International Travel While Trump Is In Office

I’m sitting in the basement of our hotel in London a block from Paddington Station, since that’s where we leave from tomorrow. Teresa had scheduled us to arrive back here and have a full day between adventures before we had to get back on the airplane for the long flights home. I appreciate the break, and as much as I’d like to spend all day working, I feel like it’s best if I just do nothing. I might venture out in search of fresh vegetables, since those have been pretty lacking in this trip (mostly because of my own choosing).

One thing I’ve been worried about (not worried enough not to travel, but still…) was how people will react to us as Americans now that we have a hateful jerk as the most prominent political figure in our country.

Our encounter with an angry British man

We haven’t had much interaction with people on a social level, but as I purchased Noam Chomsky’s Optimism Over Despair from a lovely little bookstore on a canal here in London, a very drunk man wearing ski goggles and braids came over and started excitedly talking with us about how he doesn’t understand the political system of the United States, but our president is truly awful.

Except he didn’t say it in an angry way. He said it in an outstandingly British, angular way about how we might not like him, but after all, we did elect him, and [here’s where I tried to interject and explain our electoral system and that he didn’t win the popular vote, just the blah blah blah, but the guy wasn’t listening at all]. He also said he was sure that our system had “checks and balances and all that,” and when I started trying to explain the Supreme Court and Congress also being Republicans, he went back to talking about how he wasn’t quite sure how we could have elected Trump after our previous president was so great (that’d be Obama [chorus of angels]). So then I got onto yet a third tangent about how Obama didn’t really represent a lot of the rural Southern voters, and that Trump promised to represent them better, so they rallied and now…

But I could tell he wasn’t listening.

He just wanted to poke at us about our elected official.

And also, he was very, very drunk.

We eventually extricated ourselves from that conversation (with some effort)

“I think most people around the world are familiar with the feeling of not being represented by their government,” my mom said when I asked her if she was worried about traveling to Kenya last year.

And yes, that’s probably true in developing countries, but in democratic countries like the UK and France, I wonder if maybe people assume we support our democratically elected president, without understanding the nuances of the electoral college and how a president has won the popular vote but lost the election not once, but twice, and how this didn’t immediately spark a revolution.

I wonder, too.

But revolutions are complicated things, and most of us still have faith – however misplaced – in our democratic processes.

As we discussed the drunk man and his ideas about Trump, Teresa and I came to the conclusion that the best we could do is keep traveling and keep talking to people, and let our friendliness and personalities open the door for a better international understanding of what’s happening in the US.

Intentions on the water at sunrise.

This morning was especially early. I got a surprise upgrade on my hotel room (more on that later), so after a wonderful night of sleep, I woke up very early to go walk along the banks. As I was sitting there, a dog came up and started making noises at me. I started packing to go (maybe I was in his spot?), and he nudged my leg.

Wild dogs are kind of scary to me, since, well, you know. And these dogs are filthy. They literally sleep in trash. And this one looked like it had been in many fights, so I wondered if my hand was going to be bitten off, but I tentatively patted his head. He was blissed out with happiness. And yes, I had hand sanitizer, and washed my hands a lot, but he was a sweet dog and the kindness we showed each other was welcome.

Monkeys in Varanasi, India

  🐒 These monkeys were on certain gants, playing, climbing, scavenging, and generally being monkey awesome. I asked the guide, and he said if you don’t lock your window and you’re staying in a gant (the big buildings made by Rajes from different areas), the monkeys will come in and steal your food. Cute! Our guide assured me they are quite mean and said I shouldn’t attempt to cuddle them.

Stairs in Varanasi, India

Varanasi is NOT an accessible place. I walked along the river bank yesterday morning, and everywhere I went was hundreds of stairs. I hiked up and down the stairs just to stay on the path, and, of course, since I’m only here once (as far as I know), I didn’t want to let stairs get in the way of seeing anything, so if I wanted to get a good look at something, up I climbed.

My knees have been pretty bad in the past few years, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to manage all the stairs. None of the guides I read really mentioned how non-stair people would just NOT be able to experience the most beautiful part of the city.

I am so grateful to Krista, my trainer, for helping me rehab my knees and get them to the point where I can manage stairs – maybe not as easily as others, but as easily as myself.

My dad, on the other hand, had trouble with the stairs. The hotel had no elevator, and the restaurant was on the top floor. It was too much. I don’t think he had much fun in Varanasi. He committed to getting his knees replaced when he gets home, and I am hopeful we can come back again so he can enjoy the city as much as I did.

In sickness and in … India

So, I succumbed to the cold that has been hot on my heels for a week. Today, I had the exciting adventure of crossing a Mumbai street TWICE(!!) to get to the pharmacy.
Me: I have a cold. Do you have pills?
Pharmacist: [turns to assistant, says something in Hindi]
Me: also, tissues?
Pharmacist: wet or dry?
Me: dry.
Pharmacist: [more direction to assistant]
Assistant brings two tissue packs.
Me: More?
Pharmacist: How many more?
Me: like… 6? How many do you have?
Pharmacist assistant brings out 10 packs.
Me: All of them.
Me: [feeling lucky] Do you have lip balm?
Pharmacist presents a vast array of lip balm.
Pharmacist: 350 rupees ($5.60)

I feel like I made a major breakthrough today. I am usually too shy to do things like go to a pharmacy and ask for what I need, but today I couldn’t not do it. I feel so fortunate to have gotten a million tissues and some decongestant, and lip balm, which I’ve been missing sorely.

Cups in India

Somehow, 8 – 24 oz cups are an American thing. Getting what I consider to be “a cup of coffee” means 5 or so “cups of coffee” in most places. I think the generally-referred to “cup” here is a teacup (thanks to the British). To my big American self, the first few days were spent trying to break the language barrier enough to convince someone I really DID want what must seem like a bucket of coffee.

It’s these little cultural differences that fascinate me. How something as invisible as the size of a vessel is not standard around the world.

Fancy Meal in Cochin, India

Steve took Dad and I to the local Ramada resort. Cochin is kind of the Hawaii of India, so as you can see, there’s a full and gorgeous resort here! Wow, right?

We had a meal that was more incredibly delicious food than we could eat, and Dad and Steve had fine drinks, and the bill was $56. I thought it was a misprint, since a meal like that would have easily been >$100 in the US.

We have a trip to Hawaii next month, and the cost of the flight was about the same. I wonder how the relative cost will look on the ground.

Now, I’m back in my (non-resort) room resting and trying to get my energy back. I am so glad that I made a pretty quick recovery. ☺️ Things look very different when I am not super sick.

Dogs: they are everywhere. – Notes from Varanasi, India

“Free life,” said the guide yesterday.

But they are literally starving to death. I saw a dog laying with its head in the river, dead. I saw a dog with its head in the gutter, dead. I won’t post photos of them here, but I felt it was important to witness their cycle with open eyes.

I wanted to give them a home. They are so friendly and kind, wanting nothing but a scritch on the head. They are all good dogs.

 

There are active campaigns to reduce the dog population and monitor against rabies. So, there’s that.

Small margin for error

Here we are in Alleppey taking a river tour. People live right on the river. Kids go to school on a school boat instead of a school bus.

But with climate change, the people here have had to change their lives. On the way here, we passed rice paddys that are now fish farms because of rising sea levels. A few inches rise in sea level can make a dramatic change of life.