It's been almost one month since I arrived in India (26 days to be exact) and I have finally spent my first $100 USD (that's approximately 4,500 Rupees).
In fact, it was less than $100 because I got ripped off twice: The first time was with a $28 currency exchange fee when I changed a $100 bill for rupees during my layover at the Heathrow Airport in London.
The second time was when I stopped in a small town near Mangalore to refill my local Airtel SIM card: I gave the agent Rs.300, but when I was finally able to check the balance, it only showed Rs.1 (as I later learned, my unlocked iPhone didn't work with the local SIM, so I couldn't check the balance until I purchased a basic Nokia phone a few days later).
So, where exactly did those 2,940 Rupees go?
Rs.100 ($2.20) - T-Shirt (purchased for a wedding I attended)
Rs.100 ($2.20) - Sandals
Rs.1250 ($27.70) - Basic Nokia phone; my unlocked iPhone didn't work with the local Airtel SIM card
Rs.110 ($2.40) - Local Airtel SIM phone refill
Rs.300 ($6.60) - About 15 meals at various restaurants
Rs.150 ($3.30) - Grains, vegetables, and fruits that I purchased to cook myself (at least two weeks worth of food for myself)
Rs.200 ($4.40) - Various jeep and bus rides (generally Rs.10 per ride)
Rs.400 ($8.80) - Two nights at a hotel in Ujire (Rs.200/night)
Rs.330 ($7.30) - Bus from Ujire to Bangalore (7-hour, overnight trip, 2nd class, no A/C)
Total spent in my first 26 days in India: $65 USD.
However, none of this would have been possible without the kind generosity of so many people who have helped me along the way.
When I arrived in Bangalore India, a close friend of the family who works at SELCO had arranged a ride from the airport to his home, where he let me stay for the first week and where his parents fed me delicious home-cooked meals for breakfast and dinner.
His driver drove me from the house to his office where I had my own desk and free access to the office broadband. At lunchtime, I went out with others from the office where they bought me lunch and refused to let me pay my portion.
One of my bus tickets, the most expensive one (Rs.500 for a 8-hour overnight trip in an air-conditioned bus from Bangalore to Mangalore) was purchased for me. When I arrived in Mangalore I had a place to sleep for a few hours before I was driven to the bus station to catch a ride to Ujire.
I was picked up in Ujire, where I was then driven to a remote farm about 10 miles from town and given a place to live, free of charge, indefinitely. While the farm had no electricity, it had solar power where I could charge my laptop. It also had a slow, but usable 3G connection for Internet.
I was lucky enough to meet someone else in Ujire, who just so happened to be staying on the same farm for a few weeks and who was also from the USA (from New York, actually). He had been in India two months longer than me and was able to answer all the questions I would have otherwise had to figure out the hard way.
While getting to Ujire from the farm involved a 45-minute hike and a 40-minute jeep ride, I was given access to the local SELCO office, which was located in a new engineering college (called SDMIT) about a mile from town. I had my own desk and free WiFi broadband. After meeting several people from the office, I was even given my own key to the place.
I want to take this moment to express my heartfelt thanks to Harish and his parents for feeding me and giving me a place to stay; to Raghu for driving me around, dropping me off, and picking me up from the bus station.
Thank you to Biswal for helping arrange for a local SIM card and mobile broadband card for me; to Mohan, Linda, Parvati, Krishna (and his new wife Sara), and others from the SELCO office for letting me tag along and making me feel welcome; and to Suresh for giving me a place to stay when Harish was unable to accommodate me and for buying dinner, making tea in the morning, and buying breakfast.
I want to express my thanks to Harish's aunt and the other Harish in Mangalore for buying my bus fare, for giving me a place to stay, and for helping me find a bus to Ujire; and to the Ujire bus ticket attendant for helping make sure I got off at the right stop.
I want to express my thanks to Anand for his kind generosity, for letting me stay on his incredible farm, for using the Ujire SELCO office, and for helping me settle into Ujire.
To Jacob, Aditi, Aadi, Ashwin, and Nimit, from the Ujire SELCO office, thank you for making me feel welcome and showing me around town; and to John, thank you for giving me tips and lessons learned by another foreigner from the USA and for recommending places to eat, sleep, and visit; and thank you to the random non-English speaking person I asked for directions when I got lost walking to the new bus station in Dharmasthala.
I have met so many other kind and generous people over the past month and I want to take this moment to say THANK YOU! If you're reading this and we haven't exchanged contact details, please contact me so we can stay in touch!
To you, my readers, some of whom are family, some of whom are friends, and many of whom I haven't even met yet (please, introduce yourself!), thank you for the support and for taking the time to read my blog. Your comments, feedback, and emails are a constant source of inspiration.