Behold, the Power of Cheese
the city side of Varanasi

Behold, the Power of Cheese

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Mmm, cheese.

It’s good to be home.  Back in the, back in the, back in the USA that is.

Yeah, a bit of culture shock, but it is offset by a few things.  While there are the usual biggies we miss when we’re away – friends and family of course – there are the little things as well.  Like taking a shower and not soaking the whole bathroom because the shower is really just stuck on the wall in most places rather than compartmentalized in a tub.  I’m glad to have a quiet night of sleep, undisturbed by fighting dogs, prayer bells and honking horns.  I missed The Daily Show although I’d hoped that The Colbert Report would have dramatically improved while I was gone.  It hasn’t.  And, yes, I missed cheese.  (I like cheese.)  Sounds silly I know but it’s hard to get real cheese in India.  Funny because, as you may be aware, there are an awful lot of cows.

Further, I’m glad to sleep in the same bed for more than three nights in a row.  I’m also happy to be out of cities where blowing one’s nose results in an unseemly grayish sample, the result of the exhaust, dust and general detritus that colors India’s air.

On the other hand, it’s tough to adjust to the prices.  Everything in the US now seems so darn expensive.  I have to fight the urge to ring for the manager at my local supermarket and berate him for the cost of an apple or a jug of milk and then offer a more reasonable price from which we can begin our haggling.

Another tricky adjustment is what I’ll call Bodysnatcher Syndrome.  I’ll go out to get the mail or drive to the store (yes, driving in a more rule-bound system is different as well – as is crossing the street as I now keep checking right – left – left – right – right – left to compensate for the left-side drive and the possibility of reverse traffic on one-way streets) and it hits me: Where are all the people?!?!  The amount of space is a bit eerie after the chockablock crowds of India; no one in India will say “sorry” or “excuse me” if he or she bumps into you – why bother when there are a billion people, it’s a fact that you’re going to rub shoulders once in a while so why waste time apologizing for it?

As for what I’ll miss about India that I can’t take home, there’s a lot.  My surroundings seem rather plain without India’s dollops of unexpected color everywhere.  The fresh food was great – save for the rather bland McAloo Tikki burger and its fellow offerings at the world’s favorite fast food joint.  But to that end, I’m also going to miss the luxury of having a whole country that understands how to make a meatless dish.  We haven’t quite gotten to the point here at home.  A few years ago I went to a lunch event where I’d requested the vegetarian meal.  I showed up and found hot dogs and hamburgers.  When I asked what the vegetarian option was one of the servers directed me to a dip tray with a few pieces of broccoli and baby carrots.  Not much of a lunch.

And then there’s the energy.  I guess there’s a bit of Charles’ Law or thermodynamics or whatever with India: there are a lot of people in a confined space all moving around so there’s bound to be some energy created.  But it’s more than just a swirl of people coming together.  India has a feel.  You can’t neglect the poverty, but it is generally upbeat and positive.  It’s interesting to be in the midst of societal change on a continental level.  Argue as you will whether it’s a good thing that India is changing and modernizing, there’s no escaping that the feel here is different than other developing countries (I grew up with the term “third world” but that seems un-PC these days).  In Syria, Ecuador, Bulgaria or a host of other countries that are even doing better than India on a per-capita basis, (India: $620, Syria: $1190, Ecuador: $2180, Bulgaria: $2740), you don’t get the feeling there’s a lot of optimism there.  Syria may not be much different in 10 years (um, provided they don’t get a surprise visit from the Third Army) but India in a decade will certainly look different.