namaskar from forbesganj, bihar~ ‘lawless india’ of corruption and
notoriety, in which i am, literally, the only westerner.
i arrived here after a lengthy journey (berlin to paris, paris to
delhi, overnight in the delhi airport {NOT recommended…} and a much
delayed flight to bagdogra, in west bengal, followed by a 4 hour
drive) and am finally situating myself, or trying to. sensory
overload doesn’t do it justice – nor do the movies and national
geographic articles. and for those of you (you know who you are) who
get ill just thinking of my driving, well, i drive like a nun compared
to indian drivers! imagine a potholed driveway, winding and narrow,
and then turn it into a highway, and then add busses with people
hanging out the doors, scores of bicycles (most with 2 or 3 people),
water buffalo trudging slowly (sometimes with children on board) baby
goats prancing down the center of the ‘road,’ cows immovable and
unwilling to relocate from their position directly in your way, high
speeds, and an unceasing symphony of car horns. literally, i mean
they honk ALL the time, in some mysterious code. it’s an experience,
i tell you. and all the while the scenery is full of crumbling tea
plantations, rice paddies and jute spinners, and bustling, crazy
marketplaces line the road when it goes through a ‘town,’ which is
really just a handful of mud or cement huts with thatched roofs and no
windows.

a significant part of my subconscious is fixated on my digestive
system, checking in every few minutes to make sure all is well… which
it is, blessedly enough, despite eating indian food and, especially,
drinking indian water. i smile a little to myself; i’m quite proud of
my stomach, really. way to go me.

the monsoon season is well and truly upon us here by the nepali
border. it has poured all day, a blissful drenching that makes all
the greens greener and the oranges oranger, and i sat on the patio
drinking chai listening to the mixed medley of rain, thunder, horns,
train, shouting, and birds. all to the backdrop, of course, of
ubiquitous indian pop music and the aforementioned endless honking.
today i begin teaching. i am nervous, literally quivering with it. i
will take the train one stop south to the town where the girls’ hostel
is (some are former prostitutes, some daughters of sex workers, and
some just very, very poor), and spend the early afternoon teaching the
staff english. then, when the girls get out of school at 4, i will
teach them in three groups (thank goodness) of about 15 each, back to
back. i’ll finish at 7;30 and catch the 8 pm train back to
forbesganj. on alternating days i will stay here in forbesganj and go
to the red light district, where there is a center for girls whose
mothers are in prostitution but who live at home, and i’ll do the same
thing there. so that’s the plan, though it’s a bit terrifying at this
point. bihar is not the safest of states, and i am wary of traveling
at night, by train or rickshaw. so i’m just going to pretend it’s
going to be fine. and it will be. i am reassured by the fact that my
cheeks still hurt from smiling so hard yesterday when i met the girls
– ‘sister,’ they call me, as they clustered around and introduced
themselves in hindi, touching me and fanning me and bringing me chai,
and so excited to have someone pay attention to them.

on a lighter note, i survived my first Indian earthquake! i was
sitting outside on the patio on the mattress (i had been on the couch
until i noticed the large picture hung above it was moving and making
noises. i investigated and found the cutest little noses peering out
at me, and though i find rats quite endearing and unfairly maligned,
i’d rather not sit directly beneath them…) and then everything started
quivering, and then full-on shaking and the power went out, and while
at first i was enjoying it, as only a californian can, it soon dawned
on me that bihari building codes were probably not quite up to par, at
which point i stuffed mabel (my laptop) under my shirt and dashed out
into the garden, where i stood with soumya (the field cooredinator who
lives here as well) and the nepali family who lives next door. amidst
the smell of burning incense coils and our clutched mugs of chai, we
waited and felt the ground vibrate under our bare feet, and when the
fear of being crushed subsided i was tickled to think that i’d just
ridden the push to make the himalayas a little bit higher…
and in closing: no matter how many times one is warned about the lack
of it, it still somehow comes as a shock to realize that there is, in
fact, no toilet paper.

i hope you are all well in the world, and i send you my love, scented
with cardamom and cloves.
~melinda.

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