Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Water April 23 2009

It was most disturbing today to see a man drinking water. It wasn’t just any water, he was a thin man, partially clad in dirty clothes, couched down with a small plastic tea cup dipping into the open sewer system, drinking the dirty dark green water.

There are so many battles to fight here, what can one do?


Today I got the company motorcycle to use to get me to and from my accommodation. As usual I went out to dinner with Mohan and we didn’t leave the restaurant until about 9pm. It was dark outside and the streets were bustling with people cows and vehicles. I made it home safely, dodging all these challenges. Many objects, including people, cows, bicycles, auto-rickshaws, cars and trucks don’t use (or have) their lights at night. It’s an interesting challenge.

Mandir Sunday April 26, 2009

I went up the mountain to the highest temple with Mohan. It was great up there. A gentle breeze cooled us down and the views were wonderful. One man who spoke some English told us about the temple but mostly about how he is not satisfied with his work and is in training for a better career.

See the views at: http://picasaweb.google.ca/lh/sredir?uname=takefman&target=ALBUM&id=5329302756595325969&authkey=Gv1sRgCNKuv-6z_vCH7AE&authkey=Gv1sRgCNKuv-6z_vCH7AE&feat=email

Traffic April 28, 2009

Had to stop on the road because two bulls where having a fight in the street and blocked all traffic. Then a large herd of goats stopped everyone.

“It is easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.” Alfred Adler

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Accommodation and the Start

Temporary Accommodation Number 3

The first was the KK Hotel. The first night was like sleeping in an oven so I moved into an air conditioned suite which was just fine for the second night.

The third night was on a mattress in the founders office floor. Again, not the most comfortable or coolest.  The amount of effort that was being taken to try to make me feel ok left me no choice but to feel ok.  Maybe it’s some sort of conspiracy.

The fourth night was, and you’re not going to believe this as it was a running joke in Delhi that I would have a lodging besides a camel stall.  Well, pretty close, the small room, about 8 x 10 feet with a high ceiling and lots of geckos, was adjacent to a storage center for camel carts. This complex, just 7 kilo meters outside of Barmer was the center for a camel and cart project.  They made up the room pretty nice, with a carpet and a nicely made double bed. They put in a fridge and a cooler machine, sort of a cheap air conditioner except it blows moist air out. I don’t understand the concept, as I always thought that when you increase the humidity you feel warmer, but this device makes you feel cooler as long as you keep it filled with water.  Somebody explain it to me please.


Along with the room is my driver who is looking out for me.  We don’t speak each others language but we seem to getting along fine.  He helped me put up my pictures of the family on the wall and move the fridge into the small unlit kitchen.  He will, I just found out, sleep on  the cement floor beside my bed tonight. He also helped me unpack and I have to say this, when I pulled out a roll of toilet paper, he looked puzzled at what it was.  He took the roll and examined it and seemed to have no clue.  I must come from a very advanced culture or something with such high tech gadgets such as toilet paper.


I walked out down the road to see the stars and at first I couldn’t find the big dipper. After studying the formations I finally found it and for some reason, and this is why I didn’t see it at first, it appeared about half the size I know it to be, and it wasn’t the little dipper either.  Must be this desert air.


"Behind every successful man is a woman, behind her is his wife. " - Groucho



Mohan and Accommodation

Mohan  (April 15, 2009)

Mohan is from Singapore.  His parents were Indian and they left India before he was born.  So Mohan looks like an Indian, except that he doesn’t speak Hindi.  He works for a gas company and is here on business for a month or so.  When we met on the way up to the Kalinga Hotel restaurant we said hello and both recognized that we each spoke English.  He was very happy to find someone he could speak to. We went up to the roof top restaurant (it’s non-veg) and shared a dinner together of tikka chicken and beer while we watched the rats crawl up and down the pipes. We talked about everything including his experience in India which he said made him cry for the first time in his life.  He had travelled all over the world working on various projects but India, his ancestral homeland was unlike any other he had seen. The poverty and suffering touched him in a new way.  As well he had run into a succession of bad luck, such as being ripped off and what we called Delhi Belly, but in Barmer I guess we can call it Barmer Belly.



Yesterday I was taken to what was going to be my new accommodation.  I was told it was only a couple of kilo meters away, walking distance to the office.  Well, just as Indian time is not related to Western time, so it is with distance. About seven kilo meters out of Barmer we turned into an empty sand coloured compound. A row one story cement rooms lay to our right and another directly in front of us. We went to look at one  the “apartments”.  It had a small entry room with a bathroom attached on one side and a kitchen on the other.  It was being painted and the painters spared no concern about getting paint on everything that didn’t need paint.  So while the walls were a pleasant sand coloured yellow, the floors, kitchen counter, and bathroom walls and floors were speckled with numerous drippings.  I was told that they were going to put in a western toilet, a fridge, a bed and a wardrobe.  But all these things would leave very little space to move.  Also, because of the distance from town and markets, they said I could use the “company” motor cycle or take the bus which runs every hour.  I didn’t say anything at this point as I let the whole idea settle in. Also because I think they were being very sincere in wanting to get me a comfortable accommodation. So I let it go for then.

When we got back to the office I was told that there was another accommodation right next door and I went to look at that with a few of the gentlemen around.  It was a school for the blind and we walked up to an open terrace which I was told I could sleep on.  Then we walked up to the roof top where it was indicated that I could stay there too. Just an open roof top, no shelter, water, electricity, anything. I wasn’t sure what was going on.

That night I slept on a mattress in the office. Some of the guys brought in water cooling machine that fans a cooling mist of water into the air.  It worked fine until it ran out of water in the middle of the night and then only supplied hot air.  I found a bucket in the WC and filled it.  A bucket was not the right thing to use as I spilled a lot of water onto the rug in the process.  But I was not concerned with this as I knew that it would be dry in a few hours, due to the dry heat.

Today I will discuss finding another accommodation as well as getting VSO India to kick in some rupees so that we can find a more accommodating place in Barmer. Then I will make train reservations to go back to Delhi to get a root canal.  Oh, I didn’t mention that did I?


"Room service? Send up a larger room." Groucho


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

First 1.5 hours in Barmer

First 1.5 hours in Barmer, Rajasthan

Now I could say that I was picked up and put in a hotel because my accommodation wasn’t ready, after which I went for an hour walk then went back to my hotel room and ordered some food and then rested.  But that doesn’t nearly tell the story.

The train pulled into Barmer Station and gentleman opposite me, who hadn’t said a word for the whole trip, helped me with my bags as I set off down the narrow corridor of the train, often getting my overstuffed pack stuck. Within 30 seconds upon hitting the station platform a young tall man approached and asked if I was Mark.  Let me jump ahead for a moment, I think I’m the only white person in Barmer.  I’m virtually a one man parade,  so it was not too hard for him to identify me, but more on that later.  The man introduced himself as Anil and in English as good as my Hindi told me to wait.  He then went off to fetch Lata Kachhawaha, an elderly lady with a very pleasant smile who welcomed me to Barmer.  She explained that this was a holiday and my accommodation (which she said was a house, but house home apartment all mean the same thing so I won’t know until I know) wouldn’t be ready for two days so I would stay in a hotel.  Then the beggars came and even Lataji (her first name is Lata but you add ji to show respect, so for instance Katie becomes Katie-ji) had trouble keeping them away.  Then I was ushered into a big jeep-like kind of vehicle, of which there’s lots of here, and driven to the K.K. Hotel on what I can only describe as main street.   The room they assigned me was small and similar to the one I had in Delhi, except it had a TV.  There was no shower head and the toilet was western style but the seat was lying beside the porcelain.  The room was hot and later when I picked up my water bottle the water inside was not warm, it too was hot.  I was not able to sleep that night as I felt as if I was in an oven.

First impressions of Barmer:  It’s India inside of India.  It’s a whole new place with some similar aspects but many more differences than what I had just experienced in Delhi.  Ok, let me start with the way the women dress: to colours are so vibrant and mixed you almost feel like you’re staring into the sun.  I learnt that very bright colours are worn by married women and the darker colours by unmarried woman.  The married women also wear while arm bangles. The teekha (red dot between the eyebrows) are for decorative purposes only but a red colour at the top of the forehead at the hair line indicates a married woman as well.  And the sun by the way was intense. The heat difference was immediately felt, but it was also a pleasant dry heat and the pollution was noticeably missing.  However, I feel intensely hot without my hat on.

I headed up the street, a bustling avenue with lots of small open faced stores.  I thought I’d see if I could find an internet store but no such luck.  I was already used to be stared at so I was not uncomfortable walking around.  At times someone (always a man except in one instance) would try to tak to me: where am I from?  what am I doing here? what’s my name?  In any case that’s about as much as I can reply to right now.  Many people from their stores nodded and I would say Namaste and put my hands together in greeting. I had walked off the main drag and down some industrial type street. You can’t even imagine these so there’s some pics on the links to follow. I  was signalled into to talk all along the way.  The signal they use looks more like go away with the palm up and the fingers waving downward.  I went into one place and a young man about 18 spoke to me with his  little English and we did the formalities.  He invited in to meet others in the shop, or whatever, I’m not quite sure what the place was.  There was a Rajasthani man there in white turban.  He was introduced to me as a Rajasthani so I assume he is from a local tribe.  The next question that was put to me was what my caste was.  I told them I have no caste but that didn’t seem to go over well.  One person showed me the signing of the cross and I understood he was asking if I was a Christian and I had to disappoint him.  The Rajasthani man allowed me to take his picture and then gave me his turban to try on.  Pictures on the web: Mark’s first turban.

A young girl, I’d say around 12 said hello and asked my name.  But it became evident that that was the only English she spoke.  So she ran ahead and gathered up about 8 of here friends who all yelled out to me: Hello, what is your name?  Parents in the background smiled.  Many others looked my way and said hello.  I started to feel very welcome here, everyone seemed so friendly.

Back at the hotel I asked the front clerk if he could get me some food, some rice and dhal which he did get some sent up with all sorts of spices and onions about ten minutes later.  After lunch I brought the tray back down along with some clothes that I needed ironing for tonight I will be picked up to meet my employer and have our first interview.  Wish me luck.


The simplest questions are the most profound.

Where were you born?  Where is your home?  Where are you going? What you are doing?

Think about these once in a while, and watch your answers change. (R. Bach)




Farewell and Moving On


One day in Hindi class Joe and I decided to write a class song with Hindi words. So that evening we got together and in an amazing no time flat we put some guitar and dulcimer chords and words together, English of course.  The song reflected some of the crazy sentences we were making in class and also alluded to my condition when I went back to class after being frozen from some dental work. We liked the tune from the start and started practicing.  Soon some of our other class mates came in and we all started singing and refining the arrangement including adding some Hindi lines thanks to Michael. We practiced long and then once more in the morning in the class room before our teacher Anu came in.  And when she did we were ready for her.  Here are words minus the Hindi:


A Class of Your Own Ó2009

J. Spence, M. Takefman, M. Rosenkrantz


Anu was our teacher in the pickled Hindi class

It was there that she taught us to speak

She taught us the words and to conjugate the verbs

And we were fluent by the end of the week


Now I know my future and I know my past

My present and intransitives for sure

And though we turn up late

Our vocab is great

But pronunciation is still a little poor



Anu I know you are in a class of your own

Please bear with me for a while

My mouth is on sedation

Since my mind went on vacation

And my tasty wife is tasting pretty vile


We talk about the camels and how the trains walk slow

We talked about the Indian daily life

And we also talked a lot about how Kate likes to shop

But most of all about Joe’s tasty wife.



A private taxi arrived to pick me up to take me to the Old Delhi train station.  I was told he would speak some English, and he did know at least two words.  With my few words in Hindi we had some sparkling conversations.

The station was packed. No it was sardined. People on the floor with their luggage and everything else as far as the eye could see.  The sounds of yelling and that general hum of people echoed through the thick hot air.  It was a dark place where no one has a right of way so you make your own and you struggle upstream, constantly.  My driver indicated that I follow him and he got me to the right platform before he left me to re park his car. He said he’d be back in five minutes.  The train was not in the station yet so I found a comfy spot on some large burlap crates and waited.  I was soon approached by a group of young Koreans looking for direction.  They spoke no Hindi and their English was minimal so there I was posing as the Old Delhi Train Station Information Center spokesman.  It turned out they were on the same train as me and so we started to talk.  The guy I spoke to was a 22 year old man. At one point he asked me which Hindu Gods did I like, a strange question I thought. It turned out that he identifies himself with the God Ganesh, which believe it or not, he looks like. Then came the traditional taking of pictures.  Cameras were handed around and it took some of them they took some of me with them and so on.

Finally the train pulled in and the insane mad rush to get on board began.  My driver had come back and helped me with my bags and to find my coach number and seat position: window seat, lower berth, just great.



I saw my first camel from the train.  Just a quick glimpse of one pulling a cart.  After that they started showing up everywhere. In fields, on roads.  The land we travel across is bleak yet there is ample signs that there is some sort of farming going one. Fields are tilled but barren, perhaps waiting for the monsoons and winter rains to come.

Across from me on the train I met Ravi Pruthi, an engineer going out somewhere in Rajasthan to commission a boiler.  He is  27, single, living with his parents and I sense takes some delight in the fact that he is not married, even though he admits his parents pester him about this daily.  He tells me, as someone coming from Delhi, that the Rajasthanians are much nicer than those in Delhi.  I tell him I have found all Indians to be very friendly.  But he insists that in Rajasthan they are more honest.  I guess I will have to live in the culture for a while to see his point.


Live never to be ashamed if anything you do or say is published around the world – even if what is published is not true. (R. Bach)




Thursday, April 9, 2009

Link to Last Week In Delhi Pictures

Last Week In Delhi


“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are part of one another and all involved in one another.”  -  Thomas Merton


Saturday, April 4, 2009

One More Thing April 4

Yesterday, the ISI receptionist Michael offered me the use of his motorcycle. At first I was a bit hesitant, should I really take his bike out? And what about the traffic and crazy driving?  Well I have been studying the driving patterns and strategies of the auto-rickshaw drivers and this is what I’ve concluded.  Driving in Delhi is a lot like playing Tetris, that video game where your control odd shaped pieces to fall down into slots.  The only difference is that the whole screen and everything else is moving at the same time.  Really simple actually.  And they pass on the inside, just like we do in the West, so I took Michael’s key and helmet and went for a ride.  The first thing I had to contend with is that his type of motorcycle does not use the gear shifter in the normal fashion.  Instead of one gear up above neutral and the rest down, his bike had all the gears down.  Fortunately for me the traffic was light and I soon got the hang of the bike and could then pay attention to the other Tetris pieces around me.  I just went around a very large city block, staying on the left side of course.  The next time Michael is on duty I will borrow his bike again will do a longer ride (and will most likely get lost).


Also yesterday, a group from Orissa moved into the room next door. I keep my door open and they saw and heard me playing my dulcimer and stood at the opening to listen, so I invited them in for a mini concert. One of them fortunately spoke English and told me they were a troop of musicians and theatre people who were going to put on a play tomorrow.  I asked one of them if he wanted to play my dulcimer and he declined indicating that he played the flute. Ah ha, an opening, so I pulled out my three recorders and two new wooden flutes I received for my birthday and gave him one.  He tried for a bit but couldn’t get the recorder fingering.  That was ok because he opened a large black cylinder and poured out about twenty wooden flutes, the side blowing kind. I couldn’t play his either.  So we each played each other a tune on our own instruments and tried to jam but our styles and tunings didn’t help us. So we departed with a smile and a Namaste.


Today the room next door was loud with music.  I knocked and was let in to about 8 people, a harmonium, flutes, drums and singers, including a very young boy who was receiving instruction around a song he was singing.  I listened for a while then left but came back later to be shown how to play one of the drums called a Nissan.  And while I was there they took every opportunity to take pictures of me on the drums with the drum owner.  I was invited to go see their performance tonight at the Muslim center, which I intend to do.


Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.

Don't open the door to the study and begin reading.

Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

- Rumi



Medical Issues April 4

This past week I’ve had exposure to a little bit of the medical community and it’s practices here in Delhi. My tooth filling fell out and I was told of a dentist I could go see, Dr. Teena Bedi. For a  fifteen minute auto-rickshaw drive to her office I first paid 60 rupees, or about $1.50 CDN. (as I discovered today when I actually had the meter turned on, a rare event, I over paid by about 50 cents.)

Dr. Bedi’s office was neat, clean, with beige and brown colour scheme.  It is not the kind of squeaky clean, well lit office you’d find in North America but she had the familiar modern dentistry equipment.  But Dr. Bedi is a very pleasant woman who explained everything she was doing.  The filling was a minor issue as she couldn’t help but notice my most recent extraction (that happened just before I left BC).  The gap in my teeth is hindering my chewing ability and my cheek tissue is often moving into the empty space and being chewed upon.  So we agreed that I have a bridge put in at a cost of 13,500 rupees or about $340 CDN. So the work began.  She took an impression of my teeth and adjusted a filling.  On the next visit she filed down the two adjacent teeth that would hold the bridge and put on temporary caps. Today I went in for a fitting of the bridge but she was not satisfied with the fit and took another impression and I will go back Monday for another fitting before the final installation.

My next incursion was due to one of the volunteers, Patrick, who had just came back from a trip in Nepal and brought with him a very bad gastro-intestinal bacteria that sent him to the hospital.  Patrick is from Amsterdam and has been working in Ranchi for almost a year.  So knowing he was alone here I took off an afternoon class and went to visit him at the hospital. Getting to the hospital was fun too as I took a auto-rickshaw to the closest metro (subway) station to get there.  I had been on the metro before with Michael so I knew the routine.  It’s a modern, clean and air conditioned system that is easy, even for a Westerner to use.  You pay by distance so you buy a token to the station you’re going to.  You slide the token over a sensor on the way in and it opens the gate. On the way out you slide the token over the sensor and then put it in the slot to open the gate. Hence if you went further than you were supposed to the gate won’t let you out.  The hospital from the outside doesn’t resemble a hospital you might recognize, it looked more like a small apartment house with few windows. Inside this small building was the usual lines of people in narrow corridors.  The reception told me where Patrick was and I climbed the stairs to his room.  The hallways were painted an eerie light blue colour.  I knocked and went in to Patrick’s small room, sort of large walk-in closet size with one bed.  There was a TV which Patrick was glad to have, having not watched any for the past 7 months.  During my visit two nurses came in to put a new IV line into him and took his temperature and blood pressure.  Later a young boy came in to ask me if I needed anything like a coffee or drink. Patrick, now having had a good dose of antibiotics was on the mend and was feeling ok when I left him.

Yesterday evening we all went to John’s, a Dutch vol is working here in Delhi, for a party.  John can afford to pay for his own very nice large modern apartment and he treated us all to a fine spread of food and hospitality.

It’s the weekend and I will take it easy, having had some queasy stomach issues from eating too much oily deep fried food.

My advice to you is to get married. If you find a good wife, you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher.  - Socrates