Monkeys, the ICU, applesauce and what I’ve learned

It’s Friday night, October 30, the day before Halloween. My husband is asleep now. As I sit at the table preparing tomorrow morning’s post, I hear the background noise from five floors up: dogs snarling, growling, barking and fighting, horns honking, some other blaring noise, children laughing and squealing and those shots (the ones that sound like guns) we often hear. I’ve never found out what they are.

Earlier, around 5:00pm I heard the screeching and deep guttural growls. The view from my study window made my stomach turn. It was the monkeys again. The pure number, their high-pitched screams, like a fingernail running a long, long way down a chalkboard. And those noises coming from way down deep, I can see in my head the baring of their teeth. The fighting, the chasing, tree boughs bending as they jump among the trees, the viewfinder on my camera unable to take them all in as they walk in a line on the ledge. It’s too much to take. I’m petrified, just seeing them from the 5th floor window makes me want to scream.

DSC_0718 copyDSC_0720 copy

The anniversary of my divorce was yesterday; I can’t remember how long it’s been. Ten years? Twelve? So proud and grateful for my journey back to sanity and all I’ve accomplished on my own. And now, this, a new marriage and India. I’d thought I’d make it back to really living again, but something like this never entered my mind.

It’s been some kind of day. An hour ago we returned from Heritage Hospital, literally a couple blocks down the road. One of my husband’s colleagues in WA has a sister who’s in the ICU there. The woman had been traveling in India, got severe food poisoning followed by septic shock, her life, for a while, on the line. Seems the bugs can be brutal here. I spoke on the phone to the Indian docs in the ICU, not something I’d ever imagined would happen in my nursing career. The young woman’s prognosis after a couple of days, better, thank God. This weak and sick woman I’ve never met was craving applesauce. My husband peeled the apples, I did the rest. A gift given via one of the woman’s travel friends. Coincidence we were down the road? Just how small is our world?


Not to be a whiner, but to be transparent and document my day, it’s been an awful one, a real bitch, as they say. Did I already say that? Last night we were in Sarnath for my husband’s class. The mosquitos thick as thieves. As I lay on the musty twin bed, they were buzz, buzz, buzzing in my ear, over and over and over again. With only a sheet for covers, I was freezing as well; it turned cool last night after a two-day rain.(Guess that’s better than Sarnath on Tuesday, though, when I covered myself with our one small, dingy grey towel). I folded the twin sheet lengthwise, thinking two layers were better than one. This only caused it to be too narrow to cover me up. I took turns, front side cold, then my back. Large, dark circles, puffy bags under my eyes, hair uncombed, no make-up, there’s no pretending I slept well. The (sometimes 30 minutes) trip back to Varanasi this morning, an hour and a half. Back in the flat, my teeth still felt clenched from all the jiggles and bumps, the potholes and near misses with the others on the road. Some of the bumps so hard that my face hit the side of the tuk-tuk, the pressure from my glasses hurting my face and nose. The dense, strong, smelly exhaust from the cars and mopeds burned my throat. And the mud on the streets. Ok, that’s enough. Decision made: no more Sarnath for me. (Unless it’s to meet someone like Anna and Malcolm again-Three Three’s Bads#1 Isolation).

DSC_0712 copy

I’ve learned a lot in the past thirty days. Half of it most likely already forgotten. Information and stimulus overload here in Varanasi. What I do remember, though:

Tumeric is good for you. It’s even used to ‘kill’ whatever’s in the buffalo milk served at the Nehru Guesthouse Dining Hall. The crabby old man who made me cry in the past told me so, just this morning.

That’s right, those milkmen, at night, they deliver high-fat water buffalo, not cow milk, in those stainless steel cans. That same crabby man let me know cow’s milk is much more expensive and a rarity to boot. As I think of this, I’m reminded of my walks down the road with the water buffalo again.

bringing up rear


And I learned even more about cows. Despite the fact they are holy, they are sometimes shoved and hit with sticks and rocks. And I did practice patience that time I was eyeing rocks to hit the boy in the back as he stoned and cornered that cream-colored young cow.

Patience. It’s still a virtue and one I’ve yet to claim. I’ve needed very large doses of it to continue with my Three Three’s Goods #3, being faithful and blogging every single day. My only hope is that when I leave this place in 7 more months, I’ll have the patience of a saint.

The employees at Vodaphone can be crooks. They let us pay for tons of GB’s then used them themselves, causing us so much damn stress, worrying about Internet connections and our work. Greg, at the store four or five times, big bucks spent, that three-hour ordeal, the long walk in the hot sun, to find out my MAC was not, indeed to blame, but rather, corruption in India. Again.

It’s not worth it to accompany my husband to Sarnath. Mosquitos, the (now) cold nights, poor sleep, the draining drive back and forth. And the sadness I’ve felt twice not finding Pippa or Twila there. From here on out, welcome, nice hotel!

Blogging is hard work. Doing it when tired (which is most of the time) does not work so well. I feel stressed with my self-imposed deadlines, it takes an enormous amount of my day and night. Yet, despite these facts, the process and then the finished product I absolutely love; it adds so much to my life. And as my Daddy would say, ‘hard work is good for you.’

I need to take care of myself, this place is aging me. A lot. Most things take so much work, the difficulties with the Internet, frequent stress and fears, cold dishwater and showers, lack of sleep, the filth, poverty and sometimes awful and monotonous food, the constant drainage in my throat, the dust, always in my eyes, the sweaty smell in my hair. I need a plan for good self-care and need it soon! (ALL SUGGESTIONS WELCOME) At times I wonder if the (soon-to-be) addition of a heavy writing course will not be a blessing, but rather a curse.

India does not disappoint. There’s always something happening on a road, down a narrow alley or on the Ganga. But sometimes what I see, I may want to forget. The skinned carcass of a goat hanging in a butcher shop, his pretty little head on display for all to see. He was a beautiful little guy, gorgeous red-brown fur, golden eyes. The ‘chicken place’, where boys gather to watch behind a drape as heads are chopped off.

I’ve learned to make applesauce. It’s a really nice little treat.

And lastly, tomorrow is, and always will be, a new day.


Sarnath and the rain, three three’s


The rain came down today, now two in a row. Yesterday’s pitter patter just a warm up; today’s, the real thing. The puddles deep and full; water splashing, soggy clothes. I felt the irritation from a cream-colored cow, brown, dirty liquid slapping her all across her side as a tuk-tuk sped by. Outside the window in my flat, monkeys finding shelter on a ledge. Looks like there was looting as they filled their bellies before taking shelter, the trash strewn in the alleyway evidence of their crime. (Note the teeny one on the rim of the blue barrel on the right). One monkey carried off a necklace of marigolds, perhaps for his lover? The weather has me feeling off but the air has finally cooled. It feels like Seattle, but only when I close my eyes. I wonder if the cold showers won’t be welcomed anymore? Or maybe the rain is just a tease, tomorrow bringing sunny, sunny sunshine?

DSC_0708 copy


A challenge for next week. My husband to be gone two nights in a row instead of one. I’ve yet to experience even the latter, wonder how a double dose would be? My Three Three’s Bads #3- too many fears. Am I being unreasonable to worry about monkeys, men, a lock that doesn’t always work, trapped inside for 48 plus hours, me or my husband separated and with a sudden illness, the list goes on and on. And if I decide to hang on my own, is it Lanka flat? Palace Hotel? What price to pay for a need of space? I’ve needed some as well, but hmmm…

We arrived in Sarnath early today (Oct 29) for a pre-planned lunch-a new couple we met on Tuesday, from Tasmania, traveling in our neck of the woods. The lunch was delightful! Fun! How quickly Anna and I connected; kurtas, politics and women, textiles, a store in Varanasi selling linen by the bolt. As she and Malcolm left for Agra, I was reminded of my Three Three’s Bads#1: Isolation. It is not good for the soul. And still no Pippa, no Twila; I worry they are sick, injured or dead. I scan the campus in the grey light: nothing. Another blessing just remembered, though; a Skype call with my son again today.

Tomorrow, the voyage via tuk-tuk back to our new(est) home. This didn’t feel so nice this time, an absence of green and serenity. The rain, both my girls gone. No opportunity to walk dry grounds. The mosquitos, they were here Tuesday, but tonight, they seem doubly bad. No broom to mop away the shower water, uncomfortable twin beds. Man, do I sound like a complainer.



Independence, a parade and swimmers

October 28, A divine day, indeed, despite our first real rain. What a difference one sleep can make! The morning started slowly but ended with such a bang! Our plan today, to head to Assi Ghat. A handful of men, members of the Indian Air Force, were to be arriving in the water at Assi in the afternoon. Their cause: swimming the entire length of the Ganga, to promote a clean-up of the river. The men were scheduled to arrive in Assi, via swimming, today around 3:00 pm. Waiting for their arrival, a pretty pink dress catches the wind.DSC_0682 copy

My challenge not nearly as great as the military men’s, today (with the suggestion of my husband) I took my first rickshaw ride alone, down to Assi Ghat. My husband coached me, gave me thirty rupees for the ride, then watched from a distance as I negotiated the deal. Walking out of the flat, he followed me from a distance, just in case. Initially I had the same amount of fear as when I climbed a 100 foot cliff, straight up, using a rope on the coast in the Olympic Wilderness two summers ago. Hands sweaty, heart pounding, once outside the gate, I went to the first rickshaw in my view; the driver had a kind look on his face. I flat out told him, with determination, “Assi Ghat, 30 rupees,” and he nodded his head ok. A step up and I was in my seat, tentative at best. My husband followed discreetly behind me, a separate rickshaw for him. The short ride, filled with a little trepidation, caused me to forget any photographs; just one quick shot of a donkey, the only one I got. Soon, stepping off the rickshaw, near the Palace on the Ganges Hotel, a sense of pride and accomplishment filled me up and I was smiling when my husband met me only a few minutes later. A job well done! Upon his suggestion again, I repeated the process on the way home, feeling proud but afraid.

DSC_0621 copy

Music occupied the air from a distance, and soon a band appeared. They were march, march, marching down the middle of the street, soon spilling out to the edges. A banner led the way; trumpets and tubas playing, women with bowls topped with coconuts on their heads, men dressed mostly in orange. Color everywhere. And at the end, a silver carriage, pulled by two white horses decorated in red. The horses enamored me, I couldn’t stop taking their photographs. A celebration for the swimmers? That was not the case. The group was from Rajasthan, the language barrier prohibiting more detail. The women, terribly friendly, offering a bowl-on-the-head for me, (but mine was without a coconut). Dancing in the street, phone calls made, a pensive-looking man leaning against a pole. Photos taken, some paraders dipping in the Ganga, then  back on the streets, a quick departure.

DSC_0626 copyDSC_0628 copyDSC_0637 copyDSC_0650 copyIMG_0750IMG_0739IMG_0745-2DSC_0648 copyDSC_0647 copyDSC_0644 copy

I saw it, a little blue boat, moving slowly near the shore. The swimmers! They were coming down the river as comrades watched their arrival from the steps. Once on solid ground, a media frenzy began. Young priests in pale pink silk, there for blowing of the shells, prayers and the placement of bindis. Wreaths of marigolds around strong, brown necks.

DSC_0665 copyDSC_0667 copyDSC_0676 1 copyDSC_0679 copyIMG_0773

It’s always good to sleep on things, to look toward the other side of the river or the moon. One more shot of the horses, just because….