Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Red, yellow, green, whatever. I still don't like them.

One of the lovely things about working for the federal government is convincing the federal government that white is white and green is green and blue is blue. If you let them, some people will tell you that white is orange and blue is magenta and there is no such thing as green. For example, I had the following conversation over and over again for two entire weeks straight.

Washington federal worker: We want you to run down that path as fast as possible in a straight line.
Me: That path there? The one with the big brick wall across it?
WFW: Yes. That path. Run down it as fast as you can for 10 minutes straight and then come back.
Me: What about the wall?
WFW: What wall?
Me: The big brick one right across the middle of the path that is 10 feet high.
WFW: There is no wall. It's your imagination. Get running.
Me: OK. I ran up to the wall, now what do I do?
WFW: There is no wall. Keep running.
Me: Here is a photo of the wall. It is 10 feet tall. I cannot go over it, or through it, or around it. I cannot run any farther.
WFW: OK. We see the wall. We removed it. Keep running.
Me: What do you mean by "removed"? The wall is still there.
WFW: No, it's not. We removed it. Keep running.
Me: By "removed" do you mean you chipped a tiny little hole in it?
WFW: The hole is big enough for you to fit through. Keep running.
Me: By "big enough" do you mean for my pinkie? Because that's all that fits.
WFW: You are being obstinate and difficult. First you said there was a wall, so we removed it and now you refuse to keep running.
Me: I need a brownie so bad right now.
WFW: Whatever. Just go through the non-existant wall and keep running.
Me: I'm going to sic The Dog on you!

OK, that last line was just in my head, because unless WFW is a bird or a baby, The Dog would just bark at them. She is useless as an attack dog. Anyway, I got really tired of being told the wall was all in my head so last weekend, I went on vacation to Sri Lanka with two of my friends for a girls' weekend. I highly recommend Sri Lanka as therapy. It was amazingly beautiful. How can you not relax just looking at this!

Granted, it did take us hours to get to this waterfall in Horton Plains and some of the hike was on a "path" and by path they mean some boulders mixed in with mud and really sharp rocks. But still, it was worth it and I didn't break my ankle even once. We got wet from being rained on which turned out to be the theme of our weekend because when you go to Sri Lanka during the rainy season, they aren't kidding. It was full on monsoon rain with lots of thunder and lightning and we got soaked more than once. But we also saw this:

Sri Lanka has LOTS of waterfalls. And then we went on safari and saw this!

I didn't use a zoom--the elephants were this close! Can you see the baby underneath her mother's legs? The photo is so grainy because it was super dark during the thunderstorm that was soaking us. We also saw lots of peacocks in trees, which was interesting because I didn't know they could fly. We also saw water buffalo, lots of storks, and some logs we were pretty sure were crocodiles. But the elephants were the best, because, well, they are elephants. And there were babies!

We also ate some really delicious food. We went to a spice garden and got an herbal back rub, bought delicious cashews on the side of the road, and stopped for coconut water fresh out of a coconut. Sri Lanka is also home to many species of bananas which all taste just like bananas, so that wasn't my favorite. My favorite discovery about Sri Lankan food was that curry comes with incredibly delicious side dishes, a lot like Korean food does. So when you order curry, you also get beets, eggplant, green beans, etc.


We did a lot of driving and eating and about the driving in Sri Lanka, the roads are amazing! They are well kept with rest stops and landscaping. And there are peacocks and monitor lizards crossing the road that you have to watch out for.

I won't bore you with details about our whale watching ride which started out exciting with a boat rescue and then turned into a boring odyssey where the only thing we saw was flying fish. But on our last day, we went to a resort and just relaxed and it was so amazing that for the first time ever, I will post a photo of myself on this blog!

I'm the one in the hat. And just in case you were wondering, traveling to Sri Lanka with my friends was way better than a brownie.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

At least they were my fancy jammies

I am exhausted after a long day of shopping in my living room. OK, I'm not really exhausted. It's rather nice shopping in your living room, and I'm not talking about internet shopping, which I am also a pro at. This is India, and although they have Amazon.in which delivers the next day to your door, and you can call and have groceries delivered by the market down the street, they also have vendors who will come to your house and bring things for you to look at and purchase. So far, I have bough Buddha's wife, two pots--one bronze and one brass, and an elephant statue.

Which reminds me that the children have decided that I have an elephant problem. They might be right. In our living room, we have three elephant pillows, an elephant painting, one brass elephant, one bronze elephant family, one soapstone elephant, and two wood elephant bookends. There is a sandalwood elephant upstairs in our bedroom and I have a rosewood elephant bookmark. I promise I'm not a crazy elephant lady. I don't collect elephants, I just like them and so when I am somewhere that has elephants, I get a souvenir. For example, the pillows are from a visit to Bangkok and the painting is from Phuket, Thailand. The soapstone one is from Gabon and the book ends are from Nigeria, and the bronze family I bought from a guy who came to my house and really who wouldn't buy a family of bronze elephants for $10? My bookends are a little more subtle than this, but you get the idea. Nice, no?

So when the bronze guy came back to the house and said he had lovely matching elephant statues, I resisted because "crazy elephant lady" is not the moniker I'm aiming for. So I bought Buddha's dancing wife instead. I wasn't aware that Buddha had a wife or that she liked to dance, but the statue is lovely and it's not an elephant. I also bought a pot that I don't know what to do with, but I'll find a place to put it. It doesn't have any elephants on it, so it should go just fine in the living room.

Today's adventure in home shopping, however, was for carpets. The carpet man, who has been buying and selling carpets since age 10, brought about 20 carpets to show us of all shapes and sizes. What we really want is a runner to hide the ugly brown carpeting on our stairs, and we saw lots of runners, but it was a little like Goldilocks and the 20 carpets and I'm not sure that we found the right one. Husband loves the carpet we are fostering to see if we want to buy it. And it's nice, but it's kind of brown and every time I look at it, I think, why are we buying a brown rug to hide a brown carpet? So we'll see.

The one I really wanted was a beautiful antique Persian paisley rug that the carpet guy said he could probably auction at Sotheby's for $50,000. It was so beautiful that when he unrolled it, it made me want to cry. So of course we didn't buy it. It looked a little like this rug, but with more of a paisley design. I was sad to see it go, but Child 1 would be really upset if she found out that we had spent her college tuition on a carpet. So Child 1, I apologize. You'll have to keep going to school and I'll have to keep looking at brown carpeted stairs.

So to sum up, shopping in your pajamas in your living room not on the internet is totally better than a brownie. Next up, the wicker man! No, not the one from the really bad Neil LaBute movie--the one who sells something like this.

Friday, October 2, 2015

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

Today is Gandhi's birthday, so the Embassy is closed. That is one of the best things about life overseas is that you get to celebrate local holidays as well as US ones, and Gandhi's life is definitely worth celebrating, especially while we are in India. 

For the long weekend, and because I'm tired of looking at boxes we need to unpack still after a month, we decided to drive out to Rajasthan and stay in an ancient fort that is also a hotel. Our room is literally on the side of the mountain because one wall is actually the mountain. Child 2 and Child 3 are really enjoying the novelty of a rock wall in the room and Child 3 was ready to climb up it until she noticed that it was a little dirty, because mountains are made of rocks and dirt. So we're just enjoying looking at the rock wall rather than scaling it. She's going on a zip-line down the mountain tomorrow, so that will have to do. The hotel, in case you are wondering, looks like this:

That is not my photo, although it's pretty much what the view from our room looks like. I would post my own pics, but I can't get my iPod to connect to the internet because apparently I cannot figure out how they spelled my name which is the wifi password which I need for my iPod, but not my computer, which is pretty typical for India. I'm learning to not ask why because there is no why, it just is what it is. I used to hate that phrase for being trite and circular, but it describes life in India so well--it is as it has always been and will always be.

Accepting that fact has made some of the differences and challenges of life here easier to take. For example, I've learned to download videos to my hard drive so that when the internet is out for days, I still have something to do. I don't even blink when the lights go out and then on and then out and then on. I eat what is offered that I can eat, and I don't really mind that it's the same thing over and over or is sometimes just rice. After about a month of the same order every time, when I come into the restaurant on the compound, they see me and say "mediterranean chicken with no pita, french fries on the side?" And I nod yes. I walk into the canteen at 9:45 every morning and they automatically get out two Diet Cokes because it's what I order every day. I'm fond of routine, so I don't mind it. India agrees with me in that way.

Driving in India does not agree with me, so I have refused to get a license and why should I when I have a thing called a wallet and it can pay for my taxi? Granted, taxis are sometimes dodgey, so we have hired a driver whom I shall call Bentley and who is rapidly becoming my favorite person in the world besides Husband and the children. Driving, or rather riding, with Bentley is a treat because he has been driving for Embassy families for 19 years and oh does he have some good stories! Like the time he was driving down from Shimla which is on a mountain and the breaks went out and he didn't want to say anything because he thought it would make madam nervous. Um, I'm thinking he was correct there. And about how he grew up next to the Corbett National Park and used to see tigers on his way to school early in the morning. Bentley is a treasure. He is also a very good driver because he constantly has to avoid other cars, scooters, rickshaws, cows, dogs, small children, and the occasional elephant. Also cars like this that tend to meander all over the road like a slow flowing river just placidly going along oblivious to the rest of the traffic around it.

Now, about the food in India, I think it is actually good for me. I have been healthier here than I was back in the US and I made it 10 weeks without a single sick day, which for me is a record. Although the sick day was yesterday and it was a doozy and I was really worried I would not be able to come on the trip to the fort which is called a non-hotel hotel and I guess refers to the fact that people's rooms are made of mountain. I booked and paid for the hotel in advance, so if I wasn't well enough to go, that really would have sucked, and although I'm sure Husband and the children would have enjoyed it anyway, I would have been stuck at home alone with The Dog. The Dog, if you were wondering, has adjusted well to life in India and has stopped barking at every single thing and only barks at about every third thing. The guards and Bentley have figured out that she is all bark and no bite and Bentley agreed to look after her while we were gone since Husband would be driving us. The Dog tolerates Bentley, mostly, and he says things like "Dog, I am coming, so you can begin barking now!" So when I woke up this morning without a fever and didn't fall over when I tried to stand up, I decided I could leave The Dog and go as long as we did nothing, and that is what I plan to do for the rest of the weekend. This blog post will be as productive as I get.

Worrying about your children is not better than a brownie, and sending them off to college and worrying that some crazy person with a gun will shoot them is even worse. I can only imagine the heartache that the parents in Oregon whose children were killed are going through--and in my imagination it is bad enough. To Child 1, I am glad you are safe and that this hasn't happened at your school. But the thing that makes my heart clench is the word I left off of that last sentence: yet. Because until America figures out that the death of children by someone with a gun is unacceptable, it could happen anywhere and that terrifies me. So for Gandhi's birthday, I am praying for peace and sanity and that my fellow countrymen might find the courage and strength to fix this problem before someone else loses yet another child to senseless, preventable violence.