Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Buffalo Booty Bump

In addition to learning about women in India, I am interacting with traffic in the streets of Vanarasi.

**One night I nearly got knocked over by a water buffalo passing down the street as I stood talking with friends (debating which street to take to get back to the NIRMAN Guest House).

Its ample hip swung into my rear end but friends caught me before I fell.

In the dark I thought it was a cow, but others told me that the black, sleek ones are actually water buffalo... and more invisible at night.

The cows, bulls, water buffalo and other animals in the narrow streets are very tame. They don't mind humans--even crowd with us under an overhanging roof to escape the monsoon rain, as Kris Laverty in our group discovered.

Occasionally one sees a room opening onto the street that serves as a barn. These animals are all owned but let free to do "urban grazing." They are kept either for milk (to add to chai and to make yogurt, cheese) or for pulling carts.

**Another night I got knocked down by a bicycle while trying to follow the group across heavy traffic at Ravidas Gate. No injuries, just surprise. As with the buffalo encounter, there were no street lights because of random power blackouts. Candles in the various street shops were the only light.

Varanasi is a city of 1.3 million with no stoplights at intersections, no gutters, very few sidewalks, no lines to mark traffic lanes. Major intersections are round-abouts with a traffic director standing in the center on a circular platform (see photo), but other street crossings are just a free-for-all.

Alone , you watch bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, cars, school buses, trucks and tractors until you see an opening and dart across to the cement barrier separating the two directions of traffic, then wait and dart to the safety of the shops on the other side of the street.

As a group, the eight of us crossed intersections like ducklings following their mother. When our leader crossed, we all rushed to keep up with her, blindly hoping for safety in numbers rather than pausing to evaluate the oncoming traffic ourselves. That's how I happened to walk in front of an oncoming bicycle.

** I got a few other scrapes and bumps, so I'm keeping Band-Aids and Neosporin handy.

How do women in full burqa cross these streets? Actually, some are injured or killed.

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