Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Somewhat more rational planning

Ok... when I last checked in I was still doing the post-trip ups and downs that come from major changes in my life. I was buzzing from the adventure and wanting quite desperately (despite how happy I was to be home!) to go back and have more adventures RIGHT NOW!  It's the same thing that happens whenever I am manic and feel myself sliding down. I find myself thinking I'd do anything to get back to that high, even if it's not practical, safe, or remotely possible. Then when those hopes fall apart I follow suit. So I needed to wait until my brain calmed down more before I could sit down and figure out plans that will put me back in line with my future goals.

So I did some thinking. I talked to the people closest to me. I looked at what I had done right and what I had done wrong in preparing for the before, during, and afters of my India trip. And I began making plans.



 
Short range plan - I was broke and this was starting to create some major issues in my brain. I needed an immediate source of income. Temp agency came through for me. I'm in a situation where for the next eight weeks I can approach my next plan from a bit more safety.

Mid-range plan - I am not done traveling. I am still filled with crazy wanderlust. So rather than throw myself around like a child's bouncy ball in a racquet ball court I am going to draw on one of the primary lessons learned in India. I will be patient. So... I have decided to stick around Boston a bit more semi-permanently for the next two to three years. I am going to look for a job - in a field I could see myself wanting to work in more permanently eventually (travel industry) - where I can gain experience for several years before I take off to travel some more and cross off another continent or two. I'll save money from my temping and find an apartment once I get a real job lined up.

To satisfy my travel cravings I will partake in shorter or smaller adventures. From somewhat local-ish adventures (will be posting more frequently asking if folks might be up for random road trips... I desperately want to visit Cooperstown, for instance!) to slightly longer road trips (Montreal? I've never been there!) to trips to places I've never been but have always wanted to visit that would be simple to arrange (San Francisco and New Orleans come to mind!).

I will save my money, and when I am ready to tackle my next big adventure I hope I'll have a better plan in place for the before/during/after than what ended up happening with India.

Long-range plan - What do I actually want to do with myself once I'm done adventuring? I am tired of working for universities. I do NOT want to be stuck working in administration for the rest of my life. I'm working on my book about traveling with bipolar. I hope to have it finished this year. But I'm so not disciplined enough to be a full time writer. *laughs* So I will need to find a job. However...I am pretty particular and if I don't outright love what I am doing I am going to be miserable and why the hell should I be miserable? So what do I love? If I find work in the travel industry for the next few years and discover that it is something I enjoy being around I can look into what I may need to do in order to get the jobs OUTSIDE of administration so I can start doing other things. That's an option. But in reality, I don't actually need to start thinking about any of this quite yet. It's just sort of on the distant horizon, and I wanted to put it out there so I can take off down a road that may lead me this direction. I may hit a roadblock or a detour. I may hop on a plane and go somewhere completely different. But at least I have a direction to start off in, and that's what matters.

And it boils down to...

TL:DR - I'll be around for the next few years. After that, who knows? But for the next few months I'll be looking for a permanent job in the travel industry while I continue temping. And I'll be aiming to find an apartment by April or May. Any ideas or pointers, please let me know!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Health care received in India

So while I never did come down with Delhi Belly, I did get sick while in India. If you followed my blog or were the recipients of my terrified emails you'll know that I worried particularly about coming down with Malaria. But what did end up happening was due to all the pollution and my body not having the strength to fight off infection due to lack of proper nutrition and rest I managed to come down with a nasty nasty nasty throat infection.

I remember being alone in my hotel room in Jaipur, completely delirious with fever. I used one of my toss-away thermometers to take my temperature and it was something around 104.5. SCARY! I remember stumbling my way down the street. Having to hold onto walls to stay upright. My unfocused eyes scanning every direction seeking out the red cross symbol that denoted medicine.

The doctor I saw helped calm me down. Between the fever and the fear of being alone I was in a full blown panic attack. He diagnosed me with a throat infection, and prescribed me two medications to make it all better. (I had brought two different types of antibiotics with me... but the Penicillin ended up being only a temporary fix and I got too sick too fast to then take the other medicine.) All in all, I think I paid the doctor 40 rupees, and the pharmacy another 60. *blink* And I was feeling better very soon, so it was all worth it!

The doctor was wonderful. Calming, knowledgeable, and he spoke perfectly unaccented English. If I had been less delirious I would have asked him where he studied. Cause on the plane to Kashmir I'd met another doctor, who had studied in the States and then came back to India to practice. You see that a lot in India.

***

Oh! I also want to say that I got my pre-Rabies vaccine in India rather than in the US. In the US, the vaccine would have cost me over $1000. I spent 150 rupees in India ($2.72). For the EXACT SAME VACCINE! Ok, that rant is over.

***

The final experience I had with Indian health care came at the end of November, shortly before leaving Pushkar to head back to Delhi. My ankle had been sprained two weeks prior and while I hadn't bothered to see a doctor when I first injured it I figured that after walking on it for two weeks (possibly damaging it further) and having it still being wretchedly painful warranted a stop at the hospital.  One reason I had resisted going to begin with though was money. I was low on funds, and was trying to save money where I could. And all I could think was, "It's just a damn sprain. Sprains heal on their own given time." But after two weeks I figured I'd better get it checked out after all. And Mavi, wonderful wonderful guy from my hotel, told me how to get to the hospital and he said it shouldn't cost more than 150 rupees for the X-ray.

So the morning I checked out of my hotel, before heading to catch a tuk tuk to the train station I gimped my way to the hospital. Somebody directed me to "registration" and it was just a plain room with a woman behind a desk and another woman sitting on the bench. The woman at the desk asked what was the problem, and I told her. She said 5 rupees. I blinked again, and handed over a 5 rupee coin. The other woman was the doctor. She had me take off my shoe and sock and she examined the ankle. Told me to go to Imaging for an x-ray and wrote me out a sheet to give to them.

So I gimped my way around the hospital, poking my nose around til I found Imaging. Again, door open and people just hanging out. I handed over the sheet the doctor had given me, and the woman there said "70 rupees." *BLINK* 70 rupees for an x-ray? Much less than Mavi had guessed for me, I was thrilled. I handed over the money and she directed me to sit up on the table and then manhandled my ankle into the position she wants it in.

She and the two guys with her both went behind the screen. I didn't even get the apron that protects against radiation. She came back, manhandled me again and then went back behind her screen.  Comes back out and tells me to come back in half an hour. Then disappears.

What?

I've spent a lot of time in US hospitals. This was my first time in a foreign one and it had to be in India. And wow the differences! There are no comfortable waiting areas. No nurses or staff showing you where to go. The room to see the doctor filled with people crowding to be seen. Doctor-patient privilege, not so much an issue here.

No wonder things cost so little!

Half an hour later I limped my way back to Imaging, where the woman tucked my X-ray into an envelope and handed it to me with instructions to go back to see the doctor again. The number of people to see the doctor had risen so she had been shuffled off to a bigger room across the hall from registration. And it was packed with people. Yet as soon as the crowd saw me limping in, they immediately parted for me and pulled out a chair right next to the doctor, indicating I should be seen next.  Yes, people in India (even when sick or injured!) are kind to strangers.

The doctor reassured me that my ankle was NOT fractured, it was in fact just a severe sprain (not the mild one I had assumed). She told me to stay off it, but I sort of laughed. It's hard to stay off a sprained ankle when you're traveling through India! She did prescribe two medications. One, a Percocet like pain drug. And the other, a wonderful numbing cream to rub on my ankle every day before wrapping it up. I waited for my final bill as the boy she sent off to the pharmacy ran to get my prescriptions. But she just turned to her next patient and I was forgotten.

I never did receive a final bill. The 5 rupees I had paid when I first arrived covered the full doctor exam both pre and post x-ray. AND the two prescriptions.

OMG!

I saw a doctor, got an X-ray, and two medications. For 75 rupees. According to the conversion app on my iPad that is the equivalent of $1.36.

It is no wonder Medical Tourism is growing by leaps and bounds in that part of the world!

***

I know that not everyone has solid experiences like I did when sick or injured when traveling. I won't say I got lucky because dude, I got both sick AND injured while traveling! I also came prepared. Because I am allergic to Latex I brought with me a supply of non-latex gloves, non-latex bandaids, non-latex medical tape, and pretty much anything else I could think of. I had doctors who spoke perfect English. And nothing too terrifying that would lead me to hospitalization, the way things happened to a friend I met during my trip.

So all in all, I am very grateful to the experiences I had there. It definitely made me less afraid to seek medical help the next time I go on one of my adventures and manage to break myself again. *laughs*

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lists, and why I love them so

Being bipolar my mind is often a chaotic pace to live in day in and day out. Because of that, I need to create as much order as I can out of that chaos. It's one reason working administration jobs has always been a good fit for me. I'm good at putting shit into order.

As a kid my family would tease me. And every Christmas or birthday I'd get notebooks, paper, and pens... With my family knowing that I'd use every scrap of paper I got my hands on to write down various (and often random) lists to help me put my world into order. Granted, I didn't know as a child that this is what I as doing. I just liked making lists so I could cross stuff off them! So I could feel accomplished. (And yes, I still do love that.)

Traveling twirls me upside down and throws my entire world into chaos. I do think this might be one reason so many people (not just those of us with a mental illness) choose not to travel, and why it is so surprising sometimes that I love to travel as much as I do and live the way I have chosen to live. It's very hard when routines get thrown off balance and you're never sure what goes where and what to take and then you worry you'll forget something and pretty soon your mind is in hamster wheel mode and you can feel the anxiety build. Maybe that's just me. And if you've never experienced that well... it is a pretty wretched experience.

That's why I like lists.

I have lists for everything. Lists help me stay organized so that when the brain starts to whirl I can take a step back and either look at all those things crossed off to stop feeling like nothing is getting done or I can feel like I'm organized and ready to face the next item. And since I keep all the records from each trip I feel my lists evolve with me. After every trip I look back at my packing list and ask myself questions... Like, Was that item more or less useful? What did I wish I have and fail to being and should remember to bring next time?

Take my India trip. I had known going in that my food allergies might be a problem. But what I hadn't realized was that my food allergies combined with the way so much of the Indian food I ended up eating is prepared meant that I ended up lacking a lot of vitamins I normally get on a daily basis back home. And man oh man I wish I'd brought a bottle of multivitamins! So now a bottle of multivitamins has been added to my list of items I'll be packing for every trip no matter length or location.

I have lists of things to address logistically whenever I travel. And lists of things I'd like to do vs lists of things I feel I must do. Not that I ever feel glued to my lists... I mean hell, I didn't visit any museums in Paris, missed hitting the coast in Ecuador (ok, that was poor pre-planning on my part, but I'm glad I had backup things to do on my list!) and I skipped the Taj Mahal in India... Because freedom to ignore the list is just as important as having it to begin with.

Even a simple weekend away generates lists. In a few weeks is Arisia, the big science fiction/fantasy convention held here in Boston every winter. I've been going every year since moving to Boston six years ago. You'd think I'd know by now what the score is and what to do, what to bring, and what to expect. But I still make sure I consult my lists because there are always adjustments to be made. And what do you know, this year I had extra items needing to be taken care of! My favorite pair of shoes (a stunning pair of six inch black leather heels that I picked up at a thrift store years and years ago and are actually surprisingly comfortable and magical) had snapped a strap last year and due to my lengthy traveling this year I had neglected to get them taken to a cobbler to be fixed. While discussing lists with a friend the other night this came up and my friend volunteered to add my shoes to her bag of shoes also needing to go to a cobbler and would be ready in time for the Con! So "take shoes to be fixed" has now been crossed off the Arisia to-do list. *Smiles*

I really could go on and on about why lists are wonderful. But I know that some people simply can't travel that way. They're more of the "seat of their pants" sort of traveler. To be honest, that would terrify me beyond reason. I can logically see why they prefer traveling with no lists, no planning, and no organization beyond "I'm arriving on this day." And after having been screwed over in India by over thinking and over planning and pre-booking a large portion of the Rajasthan section of my trip (really, IIRC can just go fuck themselves in the ass sideways for what they put me through and for screwing me out of around 50,000 rupees at the end of the day) I really extra extra understand the benefits of doing things more organically. So while I am not likely to ever make the same mistakes I made in India, I think I'll manage not by doing a complete 180 but by being more particular with lists in advance and if I find myself taking on the services of a tour company I'll make a list of what I need and then do it one step at a time and not everything all at once.

So yes. A trip like India could never have happened for me without the help of an entire notebook dedicated to lists. And the "NOTES" app on my iPad. *Smiles* And I intend to continue making use of these tools for all future adventures, big and small.

PS - I am amused that I wrote a post about lists without including a single list.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Tattoo reception

I have a lot of tattoos. We'll say this right off the bat here. Two stunning half sleeves, smaller pieces on each forearm, plus even smaller ones on back, ankle, and foot. Each tattoo is a work of art, particularly the bigger pieces. I thought them out, and every one of them means something to me. The images themselves cannot remotely be considered offensive to anyone. But due to my years working administration I also know how to keep them covered when the occasion calls for it.

Before going to India I did a lot of research on where I hoped to go, and the cultural views on tattoos in that region. I learned that in certain areas in the north and in the east tattoos on women are associated with prostitution, so I made sure when I arrived in India to get clothes that covered up all my ink. I learned that in Goa pretty much anything goes. That Bombay is fairly Westernized. And that Rajasthan is just too hot to wear that much cover!

I learned that women in India don't typically have tattoos at all. And if men do (for many it is against their religious beliefs) the designs are often small and discreet.

While in Bombay on my way north again I picked up some shirts from a street vendor. (Bargained hard for them too, and got the price I wanted, but that's another story!) They were very simple little tops. High neck, with a strap on one shoulder and a tie at the other. Lightweight and comfortable and yet modest in that no cleavage or displays of body were revealed. What was revealed though were all my tattoos.

One thing I noticed is that while I thought I got a lot of attention just by being a foreigner, I got even MORE attention because of the ink. When before it was every fifth person stopping to ask to take my photo now it was every second or third person. (That got upped to every person when I was drawing.. Yet again, another story.)

When walking down a street men would call out "nice tattoo! Where did you do it?" Like I had done it recently and somewhere local! *Laughs* But women and girls would jump to the assumption that it was paint or henna adorning my arms. And every time I say no, it's a permanent tattoo they want to touch it and do.

I hadn't realized this was an assumption shared by some men as well until one day in Pushkar a young man came up to me and asked how long I'd had it (pointing to the Red Queen on my left arm). "Her? Oh, a couple of years now," I replied casually with a smile. A look of shock crossed his face. "How long since you've had a shower?" He asked in astonishment! I still didn't quite grasp what his deal was so I started getting offended and a bit defensive. "This morning!" I said. "Why?" His look of shock changed to one of wonder and his hand inched out as if wanting to touch my arm. "How does it stay on???"

I laughed... A burst I couldn't contain when I realized his mistake. "No no no," I told him. "It's not paint. These are real tattoos. Permanent!"

It took some doing to finally get through to him what I meant by permanent. And he was pretty much in awe. He followed me around for the next little while, asking questions about the process and calling friends over to look, before I finally felt unnerved by the attention and begged off and returned to my hotel.

I am glad I figured out that hiding the ink did reduce some unwanted attention. But I also made sure, before going on to my next destination, to ask friends I made where I was what the reception would be to my tattoos and if I should be more careful to hide them or if wearing my comfortable tops baring my arms and shoulders (and thus tattoos) would be fine. So I am not going to blame the tattoos for what happened to me in Jodhpur. I would never victim blame for a situation like that in any case. It was all them.

I do know that when I go back to India I'll continue my practice of asking locals about local customs and beliefs before going out in any sort of "revealing" outfit, though. Because it is always better to know than not know.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Indian men

I've been home now for almost a month, but India remains nearly constantly on my mind. There are little things and big things I am asked about or want to talk about when the subject of my trip comes up. Like, how were my tattoos received? How was the food? Being there, what was the misogyny really like? It's that question that preys on my mind.

I am reminded again and again of the night in Jodhpur when I got surrounded by a pack of men - touched, leered at, and made to feel truly frightened. I was not attacked, the way that poor woman who recently died from the injuries given to her due to gang rape/torture in Delhi. Even though according to the way things work there I was doing everything wrong and she had been doing everything right. I was alone, in a not particularly well lit train station, at night. I was wearing clothes that left my arms and shoulders bare. She was in a good area, dressed "properly", with a male friend... and look at what happened to her. It has made me sick, reading about what those six men did to her. And it forces the memory of that night in Jodhpur back into my mind, and how that experience could have gone so much worse.

Despite how much I loved India, I still can't get over how much (in general) I hated Indian men. I didn't write a lot about it here, but it got said in the emails I sent to a smaller group of people. Often accompanied by tears of stress and frustration. Women are treated horribly, there. Particularly us foreign women, although their own women don't have it a whole lot better. You don't see women working in shops or restaurants. In three months I think the only times I saw women working in public they were selling jewelry or sweeping the streets or beaches. Okay, so I did stay in a couple of hotels that had women working, but those two hotels were both in Goa. Goa seemed to be much more relaxed than any of the other places I visited.

Oh... Again in Jodhpur, walking around and having little boys (they probably couldn't be much older than seven or eight!) chasing behind me to pinch my ass... Or hanging out in groups and making kissing sounds calling out "hey baby!" as I would walk by. All I could think was, "look at their role models... Those men who surrounded me and frightened me at the train station."

There are exceptions, of course, to my hatred of Indian men. I met some throughout my trip who actually treated me like a person and not just a walking vagina. Amusingly enough, or not, most of those exceptions happened to be Kashmiri men. I don't know what it is about Kashmir that the men from there treated women so much better than the rest of Indian men. But I was grateful of it.

One of the next locations I want to visit is Morocco. And I am told by many to be careful going there by myself. That Arabic men are awful. I just say, I just spent three months in India. I'm prepared now. I have a better idea of what to expect when it comes to being a woman traveling in such a world where women are treated so badly. I'm stronger because of it. It still makes me angry. It still makes me want to cry when the fear overcomes the anger. But I'm never going to be so scared that I won't go.