24 October 2006

Ill in India

I'll get to being ill in India, but the historian in me is partial to chronological order. Since it's my blog, I'll start on Monday, Day 3.

Trying to get out of India

Monday morning broke beautifully. The sun was out and felt warm against my face. I decided to walk around a bit to take some photographs. While I was out, I saw Xavier, who is a cool activist from Southern California. I suggested that he join us for breakfast, which we had agreed would be at 8 am. I'm trying to arrange pictures into a panoramic shot, but it's not going particularly well. I'll try again a little later. Anyway, when we met up for breakfast, I learned something new: this is the season for tigers and leopards. Apparently, they come down out of the mountains and are often spotted at night. What makes this particularly humorous is that Dave had walked to TCV and back in the pitch black the night before, not thinking about the possibility of wild animals.

Monday morning posed a certain dilemma. Dave and I had agreed that we would use the break in the conference schedule to go to McLeod Ganj and arrange our travel out of Dharamsala as well as take some money out of the bank. We could take a taxi for eleven hours (or more), but neither of us were very keen to do that. First, if we could fly, we might be able to attend more of the workshops. Second, neither of us are particularly keen on how cab drivers here practice their trade. We also decided that we could take the train, but we had heard mixed reviews of taking the train and decided that flying was our first option. The dilemma was additionally complicated by what a colleague revealed to us over breakfast. The Dalai Lama was going to be at TCV (Tibetan Children's Village) that morning for a children's festival. It would be our only chance to see him. As much as I relished the idea of being in the general facility of his holiness, I decided that for me travel was more important. So, I'm sorry, dear reader, that I have no photograph of him for you.

Little did we know that most things are closed on Mondays. We found a travel shop that seemed open, but in fact it too was closed at 09:00. We were instructed to return at 10:30. I was a little concerned that our cab driver would be left in the lurch, as we had asked him to come back at 11. I wasn't wrong to worry about that, but on the other hand he surely understands that time in India has its own rhythm. Sometimes it is very fast, but whenever one tries to conduct business or order a meal, it is rather slower. We took the opportunity to try to find a coffee shop that had been recommended, but it too was closed. We found someplace that advertized drip coffee, which had to be better than the coffee that I had the first morning. It was better, but I'll be glad to return to my own coffee stores.

We returned to the travel agent, who said that there was a possibility to fly, but that he could not arrange this himself. We were instructed to walk back to the main square and look for Dream Travel. Dream Travel happens to be located inside a little building and is not easily accessible from the outside. On a hunch, I walked down the correct street (there were six to choose from) and found it. The man inside was very nice. He said we could not get the flight from the Kangra Regional Airport, which was only one hour away, but we could get the flight from the Jammu airport, which was four hours away. All total, the cost would be $220. That seemed like a lot, but since we were going to be reimbursed and it was our time, we decided to take the flight.

For those of you who don't know your Indian geography, Jammu is one half of the name of a province. The other name happens to be one of my favorite songs by Led Zepplin: Kashmir. Jammu itself can't be less than 100 km (60 miles) from the Pakistani border. There is part of me that is concerned about this decision. I think it is my mother's voice. There is another part of me that thinks that this flight leaves every day, and when I asked about security, I was assured that there had been no major incidents on the flight from Jammu to Delhi.

Actually purchasing the tickets turned out to be a mission of its own. My credit card wouldn't work, which was exceptionally annoying. The company had put a block on my credit card because I had charged a car rental in South Africa. I appreciate their sentiment, but it was rather annoying! I had to call them and tell them that I was in India for work, and then I was traveling to South Africa for work, and would they please let me manage my own credit. However, it still didn't work because the guy kept trying to put a cash advance, rather than a purchase, on the card. I'm glad I gave him that card because cash advances on credit cards are murder. Dave stepped in to fix the problem by putting it on his credit card. Then we waited thirty minutes to have the tickets printed, and we were off to TCV and the official start of the conference.

The conference started without much fanfare. The opening speaker talked about the role of the school. Dr. Roger Downer lived up to his name as the next speaker. He tried to outline the useful of wireless technology in tackling global problems. He argued that the first world is evil and that sustainable development was a myth propogated by the rich to suppress the poor. He couldn't do math (even from his own slide) and he contended that the only institutions that could really effect global change are the nation state and multinational corporations. Remember, almost everyone in that audience lives their lives in ways that are contrary to that argument. The next speaker was one of the organizers, and he must have thrown together his slides at the last possible moment, because they were more disorganized than he was.

I don't know if any of you have heard of Richard Stallman, but hopefully you have heard of the GNU project. Stallman started the GNU project as a professor at MIT in order to counteract the evils of proprietary software. The GNU project argues that software should be free in every sense: freely available, freely copiable, and freely alterable. It's a good idea whose time is certainly now, as most of the wireless initiatives work under some form of the GNU project license, GPL. However, Stallman is one of those guys who beats you over the head with his message. The result is that while I might agree with many of his arguments, listening to him can be a bruising experience.

And then there was Colonel Dave Hughes. Colonel Dave Hughes reminds me a Foghorn Leghorn, except with more substance. He's clearly a really bright guy who managed to do some really interesting things. But he is also a cocky, brash cowboy want-to-be. I say that he's a wanna-be because as much as people might associate his demeanor as the stereotypical cowboy, I've known enough cowboys, most notably my grandfather, to know that Dave Hughes acts more like a ranch owner than a cow-hand. What really set me off was his faux graciousness toward the Dalai Lama. Hughes asked the audience if it was okay for him to present a white silk scarf to the Dalai Lama's secretary on our behalf as an act of respect. I think most people raised their hands, but I didn't. I was just offended by the showmanship of the whole thing. To me it didn't seem to be a genuine act of respect. It seemed to be more grandstanding and bluster.

Evening Activities

Dave and I decided to walk back to our hotel and then head down to McLeod Ganj to grab a bite to eat. We had heard that people were going to be gathering at the Jungle Hut, and we thought we would try to join them. According to the website, the walk from TCV to Hotel Shikhar is 1.5 km, or about a mile. If that is true, it is probably 0.5 kilometers of horizontal travel and 1 kilometer verticle. Still, Dave was very gracious as I had to stop many, many times on that walk. By the time I got back to the hotel, I was hot, my heart was pounding, and it wouldn't have surprised me if I had a heartattack right there. Fortunately, that didn't happen. We both grabbed some warmer clothing and hopped in the cab for the Jungle Hut.

The Jungle Hut is about 200 meters outside of McLeod Ganj. It is, as it's name suggests, a hut, hanging out over a ravine. Still, it looked like a fairly nice place to eat, and so I decided to have something that I have been wanting to try for some time: rogan josh. Rogan josh is lamb stewed in a clay pot. It is a punjabi dish, if I am not mistaken, but it is widely known throughout Indian restaurants around the world. This was the first time that I had had meat since the previous Wednesday. I decided that this restaurant looked safe enough to try the dish. In the meantime, we met up with someone from the conference, Kingsly John. Kingsly was a particularly nice fellow from Bangalore who did freelance work for several companies on the east coast. He was full of useful information, like the fact that the snow on the mountains had falled just the previous week and that winter seemed to be coming quite early this year. He also explained why Dave's telephone is not working (which is too technical for me to launch into here).

When the food finally came, I discovered that there was very little meat in my rogan josh. It was first and foremost bones, followed by gristle. Dinner was, thus, rather unsatisfying, outside of the delicious naan. I had asked for rice, as at least that would soak up the sauce, but none was delivered. I was also told later that I was not allowed to order another tea after the meal. I didn't tip much, which is to say that I tipped what I probably should have been tipping but substantially less than I normally do. What made all of this more miserable is that the air had taken a particularly frosty turn, and I was shivering during the meal.

By the time we arrived at the hotel, I was feeling rotten. I was cold and my stomach seemed to have passed judgement against the rogan josh. As I turned on one of the lights in my room, the electricity went out, which suggested to me that I should go straight to bed.

Shivering and Burning

I woke up several times in the night with a very unhappy stomach. I forced myself back to sleep until about 7 am, when I got up to turn on the boiler for my shower. The power had come back on over night, but as soon as I flipped the switch to turn on the boiler, it went off again. By 8, Dave had decided that the electricity was not going to come back on and so we should just go to breakfast. I had a very solid breakfast: toast, cornflakes with hot milk, scrambled egges, and lemon tea. Frankly, it seemed like every bite made me feel worse.

By the end of breakfast I had decided not to go to the conference this morning. I decided that I would crawl back in bed and try to sleep off this nasty feeling. It was a good idea. Once I got into bed, I started shivering and burning all at the same time. My stomach was extremely upset, and I just felt awful. I fell asleep, woke up, turned over, fell asleep again. This lasted until 17:00, when I finally woke up and felt good. In the meantime, the handyman had come to fix my shower and the cleaning lady had cleaned up after them. I barely noticed.

It's now 19:00, and I am both hungry and extremely wary of eating anything. I am sweaty the cold sweats, but I dare not take a shower, less the electricity goes out again. I would really like some soup, and perhaps a lemon tea, but I'm not sure that I want to go downstairs to get them.

Post-Dinner Notes

Dinner was fine. Cream of vegetable soup tasted nice. Dave is becoming quite frustrated with the hotel. I think mostly that he is jetlagged, but there are also some things that are becoming rather annoying. Babalu (sp?), the concierge (for lack of a better word), is becoming a little obnoxious. He is constantly hovering, wanting to know our plans. At first this seemed more genuine, but as time goes on it seems more like he is looking for ways to make a buck. I don't resent him for wanting to make money, but I don't feel like being a cash cow, either.

Perhaps the best part of this evening was realizing that I could turn on the television. This might not seem like such a big deal, but when the International Cricket Championship is on television there is reason for rejoicing. My joy is increased because South Africa is playing Sri Lanka. The South Africans went 219 for 9, and the Sri Lankans went 141 for 10. I know that when Helen reads this, she's going to be jealous.

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