(an excerpt from my post on shekinacommunity.com)
So we packed up and left India, and our beloved meditation center, three weeks ago. Shekina people went all directions, away from each other. It’s just a short haitus until fall, when we all gather again in Goa again.
That’s three weeks without the soothing sound of crows cawing incessantly in the background. Three weeks without the strong shekina circle of sharing. Weeks without seeing scripture in a some unexpected and revealing light. And yeah I said the crows were soothing.
Nourishment is funny. Neglect feeding yourself and you kind of start to shrivel. Keep messing around and you will need some kind of intervention, and not long after that, out come the defibrillators, and all the yelling and pounding, and ominous long beep and the shaking of heads.
Not that meditation is spiritual food, its not really, although I’m sure it looked like that’s where I was going with all this. No, Meditation is a form, its just one way to get the real nourishment in.
A lot of things can do provide nourishment. You know like truly entering into spiritual songs, hearing scripture explained by a gifted speaker, being in a crowded room full of prayer, patching the holes in your understanding by reading theology, or a quiet moment in your garden that is swimming with fireflies. Everyone has their own list I’m sure.
God is the real nourishment, and that connection is food for us. You need it like you need water. I do anyway.
Sure you can haul your shriveled malnourished defibrillator-ready carcass from place to place and make a great show of things. People might not even notice. But weaknesses always show up when strength is required. I don’t have to tell you life is a trial, do I?
That’s why I’ve got the blues. Honestly I was being spoiled by all the rich thick silences, the open and intentional spaces we created for nutrients, the watering holes. And I didn’t really even know it. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.
So this post is turning out to be personal. Surely someone is thinking that I am selling something. But this is more of a confession than a testimonial. I know I’m putting in the terms of sage advice, but I am the real audience.
Walking beside Lake Fewa in Pokhara Nepal (our latest homeish-type location), I tossed out a casual bit of trivia for my four children walking beside me. It was about how the majority about how animals spent most of their time eating or looking for food. Trivia for three of the four I should say, the youngest was surely had better things to do, like admiring the size of the buffalo poo in his path.
In fact cows and buffalo were strewn about in the unused rice fields by the lakeside, stuffing their faces with every shred of green in sight, like they always do. “They’re either sleep, or dead, or eating” I said. My son reasoned that they could not possibly moo and chew at the same time.
Then it went off in my head like a bell. In a bizarre and somewhat unromantic moment of connection with the natural world, I realized how famished I was too. There they were, fat and sassy and full of everything they needed to stay alive, think happy cow thoughts, and generally get sleek and fat, just as cows should be. I warned you that it was bizarre.
Famished for God, which is strange considering how abundant God is from one perspective. Then again, the consensus seems to be that God takes some seeking to find. Shekina community has slowly become a great place for me to do that.
Shekina Community is a community of travelers. And although shekina meditation could be used by anyone, it was developed by us and our friends and mentors as one more way to keep ourselves healthy. And its started to spread, with other spiritual communities and curious individuals trying it in their own way. But come on, meditation is hardly new, and far unique to Christians.
We just woke up to it, dusted it off a bit. Its been really transforming for many of us, so much for me that the thought of coconut trees and the sound of crows transports me quickly into worship. Our meditation center was surrounded by both.
But I’m sure you see the weakness of it all. You can’t have some community or some practice as your only source of spiritual food. It was not my only inlet, but one so rewarding that I got a little dependant on it. But hey, here are worse things to be addicted to than meditation.
So, next challenge. How to practice meditation when I’ve been revamping the classic hours of prayer, vigils in particular. The night watches. I am a night person, but those hours tend to be unclaimed territory for me, vast expanses devoid of spiritual practice. I’ve been trying to seed them.
How practice community when you are not physically together. How to be strong, not weak, for the calling we have of sharing the life of God in our world of travelers. Things that require a strong and nourished spiritual body.
Wow, I feel better already. At least I know what I need to do.
We are all fine, very safe and sound, in case you were wondering. But you probably aren’t, because the news coverage is so weak.
I was standing at a surreal vantage point on khao san road in Bangkok. I came back to this spot because I had to, I was drawn there. Down past the tourist madness to the end of the street, which was blocked off with beaten yellow barriers.
If I looked left, there were photos of many men shot in the head, stuck with tape to a hastily erected shrine, with barely respectable offerings piled around them, left by people who obviously cared about the slain but had no time to offer their best on the newly hallowed ground. It looked like they just laid down what they had, a bottle of some cheap red soft drink, someone’s breakfast, lots of incense sticks, a crude bamboo fence. People came and bowed with palms pressed together then slowly took pictures.
The men who had been shot wore red headbands and red shirts. Their heads surrounded by red halos of blood. The people paying respects at the shrine were old ladies, toothless rickshaw drivers, young transvestites, bespectacled businessmen. Everyone was wearing red.
If I looked right, there were people shooting each other happily. I had been shot many times myself, by super soaker water guns of every variety. Bulbous fluorescent plastic water guns sprayed water in every direction. The street was full of water. Water hoses, buckets, pressure spray cannons, even old school finger action squirt guns.
They were Germans, English, Americans, Thai shop owners, Thai tourists, Thai transvestites, Thai old men with enormous smiles, music was thumping, people shrieking, squealing, running, to avoid the next blast, which came from everywhere, from every direction. It went on as far as you could see, if you looked right.
A woman approached me.
“are you a journalist”
“terrible thing happen here, 180 in hospital, they still in hospital”
“tell the world about what happened here”. She says this just like a movie script. Only she’s in earnest, and she’s jabbing me in the stomach with a large red clapper shaped like a heart. It comes now with every word.
“this used to be the land of smile, now it is the land of kill.”
I look around and wonder, will the water wash away the blood?
Everyone cut loose, eventually I dove in too. It was freeing. I understood the juxtaposition, how everyone seemed to need it. But when the party is over Thailand will have some serious wounds.
24 hours ago i was driving away from my little fishing village for the last time. Since then, I have come to new universe. In this universe, things are different from home. You know, home, deep in the coconut groves of Goa, in a far away constellation called India. Red-brown against green, the sounds of waves, incredible musicians and performers. Goat herds in the morning on the way to the store.
I am not there. The most shocking moments all stand out like raised braille dots on the surface of my sleepy and travel weary brain. The most shocking things are the most mundane, like water pressure. I picked up a sprayer and the water came out at warp speed. I wrestled it and finally got it off. Then I had to sit down and recover. A few deep breaths.
I have become a bumpkin. A wide eyed dislocated ruralite village man. The airport in Bangkok soared around me in steel and glass, impossibly high. I stared up and wondered where they got all that metal from. The streets were so wide, why so many lanes. Look, there was no way could see someone getting a herd of buffalo across, no way.
And then there was the order. Order, some invisible lines of force that supported everything, transmitted by some strange particle that physics has yet to identify. Cars and people moved in straight lines. Signs pointed to actual places, and were even followed by encouraging sign later telling you that you were going the right way. The signs and the numbers on buildings and the roads all matched and made sense. Amazing.
I was walking down the street when a rat emerged from a sewer looking fresh, even newly combed, he had a brisk and polite manner and headed out at an unhurried pace, onto an well managed street without so much as a single dead carcass on it.
In India, our rats are not simply big. Every sinew of the Indian rat exudes cunning, a will to survive by any means, and the chaotic markings, scars and notches hard fought turf battles. They were invariably covered in grease and filth and seemed capable of some primal intelligence that makes you reluctant to think about what they were doing to each other when you could not see them.
But not in Bangkok. This little tan yuppie rat in this bright city saw me standing and looking at him and lost his cool. Nervously he ran back to the sewer in a self conscious and bumbling manner, briefly exposing his tender and clean little belly a he flipped over in his haste. I smiled fondly at the comical, spotless, polite little rat. How cute.
The food. Dare I mention it? I scooped up a very small spoonful of prawn sauce from my plate and was transported instantly into serene and otherwordly contemplation, like the peace of the most accomplished monk. My eyes were closed, my fork waving in my hand like a conductor wand to some sublime inner music. How could something taste like that? In my mind a new category was created, with everything else I had ever tasted on one side, and this bite of prawn sauce from New Joe’s Guesthouse on the other.
Yeah, I know it’s not real. It’s just perspective. something you get at 3,200 ft above another strange ocean, heading into the world between worlds, where all kinds of magic is possible. Magic like continuous electricity. Something we have not experienced in many months.
Steve jobs can tout his magical and revolutionary device, I was satisfied with the curved and futuristic looking dashboard of my taxi. All that molded plastic, not one broken dial in sight. My dashboard in India still has a choke on it. I’m not kidding, people, a choke. I’m not ready for the iPad.
Something in me sees everything here in Bangkok exactly as it must be, a sprawling Asian metropolis, dirty, with many secrets and full of very sad stories. But that perspective sits like tiny unwatched flickering movie screen deep in my subconscious. I know that Bankok is not a particularly clean place, pretty much the same way I happen to know that Venus has creamy yellow clouds. I know it, but I can’t see it.
All I see now is this magnificent Oz, a city carved from a jewel. Is this how children see? This second sight will fade, I know. In fact it already is. Like Moses’ face, like every rare and moving dream upon waking, like the taste of perfect prawn sauce on the tounge.
A few days I knelt on the floor being soaked by my own son’s blood. He had fallen and gotten a spectacular gash on his forehead. Who knew that three says later he would be doing this…
I just wanted a picture of the stitches. But unexpectedly he started chanting, I am optimus prime. Dozens of times. I flipped the camera over to video mode and shot away. It was in no way planned, and I caught a fraction of the total number of chants. I take it that he likes the transformers.
On the operating table, he dealt with all the strangeness and pain the same way, apparently shooting missiles out of his forearms and grappling evil robots. The nurses got a chuckle.
Yeah its been a minute.
I return to this blog a bit like a drifter coming home from the Florida keys after a binge. I mean, you feel guilty for being gone so long, but you have to come back sometime. Its easier to just slip in the back door and crash on the couch. The you are there at the table for breakfast like nothing happened.
What have I been doing? God, don’t ask. But its been very busy, daily meditation with some teaching thrown in, playing in a world folk band, raising four kids and all that. Is that any excuse? Of course not, Rachel has been doing the same (except you have to throw in writing a book) and manages to keep her blog up. No, its just that I am a binger, I like heroic moments, daily events just feels…ho hum. This despite the fact that I live in what is arguably the least ho hum location this side of the Mississippi.
But I just had to come back. You see, soon I will need all the narcissistic catharsis I can get. you’ll see, lots of angst and bold declarations of faith snuggled in next to moments of aching vulnerability. I’m talking about A class shameless introspective blogging with photos to boot. I will need it all and more, all your fawning comments and astute observation. You see, I am returning to the Americas.
What is it about and me that requires some massive change to spark a single blog post? I love transition, I feed off it somehow. It draws out the longing, the melancholy and the joy of the worlds between worlds. It illuminates the impermanence of things with a bright and unwavering light. Times of transition and change are when i wake up and notice life. But to be honest, this time I am actually a bit afraid. I am going to one of the most foreign places I know, the Americas.
As ungracious as it is, the truth about my feelings about America is all in these images flashing in my brain. Images of strip malls, mass consumption and waste, grotesquely obese people with hot dogs in their hands, plastic things sold in plastic bags, hordes of relentless suvs, everything adding to the overhanging insipid pall of the status quo.
Images of things which my judgment flies out towards with untamed unmitigated ferocity every time I think of them. These things I fear, just a bit. Somehow I fear getting trapped there, quite unreasonably I should add. The problems over waste and consumption are evident everywhere, in my so called enlightened hippy life too. certainly my harsh judgement is way out of line. Yet some that few places have such power over me to erode my convictions and suppress wonder as thoroughly as the USA.
But then all I have to do is think about the faces of my friends, in an out burgers calling to me on the side of the road, the clouds sailing over the hills of San Francisco, clean water emerging miraculously from the end of faucet, the voice of my father, fat plump burritos, people driving in lanes, lakes in Canada, NPR on car stereo, and a thousand other things I haven’t even thought of in two years. And yes consumption, all the wonderful things there are waiting to be consumed. moderation is the key, except with in and out burgers of course.
No, America and Canada will hold plenty of wonder for me. The wonder of law and order. You don’t know what that’s like until you live somewhere where justice is purchased universally by bribes alone. The wonder of sanitation, which is lost on you until you live somewhere with raw sewage never more than a stones throw away, mostly closer. Where pigs and cows and monkeys all live with you all around, until you just accept them as completely normal parts of your community. Yes there is a strange attraction in all of those things too. But it will be pure wonder to be without them.
So I will be blogging about that journey no doubt. The return home after too years, with one extra kid, 30 pounds lighter, and having experienced a thick slab of life in a very short time. I want to sit around fires and tell my stories. I want to hear about the lives and goings on of all my dear friends, to eat with them. i ant to catch up with my family. I want to squeeze the cheeks of children who have grown tall and spindly, who have learned all kinda off-beat and interesting things to say. I want to take pictures of everyone and post them. In the its all of you I am coming home for, my beloved familia.
In the end it will probably turn out to be another spasm of writing followed by some months of eerie silence. But then you are used to that by now arent you.
and now for something completely different
This is the part of the show where the audience (das you) gets to tell me what they think about a particular portrait. I am collecting a crew of people with sharp and discerning eyes that have really given me a fresh perspective, more than once. Also more than twice, but less than a google.
Sometimes I like a picture very much, but am insecure about liking it. See here’s the problem. Just about any little kid (and some adults) will be inordinately proud of a large bowel movement they had last night. They may, quite justifiably, reflect on it years later with some fondness. But that doesn’t mean they should take it and show it to others.
Just as often, I just need someone to tell me I am doing a good job, that it will all be fine. Please tell me what you think, how you would adjust the crop, so on and so forth. I’m all ears.
On to the pic.
Take this fine pic as an example. You may remember my Low Keys of Varanasi. I shot this around the same time, and you can see the dominance of black in the composition, although its by no means a Low Key. It was a girl selling poojahs on the River.
By the way, a poojah is a small religious ceremony any observant Hindu can do to nab some quick and easy karma. That’s how karma works, you just get it whenever you can, a little here, a little there, a big slopping helping now and then. The poojah is simple, you light a candle, put in a little leaf dish boat thing, and waft it out onto the Ganges while reciting something or other.
Being a focused and sincere Christian, I don’t often find much reason to do it, besides maybe a chance to see pretty lights on the river. I do have Christian friends who just pray thanks to Jesus and fire that sucker up anyway, but I was not in the mood and decided to decline.
Mistake. These girls make their living off of soft bellied suckers like me. She tore into me, using every line in the book, machine gun style, without a singe breath. “siryoubuypoojahnowberyberygoodluckyouluckynowmyorphannomamanodadaberyberyhungryonlytenrupees….”
I decided surprise her by asking her for money. This sometimes gets a chuckle. Surprised she paused for a second and I swung my around, all smiles. I took the shot when she was doing some quick math. There is a basic equation that works the world over. If camera = tourist, and tourist = money, then camera = money. I saw her eyeing my soft underbelly.
“you take my picture, you give thirty rupees!” she said triumphantly, so relaxed and confident in her new position that she didn’t bother rushing anymore. I used my secret king-fu technique against this unassailable logic. I laughed loudly, from the belly, like Gordon Liu in Shoalin Drunken Monk.
This sometimes gets a smile. But I was outmaneuvered once again. She looked so furious and sullen that for a second I feared I had done the wrong thing. All apologies now, I offered one rupee.
This fresh affront elicited a world class sulk that so convincing, so emotional breathtakingly genuine that I relented. You see, this is a game we play together, one closely related to the game of haggling in the market. I’m no slouch at this game, but she gets a lot more practice and naturally has much more drive to win. I gave her 5 rupees.
As she walked away in mock disgust, she couldn’t really hide her momentary smile.
Israel is as thick as my grandma’s cornbread, sweet and fresh from the jiffy box. You cant walk two feet without tripping over something mind-blowing. I have been here many times and thought I was used to it. I am not.
But today I went to Nazareth for the first time. I saw the unearthed old village where Jesus played as a kid. This morning I walked by a synagogue freshly unearthed that was certainly attended by Jesus at some point. Bought camping gear in Tiberius where he pushed out in a little boat and gave his mind-blowing sermon. Of course as I write this I am sitting on the top of mount Carmel where Elijah fought the prophets of Baal.
But Nazareth was truly moving. I went to a church that was built on layers of other churches going back to byzantine times. In the very middle is a tiny grotto that is believed to be the place where Mary heard the angel.
What do you think of looking at these things? It all grows on you slowly, and many abstract things become very real and sure. In your mind, you sometimes imagine Jesus as a large floating spiritual being. Being in Israel snaps it all down to earth, into the real. A small hebrew boy who was raised right over there, just like anyone else is raised. A young man that taught with such passion and fire that everyone remembers the hill that he talked on, which other that that one auspicious moment, is just like any other hill around the sea of Galilee.
I woke up this morning at the rainbow gathering in the Golan, looked outside my tent at rushes and oleander, fig trees and a small stream, winter clouds in the sky, a scene almost exactly like the one that would have greeted Paul on his way to Damascus, Peter on a fishing trip, or the Nazarene possessed man in his lucid moments between fits. One thing that would not have fit in very well is the roaring apache helicopters practicing maneuvers 20ft above our heads.
My mind goes to my family in Goa. Especially to Rachel. She is so deeply entwined in me that we are never really apart, and the longing so deep for her that I am never really close enough. She is always on my mind in every thought and decision. I wanted her to taste the perfect shawerma I ate in Nazareth today, just in front of the church. To get good food you have to go the arab cities. My beloved, it was as good as our falafel in Rehovot, did you know that? And it was followed by baklava so sublime, so elevating, that you had to close you eyes and sigh after every bite. Oh how I wish you could taste it!
Now I am on top of mt Carmel, exactly where Elijah called down fire from heaven. If I could call it, where would I direct it? Certainly into the hearts of every soul around me, and everywhere else too. I would direct such a stream of living fire that the truth and love of Yeshua (the little boy, the rabbi, the broken body, the light filled body alive again!) Would be as clear and real as the rocks and trees that I awake to every day. Such fires are not ours to direct. Direct them Hashem, Melech HaOlam!
Tomorrow its back tot he rainbow, and so much that I love. Back to fire circles and working together. Back to the stories and lives of my beloved family, imperfect and beautiful as they are. I cant wait to in the circle again and share yeshu bhajans, to sing More Love More Power and, I am a Rainbow my Soul Will Never Die.
Photography is like big game hunting, with fewer bangs. You are on the move, thinking about a lot of technical details, wondering whether to be stealthy or bold, with a lot of black gear jangling around your neck and shoulders.
Sometimes a photo just jumps out and shouts in your face, hey take me! In this case, that’s exactly what happened. This girl saw my camera and jumped out and demanded that I shoot her. She then valiantly fended off all the other waifs with the patented windmill attack (a complicated maneuver involving rotating every limb at high velocities a full 360 degrees) before posing dramatically.
Man, thank God she wasn’t a lion.
This part of the blog is where you get to critique a shot and tell me what you think. I am putting up shots that I like but am not quite sure about, maybe I have a nagging feeling there is something I could have changed.
It’s nice when people fawn and say, its perfect. It’s also nice when people point out what I could change. You can’t lose. Tell me what you think.
It is no secret that Varanasi is my favorite place on earth. Nowhere is India more thick, more pungent, more vibrant and startling than in the oldest human city on earth. It’s like condensed India syrup, that you really should add a few cups of water to before you drink.
I decided to bring my camera and be ready. But be ready for Varanasi? Not a chance. It always surprises.
I mean, It’s like saying, I’m ready to have my abdomen trampled by four hundred and twelve water buffalo with tap dancing shoes on. Of all the things you would undoubtedly be in that moment, ready is not one of them.
One problem with bringing a camera to Varanasi is that, you’re hardly the only one who thought of it. Everyone needs the obligatorey shot of a sadhu and a guy soaping himself up on the river in the morning. I was trotting down the street, looking for more interesting shots when I came under fire from two dozen canons that swiveled to capture my every move. Oooo look! He’s stepping again! The canons were wielded by a loud raucous flock of middle aged Korean women who, emboldened by superior numbers no doubt, decided to throw all courtesy to the wind and get what shots they could while the spectacle lasted.
After all, its not everyday that you see a 6″2 dread-locked black man striding down the choked streets of India. The rapid fire report of their many shutters sounded like someone snapping armloads of twigs. Not to be outdone, I swung my giant white 70-200 towards them and snapped away like a paparazzi. In the end we all got a bunch of fairly worthless shots.
Enough of that, on with my mission. My own photography mission. Try to shoot the varanasi that people rarely see. Wandering around, I started to see shots I in the gullies at night in low key. If you didn’t know, Low Key is a composition style that favors black and other very dark colors.
They’re not underexposed, you are shooting pictures of things that are dark by nature, and in doing so reveal shape and line over detail and clarity. It’s also a powerful tool for mood. But it is not easy to understand, you have to look at them for a minute to catch the subtlety of it./As an artist, I think its a great tool. Here’s are some of my attempts.
Varanasi is anything but low key, but looking at it this way somehow tames it, let’s it breathe. This time Varanasi surprised me with its softness, the bare feeling that these shots convey. Of course i will post my classic varinasi pics too, but these were part of the vision i had, let me know what you think.
Today I am going out again with my camera and renewed purpose. One problem with living around stunning imagery all the dang time is that it stops stunning. You trot past so many flabbergasting things on your way to get buffalo milk (for cereal) that your few remaining ghasts refuse to be flabbered at all.
But just a few days ago I dragged it out and returned with a smile on my face. I had to slow myself down, but I got shots I never tried before. An as Usual I brood over every shot and bemoan its mediocrity. All artist are predictably narcissist, perfectionist, and tortured. What’s new?
Here are a couple, feel free to tell me what you think. Especially if its constructive criticism. ["Its pure bullocks pizzle, c'mon just say it" - finding neverland, remember?]
This is a development for me because I don’t like to take pictures of people unless I am setting them up in a studio for a portrait. Just taking pictures feels rude. To convey life and story into pictures like this is challenging, but I am up for trying. To me these feel a bit flat, but its a start.
The trick is, you just have to go do it. You don’t heave to be perfect at first. I have a great camera that is up to the task. The images are out there, milling around and kicking up dust. Even when you dont feel like it, you have to get out.
I got some great tips over at strobist and other sites I ruffle through. One even suggested putting snippets of paper in a hat with words scrawled on them like; “street”, “faces”, “close-up”, “moody”, “black and white”, and “poultry” and pulling them out randomly before you head out the door. Then you try finding those exact shots and capturing them.
Hmm…I hope I don’t get close-up poultry.
I just saw in the newspaper that Beyonce is playing Dorothy in the stage adaptation of The Wiz. It’s an adaptation of the Wizard of Oz with an all black cast that is a life long favorite of mine. The movie version had Diana Ross, Tipsy Russell, Quincy Jones and even a teenage Michael Jackson. Famously they encountered all kinds of bizarre (even drug induced) animals and enemies, but eventually figured out that their own inner strength made them overcome and yada yada and so on and so forth.
I only bring it up because, c’mon Wiz casting agent people, if you are looking for someone who can face weird new worlds and master strange animals and even befriend them, Beyonce is all wrong. First of all, she’s too big. I went to see the original The Wiz on stage with Stephanie Mills, who is no larger than a squirrel but has a voice so strong that would make Pavarotti dig in his pocket for a Vicks. Secondly, I know someone who has done it in real life and happens to be very small.
Yaya was made for Oz. And not the 100 foot stage with actors, but the population one billion, deep and exotic, elephants monkeys and chapatti Oz that we call India.
If you needed any proof, take last week as an example. Ya Ya looked on the side of the road and saw a bunch of snake charmers with a few of these.
Now your average person is intrigued, but keeps one foot pointed away from danger and keeps a common sense cobra buffer zone of at least 20 feet between them and the hooded snake. But Yaya, instead of running or recoiling, just did this…
and before you know it….
Even Leaf boy got into the action
As she walked away from the snakes that day she swooned and said in a dreamy voice, “Oooh I LOOOVE snakes!”.
Also did I mention that she played with a bear?
Even got it to fall in love with her…
There is a picture missing here, the part where had to run over and take her hand out of the bears mouth. He had decided that he loved her so much he couldn’t let her go, and had caught her finger inside the cage. She screamed, I ran over and pulled her finger out (not really knowing if there would be any flesh on it) she cried and looked at her unbroken skin and perfectly fine digits, then petted him again. Lets you pull that one off miss Beyonce!
So i am thinking that flying monkeys, evil witches and giant mutant puppets (you have to see The Wiz!) would be no match for this kid.
My other kids did nearly all the same things, but none with the same sheer willpower and fearlessness. love you Kiddo!
Iran is in turmoil. I am a small echo of that turmoil, sitting at my desk in the himilayas.
To say I care about Iran and Iranians would be a gross understatement. Four years ago they were a shape on the map, and any mention of them conjured up images in my of traditional headgear and the inevitable AK-47 held in an upraised hand.
Just days ago I returned from the Peace in the Middle East gathering in Turkey for the fourth year in a row. Just days ago I clasped arms with my Iranian brothers and wished them a safe journey back to Tehran.
They are some of my dearest friends, the kindest people I have ever met (even the world famous good cheer and helpfulness of the Canadians would have to bow out of that race) and I love them dearly. Iran is not a shape on the map anymore for me, it is the amazing homeland of my brothers and sisters, whom I have shared an unlikely and surprising long friendship.
Only days ago I noticed that we were flying over Iran and even over Tehran on Turkish Airlines flight 1070 from Istanbul to New Delhi. I strained to catch a glimpse of it, but it was shrouded in darkness. I contented myself with a prayer and a recommitment of my promise to my friends to visit them in Iran.
“After the revolution” they would always say. Can you listen to Radiohead in Iran? “After the revolution”. Do you think we can have a rainbow gathering in Iran? “After the revolution”. This was always said with great certainty, with a knowing and patient smile. Like saying, after sunrise.
What is happening there grips me, worries me. But that is nothing compared to the great risk that all my many iranian friends are surely taken. they all told me that Ahdeminijab would be gone soon. the election was in a few days. I thought I was sending them home to a new and more hopeful Iran. Instead they are returning to chaos.
I share all this about myself to humanize this. Doubtless if you are reading this you are my friend or family, or maybe someone who just got a little hooked on our crazy life. I am a human being, I suffer and care and act stupid sometimes. I pray and breathe and like vanilla ice cream and anime flicks.
They are human too. By knowing a few of their stories, I see our connection, how they like Radiohead as much as I do, even though they have to listen in secret. They are human beings, believe it or not.
And they are dying. They are being beaten. They are standing up. they are fighting and informing and trying with all that is in them to make their voices heard. So thats what I can help them do, be heard.
follow on twitter here
BEWARE! - Incredibly graphic video, but its much worse to live it than to only have to see it.
So what can you do?
get informed, follow the news. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8106507.stm and many others.
Get on twitter and offer survival info if you have it. Many useful things have been posted to help the iranians, like not using oil based skin products as it binds chemical warefare and riot control agents to the body. To remove the marks put on their houses by the Basij to show they are traitors. To not be violent, to take care and know that people are praying for them. Follow #IranElection, #Neda, #Basij and several others.
If you are a praying person, pray for them. Write congress and ask them what they are doing about it. Sign internet petitions.
Mostly take notice. This will shift the entire middle east region and effect millions of lives, even yours. The revolution is here, it could end in freedom for many of the brutal oppresion of many. maybe you can make a difference.
This one was first. A tiny indian girl and her friend accosted me on the road and demanded that I take a photo of them. I noticed the stylish tribal piercing in her nose and decided to comply.
Not to be out divafied, her friend also applied her pressure and got one too.
if you see these two on a road in india, run, they are unstoppable.
Of course the story is that they then turned around and demanded that I model for them. errrr..OK. click
Turns out she is good photographer, I dont think i have a picture of myself that I can stand besides this one. thanks Poojah!
…children disgorging themselves from the village school in a cheering smiling wave, shouting Obama when i tell them i am from america. they are awestruck. so am i…
…sublime dulcimer music in istanbul, an entire street filled with bewitching turkish instruments. the resonant and sweet chumbush saz, the unearthly arabic flute called the ney, ornate ouds, bazoukis, doubek, more exotic intruments than i could take in, i played them all…
…the taste of koska baklava, orange blossom honey…
…the whooping shouts of rainbow family, welcome home. my beloved turks and iranians. ahmed’s arms around me again. caught up in the most unlikely yet natural friendship i have ever had. mahmoud’s huge smile asking me how is Kenya…
…playing mandolin around the fire, real musicians take up the tune like they were born for it. everyone dances…
…praying in my tent, my small fire waiting to be lit, a rich solitude speared through with pangs and thoughts of my family…
…walking in fethiye, i notice giant greco roman tombs carved into the hillside. amazingly beutiful and enormous. i have never even heard of them. anywhere else they would be a national treasure. here its another in an endless series of amazing ruins. we sat in a 2000 year old ampitheatre and i could almost hear them shouting…
…i sat where kai and i had ice cream. the sticky and richly flavored turkish kind, gelato vs taffy. i thought of my boy…
turkey. what can i say? i love it here. i miss my family, we had an amazing time. it was the doorway into our new life. One year ago we left america.
My son hiked 11 hours to conquer a mountain. I have that kind of unabashed man-pride in him that he did something very physical. He is a very cerebral and emotional kid, but seems to be able to turn a switch on and accomplish very physical things with surprising ease. I am sure I could not have done it at his age.
And here’s a dad confession. To us dads, kids are a kind of handy experiment always in within arms reach. Heres a sample of our thinking. How many stairs could he jump down and land without a fracture? If he sits on my feet like this, and I kick-thrust as hard as I can, like this, how far will he go? Yes, he’s ready to carry his own backpack through the airport, he’s been walking for weeks now.
No one ever wonders which parent tossed the kid into the lake to teach him how to swim. But, let’s remember that it was also the dad plucked the coughing and grinning kid out to tell him how good he did, how proud he was, and sometimes you even might get a swimmer out of your experiment. I’m not saying its right, or even legal, but it happens.
True to form I envited my son to take a eleven-hour hike up a very tall mountain. I honestly did not know if he could do it, but I was sure it would coat his tiny chest with hard won hairs if he did it. I knew we could always come down at any time, and I practiced my speech. It went something like, you really tried hard, I am proud how hard you tried, we will do it next time. Chest hairs would have to wait.
But He more than conquered. I couldn’t believe it. He sometimes groans when he has to climb home from Bagsu, 15 minutes straight up. Not that I blame him, it a ticker grabber for sure. But given the chance, he gave the Himalayas a serious smack down. When he got tired, he just looked up to the top and kept going. Sometimes you have to give a kid a big enough challenge to call up his true reserves.
Anyway I am as proud as a dad can be. I am amazed by him. What will he become I wonder? What will this life traveling the world and putting mountain ranges underfoot impart to him? I am not at all sure, but let’s see.
more pics anyone?
What do you do when your kids are globe trotters? Make your own discovery channel piece of course. Here is a discovery channelesque thingy I whipped up for the kids. Turns out iMovie is about as easy as they say. The kids loved it by the way.
A very fascinating book about delhi that i am reading now is called City of the Djinns, by William Darymple. I had already read The Last Mogul by the same author and loved it. It really makes sense of one of the most bewildering and wonderful places on earth. Check it out if you get the chance.
So it turns out Delhi is an amazing place for a lot of fun things. Here’s a modest sampling of possibilities….
- Seeing layers of entire civilizations tossed like a salad and driven over.
- Rat Watching. It’s like bird watching, only not as colorful.
- Catching glimpses of zoo animals walking around a city, attached to various modes of transportation.
- Being caught up in some random celebration and forced to dance by a large crowd of men.
- Drinking orange juice by the road that taste like salty kool-aid with a dash of foot sweat added.
- A terrifying ride the ubiquitous, wonderful, polluting, buzzing box of wonder, the auto-rickshaw.
- A great place to lose expensive camera gear.
If you don’t know what a rickshaw is, imagine a weed-whacker with wheels. Pop-up a yellow dome tent and staple it on top of the weed-whacker. Put a license plate and a meter on it and you are ready to go. The auto-rickshaw is a symbol of this country, infused with all the zany personality of my beloved India.
But that day I stood there gaping at a vast churning sea of auto rickshaws with horror. My bag was gone. Yes the same bag cradled carefully on the overnight bus in my sleep. The bag I has sweated over, watched over, cunningly hidden in piles of clothes when away from home. It holds the only thing we have ever really invested on earth. If it were and egg, I would actually have sat on it and pecked anyone who got too close. It was my camera bag, and yes, in a way my baby was inside. I left it sitting in the back seat of a rickshaw.
India had stolen my baby. OK that’s dramatic. But inside the bag was is an array of lenses, all collected over the last six years, my two flashes, various modifiers and goodies that make the thing work, make money for you occasionally and to capture this crazy life you are living.
I told my wife, her and kids started to pray. Right there on the pavement at a crowded intersection on the P block of Connaught Place, New Delhi. Honestly I had better things to do. I needed to mill around and look important. You know like I was doing something about it.
I ran over to the dilapidated rickshaw stand populated by pan-chewing men. Do you know that rickshaw I just took? I left a bag in it. Do you know that guy? NO, how can I find him? He was an Indian guy, with black hair…
I look out a the seething intersection, looking like all the bats in hell have just been released for a foray. I feel very calm and hollow. Its just gone, this is futile.
One boss gestures for me to come over. I know he is a boss because his shirt and pants are the same color and he carries himself as like prime minister in miniature. With his pan filled mouth and his imperial bald spot, he listens for all of four seconds to my story and declares confidently that it is no problem. He does not explain beyond this. What’s in the bag? Camera? Costing how much? Yes yes, just wait. No problem.
Men begin to mill about like me, asking questions, arousing interest, prompting scratched heads, banding together and moving around. Like some runaway chemical reaction, the thing grew. Soon people were milling around importantly just like me. I almost started to hope. But then it seemed to fizzle. People returned to their posts, sympathetic heads were wagged.
The problem was, no one knew him or his cell number, and he was an independent driver. The boss on this corner could not locate him. There was no description beyond a guy with a rickshaw, which narrowed it down to a million or so. They knew he had just given a ride to a large black guy with hair like Bob Marley. Even the seemingly unflappable boss sent an emissary over to tell me that sometimes, driver is coming back, but sometimes driver is not coming back. He held up his hands helplessly.
I realize that something like this almost had to happen, I have a family to take care of, its very different from when I was here before. You are thinking about the likely hood of a whole new host of ways that your kids could be injured, kidnapped, lost in the shuffle, trampled by animals. You find yourself with vivid and sordid visions that come unbidden; your kids being sold at an auction down the alley, your wife abducted, your passport gone, and you being forced to drive a rickshaw and chew pan for the rest of your life. While guarding against this impending disasters, your attention wanders. Off your camera equipment sails without so much as a goodbye.
I finally decided to try praying. You may not know this, but I have a hard time praying for “things”. Praying is great, i love it. But begging for just more stuff, like better parking spots, and new clothes, a nice car, or almost any other material thing makes me a little uncomfortable.
It doesn’t seem right sometimes. I am a westerner with privilege, and by world standards there is little I lack. My children are healthy and there is food on the table. Now I’m going to waste air asking God to please sir could you return something my stupid lack of attention cost me. All the while prisoners are not free, while hunger still kills, women and children are marginalized, while oil is still king, and so on and so forth. The endless litany of global injustices that I would have to stand in line with holding my little request.
I prayed anyway. But even while I prayed for the “thing”, my mind wandered out to my whole life, out to how vulnerable I am. Of how vulnerable I have made myself by coming here. Losing the camera became a symbol of my own fragility. It brought into sharp relief all the other things and people that could be taken from me, and how easily they would disappear into the turbid sea of unknown, like a rickshaw slipping into the river of uncaring honking riotous Delhi traffic. I thought about how India could swallow us whole without noticing.
It started to dawnon me, slowly at first, then expanding quickly and taking me over entirely. I started to trust. In moments like this, standing on a corner in a distant country, with no one around who knew me or cared, trust is all you have. Its all you ever have, but you don’t always notice.
A faith as a system of beliefs, is light years away from “faith”, a trust between two conscious beings. Its like the difference between pen pals and conjoined twins.
Trust is not magic or hocus-pocus. Faith can be talked about that way, manifesting things with intention, faith that twist the arm of the whole universe until it cries uncle. As if faith were chips that the divine had to cash in on like a overgrown casino teller.
But faith like that is a parlor trick, and real trust is life itself. The thing was, I knew that I would probably not get the camera back. I knew that the same God who gives could take as well. But the trust nourished me all the same. I trust that the same mind and hands that spun out the nebulae and galaxy clusters, that had preserved life in my premature little body at birth, that had won me over completely in my teens, that had given me more than anyone could reasonably ask for could be thanked and loved no matter what happened to my “things”.
Then, impossibly, improbably, a single rickshaw buzzed out of the maelstrom and aimed straight at me. I swear the afternoon light filled it from behind and made it look like a heavenly chariot. The driver was looking non-chalant as only a Delhi wallah can. Infinitely cool and relaxed exactly as if he were not in the middle of someone’s shining vision.
My bag was in his hand. He told me to check and make sure everything was there. I also checked his back for wings. He buzzed off before I could offer him anything and didn’t even ask. I was left dumbfounded on the street corner. The boss sauntered over, fully vindicated and looking like he was one step closer to being elected. See, no problem!!
In the end I love both God and India a smidgeon more. India because it is so much larger that me I feel like a child again, and God because trust is there and growing. By these little degrees, that trust is woven, wonder is fed, the whole wide and wacky world is a little more dear.
Just one last note to the tiny sermonizer in all of us. The moral of the story is not, trust real hard and you will get your stuff back. That’s just silly. But as it turned out, it was a nice ending now wasn’t it?
I need to borrow your eyes. Don’t worry, I don’t mean pluck them out, suspend them in a briny solution and air-mail them to India. Although honestly if you did that I would be impressed in a simultaneously horrified kind of way.
Truth is, I need to work on improving my portrait photography, and it just occurred to me how you could help and have fun along the way.
OK so here’s how. I’m going to post some portraits I’m currently doing and you’re going to help me see them through your eyes. You are allowed to fawn or flame as you see fit, any comment is fair game. You get the picture (pun intended).
OK so quickly, here are some pics. Pictures in a blog are hardly remarkable, but you have to get this part, even having my camera in my hand is a miracle.
Next post I will tell you the harrowing story of how I lost my camera into a sea of rickshaws in the most zany, wild, and bizzare cities in the world. But for now, just pics.
So here are the himilayas, one of the many views hiding around McCloed Ganj.
The view when we arrive, I just pulled out my camera and went to the roof.
Yaya at home in the mountains. Apart from the annoying tendency to bleat loudly when startled, being part goat has its benefits for a little girl. Like the absolute lack of fear on sheer cliffs.
Traveling companions, playmates, family, they are alot to each other. For those who wonder, your kids just might love traveling with you.
Thanks for following, I did not shake as many readers as I thought I might with my six month juke. Of course It doesnt hurt that my wife has such an amazing blog over at (shameless plug alert) jouneymama. Blessing all.
Don’t think for a minute that I haven’t noticed the six month gap in posting. I took a tiny break from anything and everything that wasn’t Goa. It became a kind of chrysalis for me, a place of transformation. Only with dolphins and felafel and beaches inside of it. Now that I am in North Inida, I’m all better, and bursting with things to say.
Rather than try to catch everyone up, I will just forge ahead as if nothing happened. I might do flashbacks.
Let’s test a theory. I am told that post are more interesting if you add a picture…
Interested yet? Hey I know, amazing things are going on all around me and all I can manage to show you is a thinly veiled attempt to show off my left bicep. What did you expect, me giving the Dalai Lama a noogie?
By now, surely I have shaken off all but the most tenacious readers. Hats off to you if you are reading this.
So anyhoo, today met a man who’s spiritual master was evidently a 115 year old were-snake. He showed me a picture of a scruffy wild man in a polyester suit that was supposedly moonlighting as a cobra. This man assured me that my next two months would be lucky. I was doubtful.
I mean look, snakes are nocturnal so he would never get any sleep. Have you ever sat at the feet of a spiritual master who never slept? All mumbles. Plus he would begin each day with raw whole rats in his belly. Filling yes, but unsanitary. The whole story is full of holes.
The funny thing is, he would probably call me nuts for believing in Jesus. But although ironically enough, Christ could be reasonably called a were-God. Wow, I wonder if that connection has ever been made.
Just as I was shaking off that experience, I saw a fascinating and somehow tragic sight. It was a small girl balancing five cooking pots on her head, on a 8 foot tightrope, on the edge of a sheer cliff. Did I mention she was walking on a bike wheel? She did this with all the ho-hum and world weariness of a McDonald’s fry box stuffer, only infinitely more likely to be gruesomely killed from some small error.
I was torn between applauding and jouncing the rope so that she would tumble into my waiting arms, then whisking her off to the nearest school for a real chance in life. I would slap her parents on my way out, who were providing all the music but none of the safety measures you might expect from doting parents. But then, she had a skill, and the whole family was using it to put food on the table. Who am I to judge them? In the end I smiled at her and gave them some insignificant amount of rupees.
This is the constant pressure of India, the vast and maddening unknowing. What is a person of conscience to do? People are suffering around you on an unimaginable scale, and you buy a shirt and walk on by.
Do you boldly pray on the spot when a 15 year old boy shows you his infected burnt and shriveled arm? Do you give money to lepers but not shoe-shiners? What about a shoe-shining leper? Do you organize a trash pickup when the neighbors will just lay down an even more shockingly destructive layer of wrappers in a week?
Who the heck are you anyway? Some kind of western-born savior coming to snap your fingers over slums, wave your fancy magic wand over heaps of plastic, put your finger on a thousand lips crying for food and make it all dissapear?
Maybe you are. Or maybe you should try to be more humble. Maybe you should run out and get a degree, or join an organization that is already doing it. Maybe you should flip your lid and start shouting wild-eyed in the squares about the high cost of plumbing (seen that one). After years coming to India, I still have these questions myself.
The only thing I can do is face the mountain of suffering cascading down and not really know. I dont know, but I care. You keep that part alive. You feed it with small victories, you encourage yourself to care beyond your means. You try things that may be wrong. You ask questions, you try to be patient. Above all, you keep it human sized, bite sized. Love the people in front of you. When in doubt, err on the side of kindness.
In other news, I enjoyed a nearly credible slice of cheesecake this morning, quite an impressive feat for this part of the world. For reference I once ordered a cheeseburger and was served (with some aplomb, as I remember) a large round ball of cheese balanced just so between two pieces of wheat bread. Really in comparison, the cheesecake was more than acceptable.
Monks milled around on the road below as I bit into my almost cheesecake, apparently free enough from their busy schedule of seeking enlightenment to pose in pictures, try on sunglasses, chase crows with a slingshot, and pop into grimy internet joints. What a place to go people watching. People are everything.
That is exactly why I had a wave of gratefulness for facebook just yesterday, which has put me in touch with a lot of people I have known for years and years, but have lost touch with. Yes facebook is somewhat trite and pithy, and granted the format is not conducive to much depth. But I happen to need all my friends now, from all the various unreconciled and misshapen parts of my life as a sojourner. Not using it now would be like a starving man refusing to eat a piece of bread because its a bit thin. Gimme another slice!
I am especially thankful for my family, all the Bragg and Johnson branches that I swing from. I love you more than I let on, even if I’m always off on my own thing. Ahh but you knew that already.
Wow, what a word-a-thon. Stopping now:)
I had fun, how about you?
This post is about Lara, dear Lara, my sister-in-law. It is a kind of penance for not writing many posts (or any posts if you are a stickler) on this blog in more than two months. However I assure you it is completely heartfelt and as honest as I could make it.
Because when you stop to think about it, the single most astoundingly wonderful person you know is not Barack Obama. He’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But surely you can understand that after the maelstrom of media attention and the fawning crowds have dissipated, there will inevitably come a quiet and profound realization that the most important person in recent memory is living out her amazing life in Vancouver British Columbia. Although there are always a few doubters, I can say confidently that she is, in her own way, saving the universe.
Although I really don’t have to argue the point of her value to us as a species (because many of us know it in our bowels), it is nice to remind ourselves once in a while. Just consider the following nifty facts.
- The title of the popular children’s book of “Where the Wild Things Are” was originally penned as “Places Lara Lived and Partied” and is still doggedly called that by the author.
- When asked what it feels like to be a greatest thinker of the age, Noam Chomsky somewhat grumpily replied, “I have no idea, go ask Lara!”. Lara was 18 months old at the time.
- She’s pretty handy with a switchblade
- The pop-eyed face of her pet dog Brodie. Imagine her constant surprise at her good luck in being able to live with Lara.
- When Lara was born, the planet Jupiter grew another spot just so that it could gaze at her with two eyes. To the surprise of many scientists, the Cassinni satellite distinctly recorded the word “Golly!” emanating from somewhere near the planet’s core at the moment she emerged.
- Just last week several high ranking monks approached the dalai lama and asked if they could rename nirvana “Laravana”, to their surprised he had already done so.
- Look who she married. (Rae’s brother, Matty.) He can finish a rubik’s cube so clearly the man is no fool.
- She has promised to come and visit us in Goa next year. The coconut tress almost pissed thier barky pants when they heard. All india awaits the honor.
The music started at 6:30. (Blared for all from miles around to hear over giant megaphones.)
The chairs were in place by 9:30.
The car was ready by 11:30.
And then we waited.
But we missed the actual reception, because we got tired of waiting and headed for the beach.
Everything a sign in this category should be.
thatchick (I know who you are, thatchick- you can’t fool me with a pseudonym!) wants to know how I will babyproof my kitchen.
A better question might be, How are you going to toddler-proof your kitchen? Yesterday, because that was when you needed to.
The answer, however, is that I’m not all that into baby-proofing. More into boundaries, which has worked up until the Leafy Boy. And with him, I’ll just continue to remind him over and over again. I draw the line at safety… chemicals and knives are way up high.
But that isn’t the end result of what the kitchen will look like. Chinua just went to pick up some shelves that will help a lot.
Sheryl wants to know about common jobs around here…
In India, if a thing can be turned into a job, it will be. Everything is done by people labor, absolutely everything, because there are a billion people here and everyone needs a job. One time we ordered a wireless internet usb device, and a man came to our house before the installer, just to verify our address. He asked us our names and wrote them down and asked us how long we had been there and whether we were the house owners, and then he left. It was all information we had given out already, but he was the Verifier, and so he Verified.
Around here? Well, a lot of our neighbors are rice farmers. Because Goa is a big tourist draw, a lot of our neighbors also drive taxis. There are people who run markets: small disheveled markets, bigger “super” markets (Is Super Minimart an oxymoron? That’s a question for you) vegetable stands, and then every kind of specialized store you can imagine.
People run guesthouses, they clean for a living, they pull fish out of the sea and bring them up on the beach to sell them. They collect the plastic bottles, they collect the cardboard, they sell bread on baskets on the back of their bikes, they sell ice cream in coolers on the back of their bikes. And fish and biscuits and who knows what else out of baskets on the back of their bikes. There are nuns and there are priests and there are people who wash your car and there are coolies who always ask you if they can carry your things in the market, even if you only have one tiny bag.
What do people do for entertainment?
They talk. I think that’s pretty much what they do. But many people have televisions, and many people would buy a television before they would buy a bed.
In this little rural area, people get together and talk for entertainment. They people watch. They discuss anything and everything. They watch soccer games and cricket matches.
Can we have your address? Yes. I will send it to you, Sheryl, you sweetheart.
Rebeca: Can I come over and play? Yes, yes and yes. But the return fare is a little expensive, so you and your family should just buy one way.
Tiffany asks, How long do you plan to stay there?
Good question. We’ll be here for at least this season, but after we leave for the mountains for a few months, we hope to come back for another season. In non-Goan speak- in April or so we’ll go north, and then come back in August or September. We think.
Here are some answers to questions that you didn’t ask (but I know you really want the answers to).
Why is that shrine in your living room?
Um, that’s our altar. It was put there by our landlords and we are not allowed to take it down. When Cate and Renee asked if they could take theirs down (innocently, they had no idea what kind of a can they were opening) our landlords looked at them with obvious horror. Apparently, if you are part of the Catholic church in Goa, allowing foreigners to take down the altars in your rental houses is one of the WORST THINGS YOU CAN DO.
So, there they are. And in my opinion, Jesus, a man of Middle Eastern descent in his thirties, besides being a little darker, was able to grow a much better beard than THAT.
But we don’t mind them so much. They’re friendly and harmless. And quiet.
Why were your across the road neighbors slaughtering a pig this morning?
Because there’s a wedding tomorrow, silly! They were killing the fatted pig. And that pig had a great life, rooting around in the scraps and running around to his heart’s content. Until this morning. When he let us know, very loudly and will great squealing that he was not pleased to be leaving this world.
New neighborhood, new customs, new morning sounds! Rock on!
And here’s another:
What sentence did you never in your life imagine you’d here yelled at you by one of your children from outdoors?
“MaaaaammmmAAAA! Leafy peed on the CROSS!”
My son, this is totally unacceptable behaviour.
“What’s up with that cross in your yard?”
Goa used to be largely Catholic, until lately, when people moved here from all over the country. Even now there is a large Goan Catholic population and our neighborhood is mostly Catholic. Although there is a Hindu temple close by.
So the cross has nothing to do with us, actually, our landlords put it there, and they’ll put garland on it during Catholic holidays. Goan Catholicism is really fascinating to me, actually. It’s really its own thing.
“What’s up with the writing on your house?”
All the houses here have names. They are all Villa such and such . Ours happens to be David Romalda. Who is David Romalda? I have no idea. I guess I’ll have to ask our landlord.
“Are those floors wood?”
Nope. Everyone who saw the photos assumed they were, but that’s because they might not have ever put a cupboard in their consciousness for huge marble slabs of tile with streaks of pink in them. I know I never had anything like that in my brain before now.
“What things are essential in your kitchen?”
No one really asked this question, but I’ll answer it anyways.
From left to right: Gas stove with two burners, gas cylinder, Italian stove top espresso maker, mixer-grinder (sort of like a blender, but more), pressure cooker, masalas and spices, coffee cups, knife set, Aqua Guard water filter, bottles to refill. I also have a fridge, a tawa (iron pan) for cooking chappatti, lots of stainless steel dishes and lots of tiffins (stainless steel dishes with lids).
“Why are Chinua and Renee sneezing?”
Well, since you ask, I’ll tell you that I think they have “rice fever” which is really just plain old hay fever from the harvesting of rice going on in paddies all around us. I made up the name rice fever, by the way. And the question.
“What do you miss most about living in America?”
Besides my family and friends, I MISS libraries, Amazon, Netflix, and good yarn. (Although I hear they have some in the north- we’ll have to see.) I also miss the Redwoods and the forests in B.C. I don’t really care about the food, although if you ask me in a year I may have more to say about the lack of Mexican food.
“What do you like most about living where you are now?”
Right this minute it’s taking the scooter down to the veggie stall to buy my vegetables and fruit. Also living simply in a rather rural way, in the middle of a village where there are tons of people. There aren’t many places like this left in North America.
I also love the bananas.
Any more questions?
First you need a friend to hold the baby. This is very important. Nothing will be accomplished without a baby holder.
Then you need a Goods Carrier. If you don’t have a lot of things, a three-wheeler will do.
Horn OK Please. India’s one traffic rule. Or, at least, the one that everyone follows.
You may also want some friends to help load the things onto the Goods Carrier.
And you will want a new refrigerator. Don’t try to buy a used one. It will be a catastrophe.
You will admire your furniture sitting on the grass, looking a little homeless.
And eventually, after wandering through your old house picking up random things, you will arrive.
Your new house. Where your landlords have thoughtfully painted flowers on your post.
Home, home, home.
Today we brought the whole family to the market in the town nearby. The market is like a large, delapidated, crumbling, dirty mall, made up of hundreds of tiny shops. Anything you are looking for, anything to be found in this town, you can find in this market. You just have to know where to look for it. I’m getting, there, but still, I find myself searching and searching for things. I’ve only just now located the yarn, sold in the same small specialized shops that sell bangles.
Today is Dussehra, a Hindu festival. While we are not Hindu, what’s not to love about everyone decorating everything with flowers?
Including the gas pumps.
Here’s our gas man. He wanted me to take this photo, and be sure to get it to him.
Before we went to the actual market, though, I needed to send a fax. After asking around a little, I found out that the place to go was the same place that most people around here recommend for electronic needs: Deejays.
When the foreigners we first met raved about Deejays, we really expected to find something different. But now we know not to judge a shop by its appearance. Deejays really does have almost everything you would need in the way of electronics.
And there are the super helpful men that work there. Really, in India, so many of the things I hate about shopping are removed. Large stores where you wander around overwhelmed by too many choices, looking for someone, anyone, just someone to help you PLEASE. Here people can be overly attentive. Pushy at times. But always helpful.
Once we made it to the market we had to stop and let the kids smell this incredible citrus-like berry we found yesterday.
Goan people use it in fish curry. We stumbled upon it quite literally, when we were walking through the market with some boxes and one of them busted open on the bottom, spilling its contents onto a lady’s goods. As we bent to pick the stuff up, we were surrounded by a heavenly smell. It came from this berry. No idea what it is called.
Here’s the source of all the garlands on all the buses, cars, buildings, rickshaws and motorcycle taxis.
The flower shop.
They don’t always have so many marigolds, but being a festival day, marigolds were present in abundance. One day I would like to go and find these marigold fields. They must be incredible.
The other day we were at one of the stainless steel shops buying bowls and plates and all that jazz for our house (because we are sub-letting here, we’ve been using the kitchen stuff of the people who normally live here), and as I passed this spice lady, she crushed some mace and let me smell it. I’ve been thinking of her spice stand ever since.
I just had to buy some spices and masalas. (Masalas are mixtures of spices used for specific dishes.) And YaYa just had to dip her finger in one of the piles of chili powder and then rub it under her nose.
Seriously, we didn’t get a whole lot done, but it’s always an adventure here, even just marketing.
Catholicism + India + Traveler Scene = Hilarious.
In case you hadn’t seen, there is a mini plague beginning in our house. I half expect to look outside and see a pint-sized jungle Moses mumbling provocations against us.
Rae wrote about them here. Every night now, several plopping fat toadies explore our home, half-aware and earnest, compelled by some powerful urge to do something very suicidal and very naughty. I must hop maniacally towards the jaws of that sausage dog. I must jump in that yogurt. I must commit hari kari with that toothpick.
By the way, the thought of frog flavored yogurt is peerless puke makin magic. I mean, I can taste it. Can’t you?
The funny thing is, I was reading Rae’s post when this guy came popping into my peripheral vision. Good timing.
Well, Chinua did arrive at our new house (which is still being built) in time to ask them not to paint the interior Pepto Bismol pink, but not in time to keep these tiles from being installed in the kitchen.
One of the bedrooms…
The living room. We’ve requested that the stripe not be purple, and our request has been respectfully granted.
There is no accounting for these tiles. I don’t know how this kind of thing goes on getting made in the factory continually.
I should probably show you a close up. But I don’t have one.
Here’s another shot of the kitchen. The bags of cement aren’t staying.
This is the back of our house at this point. To take this shot I stood on Renee and C’s porch, which shows you how close our houses are.
These guys are building the stairs that go to our rooftop. I got some video, and it’s really quite astounding. I’ll try to upload it at some point.
The exterior of the house will be painted Pepto Bismol pink. Not much that we can do about that… but YaYa is thrilled.
I can’t remember the last time that Solo pooped in a diaper. It must have been three weeks ago, I guess.
This is because he poops in a bowl.
Yes, in a bowl.
I’ve always wanted to work on infant potty-training, or elimination communication, or go diaper free. In the West, it has many different names, but they all mean the same thing. Basically, paying attention to your baby, learning what signs they make when they need to pee or poo (just using the basic words here folks!) and helping them learn your signals, so that eventually, they can wait for you to let them know when to go.
I tried it with Kid A. But my life was much crazier then and I was working and I was not confident with any part of parenting. Plus, I didn’t have the freedom that I give myself now.
All the books I read on infants and potties seemed to imply that women who do this in China or India are perfect at it. But when I arrived here, this is what I learned. If you keep your baby diaperless and attempt to have him or her pee and poo in a bowl, you will get peed on! Same for poo! And this happens everywhere. The main point is that somewhere along the line, you will both mainly be getting it. And it will happen a lot sooner than if your baby wears a diaper all the time and learns to ignore the feelings that go along with needing to go.
So. The cool thing is that I happen to be potty training a toddler at the same time as having Solo pee and poo in a bowl, so I can see, in real time, how much more of a hassle it is down the road. And remember, I’ve used a combination of cloth and disposable diapers for all my kids, so I’m not saying this is the best way, or the most righteous way. It’s just a way. And here, where it’s warm, and we have tiled floors, and it’s very normal to see a diaperless baby, it’s a perfect place to be learning a new way. (New for me.)
Infants sleep a lot. So, although Solo is diaper free during his waking hours, often with a thick diaper beneath him, or one on my lap, in case I don’t notice his signals, he wears Indian diapers to sleep in. I love them.
The diapers are made of very thin cotton, which you fold. Because it is thin like this, it dries and breathes easily. Important for the heat and humidity.
It’s kind of an intricate fold, but it didn’t take me TOO long to get it.
Awww, look. He’s wearing a dhoti! Really, I love the diaper. It takes me about two seconds to put this part on. And then there’s this little triangular diaper that I tie on top.
The triangular diaper can also be worn by itself, but then it doesn’t do much more than simply act as a catcher. Maybe for later on. Not for naps.
The triangular diaper has strings, so you tie it on. No pins, which is nice. Also, no velcro, which is nice. I don’t put a cover on him right now, although that might change when he’s sleeping through the night. (When pigs can fly!)
1. The looks on the Leafy Boy’s face when he’s watching his baby brother.
and this one.
2. Our new van! We finally got one! I was just talking to my mom the other day and she asked me if we’d managed to find a van yet. I told her no, it’s been difficult, and then that very day someone came by with one that was in the condition and price range we were looking for.
Good thing, too, because with our family size there’s no way we’re all fitting on a scooter anymore. We will keep the scooter because we can zip around with it, but for all being together, there’s nothing like a little Omni.
3. Going to the beach in our new van, and instantly finding ourselves in the midst of an Indian crowd. Very nice ladies trying to sell us their goods, Indian tourists wanting to take our pictures. And of course the coastline and waves were nice too. We really haven’t had too many outings all together for a long time.
4. You can’t see really in this picture, but we are looking at little tiny flowers. The kids and I have been studying flowers lately, and I loved how they picked some off a bush while we were at the beach and had me help them identify the parts. Stamens! Pistil! Sepals! Petals! Learning is fun.
5. The YaYa sister making her first chapati with Jaya.
When she was done, Jaya said, “She is making a very nice chapati. YaYa is learning very quickly!”
Tomorrow, it’s Kid A’s turn!
Oh, our simple chai, how we love it. Before I moved here, I always thought of chai as something a lot more difficult to make than a cup of say, regular black tea.
Don’t get me wrong… I’ve made a lot of chai. But it’s always been a special occasion sort of thing. And then I was introduced to simply chai.
First off, chai as we know it in the West is really different from chai in India. When you walk into your local coffee shop and order a “Chai Tea Latte” or whatever, it tends to be much more highly spiced and intense. Here, chai, or “milk tea” is a milky sweet tea with a few spices in there to liven things up a little.
So, here we go. Today I needed an assistant, so I grabbed the nearest willing person- the YaYa Sister, who is guaranteed to be up for anything if it includes “helping”.
All you need to make chai is some milk, some water, some black tea of some kind, and some spices. This is what our milk looks like:
In India we have cow milk and water buffalo milk. This happens to be cow milk.
My ratio is half milk and half water, per cup of tea. So I usually measure it out in the cup first. Pour half a cup of milk…
And fill the rest of the cup with water. Here we have to make sure that it’s the thrice filtered drinking water, but you can probably just use any ol’ water. (Depending where you live. In San Francisco the water was great, but in my opinion the water in San Diego tasted like the bathroom floor.)
That little hand is Leafy caught in the act, just about to stick his finger in my milk/water solution.
Pour the milk and water into a pot and place it on the stove on high heat. Now you can add the sugar. One of the things about real Indian chai is that it’s quite sweet. So I added about three teaspoons of sugar.
This is Indian Chini- or sugar. I swear, most of my sugar intake comes from my chai. I’m not a big cake eater, but I do like my tea sweet.
Today I made ginger and cardamom chai. Sometimes I add cloves, and sometimes cinnamon and black pepper, but today I stuck with ginger and cardamom.
I just used a peeler to get a few peels of ginger.
And used one pod of green cardamom.
Which we smashed, to get the flavor out.
All of this we threw into the milk and water, which started to boil. We turned the heat down, so it kept boiling but didn’t overflow.
Now we added our tea. Loose black tea is what we use, but you could use bags, you could use fancy tea, or plain tea. Make it as strong as you like it. We added three heaping teaspoons of tea.
And we just let it boil until it was the color that I like. Darkish, but not too dark.
And, just like that, it is time to strain it!
I just pour mine through a strainer. I don’t strain it with my teeth or anything.
Up with the baby at night, I had been lying in bed wondering, “What will we do if we don’t get any water tonight?” It had been three days already, and we were all desperate for a shower, needed clean clothes, and needed to treat our heads for lice again.
(Since Chinua and I have dreadlocks, we can’t use a lice comb, so we’ve had to re-treat several times to get rid of any lice that may have hatched. Finally, after several tries, we seem to have found a treatment that really works–the medications didn’t–so we’re on top of it now and are mainly being careful.)
I knew in the morning that no water had come. Why, why why did we not have any water? We get water from the municipality, which is piped into our huge tank. There had been a problem on our water line which resulted in days without any water coming in, but this was getting ridiculous. Something else had to be wrong.
The first thing I heard that morning was, “Mom! Leafy pooped in the bed!” It was a brilliant start to the day. How do you deal with things like this with no running water. Of course, we have the well. Chinua has so sweetly and uncomplainingly drawn up bucket after bucket of well water for us when the running water has given out.
But this morning was different. Jaya had drawn my attention the night before to a small animal, perched on a ledge corner far down in our Really Big Well. It must have fallen somehow. It was still alive, but we couldn’t keep using the well with it in there. Jaya and I leaned out of the window and tried to figure out what it was. A kitten? Awww, poor kitten! But then it lifted its pointed nose. “Is it a RAT?” I asked. We both jumped in horror. If it was a rat, it was gigantic. Ewwwww.
So, I got up and cleaned Leafy up somehow, and then turned to making breakfast. Jaya came in. “You need to call this man this morning,” she said, and I nodded.
“At eight,” I said, stirring the oatmeal and throwing some raisins in. “I’ll call him at eight.”
The man I needed to call was our landlady’s handyman. We wanted to ask him about what on earth was going on with the water, as well as ask him for help with getting this, uh, creature, out of the well. His name is Matthew, but Goan people pronounce it, “Madhue.” Madhue obviously thinks we’re a little cracked, but since he doesn’t speak much English, he only tells Jaya, and she is polite enough not to let it on too much. Renee has made the observation that he has a Biblical face, and she is right. He’d be the perfect casting to play Joseph, or maybe John the Baptist, if his hair was a little longer and he was snacking on locusts.
Madhue came a little while later. Frustrated and stressed out from trying to do eight things at a time, I had eventually handed the phone to Chinua to call him. He took a peek in our well, and then asked if we would like a tanker of water to come to fill the tank. This was a new option. We said, “Heck yes we do!” or something of that nature. Madhue left and came back with three people; a couple of men and a young girl, to see about getting the animal out of the well. The house was just full of people walking back and forth, and I was helping the kids with their math, and it was just chaos.
Renee wandered into the big room where the kids and I were. “They’re going to kill it,” she said, and then clapped her hand over her mouth as she realized she had just blurted it out in front of the kids. Kid A looked up.
“They’re going to KILL it?” I explained that sometimes when an animal is hurt, it can’t get better, and you need to help it by stopping its suffering. These were new concepts. The people left to get more supplies or something, and Jaya corrected my assumption.
“These people want to eat this animal.” Kid A looked up again, his eyes huge.
“They want to EAT it?” We all wanted to see the little guy survive, so we tried to think of ways to rescue, Chinua and our other friend C (who has arrived to join our little community, hooray!) and Jaya putting food in buckets to try to get the little guy to climb in. Meanwhile, the tanker had arrived, and water was being pumped into our tank.
Oh, how stoked we were. Now we could move to the next phase of hair treatment. As people continued to parade through the house, I gave up the school morning entirely, and decided to slather the kids’ heads with olive oil. Yum. It needed to be on their heads for the rest of the day, smothering anything that might be on their heads, before we could wash it off. Kid A was the only one that we were sure about- treating the other kids was mainly out of paranoia. But olive oil was simple. When we were done, the kids looked like this.
And we kissed them, because they were oily and adorable.
So far, there was no luck getting the animal out of the well. It seemed doomed.
Jaya came in with bad news. “The pump is broken. And the water is gone.”
“WHAT?” We had done two loads of laundry and one sink full of dishes. The water from the tanker, 5000 liters, had leaked out of some hole in the tank. This explained our water problem a little more clearly. There was a tiny bit left, but now the pump that brought the water from the tank outside into the tank in our house was broken. We all groaned.
But the little animal had been climbing! He was part way up, in a little hole in the side of the well.
It was obviously time to tie bedsheets in the well, Rapunzel style, to help him along. (Have you ever thought about the fact that Rapunzel is kind of a cousin word to Rappel? Do you think that’s purposeful?)
Madhue came back and made the diagnosis that there was a hole in the tank. Thanks, Madhue. We needed to plaster it. It would take about three days. This was too much! (That’s a Jack Handey quote, by the way, I just needed to throw that in there.) It was lovely that we also all had olive oil on our heads, lulled into safety by the promise of a tanker full of water.
Our neighbor from across the street, a delightful British hippie guy, came by at about this time. He and Chinua put a ladder into the well to help the animal a little more. By this time, he was only about ten feet from the top.
And he offered his house for showers in the evening. Oh sweet kind neighbor. He had also filled us in on the fact that what was in our well was a Palm Civet. They are rare and protected in India. We were glad that we hadn’t let the people eat it. Now if only it could climb out! Since they are nocturnal, we hoped it would climb out at night. They eat Chiku fruit, so it had probably fallen out of our Chiku tree and into the well.
So we trekked down to our sweet kind neighbor’s house to take our showers, rubbing dish soap in our hair to get the olive oil out. YaYa and I were accompanied by a lovely butterfly, who hung out with us in the bathroom while we showered.
The next morning? The Palm Civet was out. Another crazy day here, another small animal out of a well.
(The pump is fixed. Water is sporadic, but we are conserving and making the best of it. We put another pump into the well for emergencies. Life is good.)
So many people have asked about what in Kentucky we are doing in India, and here I answer this question. All bloggers are always balancing openness and the need for privacy, and so I have written as much as I feel comfortable sharing. If you have more questions you can email me at journeymama[at]gmail[dot]com, and if you know us, please honor our desire to keep some details private. Thanks.
Here’s a story that goes back to another time and another place. It starts far from here, far from jungles, unless you consider the jungle of the City a true jungle. In any case, the beginning of this story smells like eucalyptus trees in San Francisco.
It’s where we met.
Chinua had already been living there for some time when we met, but the point of this story (I could go on and on about how we met, and how we fell in love and how he fell down laughing when I made a joke and that’s how I knew I loved him, but I won’t) is that we lived with some of the truest and most beautiful people in the world, and we grew addicted to a certain kind of lifestyle.
It’s a lifestyle of community. And community not in a myopic, insular sort of sense, but a community of people working together and living together with a purpose; to welcome other people in, to be rest for the weary, a family for the lonely, a soft place for a tired head.
Back then, we all busted it out to help out kids (young folk, not children) who needed food and maybe a shower. Oh- those were fun days. I’ll never forget them. I have memories that are like jewels to me, and I take them out and polish them whenever I can.
I’m telling you, there is nothing like working together to bond people and give them sweet and strong friendships. I believe this is what is called church, only it is easier to be together more often when you live close together and know each other really well.
So, we all lived in this big ol house for a time, and then some of us decided to take a trip to India.
That was crazy. And fun. And life changing. And crazy. And we found that we loved not only the traveling kids and Rainbows in America, but the international traveling community. In fact, some of us who seemed to have been born with wings on our heels (like my Superstar Husband with his gift for languages, who speaks German and Korean fairly fluently) found that we really really loved the international traveling community.
And we went back to California. And then we came back to India with even more friends. On our second journey, Chinua and I got engaged. And many other things happened. We went to the Kumbh Mela. We rode on a ship and slept in hammocks. We got sick. We saw naked saddhus. We met many, many delightful travelers from around the world and had many beautiful conversations over dinner with them in our little house. We talked about all of the important and brilliant things of life; the beginning, the purpose, and the end.
And then we came back to California.
Chinua and I got married in Canada, three days before 9/11. We always planned to head back to India. We’ll wait a few years to have kids, we said.
And by Christmas we knew that we were expecting Kid A. And then when Kid A was ten months old, we found out that we were expecting YaYa. And then when she was thirteen months old, we found out that we were expecting Leafy. And through it all I wandered through the tangle of a permanent residency in the U.S. of A. (I’m Canadian).
We kept right on doing what we’ve always been doing. Living with other people in our Jesus focused community, inviting people over, helping where we can, and sometimes we did it more sanely than other times. Actually, we were mostly insane. But we were very, very idealistic. I remember one time, we were trying to help this girl who was perhaps crazy and very paranoid. She was really tripping out. But she was pleading for help. She wasn’t sleeping well and she needed to sleep so her body could work better, so to make sure she felt safe, I had her sleep in the bed with me and Chinua slept on the floor at the foot of the bed. Not your average situation. But things like this came to us a lot, and it always seemed like God was asking us, What do you think you can do to help this girl/boy/man/woman?
For a while we lived in a little house in a town in the far north of California. (For a time, with all guys. EVERY WEEKEND, KUNG FU MOVIES.)
And then we moved back to San Francisco, where we lived in a flat on Haight St. with about a hundred people. Well, not a hundred, but it might have been.
And then we moved to the Land, where we lived in a one-room cabin for a year, until a bigger house was ready for us. It was lovely and beautiful, and turned out to be unsustainable for our community. But God was calling our names out in loud ringing tones again! And this country, India, that had been in the back of our minds for so long, well- we were ready to try to make it here again.
To live the way we love to live, we have always needed to live simply. We spend our money on very basic things, in order to have the freedom to be around people, in small spaces and big ones, traveling at times, stationary at times. When the Land was sold, it went into a trust that helps with the set up costs of starting a new community. Chinua and I are also working on becoming sustainable financially from our art, music, and writing. We want to perfect our crafts and truly make them a huge part of our lifestyles. (At times, the needs of people and community have rushed over these things in a tidal wave.) And we have several incredibly loving friends who have helped us at various times, believing in what we do.
So, to answer the questions. We’re here to do the same things that we’ve always done. We want to be a haven for the weary traveler, a creative and loving community with a Jesus focus. We have big dreams! Art, gardens, music, dance. We want to make stuff, we want to be living and vibrant, a community that glows. We are excited about being in India partly because there are so many wandering souls here, but also because there is so much room for us to help in places of need. Believing the way we do, we are also convinced that we are called to help the widow, the orphan, those in need. We don’t yet know the way, but we’ve put ourselves where we will find a way.
Tomorrow Chinua and I celebrate our seventh anniversary. Seven, the number of completion, and here we are, with a brand new start, back where we first decided to commit a lifetime to each other. And wow, our four kids are with us. Whew! We are heading into the adventure of the first traveler season, looking for a spot that will be the right place for us, wading in waist deep, continuing- onward and upward!
It’s part of living here, I’m coming to see. The question of consciousness vs. culture.
When Jaya first started working with us, or, when we first started living with her, when we moved into this house, I was never sure of myself. I knew that her last employer, an Indian woman, had completely different methods of dealing with a “servant” than I would ever be comfortable with.
In the West, cleaners and cooks are professionals, treated as such. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve never personally come across a household that lived with such a hierarchy as exists here between castes. Castes, as categories that define your position in the workforce, dictate almost everything else about you; who you can marry, how you are treated, where you end up on the totem pole. (Mixing metaphors here- wrong people group.)
In my home, caste has no place. I don’t believe in a caste system, it is as simple as that. I believe that people are brothers and sisters; that we don’t step down to reach one another, that we don’t look up with cricks in our necks. But I struggled with treating Jaya differently than she was used to being treated. Would she feel uncomfortable? Would it mess with who she was in her society? I wanted to be sensitive, but I didn’t really want her to feel servile towards my family.
We felt our way through things. I’m sure it was uncomfortable for her at times, getting used to us crazy Westerners, jumping around and dancing in the living room. It was uncomfortable for me at times, trying to decide whether I should carry Jaya’s chai to her when I made it, even knowing it made her flinch a little. But the chai was done, I wanted to give it to her. For me, acts of service are something we do for everyone. For her, it put me in her role, which, at first, made her uncomfortable.
But over the last couple of months, we’ve figured things out. Some of it has come from being really clear. These are the things we’d like you to do. And kindness becomes her, really, she flourishes. She laughs a lot now. She jokes with us all the time. I have come to love Jaya a lot. It is good for me to see that kindness can motivate someone to do their best just as much, if not more, than keeping someone “in their place.”
And then there are other ways of being clear. Because the situation is strange right now, being as Jaya lives with us, there is never a time that she isn’t here. I was uncomfortable because often when I tried to do something, Jaya would tell me that she could do it. But I like to do things. I like to do lots of things. So being clear really helped.
I make breakfast and lunch. Jaya makes dinner. I organize and tidy and put things away. Jaya does laundry and sweeps and mops. She does the dishes. We both put dishes away. Renee and Jaya and I all alternate between making chai. (Although hers is best.) Renee and I make the yogurt daily. Jaya and I both clean the bathroom. I take the trash to someone who can take it to the dumpster. I burn the bathroom trash. Jaya goes to the market to buy vegetables.
In a way, it’s a lot like any community, although strangely, one of us is getting paid to be here and keep things clean. But the roles need to be defined so everyone feels, “I can live here, I can make this my home.” And that’s what consciousness dictates to me. Although this is our house-my family’s and Renee’s, it is everybody’s home.
There is a little ditty we sing when we make chapattis around here. Um, it has one word. Chapatti Chapatti. I guess it’s not really a ditty, it’s more of a singsong word.
Anyways. Chapatti is awesome. I’ve never fully appreciated it before now, before Jaya, really, because she makes the best chapatti that I’ve ever had. So light, so fresh, so not tasting like dirt. (I only include the last point because of my Rainbow Gathering experiences of “dirt chapattis”.)
Because Jaya’s recipe is as approximate as all her recipes, I went and looked up a few to see what kind of deal I could find on measurements. What I found was this:
For every 3 cups of whole wheat atta (chapatti flour) you’ll need 1 cup of cool or lukewarm water. (The recipe said lukewarm, but we don’t have hot water in our taps, so we just use cool water and it works just as well.) You’ll also need 1 tbs of oil, and 1 ½ tsp salt.
Chapatti, or roti flour is very fine whole wheat flour. (By the way, Roti is a generic term for bread in India- Chapatti refers to this kind, unleavened, whole wheat bread. There are other kinds of roti, like parantha (fried and possibly stuffed) and naan (leavened white flour bread) and puri (deep-fried).) You’ll need to find the finest grind of flour that you can. Even whole wheat cake flour would be good.
These photos look like they’re taken in the dead of night. They’re actually taken on a very stormy day, in a kitchen with little light.
Jaya started with the flour in a deep pan. She added the salt, and mixed it in.
Then she added the water…
So that it looked like this. She patiently posed and waited while I tried to get my lighting right. Part of my problem was that in the humidity, the inside of my lens was fogging.
Time to mix. Mix mix mix.
Just play. Muck around.
Until it all starts to come together.
It gets quite sticky, but keep mixing. You’ll add the oil later to help with the stickiness.
Notice how my lens is getting foggier and foggier? Good thing the weather has taken a change, recently. Otherwise I would have had to cry and cry, because I couldn’t stand the foggy lens.
You really don’t have to knead this chapatti dough very much. Just enough to mix every bit of flour in. Add a little water if you need more.
You want the dough to be firm, but not wet.
I missed the shot of Jaya adding the oil, because I was worried about my foggy lens. But she added it, and everything became smooth.
And then we touched the dough, to see the consistency. Springy and firm.
Okay, so it works best if the dough sits for awhile before rolling. At least an hour. Jaya usually makes enough chapatti dough for a couple of days and leaves it in the fridge.
Form the dough into balls about as big as large walnuts. It works best to form all that you’re going to use ahead of time, since things get pretty speedy while you’re cooking the chapattis.
Get some kind of rolling surface and a rolling pin, and flour them well.
This dough is so soft that it will tear if you roll it too hard. Use barely any pressure… almost just the pressure of the roller itself, back and forth.
Smooth some more flour over the chapatti if you need it. Turn it to keep it round.
Roll it out until it’s the thickness of a crepe, or a loonie, or a key. Something like that. It needs to be thin, but not so thin that it will tear if you pick it up.
Now for the magic.
You need a griddle pan, or a cast iron skillet, large enough to work in. Here they use a chapatti pan called a tawa. Getting the chapatti onto the pan is no easy feat. I know because I’ve done it and it isn’t always pretty. It seems to work well to slap the chapatti back and forth between your hands a couple of times and then quickly let it drop onto the pan.
If that makes any sense.
At this point the griddle is well heated, but the gas is on low.
When you see little pockets of air beginning to form, turn the chapatti. What you’ll do now is help it to fill with air.
Grab a clean piece of cotton or dishcloth.
And gently press the edges to encourage the other parts of the chapatti to inflate. At this point you’ll want to turn the heat up to high.
A couple of things are key here. One… when you flip the chapatti over, use your finger tips to move it toward the edge and then quickly pick it up and flip it. This is where a flat griddle really helps. Don’t use your nails. If any holes form in the chapatti, it won’t inflate. Two… be really gentle when pressing, because you could form a hole by pressing too hard. Jaya turns the chapatti in a circle while pressing on the edges. It just occurred to me that I should really put a video up on this.
Flip it again and keep working it so that it inflates.
Wow, perfect. If there is any goal for me, it is to make chapatti like a true Indian woman. You should see my attempts. They are not so round, and sometimes burnt. But I’m learning.
For a last touch, you can hold the chapati directly over the flame to cause it to puff out that much more. It practically turns into a ball at this point. This is optional.
The kids love to watch chapattis puffing up.
Jaya rolls the next chapatti out while the first one is cooking. If you can do this, you’ll be able to have a steady rhythm going and your chapatti will be done in no time. Make sure that you clean the griddle with a dry rag everytime you finish with a chapatti, just wipe it off. It’s also important to make sure that the chapattis are well floured when you roll them, so that they don’t stick on the griddle.
They are eaten with any North Indian dinner. Rip a small piece off and use it to grab your food. Just use your right hand.
I think one reason that I’ve been having a hard time posting over here is because this site is about my life in India.
Right now I don’t live in India. I live in my house in India. I mean, I live in my house. I don’t leave my house. Or rather, I leave my house once a week to go to the market.
I’m just too largely pregnant to get on a scooter anymore without feeling like I’m going to fall down when I try to get off. My legs won’t work that way. So because of that, as well as the heavy rains we’ve been having the last couple of weeks, I’ve been home a lot.
I really am trying to enjoy it, having fun with the kids… drinking chai… making chapatis with Jaya. (They will feature in an upcoming food post.) But the creative part of me thrives on being out, at least a little, wandering, exploring, driving through jungle and rice paddies. It’s just not that season for me now, and I’m somewhat content to wait.
However, I do get to see some surprising things, things I never see in my home country(s), even being stuck in the house.
My Superstar Husband, drawing water from our well, water just for me… (and everyone else in the house).
and for a bonus, a commenter reminded me of the infamous “shiliman pariz” menu item. anyone want to take a crack at what edible substance this referred to? answers next saturday!
This may possibly be the easiest recipe you’ll ever try. I’ve been flabbergasted since I’ve been hanging out with Jaya, because I used to think of Indian food as being complicated.
Granted, some dishes are complicated. Some require day-before type of notice, if you’re going to cook them. But dahl, dahl is not complicated.
I’ve had some bad dahl in my life, let me tell you. And I’ve had some really good dahl, really really good dahl. I’d say that 80% of the good dahl I’ve had has been in the last month and a bit, all of it Jaya’s dahl. Like I said before, there are many types of dahl. We’ll get to others, but to start; the simplest kind. Masool Dahl.
The first thing you’ll need to do is get your hands on some red lentils. You know, those ones that are actually orange? Sometimes they’re tricky to find (Not here, here they hand them out at the dentist’s office.) but you can usually find them at a health food or imported food store.
We used two cups of red lentils, and let them soak for a little while in some water. They probably soaked for about ten to fifteen minutes.
This dahl uses the exact same players as the Aloo Ghobi in my last food post. You need to chop one onion, one tomato, half a chili, and a small bunch of cilantro. They should be finely chopped. Not finally. Finely.
I used the same photo as for the Aloo Ghobi post, so just remember that the onions should look about half the size. We only used one small onion.
Maybe by the time you’ve finished chopping, your lentils have soaked long enough. At this point, you can begin to cook them in whatever way you prefer. Jaya uses a pressure cooker (which freaks me right out, but I can see that I need to get over it) and she put the lentils in the cooker with about two inches of water showing above. I know, that’s a lame measurement, but she didn’t measure, and it was too late. The good thing is that you can play around with it.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, or you’re terrified of them, like me, you can simply cook the lentils into mush the regular ol’ way, in a pot.
When the cooker has let the pressure off three times, the lentils are ready. Their consistency looked like this, so if you’re cooking them without pressure, just make them look like the photo.
(Wait, you promised this would be easy! Sorry, I’m just getting the hang of this…)
Set them aside, once they’re cooked.
In a small saucepan on medium high, heat two tablespoons of cooking oil. (We use safflower oil.)
Now add two tablespoons of jeera- cumin seeds. Sounds familiar, huh, if you read last week’s post.
This time, though, you’ll add some brown mustard seeds. This much. Oh dear.
About a tablespoon? The good thing is that it doesn’t matter all that much. If Jaya is casual about it, then we can be casual about it.
Once these cook together for a few minutes, throw in the onions and chilies!
Stir them around…
Add the ginger garlic paste- about two teaspoons.
And add tomatoes! The beautiful, red tomatoes.
Add about a teaspoon of turmeric.
And a teaspoon and a half of salt.
Stir everything up and cook it till it’s smelling good and looks soft.
It’s time to add the cooked lentils.
Cook it all, uncovered, until the dahl is the consistency that you want. Personally, I like my dahl on the thicker side… still runny enough to go all into my rice, but not watery.
The most watery dahl I ever had was on this ship that we took from Calcutta to the Andaman Islands. Actually, I think it was the ship back, that had the watery dahl. The food was included in the price of the ticket, so you would get your food and a man walked around with a juice pitcher full of dahl and poured it on each plate.
It wasn’t the most filling food.
Jaya would like to add that she usually puts about a half of a teaspoon of red chili powder into the dahl, but since we are wimps (she didn’t say that) she omits it for us.
At this point you can taste it and add more salt as you like.
Add the coriander once the dahl is off the heat, and you have the perfect accompaniment to any Indian dish. Add some rice and roti and you have a full Indian dinner!
At the store looking for milk.
“Do you have fresh milk?”
“Yes, here, take one.”
“I need four packets, can you give me four?” (Milk here is sold in small plastic bags, 500ml each.)
“No, only two.”
I look in the fridge. There are at least ten packets.
“You can’t give me four?”
“No, someone is coming who needs a lot of milk, this evening. (Thinks for a minute.) Do you want three?”
“Sure. Three is fine. Okay… Do you have a packet of pencils and an eraser?”
“Yes, yes. Just here.” (Hands me the pencils and eraser.)
I reach to pay. “How much?”
“You want four packets of milk?”
“Okay, okay. Take four.” (Walks all the way back to the fridge to get another packet of milk.)
On a date with Chinua, talking to the waiter at a coffee chain here.
“What do you want to drink?”
“Can I have a strawberry shake?”
“No!” (Looks, as Chinua described, as if he has smelled something bad.)
“Oh. Okay. Is there anything else that I can’t order?”
“No cold drinks. Only hot?”
“What? Okay, I totally don’t understand.” (I look at Chinua, at a loss.)
“Can we order samosas?”
“No!” (Same bad smell look.) “Samosa is finished.”
“Uh… Can I get a cold coffee?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Do you want ice cream on top?”
Talking to Chinua on the scooter on the way home from our date.
“I still want to get pillows.”
“I think we should just get some fabric and have them made.” (Talking about cushions for our new chairs.)
“No… not that kind, real pillows.”
“You want bigger pillows for the chairs?”
“No, no no, pillows… for your head sleeping.”
We both laugh for a long time about my strange form of communication, but I ask you… is it any wonder?
I don’t know what it is with me and ending up in the hospital or at the doctor’s office for strange reasons, but somehow the other day I found myself lying on my back (not comfortable, these days) staring up at that funny floral arrangement of lights that shows up in operating rooms. It was not really where I had expected to be.
But I had this arm thing, see?
I’ve circled it, in case its brilliant red hue wasn’t enough to distinguish it. ARM THING, it cried out. It started out as an innocent looking little broken blood vessel or something. Some strange pregnancy deal, like the fact that my face is covered in brown blotches, known as the pregnancy mask.
But then it opened up, and bled copious amounts of blood. When it healed, it formed a strange ARM THING, and seemed to be growing daily, right alongside Muffin. I didn’t need to have a baby on my arm as well as a baby in my womb, so I sought medical help.
(Strangers had begun to point it out, and Chinua had once or twice tried to give it orders. “Lump,” he said, “Go get us some ice cream.” Or something like that, I can’t remember what it was. But I realized that my shiny red growth was acquiring a little too much personality. Maybe I was jealous, I don’t know. All I know is that it had to go.)
My midwife told me about a doctor that her husband had used at some point. He had a good experience, she told me. The doctor’s office was in the nearby town, above a restaurant that I knew.
So I set up an appointment, talking to the doctor directly. “I’m in the office from 9:00 to 12:00 and 5:00 to 7:00,” he said. “Come around 5:00 and I can take a look.”
If we’re going to talk about differences between the way I’ve grown up and the way things go here, well, there’s one thing. I don’t usually go to the doctor at 5:00, but one thing we’ve learned about Goa is that there is this big long siesta midday. Nobody calls it a siesta; they call it “lunch” but everything closes. And if it so happens that it is one of the two businesses that don’t close, you’ll often find some people snoozing on the floor or in a chair or curled up on one of the sofas they are selling. I’m not sure if it’s the Portuguese influence, or whether I’m completely blanking out on this aspect of life in North India. It is a lot more laid back here.
So off I went, the next day, to the doctor’s office. He specialized in diabetes, foot problems, general surgery, and dental care. A jack of all trades. Renee came with me, since we were gathering some things at the market for her, and it only made sense (in my strange, scrambled mind) to combine the two trips. You know, welcome to the neighborhood, here’s the toilet paper, here’s the general surgeon.
“Sit,” I was told. So I sat.
“Wait,” I was told. So I waited.
“Come,” I was told. So I came. First I went to talk to the doctor, who squeezed and prodded and held a flashlight up to my arm thing.
“Ouch,” said I.
“We can take care of this today, if you want,” said he.
“Sure,” said I, ever mindful of my due date drawing near. I’m trying to wrap up as many loose ends as I can, and my arm thing qualified as a loose end, in my mind.
So the nurse said, “Come.” She brought me back out to the waiting room. Renee looked up from her book.
“I could have sworn I saw you go in there,” she said.
“I did.” I sat for a while longer, and then the nurse commanded me to come with her again.
And she led me to another room, an empty room with two World War II hospital beds in it, and one lone toe bandage left forgotten on the floor. Whoops, I thought, someone’s shedding bandages and they don’t even know it. I tried to avert my eyes, feeling a little queasy.
But there were brown splashes all over the walls. I looked at my hands. The nurse came in and gave me a robe to put on. “Over my clothes?” I asked. She looked at me quizzically and shook her head yes.
So I put it on and waited a while longer, still looking at my hands. In a while the nurse came back in. She was wearing World War II nurse gear, white and buttoned up, with a white nurse’s hat on, baggy white stockings and flip flops. She said, “Come.” I obeyed.
In the hallway, we entered a door that said “Operating Stage.” Hmmmm. That sounded a little strange. The two nurses stopped me at this point and took my robe off. They turned it around so that it fit like a bathrobe, rather than like a doctor’s visit robe in North America, with the back open. Can you just imagine what they were thinking? I put my robe on so that it was open at the back! Not only does this not make sense anywhere, whether it is custom or not, but it must have seemed really strange to people who haven’t seen this before.
“Oh, ha ha,” I said.
Weirdo, they thought hard at each other.
The doctor apologized when I came into the room. The power was off and there was no air conditioning. Since it was a sterile room, there were no open windows or fans either. No problem, I replied.
I was too busy eyeing the bowl of discarded blood cloths and bandages that was sitting on the floor. No time to worry about air conditioning! I took a deep breath. Okay. Trust. Things are different here.
I got on the table and found myself in a staredown with that circle of surgical lights. And then I remembered that I get really nervous at things like this! Ha ha ha. And they began washing my arm with iodine, from wrist to elbow, back and forth, like washing a window. “Any allergies to medication?” the doctor asked.
“No,” I said. He poked me with the needle in reply. Oh dear. Suddenly my life flashed before my eyes, along with that toe bandage and the bowl of cloths on the floor. They revolved before me, my life, the toe bandage, the bowl of bloody cloths, over and over. I started to breathe deeply. I was about to pass out.
“Don’t be so scared, don’t be so scared!” yelped the doctor. “Hello!”
“Ooohhhhh,” I said. “I don’t want to…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
Anyways, after I finished nearly passing out, things looked up. I was very hot, and sweating, but it was okay. I didn’t die of an infection, my arm thing is gone, and it looks like I won’t even have a scar.
Medical care is interesting here. There are so many things that are so simple, like walking into an office and having something taken care of immediately and without great damage to the wallet. (The operation, including invisible stitches, cost about $40.) But there are simple things that we take for granted, some of us, like the fact that the remains of the last few operations will be cleared out of the room before we enter. And there are strange rituals, like sitting in that room beforehand, and then sitting there again after for awhile, just waiting for the clearance to leave.
At the end of the day, well, I never did get the courage to tell them about the toe bandage.
This week, lets talk about things that really need to come down to earth, have some gravity and some dignity for God’s sake. Like this sign over a store that read…
Who wouldnt want their picture developed there? very fun.
Bonus Menu Item! - Alot of menu items jump out at you because of the spelling, like “Banana Filters” for example. turns out it was a very nice “fritter” that you would recommend to anyone.
Jaya and I have made a trade. She’s going to teach me how to cook North Indian Food, and I’m going to teach her how to read. In English, of course. So far she’s learned all the sounds in the alphabet, and we’ve had some fun with some of the hard consonants. It’s amazing how we use a sound out whole lives and never think about what shape our mouths are making when we make the sound. I can’t roll my R’s, and Jaya had a really hard time with the letters ‘Z’ and ‘V’. Thank God for my Superstar Husband, who spent some time teaching English in Korea, and came to the rescue with the information that ‘Z’ is only an ‘S’ with voice behind it, and ‘V’ is only an ‘F’ with voice behind it.
Now that you are ready to teach yourselves, I’ll tell you about Aloo Ghobi.
North Indian cooking is cool, because a lot of it is formed around a couple of simple vegetables. That way, you can go to the market, grab what’s in season, and know what you’ll make with it, pretty easily. The Indian dinner consists of rice, dahl, (lentils) some kind of subzi, (vegetable dish) and chapatti. There are other variations, of course; you can have pickle, chutney, you could have stuffed bread, you could have naan instead of chapatti, you could have a meat dish, or several different dishes, if you were going all out. But that’s the basic meal.
Aloo Ghobi simply means Potatoes and Cauliflower, and it’s been a longstanding favorite of mine. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the way the Ghobi soaks in the spices, but man. Yum.
Don’t mind the glare. It’s the glory of the dish.
I’ll include a recipe list at the end, so you can see everything at once, but for starters, Jaya peeled and diced 2 medium yellow potatoes. You could use any kind of firm potato, yellow or white.
She also chopped half a head of cauliflower into little bitty pieces, and set it and the potatoes to soak in separate bowls of water with a little bit of salt.
I’m not sure why she did this. Sometimes we have communication gaps. I think it may be some precaution for cleaning, and this may be an Indian market step that you don’t need to take, or maybe you want to, just for authenticity.
Once these are prepared, you can get the players ready. These are the players.
They are: 1 Tomato, ours are kind of like a roma variety, ½ a chili, which is entirely variable, depending on how spicy you like your food and how spicy your chilies are, 2 small onions or 1 medium, and a small bunch of coriander. They are all finely chopped.
There is another player, and this is something we make and always have on hand- it’s a ginger-garlic paste, which is made by blending equal parts of ginger and garlic together to form a smooth paste. Just like it sounds!
So, here’s a big piece. Once you know this next step, you can hang up your towel because you know a huge secret about Indian cooking.
Start by heating up 2 tablespoons of oil, at medium high heat, in a large pan. We use safflower oil, but any kind of cooking oil is fine. Add 2 tablespoons of jeera, known in English as Cumin seeds. Instantly everything will smell delicious. Let this cook for a minute or so, and then throw in the onions and chilies!
And stir. Next you’ll add a little salt. I think about a teaspoon and a half- all of Jaya’s measurements are very vague, so you’ll have to bear with us.
Now the onions are looking a little softer and you can go ahead and add a teaspoon of the ginger-garlic paste. More if you’d like. Stir it all in, and at this point it will be smelling wonderful again.
Once the onions are nice and soft, you’ll throw in one of the other players: the chopped tomato. Which is lovely and red.
Give it a good stir, and I’m going to show you another Indian spice, which you probably know, but here she is anyways… Haldi. Otherwise known as turmeric, lovely and the deepest golden yellow.
Add about a teaspoon of haldi. Stir stir stir. It will turn everything yellow.
So now you’ve added the spices and you’ve sauted everything to perfection, you’ve used most of the players…
it’s time to throw in the potatoes. If you’ve been soaking them for posterity, don’t add the water, just the potatoes.
Stir them around a bit and then cover and let them cook in there for about 5 minutes on medium heat.
And add the ghobi! The cauliflower. But again, drain it, if you’ve been soaking it.
Stir it all in, and cover again. This time you’ll let it cook for about 20 minutes, or until everything is lovely and soft.
The very last step is adding the last player, the cilantro. Just sprinkle it over the top, and this dish is ready to eat with some rice and dahl, or just some rice, if you prefer. Next week we’ll learn about Masool Dahl, or red lentil dahl, but there are so many kinds of dahl that we could learn about dahl for the rest of our lives, I think.
2 Tbs oil
2 Tbs jeera
2 Medium yellow or white potatoes
1/2 head of Cauliflower
2 small or one medium onion
1 medium tomato
1/2 chili (or to taste)
Small bunch of coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garlic ginger paste (you could substitute a couple of cloves of garlic and a small piece of ginger, finely chopped)
And then there were six.
No, I didn’t have the baby. But I did buy a crib. A cot, a baby bed. They are called different things all over the world. At first I was debating whether to buy one here.
I’m not a co-sleeper, I’m just not. Thankfully, on my fourth baby, with three very well-adjusted and cuddly and loving and independent children, I don’t have to feel guilty about that. I’m sure I’ll find something else to feel guilty about, but that’s beside the point.
So, something is necessary, and I thought to myself, maybe I’ll just have a little mattress made. Ha ha. And then I came to my senses and smacked myself a few times as I thought: Rats! Mice! Cockroaches! Mosquitoes! Ants! Mayflies! All of which have taken up residence in our house and been ousted from our house dead or alive since we’ve been here.
Crib it is. With a nice, big mosquito net over it.
So I went to this store. It’s a very modern store, a place that I don’t shop at much, because I find it expensive and I like the adventury feel of the Municipal Market. And I found a crib. I deliberated over whether to buy a wooden one or a pop-up crib with an attachable bassinet, and chose the wooden one because of the mold and fungus that we are constantly fighting with in the humidity here.
The pop up crib looked all nice and clean and innocent in the air conditioned store, but I knew, I just knew that as soon as I got it back to our home, spores were going to be all, “WOOOO! FRESH NYLON!” Like that. You should see our backpacks. But that’s another post. It will be titled, Beating Back the Jungle.
So anyways, I purchased my crib. And this is when the fun began.
There was only one crib, you see, and it was the display model that I was looking at. I had hired a little van taxi to do my shopping and bring the crib home, but there was only one problem. They really, really didn’t want to dismantle the crib.
I can understand. I’ve watched Chinua dismantle our old one a few times. So maybe I should say Chinua can understand. But I needed to get the crib home. What to do?
All the store workers were involved by this point. And then they called my taxi driver in, and everyone discussed it at length. They were speaking Konkani, but I think I can translate anyways.
“Can’t you just put it in your taxi?”
“No, there’s no way. Can you see how big it is? Why don’t you just take it apart?”
“No, this is not possible. We did try to sell her the fold up crib, but she wasn’t having it.”
“Can’t you deliver it?”
“We don’t know where she lives.”
“She gave you the address, no?”
“Yes but…. Okay, we’ll follow you.”
“Yes, we’ll follow you.”
“I’ll go too!”
They ended up having to take the seats out of their vehicle. How that was easier than taking the crib apart, I’m not sure, but once you’re committed you’re committed, I guess. Meanwhile I had stupidly purchased ice cream at the last shop and now it was happily melting in the van. I knew I shouldn’t have bought the ice cream. I knew it!
And that is how we ended up leading a jeep full of employees from Poshak (the store) home. There were six, to be exact. Francis, the taxi driver, said succinctly, “They are all coming, like a picnic!”
Chinua wrote a little about the crowds here. There are different kinds. Maybe we can analyze them a little while we are here. There are the observant crowds, like the ones he ran into on the beach. And there are the helpful crowds, like when people stand around and try to help you get your bike out of the mud by yelling instructions. And then there are the “Sounds like fun! Let’s join in!” crowds. I can’t count the number of times we have stuffed ourselves into a crowded taxi only to find some other guy trying to get in. “Who’s that?” we ask.
“Oh, this is my friend. He is coming too.”
Which here is a perfectly sufficient explanation.
this is an actual sign for a store selling tourist goods.
After eighteen million attempts to write my food post, it once again disappeared. I have no idea what is going on, only that when I attempt to save and then publish, wordpress tells me that it has been published, but lo- it is gone.
Maybe there is a heaven for lost posts.
Maybe I’m going to lick my wounds and try again. But later. Much later.
Internet problems have always been part of living in India for me. So I’ll learn this and beat it and move around it.
There WILL be a food post next Friday. There will.
It was another blazing sunny day. In our curious ‘non’soon all the torrential rain that we should be swimming in is a planet’s width away, throttling retirees in Florida and washing out backyard barbeques by the thousands in the Midwest. I chalk it up to climate change and grab my little crew and head to the beach.
Indians are natural spectators. In fact a crowd is waiting to precipitate out of thin air at the slightest provocation. If you stand in one place and look at say, a pile of rocks, it’s only a matter of time before someone else is wanders over to check out your find.
Two people standing somewhere looking at anything is a mighty fine reason to call your buddies and go give them moral support. Two people and a group of buddies looking at something means run on over, could be important. A person running to see something means stampede. Find an Indian pile of rocks and try it sometime, I dare you.
Needless to say a six foot african-american man with dreadlocks and his assortment of tiny wonder people are naturally a crowd making machine. Yaya’s dreadlocks alone could make their own fortune charging for photographs. We made the mistake of stopping to change on the beach.
Before I had even put the first kids shorts on (under a towel of course) a dozen people were standing around us silently waiting for us to entertain them. In the gaps between their bodies, I could see more people throwing caution to the wind and running to meet the freaks for themselves.
To avoid the crowds, we walked far down the beach. We changed without incedent. The water was cool and very refreshing. Kid A (who is in fact part fish) was soon flopping around without a care. Yaya has invented her own game of run-swim-scream-splash-run with the waves, too interested not to try, but too scared to really get in. I waded in watching them both carefully, then finally relaxing and having a lot of fun.
Time to toughen Yaya up. I collect her from the line of rolling sea foam and hoist her up to my chest. She holds on tightly at first, then does an experimental kick to the water. Hey, this could be fun. A lifeguard waves a flag at us, and I reluctantly come in closer to shore. Kid A joins us and we are all together at last, laughing, playing in knee-deep surf, splashing…
…screaming, pulling, thrashing, grabbing each other. It feels like something is branding my legs with white hot wire hangers. I assume that the kids are screaming because I am, I just want to see what is doing this to me, cant they shut up? Kid A happened to be laying in the water when it hit me, and now he is scrabbling at my legs, very upset. Then I see it, nearly invisible elastic strands lashing kid a and I together, even on his face. I grapple with it, wiping everywhere, then throwing a huge impossibly blue blob onto the sand. The kids are screaming so loud. something all over us.
Out onto the sand, we are all yelling, trying to rub sand on our skin. Kid A is actually trying to bury himself in it by writhing like a snake. I am still on super adrenaline, having picked them both up and dashed out of the ocean. I don’t know what to do.
Now, if anything is likely to draw a crowd in India, it is several freaks with dreadlocks covered in sand shouting at the tops of their lungs next to a pile of blue goo. You would think someone would offer to help, or tell us why the pain is only getting worse, or even if we were all going to die after foaming at the mouth for a few minutes. But the exact same silent crowd quickly assembled, waiting to see what fun shenanigans we would be up to next.
In extreme pain, I pick them both up and bolt for the tree line. “Coconut oil!” one beach bum bar worker shouts. He looks afraid and tells us to go immediately to the hospital. My scooter is far away, we are in no shape to go anywhere. More workers arrive and help us wash off with fresh water. But that is all they can do. The kids are making sounds I have never heard them make.
I decide to run for the bike and ride like the devil for the nearest hospital. On the way, I the same lifeguard who had waved the flag. Stranglely, he is wearing a nonchalant dopey smile. In no great hurry he mentions that this is why he told us to get out of the water. He reaches back and pulls out a plastic bottle with a mini version of the jellyfish that stung us. Was this it?
I am flabbergasted at his attitude. My kids are hurt. I am about to take him back to the surf and drape the jellyfish around his dopey head.
Then she came, the exact person we needed at that exact moment, a grandmother wearing a tacky printed dress with a huge bosom knowing exactly what to do. She was like grandmothers everywhere, in command is a way that makes you feel safe, even if she is a bit absurd. I loved her right away.
In a flash she swooped in, picked up Yaya first (good choice, Yaya was seconds away from actually snapping a vocal chord) and started to rub some home brew remedy made with a fleshy red fruit. I did not notice at the time, but Yaya got the worst stings. Her entire back on one side, down her backside and on down her little leg.
Grandma had a lot of the red stuff. She sternly told Yaya to sit, and gave her repeated applications, each dose followed by an entire pot of water being dumped over her screaming head. Kid A next, all over his chest and face. The stuff is blood red, and looks shocking on their skin.
In bumbles a drunk representative from the cheated crowd. He asks very politely in his Indian drunk guy voice if he could please have a picture. A picture? I am at a loss for words. Grandma tells him exactly where he and his camera can go in Hindi. She’s my hero.
After the kids quiet down from her ministrations, I notice how much I hurt. She does the same for me, coating my legs and dousing me clean. She tells us not to bother with the doctor, just wait a half an hour. I resist the urge to hug her.
We make it to the bike, and Kid A is now nerding out on jellyfish facts for the ride home. Did you know that the biggest jellyfish in the world has no tentacles? We got stung by a jellyfish!? A real jellyfish? He asks every five minutes. he’s back to normal. Kenya is quiet then asks once if we can please not come to that beach again.
Back home, I tried to find out what it was. It was the bluest thing I have ever seen, with a dome about the size of a football and long tentacles that eventually turn clear. It was big enough to sting us all at once. Any guesses?
Oh yeah, and while I was lying here on my bed writing this post, a huge black scorpion walked in front of me on the floor. I feel horrible killing any living thing, but I wanted to be sure it was not some deadly variety. I whacked it with my shoe. Looking down at his alien twitching and now crushed body, my brain forms an inevitable question. How many stings are in store for us here?
post post: … after looking into it, the scorpion was almost undoubtedly a black asian forest scorpion, has a sting but is not dangerous to humans. and we are all fine!
Its called Saturday Signage. It’s a new installation, because what would India be without its wacky, wonderful, hilarious, painfully embarrassing, and strangely endearing signage? I knew I was on to something years ago when I hiked for hours in the Himalayas only to arrive a village guest house advertising hot food and worm beds.
As a bonus this weekly installation will sometimes also include excerpts from fouled menu attempts, such as the near miss spagacity (its spaghetti, I think), the ever enigmatic boll pumbin (true story), and the unforgettable banana fan coke (found in the questionable company of apple pan cake and lemon pon cake).
Here is this week’s head scratcher.
We were quite surprised to round a corner and discover this wonderful place. As luck would have it, if by some chance you misplace your Infant Jesus, all is not lost. Evidently you can have one grown right here at the Infant Jesus Farm. Somewhere Ricky Bobby is breathing a sigh of relief.
Until it happened, I had no idea that I was overdue for a perfect Sunday. I have been surly, out of sorts, touchy and acerbic. Retreating into my man-cave and struggling to pray and find myself.
But from the moment I woke I knew it was a better day.
Cooked fried rice, and I love to cook, even small things like omelets and fried rice. With Jaya gone, the house was mine. All the shame and inner objection about having someone cleaning for me was momentarily lifted.
I get up and take the kids, by green green fields shouting green. Palm tree lines with jungle behind. Women working in the fields, bunching and tying strange luscious plants into bundles, leaving pointillized patterns in their wake.
Outside, everyone was dressed for my Sunday. Some unknown festival coordinates everyone into their best clothes and most audacious colors, gathers them into bunches like flowers, releases them from the doors of churches and temples in contented crowds. The tiny dark heads of children bob along from bosom to bosom.
In a blazing rebuke to the monsoon, the sun is out, daring even to be flanked by blue instead of a steamy white haze like ever other day.
We drive to Baga beach, where the river empties into the sea, where wild outcroppings, waves are crashing on the reddest stone. Fishermen cast their nets into the surf while I talk with a gypsy woman on the beach. She is wonderfully kind, and we breeze past the normal sales pitch of gypsy to tourist and right into a conversation.
She is a living photograph. In halting imperfect small talk we trade essentials. We both have four kids, at her home in Gujurat, people normally have ten or more. Really? I am one of nine. Four is enough, we agree, smiling.
She was not a captured-corrected-printed-copied-distributed photograph, but unframed unbound and alive.
And I was picking these moments straight from the vine.
Tourists from Chennai, with their black and incredibly handsome faces, are being kind to me, asking my good name.
I draw in the sand with my children, dinosaurs, Chinese characters I love, a giant dogs footprint, houses and trees, and the aimless spirals I always find myself tracing, while YaYa’s tiny lumpy sand people populate the scene.
One more piece of Indian clothing apiece for the kids, as their own transformations take another step. India is sinking into them now, being absorbed and learned. Leaf baby even scolds the dog in Hindi now. They pick out a kurta and a kamise to wear, in light breezy bright colored cloth like real Indians.
Coming home we stop and eat flaky filling samosas from my favorite place, cricket is playing on the television. The kids and I try to understand what is going on, but trying to figure it out only makes it worse. We laugh together.
A more familiar and straightforward game of soccer has drawn a crowd to a village field. Sitting on the wall overlooking the game, we are approached by a lone white cow.
Like she was vaguely aware of some kindness required on the perfect day, she chose me out of the crowd, moved shyly in close and to my surprise, licked my arm. Nuzzling as affectionately as any house tabby and rubbing her horns on my legs, she ignored any attempts to move her along.
We watch the game, and I finally clap loudly to disengage my admirer. She looks back with a look that unmistakably says, “Too bad, we could have been great friends.” We see her as we are leaving the soccer game, back with the other cows dodging traffic, completely unaware of the synchronicity she had been briefly caught in.
We drive home with YaYa clinging to my back. Her tiny arms make me feel like I am huge and strong and solid instead of stretched thin and inadequate.
For the big finish, we all pile on to our scooter, all six of us, and head to Navtara restaurant in nearby Mapusa. It’s a real Indian restaurant for and by Indians. We are served amazing food: hakka noodles, mutter paneer, nan and malai kofta that was so soft and succulent and wonderfully spiced that I applaud.
I went back to bed, full of very common graces, time with my children, earth and water and sky, good food. And there the love of my life was lying next to me, radiant, her child inside making her impossibly lovely. Our child, our next great adventure. I smiled as I went to sleep.
Don’t think I don’t recognize this as the same kind of effusive gushing people do when they are new to traveling. But I can’t manage any shame on this thankful perfect Sunday. I simply fell one more fathom in love with India today.