Thoughts and what I’ve learned in November

It’s almost December. Hard to believe. Time is ticking right on by. Six more months to go. It feels like I’ve learned TONS this month.

I’ve learned more about the patience thing. I’m getting better at it! Slow Internet service, waiting for the hours to pass for a Skype call. Not having the right ingredients to make a decent meal. Difficulty making airline reservations, getting hotels and such. Fraud this month with one of my credit cards and all that that entails. Spending half my time trying to communicate to others who don’t speak English. All these things are good (but not fun) practice for becoming more patient.

It can get really rough before it gets better. Sleeping on it is always the best idea.

If you have money, weddings in India are done very big time.

I love, I need, animals. This isn’t really something new, just a continuation of my past feelings. And camels -love them! They are so interesting to me and oh, the way they look! They don’t seem to prefer the decked out look. I haven’t written about them yet, but I will; there’s a whole Pushkar Camel Fair piece still waiting on me to complete.  I continue to see how good it feels when I’m able to actually pet one of the strays, the way it truly warms my soul, makes me feel really good inside. And the way I feel with my arms around the neck of a cow; I’m filled with memories of my childhood on our ranch. And the white one, who died that day, over near Assi Ghat on that flat piece of land. The way the sick dogs and the injured or mistreated cattle touch my heart lets me know animals continue to be very important to me, something I will always have and need in my life.

Sometimes you get what you pay for with clothes from India. Easy come, easy go.

I can get used to a lot of things. Some, easier than others.

If you are very careful, you might not get sick in a third world country. You might also not get bitten by a street dog or a monkey. Or it might be you’ve just been lucky.

Some things you never get used to.

I love to write and take photographs. That becomes more clear each day. I’m willing to put in the hours and the effort, to give up reading at night. And this has taught me we do have time for the things we put first. Always.

You can’t always count on people, you should mostly count on yourself, the rest is icing on the cake.

I’m re-evaluating the (if any) benefits of drinking. The beer and wine here suck. That goes for most mixed drinks as well. Twice I’ve thought seriously about just stopping, not that I do it that often. I find thinking about this has given me an opportunity to learn a lot more about myself. And if I do stop, I’ll have to learn another new thing: what do you drink in place of the booze? What do you do with your hands? There are way too many people in my life who drink; it would be impossible to stop being around alcohol A learning topic for another time.

There are godsends and I’ve received one (actually two).

I can flag down a tuk-tuk, a rickshaw. I’m getting better and better at it. And I’ll just walk away if the price is too high, shake my head, “Are you kidding? I’m not paying that.” I was in a wreck in a tuk-tuk, but I got in another one the very next day. I’m also learning how to walk the streets alone, spend the night in the flat by myself. I might be becoming just a little badass. Maybe a better word is brave.

If needed, I can scream loud as hell to tell someone not to touch me. Next time they’ll only touch me once. I know I would whack a monkey now if one jumped on me like before. I see that as a sign my aggressive manly side is coming out. I need a little bit of that to make it in India and I’ve learned that now.

My husband can be my hero, my rock, at times what I need the most. He can also fall short and disappoint. The same goes for me with him. I’m learning nothing will work if you don’t have that commitment. With it, you can move mountains.

I’m getting more used to the Ganga, its dirty water, dead floating dogs, plastic, trash, old vegetables, the remains of loved ones, my white cow. I’ve learned that it will not kill me, my leg won’t fall off if my foot somehow gets splashed. Not all fears are reasonable nor realistic.

Traditions get so ingrained in us. Not partaking in the holidays can be really tough. It’s quite difficult to miss out on things you’ve shared with family. You can make your own kind of celebration, though.

I’m learning how to cover my roots by myself. This month it looked better than the last. Talk about saving a lot of money!!!! I’ve learned that in a pinch, it’s something I could do back home.

Saris are TEN YARDS long. I’d wondered what was hanging down from one of the buildings across the way. I’ve learned I have no interest in washing something like that, nor even wearing one.

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I continue to do well as a student. I put in time and take pride in my work for Professor O’Connell. I’ve had lots of time for research, for the exposure to topics I knew nothing about. As time goes on, I realize just how much I value learning; that MFA is looking more and more like something I want.

Retail therapy really does work. I don’t do it nearly enough. I’d probably be 1000% ok if I did.

There do not appear to be many expats living in Varanasi. I’ve contacted three organizations, an American blogger in Goa, maybe someone else, now I don’t remember. The closest expat organization for me appears to be in Calcutta and that’s too far away. I’ve also emailed a group representing a Gates Foundation initiative in Varanasi-looks like the project is already completed. Still, I am being persistent in my quest to find other Americans. I can be proud of myself for not giving up.

It doesn’t hurt me to wash my makeup off with cold water. I could boil some, let it cool, or get warm water from the shower or the kitchen but I have chosen not to do that. I think this is a signal I’m doing something against the comfort grain, but not sure what it is or why. I’ll learn more about what this means as time goes on. Maybe I’m just learning that it’s too much trouble. Maybe it’s just that I’m lazy.

I will never stop traveling as long as I have the ability to go. My thoughts have already turned to my next possible travel adventure. More and more I want to share what I’ve learned with others.

You can get by on less of everything than you think and I can now prove it.

Cabbage goes with lots of things; all you need is a great imagination. My husband doesn’t appear to care for it but I’m having its pale green leaves for lunch a lot, had it one night when I was alone. It’s cheap and quick to cook. The other day I cooked it with onions, threw in cumin and an orange. It’s become my new go-to food. And it’s really good.

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I’ve learned to put my foot down. Getting to that point is a slow process and I’ll get even better at it with more practice. I know it is against my nature, but it’s a necessity.

I’d stopped really practicing Christianity, at least the way I used to. No church, no Bible, no prayer chains, no title of lay pastor, no Vacation Bible School, no BSF. Much of that has been gone for quite a while. But here recently, I don’t know. I think I’m heading back that way. I actually saw a Bible at the Harmony Book Store….  Buddhism has some nice principles, some seem similar to parts of Christianity. I really like the Dalai Lama. But I may like Jesus more. There’s more to learn about that.

We head to the state of Kerala in a couple of days. I was treated like royalty at a celebration at a school. Some funky monkey business went on for a couple of days which included LOTS of them sleeping near my door. There’s much more for me to write about and that makes me very happy.

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Coffee tasting in the land of tea

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I was sitting at a table in Starbucks at Hauz Khaus Market, in Delhi, a week or so ago, working on my blog while my husband was doing a workshop at a university unknown to me. First, it was a shocker to see a Starbucks in India. In Varanasi, where I live, there’d be no way. I’m learning there can be a vast difference between cities here and sometimes I wonder if we put down our (temporary) roots in the wrong place. The real deal is very expensive but available here. I’m not familiar with the brands. And I think it may sit on the shelves in the tiny stores for quite a while. We bought one can. Without a coffee maker it’s such a pain to make, and besides, it was bitter as hell. I’ve just been living on Nescafe and it seems to be doing the trick. Yes, my Varanasi, you are difficult, at best.

In the Starbucks, I was approached by a very kind and smiling young lady, inviting me to a coffee tasting. A coffee tasting in India?  I thought India was the land of tea. This seemed about as common as tasting wine in Varanasi, a city where alcohol is shunned, its consumption mostly done under hiding.

The table, all set up, a pot of Kenya Coffee, half a dozen small white porcelain cups. And a very large and pretty piece of red velvet and orange cheese cake (yep, that’s what it’s called), two layers thick, shavings of white chocolate on top. Seven Starbucks staff, including coffee master and store manager Shikhar Hali. Friendly, smiling faces, the green aprons we all recognize, sitting on stools around the table. The young man began with an explanation of the fermentation process, responsible for this coffee’s juicy and complex taste: tanginess and boldness, a unique combination in the world of coffee. The secret to the tanginess? Those African green coffee beans are given an 18-36 hour soak in water. Yep, that’s the secret.

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We started out with smelling the coffee and again, I was reminded of wine. Cup in the right hand, the other wrapped around the little white vessel and then brought to my nose, bringing the dark black liquid in very close, a deep breath in. “Strong,” I said as some of the others smiled. Next a sip. “Fruity,” replied one of the employees; in my head, the word ‘bitter’ came to mind. I obviously am no coffee connoisseur. Next I was instructed to take a bite of that beautiful piece of cake. Of course, I obliged. “Chew the cake, but leave a little in your mouth as you take another sip,” he said, “and see how well they go together.” He was so right! The tanginess of the orange in the cake blended so well with the tanginess of the Kenya coffee. Isn’t this what they do with food pairings and wine?

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The staff at the Starbucks were so very kind and friendly; they answered all my questions with a smile. This shop in Hauz Kaus Market had been open all of three days. I had a long conversation with Shikhar Hali and learned coffee is grown in India, but this colorful country is still the land of tea. It was interesting to learn that Starbucks is trying to introduce coffee here; there are around 78 stores in all of India, twenty-some in Delhi.

Shikhar invited me back, said we’d do another coffee tasting when I return. I told him that would definitely happen, that my children are coming for a visit in December. I also informed him that my son has years of experience as a barista, that my daughter’s boyfriend, Tony, back in Seattle, brews only the best. I’m looking forward to their discussion, to the tasting as well. What will it be next time? The India Estates Blend? Sumatra? Or the one they think I’ll really enjoy-Aged Sumatra? I can’t wait to find out!

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Who knows how and what experiences alter and shape us (they all do, I guess), make us change our minds, alter our habits, what we think, and so on. I’d always sipped coffee just for the caffeine, and with plenty of milk splashed in as well. The taste of the coffee this way, mostly lost. After the coffee tasting, I was thinking, this pretty brown bean has so much more to offer than just a morning buzz. So, I’ll take what I’ve learned at this tasting, will order my next cup black, please. Who knows? By the time I return to Seattle, I may be throwing out words to my friends like tangy, juicy, complex and bold. And I won’t be talking about wine.

Dev Deepawali


Dev Deepawali (Varanasi)

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Dev Deepawali (Varanasi)
Observed by Hindus
Type Varanasi
Significance Tripura Purnima or worship of Lord Shiva
Celebrations Gods descent to the Ganga ghats at Varanasi and aarti for the Ganga River
Date Full Moon day of the Kartik month in the Hindu calendar
2014 date November 6
2015 date November 25

The Dev Deepavali (“the Diwali of the Gods” or “Festival of Lights of the Gods”[2]) is the festival of Kartik Poornima celebrated in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. It falls on the full moon of the Hindu month of Kartika (November – December) and takes place fifteen days after Diwali. The steps of all the ghats on the riverfront of the Ganges River, from Ravidas Ghat at the southern end to Rajghat, are lit with more than a million earthen lamps (diyas) in honour of Ganga, the Ganges, and its presiding goddess. The gods are believed to descend to Earth to bathe in the Ganges on this day.[3][4] The festival is also observed as Tripura Purnima Snan.[2][5] The tradition of lighting the lamps on the Dev Deepawali festival day was first started at the Panchganga Ghat in 1985.[4]

During Dev Deepawali, houses are decorated with oil lamps and colored designs on their front doors. Firecrackers are burnt at night, processions of decorated deities are taken out into the streets of Varanasi, and oil lamps are set afloat on the river.[6]

going native

It couldn’t have gotten much better than this. A head’s up from Shalvi, our landlord, one of her friends throwing a gig. The promise of a spectacular night, a Dev Deepawali Cruise put on by Serenity Routes, a ‘sustainable tourism adventure’ owned by one of her friends. It’s great to know people with ‘connections.’

We met near Assi Ghat, our red tuk-tuk, all fancied up, took us down to the Ganga where we boarded a very festive boat. Red, with a canopy, lights. Three musicians: a flutist, tabla player and violinist. Pink turbans on their heads. I was so envious I could barely stand it and soon learned I would be the wearer of one as well. We all got one! I kept mine on, even during the dusty walk back to our flat that night. It sits in my study; I’m wondering about bringing it back home.

kimi in rickshaw



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So off we went, a first venture of this particular kind for these young folks. One of the guys’ parents there. His mother, as easy to spot as a drop of black ink on a white pair of pants. She was beautiful, dressed in the finest. And her jewelry…..   It was sweet to see proud mama supporting her son. Later in the evening, she even took a photo of herself, my husband and me. The sun was still out as we began. The musicians started to play as the boat motored up the Ganga.


I kept my eyes on the river, trying to really feel the holiness felt by others, to see the murky brown water as something majestic, spiritual. And I actually felt this for a little while. As part of the celebration, tiny white candles lit inside small floating containers filled with marigolds, petals from a red flower. One of the young men struck a match, lighting mine. I had to lean over, over, over and still I could not reach the water to drop in my diya. Getting about 6 inches from the river, I let mine go, closed my eyes. Plop! It made it!!! It sat upright and oh, so slowly, floated away.



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Food passed out as the moon came up. A boxed meal of four small containers, something pinkish with coconut, something dark and spicy, yellow rice with green peas, little fried flour balls. The boat continued up the river, now thousands and thousands of diyas lighting the ghats. Singing. Chanting. The music on our boat, the buildings all dressed up in their finest, the crowds, all these continuing to mesmerize us.

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And then there were the cremations. Done on a holiday. I received news of my grandmother’s death five hours before giving birth to my daughter on a Thanksgiving Day twenty-three years ago. Ninnie had died around 4:00 am, my mother called around 6:00. Later she told me when she learned her Mother had died, she knew my Lizzy would come into the world that day. And she did. What effect does a cremation have on a family on Dev Deepawali? Does it hurt less? Or maybe more?

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Thank you to Greg Tuke for the photos of me in the tuk-tuk, the turban and the night-time boat heading back to shore.