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#4: E-Postcards from Abroad

By Elizabeth Fisk

These Dispatches could use a voice and a take or two other than my own, particularly since I am really cranking on my Rwanda book and am not traveling and don’t have the time until around March 1st to post anything substantial except for old work myself. Fortuitously, Liz Fisk has gloriously and exuberantly arrived to fill the void.  Liz  is a young woman from Massachusetts who is a good friend of my sons, Nick and Andre (the latter, now in Utah, telemarking in nine feet of powder, is the designer of this site) and is spending her junior year at Skidmore abroad, in Africa and India. As she demonstrates in this short mass e-mail to her friends, which she has been kind enough to let us post, she is a writer. We hope to hear more from her when she gets to India.

                       -Alex Shoumatoff

Part 1: Hamjambo!
To : Alex Shoumatoff & others

Hello All!  I thought it was time for another mass e-mail as my time in 
Tanzania is almost up and there are many of you I haven’t responded to.  I 
can’t believe that it’s almost December and my freckles are still in 
abundance and the only snow I have seen is that on the top of Kiliminjaro. 
You would never guess that I have been here for a month given my impressive 
Swahili skills which are limited to the greetings and the way I wear my 
kanga- the traditional dress in these parts which women use to cover 
themselves, except I have yet to master the art of tying it and with the 
slightest breeze I flash the whole street- maybe that is why I have gotten 
so many marriage proposals!  By the way, there is nothing more endearing 
than a short Zanzari with rotting teeth saying “I love you” in broken 
English.  I’m still trying to get used to to the right hand thing, being a 
traditional left-hander ain’t easy in these parts- but I better embrace it 
because it’s all teh rage in India as well.  And the toilets here. . . a 
completely different breed they are. . . most of them are in the ground and 
there is rarely toilet paper or water for flushing- I’ll spare you the 
details of what I have seen in the ‘choos’ as they are called around here- 
everything from cockroaches to. . . I’ll let you use your imagination on 
that one.  I lived with a lovely family for the first two weeks in Zanzibar- 
it wasn’t the most relaxing as communication was limited, but I got to eat 
some delicious fish heads and octopus soup.  The six-year-old daughter also 
taught me some mean (slang for really cool for all of those that didn’t grow 
up in the 80s and 90s) handclaps that I will teach you all upon my return. 
We just returned to Zanzibar after travelling for 10 days in the bush of 
Northern Tanzania in bad ass Land Rovers- checking out all the animals I 
have been romanticizing for my whole life.  Don’t get me wrong, it was 
awesome when I saw that first elephant, but after about the fifteenth, they 
begin to  lose their charm.  I spent the nights in Moshi dancing my hear out 
to Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and all those other American pop 
masters.  We have done a lot of traditional African dancing since we have 
been here, which is incredible- the women here shake their rumps like 
nothing I have ever seen before.  I’m sure it is amusing to onlookers to see 
the six-foot white girl shaking her butt, or lack there of in my case, but I 
enjoy it none the less.  Don’t let my sarcasm fool you, I am having an 
incredible time here, the only thing missing is all of you, but I’m sure you 
all have your stories as well, so feel free to write and tell me all about 
them. . . I will write another big e-mail from India, but until then, take 
care. . .

love,
Liz aka Elizabeth, Tizzer, Skizzer, Liz-B, Big Bird, Sloth, Gentle Giant, 
and the list goes on. . .

PS I am probably going to spend my Indian vacation in the Northern part of 
India- near Delhi, so if anyone has any connections or suggestions please 
let me know!  Ashante sana!

Part 2:  Happy New Year everyone!!! 
Sorry I have been so bad at keeping in touch recently- I have been in the one peaceful place in India for the last week or so fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter. . .we got to help in a community development project that involved controlled burns, and it was our job to make sure the fires didn’t get out of hand by beating them with palm frawns. Anyway, it was a lot of fun. . .We have been in
India for over 7 weeks now, and what a crazy 7 weeks they have been. . . We arrived in Delhi just in time for the attack on Parliament, which you would think would have made Delhi pretty crazy, but judging from my observations before in comparison to the days since, I don’t think the city can get much crazier. I had a rather rude awakening the second day in Delhi when I tried to find my homestay. . . the adress was 33 J-St so I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult- I took a rickshaw to the section of town and then assumed I could just follow the grid, but that was a rather stupid assumption- why, if you were a city planner, and had a street for every letter of the alphabet would you put them in any sort of order?  If you do that you miss out on the fun of watching foreigners walk the streets looking completely bewildered, which I have noticed is one of the favorite pastimes of Indian men.  And there is an unspoken rule in this country that you cannot respond “I don’t
know” to any question, so often times they’ll just make up some random answer, sending the foreign girl on a wild goose chase- yeah, it’s pretty funny the great thing about it is that just when you think you’re going insane, a cow walks out into the middle of the street, pausing traffic and the insanity for just a second, and all you can do is laugh.
I have spent the majority of the time here travelling around on every form of transportation imaginable- from buses, to trucks, to rickshaws, to motorcycles. . . and no matter how big or small the vehicle may be, the driver always has the same mentality- “I own this road and nobody, no animals,no nothing will get in my way of reaching my destination. . .”the only exception are the cows, you have to stop for the cows, but even then it’s only at the very last second before Mr. Holy Cow becomes ground beef.  Travelling in India has to be one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done in my life, and at the end of everyday I am so thankful to still have my life.  You remember those choos, the toilets, that I talked about in my last e-mail from Tanzania, yeah, well those are completely overrated, who needs bathrooms when they’ve got sidewalks?  I read somewhere that Indian peasants get claustrophobic in enclosed latrines so as you drive along the city streets of Mumbai, whole families will be lined up by the side of the road relieving themselves, and later that day an “untouchable” will come and clean up after them, just so their morning ritual will not be abated.

The whole caste system thing completely befuddles me- I know that people say the U.S. isn’t much better, but after my New Year’s Eve was spent watching 4 big (at least big in Indian standards) men in their 20’s stand aside while their 70-year-old servant tried to fix their car, and when he couldn’t he was left to sleep on the side of the road with the car until morning while the rest of us went on to a party, I would beg to differ about the situation in the U.S.

Anyhow, this is one incredible country- any of you who enjoy personal space, i would suggest you never come to this country.  This is one of the first times I have done e-mail without anyone looking over my shoulder and correcting me when I make a spelling error- We had a 10-day vacation and a few of us tried to get away from it all, but we soon realized it was a lot harder than we thought. . . even when we hid out in our hotel room, watching HBO and eating chocolate, we would get a knock on our door every 20 minutes  asking us if we wanted chai or towels, actually we were really lucky if we even got a knock, oftentimes they would just open the door and walk right in. . . no shame whatsoever.  If there is one thing I am learning on this trip it’s how to have patience. . . and what an important lesson it is.

Some people in the group are having more trouble with it than others, but we’re getting along just fine.  We head to the Philippines tomorrow and although I have had an incredible time here, I will not miss the stench of urine that has been penetrating my nostrils for the past 7 weeks and I look forward to breathing oxygen once again.  I hope all is well back in
the homeland. . . xoxo Liz