India Travelogue, Ep. 8:


Of all the experiences in India that moved me, this one is at the top of my list. While visiting a scenic lake in Munnar one morning, I  noticed a group of teenagers singing near a rock formation known as Echo Point. Attracted to their jubilence, I walked closer to observe. The boy in the red hat noticed me and smiled. “Where from?” he asked. “U.S.” I replied. “Ah U.S.,” he repeated. “Oklahoma?”

I nearly fell over. For a girl who was born and raised in Oklahoma, who for a good bit of her youth thought the only “Indians” were the kind that looked like her Cherokee relatives, who never imagined she’d one day travel 10,000 miles to meet an actual Indian . . . well it was a moment like no other.

“Yes! Yes!” I shouted. I’m pretty sure I jumped up and down and I know my face lit up. “I am from Oklahoma!” I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a total kook, but I could not have been happier (and more touched) if Ghandi himself would have appeared from the clouds and said “Welcome, Joan.”

The boy in the red hat knew he had struck a chord with me. He shot me a wide grin, pumped his fist, and began chanting “Oklahoma! Oklahoma!” His friends joined in, as did I. And that’s how a group of Indian teenagers and one American middle-aged lady came to find themselves shouting and jumping and laughing like fools while high-fiving each other and paying tribute to America’s 46th state in a remote spot in southern India.

“How in the world do you know Oklahoma?” I finally asked the boy. “I watch movie,” he said. In a split second I realized I’d just met a soul halfway around the world who knew a little something about my homeland and the people who love it so. And I was so overtaken by the realization of the power of human connection that I still can’t talk about the experience without getting choked up.

Except to say “Oh what a beautiful morning. Oh what a beautiful day.”

India Travelogue, Ep. 7:

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Most experts will tell you never to eat “street food” when traveling. And it’s good advice, I suppose, but it also limits your culinary adventures considerably.  For health reasons, I went to India believing I would only drink bottled water (and, in fact, I’d only brush my teeth with bottled water) and I would not eat any food that wasn’t prepared in a reputable  and hygienic restaurant.

Turns out, I broke rank. When I passed this street vendor in Munnar, I couldn’t resist. After more than a week of eating traditional Indian dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight and smell of two American favorites — sweet corn and boiled peanuts. I hollered at my friends and insisted they backtrack and consider this opportunity. Most of them looked at me like I’d lost my mind, but my friend Vandana, an Indian native who organized our trip and served as the arbiter of all things “advisable” (or not), inspected the cart and declared this vendor was probably safe.

And, so, I got my corn and peanuts, sprinkled of course with cayenne pepper because it’s India and cayenne is de rigueur.

Standing by the side of a busy road near a congested tourist attraction (Eravikulam Lake), I savored every bite of my corn and peanuts — served in a Dixie cup with a plastic spoon the size of a paper clip.

The verdict? Praise the lord.

Epilogue: Look, I’m no Anthony Bourdain and I’m not suggesting you take unnecessary risks with your GI tract while 10,000 miles from home. But in hindsight, I’m convinced I passed up a lot of tasty and perfectly safe treats by being overly cautious. In fact, I traveled to India with an armory of pills and elixirs for every stomach ailment known to mankind. In the end, all I experienced was a little “sluggishness” of the digestive tract, which happens every time I leave home, no matter the distance.