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Published: December 1st 2018
The muezzin is calling, the second time this morning already and it's only 5:40AM. I love hearing it! The very first time I ever heard a muezzin call was when my daughter Laila and I travelled to Egypt, back in the spring of 2007. It is such a lovely, haunting call to prayer. Five times each day Muslims pray, and in Cairo I did not want to miss hearing even one of those times, so I'd opened our windows wide to allow this entrancing music to enter. We also heard the muezzin in Istanbul, in Morocco, in Jordan, in Israel, and now, here in the UAE. Such beautiful reminders to stop and pray, to my thinking no matter what one's religion.
Heading off to Sri Lanka and south India this time, I am in Dubai for a very short overnight stopover; the flight times between Dubai and Colombo, Sri Lanka, did not match up well unless an overnight stay was included. Although not long enough to explore anything in this ultra modern city, it is good to have a break, time away from airplanes and airports, a shower, a lying-down sleep (such as it was, waking at 2AM local time, my internal clock totally confused again). Our fancy hotel is located in the old part of Dubai; last night all we saw of the new part of this city was high buildings, and traffic, traffic, traffic. Our driver said that because today and tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, are their holy days, everyone was driving somewhere for their weekend. So hopefully our trip back to the airport will not take as long in the morning.
The first time I travelled to India was in 2014 with VegVoyages. Friends had warned me about the extreme poverty there, but India called, and I did not think it a hardship to see what millions of people experience every day of their lives. Even though we have always been lucky enough to live comfortable lives, we are not such fragile flowers that we cannot or should not be exposed to how others in less fortunate situations or countries live. In fact I believe it is precisely because of our thoughtlessly easy lives that we should see how people in parts of the rest of the undeveloped world live; we should be exposed to poverty, slum life, crowds, noise, dirt, hunger. It is only in this way that we can see how fortunate we truly are. But of course on any tour, travellers are only exposed to any of this discomfort for short periods of time; we can witness it but we do not live it in any way and can resume our lucky and rich lives afterwards, as we choose. In Rajasthan in 2014 we slept in palaces and ate with Rajas, but we also shopped in raucus, bustling and cow-filled markets for supplies (pencils and pens, combs, soap, toothbrushes) to give to children in overcrowded schools, and we visited local homes where neighborhood cows were fed breakfast before the rest of the family sat down to eat. Somehow I had gotten a ten year visa to India, so I knew I would return, perhaps several times. Plus I dearly wanted to see the southern part of India, especially Kerala, where, astonishingly, the literacy rate approaches 100%.
On this tour we were supposed to fly out of Boston at 11PM on October 31, Halloween, but even though everyone seemed to be seated and ready for take-off, we kept sitting there, not moving. At first the captain announced that the delay was caused by a passenger's not showing up; the Emirates crew had to locate his/her bags and remove them. And still we sat. Our pilot's next announcement was another apology for the extended delay, but apparently there was a sick passenger who had to be evacuated; because of this the crew needed to have each person identify his or her carry-on bags. This took quite awhile as many bags were stored either in front of or behind where passengers were sitting, wherever they could find room to stow their belongings, but each bag had to be matched to a person onboard. It was a dark November morning before our flight finally took off. Twelve and a half hours later we were landing in Dubai. I was on my way to Sri Lanka, and finally, back to India. What would this trip be like? What would I learn? How would it affect who I was becoming with all my travels across this planet? These are first world privileged questions, but each trip changes my perception of what life is meant to be, how it is meant to be lived, how people treat others, why we are here.
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