Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's the Time to Disco!

Where I was in India, alcohol is illegal. Prohibition! However, foreign visitors get a liquor license. You can see where this is going. So not once but TWICE my cousin's husband dragged me across town to Holiday Inn Surat so he could use my passport to buy his illegal alcohol. (And now there are these huge goopy GUJARAT LIQUOR PERMIT stamps all over my passport and I look like some kind of alcoholic.)

'Across town' doesn't sound like that big of a deal, right? Surat is the size of my dopey little hometown of Centralia, IL, where it takes 5 minutes to go across town. However, in Centralia there are only 10,000 people. There are motherfucking FOUR MILLION people in Surat. (And 8 million cows and 6 million goats.) It takes 5 minutes to cross the street. And there are no traffic lights. When you see a break, just say a prayer and make a run for it. That coupled with the fact that we were travelling in the vehicle of automotive perfection, the Tata Bajaj, which is like a cardboard box on wheels.

So he picked up his cases of beer at the Holiday Inn and we stowed them in his little minivan, which my cousin met us there with. Except now the battery was dead, and our rickshaw had already taken off. So we took the beer out of the van and all these guys were pushing the little van all over the parking lot as if this would some how help jump the battery. The engine eventually turned and we put the beer back in but in all the beer transferring a bottle broke and spilled on my clothes.

It wouldn't have been a big deal, but then someone suggested that we stop at a temple on the way home. I'm no paragan of morality but taking the van o' illegal goods to the temple and then rolling in smelling like beer somehow felt wrong to me. Didn't seem to be a problem for anyone else though!

So of all the luck, when we go into the temple, we walk right into the middle of a lecture that's being given by some visiting priest. Everyone is shooting us nasty looks and I hope it's because we were being rude and disruptive at the talk and not because I smell. We eventually are made to sit down and another priest asks us to stay, because the priest wants to meet the visitor from America, etc.

Long story short, we sit through the whole talk, then go to a special meeting with the priest, where he asks how the rest of my family is doing, and then has me write down my address, email, and phone # in a little book. (Was he planning to call me?) The whole time I'm just trying to hide the stain on my dress and ... not smell.

When we finally leave the temple, the van won't start. AGAIN. What fun! So these young priests-in-training are recruited to help us push the van (which is still full of beer) out of the temple grounds to a nearby autoshop. (And by 'help' I mean push it all by themselves because I wanted to dissociate myself as much as possible from all the beer so I snuck off pretending to be in search of Cheetos Spicy Masala Balls.) They ended up pushing it to the mechanic's and we returned home in a Tata Bajaj. I still don't know what happened to all the beer.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Part the Third

I miss India! Relatives/family notwithstanding, I really miss all the little snacky foods with adorable names like Mo'Pleez and Cheetos Spicy Masala Balls and referring to diapers as Baby Nappy Pads. In spite of all the corruption and seediness present here there's an unmistakable innocence too. My cousin has a 3 year old son who likes to take his pants off when he's mad so he's always running around in his underwear and one day I noticed he was wearing ruffly pink underpants so I asked his mom if they were hand-me-downs and she said no, they just like it.

Then I was looking through some old photos, and I found pictures of little toddler boys in dresses!! Where we're from in India there's a custom for little boys to not cut their hair at all til they're 2 or 3 years old, so you have all these little boys running around with long hair and it's really cute and all, but in my family they also like to pierce their ears and dress them up in little girls' dresses because WE ARE STRANGE.

This would explain all the gender-flexibility in my own family too. Apparently when I was just a little fetus, the ob saw a penis on the ultrasound and told my parents that I was a little boy. This announcement coincided with the closing of a nearby Woolworths, so my mother went and bought all these little boys clothes and shoes and stuff on clearance. Then I was born (SURPRISE!!) and they apparently decided to proceed as though I was a boy anyway. Other baby girls get those cute little hairbows and poofy dresses but I was rocking Spiderman gear til I was like 7 years old. Anyway, since I seemed so well-adjusted anyway, my mom decided that she could just dress me in my older brother's old clothes, so I was wearing boys shoes and clothes well into my formative years. Oh well. Nothing therapy can't fix.

Boy? Girl? I'M NOT TELLING!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"We have to watch the cricket!"

For my dad's 50th birthday a couple of years ago, my mom presented him with a cricket bat. I'd never seen him so happy before. Cricket is my dad's all-time favorite sport.

Since the bat entered the picture, our lives have all changed. Now anytime any of the offspring are home, they are forced to play cricket with my dad out in the backyard. If it's not snowing in Southern Illinois, there'll be some paddling this Christmas, I guarantee it. My parents always get really excited any time all 3 of us kids are home at the same time because "the family can have dinner together" etc but I think my dad's mostly psyched because now there are more people to play cricket with him.

We've got all the cricket gear. My dad had a set of wickets and the little .. stick....thing that rests on the wicket. There's even this big astroturf mat that serves as the "crease," or where you bat and run around between wickets. Unfortunately, whoever bought the bat forgot to get the ball that goes with it, so we play with tennis balls. I wouldn't mind playing cricket with my dad and his friends except I always get stuck fielding and that means having to look for the stupid tennis ball whenever it lands in the woods, chasing the ball through the brush, fighting the neighbor's dog for it etc. We go through a lot of tennis balls.

Cricket is kind of a complex game, and I won't even attempt to explain it because my understanding of it is probably all wrong anyway. It's kind of like baseball, in that there is a ball. And an apparatus with which to strike the ball. Beyond that, it's different, and kind of confusing.

There's like 47 different fielding positions! Now if my parents could have about 30 more children, my dad could have his own little cricket team.

When I was just in India they were playing a test match against Sri Lanka so naturally it was all anyone wanted to watch. (And the games go on FOREVER. Like all day, for multiple days. They take lunch breaks.) I've watched a lot of cricket in my day but I still don't get it entirely. But that's mostly because I'm usually too busy concentrating on the hot sweaty guys running around in their cute little sweater vests to actually try to follow the game.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Could the Hokey Pokey really be what it's all about?

Yesterday I was suffering an Existantial Crisis of Self. I spent all day wondering what exactly was I doing in Iowa, and why do we bother to work so hard, and what's all that really matters in the end?

Take my cousin who just got married, for example. She lives in Mumbai, just got her college degree a few years ago, had a great job at a bank, is now married and prepared to be a housewife for the rest of her life. She's the happiest person I've ever met! She's moving to a small coastal town that her husband's family basically owns, 15 hours up the shore from Mumbai, and will live there forever.

In my (extremely conservative, extremely traditional) Indian family, the girls are all married off by age 21 and have never worked. When I told one of my uncles that I didn't know how to make chai, he almost had a stroke. I tried to explain that I don't really drink chai, I like coffee better, and he was like, The chai's not for you, it's for your husband! Which prompted riotous laughter from me.

Could that life really be that bad though? All of my cousins are so happy! Whereas myself, and all my other med-friends, are generally miserable and spend much of our time bitching about life, excepting the 3% of the time when there's not a looming deadline or shelf exam and we're drunk off our asses.

One of her husband's cousins is a business student in Mumbai and his mom had apparently tried to talk to my aunt about setting me up with him. When my aunt told me this, I snorted my Thumbs Up through my nose. That just would not work, the top most reason being that I live in America and he lives in India, but more importantly, because I'm not spending the rest of my life washing his underwear and taking care of his kids!

I spent all day yesterday trudging around frozen icy Iowa and feeling sorry for myself. (Mostly while walking the dog. I love that little guy but he has got to learn to poop faster.) What am I doing here? Why can't I live in India? Would it really be that bad to just get married and have babies? Why do we kill ourselves for our career? I was really starting to reconsider Mumbai-Man. Wouldn't life be so much simpler? Wouldn't I just be happier? Maybe I could finish up my degree and do a residency in India ...

Well folks, I'm glad to say that dark period is over, I think the weather had me really depressed yesterday, but today I'm happy and reasonable again. That life might be relaxing and fun for a few weeks but then I would have gone bonkers. There's something to be said for getting up everyday and getting to do something you chose to do. It sucks a lot of the time but it always gets better, and you just have to find something that makes you happy and keeps your battery charged.

Besides, I like having more fun things to look forward to than the next 13-hour long wedding or religious event.

Here are some photos from my trip!

All of the "unmarried girls" had to hold this little curtain over my cousin as she greeted her groom. So it was me and a bunch of 14 years old. Being freakishly tall, I'm hiding in the back somewhere. If you could see my face though, I'm sure I'm wearing an expression of agony and rage.

Becase you see, it's this big 'fun' thing for the bride and groom to greet each other, and people like to sing songs and tell jokes, and we were holding that stupid curtain for an hour and a half straight. I thought my arm would fall off. And then I would have to beat someone with it.

My cousin's 13yo daughter was showing me around the park where the wedding was, and she was so excited to show me this. We turned the corner and I was like, "Oh my God! There's a goat peeing on that chair!" She looked wounded and said she was actually trying to show me the fruit sculptures. I felt really bad, so I took a picture.

(But seriously. This was a nice wedding (for where we were) and there were goats and dogs running around everywhere. They handed out chocolate ice cream at some point and I saw dogs chasing little kids for it.)

This is my cousin's 5 year old daughter. They live in Japan. Nothing special, I just really love this picture.

This was at the Mehndi party a few days before the wedding. There's the bride on the bottom left there, hers went past her elbows, and on her legs it was all the way up to her knees. That's my hand on the right there. I was getting all disgruntled and itchy so I took my mehndi off after like 20 minutes. (But I still got a nice dark color! You see, the trick is to not wash your hands or get them wet in anyway for at least a few hours. I didn't even take out my contacts that night so I could keep my hands dry.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

I want my mommy.

My cousin's daughter is getting her degree in computer programming and apparently she's a real bad ass at what she does. My parents are trying to get her to come get a job in America but she won't leave India, because "In America there are no emotions." Woman is you MAD? They've got sit-down toilets over here!

Now that I'm sitting here in Iowa, I can kind of see what she means. I almost cried when I had to drive here by myself from Chicago yesterday. There's 3 feet of snow on the ground and it's -5 degrees outside. But more than that I was a little sad that I was going from being surrounded by all these warm and caring people who were so easily accessible to living on my own again. (Of course, if I actually lived in India with all these people they probably wouldn't be all that excited to have me around all the time.) But I am so sad!

But I get to go home on Saturday, after a pitstop in Chicago on Friday night!

Speaking of the famn damily though, my uncle and aunt along with their son and his wife went on a little vacation in India to a resort town nearby. At their hotel there happened to be a film shooting, and my aunt ran into the director one morning when she was walking through the garden. They ended up chatting for a while and she said, "Let us know if we can help out!"

As it turned out, one of the actresses in the movie was supposed to come in for a day of shooting, but her train was delayed, so they asked my aunt if she wouldn't mind filling in, the actress was playing the part of someone's mother, they could finish all her scenes in one day. My aunt was so excited! She was like, of course! So one day when the rest of the family went sightseeing she stayed behind at the hotel to shoot the scenes.

Anyway, 3 months later my aunt and uncle saw in the paper that my aunt's movie had come out and found a theater where it was playing. It was a smaller theater in some weird part of town but they went to go see it anyway. When they got there, the lobby was filled entirely with guys. My aunt was the only woman there, and she and my uncle were taken to some office inside the theater. Turns out that the movie my aunt was in was a PORN! They were shooed back to the office because the theater-owner thought they were protestors from the religious society!

My aunt explained that they just came to see the movie because she was in it, and the guy was like, "Um...auntie, I don't think this is a movie you want to see."

HILARIOUS. Anyway, I just wanted to see the scenes my aunt were in so my cousin went and got the movie....from...somewhere, and we all sat down to watch it together. We fastforwarded through most of it but those 2 scenes with my aunt asking her daughter to please not be a stripper and just get married like a respectable girl were Oscar-worthy.

My aunt was in a porn! I can't stop laughing.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Part the Second!

After a short break I'm back! So my short little trip to India ends today. The Internet at home kind of pooped out and I was too lazy to go to the cybercafe so I'm posting from the lounge at the airport. The lounge is nice -- I tried to go take a shower (No more bucket baths!!!! YAY!!) but apparently some niece of some politician may or may not be coming here to take a shower so the lounge guy told me I had to sit here and wait because she gets shower priority which is SO STUPID and I tried to explain to him that I take really fast showers and I was so tired of taking bucket baths so could I please just go ahead and shower and he was like NO GO AND SIT DOWN PLEASE. Not that I'm pissed or anything.

On a happier note:

Hello lover. I have never been so happy to see a toilet in my whole entire life.

Not that I don't absolutely LOVE the squatty toilet.

I'm sorry. I just can't. I talk about poop a lot, but this is actually serious. I have bad dreams about the squatty toilet. I think the only reason my relatives haven't installed a sit-down toilet is because of the amusement they get from my misery.

Not to get too graphic here, but I haven't mastered the actual squat yet. I'm too afraid of coming into contact with the toilet. It's not exactly a position they teach in yoga either.

And it's tough if you're a girl! Like, if you're wearing Indian clothes which have tons of loose fabric, where exactly do you tuck everything? How do you balance yourself? The walls are kind of gross too, I wouldn't be too crazy about touching them.

Enough about poop. But God Bless America. And its toilets.

It was really tough for me to leave this time, 2 weeks is not nearly long enough. The first time I came to India that I can remember I was 8 years old and I was with my family. I remember when it was time to leave, at the airport everyone was all crying and shit but I was so happy to come back to the land of sit-down toilets and regular bowel movements that I was practically dragging my mom to the gate. I was a little less gleeful this time. But that might be just because I have to go back to Iowa.

There is however a delay on my flight. There was an announcement about 10 minutes ago: "We apologize for the inconvenience but Flight 127 to Frankfurt will be delayed because a baggage car is stuck under the airplane." Which made us all just crack up laughing. Then a few minutes ago the explanation for the delay was a little more mysterious: "For unexplainable technical difficulties, Flight 127 is delayed." I guess they realized how dumb the old baggage-car-stuck-under-the-plane excuse sounded.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rups Does India!! Part the First.

Here I am in India!! Damn it's hot.

I landed at Mumbai International Airport and now I'm sweltering away in beautiful and pristine Surat. (Ha! Ha!) First class was awesome, thanks for asking. Except there was DUCT TAPE holding one of the light bulbs to the ceiling. I took a picture which I plan to post later. Look, the motherfucking plane is held together with duct tape! (My uncle and aunt and several little children are in this room with me so I have to keep the swearing to a minimum.)

When we landed we had to stand in the 'immigration' line for foreign passports. I had the misfortune of getting stuck behind these African businessman from some apparently obscure West African country. So they had passports and papers from what sounded like "Togaland"or something. (Sorry, I have no geography skillz.) And thus was I demonstrated the beauty and grace of Indian bureacracy.

They're showing these mauve passports that identify themselves as citizens from Togaland, and all these official documents issued by the government of Togaland, and the poor customs guy is like, "Who? Where?" There's also this huge language barrier of Togaland-ish vs Hindi and the English isn't that good all around either.

The customs guy gets on the phone and (I swear to god) asks someone "Yeh Togaland kahaa hai?" 20 minutes later someone brings over a map from somewhere and the 2 of them go over it with a magnifying glass. Another 15 minutes of heated conversation goes by and the African dudes are escorted off to some "office upstairs." I felt sorry for them, they were totally gonna be stuck at that airport all night.

I finally got through customs and collected my suitcases. I had brought all kinds of moneys in anticipation of having to bribe some authority to get all my fancy American goods through customs but I accidentally wandered through an open door somewhere behind some people and found myself outside the airport! I was kind of psyched that no one manhandled my underwear but at the same time I felt such a sad lack of faith in airport security.

More updates later!!

Friday, December 02, 2005

I'm a woman now!

Flash Fiction Friday! This week's theme is RED:

She watched in a daze as blood dripped out of her body. She felt lightheaded and queasy but there was no pain. The red drops pooled together into a festive puddle that starkly contrasted the dingy linoleum. She put a hand on the counter to steady herself and called out.

“MOM!! I think it started!”

I love talking about female reproductive organs unprovoked, but writing this FFF actually reminded me of a conversation I had my M1 year about menstruation with a couple of other med students. It was during the Reproduction unit, and this male classmate of mine asked (in all seriousness): "Isn't it just like peeing? Like, you just go the bathroom?"

Um...NO. And hence the need for the ENTIRE TAMPON INDUSTRY.

In an update on my attempt to stop smoking, there was a weak moment a few days ago when I was at the grocery store and they had a little clearance basket full of some generic-ass brand of cigarettes (American Spirit!) for $1 a pack! (They run a tight ship on that smoking age at HyVee.) I succumbed.

My rationale was that if I smoked some really, really nasty brand of cigarettes it would just turn me off to smoking altogether and I would have this great moment of empowerment where I would flush them all down the toilet then strut down the street in all my sassy non-smokerness, just like in the TV commercial! They are kind of gross, but now I have to finish the whole pack. Because flushing them down the toilet would be WASTEFUL.