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OH-IO

Oh, the Buckeye State. I’ve known for a long time that Ohio is the best state in the world, but the specifics of why have always escaped me.

Most beautiful landscape: Some might argue no.

Most charming people: It’s a coin toss on that one.

Most exotic animals: We fully accept defeat in that arena, except sewage tanks dressed as farm animals have been spotted.

Best opportunities for mountain climbing and white water rafting: Not so much.

It’s in the subtle details that Ohio takes a firm lead.

Being able to buy an antique typewriter out of the back of a pick-up truck for $5.

Bruising a tailbone on a homemade snow ramp.

Riding sleds pulled behind snowmobiles.

Sitting in a local coffee shop and watching person after person come in and join the same table since everyone in the town knows each other.

I could go on, but the point is well made.

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I’m beginning to sense that my decision to get out of bed to write a few blogs might have been a bad one, as so many are at 1:30 in the morning. First clue? Nearly posting this blog on my roommate’s account since I’m borrowing her computer. (Thanks, Liz) But, I also realize that my propensity to keep all my random thoughts in my head keeps me up at night, so I chose instead to share them here.

Which is why I want to thank you. Whoever you are. I recently returned home after a year and a half hiatus in what can now safely be known as Kolkata, India. I was honestly surprised at how many people have once heard of or maybe even read these silly accounts of life abroad. Considering my supposed audience is basically my mom and the other moms on her email chain, it is a truly pleasant surprise. So, more ramblings to come.

Hecklers

I think I may have reverted a little bit to junior high school, as my recent affinity to bathroom humor probably suggests.

But the truth is, it runs much deeper than my shared humor with that of a pee-wee football team. I have this walk from work to the main road that causes no little amount of apprehension for me. It’s not the length of the walk, or the perilously contaminated standing water. It’s the bullies. There is a gang of 8 year old boys that patrols the road, and I am their prey. Our confrontations have been few but memorable, very much like junior high. I remember being shoved into the library once by some 8th grade girls and threatened about something (I know, really?), and it never happened again, because, let’s be honest. It didn’t need to. Fear reigned in actual force’s place.

These boys know me by sight, which is impressive because the sheer number of tall, white, foreigners with sweaty backs is astounding in that particular area of town. I’ll never forget our first show down. I was walking down the path by the soccer field when I saw them. We made eye contact, and I knew it was too late. We started walking towards each other, and it was like the showdown between the Jets and Sharks, but I was alone. I almost started snapping. They began pushing each other more and more frequently and talking in giggled whispers into one another’s ears as we drew closer. I thought, “What is this? Did day school get out early or something? Why aren’t these kids fingerpainting?” I would have said those clever insults if I knew how to in Bengali, but I just smiled smugly to myself, fully confident of my victory in this encounter. I’m 25 years old and they hardly reached my waist. Then it happened. The unthinkable. The insult that cuts so deep as to paralyze you. We had just passed one another on the road when the skinny weasely one (don’t ask how I know, it’s always the skinny weasely one) turned and shouted the one word that could cut me like a knife. “ENGLISH!” I could hear the high fives and the hysterically high laughter as they ran off in victory. English.

You don’t think about how critical water is until you don’t have it. Apartment 4 Prafulla has not had running water for about four days. If I was living in chilly Ohio right now, not such a big deal, but I am not. Bathing is an essential part of my daily routine (or bi-daily). I had my language class on Tuesday night and due to some ridiculous traffic from a religious festival this week, I had to walk home. At about the 2 mile marker, I thought, “Showering will feel nice”. I mean, after my butt sweat post, there is no hiding my body’s efficiency in cooling itself, so let’s be honest. I needed a shower before the walk, but it was not meant to be…for another day and a half. But, you get creative. Anti-bacterial wipes can do wonders. Eventually, I showered at work and a friend’s house. Crazy, I know.

The most inconvenient aspects of not having water aren’t apparent at first. Initially, I would think, you can’t take a shower, but that is not all, my friend. That is not all. Dishes require water to be washed, and unwashed dishes are unpleasant after dinner, gross the next morning, and horrifying by 48 hours later. Toilets. Toilets require water. Now, I’ve lived in places where there wasn’t running water before, but they design toilets with that in mind. There are few things more repulsive than dirty western toilets. That smell that you can enjoy in the outhouses at soccer games doesn’t take as much time as you would expect to develop. Pretty much about 24 hours and you’ve got some good aromas festering.

All of these factors, body odor, rotting food, and human waste have combined to make life in our flat a treat. And yet, we’ve still managed to have two parties in the last 4 days. People just like us that much, and we have developed a system of saving flushes and locking the bathroom doors, plus saving some things for later. Oh yeah, and the water thing, completely inconsistent. It will come on for a few hours, during which we flush the toilets and do dishes quickly. I still haven’t managed to shower because, knowing my luck, I would just have lathered shampoo into my hair when the water would go out again. They say some pumps have broken in our area, so we don’t know when it will come back on, but you better believe that we will always keep a bucket of water filled from now on.

Butt Sweat

It has to be talked about eventually. It’s a fact of life…for some of us. Some more frequently than others.

I can’t remember ever really experiencing it before moving here. I mean, I understood the concept, but the reality…well, I don’t think you can really fully understand the reality until you seat check. You know what I’m talking about. The seat check. We’ve all done it, that is those of us with butt sweat. I ride auto rickshaws to work every day. It’s a long, hot, bumpy hour ride to work and, well, I sweat. When you’re the one in the right corner and everyone has to get out ahead of you, it’s about the closest thing to the walk of shame that I’ve known. The other passengers grumble as they climb out of the rickshaw, and then every eye is on you. On your seat, where they will be sitting, and, inevitably, on the back/butt sweat stains left behind. You can try lots of techniques to avoid embarrassment. Pray for shade (rarely works), the ole “slide and scooch”, or, old faithful, “turn and walk away quickly”. I usually do the latter.

The worst is in air conditioned, formal settings. I know. Even there? Even there. What is with the plastic covered cushions here? I have to say, though, like so many adversities in life, butt sweat is a blessing in disguise, and the blessing is gratefulness. There is nothing quite like seat checking and finding, to your profound relief, nothing. Nothing but sweat-free vinyl or plastic seating.

Fairies

I like how this city surprises me. Okay, sometimes I like how this city surprises me. I can live without the human feces on the side walk or the horrifying number of men I’ve seen urinating. But, I like how, walking down the streets, I can be in any number of worlds or centuries. Can see something that you can only, well, see here.

Peeking into a road side tea stall kitchen, you can see a voluptuous man, with his ‘vest’ (wife-beater) rolled up to his neck, slowly rubbing his expansive stomach. Next door, five men sit huddled around a coal fire with an anvil and hammer, beating metal by hand. One night, during a load shedding electricity outage, I saw people laying asphalt by hand, silouetted by the flames heating the asphalt.

I think most of all I like the little glimpses of beauty that catch me off guard (massive gut scratching not included) or the funny moments that make me smile. I ate pink cotton candy the other day. It was so hot it started to melt, so I had two choices. Let my cotton candy shrink before my eyes or inhale it. The choice was obvious. My tongue was hot pink.

The other day I saw a fat school kid scratching an even fatter street dog’s belly. There is a roll stand near where I work and a particular street dog lives by it. I remember taking my dog Chloe to the vet and having the vet direct our attention to a chart on the wall. The top left was a cartoon picture of a sad, emaciated dog with serious nutritional needs. The picture changed slightly from square to square as the dog’s weight improved until you reached the bottom right. Chloe’s square. The dog by the roll stand’s square. This square’s picture resembled a dog even less than the first. It looked like a sausage with toothpick legs that you would make on the 4th of July. I find the sausage dog by the roll stand to be fantastic advertising. Kind of like the pork shop that has pictures of piglets frolicking in a field of white flowers. Clip art is a beautiful thing.

So, I think I had some beautiful thoughts in mind when I titled this post “Fairies”, but what you get is fat belly scratching and sausage dogs, which is kind of like life here.

reading boxes

Instructions are such strange things, as are expiration dates. I noticed today that my vitamins are over 3 months expired, but what does that even mean? Best by…, so they’re still pretty good after. I throw the moldy ones out, but that happened even before expiry.

This afternoon, I decided to clean out the corner of the program room where chaos and frogs have taken over (seriously). I threw away trash, avoided stepping on frogs, and discovered some long lost purchases for the girls, including a 500 piece puzzle and animal shaped bracelets. I decided it would be fun for the girls to be able to work on the puzzle over the weekend, so I cut the box open.

Inside, there were four separate plastic bags with puzzle pieces. My only thought was, “This place is so funny about packaging”, which is true. I cut each bag with relish and dumped them back in the box. I brilliantly thought to put the top on the opposite way to straighten out the smashed corner, which is when I saw the picture on the front. Or should I say pictures. Four of them to be exact. My stomach dropped as I thought, “No, it’s not possible.” But there it was in English and French, “Four 500 piece puzzles”. Four 500 piece puzzles? One 500 piece puzzle would be a challenge for girls who have never completed a puzzle before, but 2,000 pieces from 4 similar puzzles mixed together? My only consolation is that they weren’t of winter scenes.