Thursday, June 7, 2012

Welcome Back (to Capitalism)

I originally penned this post in my notebook just days after returning to the US on the second day of May.  Since then I've continued making observations about my home country with childlike eyes, as if this place was now foreign to me.  My original post is thus embellished with the things I have been experiencing daily for the past month.

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My first steps back on American soil after ten months in India were at the Newark airport in New Jersey.  Our plane landed around 4:30 AM.  Waiting in line to go through immigration took a lot longer than did the actual encounter with the immigration officer, which was a fairly quick stamp in the passport.  Welcome back.

This airport wasn't much different than Indira Gandhi International in New Delhi.  Actually, much to my surprise, I think the bathrooms at IGI were cleaner.  Anyway, shortly after we got through immigration I met up with Julie again, a fellow ETA who happened to be on the same flight as me, and we made our way to the baggage claim area, and looked around for trolleys to throw our stuff on.  But imagine this--all of the trolleys are locked up and connected to a machine which you have to feed money in order to release them for use.

I should have been skeptical when I read the sticker "machine accepts $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills" without listing the actual price.  Koi baat nahi, I thought.  No problemIt must be like some of the supermarkets that charge you a quarter to take a shopping cart, but then return the quarter when you return the cart.

So I pulled my suitcases off the conveyor belt and set them aside while I went to obtain myself a trolley.  There was an employee standing at the closest machine, obviously employed for times of confusion such as these, since the machines must have been intended to be self-servicing.  One Sikh man from my flight was explaining emphatically that he could not get the trolley out.  The woman accompanying the otherwise self-servicing machine somewhat coldly told him, and then the rest of us waiting in line, that we'd have to try a different machine.  The Sikh man continued to explain that the machine took his $5 but he still didn't have a trolley.

Then the four or five of us that had gathered around the self-service machine marched down to another one.  The Sikh man finally got his trolley.  Success!  As I was waiting patiently (though not un-irritated) in a linear fashion for my union with a much sought after trolley, one Indian man ever so casually came and stood in front of me.  Oh no you didn't, I said to myself.  Then I put on my polite voice and said simply, Excuse me, I was waiting here, and he quickly apologized and retreated to the back of the somewhat line that had formed.  I had dealt with enough crowds and pushing and shoving for the past ten months.  I was in America now!  When in the United States...

Now, don't ask me why, after all this hassle, I gave a $5 bill to a machine that also accepts $1 bills, of which I had plenty.  I guess I was still of the (false) belief that I would get my money back when I returned the trolley.  If I could have done without a trolley, I certainly would have.  But there was no way I could manage three suitcases.  So, I paid the $5, loaded it with my suitcases and reunited with Julie.  Smartly, she had traveled with backpacks and one suitcase on wheels and thus was able to bypass the trolley.

We walked no more than five minutes to where we had to re-check our luggage onto our next flights.  We did that, then I gave my trolley to the man (in uniform) who was standing there with a bunch of them, and waited briefly, expectantly, for a refund.  When none was offered, I began to walk away, dumbfounded.

"Ma'am, don't forget your bang," said the trolley man.  Clearly I was too tired for just about anything right now, but I knew I would explore this trolley rip-off issue once I was well-rested and cognizant.

I recounted the incident and my irritation to Julie, who replied dully, "Welcome back to capitalism."  I wonder what happened to those who gave the trolley machine a $20 bill.  They were out $20 for using a trolley for 5 minutes???  That's more than 1,000 rupees!

At the airport I splurged on an everything bagel with cream cheese and a cup of hot chocolate from Dunkin Donuts.  Maybe not the best choice since by now I was already having severe diarrhea and dizzy spells; I'm convinced it was from something I ate on the plane, or maybe the paneer pakora we shared with my in-laws and nephew before boarding.  My core was also sore beyond belief; something I'd never experienced while flying long distances before.

After about a three-hour layover I, along with fifteen other passengers, boarded a puddle-jumper back to Harrisburg.  Thank goodness Gautam packed my woolen shawl in my carry-on suitcase.  The short walk from the gate door to the plane felt like the Arctic!

I fell soundly asleep, all curled up in my woolen shawl from Mussoorie -- where 10 of us had begun to study Hindi 9 months ago -- and woke up above Harrisburg.  I saw ginormous houses (my eyes had become accustomed to Indian-size homes) and a sign for 84 Lumber.  I was almost home.

Among the things that immediately struck me upon returning to the US:

- The lack of Hindi; there is so much English!  I was a little overwhelmed by hearing so many conversations I could understand with ease.

- The lack of Devanagari on signs; most of the airport signs are bilingual, in English and Spanish.   And there's a lot more Spanish than I remember.

- We don't have a caste system in the US, but we do have major equality issues.  Race is a big, persistent one.

- There are so many CARS!  (As opposed to motorcycles.)  And cars in good condition!

- The relative absence of motorcycles and mosquitoes.  Oh, and DUST.

- Vehicles are parked straight, parallel to the lines.

- The absence of honking when the driver in front pauses, briefly, to decide which way to go in... a PARKING LOT!

- Lane driving!

I was met at the baggage claim area by my choti bahin who now seemed taller than me and is sporting a ring on her left hand.  Outside Mom waited with the car.  Both of them looked just about the same as when I'd left.  And my sister being taller than me was later disproved :)

I spent the rest of that day, and part of the next, being sicker than a dog with a disabling fever and the runs, of which I'm now going on my third straight day (remember, I wrote this post long before I'm not posting it!).  It would happen that I lived in India of all places for 10 months with virtually no illness.  Yet returning to the first world knocks me out like a bowling ball.

But, I'm getting better.  The diarrhea's hangin' around but the fever's gone.  And there are a lot of people in this world, and some who are very close to me, who are going through much worse than this as I write.  Despite it all, it feels pretty darn good to be on American soil again.

Of course, it will be much better when Mr. Ashley, as Nick calls him, can join us here as well.  Hopefully that will be much sooner rather than later.

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More posts (or a new blog?) to come about things about being home that have since delighted or disappointed me.  Among the delighted: our mailbox, the ease with which a person can send and receive paper mail; green green grass; bright blue skies; white white whispy clouds; starry skies; fresh, clean air.  Among the disappointed: processed food; lack of sabzi-walas (vegetable sellers); vegetables on steroids from the grocery store.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Demystifying the Diplomatic Pouch

Also called the diplomatic bag, apparently the diplomatic pouch really does exist!

I remember there being lots of confusion about the diplomatic pouch prior to departing for India.  We were told that we could send our teaching/reading materials to India ahead of time via this pouch so that we could avoid having the extra weight in our suitcases.

While I wasn't able to solve the mystery in time to use the pouch myself, this mysterious thing really piqued my curiosity as we consider our options for how to get my husband back to the United States (just kidding!).  Seriously though, you will find some creative (and illegal, mind you) uses of the pouch in the links below.

I haven't had the chance to look into this too much yet, but here are a few websites that might help you begin to understand what the diplomatic pouch is (it can be virtually anything) and how to use it.  Please share if you have any success (or unsuccess) with it!

What's in Your Field?

We have peacocks in ours!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We're Not in Delhi Anymore

My Fulbright grant officially ended yesterday.

It literally seems like I was just in my college dorm room, sitting at my desk, trying to figure out who my fellow ETAs would be during these nine months.  I knew this year would pass by quickly, but I guess I didn’t realize kitna quickly, how much quickly.   Now all of my Fulbright bhai-bahin are starting to fly home.  Or to Korea.  A few are hanging around for a while longer, to dance in a final kathak performance.  Or to travel the subcontinent.

Straight ahead is the guest house, temple on the left.
I presently find myself in the holy Hindu city of Mathura, the birthplace of the blue-skinned, flute-playing, peacock-feather-wearing deity, Lord Krishna.  My husband has recently taken a teaching position at a university here.  And get this, he’s teaching Spoken English of all things!  Actually we are staying in Vrindavan, Mathura’s next door neighbor, and the city where Lord Krishna actually spent his childhood.  But don’t get the wrong impression when I say “city,” we are actually staying in a relatively rural part of the city.

Make that very rural.

In our previous visits to my sasooral (literally: my father-in-law’s house), it always left me befuddled when my husband would tell me in the morning, “I am going to the field,” and then not return for another hour.  Or I would wake up to find that he was not there and, upon his return, I would ask frantically of his whereabouts.  He would then inform me, casually, “Oh, I was in field,” as if this should have been obvious.
I didn’t completely understand then what all went down in the field, but I sure do now.

Early each morning while I make our two cups of ginger-cardamom chai, I can look out the window above our gas stove and see the local villagers, usually men, pooping in the field behind our guest house.  When I open the front door and look over the balcony, in the brush field to my left there are people pooping too.  There are usually smaller children in this field, but all poop the same way.  First, carry either a plastic bottle or tin can of water to the field.  Then, find a good place to squat (one that’s free from briars and other poop, I imagine).  Next, drop your drawers (if you’re a man) or raise your sari (if you’re the occasional woman), squat, and do your business.  When the business is finished, use the right hand to poor the water into the left hand, which does the wiping.  Rinse left hand with water, raise your drawers (or drop your sari), and walk nonchalantly back in the direction from which you came.

In all seriousness, it is so peaceful here.   It's much quieter than Delhi, which is nice for the absence of honking, but that also makes it more difficult to get our daily needs, like milk and vegetables.   And our refrigerator is no longer with us, so they really are needs that have to be acquired daily.  Fortunately it is not too far out of the way to stop at the vegetable market on the way to guest house from the university, and we have a milkman who brings us fresh milk from the local village each evening.

A better shot of the temple under construction.  Almost seems like something from Candyland, hai na?
I’m pretty sure we are currently the only ones staying in this guest house next to Ma Gita Mandir, aside from Ma Gita Ji herself, and the occasional Indian family visiting this hallowed ground.  Mata Ji, as she said I could call her, is a pleasant woman whom I suppose to be in her early-to-mid thirties.  She designed the temple, Ma Gita Mandir, that is being built in front of the guest house rooms.  Construction on the temple started seven years ago, and it should be completed two months from now.  It is an impressive work of beautifully molded concrete, and carved marble and stone.

Wild parrots on the temple ledge!
My favorite part of this temple, though, has to be the colours.  Later in the morning (after the pooping people have vacated the fields), lustrous green parrots, two to nine at a time, fancy to perch on one of the temple ledges that we can see from our balcony.  There vibrant green feathers are the most beautiful contrast against the salmon and tangerine temple.  If I was a skeptic of color therapy before, India has definitely made me a believer.

The view from our balcony, with parrots!
(And I do realize I spelled “color” two different ways in the previous paragraph.  I thought that the first one merited the British “u.”  It kind of grows on you after you’ve been here for a while.)

In the mornings, instead of roosters, we wake to the sounds of peacocks.  On our last visit to thevillage, with some of the ETAs, we came to the consensus that a peacock sounds like a human trying to imitate the sound of a cat’s meow.  Indeed, it does.  But trust me when I say that it’s a much more peaceful alarm clock than it may seem.  By the way, have you ever seen a peacock sitting in a tree?  It is one of the most awkward things I have ever seen.  They are beautiful, yes they are.  But it is a mystery to me how those turkey-size birds can sit so gracefully on a twig-like branch.  Talented fellas, they are.

One afternoon I was studying in our room and heard a kind of swishing sound through the window screen behind me.  I got up and looked down from our second floor window to find two horses wading through the little river running behind our guest house.  I guess they thought the greens looked greener on the other side.  Sure enough, the horses come every day around the same time, like clockwork.

Lots of things run like clockwork here.

If you’re awake before 7 AM you can likely find people squatting in the fields.  At the same time you can hear the peacocks mewing from the trees, as well as the morning readings from the loudspeaker of a nearby temple.  A little later in the morning, the chubby green parrots will land and hop on the salmon and tangerine ledge of the mandir.  Between 11 and 11:30 AM, the horses will come to cross the river for grazing, and the white heron-type birds will look on from their perch on the brick wall above the river bank.  Between three and four in the afternoon a few stragglers may come to the field to complete late “business” transactions.  At this time of year the afternoons in north India tend to be rather quiet as it’s too hot to do anything besides rest.

In the evening, the peacocks will again sing while we wait for the milkman.

Eventually everything quiets down, the stars come out, and sleep arrives.

Then the sun rises, and another day in India begins.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Our Colourful Home

Nearly three months after settling into our Delhi apartment, I took some "snaps" to share with the rest of you, and eight months later, I'm finally posting them; for safety reasons I thought it wiser to wait till we moved.  Welcome to our home!

Looking straight back the hallway through the front door.
This first room is our dining/study area.  Second on the left is the kitchen, followed by a bathroom-cum-laundry room, spare bedroom, and the master bedroom at the end of the hall.

 Our dining/study room and table.
 It's hard to tell in these pictures, but the walls are pale yellow.

One of my aesthetical favourites about our apartment is the ceilings.
Here, the yellow dining/study room ceiling on the right,
and the pink hallway ceiling on the left.

Our kitchen!  Actually, this was one of the things that sold me on this apartment.  I knew we'd be spending a lot of time in here, so when I saw this kitchen - spacious, with lots of countertop space - it was love at first sight.  Clockwise from the bottom left:  green-handled broom; dustbin (trash can) and dustpan; drying rack; water purifier; gas stove; cooking oil, an essential in every Indian dish; fridge; Domino's and Pizza Hut flyers on the fridge.  And hidden in the top right corner, in the window above the stove, is an exhaust fan.  Which helps to remove some of the hot air, but doesn't do a whole lot for keeping the cooks cool while cooking.  Because everyone uses gas stoves, as a safety measure, there are no overhead fans in the kitchen.  Which explains how the kitchen comes to be 90+ F in the summers.

Bathroom-cum-laundry room.  That's our colourful washer and rinser on the left :)

Master bedroom, complete with makeshift curtain. Temperature-wise, the coolest room in the house.

Master bathroom.  Aka "wet bathroom," very common in India.  Above the toilet is a geyser (pronounced "geezer" by Indians), since homes don't come with a centralized water heater.

The picture on the right is our shower.  There is no ledge to stop the water from running out (hence the name "wet bathroom", but the floor is slightly angled so that the water runs into the drain.

Our choti-choti (very small) back deck and clothesline.
(And don't miss those trees in the background!)