Posts Tagged ‘Jaipur’

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Lindsay: Program and plans overview

December 16, 2011
I just thought I would give you all an general overview of the program I am in and what my plans are when I arrive in India:
The program I am in is called MSID or Minnesota Studies in International Development.  I will leave on January 15 and I’ll get back on May 20.  I am going with a group of about 15 other college students, most from the U of M but a couple who are not.
I will first be arriving in New Delhi, which is in the north west part of India.  From there we will drive north about an hour as a group up to Jaipur (located in the state of Rajasthan), where we will stay for the remainder of the program.
I will be taking classes (taught in English by Indian professors) for the first 6 weeks of the program.  At this time, I will also be staying with a host family from India.  Throughout this time, my group will travel to places on the weekends such as the Taj Mahal, the slums, and bazaars (or malls for shopping, but they are more like the style of flee or farmers markets).
For the last 6 weeks of the program, I will be interning in Jaipur.  At this point in time, I am not sure where or what my internship will be because it is developed alongside people from the city when I arrive.  However, I will have a different host family during this six weeks.
The program itself ends on the 22nd of April.  From then until about May 20th, a small group of girls from my program as well as myself will be traveling around India.  We hope to make it to the the Himalayas for some hiking, the island of Goa, and hopefully to Mumbai.  At this point, we do not have anything set in stone as far as destinations and approximate times for anything.  It is so cheap to get around in India, we are going to take our time and explore everything and anything we want to. 
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Emily: Farewell, Pinky

October 17, 2011

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep – while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

-E.A.P.

and as I am in India  I’ve got to include some Rabindranath Tagore…

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”

Ahem, & now for a mouthful of my own less beautiful words…

A few bold stars poke their faces through the haze to listen to the spastic base drum and crackle of fireworks, the splash and clank fuss of nighttime chores, and myriad of beepity-beeps and honk-honks answering the crickets’ chorus far below…low and sweet, a bluegrass tune weeps from Mary’s windowsill, softly whispering ”goodbye, old friend.”  Jaipur lends it no ear, not the slightest hesitation to acknowledge these rolling stones singing farewell, collecting their moss as they prepare to disperse…

Seventy seven days well spent, one more in my pocket, waiting to buy up what it can; the final hours of class time, a trip to the post office, one more family dinner, and perhaps a few hours of sleep.  Beyond that?  Nothing is certain.  “Arrangements have been made” – for me that will mean an internship with a relatively well known NGO (Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti) based in Udaipur, southern Rajasthan.  Where will I be staying?  In the city?  In the middle of nowhere? What will I be doing?  Your guess is as good as mine, so I venture forth expecting nothing and hoping for a little more than that – hoping I’ll be of good use to a small part of the world soon.

Mere Parivar (minus Ayush, Taron, Anol, Vlinda, etc.)

Jaipur, you’ve been a real treat.  I shall miss the familiarity of my neighborhood, the crowded streets of Raja Park that I’ve learned to navigate with ease on my quests for snacks and endless sights, and the sanctuary of my host family’s home…coming home to a sitting room filled with the enchanting sitar’s voice, home-cooked meals warm on the table or packed in my Tiffin, the chuckling Moti (our family servant) flip-flopping round the house on hyper-extended stick-like legs, the refuge of my bedroom and the privilege of a private bathroom – all mine for the puking in.  The repetitive, pointless lectures, the ass-grabbing and cat calls…the easily identifiable Piss Wall……these I might not miss so much.

Perhaps in a week or two I’ll venture back…celebrate the lights and spirit of Dewali with my humble hosts…join them for a family wedding in Agra…if time and new authority figures permit.  I wager time will be made and authority figures will be charmed, if necessary.  Two months snapped by, and in retrospective whiplash all I can muster is that “life is short, but long enough.” In six weeks and some odd change the first semester will be over, zip, ho gaya, finito. I’ll be halfway through my Indian pie….er, samosa.  In the words of Ramaji, “wha-teva, wha-teva.” Christmas in Kerala, New Years in Goa?…ancient ruins, crowded cities, white sandy beaches and maybe a couple surf boards?…aw yea, I smile and nod.  Two and half months have gone by and I’m still not entirely sure I’m awake.

If this blog has left you sourly unsatisfied, perhaps this will hit the spot? – a short celebration of the adventure I’m about to embark upon…

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Mary: a red fort, a white tomb, and a blonde girl

October 10, 2011

The second weekend following our return from Dharamsala, the group was itching for another adventure. We had all enjoyed a little respite in Jaipur with home cooked meals and chai three times a day, but a short break from school work and a change of scenery was definitely now in order. As we were all in the process of deciding which direction to head out in, I heard that my roommate from Richmond, Georgia, who also happens to be studying abroad in India this semester in a program in New Delhi, was planning to visit the Taj Mahal that weekend. Hoping against hope that I might get to meet up with her, I decided to accompany the group of 8 other students going to Agra. The rest of the students in the group were all newbie students – none of the other pre-session girls I was used to travelling with, so I was excited to get to know them all better!

We set out at 5 am on Saturday, taking a train to arrive in the city by around 11 that morning. It was the first time any of the new students had ridden on the train so I felt a bit like a mother duckling shepherding her chicks around as I took them to the right platform and helped us all find our seats. We arrived in Agra without any hassle and lassoed up a few auto rickshaws to take us to our hotel. Driving through the streets of Agra, I was pretty unimpressed. It was just as noisy and at least twice as dirty as Jaipur and seemed to be catering primarily to tourists, not surprisingly. But our hotel was very lovely, with a rooftop restaurant which offered my very first view of the most famous monument to love ever created – the Taj Mahal. One of India’s ancient Mogul rulers built the Taj as a memorial and tomb for his favorite wife and was later buried there himself. I must say that despite my poor first impression, the Taj made the trip to Agra completely worth it though at present I’ll save my description for a few lines down the page.

After lunch and a short rest, we headed off for an afternoon of site-seeing. Our first stop was the Red Fort, Agra’s second most popular attraction. Though not as impressive as the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur in my opinion, the Red Fort is certainly a beautiful palace, with many stories of great historical interest milling about its corridors. The inner courtyard garden was my favorite part, both because it was utterly gorgeous and also because the little chipmunk-squirrels found all over India were so used to people there that they would come and eat right out of your hand! They were positively adorable creatures and left me quite smiley and giddy and seriously wishing I could bring one home. The Red Fort also offers a stunning view of the Taj from a distance, made doubly attractive by the wide river flowing alongside the two monuments.

We then left the fort and made our way towards the gleaming white beauty in the distance. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes and paying a rather exorbitant foreigners fee of 750 rupees compared to the Indian nationals fee of 20 rupees, we had finally reached the outer gate to the Taj. Despite having seen countless pictures and even catching distance glimpses from the top of my hotel and the Red Fort, nothing could have prepared me for the splendor of the striking white marble rising up before my eyes as I walked through that gate. You could palpably feel the collective admiration emanating from hundreds of people, both Indians and foreigners alike, gazing up in wonder. I felt very small and very young sitting in the shadow of its great and layered past. We spent about two hours wandering through the surrounding gardens and making a few trips inside to see the two tombs resting in the dark interior. We watched the sun set tranquilly from the top steps and only made our way out when it started to get dark. All in all, it was a truly brilliant experience and I am so glad I’ve been lucky enough to see one of the many great wonders of this world! We spent a relaxing evening at the hotel, sitting on the roof eating delicious Indian food, having a few beers and getting to know each other a little better.

The next morning we set out to explore some of the more well known bazaars around Agra, though the shopping was sub-par compared to Jaipur. We finally decided to get some lunch and I very enthusiastically suggested we head to the McDonalds in the center of town (anyone who knows me in the slightest may find this very strange and out of character but you will soon why). Walking into that small, unassuming McDonalds in Agra I made perhaps the biggest spectacle of myself I have yet to make in India. Imagine, please, two very enthusiastic, very noticeably American (one of whom is very blonde), very squealy girls rushing towards each other at full steam ahead, colliding in the middle of a very crowded restaurant and proceeding to jump up and down vigorously while hugging. Now add in happiness vibes multiplied by a million and you have the reunion of George and Marv (aka Georgia Sills and Mary Brickle). It was wonderful beyond words to see my lovely Richmond roommate Georgia! We sat and exchanged stories for about half an hour as her group finished eating and it made me so exquisitely happy to see a familiar face that I was walking on sunshine for the rest of the day. The train ride home that evening offered another chance to talk to people I was missing in my life as my family called and chatted for a good hour. Apparently at some point during the ride home that evening there was an earthquake which had an epicenter near Sikkim, which is considerably far north but apparently you could feel it all the way in Agra so I’m guessing the motion of the train kept me from noticing anything. When we finally made it back to Jaipur we were all exhausted and had to be up early the next morning to head out for a three day field trip with school so after Rama-Ji stuffed me full of food and sent me upstairs I very graciously climbed into my bed, noting with a smile how nice it felt to be able to call someplace in India home.

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Mary: Tales from Dharamsala

September 9, 2011

I’ve been trying to write about our epic Dharamsala escapade for the last few weeks but I just kept getting (surprise) side-tracked. For the most part though, things have been pretty quiet in Jaipur since we got back. I’ve mainly just been focusing on school, which we have from 9:30 to 4:30 every day, and reading in my free time. They’ve really amped up the Hindi lessons! We’ve finally transitioned away from the English transcription system we were using to read and learn new vocab words and now we just write everything in the script! I’m incredibly excited because it finally feels like I’m making significant progress with Hindi but it’s also a lot harder than I expected! It feels so strange to struggle through each individual word, slowly pronouncing the sound each letter makes. It really is like being in kindergarten and learning to read all over again. But still, it’s so thrilling to finally be able to read and write in such a strange and beautiful new language!

Anyways, I’m mainly writing this post to share the story of my journey in Dharamsala! I shall start off my swash-buckling account of the small hill station in the northernmost reaches of this vast and wondrous country with the simple and beautiful truth – we didn’t really do much of anything that week. Though I am sure a collective note of confusion may now be heard rising up from the befuddled peanut gallery, allow me to explain. Fact: the city of Jaipur is exhilarating and fills me each and every day with a sense of awe and admiration for the multitude of ways that humans have come to call this planet we live on home. Unfortunately, I believe that in that week leading up to our departure for the north, I had come to experience firsthand a little phenomenon, all too familiar amongst foreign travelers to India, known as “sensory overload”. I was getting a bit, shall we say, frazzled. I was more than ready for a little vacation to somewhere that wasn’t exceedingly hot and wasn’t plagued with the constant blare of traffic horns. Regrettably, the roughly 30 hour rickshaw-train-rickshaw-train-bus-ricksaw ride it took to get from Jaipur to Delhi to Pathankot to Dharamsala was, quite frankly, miserable. I don’t think I’ve ever had feelings of being dirty, sleepy, hungry, and grouchy combine in as great a magnitude as they did that first evening in Dharamsala. To top it all off, as we wandered the streets looking for a hotel, it was dark and pouring down rain. However, good news is that when things start off going that poorly, they can really only improve. We finally found a hotel, negotiated a reasonable rate for the six of us, had a hot meal (complete with carrot cake and chai) in the upstairs café, took pleasantly warm showers and crawled into very comfortable beds and immediately fell asleep.

The next morning, all troubles of the day before were negated and negligible upon our first look out the window. It was indescribably magical. I actually had the feeling of being in some other world where prayer flags wave invitingly from the forests, tiny little women beckon me forward to feel the yak wool shawls they have just finished knitting, monks with shaved heads draped in curtains of brightest saffron orange meander through the streets and the clouds normally drift down to say nameste and hang lazily about all morning. It was also on this first morning that I had one of my most memorable experiences in India to date.

Hannah and I had gotten separated from the rest of the group, lingering a bit longer at some little shop. We were walking down the street, looking for breakfast when a small boy with thin, ungainly limbs and a wide but crooked smile stepped out of the shadows of the early morning mist, eager to chat. “Hallo!” he called, “How do you like Dharamsala? You are travelers? Where are you from?” He reeled of a series of questions, determined to demonstrate his mastery of the English language, hoping to keep us engaged. We were used to this type of behavior from the local street children, the pestering attention this boy was giving us, and I had a very strong feeling he was about to seek our charity. But I could feel something different about this boy, something more genuine. Perhaps it was his persistent yet determinedly casual knack for keeping up a conversation, or the fact that he did not immediately hold out his hand and ask for money, like so many others, which caused me to pay him a bit more attention. As we meandered down the small street, poking our heads into shops selling everything from yak cheesecake to singing bowls, we continued in the boy’s company. A solid ten minutes went by without him asking for anything. It was only when Hannah and I eventually found and were about to enter a restaurant for breakfast that the boy spoke up, “Please madams I was curious, I will not ask for money, but if you would buy me some rice before going in?” Since my arrival in India it has been my personal decision to refuse to give money to beggars but occasionally if I have a piece of fruit or pack of crackers with me I will pass it on. As the boy stared up at me with silent pleading eyes, I found myself answering his question with one of my own, “Would you like to come to breakfast with us?” He looked hesitant; I could see him weighing in his mind the price of missing out on potential tourists against the luxury of a warm meal. Keen to hear more of this boy’s story, I offered the added promise of buying him a bag of rice afterwards if he came with us, which did the trick. We sat down at a table outside with an excellent view of the surrounding mountains and launched into conversation. I learned that his name was Suratch and that he had lived in Dharamsala all his life. He lived with his older brother and his wife, a younger sister, and his mother. He was 11 years old and had never been to school. He told me he learned English from talking to tourists, and he promptly rattled off phrases in French and “Israeli” (which I took to be Hebrew), saying those were the most common languages he heard besides English. When I asked why he wasn’t in school he looked a bit confused and said simply “I am needed at home”. When it came time to order our food, he explained that while he would rather have the chocolate pancakes, they would be gone like that (with a snap of the fingers) and so he would like to have the porridge with bananas because it would be a better meal. We continued to chat through the rest of breakfast about nothing in particular; it felt a bit like meeting a new kid I was babysitting for the first time. As we left the restaurant and I took Suratch to a nearby food stall to buy his promised bag of rice, we were laughing together at the monkeys and he promised that he was going to marry me next time I returned to Dharamsala. When at last we shook hands goodbye, he looked me in the eyes with an enormous smile and said earnestly “I thank you Mary, I thank you, you are so nice, I won’t forget!” Watching him walk away, I was filled with genuine sadness that I wouldn’t see him again. I honestly cannot tell you why that particular morning I decided to spend around 500 rupees to buy breakfast and a bag of rice for a street kid, when every other morning on my way to school I walk unblinkingly past dozens of women and children holding upturned palms in my direction. I can, however, guarantee that the memory of sharing a meal with the little boy who gave me a glimpse of unadulterated human goodness was well worth it. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Mary: Peaceful but passionate protests

August 25, 2011

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the anti-corruption movement currently on the rise here in India for a little over a week now.  A man named Anna Hazare, one of India’s most well known and respected social activists, began a hunger strike 10 days ago with demands that the government introduce an anti-corruption bill to the congress, currently convened for the “monsoon session”. Corruption is one of the biggest social and political problems facing India today, with bribes and favoritism found at every level of government, from getting a drivers license to the appointment of top government offices. Rama-Ji told Emily and I the story of how our servant Moti’s brother went to college and actually got his teaching degree and wanted to go teach in a rural village. He applied and was awarded appointment to the staff, an arduous process with multiple tests and complicated application procedures, but in the end the government told him had to pay the equivalent of nearly 10 years salary just to be able to take the position! It was completely outrageous. So in the end, Moti’s brother had to take a position as a servant in a house as well and is slowly trying to earn enough money to pay for more schooling so that he can become a teacher in a private institution instead of a government one. So in response to thousands upon thousands, a truly countless number, of examples such as this, Anna Hazare is trying to pass a bill which will facilitate the creation of an anti-corruption task force that is independent of the government and would be capable of punishing instances of corruption even at the highest levels. The entire nation is behind Hazare, with peaceful demonstrations and mass gatherings being held in every major city and roughly 25,000 people gathering at the park in New Delhi where Hazare is currently conducting his fast. The tension is growing more and more each day as Hazare’s health deteriorates and the government does not seem any closer to taking action.

The main sticking point of the bill is that no level of government is exempt from the scrutiny of the anti-corruption authority, including even the prime minister and highest judicial courts. In fact, there is already a bill introduced in congress that proposes the creation of an independent anti-corruption authority but leaves out these top positions from falling under its jurisdiction. The government is worried that including these positions will undermine the authority of the Indian government and put the country at risk. “Team Anna” (as most of the TV stations here are calling the Hazare supporters), feels that not to include these highest offices would be to ignore the corruption which takes place at the highest levels and essentially give them a free pass to continue. So they have taken to burning copies of the “weak” form of the bill in the streets and sticking strongly to their demands of the full fledged bill coming into play. So today, towards the end of day 10 of the scheduled 15 day fast, the country is at a crossroads. The headlines of every major news paper and news network here have been focusing on little else besides the protests in support of Hazare. It truly has become a nationwide fight against corruption that is affecting the lives of every single Indian citizen in a personal way. It’s the topic of conversation every night at our dinner table and there have even been people walking down my street shouting out slogans in support of Hazare, one of which Rama-Ji translated as “Victory to Mother India”. I’m not sure what level of media attention this movement is receiving in the states, but I wanted to let everyone know how important it has become here and I encourage everyone to follow the progress of the movement over the next few days. This could turn out to be a very decisive time in Indian history and quite honestly it’s really exciting to be here in the midst of it!

In other not so important news tomorrow is the last day of Hindi class! I’m can’t believe how quickly the end of my pre-session has snuck up on me. Not that I haven’t been learning copious amounts of foreign language but, to be blunt, I’m more than ready for regular classes to start and to not have to be doing 4 straight hours of Hindi a day. Classes are going to resume Sept. 1, but from tomorrow afternoon until then, we have a nice long break! So the 5 other girls who are staying for the semester and I are all going on a weeklong trip to the far reaches of northern India to a magical place nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas known as Dharamsala! It is the home of the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan government and also a fantastic place to go trekking. I’m really looking forward to some cooler weather (it looks like it’s going to be in the 70s while we’re there) and a good long hike up into the mountains.

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Emily: Anna Hazaare, face of the Indian revolution?

August 25, 2011

I wanted to note: Invigorating times in the political history of India! I’m quite excited to be here as the struggle for anti-corruption unfolds before my eyes every evening on the television and every morning in the newspapers.  Anna Hazare, a political activist for transparency and consequences for government actions, was arrested this morning in Delhi as he continued his fast for a strong Lokpal Bill (which would put government officials in check). The arrest itself was unconstitutional, putting the democratic right to protest in question, and has stirred massive protests. Moved by the people, thousands of which were arrested across India, the government plans to release Anna this evening, but he will continue his fast until suitable negotiations are made. Just so you can get an idea of how government corruption affects the lives of everyday people…my family’s servant, Moti, has an elder brother who came to help fumigate the kitchen this weekend. Strange, it would seem, that someone who has a undergraduate degree would be working as a servant, yes? Well, upon receiving his baccalaureate he applied for a government position, and his application was well received. Upon interviewing personally for the position, he was viewed as an optimum candidate – upon one condition: to receive the job he would have to pay the government Rs 20,000! That’s roughly $450 USD, but to a poor man who makes Rs 7,500 a month and has mouths to feed, you can see how this meager government position fee (illegally imposed) is preposterous. And that’s just at the ground level, the higher you move up into governmental positions, the thicker the heap of corruption can grow, I’m afraid. Let’s all have India’s people in our hearts and minds as they move through these difficult times; may the voice of the people be heard and may their hopes become the future.  And save a little bit of hope for me, please, (just a tiny drop) as somewhere between the visa agency and the India consulate, my visa came back to her 4 months shorter than it should have been! In all likelihood I should be able to get a three month extension on it, but no more than that…perhaps I will wander off to Nepal if India would only allow me to return for my flight home…

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Emily: A fresh perspective

August 18, 2011

The blue city of Jodhpur; purpose in the painting?…cools homes & acts as an effective insect repellant…who knew?

Growing antsy from two weeks of being punctual and polite in the confines of the Kanota Bagh neighborhood of Jaipur, Emily and her six comrades set off for the train station on a drizzly Friday morning.  They hauled their packs with excitement, traipsing down Devi Path to the main road.  There they haggle with hurried rickshaw drivers who honked loudly as they pulled up to the trashed covered curb. Finally settling on an agreeable price, the girls piled into two yellow and green rickshaws with tiny posters of pretty girls plastered to their worn out interiors.  A surprising amount of Jaipur was hustling and bustling for Rakhi, the celebration of brothers and sisters, despite the misty rain which usually kept them inside near a warm cup of chai.  The train station they reached was packed with honking motorists and pushy pedestrians passing through security gates.  Images of terrorists, bombs, and overturned railway carts flashed through Emily’s mind momentarily as the slightly confused but jovial team found their way to the second platform.  Arriving a half hour early for the train, they sat in a circle and feasted their eyes on the colorful sights around them.  Women in shimmering saris mingled with flea-bitten mutts and hormone ridden teenagers who felt no guilt in staring at the mix of North American women.  An hour after their train was scheduled to arrive, the group had grown silent, taking up their Sodoku puzzles and flipping through old magazines from home.  Emily watched with a smile on her face as a tiny toddler toddled around the skirts of his mother in shoes that squeaked with every step.  When his round hazel eyes found hers, he squeaked over to have a babbly conversation and smile at her peek-a-boo faces.  His mother followed his squeaky steps to retrieve him, but when she saw how much they were enjoying each other, she decided it would be best if they parted with a proper goodbye and instructed the wee one to give Emiy a kiss.  The softest, wettest  baby kiss was planted squarely on her cheek and then he squeak, squeak, squeaked out of her life, down the platform to his father and luggage, never to know what a treat she thought her first Indian kiss was.

Not long after, the big blue Marudhar Express screeched to a halt in front of the gathering crowd of passengers, so Emily and friends pushed their way to dirty benches which doubled as sleeping bunks.  “How refreshing to be going!” Emily thought as the breeze came in through the barred windows and she climbed to the top bunk with her ipod and Hindi homework in hand.  From her high position she watched like a house cat as her new found friends jumped to capture the pastoral scenery whizzing by with their cameras, as the whizzers whizzed wherever they pleased in the trash cluttered towns, and as young men crowded the windows of their cart at every stop to see the circus of white women inside.  The pale-skinned lot snacked on chapatis and cookies packed by their humble hosts in Jaipur and gave some of their loot away to the beggars that made sure to spend ample time in their section of the car.


a gaggle of train station boyz “welcomed” them at every stop

where Jodhpur’s water supply had once been, trash and one giant catfish now reside

They arrived in the blue city of Jodhpur without any hiccups, only to be swarmed by more rickshawalas and hungry children. Fearful to fish out any cash here, the girls huddled in the midst of the ever encroaching crowd as Sam tried desperately to contact their hotel driver and Emily gave out the last of her Luna bars to a little girl in dirty clothes.  Food was far better to give out than money anyhow, as the children often worked for some kind of “pimp”, but Emily felt guilty as she stood there with her cell phone, I-pod, and “essentials” of life on her back. What did she do to be so lucky that she didn’t have to spend her childhood begging on a dirty platform of dying dogs and maddened men? Her childhood was filled with inflatable swimming pools, conversations with her favorite trees in her front yard, Cheerio snacks, and bread crumbs fed to ducks on a river. And now, here she was, on vacation from her perpetual vacation. A tourist in a town where the young and old went to bed with their bellies aching. Read the rest of this entry ?

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