Greetings Dearest Friends and Family!!!
Yes, yes, I’m happy to report Tales of an Amazon has RETURNED!!! For those of you who are new to this, you’ll understand soon enough!
I am in India.
How to tell you about all that’s happened here? I know not. I need an email alone to tell you just about the people, my work, the monsoons, the heat, the animals, the culture, the reactions to me, the food—ahhhhhhhh the food!!!
I will do my best not to write you a novel, but….well you know me!! Those of you who don’t know my work – PRINT this out, sit back, relax, and grab a beverage as I do my utmost best to transform all that my senses have absorbed onto this electronic canvas.
Back up for just a minute…
Yes, it occurs to me that as I have been a rather large ass, and have been so miserably out of touch with so many of you for so long, that I should not only APOLOGIZE (sorry!!!!!!!!!!!!), but give you a brief background as to how I got here.
Since Thailand, I went to Darfur, Sudan and shoot a documentary on the geneocide. It’s called “Bedeekee Darkee: Message from Home,” and though the website is still under construction, feel free to take a look at www.darfurfilm.org. I’ve mostly graduated from the American University masters program in peace and conflict resolution (what a surprise) – I owe them one more paper!! DOH! And I’ve just recently talked my into a job I have no idea how to do at an organization called Global Rights.
I run their programs in India and Mongolia, based out of Washington, DC, a position for which they wanted to hire a lawyer! riiight! Let me summarize how the 4 plus hours of interviewing went:
“So,” they asked me, “do you have any legal background or experience?”
“No,” I replied.
“Have you ever been to India or Mongolia?” they inquired.
“No,” I said, “but you should hire me anyway.”
And they did. ?????? I didn’t think they’d actually LISTEN to me???!!!!
So, here I am working at the grassroots level on human rights issues and ways to connect local activists, lawyers, and paralegals, etc. to learn and gain better access to legal aid and justice mechanisms with their local, cultural, and national contexts of their country.
After working 5 days in the DC office they asked me to write two annual reports (sure, no problem), and after working 10 days they shipped me off to India – just my style!
Caught up? Great! :)
India is, in a word, magnificent!
There is a strange and wonderful familiarity for me here. I arrived in a city called Jaipur, in the northern state of Rajasthan bordering the deserts of Pakistan. The city is a mixture of old architecture and new, ancient Indian forts, city walls, and palaces meet the modern city structures of buildings, mini-malls, and of course the city’s only McDonalds. Inbetween these structures, often hidden behind large walls are the city slums, structures made of tin, broken brick, and mud overshadow the even more dilapidated tent-like structures make of cloth and plastic the house the poor and destitute. The old paved roads, give way to dirt alleyways, and the cars and motorcycles dart past the rickshaws and bicycles that navigate around the carts pulled by large white cattle with commanding curved horns, and the graceful gate of impressively large camels. (special note: camels CUTE, I want one!!)
Lining the streets are stalls of beautifully colored fruit and various fried food, chai (tea) stands, and shops upon shops filled the colorful cloths, rugs, all sorts of goods, and multiple sites of construction as the city continues to expand and develop. Cows, donkeys, dogs, pigs, and goats rummage around looking for morsels of food and water, and cool places to rest as it is a lovely 115-120 degrees on a daily basis with no less than full humidity. The striking call from a bird draws ones eyes upward to the trees and building tops to gaze at the arresting beauty of the male peacock whose iridescent blues and greens of its feathers are breathtakingly spectacular. Clans of black faced monkeys perch on top of movie theaters and building watching their distant cousins on the streets below do the strange things that only humans do.
The various modes of transportation carry the Indians of every shade of brown colored skin and so many genetic variations visible in their faces, I am captivated day after day. Whizzing past on buses and scooters, or the slower paced rickshaws, are the magnificent array of fantastic colored sarees (long clothes wrapped around the body) adorned by the women – an endless feast for the eyes! Businessmen in ties drive by men walking slowly in the think heat dressed in more traditional kurtas (tunics) and long cloths wrapped around their waists.
At every intersection, one can find the yellowed discolored hair of the malnourished children, women, and men, the crippled and disfigured, and the old men and women in search of charity. The frail children covered in dirt and rags carry even smaller children and dash inbetween traffic begging from car to car, their blond hair highlighting their illness, their deep, disturbed and aged eyes reveal the harshness of their lives.
An article in the paper just a few days ago, described the increasing problem of ‘babies for rent.’ Communals of poor women actually rent babies and small children to poorer women to increase the profits of their begging. These women, sometimes even the very parents of these children, purposely keep these babies malnourished, weak, and sickly to increase their ‘value.’ The children are rented for 10-12 rupees a day, roughly 25 cents.
(I ask you to judge them not, fore it is not our place, and until extreme poverty has made you mad, you and I do not have the right. That being said, after I read the article, I longer had the stomach to finish my breakfast.)
As I ride with my colleagues in a auto-rickshaw (kind of scooter connected to a carriage), I notice a woman in an elaborately elegant saree adorned in impressive gold jewelry standing at the gas station waiting for her husband in t-shirt and slacks to fill up their motorcycle. A young girl in jeans and a tunic walks by a village woman in the more traditional dress of a ghagra—a brightly colored floor-length flowing skirt and long pieces of cloths draped from the head and wrapped around the body. Old meets new, tradition meets modern, wealth meets poverty, classic culture blends with Western influence in a colorful chaotic calm that is Jaipur.
We connected down the street and came upon hundreds of shirtless men walking in an organized line with banners and signs in protest. The dense heavy heat of the day dripped down the backs of the men with looks of determination and strength on their faces. My colleagues revealed that they were teachers protesting against the government, and I, as a fan of protect and civil unrest, applauded their courage. We continued to travel past the hundreds of men and were stopped in our tracks by the large barricade up ahead and the multitude of heavily armed police that tensely waited for the protesters.
My colleagues looked worried and explained to me that the police in the north are notorious for their cruelty and violence and had just, the week before, murdered 6 unarmed protesters, including 2 women. Naturally, I wanted to stay, but my colleagues quickly ordered the driver to take another route.
I’ll take this moment now to try and convey the reactions of Indians to me. I certainly expected to stick out a bit (as is the norm for me), and I expected some odd reactions – but NOTHING like what’s actually been the reality. While traveling down the street, EVERYONE and I mean EVERYONE stops whatever they’re doing to stare – usually without blinking and with mouth wide open.
I’ve been followed 3 times by men on motorcycles with gaping mouths. A husband brought his entire family to gather around me and stare at me, wide-eyed and gaping mouths, standing just two feet away. Naturally, a small crowd draws a bigger one, and soon I had dozens of wide-eyed Indians starring up at me to the horror of my co-works who ushered me into the protection of a dark movie theater. I’ve been asked for my autograph???? But it might have something to do with the fact that two people have called me Serena Williams. A poor chap was too busy starring at me and rode his bike into a wall, and a policeman felt the need to show me his semi-automatic weapon with a smile. (And yes, that’s a LITERAL account of what happened with the policeman thank you very much!)
These are just SOME of the highlights from week ONE!!
No one seems to know what to do with me here – I’m brown like them but so much bigger and different looking…
Ah – life!
I do have a confession to make….I’m having a wild and passionate love-affair!! I KNOW, I know, I’ve only been here a short time, but it…well it just happened and it was SO right!!!
Yes, I’m having a passionate affair with…Indian food!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! May God save my soul!
The sexy sultry color of the deepest red-orange of papaya, upon entry of the mouth, melts in a smooth transition from fruit to the sheer bliss of softly sweet juice that makes the entire body calmly smile in a release of joy.
The bright deep yellow of the moist mango with its strong intoxicating fragrantly sweet, complicated flavor envelops the body in such a titillatingly divine experience of pleasure – it is surely a sin to go for more.
(And if sinning is wroooooooong, I DON’T WANNA BE RIGHT!)
As a drop of the sweet mango juice lazily rolls down the chin, it is quickly chased by the tongue who rescues it back into the warm mouth that desperately savors every last morsel that is surely a taste of heaven. The eyes quickly dart around in search of any possible witness of such a happily shameful display of raw desire.
The lips curve in a one-sided smile of agony and ecstasy.
The jackfruit is devilishly deceptive in its rather ugly green, bumpy, rough exterior. But a laborious slice of a knife reveals the bright sun yellow of its insides. One must use one fingers to delicately burrow through its juicy flesh to find the oval-like pieces of blissful rapture. The delightfully delicious reward – a playfully sweet flavor released by a bite of its fabulously textured flesh.
It’s the simple pleasures of life my friends – indulge!! INDULGE!!!
The painful pleasure of spicy curries and various dishes is scooped up with more variations of naan (bread) that I knew existed, or cradled by the fingers mixed with some rice – who knew eating with your fingers makes everything taste better??!!
I am drunk on food!
Everyday the traffic whizzes by, the animals decorate the streets and buildings, the gorgeous women travel here and there covered in beautiful flowing fabrics of bright colors highlighted by their brown skin, and the men do what most men do—stare at the women as they go by. The sounds of exotic birds call out over the cars, horns, and mixture of various languages below. The scents of flowers, and various foods, and the smells of the city mix with the air thick with the scent of the monsoon rains. My senses are so stimulated.
I am in India.
My mind is over-stimulated with all the things I’ve been working on, but as this email is already painfully long (surprise indeed), I will share my work with you another time.
I have arrived in a new city in the south of India called Bangalore, no doubt it will bring new adventures and stories to tell.
I hope this email finds you happy and well, to those I have not spoken to in a long time, I apologize AGAIN and I hope you can forgive me, and I would love the chance to catch up soon.
Until the next episode, thank you to those who actually made it to the end of my babble, and much love from this gorgeous land,
South Asian Aisha