Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mumbai, My City, My Family- Thanksgiving 2008

Gateway of India, Taj Palace and Tower
I had just returned from a three month volunteer position in Cambodia and I was on top of the world. I loved the work I had done and the people I met, I was looking forward to a big family gathering at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving and my experiences of the last year had been the ultimate natural high.

We drove from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area on Nov 26th, 2008 to Los Angeles and checked in to a lovely hotel near Rodeo Drive. (We try to savor the Hollywood life occasionally!) Had a lovely Thanksgiving eve dinner and went to bed early on preparation for the festivities with our family the next day.

We awoke on Thanksgiving, ordered room service coffee and turned on CNN. The news of the attacks on Mumbai hit us like a block of concrete. We watched in horror as we saw video of the attack and burning of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the railway station covered in blood and heard other accounts of attacks around the city. On the happiest family day of the year, we watched this unbelievable juxtaposition.
Elephanta Island

We had been in Mumbai at the Taj Palace in the very rooms that were being attacked less than a year before. We were there for a close friends wedding. Mumbai welcomed us with open arms. We made friends and added many people to or extended family. The staff at the Taj hotel were warm and genuine. They gave us excellent site-seeing advice and were always ready to help us with our every need. When I asked for help dressing in a saree for the wedding a female staff member gladly came to our room and taught me the secret of wrapping the garment including quite a bit of flattery about how I looked beautiful and very Indian!

As I left the hotel for the wedding every staff member I met, including the doorman complemented me on my adopted dress with genuine delight and flattery.
Every day in Mumbai was an adventure and no matter where we were, we reveled in the culture, warmth and even the culture shock of many of the sights. We love Mumbai, so alive and so full of potential. So, when we woke that morning to the horrifying news I felt as if my own city and home were being attacked. I thought “How can they do that to my city and my family?”

Later that day we had a wonderful visit with our family for Thanksgiving, but the thoughts of Mumbai were always there. When we were toasting at dinner I added my own, “Let us remember and send love to the people of Mumbai.”
Mahatma Ghandi's House- Mani Bhavan

I know my family appreciated the toast but I sensed that the impact of the day had not affected them as it had my husband and me. I was thoughtful and realized that because I had traveled and explored Mumbai I had an attachment to the city that I could not expect of others.

All of this reinforced my strong belief that travel is so important. It is harder to think of people as “the other” once you have been part of there country and culture. This is my mission. I hope others will make it theirs too.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I want everyone to know what a wonderful country Cambodia is. The citizens are friendly, the history is fantastic and the culture is warm and mesmerizing.

I lived there in 2008 and 2009 and worked as a volunteer in Battamambang and could not have had a better experience as an ex-pat anywhere. The friends I made will be life long. I know that when I return, how many years it will be, I will be welcomed and loved as if it was yesterday.

I met a wonderful young man who works as a guide there. He invited me to his wedding and at one point when he was speaking to his guests on stage at the reception I was standing witin his sight of vision. He looked at me and in front of the entire crowd of Cambodians said, " I want to thank my Auntie Tami for being here, she has always supported me and told me to follow my heart, I am so happy today because she is here." Wow what a wonderful thing to say.

He later told me that he was nervous addressing the crowd but when he looked up and saw me standing there and smiling it gave him confidence to speak and he felt the love that I was sending to him and his new life.

Yes it all sounds corny but as Americans we are full of love. Let's spread it around the world. Let us show that we are excepting of all cultures, races and religions. We thrive on learning new things, changing ideas, and evolution of our society.

America is truly the melting pot and it is every Americans obligation to hold up this ideal!