Saturday, August 4, 2007

Final Days in India

I’ve written a post that will be online as soon as my friend sends it to me, about how things were different when we returned to Delhi, how I felt like I knew a lot more but also had a million more questions.

As I look back on my final few days in India, I am overwhelmed by a great many things. I haven't been able to write enough, or think enough, or reflect on my experiences in the past few days because of time constraints and other things that kept me away from the computer. Trust me when I say that the end of my journey was even more powerful than everything I have written about so far.

Our adventure to Agra was fantastic. We took a four hour ride through some of the countryside of northern India and along the way we ran into a snake charmer (yes, I was afraid, even though the snakes stayed off the bus (for the most part)), some pet monkeys (these made me sad because it was clear they were not treated well), as well as camels and other animals along the side of the road. It was a nice break from the bustle of airports we had been experiencing recently. That afternoon we visited a ghost city that was once the capital of India. The remains are being re-built to show amazing architecture and intricate structures that amaze and impress. It was hollowing to walk through the stone maze, to see the tunnels of columns, the spot where rich men played Parcheesi with women as the pieces, and the temple where parrots now dwell in the cracks that heard prayers hundreds of years ago. And then we visited a giant mosque, open aired and touristy (unlike those in other regions of the country, like Kashmir), and filled with people. Although we had our group tour guide I was immediately joined by a young man who said he was a student at the Madrasa inside the walls of the mosque. He kindly showed me around and told me the carefully memorized facts about the place that he knew so well. And as the rain began to fall I talked with this boy and my new friend, saw the areas for prayer and for selling trinkets, and moved carefully among gravestones from a different era. And it was wet, but lovely.

And the next day we saw the Taj. Early in the morning, when only a few other foreign and Indian tourists have made it to the entrance, the sun rose on the Taj Mahal. And the beauty of this place dedicated to a dead wife and mother was slowly illuminated in shades of pink and yellow. And the palace is beautiful and it fills you with wonder at the construction, envy of the passion, and admiration of the symmetry. For every stone on the left there is a stone on the right. Inch for inch, flower for flower, tower for tower. The flowers – ornate stones carefully placed into minute crevices carved into the finest quality of marble and made permanent with a special glue (I saw a demonstration of the technique the night before, and the finite handiwork was marvelous). There is so much detail at every level. Geoff said it best when he pointed out that the vastness of the beauty and the detail was overwhelming. Like when you look at something from very far away, and slowly start to zoom in as you get closer and closer and are able to see more of the specifics (Cassie, what is the name of that book?), like the power of 10 movie and website. Every step closer leaves you with more questions about what it looks like up close.

At the Taj that peaceful morning I was grateful for the serenity, the architecture, the geometry, the silence, the history, and the company. To walk through that place in pleasant conversation mixed with necessary silences was perfect. I couldn’t have imagined a better experience.

After another frightful bus ride back to the city, we enjoyed our own farewell dinner. It was a lovely event attended by those who knew us and those who knew of us. I met some lovely Americans who are currently in India for a number of reasons and also had time to talk with my cooperating teacher. I enjoyed the celebratory atmosphere, the words of our “uncle,” and the presence of so many friendly guests. And then the rains came and it was the end of our trip. We spent the time DE-BREIFING the trip (yes, students and colleagues, it’s an international phenomenon!) and then the hours counted down until the trip to the airport for the long trip home.

Though this will not be my last blog posting, it does tell the story of the end of the trip. I thought you would all want to know how the whole thing ended, although I am acutely aware of the fact that my learning has really just gotten started. As I look at the materials I have brought home for my office and for school, for my family and friends and for myself I realize that I have a lot to process. I want to make sure to take the time to re-live certain experiences, to tell the stories of certain events, and to remember the thoughts and feelings that were stirred up on the trip. Over the next several days I will continue to process all that I went through and try to find the best way to share it with all of you.

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