Monday, June 22, 2009

Craig, Eggs and Eating


Craig Cameron is from Aberdeen, Scotland but he now lives with his wife Lisa and three children in Singapore.  He works for VAM, and is Mohan’s switchover.   That is Craig works for a month here then Mohan comes in for a month and then they switchover. Craig is in his early 40’s and shaves his head bald.  Which makes us look like the odd couple when walking down the street, as my hair has grown quite long and I now have a respectable pony tail out back.

Craig is a kind man and as I told him tonight at our regular beer meet, he’s no trouble maker. Actually I used the word “shit disturber” but I didn’t know if I should use that in the BLOG. We spend a lot of eating times together.  He and I often share lunch of a CTM (chicken tikka masala) with rice, nan bread and a sweet lassie. Actually, we eat that almost every day. And it’s beer for dinner, although Craig has a soft spot for Vodka and Pepsi.

Over the past many weeks we have shared our many stories about our family and travels and the things we have come across in our lives and it’s been a real pleasure to get to know him. I hope one day I can visit both him and Mohan in Singapore, the city where they fine you $250 for spitting.


How to Transport Eggs and Make an Omelette

I buy my eggs from a cart vendor on the main street. They cost 3 rupees an egg. At 42 rupees to the CDN dollar, you figure it out.  The vendor puts my usual order of ten eggs into a small black plastic bag and then into another for safe keeping.  I  put the plastic handles of the outer bag around my chin strap of my helmet, allowing the eggs to hang down below my chin.   They transport very safely like this as I manoeuvre in and out and around and up and down in traffic.  Once home I then go into the kitchen and remove my helmet and the eggs fall to the marble floor because I forgot they were there.  This is the second time.  Because they were in a second inside bag the collage inside stayed in place and I managed to pick out all the shells and then make a big omelette with tomatoes, onions and garlic, which I ate over a few meals.


What I Eat At Home

Lots of fruit: I always have a watermelon in the fridge along with mangos and sometimes apples and other fruit of the season.  I keep tomatoes and cucumbers and potatoes in the fridge too. Onions and garlic are on the open shelf. I have Poppers, which we call Pappadums, ketchup (of course), Marmite, chutney, rice, soy stuff, and a variety of soups and ready to make noodles packages.  I keep cashews and peanuts to much on.  I have only one can of tuna and one can of sardines left that Craig brought me from Singapore when he came a month ago.  Mohan, who will be returning promised to bring me some canned crabs.  I like to mix these into the noodle packages and also add the veggies to it as well.

I drink lots of water and like to mix this mango drink (Maaza made by Coke) into the water for flavour. When I can find them, I buy these little boxes of Rose Flavoured Lassies which I also mix 50% with water, as they are too thick and sweet on their own. In Barmer they make a special local lassie which is more like thick yellow custard with its own particular spices added.  And then there’s chai and coffee (the powdered kind).  On the street I drink freshly squeezed orange juice (the oranges here are green) and when I can find it, I buy a fresh coconut and drink the water/juice in it.  At weddings, and at restaurants I eat the regular Indian type foods and in the Indian tradition of eating with your right hand only.  It’s messy but think of all the cutlery that doesn’t have to be washed.  Once you eat this way a few times you will understand why all restaurants here have sinks by the entrance/exit. You wash in and you wash out.   And as I mentioned above, I eat CTM and sometimes some mutton or fish. Fish is rarely found in the desert, apparently they have trouble swimming in the sand.

It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.





Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rain and My Second Wedding


It came early this year.  And a lot of it. How much? Let’s just say I don’t live on a street anymore, it’s now a river. During the evening the river was at least six inches deep.  The cows don’t like it.  The garbage flows quickly down the brown mixture. The sewage system is completely over run so we can estimate what the river contains.  I will use a lot of soap when washing tonight.  That is if the power comes back on and I can pump some water for a shower.  My neighbours ran out of water and I allowed them to take some of mine.  Many bucket loads later I noticed my own well was very low.  So here I am in the dark, low on water, using the last of my computer’s battery life, needing a shower, and listening to the thunder and the rain that is leaking into my house through the plastic over my roof hole. Add to the image two candles weakly burning on a shelf very dimly.

If only I could use the roof as a catch basin, I could have filled the water tank by now.


My Second Wedding

The young man next door is married now. I was invited to various parts of the week long wedding, much of which was unfortunately cancelled due to sand, wind, rain and lightening storms.  But this night I got dressed up in my fancy kurta, actually my only kurta, and my beige linen pants that I had custom made for me in Delhi and went to the feast. I went along with the family on the other side of my house, who I have befriended.  They reminded me that I needed to give the married couple a gift, which is between 50 to 100 rupees in a nice envelope.  The envelope matters and I had to run off to a local shop to get nice one. I gave 100 rupees: admission price. So off we walked just down the street (now a street again now that the water is gone) to a hall off a side street. We walked into the first floor area where the food was being prepared.  It was black with black cooking utensils, pots and pans and people sitting on the ground cooking or making chapattis. And by the way, a roti and a chapattis are the same thing, so I learnt today. Up the stairs to the second story where hundreds of very nicely dressed men, women and children crammed together, eating off plates stuffed with all sorts of good food while being bombarded by VERY LOUD MUSIC.  I got my plate and put my meagre dinner portions on (I don’t normally eat a lot for dinner) and found a place of relative safe to eat and watch the bride and groom be photographed with each guest.  Of course I had my turn too. In this wedding, the groom was dictating all the instructions to the crew and making sure everyone had a picture taken with him and his new wife.  Even though there were numerous ceiling fans, it was very hot inside and you could see everyone was sweating.  I was the only white person there, and many stared at me and some laughed to see me in my Indian kurta.  The kids all know me and came over to shake my hand and say Namaste. Getting to know and play with the kids on my street first has made it easier for their parents to accept this strange foreigner in their midst. (this is another story I’ve yet to tell)  But it’s strange, so many people have told me I look Indian.  I wonder if I should get a genetic profile done.

So we ate, we watched, we were photo’d and we left.  That took about half an hour. I was told that nothing more happens at these events, so why have your ears damaged by staying. You can’t even have a conversation, not that I could have one in any case. 

And one more thing, the bride, a lovely young girl, never smiled.  I asked why: “Because she’s tired.” I was informed.


The world is your exercise-book, the pages on which you do you sums. It is not reality, although you can express reality there if you wish.

You are also free to write nonsense, or lies, or to tear the pages. – Messiah’s Handbook, R. Bach



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Storms, Birds, Weather and Work


I could hardly believe the storms we had last night, first it got dark really fast, and I could hear the kids in the street screaming (with delight) as a sand storm hit us with a fury. You couldn’t' see anything, it was almost like being buried alive in the dunes, then after about an hour of that excitement with sand everywhere, a heavy rain storm made a total mess of the city spreading garbage, sand and mud everywhere.  Newly formed rivers flowed down the street and the cows sought higher perches to get out of the flow.  One was on my front step leaning against my outer wall looking quite miserable. But the air was cleaning up and cooling down.  When that storm subsided, an non-stop horizontal lightening storm began for about three hours. Just was just amazing and quiet.  Only a few rumbles of thunder off in the distance, but there was no thunder from these flashes, just a wonderful fast action display.  All the while, my neighbours had invited me for dinner and we sat on the roof watching the lightening eating chapattis and aloo (potatoes). But as it was so nice and cool after the storm, I slept on the roof and fell asleep watching the last streaks of lightening.



I came home to find a baby bird, fully formed, on the floor in the house.  As I approached it, it tried to fly but was not quite up to it yet.  So I tried to cradle it in my hands to put it outside with it’s parents, who were wildly chirping away.  I was not about to take over that role. I wasn’t able to catch it but did  gently get it onto the front patio and there I left it with Mom and Dad.  I haven’t heard any other sounds from the nest inside, so I guess there was only one bird up there, or one that made it.



So I’m told that now, after the last two months of mid 40’s temperatures, we will have a change of weather: sand storms and rain.  This may last a month, but the rain will continue for a while, when the temperatures will go down to some reasonable levels.  In the winter months, December and January the night temperatures can go down to zero I’m told. So I can hardly wait, maybe I will get to wear my winter clothes.



My basic overview is just about finished now as I settle down to writing my notes and doing my analysis.  I learnt quite a lot from the staff interviews I did and from interviews with some outside Indian NGO consultants.  I have also been letting the administration know of my findings and where I’m going with my proposal both to test the waters of their reactions, which seems favourable to some degree, and to make sure they are not going to be surprised by my comments.  Although there will be some surprises.  My report is due August 1 and I told SURE that if they implemented my suggestions I would stay on to train and mentor as needed.




Monday, June 8, 2009

Parinda / Birds

My house, like all the other houses in this neighbourhood, has an opening in the roof into a room below to let the heat out. There is a metal grid over it so you can’t fall through from the roof, but the birds easily go in an out.


The birds were constantly flying in and out and leaving their droppings in the house. I didn’t like this part of their cuteness.  So I started blocking their entrances and exits. First I covered the hole in the roof with a carpet. That had two other advantages, 1) it kept the dust out, which is major in a desert, and 2) it kept the hot sunlight out, which is major in a desert.

Next I started keeping the front door closed, as they were sneaking in when they saw the slightest opening.  And finally I put a sheet over the doorway going up to the roof.  Still they managed to find ways around the sheet to get in.  But once in they were having trouble getting out so I would have to open the front door and chase them out. 

The last time two birds snuck in and began fluttering around the house, I was in my bedroom reading when I heard a thud noise and realised that one of them had probably been hit by the ceiling fan.  I ran out and there it was lying hurt on the ground.  It tired to fly but couldn’t. I opened the front door to let the other bird, still flying around, out and then helped the wounded bird out to the patio.  I went back in the house to get some water and then returned to see the hurt bird, but it was gone.  There’s no cats here, and I don’t suspect the cows got to it, so I hope it was only stunned and managed to fly away.  But there is more.

I discovered why it was they were so insistent to get in the house.  I heard some chirping, loud chirping and because of the bare walls here, I could not tell where it was coming from so I assumed it was some sound bounce from outside. To test my hypothesis I closed the door to block the sound.  But it persisted. In fact it was coming from right above my head in a wall air vent (they put them in all over the houses for air movement).  So I thought there were still some birds up in the vent. I got on a chair with my flashlight and looked in.  Baby birds.

So I removed the door sheet and keep the door open now to let the birds in to feed their babies.  I still keep the carpet up as that serves a better purpose.  I hope that soon the babies will fly away and I’ll be able to secure the house again before the stand storm season, before the rainy season and the dreaded mosquitoes.


Note: Parinda is Urdu for birds but it is sometimes used in Inida.