In case you're still popping in to this rather quiet space now and then and you're wondering if perhaps I fell off the face of the earth, don't worry, I'm still alive.
I made it back home from India in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday. But I was only home long enough to sleep off a bit of jet-lag, do a load of laundry, have a hot shower in a clean bathroom (oh, what a luxury!), and meet my new niece, and then it was off for a couple of days of girl-bonding and rejuvenating poolside with my mom, my sister, my daughters and my niece.
How was the trip, you ask? Well, it will take some time to answer that question. Parts of it were amazing and exhilarating, like the hours spent on a rather rickety wooden boat visiting the Sundarban islands. And the miles and miles of picturesque rice fields and fish ponds. And the many delicious meals of curry and lentils and seafood of various kinds. And then there were the people - so many wonderful, genuine, compassionate and brave people.
But more parts of it were really quite hard. This was definitely the hardest trip I've ever taken. I've been to developing countries before, and I've seen some pretty difficult things, but nothing I've seen in Africa quite prepared me for this.
I think the difference can be summed up in one word - hope. Most of the people I've met in Africa have at least a small amount of hope for the future. "When the rains come, our crops will be better." "When the government changes, things will turn around." "When the conflict ends..."
But in this trip - especially in parts of India - there seems to be a depressing lack of hope. Most of the people we met are of the lowest caste in the country - the "untouchables". They are simply resigned to the fact that life will never get much better than it is right now. The government won't make any effort to change things (even though they're more economically stable than in the past), they'll never have access to land so even the weather won't change things for the better, and most of the other people in their country believe that they deserve no better than they're getting. The resulting hopelessness evokes a certain deadness in their eyes that's going to stay with me for a long time.
Add to that a number of rather horrible accommodations (bed bugs, dirty sheets, stinky bathrooms, sporadic electricity, noisy geckos, mosquitoes), many, many hours of bumpy roads and scary drivers dodging rickshaws and bicycle transport, and a head cold that started on the flight there and hasn't ended yet, and it makes for a rather tough couple of weeks.
It's going to take a while to process all that I've seen, so bear with me if I write about it from time to time. There are some memories I won't be able to get out of my mind until I process them a little more, and for me that usually involves writing about it. So you'll probably get to share some of the processing.
Hopefully in the next day or two, I'll have some pictures posted.