Thanks to those who wished safe travels. My travels were, indeed, safe with only a few minor emergencies regarding overweight baggage and the corresponding dysfunctional scales (as in registering a 750 ml bottle of rum as 4 kilograms...), residency documentation that was packed in my check-on luggage but that I needed to show in order to leave India...
I was welcomed at SFO by the two men of my life: dad and hubby. My dad was there to pick me up and taxi me home (gotta take quality time when and where we can!) and A was there (at the airport) to fly to the middle of the country to see his cousin's wedding. And if their welcome wasn't uplifting enough, I was also blessed with having my luggage come out first. For those of you who have waited and waited at the baggage claim only to watch all your fellow travelers leave and your stuff never show up, you can imagine how special it is to have the VERY FIRST suit case show up?
The jet lag is not as bad as I had thought, though what seems to be a lack of sleepiness may actually be the high of being home. I woke up at 5:30 am this morning and did yoga, so basically things are normal.
I guess I won't have much more to write to this special group until I fly off to Japan (on August 12, by the way), unless you want to hear all the details of my boring little hometown... Okay, okay, I can almost you groaning, dear reader. So, then, until sushi-ville,
P.S. I did remember an interesting detail about India that I thought I'd share. The swastika there is common. One sees it embossed into the handle of window panes, painted on car hoods as a blessing, or drawn in chalk upon an entry-way as an invitation to Laxmi (I think), the god of wealth (I think). There, it is merely an auspicious Hindu symbol... which is what the swastika represented long before Hitler soured its association. SO if you ever see an Indian using it, know that they're not anti-semites. Or if they are, they're not proving it by hanging a swastika in their prayer room.
Hello to my favorite F words (friends and family, obviously),
By the subject line I'm not talking about the gifts for y'all, nor the pressure cooker that I couldn't bear to leave behind, nor the exceptionally cheap medications that are available without prescription here... My (Crazy) Uncle once wrote to me and said something like "I would ask what you're up to, but I already know thanks to your not-so-short emails." I can imagine that most of you feel similarly. Therefore, I'll summarize:
-Men are physically intimate in a way that makes an even open-minded American a bit uncomfortable. The thing is, the doting doesn't MEAN the same thing here that it means there. When I see these things with my own eyes, it becomes SO clear that acceptable and unacceptable behavior isn't unieversal, it's TAUGHT.
-There's a bird I hear all the time but I've never seen. I call it the 'I know' bird (reminiscent of me as a three year old). It's call sounds like a rascal of a child trying to impress a bigger kid, getting progressively louder and higher and faster "I know, I know, I know, I know!"
-Women sometimes put turmeric paste on their face for beautification. At first I thought my maid had jaundice and I asked if she wanted some vitamin C or something. (Clearly, I'm not a doctor... I don't think jaundice and vitamin C have anything to do with each other.) When turmeric isn't their product of choice, they use fairness cream, a product that is advertised like crazy on all channels (English, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada, etc.) There's even a fairness meter inside all new Fair and Lovely products so you can document your results. The meter starts at a color similar to a Hershey's bar and ends somewhere around the color of the inside of my wrist. What I'd like to know is: are the "dusky" women happy if they turn into cinnamon? Also: I think I'll think a little less longingly about the tan I'll never have...
-EVERYBODY has a religion. They don't understand the concept of not belonging to the Hindu, Muslim, or Christian club (and hardly anybody outside of Jew Town in Kerala has ever heard of Judaism, by the way). Eventually my cook and I came to the understanding, using our limited but surprisingly accurate vocabulary. Her God's name is Jesus. I explained my belief to her: "God yes, name no." That's true for me. Hope it doesn't offend anybody.
-An American woman of Indian descent is going to be Sam's consultant come August. She stayed with me for a few days while she was setting up the details of her move to Bangalore (right now she's living on the southernmost tip of India, working as a consultant there) and she's pretty much a perfect match. I couldn't feel more confident on leaving "my" Sam (and four other Bangalore kids) in this woman's hands. And here's the bonus: she'll be living in my flat AND buying my furniture! That's one headache less for me.
-I never thought I would love America as much as I do right now. All the things that I thought could be fixed about our lovely country still stand... but now I see how much already IS fixed.
Allah, Vishnu, God bless this planet. Now: back to packing. Love to you all,
This isn't actually the guy I mentioned...
Aunties, Uncles, Professors, Elders, Mild Alcoholics, Hikers, Swiss citizens, and the rest of you rag tags,
So there's a guy who directs traffic at a 2-way L-shaped intersection that is about the size of a bathtub, both directions. There's lots of traffic jams there, of course, and there's a rotating cast of homeless (?) poor folk who tell one line of cars, auto (rickshaws), motorcycles, vespas, stray dogs, vegetable vendors, etc, to stop, while letting the other line of said vehicles and persons pass. One particular fellow who is often there during the "later" hours of the night (in Bangalore, late is equal to 9 pm). He has no arms and one leg. Have I mentioned him? When people lean out of their windows to give him a few rupees, he says "put it in the pocket" (of his shirt). We often give him a few rupees and then he makes fun of A for wearing shorts. Anyway, he was who I was talking about in my subject line.
Ha ha, actually, I was referring to the fact that I have less than a week left to survive India. If I don't get hit by a Tata truck between now and Friday morning, I should be seeing the majority of you VERY soon. I'm planning on writing an official farewell/ sign-off letter... but this isn't it. This is just the warning to the sign-off letter. The penultimate email, if you will.
It's also a hint: if there's any particular requests, questions, comments, uncontrollable desires to satisfy my compulsive email habit just one... more... time before my time is occupied by, you know, actually hanging out with you people. Now's your chance! Ready, go! I'll be waiting... online.
All my best to all of you,
P.S. Sam's dad just served the initiation drink of my farewell party... I suppose that means I should actually turn off the computer. Anything ending is like a little death and I find it difficult to feel celebratory. Sigh.
So it's official: one of the only members of my Indian social network is now touring with his band in England. (Way to go, R! By the way, I'm still waiting for my groupie T-shirt.) If anybody wants to know more, check out their site: www.thermalandaquarter.com.
Now let me briefly tally who feels intangibly distant: Immediate family, check. Hubby, check. Friends from coast to coast, continent to continent, check. Sigh. No on can say I wasn't asking for it! I hope you all weren't expecting one of those chipper emails, I'd hate to disappoint my base.
In any case, I haven't found myself inconsolably bored. I've been taking video footage of vishnu-knows-what: street scenes, Sam jumping off tables, cows eating plastic bags, my feet, my kitchen, my shampoo bottles, etc. The home video camera is really quite a treat for the otherwise undirected expat. Don't worry. I'll edit it down to just the funny stuff before I coerce any of you to take a gander. Aside from video passtime, I've also been reading a bit. I feel like my old friend T in third grade: nose in a book. All. The. Time. I actually finished Les Miserables! And I'm talking the book, not the musical. Wow, brava for me! (Yes, this is how I keep myself entertained... excessive doses of positive self-talk.) Before I leave India I'll make a Suggested Reading List which you all must follow before you ace my class...
Oh I do have a funny story about saving a woman's life (kind of, I think). I was taking a long walk on my day off, listening to Christian McBride in the blown-out headphones of my ipod, trying to pretend that I couldn't hear the roar of traffic. I passed a woman lying on the sidewalk. That in itself is not unusual. Lots of folks here, homeless or not, consider the road, the sidewalk, or anything in between a good place for a nap. So I took a few steps past this woman before the cues clarified themselves: her head was on a step lower than her feet, she was on her back and, oh yes, there seemed to be something resembling vomit coming out of her mouth. In a flash, all of those tedious CPR training courses flooded my head. Survey the scene: was it safe for me? I tossed my umbrella/ parasol (don't leave home without it!) and my dangling headphones into the closest shop. (The shopkeeper, by the way, as well as his neighbors, had been staring at this woman ever since I laid eyes on the scene.) I nudged the woman's shoulder with my pointer finger (didn't want to touch more of her than I had to) and said something ludicrous like "ma'am?" to check for any responsiveness. Nothing. At the same time, I looked for any signs of breath. You can bet I wasn't putting my ear up to her mouth, though. I basically watched her chest. Nothing. Then I sort of shoved her shoulder and hip at the same time to roll her onto her side. She coughed and her ribs began that tiny in and out movement that IS life. (When I got back home, I made sure to wash my hands thoroughly before I touched any body part above my neck.)
I then gave a brief lecture to the onlookers that they should never leave some one like that on their back. One of the guys began to say "we didn't know..." and I assumed that he meant he didn't know the woman. I began a new lecture on morality and whatnot, and then he corrected me. "We didn't know that that's what you were supposed to do." Yet again, I learn the repeated lesson about assumptions. Meaning: I'm usually wrong. "OK," I replied, "well now you know."
And that's how I spread (the first page of) CPR 101 through (one shop in) Bangalore.
Gosh, after that it actually sounds like I've been doing something with my time! But really, my normal day goes like this: wake up for morning yoga. Get home and bathe from a bucket. Wait for my house cleaner to arrive. Get ready for work. Go to work. Oh, I have found a 'regular' auto (rickshaw) driver, meaning: he waits outside my flat every day. This is actually a huge relief, seeing as the daily stress of hailing an auto, asking them to take me across town, waiting for their approval or, as Andy says, the 'you-farted-on-my-mother' look of disapproval, assessing the meter to see if it's fast, heckling with them if it is, asking them for change (which they invariably don't have)... so the daily stress of that really adds up. This regular auto man is punctual and honest, and I am appreciative of that. Anyway, then I go to work, eat lunch with Sam and his mom, take a long walk (with my parasol) while Sam naps, get back, eat a papaya... My goal is to eat so much papaya that my belly rejects them and my cravings cease. That way, when I'm back in the states (or whatever exotic country is next!), I won't be itching for my daily dose of 10 rupee per kilogram digestivally-assistive fruit. Or whatever.
I won't bore you with the rest of a-day-in-the-life-of-Indian-S, but I will beg you to WRITE TO ME! I would love nothing more. With cross-atlantic cravings for human contact,
P.S. Only three and a half weeks left...
I'm at a loss for a clever greeting,
What were you doing at four o' clock this morning? Or, really, I suppose it would have been in the afternoon... yesterday... for you American readers... In any case, doesn't it make you wonder what I was doing at 4? I will satisfy your curiosity. I was saying goodbye, sleepily, to Mr. A, my sweet hubby. It's true, he's off to the states. I'm sure his absence will feel real in a day or two.
As for me, it's the same ol' same ol' in India. It's funny, having to consciously remind oneself to appreciate the adventure, the privilege, of living in such an exotic land. A job is a job, you know? And every day, I go to work. I take the same route and hope for the same price... the meters in auto-rickshaws aren't exactly standardized... shock of the century. I see the same folks (who are still the same wonderful, supportive, creative, patient, and sometimes wild
people that I met when I came here) and watch the same shows...
Can I admit something to the lot of you? I'm addicted to American Idol. Having NEVER watched it before, I think it's especially funny that I'm in Bangalore, addicted to said show. (I should also point out that this is the first time that being outside takes more energy than being inside. So I find myself relaxing with the telly more often than I ever have, EVER.) I really like Catherine and Chris. We're really good friends. They're on this list, you know. But really, I like that Chris is married and dedicates songs to his wife. In a world of infidelity-oriented pop music (question: "don't you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?" answer: "ew, no" OR "well, my girlfriend IS a freak so, again, no" OR "well, kind of, but it's sort of skanky and desperate to ask like that"), it's refreshing to see a little romantic commitment. Setting a fine example for those crazy kids out there.
What else is new and exciting? I'm in heavy talks with another international family who is acting very serious about hiring me next year, but I'll wait until I get the official "congratulations" letter before I announce it. Stay tuned. Oh, A and I saw the Pink Panther movie before he left.. oh wait, that's not exciting. Except that in Indian movie theaters they still break for intermission, no matter what's happening in the movie. They also stop the screeing as soon as the action is over, so if you want to know the key grip's name you'll have to look it up later on IMDB or something.
On a more tangible note, I'll be back ar home on June 16th. Lots of mixed feelings about that.
Thanks to everybody who lets me know what's going on in their lives! I really appreciate you guys. You're what I miss most about home,
hi you, oh YOU,
Thanks to those of you who wished us good tidings for our trek... it all turned out splendidly. I'll even share a few of the details:
I always considered myself the appreciative type (usually), but I've never been more appreciative of personal vehicles as I am now that I don't have one. See, getting to and from the trailhead was not a two-step jaunt from the living room to the car to the mountains, oh no. It wouldn't be India if that were the case. Like I said before, we started with a plane...
Let me ask the parents of the group: if you had a child, approximately three years old and quite verbal, who was playing something I call The Screaming Game, how would YOU react? I don't mean the screaming game as in "I have a poopy diaper and I have no language to express my discomfort" or "I'm hungry and I want some warm mama's milk." Oh, no. The Screaming Game, as played by our three-year-old neighbor in the plane seat behind us, was merely a game, perhaps a competition with her younger sister, to see who could scream the loudest. I gathered my wits and turned around, trying not to throw a tantrum of my own.
Tactic One: (Me) "Hi, honey, do you think you could be a little quieter?" (Girl) Blank stare. (Mom, to girl) "She's asking you to not shout." (Girl) Laughter. Continue screaming game.
Tactic Two, an hour later: (A) "Could you ask your child to stop shouting?" (Mom) "There's nothing to be done" Laughter.
That was verbatim. The mother laughed and told us there was nothing to be done. I wanted to implement a behavior modification program right there and then, on the fold-out tray tables. Really, that's just rude! Instead, when it was time to de-board, I turned around and looked... or, okay, I admit it, I stared at this woman. She tried to smile but I didn't reciprocate. She looked away. I kept staring. After a few moments of this totally socially inappropriate behavior (on my part) I asked her "does it make you uncomfortable when I stare at you? because I was uncomfortable this whole trip while your child was screaming." See, everybody? I'm really not ready for kids of my own. I still act like one myself.
So maybe our road wasn't QUITE this scary... But it was pretty close.
OK, so that was the plane. Then we moved on to the 15-hour "sleeper" bus that only got one flat tire and only hit one other vehicle over the course of the night. I put "sleeper" in quotation marks because it was really just a bus. The seats reclined as most normal bus seats do, but I suppose this was enough to market it to those who hoped to get some shut-eye. Finally there was the Jeep ride up into the mountains on a one-lane paved-turned-gravel road: I'd explain how I was afraid for my life and had to shut my eyes every time we swerved to avoid hitting oncoming traffic, but that story has become much too much of a cliche.
We left our apartment early Saturday morning and we finally got to the trailhead on Sunday afternoon. It would have been nice to have rented a car and turned a 15 hour journey into a 2 hour journey, but that is not the way of India. During the last leg of the trip (i.e. AFTER the Jeep) we caught a ride in a shared van (private vehicle? private company? who knows?) where a few passengers were already riding. Five minutes after we got in, one of the passengers got out, looking rather green, and proceeded to throw up right outside our window. Fine, yes, we've all seen or been car sick and it is not in itself a worthwhile story. What happened next is why I'm telling you about it: not three seconds after this young woman vomits, a flock of chickens rushes to the scene and starts gobbling up the upchuck. It was disgusting and awesome.
When we finally made it to the trailhead Sunday afternoon, we took it easy and only climbed up 1000 feet (and by "up" I mean straight up). We were advised to get our lungs used to the elevation, but let me tell you India's dark secret: there's just as much oxygen in Bangalore as there is in the Himalayan foothills. The difference is that Bangalore's lack of oxygen is due to the ubiquitous clouds of opaque pollution and the mountainous lack of oxygen is due to, well, elevation. Truly, I breathed easy for the next week without that typical gasping that happens in drastic elevation changes.
As far as trail stories go, I'll try to avoid those hippy dippy passages of burning sunrises, blistered feet, breathless vistas.... I'm not very good at those anyway. In the more generalized version of things, I'd like to give you a scale of what we saw.
Imagine you're a fly. Imagine you live on a marble called town X. However, the marble just isn't grand enough, so you often visit larger landscapes and buzz over to a tennis ball known as the Y mountain range. You're generally content with and proud of your local mountain range/ tennis ball. It offers a grandeur that gives your little fly marble life a kind of peace and appreciation. Then you get a job in India (over the fly internet? this metaphor is crumbling) and go trekking. You reach the top of the tennis ball that are the Himalayan foothills and feel good, confident, refreshed. Then, in the horizon, you see the Epcot Center jutting over the dwarfed tennis balls. These are the Himalayas and they make the Y mountain range seem like chopped liver. Is this making sense?
What I mean is, after the fog of the first afternoon cleared and we could actually see into the distance, the mountains (ahem, foothills) that we tread upon looked more like pancakes than mountains. The Himalayas, snow-capped and hundreds of miles away, looked like they were floating above us; their base was dark and blended into the mountains of the foreground. So what if it felt like I was stepping on a needle every time I put weight on my heel? We were awe-struck and we were in heaven.
Along the way we met some Americans, two old friends in their twenties who had traveled to most places in the world already. Strange what a little comparison can do: I felt sedentary and boring after visiting with these guys! We met a Brit. Straightforward, unapologetic, and utterly disgusted that we would put peanut butter in our "porridge."
Speaking of oatmeal, let me note the accommodations: this was no ordinary tent and thermarest kind of adventure. Along the trail, there were either tiny villages or, if not a whole village, than at least a little guest house. Both A and I ate, rested, and visited with friendly Nepalese folk for about ten bucks a day. Most of them were Buddhist and lit their prayer wheels before bed. I find it continually astounding to see the various ways in which human beings have discovered to communicate with God.
Here's another detail that befuddles me: the Indian attitude toward littering. They throw plastic bags on the ground in a national park and are aghast that somebody like A would bring their attention to it. It's just hard to wrap our heads around the completely different paradigm of taking care of one's space. Especially when there is so little remaining space NOT covered in trash. Sigh.
On that note of cultural difference, Happy Easter to y'all! When the street vendors of Kolkata approached us today, I wished them the same "Happy Easter" that I'm wishing you. It befuddled them enough that they left us alone. Perhaps we'll invent strange-sounding English-language holidays from here on out so we can continue to befuddle our community. Love to you all,
hi you all (no plural "you"... still strikes me as strange),
don't know what you're doing for the next week or so, but A and I are headed up to the foothills of the Himalayas to do some good old fashioned trekking. Assuming that the low-cost carrier actually delivers, we'll fly to kolkata tomorrow morning, then take a bus to siliguri tomorrow, overnight, then take a taxi to darjeeling, then another taxi to the trail head. see, indian bureaucracy truly does permeate this country...
in any case, I won't have email access for a few days, so no offense if you write me a lovely, personal, cherished letter (hint hint) and don't get an immediate response. I promise to write all about our adventures as soon as I'm back in this vishnu-forsaken city!
hugs not drugs,
I sang that subject line in my head to a synthesized 80s beat... can you hear it?
So I wanted to follow up my previous email with a little more of the serious side of India. I find it keeps me in good spirits to act (and write) so jovially about my experience here, but there is certainly more to it than silly, off-color jokes.
The beggars, for instance, pose quite a moral dilemma. When Andy's folks were here, and we visited the places known to be tourist attractions (even though those places were also sacred, holy sites where locals worshiped amidst the photo-clicking foreigners), we were bombarded by people either begging or aggressively trying to sell postcards, bangles, gourd-flutes, papayas, mortar and pestles, more postcards, key chains, balloons, information, friendship, etc. I know that this begging/ selling phenomenon is not uncommon in third world countries, but India is such a simultaneous combination of old and new world, of sickening poverty and ostentatious wealth, that it's hard to balance one's response to this spectrum...
See, the good and kind part of me wants to help in whatever way I can. "It's only a few rupees," you or I may reason to your- or myself. So you give the vendor the slightest confirmation of your interest, a flash of eye contact, for example, and, like some kind of futuristic cloning experiment, there are fifteen more guys shoving useless objects in your face. "Yes, madame" they say, or "yes, hello, just take a look and see, yes..." I'm telling you, if one of them learned how to say "excuse me" they would probably definitely sell more goods. OK, so then you feel overwhelmed, your personal space being aggressively crowded and all, and you make to flee. They follow in hot pursuit.
It's the closest I've come to feeling famous, I suppose. I don't want to be rude or cold-hearted, but even showing MANNERS, like saying "no, thank you" is clear indication (in their eyes) of some kind of interest. I DO want to solve the world's problems, I really do... but I don't think buying a post card will do the trick. I'm trying to work out, in my head, how I can best contribute to assuaging the suffering in the world. I think I'll write kids books about tolerance and generosity, understanding and exploration, empathy and forgiveness. I think that's the subtle way in which I myself can integrate "political" action into my life.
This is an Indian wedding, for your visual reference
Of course, I don't stomp past all the suffering with my nose in the air and kids books on the brain. Today, for example, I ate breakfast with a friend of mine from yoga class. She's a little older than I am but still lives with her mother... which means something altogether different here in India. See, the family unit changes form in regards to marriage, not age. SO, when someone turns 18, they don't skip town. When someone gets married, they usually move into the house of the husband's family. I can appreciate that. Within that kind of social framework, rest homes for elders are an abomination, and grandchildren always grow up with grandparents. I can dig it. ANYWAY, I had breakfast with my friend Culpna (dosa and coconut chutney... yum) and then walked to the internet cafe (which turned out to be closed). It was still early morning AND today was some regional holiday (Kannada new year... don't really know what that means, I only know Kannada is the language they speak in this state, Karnataka...) so the city was rather quiet.
I approached a man who was scooting in the same direction that I was walking. He sat on his bum with one leg extended fully out and one bent under it. There were flip flops on his hands and he would lift his whole body with the strength of his arms and bend his straightened leg. The other leg kind of dragged along. I guess that's how you get around when you have one working leg and no crutches. I felt ashamed that I had just privately complained of a tummy ache. Sure, the tummy ache wasn't comfortable, but I could have just as easily jumped for joy and yelled "thank you for the ability to walk!" I walked past the guy who was moving at approximately one-hundredth of the rate I was moving... then I turned the corner and saw that the internet cafe was closed.
I turned around and passed the guy again, this time approaching him. I gave him ten rupees, which he hadn't asked for and which he accepted as if he were a train employee taking my ticket. Even though ten rupees is about twenty five American cents, you can get a kilogram (they say "kay gee"... it's 2.2 lbs) of tomatoes for that much, or a bowl of some Indian snack that I don't know the name of, or a big bag of potato chips... I hope he sees it that way.
So my point, I guess, is that India has been a constant invisible battle. I want to be generous and empathetic, but I need to take care of my own mental and physical health as well. I want to contribute to fixing the giant problems of the world, but until then... I'll slip a few rupees into the pocket of somebody who clearly needs it more than I do.
Don't worry everybody. My next letter will bounce back with the usual chipper comedy that keeps me sane. If anybody has questions, even if they seem silly, I would love to hear them. I had SO many questions for Priti and Ajai when I first arrived, but I think I've been here for long enough that I forget how some facts of (Indian) life are actually quite exotic...
love Sarah (not as a command, of course...)
Hello friends, family, peers, children, giraffes,
and ethnic minorities,
Last night A and I bid farewell to his folks, who've stayed with us for the last 10 days or so. Our adventures include:
Visiting Halebid where an ancient Hindu temple features panels of war scenes, the three major gods (Brahma the creator, Shiva the destroyer, and Vishnu the protector) and, of course, kama sutra. Somehow, though, since the 12th century construction of said temple, the Brits instilled their puritanical attitudes and now men and women don't hold hands in public. Yes, I could go on about how disorienting it is to see erotica carved delicately into the granite of a holy site, and how I appreciate that people not only worshiped there but were "educated" there (our official tour guide told us as much... I'm assuming that he meant the people were educated about how to populate their country... and now that India is a billion strong, it seems like a job well done in that regard)... but I'll remember my grandma and move on to more tame topics.
We saw a giant statue of one of the Jain deities (Jainism is one of the trillion religions of India.. Jains don't eat veggies grown underground because onions and garlic are supposed to be aphrodisiacs, they sweep the ground in front of them to avoid accidental murder of ants, they own about 90% of exporting business and practice fairly ruthless capitalism... the ironies go on). This statue was about 50 feet high, made out of one monolithic piece of granite and... naked. Uh oh, I'm back to this again. Give me a break, I'm not the one who carved him! In any case, I can explain what we saw at this Jain temple without going into genitalia detail, so my grandmother can read on. I hear that every 12 years this big statue gets a bath, and we happened to witness it. I'd like you to think about a traditional bath. Warm water, soap, maybe some shampoo if you live in a first world country... But this is India, the land of colors. The Jains built scaffolding around this huge (naked) deity and bathe him with: milk, curd (yogurt), honey, saffron, etc. It's quite a show, these layers of liquid pouring down the surface of this enormous (naked) granite man. SG, A's mom, quickly made friends with the musicians who were accompanying the spectacle which made us all a bit more comfortable (in with the locals, that's the way to play). Now we didn't have to feel like dumb tourists taking tons of photos... at least we weren't wearing these silly bootie-socks that the rest of the foreigners were wearing. Did I mention we had to climb up 614 steps barefoot in order to get to the huge (naked) statue?
That place was called shravanabelagola: shra va na, bela gola. My sister SA and I spent some time in Hawaii when we were in high school, and we would wake each other up yelling "Haleakala," the name of the big mountain in Maui. Oh how I longed to call that dear sister of mine in the middle of the night and yell "Shravanabelagola!" I refrained.
Many of you are also curious about my little guy, Sam. I suppose I've separated the professional experience of India from the social experience, so when I sit down to write and wrack my brain for all things exotic, I don't think of the cutest little peanut who I get to see every day. Sam is doing very well, which I know is an annoyingly generic phrase. We're having some issues with discrimination skills (he's learned to identify objects separately, but when we put two known objects in a field, he's all guesses) and taking that route slowly and carefully. But in general, he is a fully attentive kid who notices when I bring a new bag/ purse or when his mom cooks white rice instead of his usual brown. She reports that he ate white rice by the fist fulls when he saw what it was... just a little deprivation usually does the trick!
So my in-laws and A and I did lots of other things (SG performed a flute concert; my father-in-law and A played jazz at a five-star hotel; I clapped and felt proud to be a groupie) but that would be a whole other universe of stories. Thanks, everybody, for saying "we like your emails" instead of "never do that to me again." Around-the-world-love,
Has it been too long, mes amis? I'll give you the ups and downs of my life in India for the past few weeks:
Andy and I escaped the "dust" of Bangalore (a euphemism for lung-infecting pollution) a few weeks ago for the boulders of Hampi. An over-night train ride was only slightly uncomfortable ("slightly" being another euphemism) what with the window jammed open and Andy and I not having brought a blanket. Then, of course, you have the coffee/ chai vendors who, at every stop throughout the night, scurry through the train cars to yell in a voice that I can only compare to a frog with a cold "coffeechaicoffeesir nescafe coffeechaicoffeecoffee" etc.
Oh and we were in a sleeper car, which arranges six beds (three-tier bunk beds, more or less) in the space that a medium sized elephant could occupy on his own. I was reminded of my visit to E's UCLA dorm oh so long ago... Only the dorm was cleaner. In any case, we survived the trip (big whoop, I know... people sleeping on the sidewalks and I'm congratulating myself for not keeling over at a little discomfort!).
We met up with our "old" buddy JB and his amie SV. I say old with quotations because I only met J when he bumbled through Bangalore a few weeks earlier and stayed in our guest bedroom and used our hot shower and pampered himself with HBO and asked our maids to wash his clothes (I'm actually trying to entice any of you to come visit, I'm not trying to make J sound like a lazy bum). A knew J from having worked together in that national park last summer, so A has dibs on the claim to friend... ANYWAY, the whole point was that when we got to Hampi, where the landscape is basically miles and miles of boulder-dappled mountains, our hearts could breath. I mean it. Sure, our lungs said 'thanks' as well, but to remember that the great outdoors means more than an urban park was a spiritual experience. All I can say is that when I get to my home-town mountain range, I'm going to prostrate myself.
There are million stories about Hampi, and if you'd actually like to hear them, you can send a self-addressed stamp envelope and a packet of almonds to my snail mail address. Or you can just imagine. In any case, I basically lounged while J, S and A climbed boulders. (OK OK, I sunbathed, now you know. Happy?)
When the time came to pack up from our "hotel" room (a story unto itself), we sucked up our temptation to chain ourselves to the little bed and throw a tantrum. Then we took the various forms of public transportation necessary to get back to the train station EXCEPT there was a little problem. We found out about the little problem because a white girl with an American accent approached us and informed us that she had been told there was a festival going on in the origination town of the bus (the bus that was supposed to bring us to the train station), and that it wouldn't arrive on time OR, knowing Indian-talk, at all. She then told us that she wasn't pulling our chain, and that she had asked more than one person, including women working in the food stalls, and that the story was confirmed. Hmmm, we had met some travelers in Hampi, but this girl seemed all together With It. We struck up a conversation, shared a rip-off taxi, and realized that sometimes friendships don't need to be life-long in order to feel life-long. Of course, she was headed to Bangalore on the same train as we were (I say of course because life seems to arrange those kinds of things) and, of course, we invited her to stay with us in our famous guest bedroom.
Turns out, D's from Switzerland (not the U.S., as her accent implied), but her mom grew up in the states. She's worked as a teacher in Australia, Canada, and Thailand, for a combined total of 7 years, and is taking a year "off" to explore India. So just when I thought I was exotic and brave, I meet someone who ups the ante. Not that it's a competition, of course... but that shouldn't stop me from wanting to WIN everything in my life, right? (I can see my mother shaking her head right now. Don't worry, Mom, it's a yoke.)
So Deborah stayed with us for a few days, stocked our shelves with Nutella, paid Mary and Esther (our house cleaner and cook) extra rupees for their work, and took us out to dinner. In short, if any of y'all would like to follow her lead... (Am I pushing this "come visit us" agenda a little to hard? Hm.)
D also got my mental wheel's a'turnin' when she asked A and I to brainstorm an informal list of what we loved and what we hated about this country. I can't believe how much I've thought of that question since! I'll share with you the top of the lists:
The Good: 1) people call me "madame," in grocery stores, auto-rickshaws, train stations, post offices, etc. 2) the veggie vendor who comes by our apartment complex every morning remembers that I like these super sweet red carrots. He puts a kilo aside for me when he has them. 3) the pit toilets. I mean, I hover over western toilets anyway. Why not make it easier on one's thighs and just pop a squat? (Sorry, Grandma, I hope you're not too offended)
The Bad: 1) the racism. Because I have white skin, people make gross generalizations about me. Some of these are flattering (e.g. I'm worth taking a picture with) and some are offensive (use your imagination). Some are true (I wasn't raised in India) and some are far from it (I have bazillions of dollars). In any case, it makes me quite conscious, for the first time of my life, of the color of my skin. In the long run, I'm sure this will evoke empathy for others who are treated differently due to race... but for now, it's pretty uncomfortable. 2) the lack of solitude. The most space I can feel comfortable in is my flat. Claustrophobia is not an uncommon sentiment. 3) the dirt. Camp counselors: think of black hazards and foot grime. That just about sums up Bangalore, even with daily showers.
The Ugly: I've seen two dead puppies and one dead person since living here. The humanist side of me leaps and my heart swells. Then I'm reminded of the cycle of life. Without intending this to sound morbid: death happens. Indians seem more comfortable with that concept than Americans. So I suppose something that seemed ugly at first was actually a helpful reminder of something rather profound.
Anybody sleeping yet? Shall I speak to you in French? Our French tuition courses started a week or so back.... It's VERY nice to feel like the "good" student again, a phenomenon that didn't happen during all four of my college years. It's nice to care about what I'm learning and do the work necessary to prove it. Okay then, my friends,
P.S. If/ When you write back, tell me your birthday! I know lots of yours, but not all... it will be a good excuse to reply!