Thursday, October 23, 2008

Highly Contagious

            If you’ve had a bad day and need to remember the big picture… and own a jet, I highly recommend visiting Penang, Malaysia. There is no stress, no problems, just love for others. The people on the island of Lankawi, which is a three-hour ferry ride from Penang, understand the flow. They understand that everyone is human, that there’s every reason to respect that and every reason to do nothing but enjoy themselves because of it.

            Sitting around the Submarine Beach Bar on my second night I realized that the Malaysian mentality is contagious. An old Brit at the bar, Paul, visited Malaysia as a twenty-year-old and now was here to stay. With his war pension it is cheaper for him to travel around the islands with his girlfriend (who he met on these travels) than go stale in the UK. He told me that those “lazy jobless bastards” he used to look down on are actually the “clever ones.” And thank the lord he’s now one of them.

            At the swivel stool next to me was a different beautiful story- Jade. She’s a ten-year-old girl that everyone at the bar took care of. I wish I could explain how this isn’t a disturbing situation, but have some faith. She’s home-schooled by her Italian mother and she’s far beyond her years. Within 10 minutes I loved her like family and understood why her friends were bar-goers that quadrupled her in age. Restrictions on friendship are a cultural rule. People like Jade infect people like Paul with values that matter. She treated me like she knew me her entire life, and why not. I now wear her wish bracelets and she’s off somewhere wearing a bracelet of mine.

This sure isn’t Jersey because… our friend and cab driver Hanif assigned himself as our personal chauffeur and picked up our ferry tickets 30 minutes away for no extra charge.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Culture Shock

I’m sitting in a clean room with clean hair and air conditioning. My stomach is full of food and I have a bathroom within walking distance. It has clean running water. The room smells like perfume.

            It’s strange that I can have this. It’s strange that out of the thousands of people I saw in India, only the Brahmans might have a chance to live like this. The wealthy live in disgusting luxury that mockingly encroaches up against the poor. All the rest live in a poverty that is indescribable, a poverty that doesn’t exist in the U.S.

            My bus had just ushered me to my secluded boat, away from a city that was a swarm of people that didn’t have enough room to live. And now sitting in a quiet room away from any humans felt wrong. I felt like I was floating somewhere between my “real” life and the images I had just escaped. The images were of the trash and filth overflowing the alleys and streets of Agra and Varanassi, cities that couldn’t handle the amount of people that they held.

             The people were polar opposites of those I saw in Africa. The people in the townships of Cape Town were beyond happy. The children played in the streets and the houses were painted pink and blue. But on the streets of India, smiling is not a part of daily life. There is no form of trash removal or sewage regulation. Children, mothers and men begged ferociously and clung to our arms as we walked into mosques or down stone streets. It was overwhelming and dirty, intense and beautiful, and a place that will flash in front of my eyes when I “pass out.”

This sure isn’t jersey because… the president is a woman.