By Nicole Einbinder

It’s difficult to look back on our trip to India without laughing. I know, I know. That may sound strange. But, some of my experiences were, well… laughable. At the time, they certainly weren’t funny. Honestly, at the time, they tested me to my limit and had me questioning why I chose to fly halfway across the world in the first place.

I could be in California with my family, laying by my pool,” crossed through my mind on more than one occasion.

But, with every moment of struggle I endured during our whirlwind trip across Northern India, I also knew I would never, in a million years, take away the many moments of joy that we experienced on the ground. My classmates often joked that if I could “survive” India, I could survive anything. I did survive. It made me stronger. It opened my eyes to new cultures and perspectives and ways of life. And, despite the setbacks, it solidified my love for journalism and continual desire to seek out beauty in the world.

Let’s start at the beginning, though. See, prior to our trip, I was determined to stay healthy. I packed zip locked baggies full of nuts and crackers and energy bars. My suitcase brimmed with various medications and antibiotics and Emergen-C packets. I had already pledged to myself I would remain strictly vegetarian throughout the trip. And, at our five star hotels, I only brushed my teeth with bottled water. I was ready, I was prepared and nothing was going to stand in my way of having an incredible experience.

But, life is full of unexpected twists. It doesn’t always go as planned. The thing is, I did get sick. Very sick — the sickest I’ve ever been. Laying in my bed at the hotel in Ahmedabad while my classmates were out exploring the city, I felt defeated. I am stubborn, and I refused to let anything — especially my body — prevent me from having the once-in-a-lifetime experiences we were partaking on throughout the trip. But, everybody does have their limits. For me, it occurred on the bus ride from our cushy Ahmedabad hotel to the Sun Temple, an ancient structure deemed a UNESCO world heritage site. Walking among those ancient ruins sounded incredible; an experience I knew I probably would never have again. My stomach killed me, I was too weak to eat food and I felt awful as I slowly stepped onto the bus.

Nicole, you can do this! You can do this!” kept racing across my mind as I sat in my seat, looking out the window to a world of rickshaws and smog and bustling streets. As we left the city, the scenery slowly shifted to wide swaths of land, people walking on the sides of the highway and the occasional gas station. An hour into the bus ride, however, I knew I couldn’t do it. And, as much as it pained me, my professor called an Uber and I made the heartbreaking trek back into the city and away from my classmates.

The following day, as I lay ill in bed after meeting with a doctor, I was diagnosed with dysentery. Yup, you heard that right – the illness most often associated with pirates and soldiers in the trenches of WWI. Simply put, I was devastated. And, after around three days of laying bed-ridden and surviving on a diet of rice and bananas, which I could barely even keep down, I was scared. But, illness comes with travel. It isn’t fun, but it’s life. With my bag of antibiotics in hand, provided by the doctor in Ahmedabad and delivered by gracious hotel staff, I knew I would eventually overcome the disease. It meant I couldn’t report on a story I had spent weeks preparing for, or fully experience Ahmedabad. But, that’s life. My classmates and professors were exceptionally kind, always checking in on me, and the hotel was beautiful. The experience was daunting but, looking back, it made me stronger. Back in the U.S, I found out I contracted E-Coli while in India.

Weeks later, as I write this, I can thankfully say that I am finally healthy.

Other funny anecdotes from the trip — a monkey jumped on my arm and stole my glasses in Vrindavan, I was hit by an ox while walking the streets of Ahmedabad after our group’s final dinner and I woke up one morning, in the very beginning of the trip, with pink eye. But, conversely, there was beauty in all those moments. Immediately after the monkey took my glasses, the locals jumped to action to help the foreigner begging with the monkey to return her prized possession. After failed attempts by the villagers to throw fruit at the animal, a clever youth with a stick followed it to the roof of a temple and retrieved my stolen item. Those people didn’t have to help me; they didn’t even know me. Their kindness was overwhelming and I am forever thankful that they took the time out of their own lives to help.

While in Ahmedabad, after being hit by the ox, I was immediately shocked. Luckily, I wasn’t injured. But, that was only one small piece of the puzzle — we were exploring the chaotic night market. It was a place swarming with people and vendors selling snacks and animals roaming the streets. I wouldn’t take back the opportunity to immerse myself in that world for anything; it was fascinating how even in a chaotic abyss like the market, the people could find a sense of ease. Families enjoyed fried goods at crowded tables, children ran around, smiling from ear to ear, and a few people in our group even purchased spices and other goods. It was chaotic, but it was India. I’m grateful to have been enveloped in that craziness, ox and all.

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Nicole gets her glasses back from the monkey

And, ah, pink eye. That wasn’t too fun. But, the day itself was a ride — it was our first glimpse into Holi. I’ll admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan at first of the Holi festivities in Vrindavan. Frankly, it was overwhelming. Colors were thrown at us from all directions, in addition to icy water and paint. People were touching our faces and necks and arms. And, as much as I tried to stay clean and away from the madness, we quickly discovered that was impossible. Our ashram became our refuge; our protection from the world of colors manifesting themselves beyond the gates. On my second day in the city, however, I was ready. I bought my own colored powder — a bright red hue — and immersed myself in the festivities. I realized that aside from a few perverts who grabbed at breasts and buttocks, most of the revelers weren’t malicious or trying to harm us; they were overjoyed with love and celebration. They were also curious; we were a group of foreigners in a tiny village. My white skin stood out and I always felt keenly aware of my status as foreigner, particularly as groups of people approached us and asked if they could snap a photo. Because of my pink eye, I wore glasses throughout Holi. It ended up being a blessing in disguise; the lenses protected my eyes from the powder. And luckily, it wasn’t until after the holiday was over that the monkey attempted to steal them.

India was a tough trip. It tested my limits and I constantly wondered why I was such a target for disaster. But, I also knew that I could either dwell and complain or take those experiences in stride — not too many people can say a monkey stole their glasses! I came to Columbia because I love to travel and experience the world. I have an inexhaustible curiosity that only talking to diverse people and exploring new places can quench. Yes, I got sick. And yes, it was horrible. But, I also roamed the ancient streets of New Delhi, experienced a musical ceremony at one of India’s holiest Sufi shrines and participated in yoga on the banks of the Ganges. I interviewed incredibly interesting people of all walks of life. And, I experienced the richness of Indian culture.

I survived India. It was the trip of a lifetime.