Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sianara, India.

I’m leaving tomorrow. I’mleavingtomorrow. Tomorrow, I am leaving. I’m leaving. Tomorrow. Yep, no matter how many times I say it, it still feels unreal. India has become the norm for me. I live here. Na uru Vizag, as we say in these parts. India has become a part of me, and I hope I have left a small mark on India.

Not least of all, I have been affected by the people I have lived with. Yep, I saw the same 10 – 15 people every day, and you had better believe I picked up on their mannerisms – like a raspy, heckling old man laugh that we all do. And the nasally “Aaaa” head jiggle from my fish village widows. Family, I am going to be weird when I get home. And smell. But that’s another story.

A story I will tell right now: So cumin is in just about everything we eat here, and, according to Wikipedia, it is causes people who eat it frequently to smell distinctly. It will lend me distinction. And I eat curry powder. And turmeric. And garlic. And I’m pretty sure my teeth have been stained by the curry. So family, you’ll have a smelly, yellow-toothed, slightly tanned, henna-ed, baggy-clothing-wearing daughter home in a few days. Excited yet?

But I am also a better person. Now I don’t really know, because this is the first time I’ve ever left the US, but I think that every time you travel somewhere you project your expectations and needs onto a landscape, a people, who then reply, respond to those parts of you and show you yourself in a whole new way. I had to relearn patience and refine my understanding of respect and communication. I learned that there are things that I can do without no problem, and there are things I need in order to be content – surprisingly fewer than I knew. Like a sink. I don’t need a sink. Or an overhead shower. Or a toilet that flushes. Or a table to eat on. Or couches. Or arch support. Or cold milk. I have been perfectly content without them. Though I’m beginning to really crave that cold milk.

I’ve also confronted true poverty for the first time. People who truly have nothing and no self respect anymore as a result of constantly having to debase themselves for money. I’ve been chased down by men missing legs and been watched by women carrying small children, helpless and too weak to anything but silently ask. It is so hard to see them and not help – we’ve been told its not wise to give money to them. But John taught me a way to help a little – you give them food instead of money. Sometimes they angrily refuse, but other times they humbly accept the stack of biscuits you offer – so humbly it almost hurts to see.

But I’ve also been accosted by professional beggars – and there are such things. For instance, there is a tribe of young boys who are painted silver like the moving statues in San Francisco and dressed up as Gandhi – kind of like a modern day band of Fagan’s boys – who walk around Vizag and bang their walking sticks at people and called after you, “Amma! Amma!” I don’t know if they planned it or not, but you certainly feel like mud when Gandhiji bangs his stick at you. Even a silver Gandhi.

But smells and souvenirs aren’t the only things I’ve acquired here; I’ve become the proud owner of quite a few valuable skills as well. For instance, I can bargain an auto driver down from 40 rupees to 15 and a saffron seller from Rs. 200 to 120. Also, ladies in my branch only perform minimal changes to my sari wrapping anymore. One woman even asked where I bought mine. Success. And, not least of all, I can understand and, moreover, speak Indian English. That could put my grammar in trouble when I go home and try and write this paper.

Telugu has also crept into my vocabulary. Into all of ours. We say things like chesara, kooncham, challa and chappundi all of the time – when they make sense and when they don’t. We’ve also adopted phrases that I can only describe as coping mechanisms. Like “kooncham little smoky” which is an adjective phrase or anything small or anything we feel like putting it before. “Chunst” for having a ghee belly and “chapped” for being angry or frustrated and others like “cocoa curmudgeon” and “platty lips” filling in the conversation.

I discovered new loves, too. Like pineapple and papaya. And coconut chutney. And shiny, metallic cloth. Who knew that I would one day be the proud owner of a shiny, silver sari and gold pants? I do own them, and I am proud.

But the biggest love I discovered was the whole country of India. The whole width and breadth of it. I love the crazy, crowded, busy cities and the pastoral, quiet, exotic, ancient countryside. I love the palm trees, the flowering trees, the zig-zag stairways, the power outages, the camp stove kitchens, the open air markets, the jewelry shops every 10 yards, the banana leaf plates, and on and on and on.

I will not say good bye, because I am coming back here as often as I can afford to. And I’m willing to do without a lot in order to afford to. So, see you later, India. I’m glad we could be friends.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving is Rescheduled

This is a public service announcement:

The American holiday of Thanksgiving, that time of year when friends and family mix and mingle and eat way more cranberry sauce and cheese ball than they should, has been rescheduled only in the country of India. The merrymaking will instead be held on Friday, November 27th. More information is to follow. Thank you.

Because really, if Auburn University can reschedule Halloween because it interferes with a home football game, I think we can play around a little with Thanksgiving. Christmas, however, is sacrosanct. No one is allowed to tough Christmas. Heck, they stopped a war to observe Christmas - it is that important.

But really, we have decided to move our Thanksgiving feast because November 26th is the one year anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, and our neighbors may not take kindly to Americans carousing next door when they're in mourning. Hence the date change.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cooking Lessons

Last night John and I headed over to one of his Muslim contact's house. A house I can only describe as palatial. It was a Roman villa hidden by large walls and an attack dog, set back in a manicured lawn in the middle of Vizag. It had marble pillars and vaulted ceilings for crying out loud. Marble pillars and vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows done in the most elegant and tasteful way by a hand long used to refinement and class. We were supposed to be joined by Michelle, but she fell sick that afternoon.

We were invited to come over and use their oven to make pie for Thanksgiving. I was to teach the wife, Karija, how to make pie, and they would feed us dinner in return. John and I had decided to go over and do a test run first to see if we even could make pies in India and to be able to leave some with the family - really, just an excuse to eat more pie.

Earlier that afternoon I had caught a bus into town to look for ingredients for the pie. Pumpkin and pecan were on the docket for the night and I had to go see if I could hunt up brown sugar and pecans. I had picked up a nice pumpkin a few days earlier from the vegetable market in Old City when I was in that part of town, but I was having a tricky time finding the other ingredients. I found a rough, brown-coloured sugar used for desserts that substituted nicely for brown sugar and instead of pecans we used a combination of cashews and almonds and butter instead of shortening for the crust. Corn syrup is also MIA in India, so I found a recipe that used honey as a base instead for the pecan pie. Making it up as I go along? Yep, pretty much.

That evening John and I walked up Beach Road well-laden with our ingredients and were ushered into the mansion by a kind, gracious women of about 50. A kind, gracious women who scolded us for not letting her buy all of the ingredients for us. Her kitchen boasted real flour, a blender, egg beaters, a full gas range, glass bowls, and marble counter tops, so I think she fulfilled her end of the deal quite nicely. The measuring cups and spoons floored me. Oh the joys of real kitchen tools!

For the next 2 hours I played head chef and John my sous as I orchestrated two pies, two maids, two sons, Karija, and myself and I tried to remember the tricks to pie making. John and the two sons concentrated on cutting the pumpkin and making that pie while Karija and I made the crusts and the nut medley one. It was hilarious to listen to John and the 14 year old boy work:
Okay, Captain, we need cinnamon.
Cinnamon, check. Okay, Captain, what next?
Karija had definitely seen her fair share of cooking shows and knew her way around a Western kitchen - so much so that at times I wondered why I was in charge. I guess it was the altitude and humidity, but the crust dough was much wetter than usual, and the pies took almost twice as long to bake.

As the pies cooked we sat down to a family dinner - a Muslim family dinner which meant there was plenty of quality meet. John had spent time with this family before and made himself at home - to the great delight of the family.

I guess I became part of the family, too. As we ate pie and vanilla ice cream on their outdoor patio, the husband, Manivar, was very approving. He said it was a pity we were meeting each other so late in my time here - I could have come over twice a week and we would have taken turns sharing and teaching cultural cooking secrets. Gosh I would have loved that.

He went farther than that, too. He said if I ever needed help finding a husband, he would find me one in his community.
"But I thought you could only marry in your community?"
"Well, with the delicious food you have made, I'll use my influence. It will be no problem."
"Oh, okay. I will definitely remember that."

And John and he proceeded to play matchmaker for the next 15 minutes.

Karija couldn't get over using pumpkin in a dessert. "Finally, pumpkin has a use!" Manivar said. Overall, I had a hilarious, delicious, and wonderful time with the family. And I'm going back on Thursday.

My grandmother would be proud to know that her pie crust recipe is beloved by Indians as well as family members, and they promise to make it often.

Old Fashioned Honey Pecan Pie
1 c. honey
3 eggs, beaten
3 T. butter
1 t. vanilla
1 c. chopped pecans
1 pinch nutmeg
1 recipe for 9 inch single crust pie
In a saucepan bring the honey to a boil. Cool slightly and quickly beat the eggs into the honey. Add butter, vanilla, nuts, and nutmeg. Pour into the pie shell. Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 25 minutes or until set.

Traditional Pumpkin Pie
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 t. ground cloves
1 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 c. pumpkin puree
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). In a large bowl, combine eggs, egg yolk, white sugar and brown sugar. Add salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Gradually stir in milk and cream. Stir in pumpkin. Pour filling into pie shell. Bake for ten minutes in preheated oven. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and bake for an additional 40 - 45 minutes, or until filling is set.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Useful Tip #34

If you are ever on the beach in India and leery-peery men keep coming up to you and wanting to know which country you are from or wanting you to take pictures for them or take pictures with them, and you pretend to only speak French, they will leave you alone.

Indians, you see, while tri- or even quadralingual, do not speak French.

Except maybe in Pondicherry. It used to be a French colony. I wouldn't try it there.

Adventures in sari wearing

On Sunday I took the bold, and possibly foolish, leap and decided to wear a sari to church. I have 3 saris and am running out of time to wear them here, so I'll take whatever opportunities come my way. I may have also wanted to fit in in Relief Society.

A sari consists of a short, fitted blouse, an underskirt they call a petticoat, and then 8 yards of colorful fabric that is wrapped around your waist, pleated, and thrown over your left shoulder - all held together with two safety pins and a couple of tucks. Very secure. It makes me feel like I'm 10 again and playing in the bed sheets on Saturday morning. But unlike bedsheet-toga wearing, sari wrapping (drapping, they call it) is a precise science. A science I have not mastered.
I wrapped my sari as best I could Sunday morning (it definitely looked better than some of my attempts) and went over to the program house looking for Durga so she could rewrap me, but she wasn't there. Durga is our head cook and friend. Her saris are always immaculate. Mine wasn't. But I decided just to brave it and leave my sari the way it was and head to church. One of the ladies there would pull me aside and fix it for me anyway.
Me, in one of my saris. If you couldn't tell.
Traditional dressing-it up
Only they didn't. Not a single sister in the branch pulled me into an empty classroom and redressed me. They usually have no compunction against it, so I assumed my sari really was alright. Oh yeah!

Until Relief Society. I was talking to the first counselor before we got started, and she said she she liked my sari (success!) but that I wore it very badly. oh. ouch. They let me wear it all Sunday like that?! If you can't count on your branch sisters to redress you because you're culturally incompetent, what can you count on? But then the universe righted itself when during the middle of the RS lesson, I felt a pull on the back of my shoulder and I see one of the ladies sitting behind me deftly unpin my shoulder drape, repleat it, and pin it again to my blouse. Ah, things as they should be.

Monday, November 9, 2009

And you, why are you not married?

This is a question that I have been asked many times over while in India. BYU does not have a monopoly on the preoccupation with matrimony by a long shot.

This question has been posed to me by every single widow I have interviewed.
And you? Are you married? Why not? Do you want to get married? When do you want to get married? How can you expect to get married when you are traveling all over the world like this?

No. My parents (I) haven't found the right man yet. Yes. Oh, within two years I would like to be. I am only traveling for a few months and then going back home.

These answers, which I kind of make up on the spot, seem to mostly satisfy them. The Muslim women I met through John were suprised when I told them yes, yes I would like to be married. They said that that was odd for an American, and that India must be rubbing off on me.

The latest question came not from a woman, but from a Kashmiri jewelry merchant I made friends with while I was in Puttaparti - a small town in the south of Andhra Pradesh completely given over to Satya Sai Baba - the reincarnated god in the flesh - the avatar - and catering to his rich and foreign devotees. And the Kashmiri jeweler asked the question.

Setting: sitting on cushioned stools at the glass counter of a tucked-away shop full of loose semi - and precious stones, set stones, earrings, necklaces, pendants fit for a Mayan priest, and Kashmir scarves and wall hangings.
Time: mid-afternoon.
Actors: a young, vivacious anthropologist (your's truly) and a 40-something Kashmiri merchant with an august nose and flattering disposition. The young cloth merchant who shares store space is conspicuous in his absence.

Prologue: I had met the said dealer in gems and jewelry on Tuesday while I was out with some of the other girls from the program. They oohed and awed over the jewelry while I concentrated on the textiles and on convincing the charismatic salesman that, no, I did not want 5, 6, 7, 10 scarves and 3 large wall hangings.
The next day I was back with John who was looking for loose aquamarines. This time I talked with the jeweler personally, and while John also fell under the attraction of "thousand, thousand scarves. See, I have all colors. Hand wash, machine wash, no problem. This one, two colors. Wear on Sunday then switch over and wear on Monday. No one knows." I had quite the conversation with the jeweler.
"Ma'am, come back over here, please."
"Oh, no thank you, I do not want to buy."
"Not for buying and selling. For making friendship only."
"Just friendship? Okay."
And leaning over several thousand dollars worth of jewelry, the man asked me to tea the next day.
"Oh, but I only drink herbal tea."
"No problem. What kind is your favorite? I bring. You must come."
"Ah, rose tea? I will try, but I am not sure I can."
"Come, you must come."

Well, I ended up not going, partly because I was tired, partly because Meghan kept telling me about her friends who were drugged into buying very expensive rugs in Turkey after they drank tea with shop owners, and partly because in India, no one gets upset if you don't keep appointments. You may not believe me, but it is true. They mostly don't expect you to show up anyway.

Friday was our last day in the town, and so after finishing up some errands and before our train left, I stopped into his shop once more to say goodbye.
"Ah you came! You came! Sit down, sit down. We make friendship."
"Oh I can only stay for a short time because our train is leaving soon." Ha, a ironclad excuse.
"Ah! Why must you leave?! You are coming back to Puttaparti?"
"No, in a few weeks I am going back to America."
"Ah, an angel comes into your lives, and then she must leave." Yes, the angel must leave. Especially since suspicion is creeping in.
So we talked about his shop and my family for a few minutes.
"Your sisters, are they all married?"
"No, only one is. One is finishing up at university and the others are too young."
"And you? Are you married?"
"And why not?"
"I guess I just haven't met the right man yet." Oh no! Wrong thing to say! Wrong! Ah!
"What about me?"
"Are you married?" Deliberately misunderstand!
"No I am not." And he decides to make it clearer. "Why don't you marry me?"

At least I didn't drink any drugged tea.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!

After several weeks of not knowing how I was to get home from India, I now have my return plans finalized! I am flying out of India on November 30th and getting in to Salt Lake City on December 1st at 8:15 pm, flight US 7211.

What?! you say. Suzanne left for India without a return ticket? Was that wise?

No, sillies, of course I had a return ticket - scheduled for December 6. My program ends on December 1, though.

What? you say. Why would Suzanne extend her stay in India a mere 5 days? And then choose to come home earlier?

Well, you see, when I was scheduling my plane ticket, I was certain I would want to spend as much time in India as possible, and I momentarily forgot about money and Indian geography and thought that I would just jaunt up to New Delhi for a few days and talk to one Dr. Mohini Giri who runs a national NGO to help widowed women. But you see, 5 days isn't enough to do anything but bum around Vizag. A Vizag that no longer has room and board reserved for me. As of December 1, our leases on our apartments end and the program ceases to pay for our cooks.

And to cap it all off, my wonderful sister and her family (who live a less-than-wonderful long distance away) will be in Idaho the first week of December and fly home to Alabama on the 5th. That's right, a day before I would leave India. And seeing as how my sister is pregnant with the first darling little nephew of the family and has no idea when she would next be able to come see us.

So with all of these factors in my head, for three weeks I made phone calls, rode around to different offices and to the Vizag airport on a motorcycle, admitted defeat in the realm of do-it-yourself-dom, emailed BYU travel, paid $200, and just the other day received an email with the subject line reading: NEW RETURN ETICKET ITINERARY.

Hooray. And hello Salt Lake City on December 1st!