Monday, September 29, 2008

In the last twenty four hours...

...I saw two mongooses. Mongoose = actually plain old Indian weasel. No pictures, sorry, they are fast on the feet. I tried saying "Rikki-tikki-tavi, ch ch ch!" but to no avail. Must start using film camera, much quicker on the draw.
...I was summarily issued off a train for ticketless travel. I then carried my 97,000 lbs of luggage from 1 platform to another and then the full length of, like, i don't know, 9 trains and over the himalayas until I found coach B2 and my seat, which was occupied by an infirm grandmother. I love negotiating for a seat in the dark.
...I found myself coated in a sweat and dirt film.
...I spoke to Maggie by phone Allahabad-Chicago, and she sounded a tad under the weather (um, actually kinda miserable)
...I paid 5 dollars for 17 pieces of laundry to be professionally washed dried folded and returned w/in 7 hours.
...I took a picture of my friend Mike K who went from Fuzzy Muppet to Cue Ball while I blogged. Sorry, camera is in room.
ok tata bye bye for now

Sunday, September 28, 2008

T- 24 hours (give or take)

We have a house!  Way to go, spouseperson.  

Just about 24 hours until the children and I arrive in India.  Between now and then we need to...
1.  Cancel the US cell phone. (You want to call me?  Do it quick!)
2.  Take our malaria meds.
3.  Have some fun with Meema.
4.  Hit the O'Hare urgent care clinic do deal with my probable sinus infection (or whatever nasty thing has set up shop in my head.)

Good times! 

In Which We Find Out About Cows and non-Cows

My friend Jeremy used to say that all he was ever taught about India in American public school was that it was "a triangular country with brown people and a caste system." The other one everyone seems to know is that cows are sacred, and that they roam free in the streets. I'm a graduate student. Let's problematize the discourse.

First, there are indeed cattle everywhere in the streets. All of the following pictures were taken in about 10 minutes of each other. In fact, the bovine strollers frequently block traffic

and sometimes put on a real show.

However, they are not all cows. Some, of course, are bulls, but that's not a real or critical distinction as the term is used in English. The real difference is that this is a cow,

and this is not.

They're quite nearly identical for almost all intents and purposes. Here's the differences: a buffalo stands in water when it can, but a cow doesn't; buffalo are always black, but cows come in other colors; buffalo milk is richer; and you can eat a buffalo, but not a cow.

I am not sure if this is a cow.

I think this is a cebu. Maybe not, since I can't find a wikipedia page for it, and since I am sweating bullets and need to get to the train station, I can't link to a YouTube of the VeggieTales Cebu song. For sure, Cebu is a province in The Phillipines. I think the above animal may be what we call a Brahma Bull. The big difference is the hump on top, which is a bit squishy.
in haste

The Turkey Has Landed

It felt a little bit like being on one of those HGTV shows where the prospective renter goes around to 3 400k condos with a friend and a broker, or a friend or a broker, or a friend-cum-broker (points for philological analysis explaining cum), and gives commentary like "Well the view is really great but I wanted more rooms, and the second one is big but I'd have to paint it." Sushil Singh of aforementioned BHU was enlisted by the Delhi Fulbright Office to help me with housing, and she deputized one of her postdocs (I think that's her status, Phd is def'ly finished), Nisha, to execute the task. We'd had a few offers already; one, two blocks of rooms in a hotel, 4 rooms, 2br, kitchen, but with a hotel hallway between the two sets, reasonably big, with huge plant covered balcony overlooking 3ish acres of lovely rice paddy and your standard brackish Varanasi river, furnished and provisioned, gas and electric included, at the end of a dirt road and with a walled off 2000 sq' of grassy play area [Rs20k/mo]; two, an unseen 4 room apartment in a more lux building, airconditioned (we pay for the power), furnished according to our exact specifications, fully provisioned, and on a main road [20-25k/mo]; and three, an also unseen flat in the middle of town, 3 rooms, no more details [~10k/mo?]. Each of these had been found through a friend of a friend of a friend, two of whom I met randomly in restaurants (less dicy than it sounds), and a third found, unbidden by me, by a rickshaw-walla who I immediately distrusted and disliked.

Upon informing Prof. Singh of my quoted rates she nearly fainted, and declared that I should under no circumstances pay that much. Call me at 9 tomorrow, she said, and I didn't because she called me then, and I reported to her lovely home whereupon we discussed academia, and then I talked American politics and Indian economics and inflation with her husband until breakfast, whereupon someone mentioned that we should go look at some housing, it being around 11. I had commissioned a car for the day with the only cautious driver in N. India (whom I am all but ready to put on permanent retainer) and so we followed the postdoc to the first house. It was large, airy, 4/5 rooms, including a smallish temple room. It would be refurbished, furnished, and painted. I liked it, but the pigs rooting in the garbage a block from the house made me nervous, and when we got up on the roof, Nisha's brother showed me the weed-choked lot behind the building and pointed to a mound of plastic bags and other chafu. "That is where you can throw your trash," he said. 7k/mo.

We then followed Nisha and her husband to Mahmoorganj and a cul-de-sac which houses the Sarv Dharm Mandir (All Dharma/Religions Temple, though I don't guess their ecumenical leanings go beyond Hinduism) and Nisha's home. Uncle-ji across the street has had an upstairs flat for years and years, which he really only uses to house family guests. 3 rooms, one airconditionable, papayas and coconut palms in the yard, and flowering creepers up the stairs to the flat which is on the second floor (here always called the first floor, as opp to the GROUND floor). Nisha seemed very eager for me to take it because she'd be close by to lend a hand. Uncle-ji allowed as how me might be able to include one more room from the adjacent apartment. How much? we asked. I don't know, he said, we've never rented it before, so, uh, how does 5k/mo sound? I'll have to check it out. Several someones paraded through with chana masala, ladoos, cold water, and a third round of sweets by which time I was really insisting on no more, and I said we'll take it. He'll clean the place up in the coming week, Nisha will get started on arranging maid, cook, and launderers, and Gungun (sp?)

seems genuinely excited to have two American neighborhood playmates. She is very sweet and a little shy but very dramatic in her gestures and facial expressions.

Nisha and her husband Manoj, along with her father, had me back for tea and aftersold the neighborhood to the nines. It's called Sigra, sort of just north of Central Varanasi, and at least our part of it is quiet, really clean, and really, really safe--Uncle-ji has two German Shepherds. They take shifts, he said, day and night. Not to play with, eh? I asked. No, you can play with Aluskha. But not the night-time one.

So we have a home in Varanasi, and just in time. Pictures forthcoming--for now, here's our neighbors, for whom I am, and believe I shall renewedly be, very grateful.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A reminder of home...?

So, I'm wandering about this morning turning down rides from rickshaw-wallas and thinking about places to rent a house or some sort of shack for us to sleep in, when I come across a photo opportunity too good to pass up. It's difficult to imagine what marketing block these guys are trying to appeal to...unless the King really is branching out into dosa and idli and so on.


We need more comments. Or, maybe we should say, we need


Also, Chris Cornell was the last person signed into this cyber cafe (um, cybercloset--its about 200 sq ft and there are no refreshments) but he left 8 minutes before I did. Clashes with recording my foot, he's in India.
Preview--"American" restaurants in sundown tonight...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Once more from the NagChamp

Now that I live in India, this is my favorite song:

In case you are as dumb as me

My friend used to tell me I was having the problems I was having so I could beat them and then help someone else to do the same. This is a poor answer because it is an instant infinite regression, but ok, I'm paying it forward.

For two days I have been very gently beating my head on the wall b/c I couldn't get my phone to charge. I tried every outlet in the place, with two different chargers. One had an indicator that was clearly on. The same charger had worked an hour before at the shop. In the meantime, most of my contact info is in the phone and the phone has about 1 bar of battery left, and then none, and its NOT CHARGING, and I'm furious and in tears (not really, just a little) and frustrated, and I hate being frustrated, and I just want to give Fulbright their money back, kick a kitten, and go back home to a job at Union Cab. I took the phone back to the shop today, wise enough after 2378 of these types of episodes not to march in and belligerently demand that they admit their fault, beg my forgiveness, and make it RIGHT and in about 3 seconds the guy explains that if you have the charger plugged into the power conduit

it works perfectly well every time, but if you plug the charger into the headphone jack

it will never, ever work. The co-worker was nice enough to just smile when the dude told him what I'd done, and my Hindi wasn't good enough to convey to the rickshaw-walla how stupid I was. He may not have been used to self-deprecation.

Smells Like SOMETHING...

And in fact that thing is Nag Champa, because I, the Nag Champion, am actually in India, in the only hotel in the world with fountains and purple lights lighting up the building at night and a POOL! that costs Rs550 or $12.30 a night, no a/c, sorry all bookings full. And in this hotel, there is an internet hotspot which has graciously allowed me to plug in my laptop, and into this internet hotspot some goof just came bearing a bowl full of Nag Champa which has billowing forth smoke, because of which the internet-wallas chased him RTH out of here.

Here is why India is wonderful:
I'm camped out at the BHU where a former Fulbrighter has gotten me 'accomodation,' and truth is, these people are very accomodating inasmuch as they charge very little, cook 3 meals a day if I want, have cold filtered water available whenever I want, minimal traffic, and a very sweet short shy man who almost certainly was malnutriented for his entire childhood and is thus about 5'0" who brought me tea every morning at 7:15ish. Anyway, these dudes were cutting down a tree and so what, right, until you take a closer look at the man in the tree, and since he's wearing a lungi, hey, who doesn't:

I mean, I just have to think that a place where a man climbs up a tree barefoot in what amounts to a loosely fastened skirt, with an axe no less, to hack chunks off the limb on which he stands, is radically different from what I'm used to. That's the point. It's different.

But sometimes in not so nice ways, though taken humorously and philosophically, hmm, well, it has the capacity to not corrode the undergirding of my sanity? Perhaps. For example, it is somewhat frustrating to me that I have to turn down an average of 1 offer a minute, mostly for rickshaw rides, but also from beggars and shopkeepers. The shopkeepers get nothing, ever, though I've stopped being combative with them, and try to be funny but not sarcastic. The beggars are, of course, heartrending--when they are not prompting one to reconsider the problem of theodicy, or having had lunch.

The social worker gene in me feels not great about this one. My friend Mike Kruse and I were standing around outside the Foreigners' Registration Office in Varanasi (where I currently hang my hat) and this cheery young fellow of 6 or 8 wanders up and starts saying, "Hello you five, one, three, six, hello, you two, you five..." and always with the wrong number of fingers. He was remarkably persistent, and uncowed by my faltering mastery of Hindi. So I dug around in my pockets and came up with a Walgreens photo claim which was on sticky backed paper, and when I peeled it off he gratefully snatched it up and put it on his shirt:

and it was still there after I showed him the photo on the camera and got him to stop saying '1, 4, 3, 6' long enough to answer my question, "ye kaun hai (who is this)," though just barely, and so I gave him Rs. 1. To which he said, "You 2, you 5, you 3, two, two" and so I forked out another one and he went off.

To be sure I cover all the bases, I am eating and sleeping well, taking care of business, staying out of danger of all forms, and am on the edge of getting a place to stay--we may end up in a sort of Eloise-like situation. Another one on the way in a minute. I have to write less, or I'm going to spend more time writing about what I'm doing than doing it.

Seattle, Slowly

I love Seattle and I love it best when we're just hanging out, doing normal life stuff.  Jet lag and sick kids have put us in low gear and I'm all the happier for it.  

Yesterday was the market, and today we hit REI, and cruised around in Ballard.  Plenty of good food, salmon in the locks, and some serious recycled funk.  

Tomorrow we reprise the Hawaiian pancakes, check out the aquarium, renew our devotion to mini donuts and hopefully get my little brother a job.  Yee-haw!

(Only 4 days til we'll be in Delhi...  egad.)

Wrapping up Hawaii

The best way to leave the Big Island?

1.  Cut open a Dragon Fruit

2.  Eat tons of it, while photographing yourself.
3.  Ignore all skeptical too-cool 12 year olds.  Call them Bro-seph.  Eat more Dragon Fruit.
4.  Engage with the most stunning beach with as many senses as possible.
5.  Play in the waves with people you love until the sun sets.
6.  Look for the green flash, take a fabulous outdoor shower, get your airplane clothes on at the beach, chow a burrito and hug goodbyes in the rain.  (And finally just put away the camera and soak it all in, knowing you'll never be able to capture all the happiness and wonder of the place.)

7.  Start making plans to come back on the way home from India.  (Chris, you get to come along this time!)

Anybody sick of Hawaii yet?

I'm not!  Our last night was spent at the Kona Seaside, in Kailua.  The place is a gem, and cheap, especially if you're local.

It's also right across the street from the ocean, and the start of the Ironman.
The Ironmen jump in here, and the Ironboys must be convinced not to do the same.
This guy probably wouldn't have minded the company though...
Looking across the bay, in Kailua.  

Hawaii Recap, pt 4

In which we hit the beaches.  Hard.

After the black sand beach (Val, what is it called?) we set off for Kailua/Kona.  This is what the scenery looked like for parts of the drive, when it wasn't jungle, or lava desert, or straight up tropical paradise.  No other road trip will even come close!

Hawaii Recap, pt 3

Joseph, waiting patiently for....
...Hawaiian Pancakes!  (Banana pancakes, topped with chopped honey-roasted macadamia nuts and coconut syrup.)  

A belly full of Hawaiian Pancakes sets you up for an expedition to the tide pools.
Or for just walking down the driveway.
Whatever the case, happiness abounds.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hawaii Recap, pt 2

"This is so awesome!"

Another look at the activity in Kilauea.
Eating ginger blossoms on the way down to Kilauea I'ki.  (Ginger leaves also make good t.p. in a pinch.  Just FYI.)
At night the plume on Kilauea glows red.  The picture isn't much to look at (try photographing glowing smoke sometime!), but being there has got to be one of the most spectacular experiences of my life.  It was seriously cold (40s) and overhead there were more stars than I've seen anywhere, even over 14,000ft in the Rockies.   

Hawaii Recap, pt 1

The wireless at Val's disappeared after our first day, and so too my blog.  Sorry to leave you all hanging right off the bat.  We were doing about 14 amazing things at once, non-stop, so there really is a lot to tell, but instead of writing a blow by blow we'll have a recap in pictures.  

First, Gordito.  Found at a gas station in Waimea, taken home by Val, named by me.  He rocks.  He also has fleas and other unsavory associates, so he has a box on the lanai and awaits a good home.  

Another denizen of the lanai...  (the gecko, not my kid).

World's most delicious avocado (picked in Val's yard), eaten on the rim of Kilauea .

All of us, almost.  That big white plume above Caitlin's head is sulfur dioxide gas.  More volcano info can be found HERE.  

Hiking down to the Kilauea I'ki  crater, looking over to Kilauea.

We interrupt this blog to bring you...

...donuts.  We're back in Seattle, we're wearing pants and wool socks, we're getting rained on, and we have bellies full of mini donuts, served by my favorite donut man.  

Also, there are rats.  

If there is anything that could lessen the pain of leaving Hawaii, this is it.