Feelings of a Girl

It was my first, long deployment, I was a newlywed and new dog-mom too.  We were stationed in Alaska and my assignment team basically gave me a choice on where I would go (very unusual)—the desert or Bosnia.  Hmm…Europe or the Sandbox, tough choice.  It was after 9-11 but before OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM.  There were whispers of what was about to happen in Iraq but I didn’t really know for sure and I knew the Bosnia gig was a peacekeeping effort since the war that tore this land apart had come to an end and Milosivec was out of power.  So, I chose Bosnia for the next 6 months.

I had no intention of keeping a journal of this time but my friend, Jill, gave me one at my farewell and inspired me to do so.  I’m forever grateful to her for this since so much happened that I would have forgotten.  It’s interesting to climb back into the cobwebs of your mind and revisit yourself years later.  I’m sharing this journal and putting myself in front of you now.  This is a much younger version of myself (15 years ago) in years and life experience, I wonder how the future me will read the pages of today.

4 October 2002

“Friendship is the bread of the heart.”  Mitford

That quote was on the lovely card Jill presented me tonight, along with this cute journal.  These gifts were truly heartfelt—these friends are gifts to us.  Jill and Cary are wonderful people and I’m glad we met them.

As I packed today I worried about forgetting something, not cleaning the house enough before I go, not calling everyone I’m supposed to, all kinds of little things but I never, for a second, worried about my relationship with Shane.  What a comfort and joy!  Our relationship is blessed and I thank God constantly for this incredible blessing.  I hardly feel worthy of such a blessing but I promise to cherish my sweet husband forever in an effort to show my thanks for this man I’ve been entrusted with—he trusted me with his heart.

So, I’m sitting at the airport in Anchorage, I’ve said my good-byes.  I was “fine” until Shane and Zoe-dog dropped me off at the airport.  Then, the small lump in my throat suddenly grew from the size of a bouncy ball to an orange and I found myself swallowing hard and blinking wildly to avoid a breakdown. I walked up to the ticket counter—unable to look back as they drove away and nearly lost it.  The man at the counter was so nice and helped me but I couldn’t smile or joke with him…it was all I could do to keep from crying.

I went and bought some water and sat in front of the magazines for a while to get my mind off my sadness.  It helped—funny how looking at stupid fashion and tabloid magazines can get your mind off everything.  I found myself picking apart the models, the stars, the ugly, expensive dresses and feeling much better (an escape).  I’m glad I avoided the temptation to go into a bathroom stall and cry my eyes out.  The orange in my throat is down to a lemon now…baby steps, right?

Well, time to board.  I put Enya in the CD player, I have my pillow and eye mask in hand and it’s off to Atlanta.  St. Francis of Assisi is on my mind.


Fast Forward:  All these years later and I read this thinking about how much I always avoided crying.  I was taught (by my tough-guy dad) that it made you stronger to stay angry or stoney faced when your emotions wanted to take control.  Ask me someday how many teeth I have lost over grinding them instead of just having a good cry.  Too many.  Ask me how many pills I’ve taken to avoid my emotions…I’ll tell you that not only have I damaged my kidneys, liver and stomach by swallowing pills and vodka instead of my pride, I also had stomach surgery to stop the heartburn, I bleed internally from my colon to my gut and still can’t cry.  I’m a fucking robot now.  What we teach our children can hurt them.  Take care.

PS.  I think it’s hilarious that I compared the lump in my throat to a bouncy ball.  New dog-mom for sure!  🙂

Train to Agra

Agra Day 2-2
Room for 6, sure!

What a relief, the train car is filled with nice, helpful people (I swear I’m not just saying this and I’m not being paid by the tourism bureau). As I board, there is a family in the sleeper car I am assigned to (actually, it is called 3rd class, which apparently means 1st class but not exactly “uber class” because I have to share—very complicated). The “Papa” is akin to my perception of “Tevya” in Fiddler on the Roof, everyone knows him, everyone assumes he knows what he was talking about and everyone seems to like him. He is a huge form in white cotton who sits like a sumo wrestler, with an enormous belly between his widely spread legs. He speaks loud and talks fast.  His wife is in my seat but I hardly care–I am just happy to be out of the station waiting area and on the correct train. The large Papa left with his entourage before the train departed Delhi station so I quickly sit in my assigned spot. I’d like to imagine they stayed just long enough to assure me I am in the right place.

Then, an older couple and their granddaughter entered the space and sat down in the 6-person seating area with me. They are lovely people. They are kind to speak English to me and even offered me some of their picnic dinner of homemade chapattis. I politely decline as I was not hungry and did not want to take from their small provisions. As the train begins to move, another couple squeezes in (it is getting cozy now) and they seem a bit stuffy but nice enough. At this point, I was just happy that no one smelled.

Agra Day 2-1
Good-bye Delhi

We arrived in Agra station and I immediately find a taxi stand and hired a car to take me to my hotel. My driver, Hussein, insists on taking me around town the entire day tomorrow and I agreed since he spoke English, has a clean, air-conditioned car and seems friendly. Why not? Hussein is short, stalky and reminds me of a used car salesman or a character I’d see on a Seinfeld episode because he says things like “no hurry chicken curry”…but I have no plans aside from photographing the Taj Mahal for my grandmother so why not.  Hussein promised to take me to photograph some elephants at a local rescue tomorrow in addition to the Taj, I’m very excited to photograph them and the people who tend to these beautiful beasts. They were apparently rescued from being circus animals; I hope I’m able to share the good work of these good people.

The Gateway Hotel (http://www.thegatewayhotels.com/fatehabad-road-agra/gallery.html) is quite fancy. Since I arrived off-season (because no one with any sense would come to India during this heat wave but a rookie like me) the hotel was nearly empty so they upgraded me to an executive room with a view of the Taj. What I didn’t expect was the pounding music from the discotheque next door but no matter, my cocktail of Benadryl and Melatonin will knock me out with no problem. I am attaching a photo of my view. One of my girlfriends said that she really noticed the contrast of the dilapidated buildings in the foreground with this white marble “wonder of the world” as Agra’s backdrop. It is this inequality that I continue to notice throughout my journey.

Arrival in New Delhi

I am here, this is happening!  It is the middle of the night and I am now in New Delhi, alone and without a plan my anxiety is overcome by my strange sense of adventure.  I follow the masses through the terminal and am walking with a childlike sense of wonder that stays with me through the next 36 hours.  The bathrooms have larger than life images of a gorgeous woman and a handsome man to show patrons which toilet to enter.  My first instinct is to break out my camera and photograph them but I’m feeling a bit shy and decide I have time for that later and best get on with retrieving my luggage.

The administrative act of shuffling through customs and showing my tourist visa went well.  This surprises me as I acquired my visa on a website with the hope that I did everything correct–apparently, I did because I am through the secured area and there’s no turning back now!  As I walk through the secured area I immediately notice the lack of chaos.  Come on, Delhi, where’s the crowd, the smells, the obnoxiousness I so expected?  This is NOTHING like I expected…it’s peaceful and eerily quiet.  Then I notice a sign that says something about this being a silent airport and that everyone must remain quiet as they retrieve their luggage, how bizarre and zen-like at the same time.  What’s more shocking is that everyone is complying!  Why aren’t all airports like this?  It was the most relaxing way to stand around a carousel…in complete quiet.  My very quiet husband would be loving this right now.  No shoving, no yelling, nothing but the shuffling of bags and legs around me.  How uncharacteristically civilized.  I am smiling as I see my pea-green backpack emerge from the bowels of luggageville and slide onto the carousel before me, the travel Gods are on my side!

So, it’s 0200ish and I have to find my way to my hotel in hopes that they will allow me to check in and sleep.  My reservations don’t begin until the following night so I am really pushing my luck.  As I walk out of the deliciously quiet airport I’m accosted by rickshaw and taxi drivers–this is the Dehli I was expecting!  I grabbed one and off we went to my hotel.  It is dark but the city lights allow me to see out the window and within minutes I do a double take as I (no shit) see a man riding an elephant beside the highway!  Are you kidding me?!  Is this real?  The elephant had a pink and purple “third eye” painted on him.  I want to stop the taxi, jump out and photograph this but he is driving too fast and I’m not sure if what I saw was real or a hallucination from being dog-tired and jet-lagged.  This is a sign, I know it.

My hotel is called Hotel Shanti Palace (http://www.hotelshantipalacewest.com/) and it is delightful.  They mercifully allowed me to check in ridiculously early so I plan to shower and sleep as long as possible.  I have no idea what I will do tomorrow but I am going to “shoot” something!