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Musings

Filtering by Tag: Vagablonde

The Road to PyeongChang Starts at 1 Victory Lane

Megan Harrod

***Disclaimer: I hope you all can read, because I’m not providing audio for this one since it’s abbreviated and there’s a video component. If you can’t, your problem is bigger than me. You got this.***

For the last four years I've worked for the U.S. Ski Team as their Alpine Press Officer, traveling the world, working to make stars shine. To put it in terms most can understand, I often drive thousands of kilometers in the winter, carry bags that are far too heavy and borderline give me a heart attack (the men's speed team's is always the heaviest...can you say "divas"?! Haha, joking. Kind of.), make sure athletes are hydrated in the finish area and have snacks, ensure they don't have anything stuck in their teeth or boogers in their nose and they don't say anything that could negatively affect their or the U.S. Ski Team's brand image to the media. That's my job.

I'm in the background, usually smiling, wearing leggings of some sort and with a unicorn mask in my finish bag. I love amplifying athlete stories. I love storytelling in general. The passion I have for my work is something I'm very grateful for, and the places it takes me are stunning...from the sunrises in New Zealand to the chaotic mess of humans drooling over ski racing gods in Kitzbuehel - my eyes have seen far more than most can ever dream of. The relationships created and the memories made along the way, are something I will never forget. 

My work has become such a focus in my life (at times the lines are incredibly blurred between work and my personal life...almost too much so) over the last few years. Living on the road for nine months of the year, it's been challenging to find a home in Park City, where my headquarters lives. So, last year when I had the chance to live in a recreational vehicle purchased on a whim by my parents, I thought...why not just live at my headquarters?! And so it began. The Road to PyeongChang literally started at 1 Victory Lane, where I parked "Westward Ho" - as I named her. Home is where you park it, after all, right?! Or something...

Anyway, for much of the summer I lived in Westward Ho, and my friend Chelsea and I thought it'd be fun to put together a little spin-off of "MTV Cribs" deemed "COE Cribs". At the time, a nordic coach whom I lovingly referred to as my "H.O.A. president" was also parked at the office in a Sprinter. It goes without saying that his vehicle was cooler than mine, but I think mine had much more character. Late night chats about the mobile life, sharing of bear spray and beyond - we bonded as a little #OneTeam community. 

Throughout the whole experiment, the biggest eye opener for me was how others reacted to my decision to live in 20-year-old RV. Every guy I talked to thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever heard. Most of the gals I talked to, though, cringed. Intriguing and fascinating learnings on human behavior, gender differences, and priorities that we have when we arrive to our 30s. I don't have kids. I don't have a husband. I don't have a home. I DO have a car (Aspen the Subie -  you've met her if you've watched the video. Actually, we're unsure of the gender there, so I should say "it."), a loving family and friends who support me, a sturdy set of backpacks (Thanks, Topo Designs), a roof over my head (now), a passport, and food (the buffet tour feeds me well in the winter - too well)...so I don't really need anything else. I see and experience things I've always wanted to see and experience, and though I'll likely get tired of moving thousands of miles every winter from point A to B and picking athletes' boogers, I am happy where I am at the moment. 

There were some drawbacks to the RV life...including the breakdown on the initial journey from Minneapolis to Park City with my friend Keely that featured an exciting towing experience by our new friend Doug (who let us borrow his car so we could go to a movie and a Mexican restaurant), and a stay in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota for a couple of days and some initial DMs to my now-boyfriend-then-Instagram-connection, who was also traveling across the country at the time (I slid in and asked if he had room for two gals in his car...he was already 130 miles beyond us). Additionally, there was the leaky roof which led to an attic flood that destroyed many of my clothes. However, for the most part, it was a good life, a good run, and I slept hard. I even kind of miss my morning wake up calls by athletes on the slack line outside my bedroom window, or my tea dates with my former supervisor at my dining room table. For a short time, it was a good time leading into a season that would have me travel across the globe, with the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea as the pinnacle event. I hope you enjoy this limited edition episode of "COE Cribs" as much as I enjoyed making it. 

Shout-out to Chelsea for filming on the GoPro, and my sis Mikaela for editing it. And, of course, shout-out to my mother and father for still supporting me at #ageofjesus+2...and a big thank you to Westward Ho herself. 

Love, 

Vagablonde

Girl on Fire

Megan Harrod

Here's a fun little throwback. This winter I had the pleasure of having a savvy little sidekick by the name of Lexi Black join me on the Super Combined day at Vail/Beaver Creek World Championships to shadow me and share my story in a feature called, "Girl on Fire: A Day in the Life of U.S. Press Officer Megan Harrod". Lexi did an incredible job writing the piece, and in the  process I had so much fun hanging with her. Someday, this girl will rule the world. Well done, Lexi. You're a rockstar. And you can join me on the mountain any ol' day! Just for ol' time's sake, here's the piece...


Pop culture has had its fair share of “girls on fire” in recent years, including the self-proclaimed “on fire” singer Alicia Keys and the blazing heroine of the Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen.

But anyone who finds these figures deserving of that title hasn’t met Megan Harrod. She is the embodiment of a red-hot spark — lively, bright, feisty, and never, under any circumstances, stagnant.

Not that her position as the U.S. Ski Team Alpine Press Officer allows much stationary time; the media never quits, and by extension, neither does a press officer. Generally speaking, her long work days consist of supervising interviews, shuffling athletes back and forth from the finish to press pens, keeping tabs on televised appearances, and otherwise conducting the near impossible feat of keeping up with both athletes and their public representation.

It’s a job meant for someone energetic, intelligent, sociable, media-savvy, and passionate for the sport — all of which inherent traits of Megan, who officially joined the U.S. Ski Team last October. I was lucky enough to catch up with her at the 2015 World Championships in Vail, and spent the day of the men’s super combined keeping up with the high pace of the fireball herself.

My day with Megan began at 8 a.m. in the official housing facility of the U.S. Ski Team, the Osprey Hotel (they really can’t get enough of their predatory birds here). As I tentatively wandered through the front door, I spotted the already busy Megan lugging around a boot bag, a pair of skis and poles, and such a monstrous equipment bag that it could probably encompass a small country (Vatican City, maybe?).

After organizing the heap of bags, we had some time to sit and chat, mostly about Travis Ganong’s silver the previous day, while Megan returned to her half-finished breakfast. She had accompanied Ganong from the finish to multiple interviews, a press conference, a Universal Sports appearance, the awards ceremony, a party at the Audi VIP Lounge in Vail, and a brief debut at a trustee dinner. Finally, she told me, around 8:30 p.m., the relentless succession of a podium athlete’s appearances were over — yet somehow there was still enough energy for them to burn up the dance floor in celebration a couple of hours later at Beaver Creek’s bar of choice, the Coyote Cafe.

As fun as it all sounded, I had to imagine that such long days would become vaguely nightmarish after awhile, but Harrod talked about it so excitedly that some part of me wondered if the girl was even capable of complaining or getting tired — or if she was human at all?

The shuttle that would take us to the Red Tail Stadium rolled up soon after, and we rushed to compose both ourselves and our staggering amount of equipment. Megan donned her good-luck Wonder Woman socks, pulling them up over her star-spangled, red-white-and-blue leggings before piling onto the little green bus. As we rode up to the hill, all I could do was listen and laugh to myself as Megan bantered with the bus riders — coaches, physios, and Beaver Creek volunteers. She joked about her wannabe boyfriend, Christof Innerhoffer, the stellar dance moves displayed the night before by U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick, her infamous lifelike latex unicorn mask, and how she managed to photobomb Dennis Quaid’s selfie at the Audi Lounge.

Megan had warmed up the air around our cluster of international ski officials so much that by the time we climbed into the bed of a snow-treaded pickup truck to take us the remainder of the way, everyone had joined in on the chitchat — including an Italian coach doing his rendition of Ben Stiller in “Starsky and Hutch.”

After ditching a portion of the gear at the finish area, we headed up the chairlift for inspection. From the top of the chair, the last segment of our transportation saga was hitching a ride behind a snowmobile to the starthouse. There were no drivers to be seen when we arrived at the snowmobiles, and for a brief instant, Megan displayed another side of herself which I hadn’t seen yet — a fierce authoritativeness that sparked in her voice as she called down to volunteers to ask where the drivers were. The demand was met seconds later as a driver trotted up to us, and Megan returned instantly to her lighthearted self, moping that I had gotten the faster snowmobile.

I’d never inspected a World Cup downhill, so by the time we were slipping the Birds Of Prey, I was practically shaking with a mix of disbelief, exhilaration, and the vague fear that I’d tip over on the Brink and slide to the very bottom of the pitch (actually quite possible).

We clicked into our skis and I tentatively made my way down, attempting to keep up with Megan, who indifferently flew down the hill and paused only to cast a few “thank you’s” over her shoulder to the volunteer course workers lining the hill. We’d come to a stop every now and then, Megan would nonchalantly introduce me to several coaches, and we’d take off again while I internally screamed with excitement.

Nothing, however, was quite as incredible as coming over the top of the Red Tail jump. Megan laid down a couple casual arcs, and I followed in her wake, for the first time understanding to some level what it must feel like to go through the finish line before Red Tail Stadium’s massive crowds.

After inspection, we returned to the press room, where Megan wrote her “World Cup Notes” to email out to the members of the media. It was a calm before the storm as she was soon out of her seat to take her place in the athlete area outside the finish corral. I assumed my own position in a press pen on the opposite side of the corral, where I watched the race alongside flocks of journalists.

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Photo: Lexi Black

Megan would appear every now and then, athlete in tow, dialed back slightly from her usual eccentricity and demonstrating glimpses of the authority I’d witnessed earlier as journalists squished together to record the athlete’s post-racing quotes. There was no question that when Megan was on the job, she had her priorities set.

After the race, it didn’t seem like much time had passed before Megan fetched me from the pressroom for the slalom inspection. We caught up with a couple of U.S. Ski Team coaches and stood with them as athletes slid by, poking fun at the out-of-place behemoth downhillers about to attempt the slalom and the spring-chicken D-Team athletes ready to forerun. After we’d had our fun, we left the coaches to their raillery and skied over to Red Tail. The stands had become an incredible rippling sea of multicolored figures and flags. The vista was too tempting; the two of us shamelessly posed for a selfie, the finish banner and colossal crowd of fans as our backdrop (#sorrynotsorry).

    

 

 

From there, Megan’s day picked up pace exponentially — Ligety received a somewhat unexpected bronze, which lined her schedule with post-podium affairs long after I’d leave the hill. I was decently tired from following her around for less than half of her work day (granted, I had binge-watched Netflix until ungodly hours of the morning the night before) and I couldn’t imagine how she’d now be continuing on to even more events.

What was even more astounding is how Megan could do this, day after day, weeks at a time, and never have that flame of hers put out. There’s one simple conclusion I could work out: she really has a passion for this industry. She’s wholeheartedly committed to this unremitting world she lives in, endlessly supporting the athletes, working hard at the tasks set before her, and befriending people from all walks of skiing life along the way.

Look out for the signs — officials laughing more than usual, athletes cracking grins even after bad runs, smoother-than-usual press and athlete relations, or a unicorn on skis — because where there’s smoke, there’s Megan.

Lexi Black, Guest Contributor
Lexi Black grew up racing in Sun Valley, Idaho, and is currently attending Holderness School in New Hampshire. She's a nature enthusiast and avid adventurer.


Isn't Lexi just an unreal writer?! Ahhh, this throwback makes me yearn for snow and for the adrenaline rush and chaos of ski season. I can't wait! I love my job!

Chitta Happens: Namaste, Muthaf*ckas!

Megan Harrod

A lot of people asked me why I was going to India in the heat of the summer, and as the monsoon was about to hit. India has always called me, but over the last couple of years I had been thinking more and more about India. The colors, the smells, the people, yoga, Hinduism, the textiles and handcraft, the beaches of the south and the gateway to the Himalayas...all if it. I yearned to be consumed by the culture. 

I keep a running list of Travel To Do's...places like India I've always wanted to visit. Morocco, New Zealand, Fiji, Ghana, Iceland, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, South Africa, and more...I want to see it all. I spent Christmas alone in 2014, sitting at my favorite teahouse in Cesky Krumlov smoking shisha and intention-setting. I told myself I'd make it a priority to make 1-2 of these happen each year, exploring new ground. And I set the biggest and most important intention I'll ever set: to continue to be true to myself. And, further, I'd write a book. Let's start with India, I thought. Why not?! It's like a rite of passage for the solo traveler. I had been wanting to meet Arushi and the artisans I once worked with while at Ethnotek. So I booked my ticket. That's half the battle right?

A seasoned traveler, having traveled and lived all over Europe, the States and traveling to South America, I was looking forward to uncharted territories further East. I knew India would be different...not only because I hadn't traveled more than two weeks at a time previously. I had spoken to Indian friends and a few gal friends who had traveled India solo. I had heard stories of misadventures aplenty: the famed 'Delhi Belly,' the staring culture, the cremation ceremonies in the holy city of Varanasi, the heat, the mess of the monsoon, the poverty and sheer numbers of people...all of it. As I always do, I attempted to approach the meeting of India with an open mind and an open heart. I saw and experienced the good...so much of it. But I also saw and experienced the not-so-good. Let me preface this by saying that the stories of good outweigh the not-so-good stories, but it seems that the latter always tend to make a bigger impact. I value authenticity, so I am going to share it all with you right now. The grit and the great. Here we go...

Shit happens. Chitta happens too. "Chitta", in Sanskrit, means "memory" and is the subconscious mind.  

Shit happens. Chitta happens too. "Chitta", in Sanskrit, means "memory" and is the subconscious mind.  

India is simultaneously the most chaotic and calm place I have ever experienced...and probably ever will experience. It's the single place in this world where you can have a solitary religious experience, surrounded by thousands of people and honking tuk tuks, cars and motorbikes. It's bizarre and beautiful. It makes me want to cry, puke, smile, cringe and scream in frustration all at once. Namaste, Mothaf*ckas: crass, but so perfect for India. Allow me to explain. India is - by far - the most cerebral place I've ever traveled. What does that mean? It means you have to think about every single interaction in India: from simply crossing the street to buying a pair of pants at the market, and grabbing a tuk tuk to the airport. For this reason, Indians, as a people, are the most resilient culture I've ever encountered. It's exhausting. Everyone in India is a businessperson. Super-savvy, persistent, driven. Even uneducated (book wise) tuk tuk drivers are damn smart. You have to be to survive. But, my friends, it's both a blessing and a curse. 

Cycle rickshaw driver who was high on hash and wanted to overcharge me. I won this battle.

Cycle rickshaw driver who was high on hash and wanted to overcharge me. I won this battle.

I do not have a desire to set your expectations about India, but I'll share my experiences in an effort to give you an understanding of what traveling in India is like. Lesson #1: You will likely get sick. I thought I was above it. Had a stomach of steel. It doesn't matter. You're in India. If the spice and massive amount of cream, butter and oil used while cooking doesn't get you, it'll take one cook not washing his hands to land you in the bathroom all night. Or even the hospital. Happened to me in Rishikesh. I ventured to Mama Dosa, home to over one hundred varieties of dosa, with Jitan, whose father owns Shiv Shakti Guesthouse in Rishikesh. I opted for the Special Aloo Paneer Dosa. Bad idea. The next morning, I awoke at 3am feeling a bit off, as I was about to head out for the sunrise hike. I made the decision not to hike, and then spent the next 7 hours tasting dosa from both ends. I must admit, I even pooped my pants a little bit in a moment where my ego took over, thinking I was okay - but that's a rite of passage for the solo traveler in India too, right?! I'll keep telling myself that. Arun, the night receptionist and in-house yoga instructor, knocked on my door insisting upon taking me to the hospital. By the time 10am rolled around, I had sore stomach muscles from dry heaving, and there was nothing left inside of me. I reluctantly went to the hospital. I don't think you've really traveled India until you've traveled solo, as a woman, and visited the hospital to give a stool sample. Humbling. Turns out, it was inexpensive and though we waited a while, the doctor was great and advised against my strong American antibiotics. I obliged. In the end, it was an experience. And the smiles and glances exchanged with the mountain woman in the thick, hand-dyed wool red gypsy headscarf and mountain garb was well worth it. Chitta Happens. 

The doctor's orders... 

The doctor's orders... 

Lesson #2: It is a staring culture. EVERYONE will stare at you. Women in their beautiful saris, children with curiosity in their eyes, and men...the men will stare. Hard. Everywhere you go. On buses. In train stations. Tuk tuk drivers. Shop owners. Everyone. If this bothers you, you might consider leaving your western clothes at home. Wearing clothing like kurtas and pants that cover the body will help. I'm a huge believer in personal expression, and clothing is one way in which I personally express myself...but in the case of cultural nuances, it's best to blend. Trust me on this one. 

Haridwar train station at night. I was the only white person in sight. Authentic travel, baby!

Haridwar train station at night. I was the only white person in sight. Authentic travel, baby!

Lesson #3: Non-AC sleeper car overnight journeys in the middle of summer=one experience I wouldn't recommend. Okay, it's an experience and I'm stronger because of it, but next time I travel to India I'll stick to AC for journeys 5+ hours. You might think I sound like a spoiled white chick. I kind of do. Except for that the taxi driver en route to the station in Haridwar from Rishikesh told me that even he doesn't take non-AC journeys and cautioned me, "be careful." Well shit. To be fair, it was all I could get. Think about that 1.4 billion person population again. Now consider how hard it is to snag a train ticket. It's damn hard. Though it wasn't my first choice to travel non-AC for the (what I thought would be) 14-hour journey, it was all I could grab if I wanted to go to Varanasi. So I went. When I arrived to the station, it was a cultural experience in and of itself. Hundreds of people lying on blankets outside of the station. Families waiting for trains. Friends bullshitting over homemade dal rice. I was instantly transported into another world. The scene was the same in the train station. I was the only white person in sight. If nothing else, this'll teach humility and resilience, I thought. It did. With a near-dying phone (will I ever learn?!), I made my way to a restaurant and attempted to plug in my phone. Still without an appetite, I bought bottled water and digestive biscuits and put my nose in "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers". A couple of hours until my train left. The owner came over by me and made sure I knew what platform to go to. Nice. 

I ate my biscuits and bought my time, and then grabbed my phone. It hadn't charged at all. Sweet. This means I wouldn't be able to chart my journey or call friends/family to let them know I was alright if something went awry. I've been in this position before. Remember the Poland sojourn back in the day?! Yup. So, I spent 5 minutes writing down the phone number and address to the hostel in Varanasi before the phone died. I tried to plug in the phone at a momo stand on my platform, where I laid down my towel and had a seat, but the power cut had other plans. I sat there in darkness, surrounded by men. You see, you'll find many men out in the streets while women are inside with their families. But there are also a lot of families traveling. I hoped I'd be lucky enough to have a family sit near me on the train. A train rolled in and I asked a few people if it was the right one before jumping on. Not many people around me spoke English, but in the end I was successful and found my bed at the end of the train car as Indians tried to push past me in haste. Everyone's in a rush, but no one is on time, remember?! I had a non-AC 3 top bunk. That meant there were two others below me. Same scene across from me, and stacked two kiddy-corner from me. I observed my surroundings as soon as I situated my bags. A family below me. Two children, a little boy about 6 and a sweet little girl, likely 2 years of age. Mom was wearing a vibrant yellow sari, and dad had a mustache and henna-tinted brown wavy locks. The parents couldn't have been more than 24 years of age. An educated, higher caste - perhaps college student - looking boy inhabited the top bunk kiddy-corner from me. No doors on our cabin like the train cars in Europe. No linens. Vinyl bunks. The window didn't offer much fresh air for me, but three fans were fixed on the ceiling above me, caked in dust. It was hot and it was nearly midnight. Turns out I wasn't the only one sleeping in the top bunk either...I felt a tickle on my right shoulder and was surprised to see a cockroach. A new friend. 

Top bunk non-AC digs for a long journey from Haridwar to Varanasi. 

Top bunk non-AC digs for a long journey from Haridwar to Varanasi. 

I did sleep. At least for a few hours. I watched my water intake so I wouldn't have to get down, leave my packs and head to the toilet past the six men who were sitting/lying in the area in between train cars outside of the toilet. It reeked of urine and feces. The young man sitting down around the corner to the right kept his eyes fixed on me. A friend told me not to make eye contact, but I found a better tactic: acknowledge their stares with a "If you touch me, I will cut you." stare back. Worked every time. Caught them off-guard. But my god, I hate to do that...it's so not me. Survival tactics. At some point I had to get down and pee, I reluctantly walked to the toilet. The door was already open, and it featured standing urine on the floor. Not the first time I had encountered this, I hoped the urine wouldn't exceed the height of my flip flops and pour over. Successful mission. Wet wipes became my best friend. I awoke early in the morning, around 7am to see the educated, higher caste college student boy talking on the phone under a blanket. Masturbating. I'm not joking. Wish I was. I had heard many stories like this, but always chalked it up to westerners not being mindful of what they were wearing (not that this excused the male's grotesque behavior). But no, this was different. At least he wasn't looking at me, right?! I wanted to punch him as hard as I could in the balls for thinking that this was acceptable behavior, and for doing this in the vicinity of me and a family. Rancid. 

The woman and her child, and my ally below me.

The woman and her child, and my ally below me.

The temperatures increased as the morning went on. I was slated to arrive at 1pm, but was aware the journey could take longer. Still not eating, I tried to keep myself busy by reading and writing, and flirting with the little boy across from me. He started it. I had no idea how I was going to tell which stop was mine, since I wasn't by a window and the station signs aren't evident like they are in Europe. So I sat there, patiently waiting and aware, as the train frequently slowed and then came to a stop. I knew we were delayed. As the temperatures increased, so did the sweat. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life. I took my probiotics and antibiotics the doctor ordered, and closed my eyes and breathed slowly, evenly. A uniformed man walked by below, fining the staring young man and a couple of his friends down below who were riding ticketless. I waited patiently and then took the opportunity to ask when we'd be at Varanasi. One hour. it was already 1pm. In the meantime, a new passenger had joined us - a young man sitting next to the family. Probably my age. A new ally. Sigh of relief. 

New best friend. And yes, that boy kiddy-corner below stared at me for much of the journey, though was harmless.  Top bunk yellow shirt is the masturbator.

New best friend. And yes, that boy kiddy-corner below stared at me for much of the journey, though was harmless.  Top bunk yellow shirt is the masturbator.

walked down the latter looking for some air, and to look out the window to get my bearings. My little friend down below - the six-year-old - put his oily dal rice hands all over the vinyl seat. The smells were strong. I was sweating. It was a mixture of dal rice, body odor, urine, shit, lychee juice, and more...I couldn't have been more ready to be done with this journey. Outside the window, villagers shit alongside the train, walked with their goats, and carried their children across the tracks. About 15 hours in, the train continues and soon we stop at a station. Watching out for me, my new ally mouths to me that this is Varanasi. Masturbating boy asks me where I'm going. Oh god, I knew he knew English and I knew this would happen at some point, hoping I didn't have to ask him for any help. Thank goodness my ally came through. I gave the masturbating boy a short answer without much information. Handled. Grabbed a taxi and got a little lost, then 19 hours later, door-to-door, I had arrived to Stops Hostel. Thank God. 

Lesson #4: You will get taken advantage of and overcharged. But it's not just because you're a foreigner. It's a cultural thing. Indians get overcharged too. Remember how I said you have to think about every single interaction?! It's a bargaining culture. Play, or you'll get played. It - surprisingly - didn't happen to me frequently, and when you realize your haggling over dollars and cents, it's not that big of a deal. Here's a scenario for you: a 35km journey from Haridwar to Rishikesh should have been around 400 rupees. That's nearly 8 USD. They told me 600. I said no and walked away. They followed me we finally agreed on 500. Less than 10 USD. I was arguing over about $1.50 in savings, on principle. I don't want to set the standard for the next foreigner that comes along to get taken advantage of. But know that it's a waste of time to feel like a victim. If you value something, be okay with what you've spent on it. And try not to let your mind linger on the fact that you were taken advantage of. Life is a lot more pleasant when you put things into perspective, and your experience will be much better. 

This happens quite often - this woman saw white skin and came up to me offering for me to take a picture of her baby, then asked for money. Her daughter, whom is in the right of the frame and can't be seen, did not have a functioning right eye. I'm hoping this was not done on purpose to the child in an effort to get money for the family, but it's very likely it was.

This happens quite often - this woman saw white skin and came up to me offering for me to take a picture of her baby, then asked for money. Her daughter, whom is in the right of the frame and can't be seen, did not have a functioning right eye. I'm hoping this was not done on purpose to the child in an effort to get money for the family, but it's very likely it was.

Lesson #5: Human life is valued differently. I can't justify this and won't expand much on this one, but when a country is overpopulated if you don't move with the flow, it's easy to get moved by it. En route to Agra one day to see the Taj two villagers crossed the busy freeway that was built through their once pristine farmland and were hit and killed. The villagers rushed the highway in protest, covering the four lanes of traffic and creating a chaotic mess for all who were commuting into work that morning. Sadly, this stuff happens frequently in India. In Varanasi, the holiest city in India and Lord Shiva's chosen city, families bring dead bodies of loved ones in preparation for rebirth to the Mother Ganga. Some say it smells of sandalwood and burning flesh. But it's not a sad place. It's seen as a celebration of life. People go to that river to bathe in its holy waters. You might think it's repulsive, but to them it's a blessing. 

Largest site at the ghats on the Ganga for cremation and salvation ceremonies into the river - you can see sandalwood, used for burning, and some of the bodies (wrapped in gold/yellow) near cremation site on the right. 

Largest site at the ghats on the Ganga for cremation and salvation ceremonies into the river - you can see sandalwood, used for burning, and some of the bodies (wrapped in gold/yellow) near cremation site on the right. 

Okay, that's the grit. Life is just completely different in India. Not better or worse, just different. And, amidst all of the chaos of the honking and pushing and the smells and the men peeing everywhere you look in public, I found India to be incredibly spiritual. Oddly peaceful. Beautiful. The Muslim call to prayer. The live music pouring out of the temples after Aarti at dusk. The people are beautiful, and curious, and warm. I found allies in shop owners, guesthouse night men, taxi drivers, train passengers, and beyond. And I wouldn't change my experience for anything. I now know the importance - more keenly than ever before - of going with the flow and letting go of stimuli out of my realm of control. And I know that if you can travel as a solo female in India, you can travel anywhere solo. And I will. Stay tuned for posts on traveling solo and more...and - as always - let me know if there's anything you're particularly curious about. 

The good stuff: the people of India are incredible and hospitable. Here's me and Arushi's awesome cuz Kartik, who took care of me in Delhi, helping me to haggle in the market and show me the good stuff from Delhi to Agra. Amazing humans! 

The good stuff: the people of India are incredible and hospitable. Here's me and Arushi's awesome cuz Kartik, who took care of me in Delhi, helping me to haggle in the market and show me the good stuff from Delhi to Agra. Amazing humans! 

Namaste, mothaf*ckas. And don't forget: chitta happens.