Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Today I am an Aquatics Specialist

The work day did not start off with high optimism. The guy who mans the aquatics area called in sick, so someone had to take his place for the whole day. I was elected to do so, though I told everyone I don't know anything more about fish than what one could learn from watching Finding Nemo. I was also in charge of the reptile, small mammal, and bird department, for which I didn't even have the keys (or again, knowledge). "Oh well," I thought. "I can always page the manager for help, and if I do really bad, it's my last week here, so what can they do!?"

Most of the day doesn't merit chronicling in detail. For the most part, I either got easy questions like "Where is your gerbil food," which I could easily handle, or hard ones like "What wattage does my bearded dragon light need to be?" for which I'd page the manager. I also had to make two sweeps of the tanks to scoop out the dead fish, feed the living, and medicate the sick animals in back.

Bring out your dead

I had three lovely interactions with customers today:

1) A lady and her daughter were trying to figure out how to transport and house their hamster for a 4-hour drive and 3-week vacation. I helped out for a good 30 minutes pulling various travel enclosures out of boxes and answering questions. I decided to leave my station at the back to ring them up since they wanted to verify some prices. When we finished everything she said, "What is your name, young lady? You were so kind and patient."

"Christine," I answered.

"Christine. Christ. Yes. You are the spirit of Christ for certain. Thank you."

I wasn't going to argue with that, so I said thanks and helped her carry the bags out the store!

2) An elderly lady was purchasing a bag of dry food and some cans of wet food for her cat. I was at the register because some other customers had asked about vitamins and food for their dog to prevent colon issues in old age and I had zero confidence in answering that question so I switched places with a more knowledgeable employee for a couple minutes. When everything was rung up she was $1.50 short. She started to rummage through her change to see if she had enough but then lamented, "This change is my bus fare. Why don't you take away one of the cans." I offered to first see if I could get her a discount by looking up the price online and seeing if it's on sale on the website. Sure enough it was $2 cheaper online so I price-matched for her. She said she had no idea what I just did but that she and her cat were very thankful. I assured her that it didn't come out of my paycheck so it wasn't anything, but she continued to thank me over and over again, saying it was the nicest thing someone's done for her in a long time.

3) A young lady came in so excited to start her first aquarium. I admitted right off the bat that I wouldn't be very knowledgeable, but that I could reach my manager by texting her personal cellphone (by this time she'd left for home). Because I needed to ask my manager every tiny question (how big do these fish get, do these and these get along, what kind of food do they need, etc?) it took about an hour. Kudos to my manager for all her hard work after she clocked out and went home! When all fish were bagged and her cart was full, I helped her to the registers then went back to the aquatics section. 5 minutes later she ran down to me and gave me a handshake with a $20 bill in her palm. "You're awesome" she said, then ran off.

For every crazy or rude customer, there is a very sweet, patient, or generous one! All in all a good day.

However, as I write this I am on the wrong train home. We just rolled into Brooklyn. Well shucks...

Monday, July 10, 2017

New England Adventures

Queens is a lovely place, especially Astoria, where I’m staying for a few months. Rent is still high (about $1000 for a room in a shared apartment) but you can fit a queen bed and dresser in it, the buses can actually go faster than a doped-up tortoise, kids roller blade down the sidewalks unsupervised, and it feels like a U.N. of bakeries is right outside my door (you want Estonian donuts, Mexican churros, or Egyptian baklava? Just walk 1 min in any direction). There is a heavy Greek, Latinx, and Middle Eastern influence here, but I hear a least a dozen languages a day without even trying. 

The major drawback is that you quickly learn to appreciate just how massive NYC is. If I were to make a friend or get a job in southeast Brooklyn, it would take over an hour to get there. 

How far away 3 miles is is all relative

And that's for 4:30pm on a Monday. Forget about reliable train service after 11:45pm or on weekends. One time in my stubbornness to refuse to get a cab, it took me 3 hours to get back home one late night just from downtown. Back in the city, it seemed like everything was right around the corner. Why ever leave downtown Manhattan? Here in Queens, let’s just say my unlimited Metro card is not going to waste, and that I use my bike every day (though I haven't yet ventured across the bridge to Manhattan). 

I want to go to there.

Within a day of my arrival in NYC, I became a Rover dog sitter. I only sat for 2 dogs, while I was still crashing in Manhattan, but both times they were very good and I cared for them several times, making about $200 for not too much work.

Within a few more days, I became a Wag! walker. 

Use promo code CHRISTINE7133 for a free walk!

While I feel I am an excellent and trustworthy dog-walker, I will say that the screening process was laughable. A silly online quiz after watching some videos about safety and how to use the app, 2 friends to talk about how well I work with animals, and $25 was all I needed. Once background checked I was in the system and started getting walks! $12 + tips for a half hour. It’s cool to see other people’s apartments, meet new dogs, and sometimes get really great tips. But, for whatever reason that slowed down and I needed something else to make ends meet. 

So, I became a customer service specialist in Manhattan at a national pet supply chain. It only took me about 2 days to realize that retail isn’t my strong suit, even when animal-related. A dog bit me this week and the owner didn’t even blink and just said, "Huh, that's weird." And everyone in New York asks for double plastic bags, even when it’s just a couple cans of food. Culture shock! I’ve been told I can’t argue with them about it, so I just go off and mutter to the chinchillas. 

Can you septuple-bag my 3oz canister of fish food, please

They also have a very difficult scheduling practice where you don’t know when you will work the next week. I can’t even schedule a massage, class, or get-together because there’s no way to know on Wednesday if I will be working 7am-3pm or 3pm-11pm on Sunday. 

But I am learning a lot about dogs this summer! From dog food to dog harnesses! But mostly, I’m learning a lot about dog owners. I’m learning that most of them don’t know anything about dogs.

For two days I visited friends in State College, Pennsylvania. What a magical place! The rolling hills, misty skies, creative and friendly people, birds flying above and salamanders scampering below….Shaver’s Creek is still amazing, but it’s undergoing a huge overhaul so the building is off-limits now. 

To learn more, visit: http://www.shaverscreek.org

My friends and I counted all the passing Birkenstocks (They’re back!), discussed if it’s better to swerve to avoid wildlife on the road or just ram them, wasted about $15 on an old Frogger arcade game, drank homemade beer, and played with, of course, lots of dogs. I also got to witness my first log get milled, and when I visit next, it will probably be the siding to a barn to house the very milling machine that cut it. 

Another Pine bites the sawdust

Oh, and I saw one of these "driving" down the street!


A huge homegrown kohlrabi is sitting in my fridge so that I can keep PA a part of me until I head to Panama in August.  

Every time I go there I surprise myself by how at-home I feel. Does one have to be either a country person or a city person? Until I figure that out, I'm glad NYC and State College are only 4 hours away, though they often feel like different planets. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Endallah Cultural Tours - Village Visit

            Today after breakfast at the Lutheran Guesthouse we head to Endallah. At the top of a hill we stop and are met by a middle-aged man wearing bright green pants and shirt.  His name is John and he’s our hiking and village guide. We leave Paul in the truck behind us as we proceed on foot for a 2.5 hour journey through Lambo Village’s hills to Endallah.  John is a very friendly and philosophical tailor from Endallah with great English. Besides showing us the various plants and their unique properties (such as fiber for rope, antidotes for snake and scorpion attacks, and glue) he gives his insight.
“When you hear ‘America,’ what do you think of first?” I ask. He doesn’t say what I expect.  I expect something like “Obama,” “Hollywood,” “McDonalds,” or “New York,” but instead he says “Mosquito nets. Everyone here has one thanks to the US.”
He continues, “’Mwazungu’ is one sound away from ‘Mungu,' God.” You white people, you Mwazungu, are like Gods to us.”  I recoil and attempt to blow aside such a bold statement, but he makes a serious face.
“My friend, let me explain.” He continues to tell us that the US holds so much power over their lives. We can give them life or take it away. We have the money, the medicines, the technology, and the Bomb.
“We look up to you. We need your help. We all need to work together to help the poor people of Africa.” He explains that in his mind all the people of the world are connected like water pipes. The people of his village can lay all the metaphorical pipe they want, but without a source from which to supply what is needed, they will die. 
For a moment I explain that people like me and Zach don’t actually have this “godlike” power ourselves, and that the US has many problems and its own poverty, but he closes his eyes and shakes his head. “You have power here.”
 We are his first Americans, possibly the first ever to visit Endallah. John said he prayed about our visit the night before. He clearly is very optimistic about the future and sees his role as village tour guide to Westerners as a service to his people. Throughout our 2 days together he tells many stories of Europeans funding projects in the village and his affection to them and gratitude for their efforts. More than once he says that he prays good will come to Endallah from our visit.
It’s very interesting to talk about world affairs with Tanzanian people in the throes of poverty and development. For me, folks here are not predictable in their opinions, especially of the US. For example, I asked two men what they thought of Trump, and while neither thought much of him as a decent person, they both did say they liked what he was reported to say about Africa needing to get “re-colonized.”* That made me do a double take. They explained that after decades of suffering so much under corrupt leadership and fake democracies, for many Africans, ousting the current leadership and being a colony doesn’t seem so bad (their own version of "draining the swamp" I suppose).
When John asks about problems in the US, I get to talking about the legacy of American slavery, and he says, “At least you didn’t castrate them like the Arab slavers. Comparatively, in the US, slaves had a good life!” I reassure him that many slaves gave their lives fighting for their freedom, but his attention is on the passing herds of goats, twittering birds, and setting sun. Nothing can shake his faith in America, and I discontinue my attempt to give nuance to his optimism. Zach and I exchange words about being extra friendly, as the first Americans here, and so I smile and accept his praise of my country without further contradictions.
John intersperses local botany lessons with history and culture. He details how the Iraqw and Maasai used to fight, but 45 years ago were able to bury the hatchet through astute leadership and diplomacy. He tells us about sheep sacrifices to bring rains, cure plagues, and put an end to personal conflicts. He speaks of how all the different religions get along. He continues alluding to that someday, somehow, our visit would help his people. I smile and say I’m happy to be here, but a piece of me inside is very uncomfortable with someone putting so much emotional stock in my value as an American who happens to be passing through his town. I hope at least our fees through Endallah Cultural Tours are funding the water projects currently in progress.
We visit several water pumps that have been built through Belgian support (though 20% locally funded and 100% locally maintained).  These pumps are especially vital now as climate change has dried up their traditional water source, a river that began disappearing in the 90s and is now completely dry.
As we walk through the village, we greet folks in Iraqw: “Lao-WAI!” Quite a lark for everyone I say it to. “DAY-lo,” I say to say goodbye and rouse a smile or chuckle from all who hear. “Na’AHS,” thank you, I say to those who let us photograph or converse with them.
Zach is invited to jump into a pit of dirt and sand where a group of dashing young men are shoveling. Before you can say “Mwazungu!” he’s in there. They seem to enjoy watching Zach do their work for them for a minute. I use my feminine daintiness as an excuse for abstaining and instead take pictures. They demand a group shot and ask us to mail it back to them some day. Before Zach can artificially lower these lads’ wages through his free immigrant labor, we coax him out of the pit and continue on our way. We stroll through the village center and see a small vegetable market, salon, pool hall, and clinic.
The doctor, Emmanuel, shows us all the rooms in the clinic, from registration to maternity to pharmacy. I find the family planning and birthing rooms very interesting. The birthing room has a practice mannequin baby, and the family planning room has various birth control methods hanging on the wall.  "What is that one?" says the doctor as he points to the IUD. And then he points to the female condom package displayed. "Never heard of this." I squeal silently in my head and hope that he is not the family planning doctor of this clinic. 
The clinic is horribly under-resourced; even half the mattresses lack covers and are just exposed foam. It seems to have very important medicines and staff, but the need for beds, working toilets, and sterilization is jarring.
After saying goodbye to the doctor we drive up the rocky road to Manyara Viewpoint to watch the sunset and have some beer and popcorn. Instead of the sunset, though, my eyes are mostly focused on the quickly approaching sky of dust. We cut our picnic short to avoid getting engulfed in the cloud. 30 minutes of descent filled with cows, goats, children shouting “Mwazungu!”, and folks packing in for the night go by. When we reach the bottom, John takes us to a shop and ask us to pick out some fabric. He wants to thank us by sewing a shirt and dress for us to take home. “When you wear it in America, you will think of me and my people.”
We select a bolt, pay $12, and bid him farewell. “I’ll do my magic tonight,” he says.

I wish continued peace and development to Endallah, and prosperity and long lives to John and his family.   
Thanks for the new clothes, John!

*I can't confirm if Trump actually said this.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Crashing through brilliance
With awkward, weighty stumbles,
Hot, steamy blood pierce aching lungs,
Deliciously aching,
A billion microscopic icy sparklers jitterbug with blood cells.
Exhilarated, snow pants stitches burst with sticky vapors and
Wooly scarf strands seep with untamable mucus.

Trashing the landscape,
Desecrating the purity,
High pitched squeals of felicity
Chase the silence.
The forms move aimlessly,
Creating, destroying,
Loving, losing, and
Re-born, re-born, and re-born again.

My head now meets the icy pillow,
Old friend,
Neglected friend,
Waiting at the corner of the driveway.
Airy puffs slink upwards towards the salted blackness.

Stomping about, stumbling in circles,
Then stopped to stare at the strange fleshy stone,
Still and sad.
“Get up!” Heave ho.
“Wake up!” One, Two, Hoist!

But, so heavy, too heavy, for ghosts to carry.

In exile,

I watch the revival of the romp,
The boundless jest.
Not a backwards glace
Bids farewell.
After all, how could she comprehend it? How could she have known it?
This rival phantom that jails my chest,
Unlearns my inheritance of secrets,
And guides a cold hand into my pocket 
To wrap its fingers around the orange plastic bottle,
To coat my insides with Kevlar

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Wheels on the Bus

I love taking the bus here.  On the nearby main road, you never have to wait long because the bus population is so healthy, and it costs but a joyous 6 rupees ($0.10) to ride one within the areas I frequently venture to.

For whatever reason, the bus so far is the one place where I have not been coddled as a cute, confused tourist.  My lack of Malayalam language competence (and general incompetence) is not as entertaining to the locals in the bus as it is off it.  It's unfortunate for them, then, that it is precisely on the bus that I have needed to learn some lessons via trail and error.

Lesson 1: Not all bus rides cost the same

When I found out I could get from my volunteering site to yoga class on a bus for 6 rupees instead of on a rickshaw for 60-80 rupees (after arguing the price down), I started taking the bus everywhere.  Within one week I considered myself quite the expert, taking it to and fro without discrimination.

So one day I got on a bus, sat down, gave my 6 rupees to the ticket holder, and when he proceeded to just stand there starring at me with his hand out, I got confused.  "What?" I asked in Malayalam.  With that one utterance every passenger turned their head to see what was going on.  "Dikati Doo Bop Kata Doop," is essentially what my brain registered as his response.  I looked into everyone's gazing eyes, hoping to find some hints of what I should do, but found none.  So, "ticket, please," is what I decided to say, with my palm outstretched.  "Nikatina bikitina noroodoo karniday kadram," is what I took away from his response, and upon seeing my wide-eyed silence for an answer, it was then his turn to look around awkwardly, hoping that someone would help him beam his thoughts into my head.  Tired of whatever it was he was trying to pull I mustered up all my language skills and said, pointing at his collection of tickets, "1 ticket is 6 rupees, correct?!"  He grunted and ripped off a ticket for me.  By the time all this transpired, it was time for me to get off.

A couple minutes later I walked into my room and told Karen about this weird guy on the bus.  Immediately and matter-of-factly, she said, "Well you know some busses cost different than others, right? If you're going more than a certain number of kilometers, or if it's air conditioned..."

"Now that you say that, maybe this bus was air conditioned..."

"Well," Karen said. "There you go. Those are 10 rupees."

Lesson 2: Bus Protocol for Rainy Days

It's monsoon season, and that means rain.

In Trivandrum, women and men do not sit next to each other on the bus.  I've yet to see any circumstance that has pushed the two sexes into the same seat.  While this space is never breached, the respect for personal space between women and women is nonexistent.  I've put my head back and rested them on a woman's knuckles.  She was holding on to the seat in front of her and even having a head bonk upon them for twenty minutes didn't entice her to move them the inch or two apart she would have needed to not be touching me.  On a crowded bus, I once had a woman put her purse down directly on my lap while taking 2 minutes to put away her phone and search for her fare.

So on this particular rainy night I was shocked to see the entire women's side of the bus have exactly one woman on each seat, each lady's bottom scooted as far to the center aisle as possible.  I strolled down the aisle, waiting for someone to scoot over to the window side to let me in, or at least move their legs in or something to let me cross over them to sit down.  Not a single passenger offered to be my bus buddy.  "How rude!" I thought. Not wanting to look like a push-over and resort to standing, I rolled my eyes, threw my hands up in a gesture of disbelief and turned to the lady next to me.

"Excuuuuuse me."

She gave me an apathetic look and allowed me to slip by her to take my seat by the window.  I brushed some raindrops off the seat which had snuck in through the open windows and sat down with a miniature huff.

Not 3 seconds later the bus started rolling along and I was immediately hit with a face full of rain.  "Gah!" I shouted.  With eyes clenched shut and dribbling water out my mouth I grabbed my things and stumbled as gracefully as I could over my neighbor and back into the aisle.  After wiping my face I presented my humblest face to the snickering crowd and silently stood, waiting for my stop.

A Final Story About Street Animals

Last week we found a paralyzed kitten on the street in front of a shop, continued on to class, and 5 hours later found him moved slightly away from the store front. We weren't sure at first sight if he was still alive.  Once we gave him a pat, though, his top-half became quite chipper (he even ate a bit of food), but his bottom half was covered in filth and dangling lifelessly.

We found some cardboard on the street, cradled him up, and grabbed a rickshaw. He wasn't scared even a bit. During the ride, the kitty actually became very friendly and even gave a head butt.  He started kneading Karen's lap and licking himself just like any lap cat.  He was very sweet, and seemed comfortable enough once taken out of the unfriendly elements.  

It only cost 5 rupees ($0.08) to see the vet, and we only had to wait about 20 minutes for the consultation. It was a fast-paced, no-frills, no-privacy facility, but we were just happy to have someone help us out. We ignored the growing group of on-lookers and cellphone photographers.  After a quick exam, the vet confirmed paralysis and recommended euthanasia.  We were sent to the pharmacy with a prescription for the drugs, which came to 65 rupees ($1.08).  We asked Karen to stand outside because she was getting very emotional, and I agreed to stick with the buddy 'till the end.  The vet stood with the syringe in his hand and looked at me curiously. "How long have you known this cat?" He asked. "Just today," I answered. He replied, "Then why is she so upset?" I explained that we were just very sensitive about animals, but that we'll be fine.  He wanted me to leave too, but I said I wanted to stay.  Lots of people with their nice pets were watching, but they were polite enough to give space and not ask questions for those 4 or 5 minutes while I waited for the end to pass.  Once it seemed to be done, I called the vet over and he confirmed it.  They did not have a way to take care of the body, so he wrapped the buddy in some newspaper and returned him to us.  "You should get her a different cat," the vet said.

In the rare chance that a Trivandrum resident or tourist is reading this, here are links to relevant organizations:
Raksha (a local animal welfare group) Helpline: 09544923030

Friday, June 28, 2013

How Much is that Doggy in the Gutter?

Street dogs are a daily sight in Thiruvanathapuram, and while most are terrified of humans and flee at the sight of us, Karen and I occasionally meet dogs of the following two dispositions: 1) so pregnant that they wouldn't get up if their chance at a lifetime supply of bacon depended on it, and 2) cutie-patootie-silly-butts.

Most Indians seem to ignore the dog (and cat) population, but some react in curious ways.  Today we saw an happy little puppy, no bigger than 6 lbs, and a couple teenage boys stopped in their tracks at the sight of it, with nervous looks on their faces, and switched to the other side of the street.  While we fed him a treat and let him jump up to bat our fingers they stared at us with anxiety, as if they were watching us toy with the wirings of a bomb. 

There is one dog near our place that Karen and I have befriended.  She "belongs" to a nearby homeless man, and every time she sees one of us, even from far away, she trots up to us and sits down very prettily right by our feet.  She's gentle, patient, friendly, and cuddly.  Karen has affectionately named her "Mimi" for our purposes.  We see her nearly every day, and she always gets a good petting, sweet-talking, and food.

While it seems like a good amount of people keep, befriend, and provide food for the more friendly dogs, we have yet to see the displays of affection or kinship that we're used to seeing Americans give their pets.  For this reason, when we're petting or feeding a dog, we've had people snap pictures of us, take video, laugh at us, or ask us what we are doing.  Karen was even approached for an interview with a newspaper!  And old ladies tend to scold us. 

The city is an ever-changing, complex organism, and the crows, cockroaches, rats, giant snails, pigeons, cows, cats, and dogs all seem to have their place.  No matter what culture we are in, I don't think we'll ever be able to, or want to, see the animals that we regard as companions in the USA as anything but worthy, whenever possible, of our affection.  No matter how crazy we look to the locals!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Any Time is Brad Pitt Time

With the duties of the day finished-up by 1:30PM, the four of us Malayalam students decided to go see World War Z at the nearby Anjali theater.  Rickshaws are only allowed to carry 3 passengers, but for an extra 10 rupees he agreed to exceed the limit. 

I felt very happy when we got to the ticket counter and saw that the price for the 3D movie (2D wasn't available unfortunately (what has the world come to?!)) was a mere 90 rupees ($1.50).  Oh, happy day!  How far back into American history do we have to go before the price of a picture show was that low?


I didn't know anything about the movie, but I did know that a Mr. Brad Pitt was starring.

And you can't argue with that.

The lobby was only semi-indoors, so men were smoking right outside the theater and pigeons were scuttling about picking up loose bits of popcorn.  There was a distinct lack of estrogen. In fact, there were no ladies to be seen other than us!

I later learned that there was a special women's seating area, and indeed at the end of the film I saw 3-4 women emerge from wherever they were cloistered away. Perhaps they talk less during movies, so I'll search for this special area next time I "splurge" on a cinema (what they call a "movie" here).

While the movie was typical Hollywood fare, of course, a couple matters were run differently at the theater. One fun difference was when Brad kissed his on-screen wife goodbye (the only kiss of the flick), the audience clapped and whistled!  The big, dramatic, triumphant walk Brad takes at the climax also elicited more than a couple seconds of hoots, claps, and whistles.  In America, I don't think more than snickers and the occasional guffaw is appreciated in the theater. I didn't like the constant chatter of the guys behind us (there weren't any subtitles, so maybe the talking parts were boring for those with less-than-stellar English - but still...) but I enjoyed this extra bit of audience participation and joined along.

The last difference was confusing at first.  Apparently, even if a film is just standard Hollywood length (almost inevitably 75% the length of the average Indian movie), they include an intermission.  Where the audience is in the movie does not, however, appear to influence the timing of the intermission.  We were in the middle of a gripping helicopter get-a-way in Jerusalem with zombies hanging off the skids when suddenly the screen went black, the lights came up, and everyone started to leave.  Without so much as a "Let's All Go to the Lobby" to help us out, we just did what we always do - follow the Indian. We found the lobby bumping with people rushing for snacks and drinks. Karen was so excited to find a clean, empty restroom with no line that she wanted to take a commemorative picture.

Intermission was short, so we headed back right away and finished the picture.

On our way home, we made a quick 2-hour stop to Karen's favorite gold jewelry boutique, Bhima

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Awkward Church-Going

Thiruvananthapuram is approximately 20% Christian. I wanted to check out what a church service here in Kerala was like.  Even though it was early, I decided to go to the Christ Church of South India because 1) they had a website, 2) they seemed to be pretty involved in the community, and 3) I was pretty sure I would have no idea how to act in a Syrian Orthodox Mass.

I woke up with just enough time to get ready and walk the 3 km to the 7:15 service, and in my hustle I forgot to bring my umbrella.  So far we have only needed to use our umbrellas two or three times, so I didn't think much of it.  Even when I got outside and there was a little drizzle, I continued on without worry.  But by the fifth minute of my journey, the rain was plummeting down relentlessly in heavy sheets. Every Indian I passed was protected by an umbrella, and I received many a stare and snicker as I found myself shuffling along, drenched to the bone like a fool.  I arrived at the church just in time, armed with a lofty WWJD speech prepared in my head should I be turned away for being waterlogged and caked with street grime.  I was, however, simply handed a hymnal and gestured inside.

I wrung my clothes off best I could and entered. Quickly I realized a couple things: 1) It was very crowded, 2) all the women were on the right and all the men were on the left, 3) I was the only non-Indian, and 4), strangely, no one else was sopping wet.

The 105-minute-long service was pretty unremarkable.  It was all in English and most of the serviced followed word for word what was in the hymnal. Communion, however, was an interesting affair. Ladies got to go up first, and as every woman stepped into the aisle they covered their heads with a shawl.  I had a shawl pinned to my shoulders, and I knew I looked pretty silly trying to flip a side up over my head because some of the choir girls were covering up their smiles with their hands as I approached.  I joined the line of women kneeling before the alter and a man put a host in each of our right hands.  Then another man came around with a cup of wine and a tiny spoon and dropped a bit of wine from the spoon into the women's open mouths.  My wafer was stuck to the roof of my mouth but my turn came quickly so I opened my mouth and awaited the drink.  The man muttered something I didn't understand so I opened my eyes to find him looking down at me, waiting.  "Hm?" I peeped.  "You must finish the bread first," he said.  "Oh," I replied.  I tried to scrape it off the roof of my mouth with my tongue as a dog does when given peanut butter, but it just wasn't budging.  I glanced back up at him, pathetically. "It's stuck."

I contemplated scraping it off with a finger, but luckily it started to just dissolve on its own so it didn't come to that. Soon after he let me have a couple drops from his tiny wine ladle.

When the service was dismissed an older woman ascertained that I was here alone and then grabbed me by the arm and bombarded me with questions such as "What's your name? What are you doing here? Where are you from? Where are you staying?  Who is your teacher? What do you study? Why Malayalam? What is your church back home? What do you do in the States? Do you know this or that other white person who lives in India? etc, etc"  I was happy no one asked about my soggy state. She introduced me to about 8 other people, all of whom asked me the same questions.  Three asked for my email address so they could get in touch with me about visiting their schools (at least half the people I met were teachers), volunteering, or letting me know about church events in the future.  I was invited to join the youth group after the service, which visits orphanages, prisons, and homes for the handicapped 3 times a month. I schmoozed for about 45 minutes, and when I started to head back out for home a woman grabbed my arm and took my face in her hands, scolding me for walking around without an umbrella.  She made her son drive me back to the hotel, where I promptly saw Karen waving me into the breakfast room.  There I ordered a hot cup of my new favorite drink of malted buffalo milk: Horlicks

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Welcome to Thiruvananthapuram - The Land of Very Intense Hospitality

The flight from Mumbai to Trivandrum was delayed by about 30 minutes.  I had people waiting to pick me up at the airport, so I was a little concerned for them, but for me that just meant more time to sit with my mango lassi and read The Hobbit.

I joined the swarm of fellow passengers when our boarding began.  Not too surprisingly, I was the only  westerner heading to the TRV airport.  When my turn came to hand my pass to the ticket-taker, his hands flew to the computer and within 3 seconds he had punched various keys and scribbled a new seat assignment onto my card: 1F.  "It's ok?" he asked.  "Uh, sure," I replied unintelligently.

The bus to the airplane was like a sweaty armpit on wheels. Luckily, it lasted less than 15 minutes and there was a cute baby in a baseball cap right in front of me to gaze upon.

I settled into 1F, which, while in the front row, appeared to be the same "class" as all the other seats.  I kept getting passed by all the other passengers and by the time the cabin doors were closed, I was the only person seated in the first six rows. There was a crowd of Indian passengers stacked shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of the plane and I had enough room in front to play Twister with a cow.

The drink and food service began.  It was a short 2-hour flight, so I assumed the drinks would be free but the food would cost money.  The flight attendant asked if I would like a meal.  "Does it cost extra?" I asked. "Yes," she replied, "But the captain says you may have it complimentary."

I've never turned down a free meal in my life, and I wasn't about to start then.  I thought maybe because the flight was delayed we were getting free food, but looking behind me I didn't see everyone else eating anything.

After we landed and as everyone started exiting the plane, two flight attendants took me by the arms and asked with wide eyes and kindergarten teacher-like voices, "Would you like to see the cockpit? The captain has invited you."

I explained I had people waiting for me and that we were already late, and dismissed myself. Hopefully I didn't disappoint the captain too terribly.