, a vacuum, expensive speakers, etc… Getting a bunch of free stuff seemed like a good idea at the time until I realized every time I vacuumed I had to think of him. Trying to innocently eat toast and staring at the metal kitchen appliance romanticizing over the time he made me breakfast is just downright frustrating. So I put it all in a box in my apartment lobby with a sign that said “Free Stuff” and it was gone in an hour.

Some Downright Strange

A case of expensive darts; a broken traffic barricade,  a stuffed animal that his dead best friend gave him in childhood and that I still feel totally guilty owning.

I could literally build a museum with all these memories trickily disguised as flower vases and earrings. So in 2012, I was really excited to realize someone had actually already done this.

The Museum of Broken Relationships (Zagreb, Croatia) 

In 2012, I found myself unexpectedly wandering around Zagreb. From the center, I followed a path of little hearts laid out on the streets up a hill to a small museum. I returned to Zagreb last week, four years later.

Inside this incredibly innovative and creative museum, sentimental objects are paired with written stories documenting relationships and their ruins. The stories share how the object represents the unsuccessful liaison. Mostly they are romantic shortcomings, but others include strained relationships with family members, and even a small exhibit on refugee stories.

The items range from classic (mixed CDs and clothing items), to depressing (suicide letters), to strange (an axe used for “therapeutic purposes” to chop up the furniture of an ex-girlfriend before she returned from holiday).

The museum receives thousands of items from around the world. The stories are touching, tragic, and sometimes humorous. The idea is to help these people cope, heal, forget, and/or move on. They also remind us that letting go is part of life, as unfortunate and painful as that may be. Since they only ever display about 10% of the items they receive, the exhibit is constantly changing.

Museum of Broken Relationships

Museum of Broken Relationships
Honestly this sounds like me

Croatian artists Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić conceptualized the idea after seeing that society “oblige[s] us with our marriages, funerals, and even graduation farewells, but deny us any formal recognition of the demise of a relationship, despite its strong emotional effect.”

Museum of Broken Relationships
The most depressing refugee story

Having received their collection from across the world, they recognize that culture and customs may affect the items and stories displayed, yet they believe that, despite this, it is clear that there are still “universal patterns offering us to discover [the stories] and feel the comfort they can bring. Hopefully they can also inspire our personal search for deeper insights and strengthen our belief in something more meaningful than random sufferings.”

If you want to read more about the museum, you can visit the website. The Museum is opening another location in Los Angeles this summer. So if you can’t make it to the original in Zagreb, be sure to visit the one in LA if you find yourself out West. If you don’t have the time to get to any museum, the founders have published a book of photos and stories from their collection.

Does anyone else have any strange objects from broken relationships they are holding onto? Or am I the only one with a dinky light-up snow globe I can’t bring myself to throw away because of how happy it made me when I was 20?

Museum of Broken Relationships
My personal favorite
Museum of Broken Relationships
A Photograph: “Florida lake where I skipped school with my boyfriend. The arrow indicates the spot where I first saw a penis in the sunshine.”
Asia India

A Day in the Life Playing Pokemon Go Indian Style

And they say it’s only available in the US. As if the Indians, masters of technology, wouldn’t be able to have it before it’s officially released.

I jumped on the bandwagon a few glorious days ago. Here’s 24 hours in my Indian Pokemon Go life:

Wednesday 5pm (Monsoon Season):

I get data in the market from the uncle who I always get data from. I just walk in and he says, “Airtel 3G?” and I say “Haanji, 295rupees (~$4.50)” and type my number in his phone and in a minute I have data. I start playing in the market and catch a Pokemon. Then the rain starts. It’s monsoon season so it rains really hard for about 20-30 minutes at least once a day. I start walking back in the rain but by the time I’m near by house it’s just a drizzle so I continue walking in the raining, soaking wet, finding Pokemon. I catch 3. People are staring at me, probably wondering why this white chick is walking around a neighborhood aimlessly soaking wet, but people stare at me all the time anyway so I don’t mind.

A man drives up next to me in his car and rolls down the window. “Do you need help?” he asks. I debate asking he if I can sit in the back while he drives around slowly so I can catch more Pokemon without getting my phone wet. Instead I say “No, I’m okay, thank you” Just keep driving, I’m trying to catch my third Rattata today but it’s difficult throwing pokeballs when your screen is covered in rain.

Thursday 1pm (Gotta Catch ‘Em All Uber style)

I decide to go to the gym over my lunch break and then meet my colleague, Priya, at her house to finish some work. The Uber to the gym takes about 30 minutes. Luckily, in India, the traffic is bad enough that the Ubers typically go slowly and stop frequently. I caught six Pokemon inside my Uber to the gym. Then three more on the stairs to the gym. It’s a good day.

Uber Pokemon
Catching Pokemon in my Uber

Thursday 2 pm (Indians and Pokemon Go)

I walk from the gym to Priaya’s house (about a 20 minute walk). While walking on the service lane in her neighborhood, a car pulls up next to me and is driving really slow. Shit. It’s probably some guys who think I’m a prostitute. I’m dressed in gym clothes but white girls don’t really walk down the street in Panchkula, India. So the assumption happens. Or just that I’m easy because I’m white. I mean, guys harass Indian girls, too. Everyone deals with it. So I stare at my phone and walk by the car quickly without looking. Nothing happens.

The cars moves forward, passing me, and then stops again. Maybe it’s a family just lost in the neighborhood? I stealthily look into the car as I pass this time, making sure to avoid contact. It’s a young man. Alone. On his phone. WAIT IS HE PLAYING POKEMON GO?!?!

The car drives off. Slowly. So slowly. But for a split second I’m sure I see the Pokemon Go style map on his phone.

No. It can’t be. It was probably Google Maps and he’s looking for directions and I just so want it to be Pokemon Go that I’m imagining things. 

IMG_0478
I could recognize the car by this weird straw hat in the back

I decided he is probably just lost. I also decide I’m still going to tell everyone he was playing Pokemon Go while driving around because that’s just so Indian to me.

He turns down a street. I keep waking and playing. The car drives back down a street near me. I cross in front of it. I stop and look at him. He looks at me. I squint my eyes suspiciously. Are you one of us? 

He drives down the road slowly. I realize I’m so involved in the game I’ve missed the turn for Priya’s house. I backtrack. On the road are a lot of government school children walking home from school. I can recognize them by the uniforms. I wonder if they will wonder what I am doing when I stop to-yes! My phone is buzzing I’m going to get another one!

I’m almost at Priya’s house, annoyed that, while most “stores” are Mundirs (Hindu temples) or Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) the Mundir next to Priya’s house is not.

Mundir Pokestops
Mundirs as Pokestops
IMG_0498
Mosque Pokestop
Gudwara
This Gurdwara is a “gym” (territory of high level Pokemon players)

So I can’t get more Pokemon balls. Why doesn’t she live near that big tank war memorial which is a Pokemon Store. Priya, you’re killing me with your living location. Then….Wait….that’s the same car again?! 

There he was. Parked in front of the Jaat Bhavan, swiping his finger wildly in an upwards direction. I started laughing. He is playing Pokemon Go in his car!!! He’s driving around looking for Pokemon. In his car! At 2pm on a Thursday! That’s so Indian! Who does that?

At that very moment my phone buzzes and I see a Pidgey and realize I do that. I play Pokemon at 2pm on a Thursday. 

As I’m standing in the middle of the road swiping he drives up closer and rolls down his window.

“Are you playing Pokemon?!”
“YES! I TOTALLY KNEW YOU WERE PLAYING!” I’m seriously so excited I want to go hug him. But I also know that’s not appropriate in India. One of his Pokemon is evolving so he sticks his phone out the window to show me and I run over to watch. Then a Zubat appears. I always have a hard time with those even though they are “green” and “easy.”

“Are you finding any over here?” He asks
“Yeah, hold on, there is one by your head.”

IMG_0479
I didn’t ask permission to take this

We chat a bit. Cars keep honking at me for standing in the middle of the street. I say I didn’t know the app was available here yet. He says he has had it since it came out last week and has 33 Pokemon. He asks how many I have and I say I don’t know (23 and I just started yesterday). I tell him I’m from the US. He asks what I’m doing in India. I fight the urge to say “collecting rare Pokemon.”

I go to Priya’s house to do work and he continues driving around. I walk completely past her house I’m so engaged. Then I knock on the wrong door since I find one on her stairs and I forget where she lives.

I find another Zubat in a pile of garbage.

IMG_0480
Behold, the cleanest city in India

India, these are the days I’m in love with you….

***********************************************

Update: I finally ran out of Pokeballs and went to what was labeled as “The British Library” but actually is the back entrance to a restaurant to get more. Very cultural.

IMG_0495
I also had a good time playing on the motorcycle until I ran out
India

How to Set Your House on Fire Abroad

So, I finally set my house on fire…

It was only a matter of time, really. At this point, I’m more surprised that I haven’t caught something on fire sooner. (And, no, unfortunately this blog doesn’t end with a truck of sexy Sikh firefighters coming to rescue me).

Friday I was working from home in the late afternoon, enjoying things the Haryana Department of Education lacks: AC next to my bed, high speed internet, and the leisures of not wearing pants. My laptop was safely plugged into the wall (it’s always good to keep it full, you never know when the power will go out).

When you straighten half your hair before work and then the power goes out
When you straighten half your hair before work and then the power goes out

Suddenly I heard the AC turn off followed by a deceptively innocent sounding “pop” from the outlet. I looked up to see smoke squeezing out of the socket. Naturally, I panicked, slapped off the power to the outlet, unplugged my laptop, and carefully removed the (hot) plug from the wall.  I decided it was nothing (mostly because I wanted to ignore how potentially bad this could be) and decided to leave my AC off for awhile.

Switches to turn the outlet on and off

 

So I turned the fan on.

Nothing.

Then I tried the light in my room.

Still nothing.

I hoped it was just a routine power outage. I tried the light in the living room.

It tried so hard. I could see tiny bits of light flickering around the corners. I almost pitied the pathetic little thing. Likewise, my router still had the one red light flickering.

That was it. Not a single other light/fan/or appliance worked. But since those two sort of worked, I knew it wasn’t a power outage. So I went to the breaker box and turned everything off and everything back on.

Still nothing.

I spent another ten minutes standing around hopelessly, plotting whether I could sleep at Priya’s house, not sure how to survive June in India without a fan, AC, or wifi. And then after ten minutes my lights all miraculously returned. For some reason my router only stayed on if the living room light stayed on but I assumed that was just “something Indian” and went back in my room to work. Crisis averted!

 

 

 

No.

 

 

 

Nothing can ever be that easy in this country.

After about ten minutes I smelled smoke so I reexamined the outlet. Then I realized smoke was billowing into my bedroom. I ran into the living room to see the living room light spewing smoke and blackening the wall behind it.

Indian buildings always have way more switches than appliances/lights associated with them
Indian buildings always have way more switches than appliances/lights associated with them
I literally only know what two of these switches do
I literally only know what two of these switches do

So I turned off all the lights, turned out everything on the broker box, and sweating from 3 minutes without AC, called my landlord. He told me he, and the entire family, would be gone until late the next day.

Shit.

He asked if it was an emergency. I calmly said, “yes. I believe your house is on fire.”

I explained the story two or three times to him but he was still unsure of the details. At some point he hung up and called back. He told me the handyman who lives at the house was also gone for another hour or so but he would call an electrician.

Yes. Anything. Bring him.

Of course, attempting to speak to the electrician was another matter. I sat outside on the stairs out of the sun reading To Kill A Mockingbird for about 30 minutes before the man came. I didn’t know how much the landlord had explained to him, so I used my best Hindi.

I pointed to the breaker box
“toh…sab atcha hai,” (so…everything is good) 

I pointed to the living room light
“lekin yuhuh dhuaan the,” (but here was smoke)

I pointed to the outlet in my bedroom
aur yuhuh dhuaan the,” (and here was smoke)

toh…..nehi atcha hai.” (So….not good)

He seemed to get the picture and started doing something. I just sat inside and watched sweat pool from my forehead onto the book. At some point he summed me outside and was saying something about a wire and so I nodded furiously as he spoke. Then I realized he was asking me a question, so admitted that I didn’t understand.

My Tardis: because it's bigger on the inside
My Tardis: because it’s bigger on the inside

After about thirty minutes he had everything working again and had me run around the house and test every light switch and every outlet. He spent some extra time on the AC and then kept asking me things in Hindi so I just kept saying, “sab tik hai” (everything is okay) “abhi sab atcha hai” (everything is good now).

Honestly, I have no idea what he did and if this is a long-term fix to the fact that I had a small electrical fire. But I sort of completed an emergency task in Hindi so I’m giving myself a gold star for adulting abroad today!

What is the verb “to adult” in Hindi?