Category Archives: India

The End

The last days in India were a bit of a blur. On Valentine’s day, we went to a zoo. And got interviewed about our love lives. Unsurprisingly, they news only included Janine’s segment about missing her husband. They cut the rest of us spinster hussies out of there.

We also go tangled up in a labor protest. It took us about an hour to get through all the people. Vanessa and I were fighting panic attacks the entire way, tooo many humans and  tooo little air.

After sweating our way through the zoo, our host parents decided to take us out for Valentine’s Day at Villa Maya. We dressed up in our sarees and headed out.

The restaurant is a renovated palace and it was beautiful. I want to buy whoever decorated this and force them to make my future home pretty just like this.

 

We were floored by the prices. Considering it was one of the nicest restaurants in town, I almost had a stroke when the price of a nine ounce tenderloin was $7. SEVEN DOLLARS. Unbelievable.  Jennifer got the steak and I chose chicken wrapped in pastry dough for less than $6. It was delicious.

And lobster cappuccino soup which was marvelous.

Then we had some heart-shaped dessert. So romantic.

We spent our last day in Trivandrum hanging out with our host mother and being silly. She knows how to work a bandana.

We also said goodbye to Vanessa and Yajaira who were leaving for their three week journey through India on their own. It was so weird without them. After that tearful goodbye, we spent another six hours sobbing uncontrollably as people came to bid us farewell. It sucked. At midnight we were shoved out the door and the van full of tears made its way to the airport. Fake happiness, gross hair, and lots of luggage.

I will say that I have much more appreciation for American airports now. Getting through security and checking our luggage took a million years even though there wasn’t a line. I felt like everything I did was wrong and we spent about an hour getting bounced between lines. After we had our checked bags scanned, we had to go through another security line where the lady said we only had to remove laptops before scanning. Turns out laptops actually means all electronics.

Janine and I spent about an hour watching as our backpacks were dumped out and picked through. It was slightly disconcerting as they wanted to throw away about half of our things including her $6000 camera lens because a weapon could be contained it. I thought she was going to have a heart attack. Eventually we got our things back and went through the pat down area. Full pat down on all the parts. Fun times.

Because our flight didn’t leave until 4:30 am, we got to spend some quality time together in the terminal. It’s not like the three of us hadn’t been sharing a room for three weeks already. We also enjoyed our final encounter with Indian bathrooms. In case you aren’t sure which one to use, ladies just need to locate the door with Emma Roberts on it.

All the bathrooms in the airport featured multiple pictures of her. I laughed every time. I managed to stay awake on the flight to Dubai, but was ready to pass out about four seconds after we took off for Houston. It was 10 pm in Texas, so I popped an Ambien and went to sleep.

When I woke up after seven blissful hours, I was clutching a croissant in my hand. I asked my seatmate what it was and he said “your bread.” I asked why I had it in my hand and he said “because you were eating it.” I had no idea where it came from. As it turns out, I ordered and ate an entire breakfast during my Ambien nap. Zero memory of it. He said I was awake and really excited about it. Probably not going to be taking Ambien in public again. On the bright side, I had a snack to enjoy when I woke up.

I managed to stay awake for the remaining 10 hours of the trip. As it turns out, my body has zero problem sitting in one place while watching endless movies. I saw Argo (amazinggggggg), Lincoln (again, and even better the second time), Ruby Sparks (kind of depressing), Wreck It Ralph (insert lots of tears), and Looper (meh). I also enjoyed a spectacular view of Greenland. I kept getting in trouble for opening the shade on my window, but I just couldn’t resist.

How gorgeous is that? I’ve never seen anything like that before, I was completely awestruck.

Once we landed, Jennifer and I headed toward our gate. But before we could get there, the sweet sweet smell of hamburgers stopped us dead in our tracks. So, we changed directions and headed toward hamburger heaven.

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I don’t know how many kinds of wrong it is to get super excited about a Chili’s restaurant, but we were ecstatic.  We started with chips, queso, and beer.

And finished with bacon cheeseburgers.

It was sooooo good. I missed you grease, I missed you so much. When we arrived in Corpus, the district governor was there to meet us. That was a bit of a surprise. He wanted to make sure Jennifer was okay and talk to us about some problems we experienced. Super nice of him. After speaking to him, my boss drove us home and gave me a gift:

Best boss ever. As soon as I got home I ran to the bathroom and enjoyed the hottest bath of my life. Bathtub, I missed you so much.

After Jennifer cleaned up, we settled down for some Thin Mints and Downton Abbey.

What is going on!!!!! I still have the last episode to watch and I am completely flummoxed by this season. Flummoxed I tell you! And I got to spend time with  my fat little lady.

It was a fantastic Saturday night. It was not a fantastic Monday morning, but I’m alive and I haven’t killed anyone, so all is well.

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The King and I

While Jennifer and I hung out in the hospital, the rest of our team had the opportunity to have tea with the titular Maharaja of Travancore.

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Jennifer and I are both massive royal history nerds and we were pretty devastated to miss such an incredible experience. Even though the monarchy in India was disbanded after they gained independence from the British in 1947, the family still holds the titular title and fulfills their duties as related to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple (which we visited on our first day in India).

The current Maharaja is the brother of the last Maharaja to  have power, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma II. He died in 1991 and Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma III took over the title and responsibilities at that point.

Our driver had tears in his eyes when he got to meet him. He said he never imagined that he would have an opportunity like that. It was all he talked about for days.

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So sweet. After visiting the king, they broke us out of the hospital.

The next morning (while we were schlepping around another factory), we got the most wonderful news. The Maharajah had some time in the afternoon that we could stop by to see him. We were thrilled. When we arrived, we spent about 30 minutes talking with his personal astrologer.

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Astrology is very very different in India, it was extremely interesting and we had a million questions. It guides everything you do from how you dress, your hairstyle, your interests, and even your voice.

Eventually the Maharaja came out and we had the opportunity to speak with him for about an hour. He was fantastic, such an interesting man. I could have sat and listened to him talk for years.

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We were asking him so many questions that he very graciously gave us copies of his autobiography and even signed them. I was just a little bit excited.

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One of the best moments of my life right there. I was beyond ecstatic. I read the book on the trip from India to Dubai and it was excellent.

That evening, we had our last Rotary meeting (Praise tha Lawd). We somehow arrived an entire hour early, so we killed some time with stupidity.

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I sure am going to miss my weirdo teammates. Love those dorks. Eventually, the meeting started and we gave our final speeches. And cried through every one of them. I had so many things I wanted to say, but once the tears started, I just went blank. I am not the most eloquent person when I’m crying.

After the speeches, we received Kathakali pictures that were sent over to us by the Maharaja. The astrologer presented them to us based on our age, and since I was the youngest I was up first. I received what he described as “love,” but I later learned that it was seductive love. If that’s not a cosmic joke then I don’t know what is.

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Everyone loves a sweaty face. After receiving our prints, we posed for endless pictures.

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I’m not going to be able to smile again for months. We also enjoyed our last Rotary dinner.

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And with that, it was over. I won’t miss those nightly Rotary meetings, but I will miss the people we met there.

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Medically Incapacitated

When we first arrived in India, we all suffered from swollen legs from the long flight. Four weeks later, poor Jennifer still had very painful swelling in her lower legs. A couple of weeks ago we took her to the ER because Janine and I found her in her room shaking uncontrollably with a 103 degree fever.

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Since that first trip to the hospital, she has seen three doctors. They have all diagnosed her with a range of problems from colitis to a UTI to just plain needing rest. She hadn’t been examined and no tests were run to determine if she had any abnormalities in her blood or urine. As she became increasingly ill, we continued to get more worried.

After she spent a few days with a migraine (which she never gets) and constant asthma attacks (also very rare), she emailed her doctor at home and he was immediately concerned that she had a blood clot. We spoke to our Rotarian leaders and the district governor and they immediately formulated a plan for her medical care. It sure helps to be with a group where probably 1/3 of the 2000 men present are doctors.

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They were the amazing. Within an hour, Jennifer and I were on our way to the hospital.

So, unsurprisingly, things run a little differently in other countries. Crazy right? Instead of individual offices with specialized doctors or appointments, everyone at this hospital is filtered through the ER. We only had to wait about 15 minutes which was truly shocking to us and she was on a bed in the ER. Once we were in, our group left because many of them had to drive several hours in order to get home.

We expected them to do a CT scan and then we would be released, but they decided she would be kept overnight since it was so late on Sunday and they couldn’t fit us in until the following morning. They told us it was easier to file with insurance when you stay overnight instead of multiple visits. Especially since it would cost us $200 each time we had her admitted. So, while she rested, I headed out to register her.

Holy confusion. There were about 100 people crowded around the desk and they were all shouting to the two guys processing registration. I had no idea what to do and I don’t speak the language, so it was a bit stressful. I also found out that the very expensive travel insurance company we were forced to use didn’t have an alliance with one of the four Indian insurance companies. So, we (me) had to pay up front or she wouldn’t be admitted. And I couldn’t call the insurance company because it was 4 am on a Sunday at home. I wasn’t frazzled at all by the thought of us being trapped in a foreign hospital with thousands of dollars in medical bills due before our release. Not at all.

We spent a long time going back and forth about payments and what they needed from me. Apparently, when you go to India you should keep several passport sized photos on you at all times. I had some in my suitcase at our home, but none with me. And Jennifer didn’t have any at all. Thankfully, at this moment Kennan (our driver) found me and saved the day.

That day will forever live in my memory as the day where I learned that Rotary is like the Indian Illuminati. He told them that we were here as guests of Rotary and all of sudden the gates opened wide, unicorns pranced, the red tape was gone, cherubs sang, and I was able to pay the admittance fee and get Jennifer to her room. A deluxe room at that. A room that we would never be able to afford in the U.S. We felt like Beyonce in there.

There was even room service that had pasta and tomato soup on the menu. We were in heaven.

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That was really good, I swear. And the doctor brought us Oreos “because the white people always ask for them.”

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I even had a real bed to sleep in instead of one of those crappy, squeaky cots.

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Please excuse my face and awkward thumbs up.

Before bed they gave her some blood thinners and we passed out shortly thereafter. The next day they wheeled her out for her tests. Bye Jennifer.

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They found something of concern and ordered more tests which meant another night in the hospital. We were initially not happy about that, but since we didn’t have a choice or transportation, we complied. We also got a surprise visit from our program coordinator (left) and Jennifer’s host family from Kollam. The drove over two hours just to make sure she was okay. Sweetest guys ever.

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We were pretty frustrated before they arrived because we didn’t understand the communication system between doctors and patients in India. We felt like the doctors didn’t really care about finding out what was wrong with Jennifer because they kept giving her medications, but wouldn’t ever explain what they thought the problem was or why she was getting different types of shots.

By the time the Rotarians showed up, we were formulating a plan to bust out. Thankfully, they explained that they trust their doctors and don’t ask questions there. They take what is prescribed and believe that the doctor knows best. It is insulting to question the doctor. One of them explained that a law was recently passed regarding the patient’s right to know their medical information, but they largely respect the decisions of their practitioner.

This was a surprise to us as we are trained that it is our duty as the patient to ask a million questions and get all of the information that we can. After we explained why we were frustrated, they spoke to the doctors who came in and explained to Jennifer that she had a blood clot (which has now been dissolved thankfully) and an infection in her blood stream. She was a happy lady after that.

We said goodbye to our dear friends and settled in to enjoy some greatly missed HBO.

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And look what was on! Miracle! Speaking of Harry Potter, I totally thought I had one on my hands when I was looking at the flat directory at my host parent’s building.

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So close. She eventually got cleared and we settled the bill (thanks again to the Rotarians helpings us) and checked out of there. She had an IV line in her arm and she called to ask that they remove it because it was hurting and the nurse replied “have you paid?” Um… no. Jennifer asked if they would remove it before we paid and the nurse said “hahahaha no.” They are serious about getting that money. Luckily, that didn’t take terribly long to resolve and we made it home just in time for a seven hour power outage.

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Never will I ever complain about my electric bill or fail to appreciate life with a consistent and rarely failing electrical current. India taught me a lesson every day.

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The District Conference

Rotary clubs are divided into districts and each district has a governor and a yearly convention. Our travel arrangements were made so that we could attend this conference during the end of our trip. The conference started on a Saturday, but we went a day early to practice our presentation and have some time to piddle around the resort.

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Totally hideous. Ugliest place I’ve ever been. The conference was held at Hotel Suvadram in Kovalam which is at the very bottom tip of Kerala nestled against the Arabian Sea. It was beautiful, we felt so lucky to get to a spend a few days there (even if we couldn’t  go for a swim).

Between the touring, we enjoyed some lunch and cold beverages.

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The reporter stayed professional:

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The rest of us stayed hydrated:

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Enjoy that five-head action. On Saturday we returned for official conference time. Close:

There were approximately 2,000 Rotarians there (95% of which were men) and I was pretty petrified to speak in front of so many people. Thankfully, I made it without passing out or forgetting what I was talking about.

The vast majority of the conference was conducted in Malayalam, so I spent most of my time examining my cuticles and counting the ceiling tiles. The best part about the conference was that we were able to see our former host families and the wonderful men we had built such wonderful relationships with (as well as the many awful ones, but that’s a story for another day). I was able to bestow the pin of my sponsoring Corpus Christi club on my dear friend Agit.

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I swear he was much more thrilled than he looks here. I promise, super stoked about that pin. Also, don’t straighten your hair in India, total waste of time. Yikes.

After the professional hobnobbing and hours of photos with strangers concluded, we enjoyed a few moments of peace on the beach before the evening festivities.

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Sadly, this slightly ruined the view:

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The lack of waste management system is a very sad sight. So much beauty, so much garbage. Thankfully, Rotary is spearheading a “Clean, Green Kerala” project to help deal with this problem.

After our sunset respite, we headed over to the party.

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This chicken was so freaking good. Janine and I spent about an hour at this stand anxiously awaiting the cooked chicken to be slid off the skewers and onto our plates. It was amazing.

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We were so full that we didn’t want dinner at all, but that is unacceptable in Kerala. So I got a few things to fill my plate so I could avoid harassment about not eating. Also, we heard this gem for about the tenth time on this trip “How can you eat so little and keep so much fat. You must eat more to be so fat right?” Awesome.

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One of the things that has been a hard transition for us all has been eating with our hands. It’s just so unnatural for us and hard to do. Eating rice with your hands is an art that I have yet to master. I try to keep an open mind, but I just about died when I saw everyone digging into a pig carcass with their hands. I just can’t deal with a hundred bare hands in my food.

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Other than the pig carcass, the party moved on without incident. We only had a few gropers and were able to leave before they got too drunk. Like this:

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Please see the man  on the ground who has fallen. Good times right there. Super fun to be the only females in the midst of that.

Sunday was saree day and we woke up an extra hour early just to get wrapped like a silken burrito.

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We even convinced our much beloved driver Kennan to pose with us. He even kind of smiled.

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You know what’s really hot? Silk. Dear Lord. I was sweating like a football player in Georgia by the end of the day. I also couldn’t walk normally, was constantly worried about coming unraveled, and I couldn’t drink water. As it turns out, the restrooms are way too small and dirty (and wet) to even try to wrestle with that thing and use them. I know now why Indian women never drink water during the day. Actually, the lack of drinking water and clean restroom facilities is now a national health concern. I totally see why.

After about nine hours in the saree, I was happy to get all of that hot material off me and get into to some all-American cotton. Indian women look fabulous, but they spend a lot of time getting that way. I greatly admire them (and their style, they really do look lovely).

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