Friday, June 25, 2010

Healthy, damp & trying hard to get things done

We're better and back at it.  Silly to think we'd last six months without some illness.  At home we rarely go so long without something.  All fine now.  And it's raining!

I've been impossibly busy lately, though much time is spent in less-than-satisfying endeavors.  No complaints tonight, though.  Here's a list (PowerPoint style - and you know I hate that) because it's late and the electricity is likely to shut down any moment.

[At another time, I will try to upload some photos to illustrate all this.]

  • I inaugurated a rural library and was treated like a rock star (no kidding).
  • We saw the most beautiful temple (though I'm told there is a twin) in Kalna,
  • Worked in several more villages,
  • Took photos,
  • Lost photos,
  • Spent the night at the Buddhist Center in Kolkata, and
  • Missed another train.
  • I worked on my chapati and egg-roll techniques (improving, but far from ideal).
  • Our flat was transformed for a day into a film stage.
  • C had her debut as a film actor in our friend, Shamayal's, video.
  • [Shamayal also showed us how to cut glass with kerosene.  Do not try this at home.]
  • We met more people
  • Including some who are both encouraging and really helpful.
  • I finally discovered how to get the newspaper delivered (by meeting the delivery man early one morning when my interpreter didn't show) and
  • Built a holder to protect the paper when neither Rono (the caretaker) nor I are there on rainy mornings.  (Unlike at home where my paper completely dissolves some days, here he won't deliver if it'll get wet.)
  • Twice we used our amazing first-aid kit from Aunt Linda to dress wounds (other peoples', not ours).
  • We counted cows,
  • Bought souvenirs,
  • Drank lots of tea,
  • Ate many of mangos, 
  • Picked limes from a tree outside our rooms,
  • Cooked (and ate) many kilos of okra, and
  • More grilled cheese sandwiches than I should admit.
  • My fingernails are always dirty moments after I bathe and I still haven't a clue how it happens.
  • I'm getting better at eating rice with my hand.  (C is a natural.)
  • My Bengali is terrible, though I know many food words.
  • I made people laugh, and
  • Made others look like "Movie Stars" (in their portraits).
  • I practiced wearing a sari,
  • Saw more of my equipment break or fail,
  • Made peace with rickshaw drivers (beginning a small photography project with some of them), and
  • Grew more comfortable with lizards (though snakes are out of the question).
  • I photographed in my first Muslim village and, after an uncertain start, was unexpectedly well receive
  • My hair is perpetually damp.  (And though I know it won't help its health, some of those garden limes are used to address resulting problems).
  • I miss home.  I miss all of you.  I also want to make the most of the time I have left.  I lost so much time with all the problems early on (and, no, I haven't written here of all of them).  Now, things are moving...  or they were...  While we are all happy that monsoon is here, it means that my work will be further frustrated.  No free lunch, eh?  (Or is it, 'no free monsoon'?)

Psssst.  On that running nose thing a while back:  We did use hankies, but only in secret.  I fear everyone we know here would be thoroughly disgusted.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010


    Finally, it's raining!  Yesterday morning was our first daytime rain and it was a big one.  Everything's damp, muddy, humid... and great!

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Post from June 22nd

    You've probably already seen this one...
    Accidentally deleted.  Now back.

    June 21st was a great day.  Odd, but great.  I told myself that if I got a break, I'd write about it.  Well, I didn't get one yet, so I'm cutting an pasting from a letter I wrote to B && L about it.  Tacky, I know, but it was such a great day...

    Celia and I went with Central Library Deputy Library to his hometown and then to a rural library where he and I were invited to inaugurate the new Tagore Reading Room.  I was to prepare a speech, wear white, and bring a camera.

    We saw the sights of a small city between here and Kolkata, ate a great meal and were treated like VIPs throughout.  The city we visited is called Kolna.  It has all the sites of a typical small Indian city plus an amazing amount of history.  My favorite site: the most beautiful temple.  I would happily have stayed there all day (though my feet would have been less so as walking barefoot on the too-well-sun-heated grounds was tough).

    In Kolna, we met my colleague's family, the newly-elected Chairman (mayor equivalent?), and many other citizens.

    The Library 'inauguration' was very strange.  C said my speech wasn't  very good, which I expected since there was great commotion while I was at the microphone and I kept losing my focus.  On the other hand, the man who read the translation (which was only vaguely what I had written - more on that at another time) was a very dramatic reader and seemed to have everyone's attention.

    After the program, they presented me with a photograph of Tagore and many thanks.  Then, to my surprise, we left before the program was over.  Good thing, since we had a very long drive, but it seemed rude.  Even so, while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do, I failed to notice the program being interrupted to give us a standing ovation and the audience, dignitaries, etc. waved to us, wide eyed, as we left, crossing the front of the stage in what, again, seemed to me very poor manners.  (I kept looking over my shoulder to see if some prince was behind us causing all the commotion.  But no, it was just us.)  Then, to make things even more rock-star like, a huge crowd followed us to our car and once I shook one man's hand at least 30 others crowded in to shake my hand as well.

    Once in the vehicle (a big SUV) one man I'd met earlier asked for a business card (very popular here) so I fished one out.  Immediately, several others I'd met during the day crowded windows on both sides asking for them.  (Everyone I gave a card to seemed unusually pleased with it.  Fortunately, I'd brought a pile, knowing I would be introduced around.)  After I'd given cards to the men I recognized, all windows became filled with new faces asking for cards, shaking hands and showing such appreciation you'd think I was passing out cash.  The car was swarmed by well-wishers and card seekers, so I finally gave one of the men the whole pile to pass out later.  Made his day.  Who do they think I am?!

    Celia's reception was equally adoring, but more individual.  Again (this has happened before), a lovely grandmother (really great grandmother) offered for Celia to live with her because C is so beautiful, an angel, a princess.  This one also offered to go back home with her to take care of her.  I suggested that I would stay on the farm with her daughter (grandmother) in exchange.  Everyone laughed, then hugged us and acted as if we'd both broken their hearts by not staying longer and blessed them just by being there.  When we said we planned to return with the whole family in August, clasped hands jumped to hearts as if we'd awarded a great prize.

    Though the intense, and undeserved, admiration/affection makes me a bit uncomfortable, I found that I felt an unreasonable level of affection for many of the people (generally women) I barely know.  This has happened to me before here, that I feel very close to someone I've only just met.  I suppose some of it is simply a reaction to Indian warmth and hospitality, and may be even more so as we are often treated as special guests.  Sometimes these women remind me of Bea or Jane or Grandma, or any of the group of women who have been so important - and so thoroughly supportive - throughout my life.   I can't explain it.  Not looks and definitely not conversation since the language problem is major.  Just warmth, humor, I don't know... 

    Maybe I'm a little homesick?

    Sunday, June 6, 2010

    Fine, Quiet, Sniffley

    Tough to believe that June 3rd passed without my notice.  It marked three months since we left home.  So much has happened, and so little.  Both C and I miss you all and think of you... much more often than we write.  We're both growing, changing, learning and not getting much done.  But, as too many people say too often, "It's all good."  (Okay, some of it isn't all that good, but a great deal is.)

    No big troubles (that I know of) in West Bengal.  Elections done, results in.  Village folks around here are celebrating the outcome, though I fear that changes won't be as dramatic as hoped (1)Note: That was not a comment on any political party, just on the nature of elections.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but election victories don't generally lead immediately to improvements in standard of living, do they?  Still, the joy is pretty infectious.  To us.  Not necessarily to the rest of the University community.

    Everyone got to enjoy over a week with only very-occasional power outages.  I was a little disappointed when someone told me it was just for election: good-government-doesn't-turn-off-the-power-in-this-heat sort of thing. Who knows if it's true?  We did get a cut day after the election, and have had several times a day since then.  BUT, they are nowhere near as long or frequent as they had been.  AND, the last couple of days, they've all been very short.  AND, after waiting for weeks in weather reaching 47 degrees C (2), we did get our new battery which, so far, works.  That means we still have a fan even if there's no electricity. 

    Though it continues to be uncomfortably hot - the temps down a bit, but humidity is way up - it rained several evenings, we missed the hurricane and Kerella reports monsoon.  That means it's on its way up here. I do hope we like it when it arrives.

    Above I mentioned election victory celebrations.  Both C and I  have more to say on the subject and will do so in other posts.  For now, I was reminded today that it had been a while, plus the last entry was when I learned about the train derailment.  I hadn't realized it had been such a long time.  Right after that post, C had a short tummy thing (very short, fortunately!) and I caught a nasty cold.  Nearly all better now, C hasn't caught up on sleep (mostly it's the mosquitoes' fault) and I'm still just a little sniffley (3).

    Thanks for staying in touch.  We both enjoy hearing from home (4).

    1. Say what I may, I'm still just a little high from the Obama victory.
    2. You can do the conversion this time, okay.  I'm tired..
    3. Not as trivial as it sounds in country where tissues are both rare and considered really distasteful.  Lucky for you, I will not compose a long essay on nose blowing in India, though I've thought about it a lot recently.  (If you must satisfy your curiosity, I will tell you all about it.  In the mean time: I am my very own snot joke.
    4. And it really is okay to call us (if you use Skype, cause it's not too expensive). If we're in the middle of something or asleep, we'll tell you. And we'll love that you called anyway. (Sorry we still can't use Skype from here.)