Hello to everyone and happy December. I’m happy it’s December and cool enough to be really comfortable in jeans and even a long-sleeve shirt. Grin. I’ve been thinking a lot about being in India and some of the things I do and notice that are everyday sort of things but really make it India for me. So I thought I’d share a list of sorts with all of you.
I put flowers in my hair on almost a daily basis – roses from the gardens here are a favorite along with flowers that are tied into chains (either jasmine, which smells heavenly or something called December flowers which come in white, pink, blue and white and blue). I also recently learned how to “bind” the flowers into chains, so that I can make the flower chains myself.
Coconut oil in my hair – it smells heavenly and makes my hair glossy and smooth. I figure I might as well grow my hair out while I’m here, and women here put coconut oil in their hair, so I thought I’d try it. I put it in my hair a few hours before bathing or the night before I’m going to wash my hair.
Sandals every day – this is not entirely new after being in California, but almost everyone wears open-toed shoes ALL the time.
No toilet paper – I guess I could buy my own, but somehow, I just can’t bring myself to do it. So I use water like everyone else.
I drink tea three or four times a day from these tiny little cups (they must hold about 4 oz of liquid). If I ask, I can get it without sugar, otherwise the main taste of the tea is simply sweet.
Eating rice about 14 times a week. The kids sometimes have rice three times a day, I usually manage only two times. I often eat wheat dosa for breakfast (it tastes like a pancake without the milk and egg).
I love spicy foods in the morning. There’s something very unsatisfying these days about bread and jam. Give me some good old chutney or sambar.
I push on buses. Really, if you don’t do it, you might not get on or off in time.
I LOVE riding around the two-wheelers without a helmet. Well, the helmet part isn’t much of an option. Most people do not have a helmet at all, and they definitely do not have a spare one. But I do love riding on the two wheelers.
I’ve started pronouncing ‘w’ as ‘v.’ It’s a pretty Indian thing to do. Grin.
I wear lots of shiny synthetic clothing. And even like it.
I have my own room that has its own bathroom with a sit-down toilet (western style instead of a squat Asian-style toilet) that actually flushes.
I have running water and electricity.
I get to eat an egg with lunch every day (the kids only get eggs three times a week).
I eat fresh fruits and veggies that I buy.
I have internet access here at the office, so that I can write emails, save them and then sign on and send all my emails at once.
Mail comes right here to the office.
I can use the fridge in the kitchen to keep my vegetables fresh.
I have tons of storage space in my room.
A desk and chair.
Smile. These are some of the bits and pieces of life for me here in India. I’m sure there are lots more things, but this is what I can think of now. I hope you’re all well.
Love and peace,
21 December, 2006
I sit reading emails. It’s not part of my job, but it’s a part of my life that I love. Well, I love people, and I’m finding email to be a wonderful way of keeping connected to folks. I’m so grateful to each of you who read my mass emails, because I myself am a failed mass-email reader. Wry smile. Funny, ironic and a little hypocritical, isn’t it, that I write them and send them but can’t seem to get myself to read them? Ah well, such is life and so am I.
A quiet smile creeps to the corners of my mouth as I think about my friends from Horton Center where I worked this summer, of my family gathering all around the world, of friends still in school reunited with their families, and my fellow recent graduates scattered across the globe, and of course all of you who don’t quite fit into any of those categories. It’s a cool morning here at Pannai. I don’t have the fan on, and I actually put on a ¾ sleeve shirt underneath my light cotton blouse. Today is a staff appreciation lunch. That’s at 12:30. My mornings have been quiet of late, and my afternoons and evenings busy.
Yesterday I attended a Christmas program at Shanthi Grammam. It is a residential and rehabilitation center for people who have suffered from leprosy. I arrive at 6:30 with the evening setting in. Strings with dangling crepe paper triangles radiate out from the stage over the semi-circle of chairs to the trees around the area like a canopy of hanging colors. Here and there a purple tinsel chain dangles down from the crepe paper ropes. A tree in the middle of the area is strapped with fluorescent tubes casting white light all around. Papery moths and flying termites bat against the bright tubes. The tree’s broad curving leaves are lit green from below and make yet another layer to the open canopy of this makeshift outdoor theater. At the front of the area is a building and strands of purple, blue and golden Christmas lights hang from the verandah roof. To the right is a white paper lantern shaped like a star with red and green bursts of color dotting its surface.
In the background, the crickets maintain a steady chorus of sound. This sound comforts me, and I know that I will miss it wherever I am next. It is so regular here in Kasam that it often fades in my mind, unnoticed until I really open myself to listen. Old men and women with disfigured faces and bodies sit on the chairs on the far left side of the area; they are the residents. I wonder why the guests are not sitting with them, but I also do not venture over to sit or mingle. The guests are of all ages, and there are two elderly Caucasian couples, the women dressed in beautiful saaris. Here inIndia we westerners adopt the local clothing much more than westerners in southern Africa adopt the local clothing. Perhaps it is because of the comfort and beauty of the clothes here.
One of the nurses performs a classical Indian dance – her fingers form complex figures and symbols, the bells on her anklets jingle as she rhythmically stamps her feet on the ground. Glass jewels shine in her hair and around her neck, and her red saari shimmers in the fluorescent lights. With foreigners’ eyes, I see everything about her as exotically beautiful and graceful. Even the rhythm and movement of the dance is completely different to anything we would do in the U.S.A.
I enjoy the cool freshness of the air on my face and bare arms. There is a hint of something sweet in it – cologne, perfume or incense. I am not sure which. The little boy next to me, not older than two and a half, pokes my arm. “Akka,” he says, “Big sister.” I look down at him and smile. He pokes my arm again, so I give him paper and a pen. He writes and draws for a while, and I help him write some letters. He particularly likes the letter B. I have no idea why. Smile. Eventually, he tires of the paper and pen and makes his way over to his dad, with whom I exchange a smile. The father picks up his son and settles him into his lap, talking softly to him, kissing his head. There is something particularly wonderful to me about seeing dads with their kids. Maybe it is my adoration for my own father and gratitude for all the time and care he gave me and my brother. Perhaps it is partially due to the knowledge that fathers are not always, or even often, expected to be interested in and so affectionate towards their children.
After the program, I go over to talk to some of the residents as do other guests. I greet an older man in Tamil and ask his name. He tells me I speak very well, and I try to tell him that my accent is good but that my vocabulary sucks, but my vocab isn’t really good enough even to explain that. He smiles warmly at me.
As I leave him I think about what it means to be here (here at Shanthi Grammam right now, here at MBKG Pannai for the next two years, here inIndia, here alive on earth) and what I want to do with my life. I don’t know specifically. But generally, I have a desire to BE WITH people. As I leave, I know that I’ll have to get my bike and ride out here to Shanthi Grammam during the day to visit with the residents and simply BE WITH them. Whether or not they can understand me or me them. Wry smile. With me though it’ll probably be at least a month before this happens.
Anyway, Christmas decorations are going up at Pannai, and preparations are going on. I’m doing very well and all of your emails make me so happy.
I’m writing with much love and great peace and joy in my heart,