Thereís a hot summer day in the U.S., and then thereís this entirely different animal called today. To say itís been the hottest day Iíve ever experienced is a vast understatement. No exaggeration: my toes and eyes actually feel a slight sting from the heat! Sweating isnít adequate for the amount of liquid pouring off my body. Definitely feeling a bit foreign when most of the people I see are wearing long pants and not even perspiring...
Through the hotness, we walk a few blocks to a Banana Republic-esque clothing boutique to buy Amna a few days of replacement clothes for the contents of the suitcase British Airways has been kind enough to screw up. Aside from the prices ($10 buys most anything in the store), some more culture shock: the tops alone are longer than the dresses most U. S. stores would carry.
Cool story for the day, courtesy of Amna: the Bandit Queen. Apparently some young lady was gang-raped by a bunch of bandits and decided to do something about it. Actually, she decided to do a lot about it, rising to power as the head of her own gang of bandits that only killed bad men. She even got personal revenge, going to the village of those that raped her and killing all 17 dudes, one by one. Nobody could ever catch her, and she finally turned herself in. After a few years imprisoned, the interesting part happens: she runs for political office and wins! Unfortunately, this femme fataleís history catches up with her: sheís assassinated by a relative of one of the bandits she killed.
Crazy story of the day, courtesy of Sameer: heís heard gunshots blocks away while playing cricket in the streets of Karachi, Pakistan. This conversation started with him casually mentioning how his extended family that lives in Karachi has hiding places and emergency exits in case the occasional Uzi-wielding bandit decides to harass them! But, he says, itís usually not too bad: there was only this once when bandits tied his uncle and his family up, plugged wires into the electrical outlet, and threatened to shock them if they didnít hand over their jewelry. And that one time when bandits came with a big truck to his auntís house at night, filled it with all her possessions, and made her cook them a meal before leaving in the morning, along with all the food they wanted from the fridge. Kinda makes the fact that a couple of people get mugged around Pennís campus seem inconsequential, huh?
We pass the afternoon with errands. Our driver routinely stalls because he starts in third gear as we get lunch (McDonaldís but not: the megacorporation, but McAloo Tikki Burger, which is potatoes and spices instead of anything made from cows, an animal sacred to Hindus, who comprise a lot of the Indian population), pick up tickets to Lahore (cool because direct flights between India and Pakistan just resumed 1/1/2004), and drink lotsa lotsa water.
And then weíre off to Agra, home of that little monument that a few people tend to see when they come to India. Big surprise: I sleep the whole way. Waking up, I find that our travel agent did the exact opposite of what we asked: our no-frills hotel is the Mughal Sheraton, a resort complete with pool, 20+-foot chandelier, 4 restaurants, a maze made out of bushes, tennis court, mini golf, and more marble than Iíve ever seen, making it by far the nicest hotel Iíve ever stayed in. Itís not quite disappointing when we find out that the Taj Mahal is closed tomorrow and we may have to stay in this lap of luxury another night. After a dinner so pricey that it rivals the cost of fast food back home and waiters so eager to serve that they scoop more food onto our plates whenever they run low, we sleep spoiled.