Pashington Obeng Jr.
July 2009 / Went for one week.
I knew the trip would be uncomfortable. I told myself it would be an exercise in patience and understanding. I recalled all the images and stories I knew of India from the videos and pictures my dad shared from his trips. From everything I researched, India would indeed be uncomfortable, and also very far away.
Oregon, London, Bangalore, Hubli. Two days traveling. Two real, full days. Two cramped in the plane, really hungry because I don’t eat plane food, time traveling, jet lagged days. Two uncomfortable days.
Arriving too tired and hungry to register what was going on, I could tell it was warm, but it was tolerable. It was humid, but livable, and I kept wondering how real planes landed in such a small airport. The kind of airport that opened daily for only one flight. After that flight the airport closed.
Luckily for me there was a protest going on at the “airport.” I hoped it was not directed at my arrival at this “pretend airport.”
As I stood outside watching, a small gentleman walked up to me. He said “Hi, Junior” and then reached for my bag. First, I’m a seasoned traveler and don’t respond to strangers. Second, I don’t give strangers my bags outside of airports. I kinda just looked at him puzzled. I was too tired to fight back, but confident in my abilities to run if necessary. Moments later the joke was on me. My dad stood deep in the parking lot watching the whole interaction, laughing to himself. After two days of traveling from the other side of the globe, very hungry, tired, and defensive, my dad thought it would be funny to psychologically poke me. Welcome to India.
I left all preconceived notions at the airport that morning. We drove straight from the airport into a village where we sat with Siddi elders during a meeting. There was no downtime, no checking into a hotel to rest. We went right into the heart of India. Right smack into uncomfortable. And inside that state of mind slowly incredible things happened. Once you jump into uncomfortable, once you breathe, and eat, and talk, and walk in uncomfortable, it changes.
India is full of people. People with stories. The nuns, the Siddis, the strangers, the Fathers, the shopkeepers, the Tibetan monks, 10 thousand of them, the bartenders, the storytellers, the friends, the orphans, the city goers and the villagers.
We had adventures. We drove for hours through the night, dodging cows and other animals, only God knows what they were that jumped into the road. We visited temples, and villages, and schools, and huts, and homes, and shrines, and walked under sleeping bats. We trekked through mud and tall grass. I went along and partook in almost everything. I refused some places because I was scared. We drank chai, and milk, and soda, and water and paid the price for all of it. We ate on rooftops circling mosquito coil, and forgot we were wet all day long, every single day. I listened to stories of hardship, and suffering, and desperation. I listened to stories of promise, and hope, knowledge, and experience. I rode on a motorbike and fought a tow truck over it. I redefined my concept of personal space, and understanding of city traffic. I saw trash and treasures and sometimes at the same time. I watched cricket, and no TV. I listened to my music and their music, and loved all of it. I watched monkeys, and birds, and cows, and wild pigs in the street. I saw street markets, and parades, and shopping malls, and rivers of trash. I laughed with orphans, and smiled with school children. I was followed, and pointed at, and mocked, and thanked, and welcomed. We laughed a lot and also sat in silence and just looked out the window. We nodded to each other in understanding, and pointed at amazing things in amazement. We followed some directions and also paved our own way. We were spiritual and questioning and back to spiritual again.
I walked in the footsteps of the Holy and unholy, the weak and the strong. The wealthy and the forgotten. I learned the difference between having food and still being hungry for it, and not knowing food and being thankful for it. I learned about the caste system, and I’m still trying to understand it. I sat with gods, and goddesses and took my shoes off every time. We drove in traffic and didn’t die. We drove in traffic and and saw someone that died on road. I was stared at from the moment I landed in India until the nanosecond I left, and I got used to it. I learned about the Siddis and the connection I have with them as a West African. I slept on hard surfaces, and wore the same clothes day after day, and no one made fun of me for it. We ate Indian food in India, which doesn’t taste like Indian food in America. We ate Chinese food in India, which doesn’t taste like Chinese food in America. We ate food in India that didn’t taste like Indian food. I saw Bangalore, and Hubli, and this other place, and that place as well. I gave my clothes away and bought things for other people.
I traveled across the world to learn more about myself, and my father, and India, and people, and problems, and promise.
I will be forever grateful for the experience. The ability to dive into another world and have the freedom to listen and observe and be welcomed. To be fortunate enough to experience all of that and still get to go home afterward. The opportunity to travel with my dad and not only learn from him, but learn with him.
Bangalore, Dubai, Ghana, London, Oregon.
I returned in one piece.
Pashington Obeng Jr
Account Director, AHA Agency
Lives in Portland, OR
Also privileged to be the son of Rev. Dr. Pashington Obeng