The end of the year seems a fitting time to close the 2014 chapter on Route 66 and open the door to new adventures. Months before I committed to the road trip with the Ride for the Relay, I was planning an equally exciting adventure with a group of women to visit India. That trip is unfolding in a few short days, and I'm struck by the complexity of planning and preparing for this grand adventure: the shots and medications required (no one wants to come home with malaria!); the warnings from everyone about the water (I bought my first steripen and look forward to using it); the concerns over safety for women traveling; packing very light to leave room for buying exotic and beautiful "stuff" in India!! All of this has been occupying a lot of space in my psyche over the last few months!
Let me first explain the impetus for the trip. In 2012 I was invited to join a group of twelve women called "The Giving Circle" and our purpose would be to sponsor a woman "from the global south" to come to America and participate in The Empowerment Institute. This group concept is part of a larger entity called "Imagine ...A Global Initiative for The Empowerment of Women" which was created in 2010 by Gail Straub and David Gershon, (who also happen to be part of our Hudson Valley community). In a nutshell, here is how they describe their work:
"IMAGINE is a global initiative for the empowerment of women. It enables women in challenging life circumstances in developing world countries to envision and create new possibilities for their life, family and community through participation in Empowerment Institute's flagship transformational training program, the Empowerment Workshop. IMAGINE's focus is on women because they have been identified as the key leverage point to further development in countries of the global south. IMAGINE is currently being implemented through Empowerment Institute partner organizations in Afghanistan, Kenya, India, Jordan, Nigeria, South Africa, and Sudan. IMAGINE's long-term goal is to change the game around development." You can read more about their goals and philosophyhere.
I accepted the invitation, hoping this would give me the opportunity to make some small difference in the world. At our first meeting we were introduced to the woman we would be sponsoring from India - her name is Poonam and she is a social worker involved with domestic violence issues in her hometown, Ahmedabad. Throughout the year we had the opportunity to speak with her via Skype and then meet her in person when she did her first Empowerment weekend in New York City. She's a delightful, intelligent, strong and committed woman.
We started floating the idea of a trip to India to visit Poonam almost immediately, and a number of our group were interested. In the end, there are only five of us going: Patricia (the leader of our group), Alice, Ellen, myself, Sylvia and her husband Leonard. Oh, that blessed man will have lots to negotiate with this lively group! So the six of us are departing from Kennedy Airport on January 3rd at 5:30 and will land in Mumbai at 5:00 on January 4th. We will spend three days in Mumbai as we adjust to the Indian culture and get our bearings. Sylvia has traveled in India before and used the services of a wonderful guide named Hemali. She will be shepherding us around, showing us the sights, and we will be honored to have a dinner in her family's home as well.
Then the core purpose of the trip will be upon us as we fly to Ahmedabad and visit Poonam for three days to experience first hand the work she has been doing there. I'm so looking forward to gaining a deeper appreciation of the Indian culture and experiencing first hand how life is unfolding for the women she works with.
For the remainder of the trip we will joyfully be tourists! Alice worked with an excellent tour company called India Someday to create our itinerary which includes driving in a small air-conditioned van through Rajasthan visiting Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Ranthambhore (and the Tiger Reserve), Agra (and the Taj Mahal), Varanasi on the Ganges, and finally departing from Delhi at the end of this three week trek! I am looking forward to sharing my pictures and insights with you on this road trip in India, as much as I loved sharing the richness of our American roadside culture with you on Route 66.
So welcome aboard and enjoy my quest on "the road to Rajasthan."
Mary Anne Erickson is an artist who has been documenting the demise of our roadside culture for over 30 years in paintings and photography. Her work can be seen at www.vanishingroadside.com and you can follow her Route 66 adventures at www.facebook.com/Rtesixtysix.