It’s day 16 — how did that happen? I realized that we’re on the downhill stretch while talking to my host mom tonight. Four weeks seemed forever, and suddenly it’s a week and half until I’m in Delhi and on the plane to start my long journey home.
We’re in Moga and we’ll spend one more night here before going to Shri Ganganagar. Tomorrow we’re leaving early for the Golden Temple, a place that attracts more visitors every year than the Taj Mahal. It’s a long drive to Amritsar, but it will be worth it.
Today we visited a spice factory, a cattle feed factory, and a shop that builds wheat crushing machines. I wasn’t allowed to take photos at the first two, and the last looked a lot like the steel recycling factories that I already showed you, so my camera stayed holstered. Yes, I said holstered. Instead of boring you with the ins and outs of chili powder production, I’ll catch you up on some extras from the last two weeks.
1: The number of times and Indian has said “God bless you” to me after I’ve sneezed, and I’ve sneezed a LOT. There isn’t a customary word or phrase to say after a sneeze in this part of India.
2: The number of crosses I’ve seen. They stand out to me only because I’ve never visited a country where Christianity wasn’t the predominant religion. We visited a church in Moga yesterday, and most fascinating to me was our hosts removing their shoes as they entered the building, a standard practice for entering Sikh and Hindu temples. Their extension of respect for a faith that wasn’t their own was perfectly normal to them, but very meaningful to me.
3: Times I’ve used a Turkish toilet, and I’d like it to stop at three if at all possible. Not sure what I’m talking about? Google “squat toilet.” Then go hug your western toilet for me.
4: … ever. Forever is how long it takes to shop in India. It took several days and visits to several stores to buy a stack of pashminas, and here’s why: you can’t look at anything by yourself. Someone stands behind a counter or at a shelf and pulls down items one by one, unwrapping and unfolding, displaying the item for you.
If you’re used to ripping through the racks at Ross or picking over stacks of jeans at The Gap, shopping in India will make you insane. Just let me look! Alone! Please! I’ve been (rightly) accused of being too nice many times in my life, but not ever while shopping in India. You have to be fast with brutal honesty and borderline rude in order to speed up your shopping trip.
4: The number, out of five, of our teammates who’ve gotten sick while being here. Eleven days to go … will the fifth make it? (I won’t jinx it and tell you who it is.)
5: Estimated final tally of on-camera interviews we’ll have done with TV stations before we leave. We’re up to two, and I’m betting there will be more.
6: Number of swastikas I see per hour, at least, and it’s still jarring to me. It’s a Hindu symbol, but like most Americans my age, I knew it first as a symbol of Hitler and Nazi Germany.
7: Stray dogs on every corner, it seems. There’s no push for spaying/neutering, and dogs roam every street. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll have a very hard time in India. If you’re a cat hater, you’ll love India. They’re considered bad luck in northern India and very few people have them. I’m told the stray dog population is much smaller in east India. Why? Well, because they eat dog.
8: The number of photos total strangers ask to take with us in a 30-second span when we’re in crowded public places, probably. No one is afraid to ask, and I’ve had my photo taken with more strangers than I could possibly count. (Numbers were never my strong suit.) If they’re not taking photos, they’re just staring, slack-jawed. Westerners are few and far between when off the beaten path in India, and it shows on the faces of the locals. We’ve felt like we’re in a fish bowl since landing in Delhi.
9: The number of pashminas I bought today. One might be a gift for you. You’re welcome!
10: Days from tomorrow and I’ll be in Delhi, getting ready to start heading home. Are we still on for steak?