Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Half a Loaf of Bread

Things have returned to normal here in Schreiberland since my trip to India.  I've finally re-adjusted to Central Daylight Time, taxied kids to all reaches of Champaign-Urbana, scheduled parent-teacher conferences, enjoyed grocery shopping amidst the vast consumer choices of a big box store (Meijer), attended approximately 384 church meetings, done my regular tutoring at Danville prison, and caught up on The Office, 30 Rock and Lost. Trying to make sense of Lost is no easier than before leaving for India, but I'm all in at this point.

But what really makes me feel at home is staring at my computer when I should be writing.  Instead, I am now fully up-to-date on all the latest ways to be frustrated with our political system.

As such, there is a great article at Smile Politely today, Something is better than nothing, where Joel Gillespie interviews Claudia Lennhoff from the Champaign County Health Care Consumers. Over the last nine months I've swung between tepid support of the proposed health care reforms (because they are so watered down compared to what is really needed) and general anger at Republicans (for consistently lying about and obstructing any kind of reform that is so desperately needed by so many people).

Lennhoff is in the trenches and sees the daily effects of our current health care system. 

The way I think of this imperfect legislation is this: If one is hungry, one does not walk away from half a loaf of bread just because it is not a full loaf of bread, or the type of bread we really wanted. You take the half and come back the next time for the other half or for another loaf. You don’t walk away from the opportunity to help real people. Our nation is desperate. I think Rep. Kucinich must not feel the desperation and must not have had to witness the destruction of people’s lives because of our current health care situation. I would invite him to walk one day in my shoes, working with local clients. Or better yet, walk one day in the life of one of my clients. Being sick and not knowing how, or if you’re going to get better is a very terrible way to live.
I may be tepid about partial reform, but she's convinced me that, indeed, something is better than nothing. Like Nader in 2000, making a statement about one's unhappiness with a pure, ideal state is a sign of privilege. And like Nader in 2000, demanding perfection will lead to continued suffering that the least among us can least afford.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ushapalooza 2010 Wraps Up

Ushapalooza 2010 has officially ended its tour through Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodphur, Jalna, Mumbia and Kochi. Usha is coming back to the states this weekend, but the rest of us have made it back safely. We travelled 34 hours and dropped two passports (the Breezes) that were returned by a guy in line, lost one jacket (me) that the taxi driver had to come back for, and had a temporarily lost ticket to Chicago (Thom). The only thing Martha reported losing was her appetite from eating airport food for 34 hours.

For posterity, our modes of transportation during the trip included: Van, Ell, plane, cars, rickshaw (bike and motorized), horse cart, airport bus, elephant, camel, jeep, safari truck, taxi, ferry boat, escalator, and feet.

Animals we saw, in no particular order: Lizard, antelope, chicken, duck, gazelle, pig, sheep, water buffalo, cow, dog, bobcat, peacock, rooster, camel, cobra, horse, monkey (lemur & red faced something or other), tiny squirrels, mosquito, swan, egret, parrot, pigeon, crow, hawk, goat, ox, elephant and cat.

We should have created a list of food we ate too. I apologize for being such a sucky food correspondent. I will say that the mango juice was excellent.

I have a few random photos to mention that didn’t make it elsewhere, below.

One thing I learned about Thom during the trip is that he meets a new best friend at every stop. Here he is with the Barwale family drivers in Bombay:

These guys below were tenacious in following us around one night, asking for money. The problem with giving in India is that it is interpreted as the beginning of the transaction, not the end, and only increases the intensity of the asking and there is no end to people in need. Wanting to help but being overwhelmed was probably the hardest part about being here. I hope one of these guys gets the girl and wins a million dollars on Who Wants to Be Millionaire in a few years.

It was interesting to see the easy affection between males here. Holding hands and having arms around each other was quite common.

Also quite common in the smaller villages: Men hanging out, while women work. It’s still a very patriarchal society, although while we were here, a bill was before parliament that would reserve a third of the elected seats for women, which would put them ahead of us.

I never got tired of the bright colors that women wear. When talking to men is considered forward, I guess you go with the bright colors to show yourself off.

And it never ceases to amaze me how they can carry all that stuff on their heads

And, I can't leave India without mentioning how much I love the “notorious” Indian head nod, as Usha calls it. It needs a video rather than an explanation, and here's one I stole from the intertubes:

A very small subset of meanings the head nod has:
  • yes
  • no
  • maybe
  • whatever
  • thank you for the tip I am very grateful
  • sure buy that crappy hat -- it's your money to waste
  • I am honored to open this door for you
  • sure you can think you will pay for dinner tonight
  • I see that you are indicating you do not want coffee or tea, but I cannot believe that anyone would not want coffee or tea
  • no we don't make the dish mild spicy but I will say we do anyway
  • yes our destination is 30 minutes away (repeat 3 times during the trip)
In conjunction with a slight smile, grimace, smirk, raised eyebrow, scowl, or other facial expression, it can mean just about anything. I wish I could do it properly.

I think one of my main goals was not to be seen as this during our trip:


Final thoughts from everyone:

Martha & Clark: The sense of hospitality here was quite moving and well beyond what we usually experience. People seem genuinely happy to be with you.
Martha: Struck by the diversity of people, circumstances, colors, smells, of everyone and everything sharing the same space with much incident. There is a respect for life and an acceptance of death. And at no time did we feel unsafe.
Cindy: Enormous gratitude towards Usha. We couldn’t have had this experience without her. (Of course we feel this way too).
Thom: He had heard over the last 10 years (since last being here) how India is developing and moving forward and making progress. This trip underscored that as he’s now seen it first-hand – although there is still a lot of poverty, there are many more cars and motorcycles and fewer animals on the road.

Clark: Impressed by the diversity of the experience – we saw desert, sea, hill, the capital, rural and a lot of history.

Dan: I really enjoyed the barely contained chaos of the street and the shops. Although it was hard to move sometimes, it was an experience I just don’t get in the states. I wouldn’t want to live in such chaos, but it was fun to experience it.

And thanks for everyone following along in the blog -- it been a great experience and we are eternally grateful to Usha and her family for such graciousness and hospitality.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Kochi Tourists

This will likely be my second to last India blog post. We leave tomorrow, and I’ll post one more when I get home, assuming we don’t get eaten by tigers. Or at least I don’t get eaten by tigers.

We were not as helpless as we thought we might be without Usha. We managed to ignore the guy trying to sell us a boat ride for 100 rupees, find the ferry, pay our 2 rupees (about a nickel), and make our way to Fort Kochi to look around and be tourists.

The ferry

We chose to walk to the Jewish Synagogue, the oldest in the British Commonwealth, dating back to the 16th Century. It was late morning, before things really get started, and we were treated to a Kochi that was just waking up.

Not pictured is the sauna-like heat and the occasional waft of pungent waste in the gutter on the side. But walking was a good way to get around at first, because usually we are behind the windows of a car and don’t get as much of a feel for the place.

However, we were bedraggled by the time we found the synagogue. So, we found a taxi and were able to negotiate a ride across town for 30 rupees (about 70 cents). Usha would have been proud.

The streets looked like this by the time we got our taxi:

Our taxi driver had his kerosene stored in a plastic soda bottle, which he took out to refill in the middle of our trip. Martha, who is on a roll with great one-liners, remarked that our taxi was apparently powered by a molotav cocktail:

We also managed to feed ourselves without Usha. We found Dal Maki, one of the Frommer-approved restaurants. We collectively had chicken biryani (rice and chicken dish, with other spices), paneer wraps (which tasted like yummy paneer chimichangas) and paneer mughlai, which was paneer and egg inside a pastry-ish dough (which I liked best).

One of the things Kochi is famous for is its spice shops:

Spice is one of the few things I did not buy in India, although I’m sure there is something I should have picked up. Sorry Jill, no spice is coming home.

I took a break to watch some kids play cricket. Boys play sports with the same enthusiasm everywhere.

On one of our taxi rides, our taxi driver kept stopping at various places and telling us we should shop here – “very good prices. You like.” We kept saying no. Then insisting no. Then shouting no. They obviously had some kind of deal worked out with the store to funnel tourists there.

But while I was watching cricket, a taxi driver was hanging out and simply asked me if he could drive us to a shop right across the street, because he would get 2 somethings of rice to bring people there. He said we didn’t have to buy anything, all they had to do was write his taxi number down. Whether he was telling the truth or not, I don’t know, but I found it refreshing that he was simply upfront about it. So, we decided to go. It had a $9,000 swing in it:

We didn’t buy the swing, or anything else, even though they offered free shipping. And it only cost us about 10 minutes to see the shop and maybe help the taxi driver out. Nonetheless, I can see Usha doing the Indian head nod right now, which in this case would mean “don’t let these guys take advantage of you.”

We arrived back in the afternoon wet and soggy from sweat, but ready to lounge around until our flight leaves tomorrow.

We did take a boat ride out in the bay, where there are a lot of Chinese–style fishing nets. I really think Clark should think about a second career as a photographer:

So, thanks to everyone for following along. It’s been an exhilarating trip. As I mentioned, I’ll post something when I get back, before returning to my life as the Schreiber Family Taxi Driver.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Winding Down the River

Things are winding down here, as symbolized by our lazy boat ride today.

We are in the communist state of Kerala, which has the highest literacy rate in all of India. The other communist state in India is West Bengal, the location of Kolkata (Calcutta), which has one of the highest poverty rates in India. It looks like communism has a record of 1-1 in India.

But Kerala is lovely. We charted a boat that we thought was going to look like this:

By now we should not be surprised, but the boat actually looked like this:

It was a houseboat with 2 bedrooms that would have taken us to Sri Lanka if needed. Instead, we decided on a four hour tour.

Idyllic is probably the best word to describe it:

There were villages and huts all along the river, and it seemed that people were washing clothes and themselves all day. The river is the road for these folks, who farm in fields next to the river.

Despite the loose tale of ill-repute that Cindy told in yesterday’s blog post, she did get one thing right: I do love me my mango juice. However, note that only one of these is mine, and that 2 of them are Clark’s.

We stopped during the boat ride to walk along the path next to the river. I was tricked into thinking this was a mango tree. It was a just a coconut tree.

(the tree had little ropes around it with mini foot-sized coconut shells wrapped around them. It was surprisingly sturdy and pretty easily to scale up).

Speaking of coconuts, the provisions were so bad on the boat that we were forced to make glassware out of coconuts:

Actually, the coconut milk looks a lot better than it tastes. We were expecting sweet milk, but it was something else. “It’s an acquired taste” remarked Martha, meaning “it tastes kind of gross.”

Here’s a good picture of Thom. I didn’t take the picture, but it somehow mysteriously appeared on my netbook after copying Clark’s SIM card. I didn’t witness the picture being taken, so it must be a miracle or magic of some kind.

Dinner tonight was at the shish-kabob place at the hotel. We had all sorts of fish, chicken, lamb, pork, paneer and vegetables on kebabs. Another great meal. During the meal, we were visited by a two-man band playing 60 music. They did George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, and we sang along with them.

Sadly, today is our last day with Usha. She flies off to a business meeting early tomorrow and we will fend for ourselves for another day and a half before leaving. In her absence, we will likely wander around aimlessly, let unsavory venders take advantage of us, eat poisonous food, contract malaria and possibly get eaten by tigers.

So, I’ll leave you with Queen Usha of India, who is probably thinking fondly of all the free time she will have once her happy Americans go home.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Memorable Mumbai Moments

If you have been a faithful reader of Dan’s blog thus far, please note that today’s entry is not written by Dan. His traveling companions offered to give him a day off since this has been a rather time consuming endeavor on his part. But, we also wanted to use this opportunity to set the record straight.

Martha, Thom, Usha, Clark, and myself (Cindy) want you to know a few things about what this blog posting will not be:

1. Because I’m writing, this entry will not be very funny.

2. In this entry you will not see a picture of yet another meal that Dan hasn’t REALLY eaten. He pretty much bypasses anything remotely more spicy that plain celery.

3. In this entry, Dan will not rely on the excellent photography of Martha and Clark, all the while pretending that the great pictures he’s posting are his. Today we are using photos that only Dan took with his very own camera (well…actually with Chloe’s very own camera).

What this blog entry WILL be, however, is factual (something Dan sometimes has trouble distinguishing). You can surely trust me. After all, its only been 5 weeks since I retired from pastoral ministry!

Here are a few things we have learned about Dan on our trip to India:

1. Dan pretends to not like shopping, yet he was the first to break out an extra empty suitcase for souvenirs to take home. EVERY place we shop, he buys! Lucky Jill, Chloe, Jasmine, and Anthony!

2. Dan pretty much lives on mango drinks.

3. Dan cannot keep straight Usha’s relatives and frequently stumbles into a situation where his foot must be retracted from his mouth.

4. Dan does not only take pictures of food, he also takes pictures of the many Indian bathrooms we have being using.

We’ll get back to Dan in a minute, but we really did want you to know something about our short time in Mumbai. On April 5, we traveled from Usha’s house (where we had such a wonderful time) in Jalna to Aurangabad. We then flew to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to stay with Usha’s parents overnight. Usha had some work commitments (including a television interview) so her sister, Prema, was kind enough to accompany us for the afternoon. Prema is the physician that Usha has been continually consulting about our various illnesses. We had a wonderful lunch at Swatis (one of our best meals so far) before more shopping – as per Dan’s request.

We sampled several dishes new to us all. Clockwise from the bottom center are: Onion rava dosa, plain panki, dhan shak, satpati, and plain dosa. Not pictured were the mint panki, the pani puri, sweet can juice, coconut milk drink, and several rounds of home made ice cream.

Returning to the Barwale home we were once again greeted with warm and gracious hospitality. I like the custom in India where there are multiple generations living in the same household, and in this particular family, Usha’s brother (Raju), sister-in-law (Sushama), and their son (Aashish) live with Usha’s parents (Badrinarayan and Goumati). All but Usha’s parents went to dinner at a sports’s club called Bombay Gym where we ate outdoors while watching a soccer game in progress. For all you in cold climates, yes, I did say outdoors. Several other family members joined us for this delightful meal, and we five guests were treated royally. Clark maybe expressed it best when he said: “They made us feel like we were actually part of their family.”

In the morning we gathered around the table for our best breakfast yet.

Samosas, Dhokla, upma, and cheese toast.

Soon after breakfast we made a leisurely trip to the airport, stopping on the way for me to buy a couple of cookbooks so I can cook some authentic Indian food when we get home. I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to have Usha over for dinner, but we’ll see.


Thom and Dan: They both mentioned that one of their favorite Mumbai moments was “hanging out” in the street while our drivers tried to explain what was going on and pointing out all the makes and models of taxis.

Martha: “Being with Usha’s family and eating together at the Bombay Gym was a highlight for me.”

Clark: I really enjoyed sitting with Usha’s father and hearing his many stories, especially the ones about the first times he visited the U.S.

Cindy: I enjoyed being at the Barwale’s, too. Everyone was so gracious to us, and although Mrs. Barwale had just gotten out of the hospital on the day we arrived, she didn’t seem to mind the extra folks around. Martha and I received beautiful scarves from her as we left. In the spirit of Dan always choosing a new adjective to describe Usha, we dub her “tender Usha” today for the caring way she interacted with her mother.

One other lasting impression we came away with is the stark disparity of the high rise, modern buildings of Mumbai, right next to the slums. Perhaps Dan will post a picture of that tomorrow.

Back to Dan…

I asked each of our group to tell me something they thought the readers of this blog should know about Dan. Here are their actual responses:

USHA: I never knew Dan was so funny.

THOM: Dan is inquisitive and maintains a sense of humor for the group. EDITORIAL COMMENT: Does anyone else think it strange that Thom should say something this positive about Dan considering this next picture?

MARTHA: Dan is always looking at what he might bring home for his family. EDITORIAL COMMENT: What a nice way Martha spins the truth – Dan just plain likes to be in Indian shops!

CLARK: I am really impressed with the great job Dan is doing on this blog because if I was doing it, this wouldn’t feel like a vacation. EDITORIAL COMMENT: Let’s be honest, Clark, we wouldn’t even know how to do it!)

CINDY: I have no medical proof, but we’re highly suspicious that all the various “bugs” we’ve contracted originated with Dan. Don’t let it bother you, Dan, that due to illness, I missed out on the camel safari, jeep safari, the program by Indian musicians and dancers, and the entire desert experience.

Seriously, Dan, we are all happy you are on this trip with us, and we deeply appreciate your commitment to this project. We’ll have a lasting journal of our experiences because of your work, and let’s face it...sending you back to your room every night to write and download pictures keeps you out of trouble!

One last Dannism…He actually said the following just as we all headed back to our respective rooms for the night: “I hope we have time to shop tomorrow, I still have more things to buy.”

Respectfully submitted by Cindy Breeze

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Caves

A few days ago, I hit the part of the trip where it was not deeply strange to be in a foreign country. I caught myself at times having to remember – oh yes, I’m in India.

Now, we have only 4 days left, and it feels like it’s all but over, even though we haven’t even seen Kerala/Kochi yet. The last half of a trip always seems to fly by, whether it’s a car ride to Florida, a trip to India, or life itself.

We are in Mumbai now, being taken care of and pampered by the many branches of the Barwale family (Usha's extended family).  We are all agreed that the Barwale family should somehow be involved in every vacation we take. Luckily, they seem to be spread out all over the world, so our options would still be pretty open.

We leave tomorrow for the green, lush coast at Kochi, but I want to get caught up with yesterday’s activity of viewing the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves near Aurangabad.

The caves were cut into the side of a mountain by monks using only hand tools of chisel and hammer.  There were 34 caves built between the 5th and 11th century AD by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks carving out temples or artifacts for their religious tradition.

As with most things in India, the pictures don't do them justice.

What's amazing about them is that they were carved from within the mountain, from the top down, so what might look like a large statue placed in a cave or a concrete pillar holding up the ceiling is actually all a big, connected, solid block of rock that was carved starting at the top.

The amount of planning that went into must have been tremendous.  One wrong chisel and you'd have to go find an alternative mountain to start over.
Unfortunately, the caves have suffered over the centuries from vandalism, and even some intentional subterfuge. At one point, Taliban-ish Muslims broke some of the sculptures because they considered them idols. Note the broken elelphant trunks below. 
Not as bad as Christians killing Muslims during the Crusades or by Hindus killing Muslims, or Muslims killing Christians and Hindus, all because extremists hate each other so much. Fundamentalists from any religion can just suck sometimes.

But speaking of idol worship, here is Thom rubbing the belly of a Jain God of something or other. It was either prosperity or fertility. I hope it's fertility, because our church could use some new babies.
Thom was also caught expressing admiration for Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. The three main Hindu gods are Bramha (creator), Vishnu (preserver/sustainer) and Shiva (destroyer), thus completing the circle of life.  Destruction is not seen as death, but as necessary for new life.
We'll know if he has secretly become a Hindu if he starts saying that God told him to kill something.  Oh wait.  That could just as easily make him Christian or Muslim.  Dang extremists.
Here's me attaining tourist enlightenment (the lowest form of nirvana) in front of another Jain something or other.

The Jains put Mennonites to shame when it comes to pacifism.  They are not just vegetarian, but don't even eat anything that is below the ground (like onions or potatos), because it might disturb living things.  They put cloth over their mouths in case they breath in an insect and kill it. For obvious reasons, they have not found many converts in the west.

Here's Nikita and Addy, two more delightful Barwale cousins. Addy went to U of I and we talked about C-U and his secret love of fried chicken patties, which are not so available here. They were wonderful guides through the caves, and kept annoying our real guide by explaining things more coherently than the guide did. Also, Addy perfomed a miracle by makiing cricket comprehensible to me.

The Indomitable Usha with her older sister (mother of Nikita and Addy), who also showed us great hospitality when we stopped by on the way to the caves (I need to get a lot better at writing everyone's name down):

Finally, some folks in our group got henna tattoos. I won't say who, but look for one on the next issue of Pastors Gone Wild!!!!