Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Costa Rica, you say? No thanks, I say! This isn’t the case of sour grapes even though it has been established in many years of my existence that I am not to win anything, not even a game of Pictionary. So with lady luck definitely on the side of another loser, I can be less skeptical and more honest. I am entering this contest because it gives me a chance to update my blog. It also gives me a reason to stand out from the rest of the pleading contestants. I don’t have stories of a troubled childhood, which definitely will make me deserve this holiday. I am not a single mom with quintuplets whose babies are stuck in Costa Rica. No sir, I am not even an adventure extremist who can live on slugs or cross the river on a raft made out of chest hair. I do not have much chest hair to boast of.
To qualify my first line, Costa Rica hasn’t really sent me those magnetic vibes like, say, New Zealand or Botswana has. Whenever someone looks at me with glee and goes,’ Guess where I am going next? Costa Rica!’ he can be certain I am not scheming to eradicate him out of abject jealousy. Beaches, volcanoes, islands, hiking, rafting, rainforests and green spotted frogs all sound like something out of my very own dream, but I was never intrigued by Costa Rica. The more I dwell into this issue, the more I am perturbed about my indifference to this apparently lovely country. I’m concluding it to the lack of country knowledge and my general apathy towards a certain demographics that don’t like traveling too far from their comfort zone (America). These people give bad press to the countries they go to- like Costa Rica. Why go to Faristan when Costa Rica is so close? Or maybe it is too green for my untrained urban eyes. Now if I were planning on checking off countries, Costa Rica would be somewhere I’d see myself spending a few hours on a weekend trip after visiting neighboring Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Belize. But I am not that kind of a traveler. I become a ‘ShamWow’ when I go to a new country as I feel the need to soak it all in. Only the sights and sounds, not their entire water bodies (For this free advertisement, ShamWow better send me someplace cool.)
When I heard about this contest, the first thing that went through my mind is, Wow, here’s one competition I can participate and not worry about winning. Otherwise I am a sore loser. I have fantasized about winning such trips, but I never entered any of them for the fear of losing.
I will admit to a few things that may be relevant. I am a person who would like to keep the earth as is and experience the world. I would like to travel everywhere if I could (even Costa Rica), preferably all the time like Matt. I love people who travel and I admire Bruce Poon Tip for what he has accomplished in his lifetime. As my role models, you probably will want to award me with this trip, but I understand if you are put off by my lack of enthusiasm for Costa Rica. But if you feel compelled to prove a point and make me fall in love again, I will grudgingly go.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Living in Pittsburgh, there are only two kinds of people she encounters, the Pittsburgh native who can’t fathom leaving Pittsbugh or the people in transit who in their right mind wouldn’t want to live in Pittsburgh after their degree from CMU is complete. An average Pittsburgh man has two sets of clothes and both are the black and gold Steelers jerseys. The nicer one he wears during the super bowl game and the other one is worn proudly everyday. If all the people in Pittsburgh were to line up their Steelers Jerseys around the earth, I think it will go around the earth twice. But the only problem with proving such a fact is once the line of jerseys inches closer to the Western Pensylvania border, I doubt anyone from Pittsburgh would want to move further along the globe even if it is to make some well deserved world headlines. People here do not like to travel away from their comfort zone which includes two houses from their own home in that block. Moving zip codes is almost unheard of unless two people get divorced and everyone in the suburb knows the cause of the divorce. Pittsburgh people might leave the lovely city in search of jobs or whatever insanity, but invariably they come back to their hometown. Being so engrossed with their sports teams; it becomes exceedingly hard for Pittsburgers to devote time for any other activity other than lying on the couch and regarding the television with fondness.
So it is a miracle that our worldly wise Angelina even found a boyfriend in the vicinity. In some weak moment she would get attracted to some dude’s looks or bank balance, only to realize after a week that she needs someone who would take the Steelers less seriously and her feelings more.
Softly cooing into his ear, she wanted to know what was the last book he read.
‘In high school, I guess. Why do you ask?’
She dumped him.
The next one didn’t want to travel to Bolivia with her.
‘Why go to Bolivia when you can be in Pittsburgh? If you really want to go to a foreign country, how about Canada?’
She dumped him.
Being a hardcore liberal and vegetarian to boot, the last boyfriend tested the limits.
‘What are your hobbies?’ she asked casually trying to get to know him after some great sex.
‘Well, watching football and hunting.’
Worrisome indeed. But she attested that everyone is entitled to their own hobbies and like every woman she knew she could change him. She figured that the hunting rules are much simpler to comprehend. You shoot and, boom, your target should cease any activity it was performing by dying. That is much more than she knew about football.
‘Hmm.. Hunting? You have a er.. gun?’
‘Yes, three in fact. You should see my babies. Do you shoot?’
‘Yes, with a camera. I have three lenses. You should see my babies. Heheh. I just got back from Botswana and the camera really helped in capturing some of the animals.’
‘Yes yes. It’s in the Caribbean, right? You took pictures of dolphins?’
She decided to be polite and move on to some topic that involved Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He seems to show some excitement by asking if they play in some bar on East Carson Street. So she tried to change the topic back to his original love.
‘So where do you practice, ermm…this hunting?’
‘On Montour Run trail. I hunt deer there.’
She dressed up quickly. A month later she left Moon Township (where she ran everyday in the Montour Run trail) and moved into the city where there are no woods. Needless to say she dumped him that night itself.
After many such car wrecks, her family decided to show some concern to her lonely state and decided to hook her up with people they thought would definitely work considering her desperate state. Till now her family didn't interfere. Her aunt took her aside and said, ‘I’ll introduce you to Roger. He’s been divorced thrice with 8 kids and is probably paying more alimony than what Bill Gates earns. He lives with parents, but the good news is that he has driven them insane, so they might end up in an asylum soon. You may meet him next week when he is released on bail.’
Now I’m wondering if I should introduce Angie to Karthik.
Friday, October 02, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I went to one baby-shower during those days when my thinking was confined and my exposure limited. Hoping to see a naked pregnant lady getting into a shower while guests looked on, I was in for a rude shock and am still paying shit loads of money in therapy. What confronted me was a fully clothed glowy type pregnant person who seemed quite smug and hassled at the same time, ’Thanks guys! So sweet of you to do this for me.’
I had already done the congrats bit before and since I had to say something, I lied,’ You look great.’ In fact in reality she looked like a python that swallowed an auto-rickshaw.
After settling that awkward bit, I just about sit down to eat the nipple shaped cookies when the hostess (a friend of hormonal pregnant lady, equally hormonal and obsessive about making sure everyone has a terrible time) decides to kill whatever little joy by announcing games. Right under our noses, are 6 diapers that are disgustingly soiled to depict various stages of stomach malfunction. In fact, the hostess proudly informs us that it’s not human excreta, but different chocolates melted to look like the real deal. ‘Look at the various poop in the diapers on this tray and please write down what chocolate you think the baby had for dinner. You are allowed to smell and taste.’ This is a sure shot way of keeping all the other women in the room very prompt with their birth control pills.
Melted on a diaper with little raisins and peanuts peeping from the shapeless brown mass, however much you want to believe it is chocolate, you end up swallowing some of your puke. If this makes Guantanamo Bay sound like a massage parlor, wait till you hear more torture that I had to endure.
Then there is a game where you have to guess the correct circumference of the mommy-to-be’s stomach. ‘Diameter of the earth’ was the wrong answer and so was ‘I’m not sure’. More appalling is how some women will try to cheat by asking me, ‘Would she be at least 6 times my size?’
Then there is the dreaded gift unwrapping at which point there is the mandatory ‘Awwwww’ for each gift from us onlookers. I also have a problem with this word ‘Awwww’, but not so much that I would write a whole post on it. [It would suffice to say, I grew up on Shakti Kapoor going 'Awww' at every nubile damsel he wanted to rape on the silver screen.]
‘Awww, it’s a cute little toy train. You must have missed my gift-registry that was typed twice in the invite,’ she croons while shooting murderous looks at me. ‘Well, I just wanted to get rid of this dumb train that you gave me for my wedding.’ I said while creating more wrinkles in the fabric of the event.
After that terrible experience, I had a huge success rate of avoiding baby showers all together. I fell terribly ill, ran away to New York, had out of town guests visiting…and somehow managed to stay out of the excitement of digging my nails into my skull while playing ‘baby shower’ games.
This time my luck wore out and I got invited to a shower where my friend knows only three people and the person throwing the shower postponed, preponed etc, just to accommodate those three people, including poor me. At that point, after 15 emails, I threw my hands up and said with resignation, ‘Alright, show me the well.’
The hostess in all zeal sent us ideas for games. ‘Who wants to volunteer for conducting the games? I went to this baby shower where they had the measure the belly game. Or this other game with baby diapers, its gross…but we can do it…’ My faculties started failing me instantly and I hated myself for being surrounded by pregnant people. It isn’t their fault, I know…but they are the root of this misery. What probbaly started off as a well meaning congregation of experienced women teaching a few things about raising a child to the expectant mother and giving nice gifts, has now turned into a nightmarish ritual of cheesy décor, terrible games and a very awkward atmosphere which expects single women, never-been moms and men to attend. Why in the name of Lord do we Indians have to do this? Our traditional bangle ceremony is so cool...some little prayer, bangles, loads of good food and no games! West, please look at the East in this aspect.
So I am big time trapped and dreading this upcoming baby shower. I have volunteered to help with the games with the intention of making it bearable for me. I am seriously considering strip poker. Worry not, pregnant lady will be excluded from game!
Saturday, July 11, 2009
If losing your baggage is on your travel to-do list, please refrain from doing so in West Africa. In almost all situations it isn’t your fault, unless of course you feel your camera and the various lenses are more important than an extra set of clothes that you could have packed in your carry-on luggage. So there I was in the market in Bamako, haggling for underwear from a wicker basket with my translator Sekou Camara waxing eloquence in native Bambara. At that point, I failed to comprehend who was more hassled; me, who had never worn anything that was covered in a four inch layer of dirt or Sekou, who probably never ever bought lingerie for any of his three wives. After taking care of that awkward detail, we proceeded to buy the rest of the ‘outerwear’. Sekou, who had an idea what I would care to wear, took me to a section of the market loosely known as ‘Dead Toubab’s Closet’. Toubab meaning ‘White Man’. These clothes are donated by the west and are sold in the streets as 'dead white-man’s clothes' because Malians are convinced that nobody in their right mind would discard their clothes unless they are in the grave. One of the many eye-openers I would witness in the world’s fourth poorest country.
So from a huge pile of T-shirts ranging from second-hand Tommy Hilfiger to Levis, I chose a green T-shirt that said, ‘MARDI GRAS PUB CRAWL’. It came with some gentleman’s body odor (is all, I hope) as an add-on bonus. I found a fabric for a native skirt, which was basically a colorful wrap-around that was to be tied around the waist. After a day of frolicking around in my skirt all over Mali, I was politely reminded that the slit should be on the left to signify a lady of decent standings. ‘I am sorry, where I come from, we don’t wear skirts.’ I tried.
We boarded the Bani bus to Segou on this 100 some degree afternoon (It gets hotter in May). Just before embarking on this four hour journey, Sekou asked me to buy myself a hand fan. ‘I have a book to keep myself busy,’ I assured him. I wish I had listened to him and bought two. Now this bus was supposed to be Belgian import and the Belgians didn’t design it for Malian conditions. The A/C had stopped working eons ago (to save on diesel) and the windows were sealed shut (for A/C efficiency of course). To make sure the passengers didn’t die of suffocation, the officials had punctured a few holes on the roof of the vehicle for inadequate ventilation. The whole scene reminded me of a frog in a bottle. Very soon, I started to feel dizzy and very uncomfortable. If not for the umpteen stops the bus made (for checkpoints, prayer sessions, food breaks, toilet breaks, god-knows-what-else-thanks-to-language-barrier), I would have definitely perished in this very unglamorous way.
Outside the bus, poverty was in open display everywhere and even in the capital city of Bamako, infrastructure is limited to the main roads and a few brick and mortar structures that are used as government buildings, hotels, shops and restaurants. Most of the buildings were made entirely of mud and held together by sticks and tin roofs. Garbage was being burned in every conceivable open space and many plastic covers survived the cremation process. Some kids rummaged the vast fields of garbage for treasures such as a used plastic bottle. What they needed was a good waste management program. Fortunately for Mali, the population was under control and they didn’t produce much trash as the reused almost everything. The scenery was really nothing much to gloat about…just vast stretches of brown and some dirty green (occasional baobab and acacia trees). Every check-point greeted us with a surge of hands of young women thrusting grocery on our faces. You could buy anything from a choice of water-pouches, boiled eggs, carrots, meat, cakes, peanuts, juice, apples, bananas etc.
This was my second trip to Mali on this Engineers Without Borders Project and the tragedy of the most friendliest country hits me each time. More to come..
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
With a population of 24 million, crime rate hitting the roofs, corruption and huge environmental concerns, I guess I can say I am feeling completely at home. From the sky, this sea of a city looks flat except for the occational cell phone towers that rise higher than the modest sand-color settlements. While driving us to our home from the airport, the driver says that if you don't know the 'blood-language' of the locals, you would be termed as 'goats'. 'You know that they do with goats right? They slaughter them.' I just hope to learn the blood language sooner than later.
Huge population of Christians in the south of Nigeria, this part of the country is not really conservative by any standards. I wonder why I brought only long skirts and kurtis while women are walking half naked. 'Oh, she is a prostitude,' said Dennis, the driver. I saw another skimpily dressed woman and expressed my concerns about a city laden with sex workers. 'Oh no, can't you see, she isn't one. She looks like a Goddess. The last one we saw was my ex. Hence I call her that. That bitch, she slept with me and now says she is pregnant.' [I could write a book on this driver and his shenanigans]
English speaking and trying hard to make a living, the city is distinctly poorer than many Indian cities I have seen. We live in a real nice part of town called Ikoyi Islands. The place has fairly new roads (paved) with open drains. This is due to the fact that the governor is our neighbor. Nigerian food is definitely not the greatest I have eaten and the sentiment is shared by all. They eat pepper soup and interesting bread that needs acquired taste. They eat this bread for breakfast (a whole loaf) with water. I am sticking to my honey bunches of oats. They live on cassava that is eaten in the form of gari (cold and flowy) or eba (hot and lumpy). Jolof rice (tomato rice), fried plantains is something I liked. I don't eat meat and they have a variety of suspicious looking (and highly suspect smelling) meat dishes.
I am spending my time exploring the city on foot. It's not that unsafe as people had scared me. Yes, in the nights you sometimes could be looking at a barrel of the gun and handing all your valuables. But that is in the night. Even our Nigerian driver pees in his pants if he has to drive at night. Daytime, its fine, especially in the neighborhood when we live. I sometimes ride on the 'okada', a two-wheeler public transport that gets you from place to place for a dollar. So you hail an okada like you hail a taxi, he hands you a helmet (safety first always) and expertly weaves through the traffic, sometimes crashing to the asphalt as we avoid a mini bus with more people than there are in Pittsburgh and its suburbs. Most of these bikes interestingly are Indian makes like Bajaj. People are not overtly friendly like the Malians, but are friendly enough if they trust you. Once they do, they are loud, funny and very friendly. There is a general mistrust among the expats…and its both ways. The resentment is due to the fact that even after colonialism, they feel that they end up being subordinated to the wealthy Expat community. You will not see an expat walking alone on the streets. They get carted by cars everywhere and do their shopping in Dubai. They socialize with other Expats and this is but natural. Most of the crime in Lagos is towards the expats by the poorer locals. Just for a few bucks, they apparently kill.
Interestingly I went to this book store where I got chatting with the book store owner and Tundum (her name, I just like saying it) hooked me up with the African Book Club of Lagos and today I was in a room with 20 women, all expats. As much as that was not the Nigeria I came to experience, it definitely helps me gain some perspective on what the 'oyibos' (white people) think of Nigeria. And also get me to read a lot of African Literature.