May 30th, 2014

The City of Bhairahawa is a small piece of India transplanted a mile north of the border. It has assimilated many aspects of it’s new body but will never forget it’s origin. The city is flat, painfully dry and scorching hot. Rickshaws, camels and ox-drawn carts frequent the roads.The people dress differently – all the women wear vibrant saris all of the time instead of kurtas, more men have facial hair. Palm trees define the horizon.


My last night in Bhairawaha was a magic night. Surprisingly so, because at the time my digestive track was…sporadic. Well, I suppose the fact that it was the final day of my week-long training had something to do with it. I had awoken fever free that morning, with only one session left to present, the session I was probably best prepared for. Session complete, the day wound down with that satisfied sense of achievement. I left the hotel for the first time in five days to go buy bus tickets. We had camped out inside in desperation to avoid the heavy heat. – the time spent cooped up indoors made the experience of the place fresh and new; the street was uncomfortable yet we walked at ease, for there was something familiar in the discomfort. A noisy highway of dust, a road torn up for expansion; subsequent parallel gravel side-streets absorbing the traffic – a steady flow of rickshaws, tractors and motorcycles; adjacent buildings torn in two – cut in half in order to accommodate the widening road, being given new faces with which to view it. Dust, fumes, sweat, blaring horns.


As we ate dinner at a kebab place around the corner (mostly flat bread for my touchy stomach) the sky turned a steely gray, thunderheads spreading across the horizon. Threats, but no rain. As my friends paid and headed back to the hotel, I decided to do a short exploration loop around the city. The sky had become lightning in a bottle: bolts split across the clouds, flashes of light flickering every few seconds. It was amazing – I could have stood staring for hours. But as the wind picked up speed, whipping my hair about my face, I knew that time was limited. Sweet, fresh, cold wind. The power cut in and out, unable to make up its mind…. Darkness overcame the block as I made my way down a crowded neighborhood street off the dusty highway. No power meant no street lights; no street lights meant, in this moment, the thrill of an oncoming swarm of swift bicycles and rickshaws miraculously managing to avoid collision in the pitch blackness. 

And then, I found the main drag – the city’s main street; the heart that felt like a true city (unlike the dusty highway our conference center faced). In the street I spotted several giant, white cows. A kind I don’t see in the hills – a breed from India. There was something perfect about one bull, standing serenely, proudly on the sidewalk. He was majestic in his calm; somehow well adapted to the bustling surroundings and voracious wind, he continued chewing food scraps completely nonchalant. Packed along the sidewalk were carts of fried foods. Gaggles of boys walked home from their evening beer snacks, each complete with round bhaat bellies and hungry eyes.  And then – came a marching band! A small procession led by a truck, from which two giant speakers somehow amplified the percussion section over the noises of the city. A semi-enthused dozen horn players immediately followed. Across the back of the truck was written “Milan Band”.

As I turned the last corner of my full-circle, the rain began to fall. Fat, sputtering drops gradually picking up pace until they formed a downpour. I was caught, and I didn’t care. No – I was joyous to be caught, and watched everyone rush to the shelter of the nearest overhang as I walked on with smooth confidence, radiant.