Searching for pandas

Never mind The Cultural Revolution.  Never mind human rights abuses and dictatorship.  When you stumble upon the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, while looking for scorpions on a stick to munch on during your evening walk, you are awed.  You are in one of the most famous places on the globe.  Breathe, smile, take it all in, it is truly exceptional.  At night, it is really pretty, all lit up with red and white lights.  It is currently a national holiday, so there are more decorations I assume than on a regular day.  It is not as crowded as I would have assumed.  The mood is very cheerful, everybody is trying to snap a selfie in front on Mao’s portrait.  We did too!  I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that people were casual and relaxed.  There were a few guards but no obvious heavy security was noticeable.  I had been to the USSR in 1983, while is was still ruled by a heavy Communist hand.  The line on the Red Square leading to the Lenin mausoleum was long and dark.  People were somber and serious as if Lenin had died the week before.  Fast forward 32 years, and the world is a different place.  A little girl was sitting on her father’s shoulders, surrounded by 3 or 4 family members and started to cry, probably tired. I looked at her, waved and smiled.  Her face slowly uncrumpled, she smiled back, and then said in perfect American English “Good morning, how are you?  I am fine, thank you, how are you?  I am fine.”  We all laughed.

Beijing is not one bit what I expected. I had Cold War Era imagery in my mind, blue uniforms everywhere and people walking with their heads down.  But this is as modern and Western as New York.  Maybe even cleaner than New York.  I am aware that not all of China, nor Beijing are like that.  As mentioned before, it is currently a national holiday week.  A mandatory week of vacation to celebrate National Day, imagine that!  The Communist regime started 70 years ago, so the city is nicely decorated to commemorate. We live in the equivalent of the Wall Street area, a block away for E.’s office.  It is deserted.  I mean there isn’t a soul in the streets.  A city of 30 million and through the window I see maybe one or two people.  Even when going for walks around here, there is nobody to bump into you or invade your personal space like I had readied myself for.  E. says there was a zombie apocalypse! On my second day, we found a nice little park close to here, thanks to Google maps (censored here).  A peaceful area, very clean, with a beautiful pagoda sitting on a hill, and plenty of opportunities for people watching, one of my favorite activities.  So what did we see?

  • A little girl and her family fishing in the pond. And taking home a plastic container full of (stolen?) goldfish!
  • A Chinese woman grabbing a tree branch above her head and doing ab exercises.
  • A young white man doing something that looked to me like Tai Chi mixed with brain seizures. It may be a form of Tai Chi I have not seen on TV before.
  • Some older men playing dominoes on a rock, with money laying around.
  • Tucked in a corner, several ping pong tables, with people of all ages playing.
  • A few lovebirds.

We walk a lot.  We just wander around, looking for nothing in particular.  We found the Russian section of town.  At first I was surprised at how big it is, then remember the close relationship between China and the USSR/Russia.  We walked into a pharmacy where I mimed to the lady that I wanted earplugs.  She understood me right away, starting talking loudly, gestured inserting the earplugs in her ears, and talked again whispering.  We all laughed, I had gotten the message across.  Unfortunately, she didn’t have any.

The weather has been in my favor.  Beautiful blue skies, rather warm temperatures but blood curdling wind on my first day.  The real estate agent who handed us the key to our apartment told me it is exceptional weather, in other words, don’t get used to that!  And the pollution level is low, so no need to wear a protective breathing mask.  But we need to find me a helmet for the scooter.  Because, yes, we have a scooter.  And it’s a good thing that the people of Beijing have left the city so “we” can learn how to ride an electric scooter.  It’s a different beast than the Italian made Vespa we had a Bangalore.  I miss the Vespa.  I miss the dirt roads.  Here, well, imagine riding a scooter in Manhattan and you have a pretty good idea of our surroundings.  It’s still super fun.  We found Wa Er Ma.  It’s Chinese for Walmart.  I promise, we were not looking for it, it was just there!  So we went in.  A lot of the products are the Walmart brands: MainStays, Equate, or True Value.  The soy sauce aisle is the size of an American cereal aisle, and I am not exaggerating.  The size of the alcohol section also makes me believe that booze is widely consumed here.  Of course they sell some strange looking Chinese things, alongside typical American fare.  Chicken feet, pigs feet, octopus of all sizes, fish with or without heads, frog legs the size of a small dog.  Maybe dog too, who knows!  We bought drinks.  It’s not easy finding low calorie drinks. 

I wanted to see the giant pandas.  I wanted to go to the Beijing zoo.  Taking the subway is rather easy, everything is marked in Chinese and in English.  Most of the time.  Around our neighborhood, it’s easy.  Venture a bit into town and English becomes optional.  Without difficulty, we found the subway to the zoo.  But not the zoo.  To be specific, we did found the zoo exit, but could not find the entrance.  We kept asking and people were sending us back into the subway.  We stood in line to get a ticket which we thought would let us go inside the zoo, but no, she sent us back outside, ticketless.  We stood in line at a window that showed the prices for the zoo admittance only, and the zoo admittance with the Panda House.  But no, we were in the wrong line again.  A few feet away, we saw hundreds of people waiting to buy their ticket.  So that’s where all the people are on this holiday! The line – scratch that – the pack of people, hunger and heat got the best of us.  We had lunch at a Yoshinoya, a Japanese restaurant, where I, by mistake, ordered Indian food.  Then we took a cab home.

I did not see the giant pandas.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Beijing

3:47 am.  I am wide awake.  Jet lag.  Welcome to Beijing!

I landed last night, after the longest flight I have ever taken.  Thirteen hours and forty minutes, beating my previous 12-hour flight.  I made it in one piece, after being shaken like a martini due to heavy turbulences.  All the baggage was here, and my hubby was waiting for me, beaming.  I didn’t care about cultural taboos and gave him a huge hug and a big kiss.  Then, look for a taxi we did.  Language is a barrier.  The Great Fire Wall is another.  E. was showing the address of our hotel to the driver, using Google maps.  The driver can not access Google since it is blocked in China.  That led to a few minutes of confusion, attracting 3 other drivers to our rescue.  I was tired, happy, and didn’t care.  It takes about 40 minutes to reach the serviced apartment where E. has been staying for a few weeks.  It was already dark and raining.  There was nothing to see, nothing “Chinese”, nothing unusual.  We could have been in Germany, with Chinese signs and expensive cars.  We passed the Bentley and Rolls Royce showrooms.  Nothing looked different.  It was not until we reached downtown that I started seeing “fun” things, namely their little tuk-tuks.  They probably have another name, but it’s the same concept: a scooter pulling people with an awning over their heads.  They are so much smaller than in India, I am not sure the two of us would fit in it, I will let you know!  The drivers, as well as people riding bicycles were covered in rain ponchos, and the pillion rider was often carrying an open umbrella.  That, you do not see in India, where they simply stop on the side of the road and wait for the rain to stop.

We are in a swanky place.  All nice and fancy and clean.  Really clean.  The room is rather small, but we are moving into our permanent place in two days, so it doesn’t matter.  I fell asleep pretty much right away.  I vaguely remember our dinner being delivered.  Sweet slumber.

Jet lag.  Bam.  There is nothing worse than being awake in a new city, with things to see and things to talk about, all alone. So I woke up my hubby!  He’s now installing a VPN, a magic box that allows us to jump over the Great Fire Wall of China, and access sites that are censored here.  After less than 8 hours in the country, I have encountered it three times: all Google, including mail and maps are off limits. Facebook as well, a forced Facebook break will do me good anyway.  And WordPress, which hosts this blog!  We got a voicemail from the fraud department at American Express.  Someone had used our card in China.  Duh!  So E. called.  They need to send a one-time password to the email on file.  A Gmail account.  Great!  Get on computer, try and access VPN.  I hear a call of victory “VPN from Taiwan, bingo”.  Retrieve password and settle fraud dispute.  The guy on the phone was Indian, so I yelled Jai Hind!

I nibbled on a couple of dim sum (Chinese dumplings) that had been delivered when I was asleep.  One was yummy, the other had bean paste in it, and I don’t care for that.  While E. was calling clients in the US, I took a shower.  I may regret it since I forgot that the water is not filtered and I rinsed my mouth.  Rookie mistake. 

In a few hours, after some more sleep and breakfast, we will go to the Forbidden City.  Cross that off my Bucket List.

Posted in Adapting | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Readying for Beijing

Before moving to India, I studied like a grad student. From the time we decided on the job change, I read everything about India, or anything written by Indians. Literature, political commentary, movies, you name it, if I could get my hands on it, I would read it or watch it. I had another technique that amused E. quite a bit: when I would see people who looked Indian, at airports, in stores, at Barnes and Noble, I would approach them, apologize, and tell them we were about to move to Bangalore and was looking for any insight. It may be a bit unorthodox but I gathered some very valuable information along the way, and made people laugh and reminisce about their home country. Our Punjabi-Canadian ophthalmologist was a great source of information, but our ENT, although ethnically Indian, said he had never been there.

I should be doing the same about China. E. is already in Beijing, started his job which he likes a lot, found us an apartment and already bought an electric scooter! But I am not doing any research yet. My heart is still in Bangalore. I feel like I still have so much to learn about India, and have this unreasonable feeling that I would be “cheating” on my heart country if I were to do some studying about China. I have a few travel books on my nightstand, and did manage to finish Amy Tan’s last novel. Last night I checked if there were any fees to visit The Forbidden City since I will be there in a few days. Nothing more. Tonight, I will start “Family Matters” by Rohinton Mistry. Back to Indian lit.

This isn’t entirely true. E. and I have a history with China. First, my good ol’ American boy from the Midwest is fluent in Chinese. Yep! He took four years of Mandarin in the early 90’s while in college, and I can attest to the fact that he can hold a conversation with taxi drivers, and shame people who, at a wedding, were talking about us behind our back. That’s our first link to the country. More recently, starting in 2005, we had tried to adopt a little girl from China. The irony is that we didn’t qualify because of E.’s weight, a problem that is no longer one. However, I am now too old! Back then, I had read a lot about China. I realize now that it was 10 years ago, and the books I read were often published 10 years prior to that. I even dug out a very old French classic political reference “Quand la Chine s’éveillera, le monde tremblera” from Alain Peyrefitte (When China will awake, the world will shake). Therefore, what I learned is no longer up-to-date, or/and, was a bit biased due to the desire to get these children adopted into good (international) homes. I had spent many hours watching Chinese movies, and discovered the actress Gong Li. A lot of the books described the consequences of Mao’s policies. Today, from what I saw in Shanghai and what E. talks about, China seems to be on the cutting edge of capitalism. Go figure!

Just like I had preconceptions about India described in my very first blog post, I have some about China. I am pretty much stuck on “The Joy Luck Club” as a model of what the country is like. I like Lisa See’s writing less. Most novels I read are about prostitution, the condition of women, poverty, abandoned women and infants, and the rise of communism. At the Fort Worth library, I had come across “The Last Days of Old Beijing”, a very interesting book written by Michael Meyer, an American living in Beijing, lamenting the destruction of the old fashioned dwelling to make room for skyscrapers. I read the Art of War. And I am fascinated with opium dens!

I have my tourist visa in hand, a suitcase almost ready, with respirators to survive the pollution and brand new sneakers, since mine are somewhere in a box in a warehouse between India and China. I will be a tourist in my new country, waiting eagerly for the day I will have a permanent visa.

No date yet, we are working on that.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Keeping in touch

It’s been almost two months that we have been back in the States, but my heart is still in India. I got a new haircut, changed my hair color, updated my make-up and wardrobe, and got new glasses (*).  But my jewelry is mainly Indian.  We listen to Bollywood hits in the car.  Driving through the back roads of Marshall, TX on the beat of Aa Ante Amalapuram is culturally dissonant, yet tremedous fun.

My body is here, my friends and the kittens are here, but I grab onto any piece of India that I can grab. I have cooked several Indian dishes, and without fail, they were all a bust! When I see Indian people, like at the airport, I stupidly stand in front of them (at a safe distance, this is Texas after all!), smiling, waiting for them to recognize me as one of their own. It doesn’t work. I had never noticed Indian families in our neighborhood before. Either the demographics have changed, or my India Radar is more refined. Oh, the bliss of seeing an aunty slowly wobbling around, pushing a cart at Costco, with a dupatta around her shoulders!

We are in constant contact with a lot of people in Bangalore. Sathya regularly sends us text messages. He even sent a picture of the puppies! And one of a green dead snake he found on the road! We have talked to him also. He has had several short time jobs already. Our cook’s niece has a smartphone and we get frequent updates. S. got a part-time job cooking for a lady in Palm Meadows. The niece didn’t get the flight attendant job she wanted, under the false pretense that she has bad skin.   She sent me pictures of her aunt, uncle and cousins. Although S. was always a ray of sunshine, with a huge smile on her face, none of them are smiling on the pictures. It’s an Indian thing, they stop smiling the second you click a formal picture, and then start laughing again. I will get to see her smile again soon, hopefully.

And our maid calls once in a while. I love it. I love technology. I remember when out of town calls were prohibitively expensive, let alone international calls. Now a maid in India calls her friend in the US, from the comfort of her home. It is always a strange and cheerful conversation, and, unfortunately, we always get cut off after a couple of minutes.  Mam? Mam? Is K. How are you Mam? You breakfast mam? Sir good? Cats good? Miss you mam.

She called me one morning, it was around 6am her time, to tell me that she had had a dream that I was back in India. She was happy! I also get news from her family through her son, who is now proudly attending college about 2-3 hours from home. I can see on his WhatsApp picture that he’s growing a moustache I think. He’s becoming a man.

I have a 4×6 portrait of all of us right on my nightstand. I tell them goodnight before I fall asleep, reading Sudha Murthy and Times of India, and smile good morning to them all first thing when I wake up.

* Thanks to the dimwit optometrist at Lawrence and Mayo on Vartur. He was not my usual guy, and I knew, I just knew that something would go wrong. But Madam it will take a month to adjust to your new glasses. It’s funny how everything adjusts to you in this country. I was getting severe headaches so I went to the eye place around here. Not only was the prescription incorrect, he also sold me 6 months supply of the incorrect lenses.

Yet China is getting closer and closer, and E. is already there.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blessing a car

Our friend got a brand new car a few weeks ago. Yipee for our friend! It’s a big gold Toyota Innova, also known as an expat car. Most expats ride in big SUVs, we liked Sathya’s little white car, the Maruti Suzuki Swift. We got to follow the entire process, from choosing the car color to experiencing a flat tire in the middle of the night! A puncture it’s called here, usually written “puncher”.

First, Toyota lost the money. The full payment. It was wired from one bank to another and “magically” disappeared. I have a few ideas as to where the funds sat for a few days. Since a foreigner had been present during the purchasing, a lot of brouhaha ensued. What still baffles me is how hierarchy works in India: the poor saleswoman, who had nothing to do with funds transfer, almost lost her job. They needed a scapegoat and she was it. In this case, I don’t think it was because of gender, but because of “totem pole position”. After much yelling and pressuring from my white attorney husband who came to the defense of our friend, the funds miraculously reappeared after a serious threat to cancel the sale.

Then came the delivery of the car, at the doorsteps. That was cool! Seven people came to deliver one car. Seven stooges (including the saleslady) apologizing profusely, bringing chocolates and flowers. I didn’t care for the hypocrisy of it all, but was delighted for our friend. His wife had tears of happiness down her cheeks, and the kids wanted to sit in their new chariot.  

The next day, or maybe two days later, my memory fails me, it was time for the car puja, the car blessing. And hop in the car we go and head for the Ganesh temple. Mala, our friend’s wife is very religious and these rituals are important to her. To us, it’s one more fun experience, and we like Ganesh.

We had driven past this temple a zillion times, right on Whitefield Main and never paid much attention to it. Mala had a bag with flower garlands and fruits, probably money also. The priest, a rather young man, dressed in orange cloth performed the ceremony. While chanting, he threw drops of water on the car, painted Hindu symbols on the windshield, went back and forth to the back of the temple where the elephant god statue is, while she was praying, ringing the bell (with the right hand only) and twirling on herself at the end. The priest did something with a coconut too.  My favorite part was the lemon crushing: you place lemons in front of each wheel, and drive the car 10 inches. The lemons go “pop”, it’s so fun!

If we had stayed in Bangalore longer, I would have been more curious about the Hindu faith.  All houses we have entered have a puja room, or if the house is small, a corner or a shelf is dedicated to a particular god.  I was starting to be more comfortable asking questions about religious rituals.  For now, we bought a little Ganesh statue at our new favorite Indian store in the Woodlands and stuck in on the dashboard of our car!

And in the city of a 170-feet tall Christian cross, I wear my Om pendant.

 

 

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cultural amnesia

I don’t remember how to be American! I don’t remember how my house works! After almost 2 years in India, I am staring at the appliances and checking which button I have to press to get coffee. It took me a few seconds to get reacquainted with the washing machine. I looked at the 4 bottles of cleaning products around the toilet and wondered which was the right one for the job. Then I wondered why we need so many different products. I was however pleased to wash my dupatta with Oxyclean and get rid of the coffee stain that remained after the last wash by the dhobi walla.

We went to Walmart. A rite of passage. I stared at people (politely I hope). There is just as much people watching than in the streets of Bangalore, but I am much more judgmental here. Come on people, you’re in public! I have to stop that kind of thinking. India made me a better person and I need to transfer my new mindset to my new life here.

The kittens are fine. They remember the house, the good hiding spots, the softest chairs. They miss their big scratching post and have started using the furniture for their manicures. Not cool!

Talking about cool, the AC is not working properly. The weather in Houston right now is similar to that of Chennai: hot and humid. We had to call the repair companies, and had to deal with a bunch of idiots. We were told, almost verbatim: “You don’t pay enough to get first rate service”. Classy. And I thought that customer service was one of America’s strong points. Next time I complain about maintenance service in India, I will remind myself that at least there they are polite and apologize profusely. The services are not performed, but they are pleasant. Here, you get no service and an attitude to boost. Whatever dude, I just came back from India, I have no problem with the heat, bring it on, and see your Yelp ratings sink even lower.

I miss my Indian family. I hung all kinds of pictures on the wall. I love Whatsapp, which is my main connection to my friends. I have to teach the teenagers about time differences, as I get messages in the middle of the night! I am not complaining, I will do anything to keep in touch. One sent me a picture of the new puppy they found around his house and told me one momma dog just delivered 9 pups. Nine! I send them pictures of Kitchens Of India food packages that I just found at HEB. They have Dal Bukhara in the suburbs of Houston, I always said Texas and Punjab are sister states!

Anny Akka, or Big Sister Anny, in Kannada.  My new temporary tattoo.

Anny Akka, or Big Sister Anny, in Kannada. My new temporary tattoo.

I miss the smells, I miss the colors, I miss the spices. I miss the energy. But I enjoy the selection of fruits at the store, I enjoy driving my car, and I love being back with my old friends.

I am ok being here. I am not deliriously happy but ok. I eat American foods but I am reading a book on Partition. I wear shorts (not short shorts!) without fear of being ogled. I have American television but read the Times of India first thing in the morning. RIP Dr. Abdul Kalam. It was an honor seeing you talk.

And just to make things a bit more interesting, or a bit more confusing, E. quit his job and joined a British law firm. We are moving to China in a few weeks. Yes! KittiesVindaloo will become KungPaoKitties!

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Can I have some things?

I am alone in the house, with our little kitten who is sleeping in my carry-on. Little does she know she will be in her carrier for 20 some odd hours, on her way back to Texas. My checked luggage is all packed. I need to take a shower, grab the few knick-knacks laying around and head to the airport.

  

I am heartbroken. Leaving India is breaking me.   I will be back soon, as a tourist this time. I cannot leave this country without a game plan for coming back. I will surrender my residency permit tonight, and soon apply for a tourist visa.

Saying goodbye is never fun. We have spent the last week visiting friends, having lots of Vodka and salt soda, ate more South Indian food in great company. I have swallowed back my tears as much as possible. Our maid broke down this afternoon, touching my feet, sobbing. It’s hard to explain that although there will be distance between us, the connection will remain unbroken. That’s what WhatsApp is for. I went to give her some of our food and stuff at her house tonight, and her son was proudly showing me the brochure of the college he will be attending starting August 3rd. I was starting to tear up and she told me “No cry Madam, no cry, give tension”, which is our little inside joke.

How much can two people accumulate over the course of 20 months? A lot. Too much, way too much. Most expats try and sell what they have. We were too lazy, and also didn’t want to have to socialize with people who whine about the spicy food and the disgusting behaviors of certain men who use the town walls as a private latrine. I was not in the mood to hear others talk about repatriation as bitter sweet.  It’s not sweet.  It’s bitter bitter bitter.  I only wanted to hang out with Indians (with the exception of a few close friends), soak up all the “Indianness” I could, until the last minute.

My husband left last night. Lufthansa changed its pet policy and there is now one pet per cabin only. See, I just wrote in Indian English, with “only” at the end of the sentence! Anyway, I will be flying in a few hours, with our little kitten. A lot of people have asked about the puppies. They are staying here. They are happy. They have 5 acres of land to run around, and Radha takes good care of them. Sathya is in possession of their health passport. All will be fine.

We have sorted through our clothes. E. has lost 50 kgs, so there are a lot of big shirts that don’t fit anymore. I have too many kurtas/tunics that will not be wearable back home. I gave a lot to our maid and our cook. We packed boxes and were ready to give them to a hospice or other charitable organization. They can use the clothes, or use the fabric. Three boxes have been on our front porch for a couple of days. This afternoon, Sathya was helping me with the overflow of food in the kitchen and suggested we should give it to the gardeners. He said one of them approached him this morning and asked him “Can I have some things in the boxes?” Bam, right when I am starting again to get a grip on my emotions and find a place where I can manage my feelings towards poverty, I get smacked again. We have given a lot to the people around us, but the other “invisible people”, those who don’t work for a family but for a company such as our compound’s maintenance crew, we had honestly not considered them. How can I not think about this old guy who every morning would ring the bell when pushing his garbage cart around the property, making sure we would give him our trash? How can I forget about the ladies in their saree and men’s shirt, scarf over their head, who sweep the grass and street every day? Yes, you read that right, they sweep the grass. They also cut the grass around the houses with scissors, the lawn mower being used for the large common areas only.

The owner of the house came to do the move-out inspection. That was unpleasant and left a rather bitter taste in my mouth. Switching to Kannada or Telugu to talk about me in my presence is rude. I stayed mad for a few minutes, then we went to the little school around the corner, with the pink walls, to deliver a few notebooks and crayons I had left. Sathya and I were instantly surrounded by a dozen kids, smiling, teeth as white as snow, dressed in their red checkered uniforms. “Mam, what is your name Mam?”. That’s all I needed to remind me of where my priorities lay in life.

I now have to disturb the kitten and finish packing. I am leaving India. India is not leaving me.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Village politics in action

21: we beat our record of the number of strangers posing into one picture, with five more in the background running towards us! Our previous record was in Pura, with 15 people in one shot. Whenever we go to a remote area, we become the object of curiosity and attract kids like magnets. I love it. This time I played a game of trying to grab them, kiss them on the nose if they were toddlers, and laugh as they ran away screaming happily. I am the Big Blonde White Monster!

 

For a long time, our maid had wanted to take us to her village and introduce us to her mother. It took three long hours to get there, and even longer to come back. It got boring and we took turns sleeping.

The day was wonderful. If often felt surreal. I loved everything, and we started fantasizing, again, about retiring in a remote Indian village, as long as our house has a toilet! Notwithstanding the realities, it is a nice dream. The colors are so breathtaking. People smile at us all the time. Kids come running to us. Every hostess offers us food. If we hadn’t insisted (it’s rude, I know) we would have had lunch four or five times. We drank enough chai (tea) to fill in the Grand Canyon. We exchanged gifts. I met a little girl I can’t wait to meet again. While we were watching a popular dance competition on TV, she showed me her dance moves, so proud, so gracious, yet so shy! She followed me around, sat next to me, held my hand, observed everything I was doing. I don’t even know her name.  I was given so many strands of jasmine for my hair that my pillow still smells of flowers.  

All the traditional village houses we visited are very dark. The windows are tiny. There are no glass panes to protect against the elements, only wood shutters, and all windows are protected by iron bars, to protect against monkeys coming inside, I assume. The walls are painted bright colors, yellow, blue, green. All the houses we visited had electricity, though one cannot rely on the power supply. Fans were switched on for us. Thank you!

 IMG_8936

I was having a grand time. So many things were familiar to me, so similar to my grand mother’s village in France: the smells, the old school, the cows, the mother hen and chicks, the lazy Sunday afternoons.  But it turned grim in an instant when we witnessed a nasty family dispute over land rights. We were standing in a coconut grove when the shouting match started. Of course we understood zilch of it, but since we knew the background story, and had our trusted translator with us, we know it was about whether someone had the right to pluck one miserable tender coconut. It got nasty. Loud. It was pure hatred. At no point did we feel personally threatened but I was quickly reminded of everything I had read about village politics.

Our nice little dream quickly turned into an ethnographic study and the mood got somber. Some people were in tears, some people were shouting, and we stood there like two stooges. We went into a house and got some more nibbles and tea while the victims were calmed down and the situation discussed. As we were about to leave, we were invited into an old man’s house. He was very nice to us, very welcoming, inquiring in English about our home country and our impressions of India. Our maid proudly said we like everything, especially the food (I know the Kannada word for food!). We were offered more tea, more lunch, and sat on the couch listening to a conversation we didn’t understand. However, we could gather that the old man was a village elder, full of wisdom, full of power. It was a mediation session, women sitting on the floor (except me), men on chairs and sofas, a grand council of sort. We were later told that he instructed the parties to gather their legal documents before going any further.

The trip back was rather silent. What was supposed to be a celebration turned into a slap in the face for one family. E. and I felt powerless. We can be emotional support but cannot change centuries of women being abused by inebriated jealous grumpy men in villages. But we will do what we can with what we have, while we are here. That means mainly emotional support. And going to see a dance recital of the teenager who will not inherit any land.

Because she’s a girl.

Posted in Casual observations, Frustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meditation in the Nilgiris

I have never been really good at meditation. The minute I am told to “let go”, “don’t think”, my mind starts making laundry lists of things to do. A few decades ago I bought guiding tapes and recently downloaded apps, but I have never been carefully taught nor guided. I have always been intrigued but never able to “disconnect”.

A few months ago, when our life got turned upside down and my depression kicked into high gear, I decided to do put all the chances on my side to beat it. I had a few noteworthy appointments with several psychiatrists and religiously take my pill every day. But I knew it wouldn’t be enough this time, so I ventured into non-Western medicine. My “Reiki Sister” gave me the name of her therapist, who had recently moved from the bustling city of New Delhi into a village half way between Ooty and Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. It is hidden in the beautiful hills that produce Nilgiri tea.  I spoke to her on the phone and liked her voice, liked the questions she asked, liked the way she was approaching my “problem”. After a 30-minute conversation with her, I already felt calmer. I booked a three-day intensive therapy retreat.

The road from Combaitore to her village reminded me of the road from Salanches to Megève in France. Hairpin turns, a deep ravine on one side, and waterfalls on the other. Add to the geographical hazards some monkeys, and a bunch of nuts-suicidal-crazy-homicidal-dangerous drivers who have no notion nor intention of staying in their lane. Honking is used as a defense mechanism against your own stupidity, advertising to the world that you are doing something illegal and potentially lethal to you, or worse, others.

The first day of therapy used unconventional techniques that I mastered on the spot. On the second day of therapy, she used singing bowls. They looked beautiful, golden color, simple shapes, very exotic. Honestly, I was hoping for a miracle, I wanted those bowls to have some kind of magic that would transport me into the enchanted land of bliss. She instructed me to close my eyes, and walked around me while making the bowls sing.

Ommm.  Stop thinking. Don’t think. Concentrate on the sound. Let the sound go inside you. Ommmmm. Silence in my brain. Good. It works. I wonder where she got those bowls. Stop thinking. She has cool Tibetan art in her house. Maybe somebody famous gave them to her. Stop, it doesn’t matter, you’re here to meditate, not for an art class. Ommm. Ommm. Tibet. That would be a cool place to go to. Stop. Ommm. The Dalai Lama is a funny guy. Stop. And he’s friends with Richard Gere. Awwww Richard Gere. Meditation fail!

I felt bad. I had come all this way to learn to calm down and I was not able to. She was disappointed she couldn’t guide me to fully meditate and taught me walking meditation, a more suitable method for busy brains, or “monkey brain” as she calls it (when your mind jumps from one thought to the other, like a monkey jumping around in the forest). She taught me to be kind to myself if I couldn’t manage to channel my thoughts into a quiet place.

Ommm. I am walking behind her, she’s walking rhythmically. Her hair is so long and beautiful. Indian women have beautiful hair. Stop, you’re not here to think about hair. Ommmm. Feel the grass between your toes. The grass is so soft, not like Texas. I miss Texas. Stop. Omm. I feel little twigs breaking. If I am breaking twigs, I wonder how many bugs I am killing. Bugs. She mentioned snakes. I hope I don’t see a snake. Ayaaaa! Darn, another meditation fail.

I am still not good at meditation. I need to practice more. I have also become a Reiki practitioner and use all possible methods to get through the day.

Don’t worry, I have not joined a cult, I am not following a self-proclaimed guru, don’t intend to disappear into an ashram at the base of the Himalayas. What I have learned is to be more grounded, less frazzled, less worried.

But I have also learned about the power of energies, and Karma. And she’s a bitch.

 

 

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

And then there were five

We temporarily added a kitten to our family, 280 grams of purring fur. We didn’t keep him, but I spent five wonderful sleepless nights, and days, being a Kitty Mommy and feeding the monster every two hours.

It all started with my twice-daily trip to visit the puppies next door. I was talking with Radha when I heard a blood curdling noise. I thought one of the black crows that roam around had gotten trapped in the barn. I don’t like crows, not since one viciously killed the baby bunnies we had in our backyard in Texas. But I was still curious and walked towards the noise. It wasn’t a crow but a ridiculously small cat, all covered in mud and screaming pathetically.  They had put in a metal saucer about 2 feet in diameter up on a table. I know it sounds mean but it was a good spot to protect it. Earlier that day, Radha had found three kittens probably waiting for the mother to come back, and unfortunately she had moved them away. She doesn’t know where the other two had gone.

I didn’t even ask. I grabbed The Thing and told Radha it was going home with me. I have two female cats at home and I knew they would take care of it for a few days, putting to work their unused motherly instincts. We found a small plastic bag and shoved The Beast in there.  I walked back home with a kitten in a bag!

Please note that I didn’t even ask my husband, nor really had a plan as to what to do it the furball. I knew we couldn’t keep it. Worst case scenario I thought, it would live with the puppies, which isn’t a bad life, trust me!

I bathed it, and looked for a sign of a gender. Nothing apparent! I know tiny kittens cannot always be identified, so it switched from being a “it” to being a “he”, simply because in French, the default gender for cat is masculine.  

After a bath.

Day one, after a bath.

What do you feed such a small kitten? I went online and read that cow milk isn’t ideal. Fine, however I don’t have a goat in the backyard, nor a car to get kitty formula at the vet’s office. I still had some of Puppy Girl’s vitamins. It was probably 2 weeks old. I tried to make him drink milk out of saucer but he didn’t know how to lick yet. I found an eye-dropper and used it as a tiny baby bottle. It was so cute to see him use his little paws push on my fingers as to get the milk out.

The first night, I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. He kept sneezing and I know that’s a bad sign. He started breathing with its mouth open. I readied myself for the worse and made sure that he would feel loved no matter what happened, and he pulled through!

I spent five nights feeding The Thing a few drops of milk every 2 to 3 hours. I played with him during the day, took naps with him on my shoulder, slept with him snuggled under the blankets next to me at night. I admit putting him in the bathroom for a few hours so I could sleep without fear of crushing him.  In five days, he put on about 30 grams (one ounce), became a very inquisitive kitty, and his eyes started changing from black to blue.

My girls, the two kittens we have moved to India? Nothing. Not an ounce of interest. You know all those cute videos of momma cats adopting kittens, or the momma tiger adopting piglets? That is false advertising. My girls wanted nothing to do with “it”. Our big one came to sniff its butt a couple of time, but then disappeared. I had to be the momma.

There is no way we could keep him, that’s why we didn’t name him. Luckily I quickly found a cat rescue that would take him in until they could find a forever family. However, when I sent the lady the picture, she decided the next day that he was so cute she would keep it. On a Saturday afternoon, we took the trip to an area of Bangalore we had never seen, and handed the kitten in towards the next chapter of his life.

His new family said it was a girl, and they called her NK, for Noisy Kitty. It is true The Thing could vocalize at high decibels! She’s now about a month and a half, and still quite loud.  We miss that furball but we cannot rescue everyone and everything in town. We did the best we could and have wonderful memories.

My husband, and Sathya, no longer allow me to approach puppies or kittens, in fear that we will transform into Noah’s Ark, which, to me, would not be a bad thing!

Have a good life little kitty.

kitten (2 of 2)

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments