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Archive for November, 2009

It’s truly an adventure every time I step out of my door. Just the other day, I walked to a coffee shop down the street and documented my meandering with photographs (to be posted later), and it was such a beautiful experience to just look and see the little street that I live on.

But, not every experience on the roads here is sweet and beautiful. Some are quite terrifying.

During that trip I mentioned in my previous post, to some far off lands up north, we drove on some interesting roads. Pavement ends, gravel (if you’re lucky) begins. Single lane traffic. Headlights viewed as optional (or merely as a signaling tool). Small children scurrying across the road. Herds lumbering along.

As a signal, the headlights’ code could be broken down as follows: 1 flash: Hi, I’m here.  2 flashes: You are on my side of the road. Multiple flashes: I realize I’m on your side of the road, but just slow down a little so I can pass this oxen drawn cart with the seven families on it plus the six bicycles in front of it that I won’t see until I’m directly on top of them. Multiple flashes and horn: Hell, no, get back on your side of the road. It differs…day light, rain, presence of herds of animals, and a median change the meanings, but generally, you can follow the above as a rule if you ever try to drive here.

Anyway, during our trip, we bought a few permanently borrowed dvds (everyone does it), but we ended up not even getting our 35 rupees worth. There were five Bollywood movies, and all might have possibly been recorded while sitting in a movie theatre.  The one we chose to watch was 16 minutes in length. Quite possibly the most intense preview I have ever seen. At one point, it cut from a song and dance routine to a woman weeping. We thought the recorder had slipped into a different movie after being caught recording for the 5th time. So, I’m clearly absorbed in this compelling film, yet still strangely distracted by what’s going on ahead. Headlights flashing. Still flashing. Horn comes, and we slip in just in time. My heart was racing the whole time.

I would nominate driving here, especially at night, as an olympic sport. It takes muscle coordination, performing at top capacity under extreme circumstances, and considerable skills and training. I have never been so happy to see a median in my life as I was after riding in the car for 14 hours. Not that a median is any guarantee of traffic direction in your lane, but it helps to lessen the abrupt presence of oncoming traffic at any given moment. There are still giant holes in the pavement where, during the day, men had set about to repair a water line and simply hadn’t finished it, or finished it with a large bump in the middle of the road.

But the point of all of this is that the driving here, apart from being a fantastic olympic sport, would be an amazing Mario Kart course. I think about it every time I’m on the road. I don’t want to brag, but I’m really good at Mario Kart. (Even though I just spelled it Maria Cart, and couldn’t figure out why it looked wrong). Rainbow World has nothing on this. No amount of red shells or bananas or ticking bombs on wheels or lightning bolts could have prepared me for driving here. Instead of bananas, you have napping dogs. Instead of ticking bombs, you have massive, blundering bovine. Instead of red shells, you have children haphazardly trying to ride bicycles on a dark street. It is crazy, but it’s the world I’m in.

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I am pine.

I recently went on an overnight trip with my supervisor and another intern, Brendan, who served as our bodyguard. Although, I have to say, he didn’t do a very good job. I still managed to get mobbed by a group of 5 year old boys. We were wandering around, trying to be as inconspicuous as two white foreigners can be in a town seven hours from a big city, but, shockingly, they found us. The little punk kids always find you. I spotted them down the lane. Or really, I heard them. They were shouting, “What your name?”. We slowly walked down closer to them, laughed, and walked back. One of the older ones, emboldened by his recent brush with death-by-contact-with-foreigner, jumped through a bicycle and the others followed close behind.

I meant to say through. Little kids ride adult sized bikes one of three ways. 1. They stand on one side and use it like a skooter. 2. They sit on the bar rather than the seat. 3. But this kid was in a class of his own. He stuck his leg below the support bar, through to the other side, balanced his weight, and rode the bike. He would actually pedal. I have no idea how he did it. His obvious efforts to impress succeeded completely. One of the littlest ones ran behind trying to poke a stick in the back wheel. Classic boy. If you can’t do it, make the other guy mess up. It makes me smile to know that kids are the same everywhere.

So they rode up to us, and made sure to stop a safe distance away. I greeted them, and they all giggled like little five year old boys do, except the cheeky one with the stick. He just lifted his eye brows. Now, my friend Brendan contends that there is no difference between an eye brow lifted in greeting and an eye brow lifted in invitation. I beg to differ. Either way, this kid was not greeting, let’s just say that. I laughed out loud because it was so unexpected. How does a five year old learn to do that? He was instantly my favorite.

We went back and forth asking “What your name?” to each other, then they got spooked and ran back to the other end of the street to tell everyone about how they were almost eaten alive by the strange white woman. We followed them a few minutes later and were again bombarded by, “What your name?”. I decided they needed to learn some other English phrases, so I taught them, “How are you?” and “I am fine.” Brendan and I demonstrated the interchange, but every time I would ask them, “How are you?” they would just repeat it back. Then I’d say, “I am fine” and they would say in unison, “I am pine.” After awhile a few of them got the hang of it, so we walked down the street like the pied piper with a herd of five year olds behind us shouting, “How are you?” “I am pine!”. What a fun world.

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