June 28, 2015

On being afraid - entering India

My favorite book when I was a kid was the story of a girl that lived in a tree and left for a long journey. At one point, she is between the roots of the tree and a monster appears. It's horrible, made of goo and thorny branches. She shouts : I am not afraid of you ! And the monster crumbles. India is my monster. Although in this case it would be more of a stone golem than a gooey plant. In fact, since I left eleven months ago, I have been rambling to every poor soul that is willing to listen that India is the one country I will not go to this year, because (allow me to quote myself) « It's the only country I wouldn't feel safe visiting on my own. »

I repeated and believed that for ten months. And then one morning I woke up and it wasn't true anymore. It just didn't make sense. I realized that without India, my trip wouldn't be complete. I had to go. So I went to a café, got online, and booked a plane. Simple as that. I had been in denial for ten months, and then, suddenly, I was going to India. I remember giggling uncontrollably in the café, like I was a naughty child that just played the best trick ever. Abracadabra, you're going to India.

Fast forward to the 17th of April and you will find me in Bangkok airport sitting on my own.. I have spent countless hours running around Chiang Mai and pleading with very unpleasant administratives to get my visa sorted at the last minute. I haven't slept in three days. I've never been this afraid in this trip. The kind of fear that plays your insides like a xylophone.

Seven hours and two flights later (during which I am busy being mostly asleep), I watch anxiously as the city of Dehli invades my cab window like a swelling wave. Travel is about pushing frontiers and this used to be one of mine. I just stepped across. I'm not afraid of you, India, I say between my teeth – but before my eyes the monster does not crumble, because this is a bold faced lie, and I am terrified. The driver drops me in Paharganj. I step out and I am lost. Hello, I'm Jeanne, I am in India and I am lost. There is a gigantic cow in front of me. The ground is covered in garbage and dejections and a million flies. A dozen children are tugging at my skirt. A dozen men turn their heads to look at me. Okay. Deep breath.

It takes me a while to find a decent place to stay. Actually, what takes me a while is finding a place to stay where the bathroom doesn't have a peephole. I pay for a sun starved, relatively secured room, drop my bag, lie down on the bed, and at that moment a little voice in my head says : « Well, that's it then : we are never going out again, ever. »

Of course, I had to bring you back some pictures, so I ended up going out anyway, eating a very good dahl and samosas that made me very sick, and I visited Delhi in a 50 degrees heat. And yeah, there are far too many people in the streets, cars try to run you over, cows are rabid and everything basically stink of death, but you know what ?

This place is really cool.

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