Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Mountains and More!

So much to write about since last time. Let’s see, well there was this two week trip, first to Amritsar, site of the Golden Temple, then to Dalhousie, to Dharamshala and then back to Dalhousie. There was the coming back to the Delhi oven and the fact that the job is really becoming incredibly potent with opportunities galore. There are also the everyday things that one just doesn’t expect, stepping out of the bus from the metro into pure dust, which you can taste in your mouth, the farmers markets, at least that’s how I think of them, where I purchased three ears of “sweet corn” for 20 cents, only to find that the kernels are so damned hard that I really don’t know how to cook them, the monkeys which seem to turn up everywhere, the incredible traffic jams where everyone just goes into the intersection because the lights aren’t working and nobody moves. (I’m not kidding about this, just something you’d never see in the States).

There are also the very beautiful, helpful people, such as the Director of the Times of India Foundation, my friends Onky and Myna, their son Anant and “Big Daddy” Mohan, whose 77th birthday I was able to participate in. (Onkar’s Chacha and Chachi and cousin Karan, in Delhi have also been so very helpful to me).

Delhi is just remarkable to all of my senses. I can’t seem to get enough, except for the heat and the dust. Some of the smells and sites I could do without, but this is India, this is not the US or Europe. I am wondering more and more what other developing countries may be like. This may lead to other adventures, but I’ll take India for now.

I haven’t really mentioned my VSO friend, my in-country family members who just all keep me going, when it does get challenging. My colleague Allan, from Scotland, kept me informed while I was away and he always has a good yarn to tell, about him and his wife Margaret’s travels all over the world. This is their third VSO experience, having spent time in both Gambia and Cambodia, as well as I think everywhere else in the world. I could sit and listen for years. I so admire the two of them. My mate Mary, from the UK, who recently told me how happy she is to be in India, which made me think, “Why in the hell am I complaining about the heat?” My dear, dear friend Mark, who is living in Barmar where it is at least 50 C everyday, who just goes about his business without any complaints. A great male friend. My compatriot from the US, Judith, who is in Kolkata, an incredibly bright woman who I’ve started having lots of e-mail conversations with. There is also Verona from the Philippines who I’ve been chatting with on Facebook. Of course, there is also Joe, the 20 year old musician from the UK, who is in Jaipur, who everyone just adores. There is Louise from Scotland, who is in Surat, who I talk to on a very regular basis, either on the phone, or more often through SKYPE, and who is coming for a visit very soon.

There are also other VSO friends who have not gone on their assignments yet, but who I can converse with-Lisa, Lynley and Nathalie. There’s also my Indian VSO friend Jora who is in Guyana. My world has been so expanded by all of these amazing people, who so very recently, I didn’t know even exited. They, of course, each have their own stories, their own motivations for being in India or in other places, but they are all remarkable in their own right. The doors and possibilities just keep appearing and opening up and all that I had to do was put a lot of intent out into the universe. It does actually work!

Of course, because of SKYPE and Facebook, I can talk to all of my good friends and family, on a regular basis. This also sustains me. I talk to my dad about sports almost everyday and of course, because the Lakers are about to become champs we can share this without any problems. I also talk to my son Daniel on a regular basis. and my dear friends Michael, Mark, who is my cousin, but also a dear friend, Cindy, Terrie and others almost everyday. Through e-mails I know what is happening and am in connection, which is so very helpful to me. Last night I was in four or so conversations on Facebook and it was truly wonderful. I

I’m doing what I can to make connections in India, to provide a support network for myself. I’m trying to start a Men’s Group, looking forward to starting b-ball again in August, will look at going to a July 4th celebration at the Embassy. I try to be as open as possible and meet people.

I have this wonderful family who has taken me in. I just cannot believe how fortunate I’ve been to land in the Tyagi home. They are all so incredibly sweet and I feel quite loved. There are 13 of them living on the first two floors, three generations of people. I also have a roommate, Joel, another American who is a bright, young journalist. An intrepid explorer who is doing amazing work.

Here is an example of how wonderful this is becoming. There are five family members in my apartment right now from 9 year old Bol-bol to 40 something year old Aneal, the oldest brother. All three of the brothers are here and there is one cousin and one friend. Joel, my roommate is here as well. We are all gathered around a carom’s table, which they play with their fingers and there is quite a lively game happening with a wager for dinner. Suresh, also know as Sam, the man who helped me to get into this apartment, made fresh pakoras-potato, paneer with almonds, onions, something like tempura, except a bit heavier. We’re all just sitting around having one nice time. I even drank a little bit of beer. Will wonders never cease?

I’ve been watching the house across from me being built and it is just remarkable to see the structure going up. I’m feeling more part of this all with the family helping out a great deal, even though they may not be aware of this.

Yesterday, Aneal, Bol-bol, her sister known as Dede and their aunt and I drove to the YMCA where I went swimming, Aneal and Dede are taking swimming lessons, and I coached some b-ball. After 15 minutes of coaching however, the skies opened up and that was the end of it, my first pre-monsoon rainstorm. On the way back the aunt drove, she is 25 and just learning, and did remarkably well. I’m kind of getting up the courage to try myself, although it is driving on the right and there seem to be no rules. Hmmm… let’s see.

Ah yes, the mountains. My friends Onky and Myna have this amazing family home in Dalhousie. Mohan built this in the early 70’s and it is known as a cottage. More recently Onky and Myna built a cottage which they rent out, which is adjacent and below the main cottage. (Yes, I didn’t mention the Golden Temple in Amritsar, because my train was late and I was so tired, that I just fell asleep after visiting some family members. Yes, I will go back as Myna’s parents live in Amritsar).

Dalhousie was so very cool, temperature wise as it is quite high, full of forests, trekking paths, many, many good people, on some level reminding me of The Great Gatsby, with parties every night. We hiked to this amazing Temple the second weekend that I was in Dalhousie and I really just could not believe the beauty, wild daisies literally growing everywhere, dotting the mountainsides, looking like snow, with puffs of yellow sticking out. Of course there was actual snow on the distant, quite majestic peaks. One of the most exciting things for me was walking down the path into a goatherd. I just stood in the middle of the herd as they rolled past me. I made a movie of this event and will not ever forget this. We walked to the top of a mountainside and ate a luscious breakfast. It was so very peaceful and just full of what I want life to be.

The food in Dalhousie was the very best as the Kakar’s cook is one incredible man. To be waited on once in a while, is also just so very nice, although I wonder if I could get used to this. Ok, we all get the picture, one wonderful experience.

Mohan’s birthday was a special affair. In the morning we all went to the smaller cottage where some family friends were staying and where a puja was conducted. This is a prayer service conducted in Hindi, with so very much meaning. In India, because of the culture, these types of ceremonies happen all of the time. This is another thing that I will never forget and became the official family photographer and movie maker of the entire event. At the end of the ceremony we all threw flower petals at Mohan and he reveled in the moment. Magical!

In the afternoon we had a huge party for all of those “Great Gatsbyites” in Dalhousie and I was a bartender! Surprising because I don’t drink but the Dalhousieites do, so I learned about mixed drinks. It was all in good fun. But the somewhat surprising thing is that Mohan purchased so many blankets for the poor and in front of the lower cottage we fed the poor and servants. It was just so great and of course I went down and helped to feed those with less and just sat. One of the upper party members said to me upon leaving, “We should have done that.” Hopefully he will remember for next year, but I will make a point of reminding people next year.

The other great part about being in the State of Himachel Pradesh was that I was able to go to Dharamshala and spend a week with one of the National Trust partner NGO’s Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development (CORD), . I was able to go to some very rural villages, as CORD is involved in over 550 throughout Kangra District. They are doing remarkable integrated rural development work, teaching people about empowerment, getting people into health care, teaching others how to supplement their incomes. I saw an all female group talking about the issue of female infanticide and then went to two schools, where disabled children are mainstreamed. If you want to volunteer in India, this is an NGO that is so worthwhile. Besides, the accommodations and food were great and the setting beyond amazing. I would walk about 10 minutes into an agricultural field and just watch, with these enormous snow covered mountain peaks in the background and people tending their fields, in the very traditional way in the foreground. If you want peace, this is it.

Yes, I’m continuing to enjoy India, even with the power ‘black-outs”, the intense heat, the dust, the over crowded conditions and extreme poverty. The fact remains though that the connections that I’m starting to make will ultimately sustain me to do good work and to learn so much about a culture that is so very different from anything that I’ve ever known.