Posted By Sara Bartlemay
It was only later, after the train ride when I was finishing off the last of those chocolate cookies that I realized each cookie is imprinted with the Buddhist symbol for change.
The train ride took us to Varanasi, a city of just over one million people, built on the banks of the Ganges River. It is a pilgrimage site for many Hindus and Muslims alike. Their temples are side by side here in the narrow winding streets. People are bathing during the morning when they believe their sins will be washed clean. Some are praying, others are doing laundry, and some women are gathering water to carry on their heads back into the city. It is a dirty place, with many cows in the streets - so one must be very careful and watch your step!
We went to a market yesterday in streets so busy we were afraid to cross them. The little alleyways that make up Varanasi are so tiny only three people can walk side by side down them. The market is a complete maze! And any (Indian) thing you ever wanted to buy is here. I found spices and curries and dresses and beads. We met a man named Raj who is putting himself through school for business by selling bindis to the tourists. Three of our group members started talking to him and he led us through the market to his sisters house where she would draw henna tattoos on our wrists and palms. Her name is Indu, which means moon in Hindi. (Tarra means stars) There were books and books of designs and I chose two that she later told me were the symbols for man and wife - though they look more like paisleys. I am learning, via temporary tattoos that choice in artist is very important. Luckily, these will only be with me for 5 months. It was a great experience, though, to sit up on the third floor courtyard and talk with them as our body art dried. They gave us gifts of post cards and bindis.
Back in the market, people would approach us trying to sell us this that or the other thing we didn't need. Men will walk up to you selling Post cards and run along side of you to flip through them. They will take your hand and persistently tell you that you need these and try to bargain with you - not for seconds, for ten minutes or so! It gets overwhelming, never being able to walk alone without someone trying to sell you something. They will even go into stores with you, still trying.
The beggar children also follow us. They are so tiny and they beg and beg in a mono tone that seems to be shared for they all speak in the same voice. I gave some children one coin each but they they only wanted more and followed us for about 45 minutes with open palms, sometimes hanging on our arms or holding on to our skirts. I went in to a candy store where a man was handing out anise samples and I kept filling the little brown palms with red and white candy until they went away.
And then I realized, that the men selling things and the beggar children use the same tone of voice. They are both asking for money, in different ways. Terribly poor, most of them are homeless but some choose to sell things for money and some choose to sit and beg for it. Either way, I am certain all of them are hungry. I have been hungry for two hours. They have gone hungry for a lifetime.