On The Road . . . with Jessica

Jessica Henderson has a B.A.Psychology (Trent University).  She just returned from 3 years of world travel, and will be sharing her diary with us on the pages of Cross Cultures

Calcutta Meets Tokyo

combine: 14 Rickshaws
1 Shinkansen
8 Japattis 6 Sukiyakis
11 Sari’s 2 Kimonos
750 Rupees 41.5 Yen
16 lbs Hindi 2.8 kg Nihon-go
4 weeks sun 6 days rain
1 tsp colour 3/4 cup black & white
1 pot chi 1 bottle saki

and you get hundreds of years worth of cultures

* a rickshaw is a common mode of local transportation in India. Both the cycle and motor rickshaws have 3 wheels which support the passenger carriage and driver

* a shinkansen is one of the fastest trains in Japan. It carries hundreds of passengers from the northernmost provinces to the south (a distance of 2-3 thousand kilometers) in 3 days or less

* a sari is Indian women’s traditional dress, it is a long strategically wrapped detail of printed material

* a kimono is Japanese women’s traditional dress, it is worn for special occasions

* a rupee is the currency in India. If there was Coke in India it would cost 350 Rs

* a yen is the currency in Japan. Almost twice the value of a penny

* Hindi is one of the languages spoken in India. It is used with English for trading communication

* Nihon-go is the language of Japan. The written Kangi developed from the Chinese, but developed a unique sound

* India’s climate is hot and humid; Japan has a lot of rain

* Indian crafts and textiles are very colourful

* Chi is India’s favourite tea served six times a day in a clay cup that you smash after drinking and it naturally returns to the earth

* Saki is the traditional drink of spiritual gatherings in Japan

On the Road
part 1
Heads and Tails
September 1992

Jessica ‘s world travel diary will appear in a sequel in Cross Cultures as promised in our last issue .. she has since become Mrs.Jessica Hall, and is honeymooning as we go to print … we wish Jessica and John a happy and successful life journey together !

After completing three years at university, I was eager for a change in lifestyle. I gathered my summer savings and ‘took flight’ in the fall of 1989.

The trip started in Florida when I accepted a ride “going west” from a car-full of colourful people! “Sure, no problem, we got room” insisted one of the long haired people. I crawled through the hatch of a window stickered VW bus and was greeted by smiles. The round of introductions which followed blended to the music as the creative re-decoration of bodies and their gear promised comfort until the next pit stop!

Meeting a family of friends who loved the Grateful Dead music was a brand new experience. They travelled around the United States days on end, enjoying live music and reunions with old members. Crafts and food were traded and sold to finance the next journey. I was so enamoured by this colourful collage of people and their attitudes, I decided to pursue this to a meaningful conclusion, to find what it was all about ..

Over the period of a year, some of my values were re-equated: There were other ways of life besides what I had experienced in the last 23 years. I learned that by becoming environmentally active (recycling, pollution control, resource management ..) spiritually tuned (practicing meditation, acting not reading..) and eating healthily (more whole grains and fruits than processed..) I could enhance “my quality of life”. Through my travels, I saw that most South Western people had a different perspective than back in Eastern Canada. I stopped travelling in order to work and experience how their different set of values and habits mingled in a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco.

Despite how much I enjoyed my days tasting new foods and swimming in the ocean, I was committed to sampling more than this culture. The opportunity to continue my travels around the world arose when this now familiar Grateful Dead band and its members announced a European Tour. I sold my VW bus, made several batik T-shirts (to trade) and bought the cheapest one-way ticket to adventure land.

On The Road
part 2
Grin and Wear It
October / November 1992

I settled on the pavement next to my display of T-shirts wondering from which country the next buyer would be. Drummers, in the distance, continued to attract a circle of people. The energy and cultural integration was high; the re-union had begun. It wouldn’t be long till the Grateful Dead journeyed with its fans on another musical adventure.

The band played in Sweden, Germany, France and England; eleven contracts in all. It was a splendid example of integration, with music being the central force by which people of different countries, languages, religions and class were united. All the hard work and planning that was necessary for many dedicated North American fans to afford such a trip had finally payed off. Smiles were radiant – and when the European communities joined in the dancing and spiritual exchange – the sight and sound of this colourful alternative marveled. The second to final concert at Wembley Stadium on Halloween of 1990, hosting a full capacity of masked faces, featured an unforgettable parade.

During the tour, I managed to sell 25 T-shirts (2 per show) for approximately $30.00 each. This gave me the funds to transport, feed and house myself between each consecutive show. Trading and bargaining was accepted as a way of survival and encouraged as a means of inter-acting culturally. I loved meeting people and bargaining. Fortunately, I was successful enough in not spending my previous earnings, set aside for the indefinite trip ahead.

By the end of the tour, I had found a meaningful solution: First, I became accustomed to a ‘poorer’ standard of living. Rather than stay in a hotel, for example, I chose a park, train station or hostel floor, as a safe place to sleep, “lay my bones” and re-energize. Second, I bought fresh staple food, from the grocery stores and spicily cooked them over a camp stove, as an alternative to ‘restauranting’. The meals prepared by fans were also cheap and nutritionally delicious. Third, I travelled in car pools, packed trains, and hitch-hiked sometimes just for the fun of “who would get there first”.

As a result of these experiences, I became more comfortable mentally and physically with the actualities of later travelling in the third world countries.

In England I was finally faced with the cold rain and the harsh reality of saying good-bye to friends returning home. Myself and a few other lucky fans headed south on the train before we met … and ouzo !

On the Road
part 3
A Peace of Greece
December 1992 / January 1993

It was November 1990; the first year of travel was coming to a close. I felt the need to relax and reflect on the faces and places I had visited. What better place than the famed Greek Islands !

The ferry I chose was heading to Patri via Corfu. I purchased an ongoing ticket but hoped to get off at Corfu before heading to Athens and islands further south. I soon realized that 3rd class passengers had no seats, so I decided to put my dome tent up on the deck. It was there, upon the contents of my pack, that I slept so peacefully, undisturbed by the wind, rain or the blackness outside.

I was suddenly awakened, early next morning, by the final call for passengers departing at Corfu. I stuffed my tent away and frantically scrambled up and down two staircases, around a cafeteria, across a lobby and off a ramp .. just in time.. now that was ‘aMAZEing’ !

The next four days took me as much by surprise. No sooner had I got off the boat than I was escorted by an English speaking Greek lady to join a van full of people and their belongings. The road wound us from one side of the island to the other in 45 minutes.

The views were spectacular, tall narrow trees and a lush green undergrowth, covered the hills and valleys; several pastel coloured villages set off in the distance beckoned a visit; white sand and a turquoise sea surrounded it all. The reality of Greece was as beautiful as people had said.

We arrived at the Pink Palace, also known as the Ouzo Zoo. This modern looking resort was painted pink and enclosed by a playground of facilities guaranteed to supply the common tourist with endless days of activity. Each new guest was introduced and poured a ‘pink’ drink. This drink, more often clear, was ouzo, a favourite Greek alcohol compared in taste to licorice, fennel and aniseed. By 6:00 am a party was well on its way. Strangers became friends, and whispers became shouts. Each night, following dinner, the festivities continued. There were stories, jokes, music, Greek dancing, shots of Ouzo, and clay plate smashing ceremonies. Tourists seemed to always arrive but never depart. Was it the Greek traditions, or the Pink Palace conditions ?!

A couple of days later, I arrived in Athens, the heart of Greece. The city was at full steam, horns honking, Giros and Souvlaki cooking, vendors haggling, and people roaming the streets. It was hot and dry, but it was an incredible place for its history and design. Thousands of years old, the buildings showed their wrinkles.

I then visited two islands, Paros and Naxos. My diary reminds me of the dogs and the squid. A large number of homeless dogs surviving on local garbage and tourist generosity followed me from the time I arrived until I departed. The squid hung around all day too .. fishermen flung their catchings over the rafters to bake in the sun, until a hungry customer ordered one with beer and sauce. The smell was overwhelmingly ‘fishy’.

On the Road
part 4
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish !
February / March 1993

Where is Dr. Seuss when you need him? … And, how could the best memories of Egypt be so ‘fishy’ ?  Two good questions deserving some explanation.

From the beginning .. myself and another ‘wander-lust’ Canadian, whom I had met recently in Greece, decided spontaneously to postpone our parting by visiting Egypt. With such cheap flights and accommodations, the temptation was irresistible.

We arrived after dark, but just in time to catch the last bus down to Talaat Harb Street. Here within the still busy CAIRO centre, we found the ‘Oxford House’. This once magnificent eight storey building with cathedral ceilings, French windows, and a walkout balcony, told the tales of hundreds of hosteled hippies.  After reading the walls, we added a note and doodle.

The next day our comfort was cushioned by a warm welcome from an American family living in Maadi suburb. From this base, we ventured daily, acquainting ourselves with the new :

(1) Language:
Insha’ullah – God willing;   Shukran – thank you;   Ma’alish – never mind; Baksheesh – tip
(2) Currency: Egyptian Pound
(3) Staple food: Kushari – rice, noodles, lentil, onions and sauce;  Falafel and Foul sandwiches
(4) Popular cigarettes: Cleopatra
(5) Local Brew: Stella

Naturally, the history of Egypt as depicted by hieroglyphics and pyramids were of primary interest. It was this excursion to the desert, however, that called for a doctor. In a manoeuvre to capture three pyramids in one photo, I tripped and tumbled head over heels down a boulder and badly sprained my foot.  Ouch ! Ouch. Unfortunately this altered future plans to visit Aswan and Luxor for more history. Determined not to let this incumber our stay, we opted for snorkling in the Red Sea. There at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in a tiny village called Sharm El Sheikh, we rented a tent for a week. The red and blue colour of my foot was dull in comparison to the rainbow coloured fish and coral. We spent the better part of our days peacefully submerged in this tropical bath, even though things above the water were also very quiet – the Gulf War was a week from starting, and most tourists had cancelled any holiday plans.

On the Road
part 5
Hide and Sheikh
April / May 1993

” … 5 4 3 2 1 … ready or not, here we come !” Everybody was hiding;  the tension level was high; what was going to happen ?

On the way to India, I had a two day stop-over in Dubai one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). An emirate is a province ruled by an emir. Emir or in Arabic Amir is a prince, a nobleman.

Dubai is located on the southern shore of the Arabian Gulf. It is the ultimate shopper’s dream: air conditioned shopping malls as well as traditional Souk‘s, both duty free. Oil and trade manufacturing provide the basis for a prosperous economy.

Having arrived, I reported my whereabouts as requested by my family.  I added, however, teasingly, the reason being here was to “have breakfast with Saddam“, but their response was of serious concern: “GET OUT OF THERE RIGHT THIS MINUTE !

The newly surfaced streets were empty. The hotels were full. Security guards waited patiently.

Unfortunately my very brief stay and perspective of Dubai was from a hotel, as all visitors without visa’s were restricted from leaving the hotel, even momentarily. This is s standard policy of embassies to ensure our safety.

I wondered about the faces hidden behind the womens’ black veils, and I watched the children carry their belongings from one place to another.  I observed how the mens’ rooms were on one side of the hotel and the womens’ on the other, each with separate staircases leading to them.  The men dressed in neat crisp gowns too !

The menu at the hotel, however, was international, and the entertaining dance group was from Malaysia.

On the Road
part 6
‘A Long & En-LIGHTENED Load’
June / July 1993

I arrived in Delhi, but my pack did not. Was this the adventure I expected? What next? “Onward to the co-pilot seat of a dilapidated bus: 4:00 am. The driver, wrapped from head to toe in dark blankets, smoking a bidi, signaled to the men outside the front, and to my disbelief, the rocking bus jumped to a start. It squeaked in all its joints and shook every passenger up and down as it clipped along the ‘wrong side of the road’ just clearing cows, dogs, motor scooters, rickshaws and bullox carts”.

The same morning while recovering my wits with a sweet cup of ‘chi’ a delightful Kashmir boy reassured me, “India’s a good place to be”.  He then went on to explain several customs:

* When greeting, hold palms together at chin level, nod head, and say “Namaste“,
* When visiting a temple or home remove your shoes and accept sacred food,”Prasad“,
* Never put your hand on an adult’s head, it is a sign of disrespect,
* Apologise if your feet or shoes touch someone, don’t whistle,
* Use your right hand for scooping food and your left for cleaning after the toilet,
* Tip well if you wish good service in a restaurant, taxi, etc.,

I found the following four months emotionally and physically fulfilling. I exchanged language, culture and recipes with several families, for example: To count 1,2,3,4,5 is EK, DO, TIN, CHAR, PANCH .. and the history of the Lotus as a flower and ‘enlightening posture’;  Hindus erotic symbols of fertility;  Masula Dosa, Dal Baht for spaghetti and a ‘veggie’ burger! The two activities I enjoyed most were riding in the trains and shopping in the markets where the prices varied, the faces were ever-changing, and the fruits were often unknown to me .. “taste and surprise!”

Overall, I considered their ‘recycling’ to be most fascinating and ingenious: coconuts are eaten, used for oil, and the shell used as a cup and husked into a rope; cow dung is used for fuel and a scouring pad; banana leaves are used for plates; bamboo for baskets, shelters, pipes and musical instruments, etc. Since their items are biodegradable and not synthetic (like plastic or glass) they can return to the earth quickly and naturally”.

What does Canada need to achieve this “No haste, no waste” balance? … perhaps a few more pigs?

I have the fondest memories of India and hope to return .. to wear the flip-flops, roast the peanuts and smell the Sandle wood all over again.

On the Road
part 7
“Eye in the Sky”
September 1993

I arrived in Darjeeling, India’s northern most city, by the renowned Toy Train ride. It was February 15th and the Tibetan New Year’s party was lighting up the sky. The next morning an elderly British farmer, former tea planter and I were getting acquainted with the village when we came across a group of Nepalese children.  The happy yet timid characters volunteered to sing the ‘English’ Nick, Nack, Patty Wack, give a dog a bone’ song for us. There accents were so precious we wanted to talk more, but when they heard their taped voices they smiled, giggled and ran away.

Later that day, we found the Himalayan Trekking Institute and Sir Edward Hillary’s climbing gear from 1952 when he summited Mount Everest at 29000 F/8800 M. There must be great joy in being the first to do something!

After a week of adjustment to the food, the customs, and primarily the climate, it was time to move west to Katmandu. I took the chance of travelling by bus through Eastern Nepal, a route several travellers recommended to boycott – to no avail .. it was uncomfortable, long, hot, sticky, sandy, bumpy and loud. Once recovered, the adventure continued, five individuals looking for trekking partners were united; One Canadian, one German, one British, one Israeli and one Australian.

We set off on a ten day hike to Lang Tang Mountain and back. Towards the base camp, the bus crawled down one mountain, across a valley floor and river, up over and around another mountain. We sat on the edge of our roof seat – kind of like a safari or riding an elephant. We arrived late after one flat tire, one broken springe and another suspension problem. The trekking was challenging and rewarding. Along the way we met the Nepalese porters or Sherpas -famous as mountain climbers- who carried the most enormous load for tremendous distances; children fetching firewood and water, women spinning wool and cooking. Most of them smoked tobacco pipes and wore heavy felt-like blankets, capes and skirts with colourful embroidery distinguishing their village apart from the next. The women also wore a lot of heavy gold and traditional or ceremonial beads around their necks.

Now if you are still wondering why “eye adore yew”, I’ll have to explain that Nepal is so high up in the sky that it can heal all .. mistakes .. and by the way a Yew is not a Yak; lest I forget ! I had seen many ‘Yaks’ in Nepal, but only upon my return to Canada did I realize that they were YEWS..
With bright temple eyes
You see the sun rise
You see the moon fall
I adore you Nepal