Archive for July, 2009

Moomoos and momos

I love the clothese here. I am certainly going to stock up before I leave, and if any of you have any requests, let me know. They are loose fitting tunic tops, although, my roommates inform me that periodically they have to pull the fabric tight just to assure themselves that they still have a body under there. I get that. They are a strange mix between cool hippy tunic and a potato sack. The longer ones, if not properly fitted, are basically moomoos. (spelling?) But I really enjoy wearing them. I’m especially into the white ones for some reason, but it will take a miracle for them to ever stay as white as the people here manage to keep theirs.

Julia, Emily, Lindsay and I went to one of my co-workers houses this weekend to learn how to make momos, delicious little dumplings. Swapnil informed us that at one time she’d been able to eat 30 dumplings. Now, keep in mind, she is a petite Nepali woman, so after sizing her up, Julia and I decided we could easily beat that. At about 15, with the reflex in my stomach saying, “now is a good time to stop,” Julia and I decided to aim for 20. You might think dumplings could just slide down, but they don’t. As I was finishing the second half of number 18, I thought, “I can’t make it.” But Julia and I later described the last two as the vertical climb up a mountain. We both made it…and regretted it. Swapnil later informed me that when she’d eaten 30, they were the small kind of momo. Things like that are helpful to know earlier in the game.


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Sweaty Kurtas

Oh my. Did I say the heat wasn’t that bad here? I guess it isn’t if you live with a fan attached to your body. Honestly, it’s manageable for sure, but Saturday I spent more time walking around outside than I have since I’ve been here. It was a relief though. I am able to maintain a strange distance from the people living and working on the sidewalks when I drive past in a car or auto, but when I am walking beside them, pausing to let a car pass and smelling the food cooking inside their homes, I can’t ignore it. The poverty here is not something you can prepare yourself for, yet the generosity that spills over from that is richer than anything I’ve encountered at home.

Monday, I went with my roommate to her language lessons to see if her teacher would be willing to take me on in a couple of months, once I’d learned some of the basics. Amazingly, she agreed to take me immediately, so my first Bengali lesson is this Saturday. Please, if you think of it, pray that I have a super human ability to learn and retain this beautiful language. I have gone to two homes this week, and I really want to be able to communicate with the girls there. On our way home, Julia, Lindsey, and I stopped to see some little girls that live down the street from our office. As usual, their mother tried to offer us some drinks and a snack, but this time, we accepted. The three of us sat on their bed, sipping orange soda and eating a bag of sour cream and onion chips and chatting in broken English and Bengali. The oldest daughter was a bit distressed by our ‘rough’ toes, so she busted out a bottle of nail polish and proceeded to paint all 30 of our toenails. Having someone touch your feet anywhere is an intimate experience, but letting them hold your feet after walking through the streets here is something else all together. It was difficult to not try and make as many excuses for them as possible.

Throughout the evening, I found myself looking at the mom. It was really sweet to look at her face and see how pleased she was to have us there, talking with her daughters, even though she didn’t understand much of what was said. Although, there was one moment that crossed all cultural boundaries. We were getting some final pictures together, but one was a little awkward because the eleven year old girl comes about up to Julia’s chest, so her face was sort of nestled in. Julia looked at the picture, laughed, and made some comment about it which the mother completely understood and could not stop laughing about. It’s little moments like those that catch me off guard as I’m walking home from work, thinking that maybe the struggle the people here face is too great to be overcome. It’s formidable, for sure, but as long as people are willing to share from even their lack, there’s hope.

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I’m here! I arrived a little over 24 hours ago (after 44 hours of traveling) and it has been a whirlwind and really very little of what I expected. I’ll give you a little taste.

I arrived in the [a bigger city’s] airport about 10:50 am Friday morning, but my flight for my new hometown didn’t leave until 5:30 ish. So, I had quite a bit of time on my hands. I went through customs, waited in line to scan my bags, waited in line to scan my bags a second time, waited in line to check in with an airline I wasn’t flying with, asked if I should be in this line, proceeded past the line, was directed to sit and wait 30 minutes to take a bus to another terminal, opted out of waiting 30 minutes and asked if the bus sitting outside was the right bus, attempted to pass security to board the bus, was refused entry because I didn’t have a boarding pass, was directed back past the airline service desk, past the two scanners, past customs to the airport’s entrance. Right about the time I was walking past customs for the second time I found myself getting a little frustrated. Now, I hadn’t really slept very well in two days, but the root of the frustration was my expectation about how airports work. I haven’t been out of the US in 3 years, and I think I just forgot that things work differently in other parts of the world. Although, I will admit I got a little frustrated again when the airline service clerk refused to check my bags in three times because #1 my bags hadn’t been checked (remember, they had been checked twice) and #2 I was too early for my flight (first they said 2:30, then when I went up at 2:30 they said 3).  But really, if those are my only frustrations in 44 hours of transatlantic and transcontinental travel, I’m good.

My apartment is great as are my roommates. (both of which were expected) I just wanted to make sure you all knew.

One more quick but funny-bad story…so, my friend Kenzi brought febreeze to Tanzania when we were there, and I remembered thinking it was possibly the best idea in the world. (air drying your clothes in humid weather leaves them smelling sort of strange) So, I packed a fresh bottle of febreeze in my checked backpack (not my best idea). If any of you have traveled or checked a bag, you probably know why that was a bad idea. By the end of my packing, I was thinking purely in terms of weight distribution, not leakage. So, I open my backpack and pull out my bottle of febreeze (which was also so brilliantly packed on the very top), and it felt strangely light. The neck had broken off and the entire bottle had emptied into my backpack. So, my bag smelled great, as did all of my clothes and all of the suckers I had poured in to fill the spaces. Now, sucker wrappers aren’t impenetrable, but they are very colorful. So, some of my shirts came out looking rather tye-died. Smelling great, but a little sticky and more colorful than I’d bought them. It will all wash out, so no worries. But a good reminder for future travels. Keep the suckers in the bag and the Febreeze in the hard luggage.

Back to unexpected moments:

I wake up this morning and find out it’s almost noon. (not a surprise to my father)

When I wake up, my roommates tell me that we’re going out for pizza. I know, right? I am where you think I am…but when we get there it’s a really nice air conditioned pizza place with caprese salad and fantastic pineapple pizza. Loved it.

After lunch I went shopping with Mitzi (the current aftercare intern) and bought 9 really cute Indian tops. The first place we stopped is a mall. I honestly could have been at Polaris (a large mall near where I live) except for all the saris. It was almost laughably the last place in the world I could have expected to be today. So, I didn’t buy my Indian clothes at a market, but a huge department store. Very similar to Macy’s only with tunics and scarves rather than shorts and t-shirts (althought they had those too).

After my shopping spree, we had a nice dinner at a Chinese restaurant. There is honestly a China town in the middle of the city here, although there weren’t any Chinese people that we saw. There must be almost a dozen Chinese restaurants in this one part of town, and the one we went to had really wonderful food. I’m not a huge Chinese food person, but I loved it.

So, you can all stop feeling like I’m roughing it here. I laughed a few times to myself thinking about what I had pictured it would be like. Granted, I haven’t actually worked a single day yet and have spent hardly any time outside of airconditioned buildings, but I’m very comfortable, I can get great pizza without too much stress and I have a lifetime supply of chilled chocolate in the refrigerator. I’m set.

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a few disclaimers

1. WordPress is too… something for me. I cannot think of the word, but I know it will come to me about two minutes after I post this…significant is the only word I can think of, but that is not what I’m looking for at all. Synonymous with advanced…I think it starts with an s, anyway, it is too that for me. So, any suggestions on how to more fully utilize my wordpress account would be greatly appreciated. 

2. I slept only a few hours last night, so I think that might be contributing to the difficulty I had with number 1. Keep that in mind for the rest of the note. 

3. I am SO American. Like, it oozes out of my pores and emits a radar signal to all around me, “Yes, you are cool, hip Europeans with leggings and gladiator sandals, but I’m rocking my chacos and brown chinos from J Crew.” (Did I mention my chacos are black? yikes.) I can only ask, “Where is Kate Todd when you need her?” You might wonder what someone about to embark on a year in a developing country is doing worrying about things like this…I am wondering this myself. But I am in the middle of a 12 hour layover in Heathrow, and it has provided me with too much time riding up escalators looking at the butts of people in front of me. Too much time examining shoes. Too much time watching people and guessing their nationality. Too much time in general, but it really only took about five minutes to become acutely aware of my americanness. So, there it is. I’m glad I’m moving to another country for a bit…to shave some of this predictability off my appearance, perhaps. 

3. To those picking me up at the airport in another 26 hours, I packed my deoderant in my checked bag. Oops. 

4. I’m really tired. So, you can disregard the random ponderings. I’ve just nearly finished Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies in one day and can’t do anymore Sudoku puzzles. Love to you all. 

In case you’re curious, I arrive at 7 pm Friday night (local time), so about 10 am EST. I might have internet at a few different points (the next 4 hours and early Friday morning for you).

As I was posting this, the people next to me caught me staring at them with my mouth open. I wasn’t really listening to their conversation…I was more sleeping with my eyes open, but I guess it was private because they stopped talking.

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