Yes, yes, stay at the Sheraton! self wants to scream at Amanda Lindhout.
Because, even though Ayelet Tsabari, in The Art of Leaving, takes a lot of risks, Amanda Lindhout’s risks are to the nth, on a whole other level. For instance, going to Bangladesh, where she knows no one. She really wants to go to India, but the flight to Bangladesh is cheap. So off she goes to Bangladesh.
On the flight over, she chats with “a middle-aged German guy” who says he goes to Dhaka all the time on business. While self’s insides are screaming “Watch out!” this man is met at the airport by a driver in an air-conditioned white mini-van and Amanda accepts a ride in his car. Considering that she is staying “at a twelve-dollar-a-night hotel” she’d picked out of Lonely Planet, Martin tells her that the ride would take “three hours and the driver would overcharge” by “virtue of” her white skin and gender. It turns out this Martin is a godsend, because he directs his driver to take her to her hotel, and when she gets out of the car he says, “Are you sure you don’t want to just stay at the Sheraton?” and she says “No, no, this is good!” Martin, bless his heart, presses a business card into her hand and says, “All right, then, call if you need anything.” And Amanda is immediately swarmed (which has happened to self: in the city of Taxco, Mexico, but at least there she had a companion, her Stanford roommate Sachiko; and also in some city in Himachal Pradesh whose name she completely forgets, and again in almost every other Indian city she landed in with the exception of Dharamsala, where she made the wise choice to stay in an inn inside a military cantonment)
From the moment Amanda alights from the German’s minivan, “every head on the street seemed suddenly to swivel” in her direction, and a man dogs her heels saying, over and over, “English? Hello? Hello, hello, hello?”
And yet this is nothing compared to what happens when she checks into her twelve-dollar-a-night Lonely Planet recommended hotel, and gets the third degree:
“Where is your husband?”
“I don’t have a husband.”
The man tilted his head. “Then where is your father?”A House in the Sky, p. 46
Bless Amanda for being so bold. She refuses to lie. In India, because of self’s great age, and the fact that her itinerary included just temples — temples in the mountains, temples in the middle of a forest, temples whether Hindu or Buddhist or Punjabi — people just assumed she was dying and didn’t hassle her too much. Also, they assumed self was poor because she had no guide, and was always using public transportation.
Actually, it wasn’t just ordinary Indians who thought self was dying. Her friends, too, asked: “Are you sick?”
Wanting to go to Dharamsala means you are sick? Okay, then! Whatever works!
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.