Monthly Archives: June 2012



In the words of esteemed poet Chris Kattan, “Can you know the mighty ocean? Can you lasso a star from the sky? Can you say to a rainbow… ‘Hey, stop being a rainbow for a second’? No! Such is Mango!” And I’m sure if you asked an Indian about mangoes, you would get a similarly philosophical and poetic explanation of their unfathomable vegetative magnetism. Indians are crazy about their mangoes. The mango, or “ām” in Hindi, is the National Fruit of India (yes, there is such a thing as National Fruit – usually only in countries that have a growing season long enough to allow a fruitful debate (pun totally intended!)). There are apparently over 500 varieties identified in India. I have not found them all, but I’m trying to do my doggone best with the few I can find.

After I made up my list of Things I Miss About Canada, I decided to make up a Things I Don’t Miss About Canada, partly because I like symmetry, and also I don’t want to dwell on things I can’t have, like my pets, because it’s depressing. Anyhoo, Unripe Tropical Fruit was near the top of that list. So keeping that in mind, I’m trying to answer the age-old question: “Is there such thing as a mango saturation point?” So far, I’m going to have to say no, and I’ve been having them pretty much every day. I can’t say I’m doing anything interesting with them, mostly just having them with yogurt and in the odd salad… but I can attest to the fact that they’re really good. I had one for dessert the other day, still warm from outside, with vanilla ice cream. I highly recommend it.

Here’s a picture of the three kinds I’m able to find here right now.

I can’t for the life of me figure out the names of these. My friend The Internet isn’t being as useful as she usually is. Anyway, here are my descriptions: The middle one is almost over-ripe at this time, as soon as you cut into it you’ve got juice all over yourself. The good news is you can put the knife down at this point because you can just peel it with your fingers. This one is pretty fibrous and has yellow-orange flesh, like a peach. The one on the left is harder, more like an apple, has somewhat thinner skin, less fibrous, and paler yellow flesh. At first I thought this meant it was not ripe, but it’s still sweet, just not juicy and smelly. The other one is almost orange inside, not quite as juicy as the first either, and obviously, not as big as the other two. I don’t know if I have a favourite, exactly, any mango is a good mango to me, but I do like the one of the left right now for the ease in peeling and cutting. Obviously, I’m not a mango expert. I’m sure they each have their own seasonality and particular uses of which I’m totally unaware since my communication with the fruit and veggie wallahs is rather limited.

Anyway, if you’re looking for ways to use up mangoes – BAAHAHAHAHAH… sometimes I kill myself with my own wit…. I’ll rephrase: if you feel so inclined as to go to the store and pay a couple dollars for a hard-as-a-rock mango then have it sit on your counter for a week while it ripens and STILL don’t know what to do with it, here are some things that make it saladable.

  • Raisins
  • Peanuts
  • Cucumber
  • Red onion
  • Green onion
  • ginger
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • Green chilies
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Dates
  • Chick peas
  • Cumin

On an unrelated note, I’ve found a way to cook okra without getting slimed! I remember the one – and only – other time I’d had okra was when my mum made it once when I was about 13. I think she steamed it (first time she’d tried it too). There were these slime strands that could go on for about two feet from the serving dish to our plates…

I don’t think we were allowed to leave the table till we finished it, and we all refused to touch it. A few hours later, I think We, The Children won. Okra was never brought into the house again and I considered myself scarred for life. Anyway, it’s one of the only things here that’s green, so since I don’t want to become vitamin deficient, I decided to be brave and experiment. The trick to it is to cook it dry. I washed – and dried – all the pods, then chopped them up into 1” pieces, wiping the knife periodically with a dry cloth. Sauted some onion, cumin seeds, chili, and turmeric with a bit of ghee, then threw in the okra pieces, stirred that around for a couple minutes, then threw in a seeded, chopped tomato. And salt, that helped. It was so good I ate the whole panload in one sitting. Know what would be really good on it? BACON.


Shake and Bake

Shake and Bake

This was, I believe, the motto of the principle characters in the cinematic classic Talladega Nights. It’s also quite appropriate to describe the experience of being thrown and jostled around in a rickshaw in 45 degree dry heat as the wheels churn up a not-exactly-crispy coating of dust to powder your sunscreen and sweat. You feel like you’re bouncing around in a faulty blowdryer at 20km/hr rather than racing on a NASCAR speedway, but minor detail, really…. Suffice it to say I am getting around a bit more but would happily avoid the rickshaws if I could.

[I realized I didn’t post on the last weekend, June 16/17, as well as the most recent past weekend, June 23/24, so I’m combining those two weekends in this post. Sorry for the choppiness, and Happy Father’s Day and St-Jean Baptiste.]

On Friday (the 15th) I went to a party at a colleague’s house where I had Indian wine that actually wasn’t too bad, surprisingly. I met some interesting people and did some interesting talking. It was really hot (surprise!) with no AC. I know, people actually live like this. Anyway, even though it was physically uncomfortable, I’m glad I went. It’s reassuring to find out there are so many people who have gone through the exact same uncertainties and reservations about the country and living in a place that isn’t really “home.”


On Saturday, we had hopes of going out to do some sightseeing, but I wasn’t feeling great. No, I didn’t drink that much and I wasn’t hungover. It’s interesting how much you can drink (we’re talking water and a couple glasses of wine here – I’m pretty careful) and not have to go to the bathroom because you’re sweating so much. It’s just the after-effects of heat that makes you unwell. I’m finding we all actually have to build Recovery Time into our weekend schedule. Basically, if you spend a certain amount of time outside in the heat, you have to factor in recovery from heat exhaustion. It does take a while, and it really does feel like you’re sick. I was all set to go out, then stood up and my legs just wouldn’t hold…

So instead, we went to the Ghandi Memorial Museum on Sunday. It wasn’t very big, there was a large house which had been converted into the museum, and the garden where he was assassinated. There was a long poster aisle detailing India’s road to independence. I was surprised at the language in some of the posters that described the history of Indian revolution. It still seems very openly resentful of the British. For example: “Unfortunately, the men who had kidnapped the English woman were caught and hanged.” We always say history is written by the victors and in this case, India did eventually gain its independence, but it doesn’t seem like they write from any sort of magnanimous victor’s point of view. In the museum, we saw Ghandi’s personal effects including his glasses, his prayer place, his room, and his last walk. There was an interesting multi-media exhibit as well; the only thing is they don’t really explain in signage what’s going on with any of it or what the significance is of any of the items. I’ve been trying to do some research on the museum’s website to flesh out this paragraph and there’s nothing useful there either. We had actually wanted to go to the National Gallery of Modern Art, but we were getting jerked around by rickshaw drivers the whole time so we didn’t get there – and I hadn’t brought my camera that day because I knew they weren’t allowed in the gallery, so that’s why there are no pictures of the Ghandi Museum.

This past Saturday, I went to a TEDx event. TED, for the uninitiated, stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It’s a non-profit that promotes, as they call them, Ideas Worth Spreading. They have conferences a couple times a year and record the talks and you can watch them here for free: I highly recommend them, the quality of the speakers is excellent and it’s good brain stim. Topics are all over the map so you’re sure to find something interesting. Anyway, outside of the regularly scheduled talks they have the TEDx events, where x=independently organized TED event. The one I went to was on the topic of street children in India:

The issue of street children is just tragic, and that is not a word I usually throw around. They are completely left to themselves to survive, picking garbage, begging, or working if they can (and yes, sometimes stealing). They sleep in the streets, train stations, gutters, or wherever they can. They’ve often fled abusive and/or neglectful home situations, or their parents may be dead or in prison or have just abandoned them. The government and NGOs reach only about 7%. There are an estimated 50 000 street children here in New Delhi, but obviously it’s impossible to actually count them. Ummeed is a residential home and school for boys… there’s a girl one too but I can’t remember the name. This event had former street kids doing talks on topics such as child marriage, drug and alcohol abuse in families, police brutality (police actually beat – to death, sometimes – street children), Right to Education (20M kids are not in school here), and minorities/discrimination towards Muslims. They also had a panel discussion with the kids, where they all sat cross-legged on blankets on the stage with a moderator who asked questions. Unfortunately for me, this part was in Hindi so I didn’t get much out of it. There were a couple moments during the night that I particularly wanted to share with you, though:

  1. During the panel discussion, one of the teenage boys broke down and started to cry a bit. The moderator, who was also a leader at the centre, said something in English at that point that really stuck with me. He said that one of the things he was most proud of in these kids was that they had still kept their softness. That despite all they had been through, they were still gentle. Of course, in reading the background info on Ummeed, it’s not like they’re angels or anything. They’ve lived in horrible situations, are so vulnerable, and have no reason to trust anyone, so why should they play nice? They’re also teenagers, which isn’t an easy time for anyone coming from the best of circumstances. But holding on to the ability to feel, when the easier thing would be to shut down and turn off that side of yourself shows they’re still open to hope. I was impressed.
  2. A band called Swarnbhoomi was the featured entertainment. They’re seven pieces (only six that night) with no lead singer so they partner with various people/groups for the vocals. They did one song with a bunch of the kids, and usually I don’t like children’s choirs that much because of the institutionalized cuteness, but these kids were good! I could tell that they had practiced hard, and they weren’t really playing to the audience, they were engaged with each other and the band. At the end of the song, the littlest boy had a solo and when he finished he backed up from the mike and just about ran off stage, it was so funny. He definitely wasn’t waiting around for the applause! There was one boy about 14 or 15 years old – they call the youth who spoke “the Dreamers” – who wants to be a singer. After the choir, he came on to do a song with the band by himself. You could tell he was really nervous, he was sort of rubbing his stomach, swallowing hard, trying to steady his breathing… the band started playing the intro and I saw the singer (his name is Suraj) give the sitar and tabla players a sign and they repeated a couple bars to give him a few more seconds to steady himself. He came in, and from the first note, you could practically hear jaws dropping throughout the auditorium. He was SO GOOD!!! It was an Indian song, so had those sustained, warbly notes, which he could sustain SIGNIFICANTLY. I think he felt a little awkward at first, then he started to get into it more and started moving and dancing a bit. One of the things I really like about live music is watching the way the musicians communicate with each other during the performance. It’s very subtle and doesn’t distract from the music at all, but I like the way it adds to the idea of music as communication, even though they’re not communicating with me as the audience. When you know how much it takes to put on a live performance and try to stay together and keep a hundred other factors in mind, you appreciate the necessity of on-stage communication! Anyway, the tabla player and drummer were on opposite sides of the stage and had to really crane their necks to see each other around some of the equipment. The lead guitar was really good about standing pretty close to the singers (Suraj and the choir) and looking at them instead of the audience which I think gave the kids moral support, and he gave them little signals to come closer to the mike or tilt their heads up more. But my absolute favourite moment was when the guitar and keyboard players, partway through Suraj’s song, shared this look and little, satisfied smile across the stage as Suraj really got into his music. You could just see that triumphant “We got it!!!” expression, even though they were playing very much as a backing band. They were happy for him, not for themselves. It was like witnessing this boy’s dream come true, and as much as it was a special experience for me, I can imagine it must have been very rewarding for the band to have been a part of that.

Unfortunately, the event was over an hour behind schedule and we were unsure of exactly how we were getting home, so we had to leave early and missed the talks from the adults. Still very much worth it though, and I really recommend checking out that site. One of the video talks that was shown was one by Richard Wilkinson who spoke about economic disparity and it’s relation to countries performing poorly on just about all indicators – if you have time, that’s a good talk to start with! He’s an epidemiologist, so clearly worth listening to 🙂

On Sunday, we went and successfully found the yoga studio! We did the free trial class, which is quite different than what I’ve done previously in Canada. Lots of breathing exercises and chanting and, yes, “oooohm”ing. I’m pretty out of shape after not doing much for the last two months, so I’m definitely sore today… we signed up for classes starting next week. On the way home, we bought a watermelon at a cart, went home and ate the entire thing. A Sunday afternoon well spent!

Power Dynamics


I understand you folks back home have been having some hot weather, and that it recently broke and you’ve had some relief. No, I’m not ridiculing you, I know that it really can get unbearably hot in Eastern Canada too, and I sympathize – especially with the humidity there. People have been saying to me, “I don’t know how you handle it where you are.” Well. Honestly, considering I have AC at home, in the office, and usually in the car, it’s not that bad. Sure, it’s wicked hot with the sun beating down and the pavement heat beating up, but you know you’re going to get into an AC-ed box at some point so you know it’s going to be a little better soon (and your expectations for comfort change a bit too. I have my AC set at 28˚C and I’m fine with that). As long as you know you have AC or access to it, it’s ok. However, AC is contingent upon electricity. And electricity, my friends, is not always in stock.

My apartment is on a generator, which powers the fridge, some of the lights, and the overhead fans. It’s not perfect, but certainly better than nothing. [The fans push the hot air down, so when you turn them on at first it actually makes things worse before the circulation makes things “feel” like they’re getting better. It’s not really that much better, though, it’s like being in a blow-dryer rather than an oven. Orchestras playing in drafty old churches with high vaulted ceilings use this fan-omenon to their advantage in the winter!]

But then, what about when the generator dies too?

First of all, since we’ve had a several outages back to back recently, I’ve been regularly sequestering myself in one room in the evening: my bedroom. I close the door and only use the AC in there and one lightbulb. When the power goes off, I turn on the fan to keep the cool air circulating. Tonight, when the generator (and therefore the fan and lights) went off and I was plunged into darkness, I did what any survivalist worth her salt does: continued, unmoving, to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on my iPad, because hey, it’s lit up! And it’s a good book! Using the light of my iPad, I can make it to my cupboard where I keep my headlamp. First rule of camping (ok, not the first, but still an important one): memorize headlamp location and be consistent about putting things away. It is really dark here during a blackout.

The houses are not sealed very well here, so the room heats up fairly quickly as the cool air leaks out. Eventually, being on the bed got uncomfortable because I was sweating a lot and soaking through the linens. So I moved to the floor. The tile isn’t exactly cool, but it’s a bit better than sitting on the bed (that whole “hot air rises” thing). I still got really sticky there after a while, so I got up and went outside on the terrace to assure myself that it was, in fact, still hotter outdoors in the middle of the night than inside with zero circulation. I went back inside and had a quick shower. Yes, the water coming out of the cold tap is warm as bathwater, but I can get wet at least and then when I get out, I can stand there for a couple minutes, wet, and it feels a bit better. Oh, and it’s entirely possible to shower with a headlamp on; those things are even good in the rain. Then, rather than dry off, I took my towel back to the bedroom (still the coolest room) and lay on the floor again.

At this point, there is really nothing you can do but lie there and sweat. It’s not pleasant. You know the iPad is going to die eventually, but meanwhile you can keep reading. And you know that eventually, the power will come back on. Or the sun will rise, one or the other. It’s more the boredom of waiting that can be a little frustrating. You wonder how long it’s going to take, you don’t want to open the fridge but it’s way past dinnertime; technically, with a gas stove you can cook but when you’re sweating so much you just don’t want to, and the water filtration system doesn’t work unless it’s plugged in. There’s no point in going anywhere outside, it’s not safe to be walking around outside after dark alone here. So you just lie there in the blackness and wait and keep reminding yourself that it’s really not that bad, other people actually live like this all the time.

Then, when the power DOES come back on… oh! The sweet chirp and beep of the AC and flicker of the one bare lightbulb as they gasp back to life! There is no sound so beautiful and welcome. Immediately, you go fill up your water bottles and put them in the fridge, and plug in the iPad for a recharge. Keep the headlamp handy (around your neck is a good place during rolling blackouts) and do all the things that need to be done with power or light quickly, then hole up again in the bedroom, waiting, and prepared, to ride out the next one.

It’s really strange how that one little thing, power, makes you feel so much better. All throughout the outage, you know that it’s going to end, they generally don’t last beyond a couple hours, but it’s the waiting that is difficult, and then when the power is back on, the unpredictability of the next outage’s arrival. The outages at work are somehow easier to handle, I think because you’re doing something at work so you don’t feel like you’re waiting. Seriously, we’ll be in meetings where the power dies and no one even blinks, it’s just not an event. Of course, the office has a generator too which can keep the fans going and the water filtration system operational. In the middle of the night, I’ll wake up drenched and that’s how I know the power is out again. It’s impossible to get back to sleep like that, so I just lie there, sweating and waiting for the dawn. I do find that really frustrating, though, because I’m so tired and I feel like I’m being cheated out of sleep due to my discomfort.

Seriously though, while it’s annoying, I don’t want to complain too much. I know the grid has a lot to handle right now, and the fact that the power is only off a matter of hours or so then come back makes it not too bad, but it always feels longer than it is. I don’t think the outages are scheduled, but it sort of feels that way, so you just think “ok, it’s my turn now for a little sweating” and you know that everyone else has to suffer a bit too. There are people here in New Delhi who don’t even have enough potable water, and LOTS of people who don’t have AC – which seems insane to me – so a few hours of sweating isn’t really asking a lot. And this book I’m reading is set in Britain just after WWII, and compared to what they went through, really, sweaty blackouts are nothing. It’s a minor annoyance that feels like torture, then magically you feel better again. It really is significant though, the effect that physical comfort has on one’s mental comfort!

PS: My apologies for the technical difficulties in getting this post up. I took the picture with my iPad then used the WordPress app to put the picture up but it doesn’t allow saving in draft so it posted just the pic, then I tried to edit the post on my laptop to add the text but that wasn’t saving properly…. Anyway, it appears I need to take pictures with the iPad, send them to myself, open the email on my laptop and save the pictures there so I can upload them as media from this computer. iPad still rocks, the WordPress app sucks, and this laptop is a nightmare. Don’t say I never do nothin’ for ya!

All Yoga Is Hot Yoga


This weekend I got together with a couple colleagues for lunch in Defense Colony. We had South Indian food, thali, which is a collection of poori (puffed and fried bread-type thing), rice, papad, and Things You Dip The Starchy Stuff In. Here’s an example, but this is a Google image, not exactly what we had.

Anyway, apparently <6 weeks here qualifies me as a tour guide, so I spent the rest of Saturday with the new intern from the States. We went to the market, found some Indian clothes and we found a bookstore too. On Sunday I tried to find the yoga place, but it is so hard to find anything here! I did eventually get there, but only after 1.5 hours of walking in the midday 45˚C heat. It’s supposedly within walking distance, but there are no street names and the blocks, which go by letter, aren’t obviously sequential, at least not to me, so I ended up just going up and down random alleys I knew were in the general vicinity. I did eventually get there, but by this time yoga was over and I was seriously reconsidering whether or not I wanted to register for a class that will probably make me sweat on purpose. So I did grocery shopping and went home (drenched) and collapsed for the rest of the day, downloaded a yoga app, watched the rest of Community Season 2, and read a book. How productive. I have to keep reminding myself that profuse sweating is a sign that my thermoregulatory system is functioning optimally. It also feels gross and means I do a lot of laundry – but no sunburn or heatstroke yet!

I came across a strange conversation starter, wherein someone asks someone else “Do you have AC?” The thing about people asking this is that it actually implies there is an alternative to having AC. It’s so bloody hot, and what’s weird (from a Canadian viewpoint) is that it doesn’t cool off at night. It goes down to the mid-30s from the mid-40s, but it doesn’t ever really break. You can’t just wake up early and go for a walk before it gets hot – it’s still going to be hot no matter when you try to go outside. The bricks and tiles are always warm, like if I lean against the counter or wall when I’m in the kitchen I can feel the heat through my clothes. I’ve heard you can actually blister your hands on the steering wheel of a car too.

Work-wise, things are still a little slow. I don’t think it’s me, everyone is a little confused and hesitant about this whole shift to a program approach from the current project approach so it’s difficult to get my work going in the midst of that. We decided that the interviews I did in Hyderabad are not sufficient to stand alone as case study, but can be used as supporting examples if we use SAKSHAM as a case study in itself for community mobilization approach. I still need the “how” part of how community mobilization takes place, and the answer is slow coming… I can’t invent it, but people seem unable to tell me. We can’t just pretend it’s intuitive if we want to use this as a potential model and position ourselves as a knowledgeable organization in the field of community mobilization approaches. In the meantime, I’m learning about case method teaching, theories of change, and organizational knowledge management. There’s still a lot of debate on this though within the organization… I’m finding that people at CARE are really good at identifying challenges and barriers and in broad terms what needs to be done, but less skilled at working towards implementation or solutions. It feels like everyone is waiting for something, but nothing is moving forward in the absence of real ownership and buy-in. I think there are a lot more differences between my Pfizer work and CARE’s work that I hadn’t initially been aware of either: it’s not just the difference between private and non-profit sectors or Western and Eastern work styles, but the difference between science and social science too. Sometimes when I’m looking at the theory of change stuff it almost looks like religious or spiritual training materials and it feels like the written discussion is going in circles. I have the stereotypical reductionist science mentality of “just SAY it! Minimal word count! Can’t this be summarized in a table?” so it feels like a lot of reading for a minimal increase in understanding. Ah well… I know better than to try to “proceduralize” community mobilization, but surely there is a way to capture this knowledge, taking into account geo-social context, impact populations, and respective roles of NGOs and communities, and actually have some sort of deliverable, adaptable, usable end result. In any event, they seem to like my writing so far so I’ll probably be doing more of that.

It sounds like I might be doing more field visits too. West Bengal was mentioned in a telecon yesterday; there’s a project there using community mobilization approaches in rural villages to try to hold government health service providers more accountable to their constituencies, and there’s another project in Uttar Pradesh where CARE is involving peer educators for family planning services in urban slums. So we’ll see, I might be travelling again.

News from the home front (aka Little Things I Miss):

My brother Noel should have landed by now in Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. He had to work fast to get ready in time, but the Brazilian Embassy was very cooperative with his visa when they found out it was for the UN and even waived his fees! My cats, currently causing structural damage to his place, are going off to torture my long-suffering mother while he’s in Brazil.

My other brother returned last night from a week-long 150km solo canoe trip to Temagami in northeastern Ontario. I’m missing the canoe season entirely this year so next summer we’ll have to make up for it. Here are a couple pics he got of beautiful Temagami:

Two of the three dogs (mine and my brother’s), who were enjoying Golden Retriever Summer Camp at my uncle’s place in the country while my brother was swatting mosquitoes paddling, have also returned to mom’s house. I wonder how it feels to be her, with a constant rotation of furballs in need of a temporary home due to her adventuring children. She’s such a good sport, managing 3 dogs and 5 cats! And also, I probably owe her a big gift that is NOT a kitten.

This weekend, I have tentative plans to go to Haridwar, a pilgrimage city which is up in Uttarakhand (north of Delhi) where the Ganges enters the Indo-Gangetic plains of North India. Still have to see about this though. Other than that, not too much new…

Oh, and Safety? I heard about the Wine and Cheese. Sounds fantastic. Guess what we’re doing when I come home…. 🙂



Welcome to the Got Milk?/Dr. Doolittle post! Here’s your ruminant:

She was coming right at me, I had to really move out of her way pretty quickly.

I haven’t been able to get that many pictures of animals, unfortunately. Most of the ones we see on the road we’re passing too quickly. There aren’t all that many cows in the area where I live and work. We pass them now and then, but I wouldn’t say it’s a daily occurrence. They’re usually on the median, which is very narrow and about two feet high. I don’t know how or when they get there, but I imagine they must stay put for a while (ruminating, probably). On the drive this past weekend, we saw a LOT of cows. They’re everywhere, and I’ve seen a couple different kinds. The one above almost looks Jersey, but there were a lot of black ones that almost look like water buffalo, but they didn’t have the long horns. Then there were these lighter ones that have a big hump on their backs. While they are considered sacred animals by Hindus, they do hang with the stray dogs and all the other animals that scavenge for garbage, and they don’t always look particularly well cared for. Their dung is used by people as fuel and as building material: the patties are flattened and dried into these hubcap-sized plates and used like brick or shingle siding. We saw lots of little huts (or “shit shacks”) along the road built this way. I’m not sure if our terminology will catch on.

I understand some of you readers wanted further elaboration on the elephant ride. Rest assured, JC took several pictures, but because this computer is so slow, uploading them to the blog is a lengthy affair. I didn’t catch the elephant’s name, where he’s from, or what his plans are for the future, but in the meantime he climbs up the hill to Amer Fort a couple times a day. I think they only work in the morning and late afternoon. He was painted, but the paint was very faded, I don’t know how often they decorate them. The patchy depigmentation is due to age, I think.

An elephant is not a smooth ride. It’s not jarring like being bounced on a horse, but because of the way they walk, with fairly straight legs, the weight transfer with every step means that you are moving through the air quite a bit, swaying back and forth and side to side and up and down. We were going pretty slow though so it’s not enough to get motion sick. For further reading on the biomechanics of an elephant’s gait, I refer you to the following article (yes, I expect you to read it, and yes, there will be a quiz later): The elephant would occasionally do a snort and stomp his foot at the same time. I don’t really know what was up with that, but it made a lot of noise which really echoed in the corridor we were climbing. I didn’t touch him so I don’t know what the skin felt like, and he didn’t really smell. You could smell the dung a bit on the ground, but honestly, smell of dung in the air here is not all that unusual!

Those of you who know me know that I love dogs. Almost all the dogs here are strays though. I’m a little surprised with myself for not having had a really emotional reaction to them – seeing them doesn’t make me particularly upset, even though I obviously prefer dogs to have safe, loving homes. These dogs don’t really seem horribly beaten down, though: they don’t skulk around, they trot with a spring in their step and tails held high. None of them look great, but they’re more dirty than sickly-looking, and I don’t see a lot of bones sticking out. I don’t like that they have to scavenge for garbage, but my dog will eat garbage given any opportunity so maybe it’s really yummy. And since the sacred cows are also lying around in the trash and eating garbage, it’s not like the dogs are being treated any worse. It doesn’t seem like people mind them, they just let them hang around. I do like seeing the dogs acting “doggy;” it’s nice that canine behavior is cross-continentally consistent. For example, at the Taj Mahal, suddenly 3 dogs gave chase to a couple birds and I saw another go after a chipmunk. While I was taking pictures of the Water Palace, a dog waded down into the water for a drink and lay down to cool off. They dig holes in the sand and lay down in puddles and because it’s so hot, and they’re always huffy-puffy with their tongues lolling out, which makes them look more smiley. They don’t really solicit human attention and I haven’t tried to approach or touch any of them.

We’ve also seen a lot of goats, and some horses, donkeys, and camels which are used as draught (pulling) animals. Here’s a multi-species cricket game involving humans, goats, cows, and donkeys at the foot of Amer Fort:

While we were at Jaipur, we saw our first “snake charmers.” These individuals aren’t actually just sitting around playing music: as soon as they see tourists, they run up and sit in front of you, whip the lid off a basket, and start playing their instrument while the cobra sits up a bit. You take a picture, then pay the guy for the photo op.

Also in Jaipur, at the Amer fort, we were looking at the water system (used to get water up vertically from the river) and found… THE BAT CAVE!!! It smelled pretty rank, but I have a pretty good idea it’s due to human activity (read: men who think the world is their toilet) and not the bats. I’ve never seen so many bats at once, usually just one or two flying around when I’m camping. Have I mentioned I’m a huge fan of anything that eats bugs? Bats and geckos – yeah, we’re tight. Aren’t you glad I got my rabies shots now?

I’ll leave you with a couple observations that have nothing to do with animals:

In written English, people seem to use much more “dramatic” language, seemingly to evoke pathos. In the abstract of a paper I was reading, sex workers were described as being “alone in the world” and “what is more agonizing is that…” and I don’t think you would find this in a Western-authored paper. I also saw in a newspaper article written about a CARE program something about “the heavy burden of responsibility on her small shoulders at such a tender age.” In a notice from HR about a family member of a staffer who had died, they said, “Let’s pray for the departed soul and to give (so-and-so) and his family strength for this irreparable loss.” I was in all-day training on sexual harassment yesterday, and the laws upon which the policy is based talk of “outraging the modesty of a woman” and prohibit materials containing “indecent representations of women” which could “insult her modesty.” The CARE policy does assume gender-neutral language, allowing that women could be the offenders too, but the laws do not. Someone told me that the language is just older and more formal, and when you think of it, you could see this sort of wording in very old books and articles and such.

I’ve figured out something about the fabric store silks in North America: the really beautiful dupioni and shantung silk is always in colours I can’t wear: chartreuse, violet, magenta, ochre, saffron… I always wonder, “Who BUYS this stuff? Where’s the less-bright blue and green? What about a nice burgundy?” It’s because they’re not for me. Those colours are popular here because they look fantastic on Indian women – the nice stuff at Fabricville must be for the Indian expat community.

This concludes today’s episode… Tune in next time – same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! (but with probably less talk of bats).

World Wonder Weekend

World Wonder Weekend

It was a hot and busy weekend! Sue and JC (Pfizer colleagues working with Project HOPE) and I went to Agra and Jaipur to be tourists. Agra-Jaipur-Delhi is known as the “Golden Triangle” and is usually a 6-8 day tour, but since we knocked New Delhi off the agenda we decided to be fearless and do Agra and Jaipur in one day each. Sleep? Sleep is for babies [Baby Ella, please take note. Your parents are tired].

Agra is best known for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur is known for its pink-washed buildings (it’s called the Pink City) and for the gangs of monkeys. We only saw a couple monkeys though, no gangs, and even the loners weren’t wearing gang colours or smoking anything interesting like I’d like to see a gang-affiliated monkey do. We did see cows, goats, camels, horses, donkeys, boars, dogs, cats, an owl, elephants, and bats, though. For a city tour, that’s a lot of wildlife!

The weekend started a bit early when our driver for the weekend picked me up at 3 on Friday. We drove to Agra which took about 4 hours and checked into the Radisson, which was a really nice hotel, and had a really nice dinner. The next morning we got up at 5am to go to the Taj Mahal which is supposed to be spectacular at sunrise due to the type of non-porous white marble they use (it glitters). We got there a little after the sun was up, but it was still beautiful, and slightly less hot than it would have been any later in the day. Since it’s the dry season, none of the pools – including the reflecting pool – were filled, so we didn’t get the full effect of the famous symmetry. We did go in though and saw all the stone inlay in the marble which was pretty cool. Inside the mausoleum it is incredibly noisy because of the echo, and a lot of people were doing what many Indians do best: make gratuitous noise on purpose.

After Taj Mahal we went back to the hotel for breakfast and hung out for an hour, then went to Fort Agra. We had a tour guide for the day, a different one each day for Agra and Jaipur. We learned (or attempted to) a lot of history of the Mughal dynasty and the stuff they built, but which I can barely keep straight now. The Agra Fort was at midday and it was REALLY. HOT. I was drenched. You try to just stand in the shadows but it really doesn’t make that much difference. Our guide thought it had to be about 50˚C standing in the sun in a stone fort. There was one really cool thing (well, there were several, I’m going to tell you about one) at Agra Fort. In one room, you can whisper softly into a corner and someone clear across the room can hear you perfectly in their corner. Apparently this acoustical magic was done so that no one could keep secrets from the ruler in his quarters.

After Agra Fort we went to Fatehpur Sikri, which is another fort. The carving was interesting and contains Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Jain influences. There was a lot of marble too, but mostly red sandstone.

After Fatehpur Sikri, we drove to Jaipur. One thing about these private organized tours: you are not in control of where you’re going. This means that the guides/driver take you on unscheduled shopping trips at their “friend’s” establishment, where they receive a commission for bringing in customers. They certainly have nice things, but very expensive and since you’re not taken to any other places you can’t compare against anything else, and the sales pressure is pretty intense. Also, I’m not a shopper. So anyway, the first place we went was a marble and stone inlay place. It was interesting and they beautiful and very expensive pieces. Then in Jaipur we were taken to a jewellery store. They had very expensive things too, but with gemstones so big that to me it looks costume-y. And I don’t wear jewelry. We were supposed to go to a textile place at that point, but it was nearly 8pm and we were exhausted and hungry, so we made the driver take us to the hotel. His cell phone wouldn’t stop ringing after that, with the textile place calling him over and over about why we weren’t there yet. So we checked into another nice hotel and had dinner. We got up the next morning at a more reasonable 7am and went to Amer Fort, where Sue and I rode an elephant up the hill. 🙂

There was a breeze at Jaipur which made the heat a bit more bearable. Like, your sweat-soaked clothing dried a bit faster. We went to the observatory and the City Palace, and did drive-bys of the Water Palace and Palace of the Winds. And we went to the textile place, of course. Now, I love fabric stores, and I did buy some fabric there, but I still didn’t quite enjoy the experience as much as I would’ve like to, in all honesty. They only want to push you towards the expensive tablecloths and bedspreads, pashminas, and ready-made garments… and I was interested in bolt cotton by the meter. They had tons, but when it’s just stacked on shelves you really have to take your time and I didn’t want to delay my group too much. And no one was interested in helping me with “cheap” cotton. I did pull out some silk, which was beautiful, but then when the shopkeeper noticed my “good eye,” rather than try to sell me just a piece of silk, he wanted to become my supplier for when I start this imaginary custom design house he dreamed up. So I didn’t buy any, since I couldn’t get a word in edgewise to ask questions about his silks, and just stuck with a few pieces of cotton. There were LOTS of fabric stores that we drove by but I would have needed a lot of time there which we didn’t have, there was no way the driver was going to stop at a place he wouldn’t make a commission, and frankly I need more energy and sterner resolve to deal with their sales techniques. I did buy a sari though! Not sure if I’ll have much occasion to wear it, but c’mon, when else am I going to do this? (don’t have a picture yet, sorry).

Finally, we started back to Delhi. The speed at which traffic moves give one a lot of time to think… this was a 230km drive which took us 7 hours. Oh, I figured out what that trumpet trill horn is: a transport truck.

When I finally got home at 10pm, I found my first gecko in this apartment. It was dead, and I found it with my bare foot. This is only slightly better than finding your cat’s hairball in the middle of the night that way. I don’t know what the cause of death was, hopefully it was overindulgence on ants and not Melindzilla stomping him to death.

Overall, it was a good weekend. I’m so glad I got to see the Taj Mahal and, while it was blisteringly hot the entire time, not having to battle any crowds was a bit of a bonus! And my sunscreen is working really well, I’m still quite pasty. I think we all learned something about how to handle ourselves on organized tours, we need to be a lot more assertive about OUR plans for the weekend and, not to sound cynical, but a little less trusting of the people we’re supposed to trust. I still appreciate the work the guides and the driver did: I learned a lot of history, the cost of the tour was very reasonable, our accommodations were excellent, and we were comfortable and safe the whole time (thanks in some part to my imaginary brake pedal, I’m sure). But, as easily visible minorities, we are seen as targets and everyone here wants to push their agendas on us. I admit I do resent the idea that because of my colouring and language, it is assumed that I should spend thousands and thousands of dollars on marble furniture and jewelry, whether or not I want to or even have the funds to do so. It’s not a customer or client-centered industry here, it’s for whoever stands to gain the most. So, let’s just chalk that up as another life lesson learned along with experiencing those once-in-a-lifetime sights.