One of the Best Things I did in India

Habitat for Humanity, India Group

Writing about India brings back so many memories. Last week I was writing about the first time that I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, India. Fitting, since my daughter was in Ecuador last week, volunteering with Me to We, a Canadian charitable organization.

For me, building houses with Habitat was one of the highlights of my time in India. I remember being so naive, thinking that we were actually going to build a house – all in one day. It was a real eye opener to learn that Habitat was helping not just one family, but an entire village, and that it would take weeks or months to build a home, depending on the availability of volunteers and funds.

The house that I worked on was just in the beginning stages and we spent the day digging and carrying away dirt. We worked alongside the husband and his brother. Sweat equity they called it.

Habitat for Humanity, India Build

What I liked about Habitat for Humanity was that they gave a “hand up” not a “hand out.” Families paid back a no-profit loan and they  helped build the house with their own hands.

I remember how hot it was that day and how hard-packed the red soil was, with big stones embedded in it. All we had were these rudimentary tools – picks for digging, and shallow round bowls for carrying the dirt away. Every once in a while, one of us westerners would wish out loud for a proper shovel, a wheel barrel or some sort of machinery to hasten the pace. It was painful, knowing how fast the work would have been done back home, with first world machinery.

“You could easily have paid a local person two hundred rupees ($5) to do the work that you are doing today,” the Senior Manager for Habitat India told us. “But your time here is valuable to this community. It shows them that you value them and care enough to come and help. Not only that, but each of you will share your experience with others and create awareness.”

When I finished volunteering that first day, it was hard to leave, to wave goodbye to the children who had gathered to watch us work. To say goodbye to the husband and the brother who worked with us all day, and the grandparents who watched from the shade of a papaya tree. I put my hands together and bowed my head in respect, to thank them for letting me come and help out. “Namaste,” I said. When I looked up, I saw such gratitude in their eyes, and all I could think was no, it’s me who is the lucky one.

Amazon Me to We 2

My daughter just returned from her trip to Ecuador, where Me to We strives to “empower a generation to shift the world from ‘me’ to ‘we’—through how we act, how we give, the choices we make on what to buy and what to wear, the media we consume and the experiences with which we choose to engage.”

She was telling me all about her trip to the Amazon: the people that she met; running out of shower water; the work that she did on a school – mixing cement, painting, sawing and carrying wood. She told me how they calculated that a family of three would have just 43 cents to buy food for a meal. That would buy a bit of rice, a potato, an onion and a tomato. “That was a real eye opener,” she told me.

What I noticed more than anything was the joy in her voice and the smile on her face. She genuinely said, “I’m really grateful for what I have.”

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Short Story Magazines for Readers and Writers

Short Story Magazines

Whether you want a good read, a quick read, or are looking for somewhere to submit your own short stories or poetry here are a few magazines that I can recommend:

Event Poetry and Prose: Poetry, fiction, creative-nonfiction. Stories are well written, enjoyable, and some – rather quirky.

The Feathertale Review: If humor is your thing, this one is for you. Some stories are funnier than others, some I didn’t get at all, but overall a good laugh.

The Fiddlehead: A good mix of poetry and fiction – the writing is superb.

Prism International: A real gem of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. A good mix of edgy, thought-provoking and entertaining. Enjoyed every bit of  it.

Hey, I know the list is short, but then again, so are the stories. Help me out – what short story magazine (print or online) do you think I should I read and add to the list?

There’s Something About Alice Munro

I’ve recently become a fan of Alice Munro’s. I suppose I feel a connection. She’s Canadian, I’m Canadian. She’s a writer, I’m a writer. She owned Munro’s Books in Victoria, B.C. and I bought books there when I was growing up. She won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, I…well…I didn’t.

To be honest, I’ve only just discovered Alice. In fact I just read my first Alice Munro book: Lives of Girls and Women.

Oh, to write like Alice! Sentences are complex, yet, oh so easy to read. Lives of Girls and Women is fiction, about a young girl, Del Jordan, growing up in small-town Ontario. Munro writes about subjects that most people would overlook, would think too ordinary to be interesting. She turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, such as when Del comes across a dead cow in a field:

“The eye was wide open, dark, a smooth sightless bulge, with a sheen like silk and a reddish gleam in it, a reflection of light. An orange stuffed in a black silk stocking. Flies nestled in one corner, bunched together beautifully in an iridescent brooch.”

And Munro writes with such truth:

“I had a great desire to poke the eye with my stick, to see if it would collapse, if it would quiver and break like a jelly, showing itself to be the same…I traced the stick all the way round the eye, I drew it back––but I was not able, I could not poke it in.”

And Munro’s mind flows in unusual but intriguing ways. In the same chapter that Del looks upon the dead cow, she also looks upon her dead Uncle, lying in wake:

“The eyelids lay too lightly on his eyes, the grooves and creases on his face had grown too shallow. He himself was wiped out; this face was like a delicate mask of skin, varnished, and laid over the real face–or over nothing at all, ready to crack when you poked a finger into it. I did have this impulse, but at a level far, far removed from possibility, just as you might have an impulse to touch a live wire.”

Throughout the book I wondered – is this really fiction? The details, the dialogue, the inner thoughts – it all seems too real. One line really stands out, and though it is Del talking, I am sure that this must be a quote from Munro herself:

“They were talking to somebody who believed that the only duty of a writer is to produce a masterpiece.”

I came across this interview with Alice Munro, where she talks about becoming a writer, the excitement and disappointment of writing stories, and what she hopes readers feel when they read her stories. Please, find yourself half an hour, grab a cup of tea and a comfy chair and enjoy the endearing Ms. Munro. It’s well worth it: Alice Munroe in her own words

Kerala Tourism Photos

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Thank you Kerala Tourism for asking me to update Nancy’s India Blog with three of your photos!

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Travelers and nature lovers from across the world travel to the Kerala Backwaters to see a quieter, more serene side of India. The backwaters are comprised of 44 rivers, a vast network of lakes, and 1500 km of labyrinthine canals. There are over 300 species of birds, floating markets and the famous snake boat races.

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Click on Nancy’s India Blog to read about my trip to Kerala and to see the photos as part of the blog. Click here to see an enlarged version of the photos and scroll through the backwaters.

Back to the Cul-de-Sac

We have landed on Canadian soil – with no return ticket in hand. We’ve been off of Planet India for two weeks, decompressing in Greece. Two weeks? It already seems like a lifetime ago that we were in India, in fact it seems unreal that we actually lived there.
Maybe Greece – Santorini in particular – was too good to us? The food, the wine, the vistas (spectacular), the relaxed/no worried atmosphere – just too tempting to stay longer. Guiltily we all admitted we didn’t miss India at all.

There is a term, after a long relationship ends and you meet someone else right away – the new guy is known as the rebound guy. The rebound guy is so great he helps you get over your long relationship guy. Well, Greece was our rebound guy, so good that we had no desire to go back to India, it made our inevitable return to Canada much easier.

Just before landing in Vancouver the pilot told us the temperature was 16 degrees celcius with blustering winds. It seemed like we descended through ten minutes of clouds and I was waiting for what lay underneath. Rain. Dark. Cold. But we saw a glimmer of sunshine that somehow made it through the clouds…it was bright and chilly, but not windy – this would do.

We were greeted at the airport by family and whisked home to Michael’s sisters’ house. Our tennants moved out of our house on the 29th and we got the keys back to our house. It will be about a week before we move in but it is nice to have a home to go back to.  Our home. Canada.

I am sure we will miss our “rebound guy,” Greece, but I know in the end it will be India that will creep back into our thoughts and our memories.

There is no place like India. I hesitate to sign off completely, to finsh blogging. There is a lot more to write about, believe me. So many stories that I could not tell while in the country – many funny stories, some frustrating ones, but all unbelievable. Eventually I will put it all down in writing, maybe a little at a time, maybe all at once.

The last two years were an adventure, full of opportunity and ups and downs. The future will bring more travel, more change and more opportunity. But if there is one thing that stuck from the ashram – the most important thing is to do is to “live in the now.”

Out of India

We’ve been out of India for about six days now. We couldn’t go straight home of course, that would have been too direct. It wouldn’t have felt right going straight from India back home to Canada. Plus when you are half way around the world you have to take advantage of the travel opportunities – well, we do anyway.

So we chose Greece. An easy 4 hrs from Bangalore to Doha, a 2 hr stopover and another 4 hrs to Athens. And there we were, out of the place we’ve called home for two years and plopped into a western country. The start of new beginnings.

And just like that we adapt: lane driving, short shorts, tank tops, fresh fruit (cherries, peaches), huge plates of food, garbage cans. No sari’s, no burqas, no three wheelers…

We adapt quickly, perhaps too quickly. I’m thankful for my blog now and all the photos so that we don’t forget. The things we learned in India, the things we want to change about the way we live in the western world – to not get caught up in the rat race – is it possible?

Last Few Days

Missed it by that much – did our best to get everything sent off via air shipment, but no luck. We had too much stuff, and so when we found out we were over the limit (six cubic meters) we did the only sane thing – added more furniture to what has now become the sea shipment. The guy says it will get to Canada within 5 – 6 weeks. Now that would be fabulous but I won’t hold my breath.

The movers seemed to do a really good job – about ten guys swooped in at 10:00am, packed everything really well and the truck was gone by 4:00pm. They had a mere 45 min. break to eat their tiffin lunches in our garage and another hour waiting for a truck so they could actually load it up, but all in all it went very smoothly.

The kids had their final exam on Friday, Michael had his last day of work, we are moved out and officially on vacation! Holed up in a hotel for the final days and I really don’t feel like leaving the hotel until we have to go to the airport. It is so quiet and clean, there’s always a cool breeze, – it’s not really India at all here in the hotel! We can tell the newbies with their sunburns and glazed over looks on their faces. I remember feeling like them two years ago.

Two years ago! It’s hard to believe – we knew it would go by fast…and it did. Charity meetings and Rangoli meetings are a thing of the past. I had my last yoga class on Tuesday; my last OWC coffee morning and lunch with the girls on Thurs., my last haircut with Arlene today (she is so good and fast and I didn’t have to leave the hotel).

We aren’t much for drinking hard liquour but we did buy some gin at duty free when we arrived. After our Kabini trip we started drinking the odd gin and tonic – didn’t want the gin to go to waste (that’s a Ukranian and a Scot for ya). So here we are in the hotel, drinking G &T’s, going to the pool everyday and eating at the buffet – finally acting like typical expats! 

Moving Day

Well it is moving day today. It’s 7:00am, have to get the kids off to school and then Michael and I will continue to organize our stuff. Still hoping to get everything into an air shipment but we have our doubts – amazing how much we have accumulated over two years. Not big things but lots of smaller items.The problem is they all add up.

Giving as much stuff away as possible. Most of it goes to our maid who is a single Mom of two boys. A few things like a TV, water purifier and all our potted plants and trees will go to one of the OWC charities, Bangalore Hospice Trust, a palliative care center for cancer patients. They make it easy and have even arranged transportation for the goods at a reasonable fee of about 500 rp ($10).

One last coffee and cinnamon bun on the patio before the movers come at 10:00am.

One Last Walk Around the Block

This is our last weekend in the house and we have been busy spring cleaning. It is amazing how much stuff one can accumulate in two years. And since we want to fit everything into a tiny air shipment we are busy giving stuff away.

But this weekend our priority was to go out for one last walk around the neighbourhood. We will always have great memories of our walks around the block. Here’s a look:

The Shiva Temple

The Friendly Children

Always Interesting Streets

The Coconut Stand
Fresh Chicken
The Corner Store where we stop for a drink and a snack

The Traffic

Buses Making U-Turns on Busy Streets

The Boys on the Garbage Truck

Laundry

Stray Dogs and Rangoli

Veg or Non Veg?

A funny thing happened within the last few months – I stopped eating meat! I know shocking isn’t it? I can’t explain it, it just kind of happened. It could have been many things:

  • the sight and smell of carcasses hanging in the shops and markets.
  • signs around town with pictures of animals saying, “don’t kill me.”
  • graphic signs at cafeteria at Meditation Pyramid saying “don’t murder animals” and “stop eating flesh.”
  • Judy at cooking class in Goa calling meat flesh, “bring me the flesh,” “let’s cook the flesh.”
  • yoga book stating unhealthy to eat meat.

Yes it could have been many things but it just happened and now I’m trying to be creative or just eliminate meat from our usual meals. Veg lasagna, veg chili, veg burgers (!!). Some dishes I’ll still cook the “flesh” for everyone else and just leave it out of my meal – veg enchiladas, chicken salad – and just add more veg. And I am still eating seafood, milk, and eggs…just no meat.

I’ve ordered special meals for the plane (I’m special!): I think it’s “lacto ovo veg.” There are so many options on the plane. “Hindu veg,” “Jain veg” and I think there was a “lacto, ovo, seafood veg” option too…

In India it is so easy to be vegetarian. Many restaurants are strictly veg and almost all others will have a veg menu and a non veg menu. The question is will this last once I get back to Canada? Most people we know are serious carnivores, it could be difficult.