Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good Riddance Delhi Belly/2008!

Not that I'd expect it any different from this bizzare place, tonight's sure to provide another strange holiday on the other side of the planet. Not being one for extravagance, glitz or glam, it has been my suggestion that we head over to the so-called "backpacker hub" of Delhi called the Paharganj neighborhood, in place of the $80USD package "deals" at the swankiest and most posh nightclubs the city has to offer. And we've seen many offers. Besides, I'm not sure anything above the Ruby Tuesday's we saw the other day would accept as shabby a lookin' character as myself sportin' the Carhart's, filthy New Balance and a dirty beard. Paharganj is where the most frugal flock, those shoestring travellers where money is an issue and love it that way. These folks have the real stories to tell and are my kind of people. So to the gritty, rough-around-the-edges, Paharganj we go. It'll probably be an enormous bust...I'll let ya know!

However tonight unfolds, I and many close to me will welcome the prospect of a new year, as 2008 was nothing short of an all out roller coaster ride. Although there were many extremely difficult periods, I hope that we can all say that we came through stronger, with a better grip on ourselves and that we grew! I claimed residence to 2 new cities (Denver and Portland), made a different home at the Belton Chalet in Glacier Park, MT, lived back home for a stint in Michigan and am now in India. I love travelling, but that list is absurd! Security and stability are not yet in my vocabulary. But I'm working on it, all the while never hoping to gain them completely. On my horizon lies the promise of some big moves which I hope to share when they become closer to reality.

On a more uncomfortable level, I've been blessed with what most travellers that spend any time in Delhi experience...Delhi Belly, for the past few days. What this translates to is (at least in my case) sudden and severe knotting of the stomach, a throbbing headache, OCCASIONAL whining and wimpering (which Ryan has grossly exaggerated and made abundantly clear on her blog) in bed, and last but not least, an unfathomable amount of trips to the toilet with complete destruction of the bathroom (for this, Ryan has every right to complain). So this hampered our production for a few days, including one our precious Sundays (free days from the hospital), but nevertheless can keep me down only so long. I was back to my morning run today. And I still stand by my guts not glory, when it comes to street food. I'll never give it up! My goal of an iron gut by the time I die is underway.

A few other notes...I saw my first monkey today during aforementioned morning job, munching away on some fruit from a plastic bag in the park. This came just before it was chased up a tree by a dog. I'm waiting on a camera that I ordered from ebay-India so that I can spruce up my page with pretty pictures. That should make a blog way more interesting since everyone prefers exotic pictures over bland blabbering. And sadly, it seems that this trip will not be able to last as long as originally hoped due to Continental not allowing my ticket to be extending beyond 6 months of the original start date (Ryan had to buy my ticket round-trip with hers). More on that later when I know for sure.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in Delhi

A Very Merry Christmas everyone! Even though I'm in a country where a mere 2% of the population claim to be Christian, it seems that India is still embracing this worldwide event. Grabbing a bite at the local Evergreen Market last night (Christmas Eve) gave us a comical glimpse at the effort of the neighborhood in the form of the skinniest, silliest and pathetically masked Santa Clause jollily bouncing around, passing out candy and scaring little children. It was a riot! Fitting the "land of Christmas" profile, we've received many "Merry Christmases" from all those we meet on the street. According to Ryan (I was still asleep), there was a small parade out our window this morning complete with a band director and cute kids banging on drums. And to top off the list, after chatting with the other westerners at the hospital, there's going to be some holiday cheer downstairs in the common area, full with a performance from the staff (much to their chagrin) and strangely enough, a smorgasboard of way over-priced italian food. No worry, we're very excited that we'll be able to celebrate the tradition in a not-so-traditional location and atmosphere. Oh yeah, and that common area is decked to the hilt with Christmas fanciness!

Other than that, things have been just wonderful. It's so nice being able to ease into my India trip with the luxury of the room and board here. Things are undoubtedly going to be far more chaotic when I'm on my own, but that's the only way I'd have it! In addition to the comfort of not worrying about having to find a hostel or worrying about eating when when you don't want to, I'm slowly finding the feel for dealing with the locals and the dizzying pace of Delhi life. I've been hailing tuk-tuks (auto-rickshaws), wheeling and dealing with the vendors and market people, learning how to assertively cross the street (more difficult that it sounds!) but still trying to figure out how to deal with the heart-wrenching scenes of the desperately destitute. It's hard to justify not giving to a legless man swinging himself up to you with his arms, or an overwrought woman displaying her childs disfigured and infected limbs. Especially just after paying a little extra for that shirt you just bought. But I am trying to be as intentional with my business as I can, but that's a whole blog's worth of least.

With an update on my volunteer/work hunting, the search is proving more difficult than hoped. That is to say, nothing has fallen into my lap. But I do have at least one good lead with the only problem with it being that it is not health oriented. Dakshinayan, a very small organisation in the rural and newly formed state of Jharkhand, was put together in early 90's and focuses on the teaching children of their many spread out native tribes. The best part about the organisation is its sensitivity to imroving their culture through educating their youth, while still maintaining their invaluable traditional values and culture. There has been some dialogue with the director, but I would still ideally like to capture an opportunity that's specifically public health. This would still provide an amazing experience which would still be completely applicable in international interaction. The website is if you're interested and they also have some great videos availabe if you youtube "dakshinayan". Stayed tuned for updates!

Finally, a quick update on Ryan's treatment. She has clearly come a long way from when she first arrived for her summer treatment with her balance, deep sensations and all of her physical therapy exersizes. It's very exciting, and especially so when I can point out improvements that are outwardly clear even to me. This hasn't come without a lot of discomfort and effort. As you might imagine, the more you feel, the more you're able to sense pain before your body has a chance to adjust. Her first procedure was evidence of this and her wider range of feeling and you can get the first hand account on her on her blogpage at if you'd like. But needless to say, I'm so proud of the way she's taken everything in stride and relentless determination as her body continues to undergo major changes.

Ok, I'm leaving to go celebrate Jesus' birthday with the rest here at Nu Tech Mediworld. Merry Christmas and God bless!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I’m sitting in our pitch dark room at the Nu Tech Mediworld hospital in Green Park, Delhi, India rehashing the first few days of acclimating to the extreme hustle and bustle of my new temporary home. It’s 6 a.m., Ryan’s still asleep and I thought I’d may as well just get up instead of fool myself into thinking I can sleep some more. The room is perfectly comfortable. Our circadian clocks, however, are royally screwed, to put it lightly, since our 14-hour flight flew against the spin of the Earth, causing us to lose 13 and a half hours. It’s 7:30 p.m. E.S.T. I feel so cheated!

That’s not true, I feel so lucky to be so comfortably uncomfortable. The air quality in Delhi is the poorest I’ve seen…by far! Cars, rickshaws, bicycles, tractors and every other automobile whizz by at breakneck speeds, bob and weave through spaces you’d believe they’d never fit, all the while their drivers unceasingly laying on the horn. I’m convinced that some horns are eternally “on” with a button to occasionally silence them. There are shanty towns around every corner and garbage is everywhere. This place is raw and I love it…for now anyways! I’ll likely be in search of reprieve when Ryan leaves mid January.

But the positives far outweigh these negatives. The negatives are the positives, in a way possibly. Hmm, hard to understand and harder to explain. Of the initial explorations and observations, the people here appear curiously content. They just seem to be “ok”, with whatever it is they’re doing; even the lowest of the low on the totem pole. There are oases of vibrant color among deserts of the most drab. Mouthwatering smells of teas and spices amidst exhaust and smog. Patches of lush greenery, exotic birds and ancient temples surrounded by the dilapidation of the modern world. These first few days have been a complete awakening of the senses.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Devastation in Mumbai, Cabin Fever in Michigan

On the evening of November 26th, while most of us were out buying last minute groceries, on the road or in the air travelling to be with our loved ones or perhaps just salivating over visions of turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, a quite different reality was brewing in the Indian city of Mumbai. Sadly, for many involved, the reality was deadly; deadly to the tune of at least 188 casualties with another 293 estimated to be injured on a gruesome attack on humanity. These figures are truely startling as was the manner of violence that these 10 terrorists upheld. Though it was said that some of the killers were searching out those with American and British passports, it was later revealed and obvious that the slayings were indiscriminant, if not primarily directed toward the peaceful citizens of India, who took the brunt of the bloodshed with 158 deaths. Not surprising, the nation of India is outraged. My heart goes out to all those affected.

I'd be lying if I were to say that this accident has not made me wonder about my safety in a nation whose top priority is certainly not security. At first it seemed to me that the terrorists were targeting the extravagance of The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and the Oberoi Trident Hotel where rooms run at least US$325 and are frequented by western travellers and the Indian elite. As more information became available it became clear that the attacks were cast on all races and nationalities. Following the initial shock and grief, I began to think how this might effect my trip. I thought of the first blog I wrote, of the nirvana-like image I tried to compose of India. Watching the drama unfold on the news that night, I had recalled learning, just a few nights before as I read up on Mumbai in my Lonely Planet guide about the popular, Leopold's Cafe. This cafe, I read, was a tourist hotspot where "most tourists end up at this Mumbai travellers' institution at one time or another" and where "a rambuncious atomosphere conducive to swapping tales with random strangers" would definitely be a place that I could spend a little time. 10 people died at Leopold's Cafe and another 58 at Chhatrapati Shivaji rail terminus, where any shoestring traveller such as myself would pass through! These are places I would be! For the record, I can safely say that I will not be anywhere near any luxurious hotels such as the Taj or the like. $5 hostels suit me just fine!

It does make me wonder, though I do not fear and remain steadfast and dedicated to this trip. Since all of this has happened I've heard lots of theories why a comfortable, safe American does not belong India. Firstly, if anyone thinks that by staying put in our own country is the only sure way to keep safe from terrorists or terrorism, all we have to do is remember 9/11, where not 188, but 2,974 innocent died. Furthermore, I feel that terrorism is not confined to the outward machine gun and grenade melee that we've seen in these and other attacks. No, terrorism can be more subtle and the problem is not locality. Secondly, wouldn't we become prisoners of these malicious terrorists' ideals to not continue in a path to our hopes and dreams. I think we'd do right by them to fear and alter our journeys. After all, isn't that what they're after; to disrupt, to promote chaos? Moreover, as the story plays out, the roots of this violence and hatred appear to be rooted further beneath the surface than most of us outsiders realize.

Resisting the temptation to turn this blog into a history/sociology lesson, I'd like to quickly bring to attention a deep hatred that has persisted between India and their bitter rivals and neighbors to the west, Pakistan. I recently watched the magnificent 3+ hour-long film, Gandhi. A LOT happened and turns out Gandhi was more than just a little Indian in a loincloth who walked a lot. Gandhi almost single-handedly brought India out of British rule and into independence, by, you guessed it...non-violence. Oddly enough, India's real troubles began with the clashing and eventual segregation of the Hindus and Muslims following their victory of independence. A partition of India was the consensus of the political leaders (not to Gandhi, but he reluctantly agreed), which drew the lines of Muslim majority Pakistan and East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) and the Hindu majority, present day India. The coming years saw a great deal of violence between Hindus and Muslims, over and within the borders of each country, which prompted Gandhi's famous fast-to-death as a means to quell the insanity. The fast nearly took Gandhi's life, but miraulously elimited almost all violence between Muslims and Hindus in the region. Gandhi, eventually recovered after a satisfatory improvement, but was assasinated on the 30th of January, 1948 by a Hindu extremist and strife has cloaked the region of India and Pakistan, Hindus and Muslims ever since. The attacks on Mumbai and India by what is widely believed to be Pakistani terrorist groups has just doused this bonfire with gasoline and the reactions are incendiary.

Meanwhile in Michigan, I've grown anxious. Perhaps I've jumped the gun on the actual commencement of this journey. It seems more like a year, not a month, since this trip was realized and the days getting longer and longer. What's worse is that I can admit with a straight face that I've got a patchy t.v. schedule to follow each day, have been looking forward to the next victim voted off of Survivor - Gabon and have solved a mission in Ghost Recon 2, the X-Box game. Last Thursday and Friday did, however, provide a substantive reason to get out of bed (and rather early, at that) to substitute teach 4th graders and high school/junioir high gym class, respectively. What a treat, to actually put my time toward something other than slugging coffee and surfing the net all day! If only I can get that elusive wake-up call from here on, until I leave. Alas, the 17th draws nearer!

Back in India, many citizens have become restless. They've expressed an intolerable rage and want revenge and punishment to those who have brought such destruction to their peaceful nation. What would Gandhi think? I'll end with with a few quotes from the little Indian in the loincloth..."Nonvioloence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man" and "an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind." Does this kind of courage exist today?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lending a hand and testing the waters

Welcome everyone to what I hope will be an entertaining, informative, interesting and otherwise strange blog of an adventure abroad to a most exotic land...India. To call India exotic may be an understatement. Here's a sampling of just a few of the extremes gracing this wondrous land. India is the worlds second most populous nation, but only seventh largest; home to worlds largest mountain range (the Himalayas) and seventh largest desert (The Thar); contains the worlds largest film industry (Bollywood) and is where 23 different constitutionally recognised languages can be heard in more than 1600 dialects. Names that have become indelibly synonomous with India include Shiva, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Siddartha Gautama (Buddha) and Gandhi, all representing the astounding array of religions, lifestyles and beliefs that have been found in India throughout history and still present today. Diverse? I'd say so...

What has drawn me to such a place as this? Well, as some of you who know me well, I have been sort of infatuated with the idea of India. Some of it doesn't really make sense, seeing that I become quite uncomfortable in hot, muggy weather (India has many areas regularly over 100 degrees with high humidity) and around large groups of people. Yes, this is true, however these do not come close to comparing to the countless other factors that I find incredibly intruiginging such as the lofty Himalayas, an extraordinary ecology (elephants, monkeys, tigers, etc.), complete and utter strangeness of a bizarre culture and of course, the chai and curry...yum-o!

On top of these curiosities and really most importantly are two other compelling reasons, first of which includes the support of a dear friend whom I met in my short stint in Denver, CO last year. It was through a mutual friend that I met Ryan McLean, a very special person and inspiration to all! Almost 12 years ago now Ryan was in a horrible car accident leaving a high school dance and her life instantly changed forever. Some in the accident did not make it, but Ryan was fortunate enough to come away from the accident alive, albeit not without sustaining a spinal chord injury that would leave her paralyzed from her chest to her toes.

While she continues to amaze with her ability to do more than most who are not restricted to a wheel chair, she has decided to seek a radicial and controversial medical therapy using embryonic stem India. The U.S. is unfortunately just a little to conservative to lead this progressive front. She and the rest of those receiving this groundbreaking treatment have encountered much resistence from the doubters, but in the research that I've done, people HAVE walked away from the treatment (pardon the pun) who were once considered to have incurable spinal chord injuries. This will be Ryan's second round of treatments, with the first having greatly increased blood flow through hips and legs, expanded her trunk movement (which she had very little prior) as well as the exciting development of "sweating, goosebumps and deep-touch sensations" in areas once devoid of these reactions. Going in without any expectations, but with the highest hopes, it will be an incredible experience for the both of us and I am proud to be there for her. We leave for India on the 17th of December!

Ryan's treatment will span a month, at which point she will leave to return to the U.S. and I will stay to take on the second phase of my trip. This second phase will be dedicated to getting my feet wet and taking a glimpse into my hopeful future career in international public health. With all of the wonderful images a nation like India can conjure, it can also expose the lesser aspects of the culture, many of which include a sad caste system of discrimination of those groups of the forgotten (i.e. the Untouchables). This unfortunate circumstance, in conjunction with general poor health practices that accompany such densely populated areas, breed a straggling and unequal health system that is in desperate need assistance. Ideally, I would become involved in some organisation (governmental or non-governmental agency) to get a peak at how this health system works, what's being done to improve it, how a person gets involved, etc., and otherwise contribute my brawn and brains to a greater cause.

Please feel free to check out Ryan's blog (right-hand navigation). There's lots up in the air at this point so keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned...