Sunday, April 25, 2010

COOLING their heels

Hello all. Steve here. As some of you may have noticed in Celia's blog, the girls are without Internet for the next few days, so Margaret asked me to post an update. They are in Tiruvanamali and are doing fine. Her spirits are good, especially since their hotel has AIR CONDITIONING! Whew!

Her workshop at the American Center went fine - a few logistical problems, but was well-received - so that is a huge load off her shoulders. So now they are taking a few days to relax in the coolness.

More later.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ages without an update

I know it has been ages.  I update the blog regularly as I walk around, though only in my head, neither on computer or paper.  Unfortunately, when I might have time on the computer, I have too many other pressures on me.  Plus, computer time is limited.  Limited by electricity, heat, my own stamina, hours and hours waiting around town for various people and things, Internet connectivity (and you know you don't want me to start on that topic), and my attempt to refrain from posting when I'm too, too frustrated and feeling glum.  This is all furthered by the fact that all the other obstacles seem to be high around the time I'm feeling up and ready to post the many positive developments.  In summation, here's another short, not-entirely-informative, not-very-detailed post.

Again, for timely posting see C's blog.  For less-entertaining, delayed stuff about work and travel, continue reading.s


After a very slow start, I have begun to visit villages and I did one portrait session in one of them.  The visiting is fascinating and I have a real fondness for the Santal tribal people - their villages are the ones I've spent time in so far.  They are peaceful, warm-spirited, terribly poor, welcoming to me (in spite of my poor communication and general oddness), and unbelievably clean.  This is most striking in light of significant water shortages, of which I will write when time allows.

The one photo shoot was fun, with many children participating.  Particularly enjoyable was the reaction of two men who were initially quite negative - they've seen plenty of westerners come in, observe, and leave - but after about an hour, they were not only setting up poses for the children and women, but also for themselves.  Unfortunately, most of the images are pretty poor.  A few please me, but most are poorly lit due to all wanting to remain in the patchy shade.  Still, I hope they will enjoy them.  I had planned to deliver the prints this morning, but need to remain here to work on Friday's course. (See below.)


Aaaarrrrggg!  (Translation: Spent lots more money, tried multiple services and Internet cafes, interacted with young men that showed that special combination of inefficiency, laziness, outrageous rudeness, arrogance, stupidity and (my favorite) that unique power to know and not know the English language from moment to moment... enough said.)

On the other hand, should this continue to be one of my greatest difficulties, I'm getting off pretty easy, eh?


We will be on the road for +/- 3 weeks beginning Thursday morning. 

(Note: If you want to reach us, please use the mobile number rather than email.  I do hope it will work outside West Bengal.  If mine doesn't, perhaps C's will as it is another carrier.  If neither, I will let Steve, Bill and B&L know how to get in touch with us, plus they have all the 'only-in-a-really-awful-emergency' contacts.)

Thursday, we take the train to Kolkata.  Lucky us!  This time, we are VIPs and will be picked up by a car because we're there only to do the course on Friday.  No insanity of the Howrah taxi stand.  (It's scary how much this pleases me.)

All day Friday we will be at the American Center. Me: trying to convey worthwhile info, demonstrate how American university faculty teach (that part I'm pretty confident about) and, hopefully, not seeming too awkward or illprepared.  C: Not sure.  She's offered to assist, and I will take her up on that eagerly, but I also hope she can escape for something more fun for part of the day.

Early to bed, because at +/- 4 am, we head to the airport for the earliest flight to Chennai.  (Why earliest flight?  After endless battles trying to use my credit cards - which both banks insist are just fine for India - and the ATMs had several days to dispense enough cash for the now-greatly-increased ticket fees, the travel agent could only get us on this one.)

Sleepily, we will arrive and - in the unlikely event that all goes according to plan - we will be whisked off to Tiruvanamali.  We will stay there until May 11th with the plan of visiting villages there, doing my photo thing, and perhaps will make a short stop in Ponduchery for sun, surf, tourism and all things Indian in French.

We should be back in our rooms in Santiniketan by the night of the 11th.


Credit cards aren't working.  Not that we need them much, but for travel or anything over the internet, it sure would help.  Happily, the ATM card is still working.  (And I really hope it won't follow the example of the electricity which fails each time I observe that is has not.)

While the credit card failures are frustrating, there are (though cumbersome) ways around.  What I haven't mastered, and what seems to have grown enormously worse in the past week, are grossly increasing expectations of my wealth and resulting personal hyper-inflation.  Suddenly, nearly everyone with whom I interact - from rickshaw drivers to translators - has requested double-or-more fees. I suspect encouragement in this may be centralized, but I hesitate to point fingers... yet.  I am glad to be leaving town for a bit as it gives me time to gather my wits and plan how to deal with all this.  Fortunately, out of sight means out of reach of requests to quadruple fees.  Perhaps things will return to a reasonable state in a few weeks.  Unlikely, but perhaps.

Terror Alerts

For those of you who follow such things, please know that I do also.  I've seen them and am staying on top of all available info.  More importantly, the State Department - the same folks who send monitor threats and send the alerts - knows where I am, my phone number, address, travel plans, etc.  Further, they can change my plans any time if they think it necessary.  I promise not to do anything foolish, to be careful always and to be even more so for C.

Were there anything to fret over, I guarantee I'd do it myself.  After all, I'm hours ahead of most of you, so I can worry all day before you even have your morning coffee.  And if you're really worried, call us.  We'll reassure you.  And we'll be happy to hear from you.

Course in Kolkata

Friday I am to run an all-day workshop on Self-portraiture.  Because I'm some kind of expert on the topic?  Nope. (Impostor syndrome!)  I had to come up with a topic that met a ton of criteria the toughest of which are filling a whole day, including both lecture and hands-on components, and culminating in a contest to be judged by internationally renowned, multi-media artist, Rathin Kanji, former Fulbrighter, currently exhibiting in a one-man show in London, (Did he ever suffer from imposer syndrome, I wonder?)  So, I will end here and return to preparing.

Thanks to you all for staying with me in spite of these long silences. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Excuses for not updating

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I've been really busy the past few days. In addition, what little internet time I've had, I've used - unsuccessfully - trying to contact folks in Tamil Nadu to see if we should book flights. But that's another story...

I will report about Santal village wanderings when time allows. In the mean time, C is doing a great job keeping up with our news. It's wonderful to have such a great travel companion who is also a timely blogger.

More soon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NEWS FLASH: American woman cooks potato in West Bengal. No injuries reported.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Inefficient, ripped off, frustrated, over heated... and contentedly eating lots of bananas

Note: Was unable to post/send this for a day and a half due to - you guessed - problems with electricity and internet.  So, a little update: We finished the move and are happily sweating in our own little home.

It is such a joy to see your comments and to receive email. Many, many thanks!

Last night was the one-month anniversary of our arrival in India.  I'm one month in and can report that I have done absolutely nothing on my project.  I'm getting really anxious about it, but we have to finish moving first, then maybe... 

I sincerely hope to have all our stuff at our rooms by tonight.  It is only a short walk between places, but the heat makes it rough.  Caring even just a bag or two each trip is work.  For those who saw us leave, you know we don't really have all that much stuff.  True enough.  We've acquired a bit more, but only a bit.  To keep from completely falling apart, my moving strategy involves +/-2 tote bags per trip.  If C does one or two trips with me tonight, we should be able to get everything there between 5:30 (when the heat is less) and 7:00 when it's nearly dark and the mosquitoes become violent.

Wish us luck!

I feel particularly eager about getting out of here because I'm quite annoyed with the situation here.  I was told today that I owe an additional $200 above the outrageous price I was already paying.  I'm trying not to get too upset about it.  But between feeling ripped off and helpless to do anything, hostility seems a comfortable emotion.

It doesn't help my frustration that I spent all morning visiting every bike 'shop' in the area (more than 20) and only one will sell me a bike. None will rent and the one who will sell want's about twice what a new, but junky, bike would cost in the US.

But don't think my whining means things are bad here.  They're not.  I'm frustrated that I haven't gotten the project moving, disappointed about the bike and angry about the money, but I'm also quite pleased and content, in general.


  • Celia (finally) began her art classes and had rave reviews about her fist session.  She is frustrated that she has to struggle with her 'homework' drawings, but that's part of the process, no?  And she's eager to go back for another.
  • We will be in our own rooms very soon.
  • And they are really nice.  They are already cooler - though no AC, unfortunately - because they are on the ground floor, where here we are upstairs.  After days of hassles and lots of help, we now have
    1. gas for the cooking burner,
    2. the battery inverter for our fan during power outages (so long as they don't last too long),
    3. sheets, 2 pillows, 2 towels,
    4. a water filter,
    5. some cooking and eating stuff (but no food, yet), and
    6. though we though it impossible, a fridge.  It's a pretty gross one and I'm paying dearly to rent it, but... cold water!!!
  • N & S spent a few days w/ Steve in NYC visiting Bea & Lloyd.  Sounds like they had a fine time (no surprise :-) and that makes me very happy.
  • Jane's surgery is done.  Of course, she has a long recovery now, but I'm much revealed that it went well.  Distance makes for some pretty powerful worrying.
  • C & I each have some additional clothing now.  We left with very little because my equipment alone put us over the luggage limit.  We both enjoy wearing the Indian outfits, not just because they look better, but also because they help with the heat a little.  They don't stop people from staring at us, though.

Finally, I suppose I can't file this under good news, but I thought I'd share it anyway.  Today, while on my long and futile cycle hunt, it finally happened.  I knew it would.  C and I joked about it.  But today it became reality.

Two boys bicycling, turned to stare at me as they went by.  So many people do every day.  These two collided, an expected result of looking backward over one's shoulder in transit.  I'm amazed it doesn't happen more often.  Fortunately, they were going slowly and didn't hit anyone else in the process.  They seemed unhurt, brushed off, laughed and biked away.  One, still transfixed,  continued to stare back at me as he left.  I'm just guessing here, but I don't think it's my striking good looks.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

So much to say, so little time to write

We are back in Santiniketan from our Kolkata trip.  It was great to be able to see Ed before he left for the states.  For those who don't know, Ed is another Fulbright person lecturing in literature in Kolkata, and all over the place also.  I believe he is in the air as I write on his way back to the US. (Not true now, since we lost power, so it took two days to write this.)

While in Kolkata, I also met with USIEF staff about a day-long workshop I've been asked to run for selected high-school students on April 23rd.  This will be the 6th (I think) of these events where Fulbright folks present a discipline and create an environment where the students practice with the scholar's supervision.  It is to culminate with a presentation (in this case an exhibit) of the students' work, which is then judged by some invited luminary for prizes.

Obviously, I've never done anything like this, so I'm a bit uneasy about the whole thing.  I find myself even more so after describing the day I planned and being told that, it's time for the more-conservative - both at USIEF and in Kolkata high schools - to be exposed to all that American free-wheeling stuff.  Okay, that's not exactly what they said, but I got the feeling I was 'pushing the envelope'.  No matter how much I asked for guidance to make it more what they would expect from an Indian workshop, no one would help me re-design it.  Instead, I kept hearing that it was time to try something like this.

Even hear of the impostor syndrome

In truth, being in Kolkata was unnerving. Seeing Ed and others from Udaipur was great.  The workshop will okay.  But, our time there reminded me that I really can't get around, travel, really do much on my own without making endless mistakes.  The rest of the time in the city, I was constantly lost, over payed for everything, and eventually felt helpless and grabbed a cab so I can hide in my room (with C, of course).  I found myself yelling (in English) at a lot of men who were simply trying to do their jobs, jobs that involved following me around trying to sell me things.

It can't have been easy for C, as she depends on me to, if not know what I'm doing, at least function.  After my first real panic call to Steve and a few leaked tears, C and I shared a few 5-Star bars (our current favorite packaged sweet) and the crisis passed.  With C's encouragement (Who's the parent and who's the kid?) we ventured down in search of dinner.  We wandered only a block, selected an overly-fancy-looking resteraunt and had a very nice meal.

The next morning, we made it to the train station and onto the train with less than a dozen people to assist us (people who stopped to help, not folks who work for the rail).  Thanks to two women who hollered to me to get off the train, we didn't miss our destination either.

Fear not for our future here.  We are both fine.  Some days are just tougher than others.

And having a stash of 5-Star bars helps*.

In the never-ending saga of our living arangements, my attempting to start to prepare to begin to move into our rooms is progressing at the same rate as everything else.  To pass the time, we're enjoying the nice cold water from the fridge here. (Our place doesn't have one (and I'm not sure I'll figure out how to get one, so we're happily hydrating.)

Finally, today (Thursday) saw a great accomplishment: I got my Rabinda Bhavana Library reader's card, complete with my picture on it!

And, with that, I'll end and refill my water.

As the title says, "so much to say, so little time to write."

* After posting this, I thought I'd put  a link to our 5-Star comfort food. Turns out it is an 'energy bar' (got that description for an article about them) made by Cadbury. Note: read the Cadbury link at your own risk. I'm less enamored of the candies after seeing their press.