Thursday, May 29, 2008
Priya is twelve, and she dances like a rockstar. One day in the not too distant future she will show me some sweet moves too. Edwin, her brother, is fourteen and slightly better at water hauling than me, even in the rain. The third picture is from Chennai, it's a market street where we went to get our clothing made.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
He is three years old, and tired. I don't blame him, it's pretty early in the morning for me too. And it's Sunday. He doesn't complain at all though as his uncle pulls him onto his lap and grandpa pulls out a razor. It's a sacrifice to the goddess, to Maryamman the goddess of smallpox, measles, mumps, and the village of chavadipudur where I am staying. They wet his little head down first and then grandpa starts shaving. Little curls of black hair fall to the ground and before long he has a stripe of bald skin on the top of his little head. He doesn't react at all. He just sits on his uncle's lap and yawns a bit while Grandpa shaves off all his hair and Mom and Dad snap photos. He is stoic and almost bored throughout as if to say "business as usual". After all, this is his fourth head shave.
Your hair is your beauty, you see, and if you give that to the goddess she will bless you in return. His first head shave was dedicated to his father's main caste god, when he was nine months old. Caste is a tricky thing in India, and I won't go into all the details. Let's just say it's kind of like a family lineage in this case. His second head shave went to his mother's main caste god, and then I think they returned to his mother's native village for a head shave to that village goddess. This head shave is more for his paternal grandmother who, living in this village, is beholden to Maryamman.
Eventually, having twisted his head this way and that and shaved it clean of any hair, he gets a bath. A tiny little boy standing behind the temple trying not to fall over as his grandmother splashes him with buckets of water. Again, no crying. He just covers his eyes or smiles up at grandma with those huge brown eyes and ridiculously long eyelashes.
Shaved, bathed, and clothed once more he gets a nice layer of sandalwood on his newly-bald head. It dries quickly and leaves his head painted yellow. Now for the offerings to the goddess.
Within the inner shrine of the temple the priest and his son begin to minister to the idol of Maryamman. They douse her in rosewater, cover her in flowers, and chant at her while ringing a bell. Then they remove the flowers and cover her in curd with more chanting and bell ringing. They wash off the curd and replace it with red liquid, more chanting, more bell. Wash away the red, shower her with ghee (like a butter/cheese thing) and chant and ring. On and on it goes, each time they shower the statue with a new substance and chant and ring and circle her face with a flame, and then they rinse her off and start again with some other offering. There must have been about fifteen layers of offering, and poor little baldy got bored. He is supposed to be sitting with his palms together just outside the inner shrine, but instead he is sliding across the floor and trying to play clapping games with uncle. Eventually, the stench of the various offerings having wafted out of the shrine and into our nostrils, it will end. The priest will close the curtain and put out the flames and turn of the recording that has been repeating "om, shanti, om" for two hours now, and we will all disperse. Them to their car to drive back to Bangalore and me to the dirt path leading to the next village where church is being held today.
All in all, a very religious day.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Above is a rickshaw ride in Chennai, notice the bindi on my forehead. To the right is me in my favorite salwar kamiz set (sans scarf) going in to get wrapped in a sari
This Brahman boy became a man today, we went to his Upanayanam.
This is me getting fake-wrapped in my nice sari in Chennai.
I woke to the sound of roosters crowing and walked out into the early dawn light. My back is getting used to the cement floor, but I don't think I'll even get used to the bathroom accomodations. On my way back from the bathroom I hear the shrill voice of Jeeva, the mother of the family with whom we life. She says “Sister, water is on.” I scurry back into my chakos and say “I'm coming.” Appa, Jeeva's dad and Mathew's uncle, points east to where the closest tap is located. I pause at the end of the veranda to pick up an empty green water jug, and I take it with me down the dirt road to where I hear the water running.
A few times a week, when the government tap is turned on, the water comes to Chavadipudur. It comes in metal piping, and scattered thoughout the village are taps which come up out of the ground with a spout at the end that turns on and off with a key. We all rty to pitch in to refill the cistern, and we are all careful about how much water we use. I can't wash my hair everyday, and when I do I have to use the minimum amount of water. I have learned in the two weeks we've been here to wash my hair and body in 3/4 of a bucket of water. Considering that I have about 2 feet of extreemly thick hair, that's no small feat and I have every right to be proud. Laundry is another matter; I'm still working on the balance between minimul water and minimal soap residue in my clothing. I'm also working on my twirl and whack-the motion used to get clothing clean on the wash rock next to the outhouse. Actually, doing laundry is a good way to get out any pent up aggression, and the sound of your wet salwar or pants slapping against a solid rock is quite cathartic.
As I reach the closest tap to our house Jeeva is standing there with two water jugs at her feet, talking to a woman in a wrinkled pink cotton sari who is bent over her own water jug filling under the tap. After a few moments Jeeva points toward the next tap, a few houses down from where we stand. “Sister, go to that one” she tells me. I pick up a large orange water jug to carry with me to that tap and she says “you can take smaller” and gestures to the small green one I brought out. I say “I think I can handle a bigger one” smiling and trying to be more helpful. She smiles a little and gives a small chuckle and I know she is thinking I'll learn for myself whether or not I can handle the bigger load. I pick up the big orange jug and walk down to the other tap.
Another woman with matted hair that might be in intentional dreadlocks is filling her jugs at that spout. I recognize her from having passed her everyday on my way home. She lives in the small hut made of banana leaves on the corner and has a small child. Behind me Jeeva comes with the other jugs, and she sets them on the ground near the tap in front of her. I look at the sky, light orange around the edges and light blue at the top. The sun is not fully up yet, so it is not hot. It is warm, though.
A man with a turban wrapped around his head comes to the tap as well. I can see the top of his balding head with graying hair as his turban does not cover the top of his head, only the sides. Another woman wrapped in a wrinkled cotton sari comes as well. She stands by Jeeva, in front of me, and places two jugs stacked together on the ground next to her. Lines and turn taking do not translate into this culture, so I'm not surprised she cuts me off. Looking back to the first tap the pink sari woman is filling her jugs, quickely removing the full jug from under the tap and replacing it with another before the water running from the tap hits the ground. Then she grips the full jug from within the neck with her right hand and swings it across her body and up onto her left hip. She wraps her left arm around the outside of the neck and walks off with it resting on her outswung hip holding it only with her left arm.
A man has been sleeping on a string bed just outside dreadlock woman's house in the street. He sleeps there everynight and sometimes during the day. As I look he stirs, stretches up his arms, and stands. He pulls a bamboo matt off the strings of his bed and wraps it up quickly and deftly. Then he throws a thin blanket over his shoulder and picks up the pillow with this free hand. He dissappears into the hut, and then he reappears and tips the bed up so it leans against the hut and is not jutting out into the street. Dreadlock woman has filled a jug already and is waiting for a second to fill. She turns to him and says something. Then she hoists the full jug onto her hip with the same fluid motion pink sari woman used: right hand in the neck, swing across body and onto left hip, hold with left hand around neck. She walks down the street to her hut and the recently sleeping man comes to the tap to stare into the filling jug. I hear music again and it gets louder as he approaches. I cleverly deduct that it is in his pocket, probably a cell phone. As the water level in his jug approaches the neck both Jeeva and the woman to whom she has been speaking pick up jugs and step closer to the tap. Jeeva moves to slip a jug under the water as he pulls his away but he is faster. He slips a small jug under with his free hand almost before the he gets the full one out from under the water. Jeeva says something to him in her shrill voice, but he makes no reply as he lifts the jug unto his shoulder and walks away to the banana leaf hut.
Eventually, recently sleeping man comes out again and takes away the last of his jugs. Jeeva gets a jug under the tap next, the big blue one with the white lip. Jeeva turns to me and says “you can go to that tap”. I pick up the big orange jug and walk down the dirt path toward a tap at the far end.
The path leads between many banana leaf huts. Judging from the smell some of them are outhouses. In the dirt I see shallow ditches leading out from under some of the huts and toward the cement ditch where dirty water runs. When I get near the tap I see a woman there, washing silver dishes: two cups, a small container with a lid, and a small pot. As a approach she head bobbles at me and her movements quicken. She rapidly rinses the dishes and rubs them down with her hands, then she picks them up and walks off behind me. I slip my jug under the running water and wait for it to fill.
As I wait I see the woman walk into a hut without a roof and bend down so I can't see her anymore. A younger woman stands next to her and I her the clatter of pots and pans coming from their hut. Other than that I hear birds in the trees. They do not sing but chatter to each other, and occasionally a rooster crows from somewhere in the village. The village is full of chickens and roosters, so the crowing comes from all directions at different times. However, it's quite in the village compared to the city. Everyone seems to be out and about now, doing thier morning chores. The sun isn't even fully up yet.
As my jug fills I wonder if I will have to shut off the tap when I take my jug since I don't have another jug to fill while I take this one home. But then another woman walks down toward me with a jug in her hand. I grip my own filling jug just as the water reaches the neck and pull, trying to lift it slightly off the ground as I do so as not to drag it since Jeeva has warned me that dragging the jugs wears them out. Once my jug is clear of the water hers is under it, filling. I try to swing the jug up to my left hip, using the momentum of a small back swing as I have seen Jeeva and the other women do. I get it up, but not to my hip. I struggle to lift it a little higher and in the process slosh the hem of my in-skirt (worn under my nighty for modesty). I use both hands to get the jug up to my hip and as I turn to walk away I wrap my left arm around the neck hoping to be able to hold it as the other women do. It sloshes and slips and before I have taken two steps I am holding the jug in front of me and hugging it with both arms.
I walk back up the dirt path to the road, pass the other tap and finally reach Jeeva's yard. I cross under the laundry lines and walk up the two steps to the cement floor of the wash room where the cistern is. As I bend to avoid hitting my head on the door frame I splash my front with water. Finally, I tip the jug toward the cistern (which resembles a giant cement bathtub with little fish swimming in it) and let the water fall out, making more noise in that enclosed space than I expected. The washroom does not smell pleasant. The cistern had been getting low with all of us washing and bathing so much, and I could smell the fish that swim in it to eat the algie and keep the water kleen. I can't usually smell them. Once my jug is empty I hold it by the neck again and bend under the doorway and out into the yard again.
I take my jug down to the second tap and wait for my turn to fill it. When a woman comes to claim the currently filling jug I replace it with my own and wait alone for it to fill. When it is full I pull it out tp take my jug back to the cistern, again trying to get it on my hip like the other women. I get it there faster this time, and I do not attempt the one-handed hold. Instead I hug it around the middle with my left hand and around the neck with my right hand. I get a little wet on the way, but not as badly as last time. Or maybe I'm already so wet it doesn't matter. When I bend to get into the washroom does it slosh out again, soaking my feet and skirt hem.
Back at the first tap Jeeva motions with the hand swing that we are using it now. She tells me “other ones” and motions to the two other jugs that belong to her that are sitting by the second tap. I walk down and fetch them. As Jeeva reaches out to take her filling jug from under the water a woman at her side is ready poised with a very small red jug. Jeeva motions to me and I get my orange jug ready too. Jeeva pulls her jug out from under the water and toward the other woman, making her back up a bit and giving me a chance to get my jug under first. I worry that she wil be mad, but she says nothing, just sets her little red jug down next to my filling orange one and waits. When my jug is full she slips hers under easily.
When I get back to the tap, having wet myself once more the same as last time, Jeeva is filing the large blue jug, the biggest one she owns. When she gets it out she motions me to a smaller red and white striped jug, of medium size. “You can take smaller” she says, and I know she is thinking the wasted water dripping down my nighty and onto my shoes. Then Jeeva, who is about half my size, easily swings the bigger blue jug between her legs a bit and then uses the momentum to get it across her body and onto her left hip. She holds it with only her left arm around the neck of the jug and walks at a normal pace, hip jutting out where the jug rests. She doesn't spill a drop.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Poor girl, there is a rather tall American girl sitting in the front row who didn't get the "wear your best sari" memo taking up much of the attention. Don't blame me please, I didn't want to sit on the front row and I honestly don't know why your photographer is taking as many pictures of me as he is of you.
Suddenly someone is pushing my head down and I feel them messing with my braid. When they let me up again a woman is smiling down at me, my old string of Jasmin in her hand and a new one in my hair. Oh, uh, yes thank you that is my forehead--wow lots of red and orange powder on my forehead, okay sure why not. Oh! My neck to eh? Well, in for a penny! Slather it on my good woman. Eat that? Looks like a ball of white play-dough. Huh, tastes like playdough too. Another one? No I couldn't possibly...or you could shove it in my mouth like that. Yes thank you, lovely dough balls, I'm completely full. Oh, we are going in to eat now? Right well I'll just stand up then...you know you really don't need to hold my hand...but you're going to anyway. Smile, head bobble, keep walking.
Have you ever seen an Indian line? Well, imagine sheep filing into a feeding area and you have it. Sydney is plastered against a wall half laughing have gagging on her dough ball and a woman with bright yellow hands (she's been cow-dunging her house) grabs my arm and in we go! I think I stepped on someone back there. Sorry! No, not sari, sorry! Yes, your sari is lovely, and I am wearing a dusty salwar kamiz. Banana leaves on the table and the host is being sure we taste every dish. What the heck is that? I don't know but it tastes like condensed milk and looks like baby up-chuck. Smile, eat it! and fold the banana leaf quickly so they can't give you seconds.
Outside the proud father is telling us it is his daughter who has bloomed today. Isn't that nice? Don't you wish your dad would have thrown a party and invited the whole village when you had your first period?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Down a side alley, with dusty brown tarps. Bags of brown woven fabric sit open mouthed with mounds of spices piled inside. Red, green, yellow, all colors. The smell is overwhelming; it smells like everything and nothing. "Madam, Madam! (rapid Tamil words)" I answer no thank you, and I don't make eye contact. They already think I'm a loose woman, no need to encourage the idea. "Which country, which country???" America (I pronounce it A mare eee kah! so they can understand me). Ah, yes, that would explain the height...or something else in Tamil. "My name is? My name is?" I fight the urge to tell them I don't know there name and instead answer the question they mean to ask, "Cathlin." "Latkin?" "Whatever." A breeze has smuggled its way into the covered alley of the bazaar, it touches my skin like a long lost friend and I welcome it just as lovingly. "Madam, Madam banana! bannana!" No, thank you Mr. Goiter man, that's a lovely skin disease you have. This is market day.
Winding out into the open street again, the blare of horns incessantly in my ears. Buses pass within an inch of my elbow and I have learned not to flinch. Rickshaw drivers call out to me, motion to their motor-rickshaws. No, thank you, I'll take the bus. The light is red, but no one stops yet. I guess it isn't really red until it has been that way for a minute. Whistles and bells and "Hello! Hi HI HIII! Which country? My name is?" Hello, Amayreeekah! Cathlin. A head bobble. "Sari, madam, sari?" No thank you. "Come in, just come into shop!" No, I don't need gold jewelry or what looks like used sandals. My feet ache, they are not feet colored anymore. They are India colored. The bus stop, a crowd of people waiting. younger girls in salwar kamiza, like me. Mature women in saris, wrapped to show a pudge of dark brown belly. Old women in saris without blouses, a glimpse of wrinkled flesh sagging down. The bus is loud, honking at everyone and no one. Standing sandwiched between two Indian women I am glad the men sit in the back of the bus, and I am grateful for my height (I think the air is cleaner up here). A long, bumpy ride on dusty roads with my hand above my hand grasping the rail like a lifeline and the blessed wind drying dirt and sweat onto my skin. Head bobble to the conductor along with my five rupees. Walking home along poo-road where so many have left their fetid mark (I don't want to look down, but I don't want to step in it either). The village, the veranda, a smiling Jeeva, and finally bare feet on the warm (but not hot) cement of my floor/bed.
This is market day.
Friday, May 9, 2008
The six girls share a room. At night we lay out bamboo mats and sleep in sheets on the floor. When I roll over, I knee someone in the head most of the time. We have a ceiling fan, but the power goes out at least three times a night. Luckily, it isn't so hot here as it was in Chennai. I even got almost chilly the first night. In the morning, I get up and put on my flip flops which are not allowed either in the house or on the veranda, and cross the yard to the outhoust/washroom. Let's just say the outhouse is a squatter and leave it at that. Surprisingly, the left hand/right hand thing is working for me, though still a little wierd. I take a "shower" by filling a bucket from the cystern and splashing myself with it. I am careful as I fill the bucket not to use too much water as I will need to replace what I have used when the government pump is turned on in a day or so. I'll bring the water from the pump back to the house in a plastic vase thing which will probably be most comfortable on my head and dump it in the cistern where little fishes keep it clean. For drinking water we filter it with a pump filter into our bottles.
The village is surrounded by trees of all kinds and it is truly picturesque. Inside, teh houses are painted pastel blues, greens, yellows, and purples. I have been to the goddess temple where I'll be doing most of my participant observation, but it was not open when I got there. THere are a few tree shrines as well, one of which is a promising spot to chatt with the village women. As it is they come out of thier houses when I pass and we smile and put our palms together and say "vanacum" and head bobble at each other. I don't have much else to say until I find a translator.
The children drive me crazy. They won't leave us alone and you know how little I like children anyway. I'm nice, though. I keep telling them my name when they ask and no matter how often it happens I do not try to explain that no matter how many times they ask my name will still be Cathlin, and no matter how many times they repeat it they will never pronounce it right. Oh well.
Meals are eaten on banana leaves which we rinse off. Mostly rice with some spicy gravy/sauce that we mix with our hands and eat. I'm getting used to eating without utinsels. It's not so hard. The walk into "town" from where we live is long, but breezy. The "restaurants" are pretty scary looking, but I eat there twice a day and still do not feel the least bit sick.
Mattew and Jeeva (our host family) have an old man living with them (I think he is Jeeva's father). He's pretty kooky and we all enjoy his company. He speaks no English, but plays a mean hand of Uno. We try to learn Tamil words from him. Today we learned "beautiful". He told us how to say it and then gestured at me and said it a couple of times. He pointed to my braided hair and head bobbled, then to Sydney's short curly unbraided hair and shook his head. I guess unbraided hair is not beautiful.
We are back in the city today to grocery shop and internet. I can't get pictures uploaded. I'm sorry. I'll try really hard next time.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
We took a day trip to Mamallapuram today. Two hours on a dirty, dusty bus sitting quite close to everyone else. Mamallapuram is a shoreside temple site/village that was actually hit hard in the 2004 tsunami. In fact, I think there used to be two temples there, but the bigger one was swept out to sea. The whole complex is covered in carvings, elephants, gods, goddesses, and lots of cows. Beautiful. My favorite part, though, was the sea. The first beach we came to was not actually a resort type beach. THere were fisherman's boats along the shore and it was actually quite there except for the roar of the grey sea. It seemed so huge and peaceful, but somehow dangerous too. We hiked around the rocks they put out around the surviving temple (to save it from the sea) and came to a resort beach. I can't get used to how colorful it all is. So much more so than anything in the US. The women all stayed fully wrapped in their saris and shrieked as they got up to thier ankles in the sea. The men, and expecially boys, were not so modest or so timid; they bathed in it, letting it sweep them off and bring them back again. A few people there had horses, and I think I saw some goats. The little sea side shops were fantastic, and I had to really put on the self restraint not to buy any little hand made sculptures or seashell necklaces.
We went further inland to another temple with a huge relief behind it that boasts one of the best elephant sculptures in India. Not to shabby, I must say. The hardest part was when I went deep into the temple to see the sleeping Shiva. I thought it was hot outside, but inside was indescribable. I got a blessing though, Shiva's little silver hat thing on my head and the waving flame deal. I gave the priest a rupee for donation and stumbled out into the more bearable heat. By the way, those of you who are thinking you know what heat is, think again. Not even Argentina on it's worst day comes near what I have been living in here. It's amazing, though, how much they do all day. The city is a huge bussle of activity all day, not even a siesta during the hottest hours. It's so dirty, though. There are no trashcans, except in very expensive government buildings. Trash lines all the streets and every once in a while the smell is all but overwhelming. Going away to Mamallpuram was a blessing. Still messy but nothing like Chennai.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Four of us went to a mosque last night. Rickshaws are not made for large american, but three usually fit tightly. The fourth had to sprawl accross out knees. When we got there, we were not allowed inside (no women's section) but since none of us whipped out a camera they decided we were respectful so they let us go into the saint shrine right next to it. A very nice woman with few teeth gave us sugar (and the ants that were crawling all over us loved it!) and a tiny cup of holy water which we drank after praying it wouldn't give us dysentary. Then the priest-ish dude whipped out a bunch of peacock feathers and fanned us around the face with them. On our way out the night watchman told us he would pray for us...if we give him some money. The rickshaw ride back was the highlight though. After a very nice woman helped us find a rickshaw I wanted to give her some rupees since she was homeless, so as I was getting into the good old money belt she pointed at me and was saying something. As we drove away I asked Natalie what she said. Apparently she thought I was pregnant. Nice. Then when our driver noticed that we were laughing when he turned sharply or stopped suddenly, he started doing it on purpose. He took us the long way home and stopped to talk to several people who poked their heads in to see us and laugh. As we passed through a slum a pile of metal dishes came flying into the street. We ran over them and our driver explained "fighting, fighting". We did make it home, it was pretty wild
I guess I should explain that we are no where near the village yet. We are in Chennai and will be until Wednesday when we take the first available train to Coimbatore. A couple of days there and we head to Chavadipudur which is our home base for the next few weeks. I haven't started any research yet, but I am working out the bathroom situation and I figure one step at a time, baby.
I ate a full meal today. My mouth still kind of hurts. It's like lighting your mouth on fire with every bite. Take that Los Hermanos.
I'll post pictures when I can, I never remember to take my camera. Syd is better at the whole photo thing. I"ll get some on here asap. Meanwhile, I'm gonna take my salwar camiza and go to a Tamil love movie. The lead actor has a mullet in the poster. Heck yeah baby, heck ya.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
I've never stuck out so much in my life. It's kind of like being the main attraction at the zoo, because I'm not only a foot taller than everyone around me but I'm also the color of milk in a chocolate world. We went clothes shopping today, I bought the material for my first sari. When I chose it, out of nowhere about ten little women came out and started wrapping me up in it and speaking to me (in Tamil, so don't ask what they said). I just kind of lifted up my elbows and let them walk underneath my arms wrapping and folding and tucking. One of the came out with "tall!!" and I head bobbed and we all started laughing like it was the funniest thing ever said in English or Tamil. I liked the girls in the fabric shop; we grinned at each other a lot for no reason, and it made the language barrier seem smaller. Then Sydney pulled out a camera and we took a picture. Talk about Gulliver's travels. I look like a freak. And I am, let's be honest.
The food is...well it's not the "Bombay House" in Provo, that's for sure. I got these little white cakes for breakfast that looked like doughy mashed up rice and were surprisingly spicy. Everything is spicy. Tomorrow we think we'll try to find a non-vegetarian restaurant so we can have omlettes...which will probably be really spicy too.
The beggers get me most. It's illegal to give them money, but they are everywhere and most are obviously disabled. I feel so horrid walking by, this stupid rich American who can't spare a single rupie for a mother with one eye and a suckling baby. They get pretty persistent, though. They grab my arms and walk along with me for a whole block. I don't feel so bad saying no to the persistent ones; it's the quieter ones that get me. Everyone else wants to sell me something, mostly a ride in an overpriced rick-shaw (which is like a mix between a taxi and a bicicle). Speaking of transportation, I have had about four near death experiences today. I can count them easily because that is the number of times I had to cross a main street today. Lot of horns and screaming of brakes. The taxi ride from the airport was awesome. We nearly missed every car that passed us and, apparently, red lights are just for decoration here since we certainly didn't stop for any.
I bought jasmine for my hair this morning, and everytime I smell something aweful (which is often) I just shake my head a little and a nice little jasmine breeze half covers it. This is gong to be a habit, I think.