Monday, December 31, 2007


Today we made it into the inside of the synagogue in Jew Town. It was an amazing experience. I purchased a book on the Jews of Kerala, and there appears to have been two main periods of Jewish migrations to Kerala, the first was after the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem (800 BC) and the second after the destruction of the second temple (circa 90 AD). Then there were subsequent phases through the Middle Ages and up until the Second World War. It is a fascinating story. Virtually all of the Jews have departed from Kerala at this point.

As you can see from the family at the top, the first group of Jews who had been in Kerala for more than 2,000 years were called "black Jews" and had the ability to blend into the local populations and survived the Inquisition and other difficult events that came to India (yes, the Inquisition came here) with greater ease than the "white Jews" who came later to India from Europe. The last of these "white Jews" includes Mrs. Sarah Cohen, who had her picture taken with the boys, more next week.

I have been truly captivated by their presence here, I find it mysterious, odd, and engaging. The historian in me has definitely come out due to this. Tara shares my interest, and Liam continues to ask me "Why do you think that is so cool?" I attempted to answer, but I am not sure it sunk in.

The tiles on the floor of the synagogue were of a Chinese make, and the story goes that they were a gift to a local Maharaja, but a Jewish guy told the king that the tiles had been mixed with cow blood, so he gave them away to the synagogue as a gift (cow's blood is ritually impure to Hindus). Funny. You can see those tiles above.

I asked an old Jewish man if I could take my picture with him. He said, "Why?" I answered, "Out of respect for you." He seemed unconvinced and would not do it.

The synagogue bell tower that is pictured above has four faces. One face has Malayalam numbers (local to Kerala). One face has Arabic numerals. One has Hebrew numerals. The final face has Roman numerals. Truly fascinating.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


We had a nice tour of the backwaters today. We went via a canoe and had a nice trip back into the places where the native populations live. It is a lush and green area. At one point the guy pushing the canoe (bamboo pole) brought us onto a property where a family grows a large variety of plants for use in ayurvedic medicine, which is specific to Kerala. This region is known as "the spice coast" from when Europeans came here to trade in spices.

The pepper on your dining room table - this practice came from when Europeans gained an appreciation for it from imports that came from Kerala, centuries back.

It grows on a vine. I did not know this before.

Anything you hear referred to as "Malabar".... that is Kerala's old name.

The food here is often cooked with coconut. Yum.

A big treat, we went into a church where Vasco de Gama was buried. I said "was' because his remains were brought back to Portugal after sitting for 14 years in a grave here.

This state has the highest percentage of Christians in India, about 25%. So, like Goa, it has a different feel. Churches everywhere.

India is full of surprises......

Learn more about Kerala.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Really great day. We spent time in Jew Town again, and also went all over the city. Really interesting place. At one point we got suckered into pulling up a huge Chinese net at the request of some fishermen (see the nets on yesterday's post). I knew what was coming, and gave them a few rupees for the privilege. I also amazed and amused some Kashmiri shopkeepers (they own all of the craft shops throughout India) with my small amount of Hindi. It's getting fun. I understand much more than my ability to respond.

Excited to show everyone the pictures!

^ We brought the kids to a performance of Keralite dancing and martial arts. The dancing included kathakali, a style I have seen before, now the whole family has had the pleasure. The martial arts is called "kallaripayattu", it is believed to be the oldest form of martial arts in Asia, even older than the better-known styles like kung fu, ju jitsu, etc. You can imagine which son enjoyed the martial arts and sword fighting that was part of it....

^ Tomorrow we take a conoe trip through the backwaters of Kerala. We will stop at villages along the way. Should be really amazing, as has this whole experience been.

Remember, tune back in for the pictures and videos of this trip!

Friday, December 28, 2007


We went to Jew Town in Cochin today. We met Sarah Cohen, one of the last ten Jews here in Kerala. The rest have left for Israel. She makes children's clothing and knits a variety of other things. It was a unique experience to meet her. The synagogue was locked, so we will come back another time.

We will show pictures when we get back next week!

The Chinese brought this kind of fishing net here centuries ago. Here in India they are used only here in Kerala. We saw these on the waterfront today. Really neat.

Kerala is a tropical paradise. Beautiful!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sad Day

We are traveling in Kerala, on the southwestern coast of India. Beautiful place.

It is with considerable sadness that Benazir Bhutto was killed today. She was a fascinating woman who seemed to have had a vision of a better Pakistan in her mind. I think she would have made a difference, perhaps.

Living in India, you realize the huge weight that the nation carries on itself about its neighbor Pakistan. It is a unique mixture of dislike (sometimes hatred), sadness (like a member of the family who continues to be errant and self-destructive), and a healthy dose of fear. It seems that absolutely every time something goes wrong in India, someone in India mentions that Pakistan had a hand in it.

The ways in which India and Pakistan have developed over the last several decades is radically different, and if one could suppose each of them to be experiments that took place after the British granted independence in 1947, it would not be too much to say that the Pakistani experiment has failed. It is a brutal place that is devouring itself in its brutality.

I'm sorry if that is hard to hear for anyone, but the blood of a great women seems to have penned this same message today. Pakistan is a shell of a nation, a place virtually devoid of hope.

Very sad.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Old City

Aidan and Jonah went to the Old City with Tara during their first week off of school during this break.

You'll notice Aidan has a shy look on his face. It's because behind his mother, who was taking the picture, a small crowd had gathered to look at them.

Behind them is the Mecca Masjid, second largest mosque in India, and home to a bombing last May.

They were standing in Charminar at the time, it is below.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Day Before Cricket.... I Mean Christmas

So, we were sitting around the day before Christmas. It was feeling kind of tropical. We had spent time yesterday as a family exploring the True Reason for Christmas.

Aidan was out front practicing his cricket throws, known as "bowling".

I decided to give you some insight into why it doesn't feel so "Christmasey" around here. Does it *look* like Christmas?

Consider this, in Australia, Christmas is smack in the middle of summer. Same with South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand and other places where the holiday is more central than India.

I think we've been given a unique gift in many ways - stripped of the trappings of Christmas, we must plumb deeper on the true meaning.... But it has been eye-opening for us to see how much of Christmas comes in cool weather, music and lights, and, sadly, mass marketing.

A gift.....

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A little deeper

Now you will get a bit more exposure to our life here.

I just went downstairs to cook up a few papads for my self while Tara is shopping (dinner is pending). I noticed this scene, and I considered how odd it is that we have become accustomed to such a thing.

First, consider what it would be like to have other people in your house virtually all of the time. It's not a good thing, much of the time. And in the beginning, it drove us crazy. Like, really crazy. But you get used to such a thing...

The folks who work around our place will not sit on our furniture. Not that we ask them not to, or anything of the sort. But they don't do it. And that is ok. If that is their custom, so be it. It is probably laden with all sorts of caste mentalities and the like, but it is what it is. So, our kids sit on the furniture and watch TV while two grown women sit on the floor behind them. I never would have accepted this set up in America, but this is the way things work here.

If we asked them to sit on the seats, they would not. Or, if they did, it would spoil their employability for future Indian families, which generally demand this floor-sitting thing.

Again, we let this be.

One time our old cook's daughter came in, sat down, and leafed through Tara's home and garden-type magazines (yes, they have an Indian version of every magazine you could imagine) and was fine with it. As were we. She was wearing blue jeans, so she was a "modern-thinking girl". Contrast this with the fact that one night when Leena, her mother, was watching our kids when we were out we came home to Leena asleep on our floor at about one in the morning. First, we thought she was dead (very upsetting few seconds). Then when we awoke her, we felt terrible that she felt she had to do that. But she would not sleep on our furniture.

This mother-daughter thing is a metaphor for India itself. India will change. But change here can be achingly slow.

By the way, Padma is on the left. She works for us full time. Anita is on the right. She works upstairs, but likes to hang around and even cooks at time. She is a Christian, so she has an affinity with us that is special to her.

Well, there you go. Think what you want. We know that this picture may offend the sensibilities of some. Believe me, to us it's odd, as well. But, honestly, we are getting used to these things. Not enjoying them, but acknowledging the culture around us in its self-determined state.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Back in Delhi. Did some speaking and pressing of flesh today.

One observation, Americans who visit India are ill prepared in one main way when they first get here. When you are heading towards someone on the sidewalk, you and they are supposed to break to the left to avoid each other. It's because the traffic moves the other direction on the roads here. So, many Americans walk right into members of the local population with a flurry of "Excuse me!" when all we have to do is invert our rules of walking. But that takes some time.

Small observation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

These expats.....

Yesterday's picture is a nice one and has prompted me to write a little bit about the people we have met since arriving in India.

First, we have made friends pretty quickly. When so many people travel into a different land, there is general sense that "we are in this together" and everyone is very open and friendly. I think a facet of this is also the kind of people that are expats - generally an open and interesting crowd. We probably have an affinity for each other because it takes a certain kind of person to live in a place so very from their land of birth. If we are all crazy or not is your decision.... 8)

There are other families that arrived when we did. With kids starting school being a priority, August is the time that many families arrive. Unless they go to the Indian schools, where school starts up in May. But most expats use the expat schools.... So, we know various families who are in the same boat as we are in terms of our newness.

Also, in kind, departures seem to happen all at once, in December or in June. These are the 18-month or __ year demarcation point, so people leave in groups. It is a bit of a sad time, we can tell this. The friendships we have established are not so deep that we have felt profound sadness at any departures, but there is a yearning for more company from these new friends, so your heart can ache slightly even with only four months under your belt.

So, what kind of people are they? One of the first things you notice is that have a different sense of scale. You get a sense, being in India, that the neighborhood you are in is made up of Singapore to the East and Dubai to the West. Many folks have lived in either or both places before. Or done significant business there. Then, there is China. Same situation - many have lived there, many more visit. And they are in awe of what they see there. One friend said, "If they spoke English, they'd rule the world."

Then, there appears to be a close second tier of places - South Africa, Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur (called KL), Saudi, Philippines, Qatar.

Finally, there are those nations that are like our home nations in this new neighborhood - Australia and New Zealand, most visibly. They are the departure point for many of these folks.

For an American, even for a family like ours which had some sense of the larger world, it is a whole new reality to see the world from this perspective. The distance, culturally and geographically, from Charlotte to Connecticut seemed large a mere ten years ago. Now they seem co-located and largely the same in terms of culture. The world does tend to broaden one's perspective. And, honestly, it feels great!

The expats also seem to have a high degree of tolerance for the craziness of a place like India. While there are some that gripe and moan, you generally figure out who they are and seek not to get their illness. Most of the folks we have gravitated to are generally upbeat, or working hard to get there.

Also, the community itself does have the ever-present "small world" thing. Our friend John stated that he is sure he has met Jo's mother back in Britain (he and Jo met here). Jo and Matt just moved here from Westport, Ct. And Krishnan and Indu lived in Charlotte with us, we did not know them. Small world....

Additionally, there is a dual reality that comes from being white here. First, you get treated with deference that you are not due, and I have found people staring at me with a sense of admiration that has surprised me. You actually feel some people's eyes telling you that you are beautiful. If you let it, you could become arrogant and get a wrong sense of yourself.

The second dimension is it is hard to get stared at as often as we do. We can no longer blend in and go for a stroll. All eyes seem to follow us. It is a source of issues for Liam, being hideously 13 and all. ;-)

On the other hand, you forget sometimes where you are from. As an example, as mentioned in a prior blog entry, we attended an elegant Thanksgiving affair at our friends' home. At one point Tara went down to look in on the boys, who were watching a movie with a group of other kids late into the night. The room she went into was dark, so she thought "Ok, I'll have to spend some time finding them." Then she realized they were the one's glowing in the dark - the only white kids in the room! We were not taking note of the fact that, with the exception of our friend Linda (Canadian), we were the only white people at the party. I think all of that *stuff* we were taught in the US had dried up and we were just with other people. And isn't this how it should be?

We laughed about this thing with the kids later.

Additionally, some of these folks find a new home to their liking in a land far away. Our friends John and Nia have a home in Wales and South Africa (they are from the UK) and will retire to South Africa. Another example, there is a British couple who has been doing the expat thing for more than twenty years - and they have raised their kids out of the UK almost the whole time. They said their son is looking at colleges in a variety of countries. That was mind blowing to us. Finally, Mark and Sonali have daughters who have been raised outside of the UK. They have one daughter who identifies herself as Malaysian because she was raised there so much of the time. Imagine your children having a different national identity than you.


A big community of expats here are Indian folks who have lived in the US for many years, 15 to 20 years. They have a foot in both worlds and are thus better equipped than anyone else to manage life here in India. They see India through a different lens by virtue of their exposure to US life. So, they often have a wry smile and words of advice that start with "That's how it works here....."

One guy we know moved from Bombay when he was 4. To South Dakota! His dad was a doctor and thought it would be easier to come to the US if he offered to be a doctor in this state. Again, wow. This guy, David, has raised his three kids in Seattle with his Canadian wife, Linda, up until this expat tour of duty.

Here, Britain is called "the UK" and America is called "the US" or "the States". Our terms have been altered. Small thing I have noticed. When people ask where I am from, my impulse is to say "America". But I now say "the US". It is even creeping into conversations between me and Tara and the kids say it, too.

Another small thing - not many Americans out here. It seems Europeans are far more open to this. And Aussies are everywhere, but I learned this years ago while backpacking in Europe.

Tara is the one who is truly experiencing India. She cannot step into an office or a school, thus she will leave here at the end with the most savvy about how India works and how to work in it. She is truly incredible. Recently, she mentioned to me, "You realize I spend most of my day in the sole company of a Muslim man?" How many American women can say this?

Yes dear, I had noticed.

Reader - He's our driver, if you didn't get it.

For the kids - Liam seems to acknowledge begrudgingly that this is a cool experience. Aidan is drinking it in. Jonah likes it, but appears not to fully comprehend it. This results from the fact everything is new - why would India be so exceptional when his first memory of seeing a zebra is only from two years back?

Overall, we have met people here that are fantastic, open, fun, smart, interesting, engaging, hilarious, and many other things. Very few colorless souls out here in The World!

We feel very fortunate to be having this experience. What a very good decision this was.....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Here's a picture of the Christmas party we hosted, someone else remembered to take pictures. Here is one. We have met fantastic people here.

Monday, December 17, 2007


We are Skype-able.


That is our Skype name.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas in Hyderabad

We have received our first care package. Mike's (a.k.a. Santa) wife Ruth has come from Atlanta for a visit. She came bearing pipe tobacco, Starbucks coffee, and a web cam. Thank you Ruth!

It is hard to get into the Christmas spirit here. Charlotte is the epicenter of Christmas, and it is a beautiful time of year there. So, being in a place where Christmas is an acknowledged, yet peripheral, event is a very different thing.

A few observations:

A family must seek the authentic Christmas when no one is forcing Christmas down your throat as they do in the States. This has been surprisingly difficult. I suppose Christmas is an authentically communal event. As it should be...

It is refreshing to be away from the marketing of "American Xmas". Other than the street folks with Santa caps, no one is marketing Christmas in a very overt way. In this way it is nice.

A mere screen saver can make a difference. I have our Apple with a series of Victorian-era Christmas card images as our screen saver, as we do every year. I keep it on at night. It is nice to wake up and see these images float by when you are in that serene zone between sleep and consciousness. Those pictures are below.

Warm weather and Christmas are incongruous. Charlotte was almost too warm for two natives of Connecticut. Hyderabad is far too warm.

Christmas is still a great time of year.

A fragile child was born into strange surroundings to join humanity and divinity. I guess this experience has brought us closer to His experience in a stable and His hiding in Egypt. Far from home are we all, at times....

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Assembly

Aidan is on the right side, white shirt,

Thursday, December 13, 2007


^ This is hilarious. The people that are usually begging on the street are selling Santa hats around the city lately. This is the best picture I could get. They wear the hats - hilarious! I think this is an example of some cops getting a cut of this poor guy's rupees.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Funny video

^ The theme - an expat sending a Christmas present back to a Southern family. Hilarious, it's the right time of year for this..... Thanks to Bill Kent for sending this, the voice in the video is how Bill will sound in about 20 years.


^ Tara and I enjoying the Christmas Bazaar.

Monday, December 10, 2007


This is Jonah at the Christmas Bazaar. I did not notice until I saw this video how nice he was to the little girl.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Day in Hyderabad

We had family church this morning and I read the Christmas story. Jonah was scandalized that all of the babies under the age of two were killed by Herod in the story. It's admittedly not part of the story that makes it into the mainstream depiction of Christmas very often.

^ I was hanging out on our patio. Then, I heard it.... the guy at the gate. I have written about him before, but this time I decided to share it with you. Here it is. I think he blows the horn for some Hindu reason, but I look at my donation as hush money.

^ Then we went to the Christmas Bazaar at ISH. Here are some great pictures. Liam's cohort asked that I not put her picture on the internet or anything, both a reasonable request and quite normal one from a fifteen year old girl. So, you only have the edge of her cheek. Also, this picture of Aidan put us all in stitches. Click on it for the larger version. Also, watch him dancing with his friend Davis, from Singapore.

Thanks to Mike, my colleague who is living in in India for six months. He made a great Santa!

Saturday, December 8, 2007


We entertained this evening. first time that we have had folks over. It was a great time. Very nice to see everyone, John and Nia, Richard and Carol, Mark and Sonali, Krishnan and Indu, Ward and Sylvette, Mark and Jo, David and Linda, Sarah, Rob, and kids everywhere.

Small world moments - Indu and Krishnan are fellow Charlotteans that we met here. Matt and Jo moved here from Westport, Ct., and John says that he knows Jo's mom from a connection back in the UK (they met here, as well). It's really uncanny.

Tara was the usual nervous host, but she has done great things with the place and she received many compliments.

Alas, no pictures again, we forgot again!

Friday, December 7, 2007


^ Liam's school put on a play last night, he was a judge. Everything in the first half was based upon Greek drama and myths, and the second half was by the high schoolers. It involved a creative story about gun violence. It was written to honor the victims of Columbine. It was very well done.

You'll note a Christmas tree, as well. It was out in front of one of ICRISAT's buildings.

Well done Liam!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An essay from the first month

I had to get out of the place. The Munster’s House was getting me down.

The arrival into Hyderabad had taken us all for an emotional loop. We were off balance, each one. This morning I refused to capitulate to the mixture of boredom and awe that had been my mornings over the last few weeks. I had had enough of sitting on that patio and gawking down at Hyderabad’s cityscape below. Enough of the hypnotic trance that came from listening to the car horns beeping around the city below. Enough of dodging the ubiquitous staff around the property. The kids were at school, Tara was going back to bed for a brief rest, and I had some time to burn. By this point I had normalized my work schedule to the Indian norms – in by 10 or 11. After years of getting to the office early and leaving in time for a dinner that was complete by 6:30 pm, I had my mornings free now. Mornings with India as my oyster. Mornings where I was free to do whatever I wanted. Mornings on the other side of the planet.

I had this morning as a stranger in a strange land.

How to occupy myself, I mused?

I needed a cup of coffee. Badly. Not the instant stuff that dominated the nation of India. We had had too much of that since our arrival. I needed something to scald the tongue and awaken the brain. Something to make me yawn later this afternoon. Something to give me a stiff neck at night. Some heavy caffeine was needed. I had two vices left – pipe tobacco and coffee. Today, I was going to indulge one of those vices in a big way. India had so far invigorated my senses in every way, often in very unwelcome ways. But the fine buzz of a strong cup o’ joe mostly eluded me.

This morning, I would change that.


I sat in the front room and slipped on my sandals. Good music was obligatory to an adventure, so I popped in the iPod. 2,354 different musical options sat in my hand. As I clicked through the playlists I considered just how many options 2,354 was. Too many for this moment. I decided to do what I called “iPod Zen archery”. In Zen archery you achieve a bulls eye by letting go with no intent of hitting the target. It was all about clearing the mind and letting the bow shoot you. I had developed a similar technique with my iPod. I stared at the small screen and let my thumb move without guidance from my mind. My thumb spun around the little circle and engaged Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber.

Classical. Soothing. Familiar. Very nice.

This piece was a part of Western Civilization and my personal past. Choosing this song made me see that I thirsted for both coffee and familiarity this morning. So be it.

The piece slowed things down nicely. I walked through the house and unraveled. The strings of an orchestra had started to play gently. I suddenly remembered that they played this piece at JFK’s funeral. Not sure how or why I knew that, my brain was filled to the brim with useless facts. Some days they enriched me, some days they plagued me.

I walked out through the Butterfly Garden. From here there was a steep, two-tiered staircase down into the driveway and out to the front gate. This was monsoon time in Andhra, so the sky was grey. There was a gentle rain. I held onto the rail tightly. First step, slowly. Second step, slowly. Third step, slowly. Fourth step, comfortable. Fifth step, I decided the caution was not merited. Sixth step, normal. Seventh step, normal. Eighth step - I slipped and slammed into the steps. Big, hard, black steps made of marble. My body broke the fall of my body.

Pain shot throughout my body. My vision went blurry and I remembered that I had not had the wind knocked out of me since I was a boy on a bicycle, hitting a stone wall in Connecticut.

I was certain that I was injured.

The lowest rib on the right side of my back took most of the impact. My right elbow had also absorbed a good bit of the fall. I tried to move and involuntarily let out a muffled grunt. I winced. Good God, that hurt. I sat there for a second and tensed up my whole body. My teeth were clenched. I was lying across four different steps, leaning into small puddles while the sky gently offered more rain to me. I sat there for a bit and decided to take a deep breath. To release some of the tension in my body. I remembered that I had seen a yogi do some creative breathing on TV the other morning, but his stomach went flat when he inhaled. I wondered how he could have done that. About half way through the deep breath a pain shot up my spine. It was something I had not felt before.

“Great,” I muttered to myself.

I inhaled again. It hurt a bit less than the prior breath. The exhale that followed came out in small dispensations, each alleviating the pain a bit more. I inhaled again, this time fully, and let out a breath normally. I got up. I held onto the railing tightly and stepped slowly. I thought how a good walk would help work out whatever I had done. Perhaps wishful thinking, but I hoped that was the case. I really did not want to see the inside of an Indian hospital during our two years, but if it was bound to happen, I knew today would have been too early.

I got to the bottom of the steps. I started to walk across the driveway. When I got to the bottom I noticed that there were three people watching me curiously, two men and a woman. I was not sure who they were, there appeared to be about a dozen people engaged in some form of employment on our property. I assumed that they were employed by the Goels. I realized that they had watched my fall. "Thanks for the help,” I said quietly. The sarcasm was thick in my voice. Speaking those words caused whatever happened to my back to ache acutely. OK, I thought, that was probably unfair. I decided to smile and wave now. The woman in their midst diverted her eyes and the two men put their hands over their hearts and smiled.

Whatever that meant.

One of them ran over to the gate and opened it for me. I wondered why he felt it was important to open the gate for me yet not to rush to my aid when I had cracked my considerable frame on several slabs of elevated, wet marble.

Dulcet tones, adagio....

I walked up our street. The sky maintained it color of deep grey. Two chickens shot across the road in front of me. They were remarkably thin. Maybe that was what chickens were supposed to look like, I considered. Maybe I had only seen the monster chickens created in US factory farms. But these guys were really, really thin. Barely a mouthful on either of them, I thought.

A wild dog watched me with a high degree of disinterest as I walked by. It was interesting to me that even on a shee-shee street like ours you had feral animals. I watched the dog in my periphery, not trusting it. Our street that was lined with beautiful homes and proud branches of aged trees, yet, incongruously, it was also strewn with piles of garbage.

The rain, the fall, the feral animals had all conspired to turn a beautiful piece of music into a depressing set of tones. JFK’s funeral dirge was not exactly what I needed right now. Away with Zen, I needed something else and was going to choose. I stood in the middle of the street. My back hurt and I was pretty wet by now. I wiped the face of the iPod on my jeans and clicked through some playlists.

I knew just the song.


Uniquely American, a song that appealed to virtually every American male, no matter what they might say about the song.


Yeah, Freebird'll do the trick.

I had downloaded the Original Version of Freebird. I was never sure of the difference from other versions. It sounded like it was a bit more raw, perhaps. Guitar and piano. Nice. Was it unplugged? Not sure. It was good, though.

If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?
I must be traveling on now,
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see.......

If I stay here with you, girl.
Things just couldn't be the same.
‘cause I'm as free as a bird now.....

I walked along. I got to the end of our street and took a left. Road Number 23. There was group of about five people sitting there. They inhabited the camp at the end of our street that, again incongruously with the neighborhood, was comprised of a huddle of huts woven from palm fronds. The watched me with intense curiosity. I smiled and waved. They all just stared in return. Kind of odd. No hand over the chest, no diverted eyes. No smiles. Just stares.

I continued down the street, limping a bit. More people were ahead. A woman in a bright yellow sari with a jug of water on the top of her head walked past me. Her gaze never broke from me.

I hit Road 22. More people. More stares. A group of men. They stopped their conversation in Telugu and stared at me. Two more dogs. Staring.

Watch out, don’t step in that. Nor that.


As I continued down the street I noticed a group of eight children standing on the corner waiting for their bus. The boys had navy blue shorts and ties on. Their shirts were white and impeccably pressed. The girls had white blouses and navy blue skirts. Again, the shirts were pressed to a degree just shy of perfection. When they saw me they stopped their chatter and simultaneously looked my way. Everyone had been staring at me during this walk, and so far there had been two main categories of starers. There were those staring with interest, and then there were those staring with interest while feigning disinterest. These children had not refined the Indian practice of staring with interest while feigning disinterest. They smiled and pointed at me. They began to whisper. A boy from the group stepped out of the pack and walked a few steps forward. He yelled, “Hi!” The girls put their hands to their mouths and looked at each other. The other boys laughed, but one looked scared.

The boy who had yelled “hi” said it again.


I was still a few steps short of the group, but I continued to walk on. I stopped in front of them. At this point they all looked uncertain, even the ring leader boy. I stood there in front of them.

“Hi!” I said

They erupted.

Every kid started to yell, “Hi!” One of the girls, previously reserved, starting to laugh uncontrollably. “Hi!” Jumping around. This was first for me, and I was pretty sure this was a first for them, as well. I started laughing, at first lightly, then it picked up. I said, “How are you?”. They went crazy, yelling over and over again “How are you, I am fine!”

I laughed harder. I thought how amazing life could be. I started to laugh in a different way, the kind of laugh that has such joy that tears well. I felt a tightness in my throat. How amazing could life be? Perhaps more amazing than this very moment, I thought. But not often.

“Hi, how are you? I am fine.”

I kept walking. I laughed harder. By this point in Freebird Lynyrd Skynyrd was cranking out the jam which had ignited redneck crowds for almost two generations but I could still hear the screams behind me, “Hi! How are you? I am fine!”

An excellent moment, as Tara called such things. An excellent moment.

I kept walking. At that corner I turned right onto Road Number 10. Multitudes of people were milling and shuffling and navigating and negotiating and beeping and swerving and doing an indescribable amount of other things. It was organized chaos at its best. I had a huge smile on my face, but I remembered to be alert in the traffic.

Indian traffic is hard to describe to the initiated. It takes a while, but you eventually see an order in the chaos. I had not quite figured out the exact details, but I was convinced that there was some mechanism operating on these roads that ensured everyone was not consumed in a series of fiery wrecks. I had a suspicion that it had something to do with the dogs knowing that they were lower than the pedestrians, the pedestrians knowing that they were lower than the bicycles, the bicyclists knowing that they were lower than the motorcycles, the motorcycles knowing that they lower than the cars, the cars knowing that they were lower than the trucks, and the trucks knowing that they were lower than the buses. And they all had to remember that they were lower than the cows. Indian traffic seemed to be a motorized microcosm of the caste system. Brahma’s offspring empowered with pistons and petrol. Somehow, it worked.

Despite the attention to hierarchy in Indian traffic, there was one rogue element. The rickshaw drivers. This demographic pulled from all communities, the common feature of these men was a complete lack of regard for life and limb, both their own and those around them. They spun through the very Indian mix of humanity and vehicles with complete disregard for any rules. They were the exceptions to every rule on the Indian roads. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, I thought. To me, they were terrorists. Depends on how you look at it. Maybe.

I walked along, everyone continuing to stare at me.

Out of the crowd a man came up. His glasses were impossibly thick. The thing about coke bottles….. like that thick. He had a dirty rag wrapped around his head. Most of his teeth were missing. He walked up to me and held out his hand. His shirt was a loose white t-shirt and he was wearing one of those plaid kilt-looking things.

Oh, wow. He only has one leg.

His right leg was gone from the knee down. The prosthetic limb that he used was a hand-hewn piece of tree. I would call it a piece of wood, but it had gone through no refinement. It looked to have been cut from a tree with a machete. It was tied onto his leg with crude string. I was surprised by how able he was on this limb. He sauntered right up to me with his hand out. I had never seen anything like it. We had had innumerable experiences with people begging from us, but they generally were relatively able-bodied and what I called their “pity face” was largely an act. But this man was actually smiling. He was probably in the most dire need of anyone seeking my rupees, yet he did not feign a scowl. He smiled. His eyes were inconceivably large behind these glasses. I was scared and fascinated all at once.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a note. I didn’t take note of how big the note was, I just handed it to him. I tried to drop it into his hand, fearing to touch his skin. The bill missed his hand. It fell to the ground. We both stared at the bill. Vehicles were shooting all around us. Beep. Beep. We both looked up, into each other’s eyes. I felt many things at this point, but the most significant impulse was to just turn and run. I felt ashamed by the idea of just turning and running. This is the kind of guy Jesus walked with, the kind He wants me to walk with.

But running would be ok, too. I could ask for forgiveness later.

Instead, I bent over and picked up the bill. I noticed that it was a 500 rupee note. Not a huge amount to me, but it was probably more money than this guy saw in a week. Maybe even a month.

I handed him the bill, my hand gently grazing his. He looked at the bill, then back up at me. His eyes got wider. I couldn’t believe they could get any bigger behind those glasses, but they did. He held the bill up to his forehead, then his heart.

Again, whatever that meant.

I made my escape. I turned and walked toward My Caffe Latte. This was the right place to get a coffee. They had two main choices, Café Bollywood and Café Hollywood. I would have one of each. And then some.

The place was just at the end of Road Number 10. In the near distance I could see that where 10 hit Road Number 36. It was an absolute melee. But right there, across Road Number 36, was the place. It had a huge alien on the top, from the movie Aliens. Jaws retracted and all. I headed toward it. They had a James Bond room on the ground floor. On the walls of the room there were Bond movie posters and pictures from every era. The names of every Bond beauty was embossed on the wall. Great place. An odd retreat, but it had become my favored place to sit back and withdraw from the frey.

I continued to walk down the street.

Watch out, don’t step in that. Nor that.

Whoa, that looks like a human brain. Naw, it’s too white.

Keep walking. More people were staring at me. I passed a group of eight women standing in a hole that they were digging. They were clearly from the rural areas. Huge nose rings, very thin, a look in their eyes that captivates. They all stared, but they were different. They had small smiles on their face, like I was some cosmic joke. I suppose I did look odd to them, perhaps the first white man they had seen off of a screen, assuming they came from a place with electricity. One said something to the others in Telugu, the local language. It sounds like a pebble being shaken around in a tin can. Whatever she said, they all laughed gently and returned to their work.

I continued on.

When I go to the intersection, I was astounded by the traffic. This traffic was an amazing set of events. It seemed doomed to descend into fire and death at any minute. Yet, somehow, it was working. It presented me with the last hurdle. Getting across the street. There was a guy in a uniform at the intersection with me. I walked over to him. The patch on the shoulder of the pressed white shirt said, “Andhra Pradesh Traffic Police”. Perfect, here was my man. I was standing behind him, so he had not yet noticed me. He simply stood there gently waving his hand in the air. I considered what that might mean, then I realized that he was waving the traffic along. Like it was going to make a difference. My jaw dropped for a second, then I started to laugh again. As if a single vehicle was paying any attention to him. Hilarious. I decided to see if I could employ his services. I turned around his shoulder and said one of the few phrases in Hindi I knew, “Maf Karna.” Excuse me. Not that I could follow it up with a sensible sentence in Hindi, much less Telugu. He looked at my and his brow furrowed a little. I was asking him to multi-task, managing the traffic and talking. And I probably looked to him like a huge, bleached out, shaven Sasquatch would have looked like to me. He bobbed his head from side to side, the universal Indian sign of acknowledgment. Or so I thought. I remained more than a little unclear as to the meaning of head movements over here.

“Can you help me cross, please?”

He looked at me. He smiled a bit and then bobbed his head in a slightly different way. I got it. No English. I decided to use some sign language.

Hands to my chest, hands move across the street we were facing, then point to the alien on the top of My Caffe Latte. Repeat.

He got it.

He stepped out into the traffic. I almost yelled, “Watch out!” but it happened too quickly. Everyone in the first wave of traffic disregarded him. Everyone in the second wave stopped. It was like seeing Moses part the Red Sea. Miraculous. Every vehicle slowed down at once. The three designated lanes of Road Number 36 had a full breadth of six ad hoc lanes of traffic. They all stopped. Rickshaws, motorcycles, cars, SUVs. This guy had nothing but a whistle and a huge dose of courage. He stood there in the gap and waved me across. His eyes seemed to say, “Hurry, Pharaoh is following, I am not sure how long God will hold this.” I walked across to the median. One more lane to cross.

But he walked right into this traffic, as well. Same events. First wave ignored him and almost hit him. Second waves ground to a universal halt. I walked across. I was in the parking lot for My Caffe Latte. The Promised Land. The land of milk and coffee.

I walked up. A young man who was clearly from north-eastern India opened the door up for me. He looked Chinese, but he was brown. I was not sure when the last time I opened a door on my own was.

I walked into the front hallway of the place. Johnny Depp’s bust was there, Pirates of the Caribbean. A few skulls strewn around the dark lobby. Well done. This place was pretty cool.

“Good morning, sir!” The abundant staff was milling around the front hall. I took the sharp right turn into the James Bond Room. Empty. Big screen playing some news. Nice. I had arrived intact.

A young man in the black uniform rushed a menu over to me. I took it and put it on the table. I knew what I wanted. “Café Bollywood, please.”

“Yes, sir.”

I sat back. The news said there was rioting in Uttar Pradesh, something about young Islamic pilgrims getting hit by a truck. It had set off a whole city. There was picture of a burning truck. I was glad I wasn’t there.

I scanned the room. The World is not Enough in Japanese. A vintage Man with the Golden Gun poster. Nice. Onya Onasova’s name on the wall. Jinx. What movie was she in?

He rushed the coffee over. I was wet, a little cold, and my back still ached. I thanked him. The foam on the top of the Café Bollywood had a little fern shape in it. Again, very nice. I took a packet of sugar, something I don’t usually do with coffee, and poured it into the Café Bollywood. Stir. Sip.

Yup, that did the trick. Really hot. It went through my body. I was like those people in the coffee commercials of my youth – sipping coffee with an unseemly intimacy to their mug. Ah, yes. This was good.

A mere thirty days before I had stepped out of my car on the same way into work and ordered a cup of coffee at the same Starbucks from the same androgynous teenager. This was a far more adventurous cup of coffee. I had earned this one to a degree that would have been almost impossible back in the US. I felt a certain sense of triumph of even being there and drinking it.

Yeah, I could get used to India.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

More on the workplace

I keep getting reminded on how far away we really are from America. Another first today, I got a spam in my inbox - in Cyrillic! Some Russian guy is running up some penny stocks, or something. No idea what it says...... except, I know that "Mockba" is "Moscow".

Here it is, click on it for the larger version. If you can tell me what it means, you win the award of the coolest blog reader we have on cameronsinindia.

Truly, we are not in Kansas anymore.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

More on this theme of a spiritualized India....

Let me share with you an e.mail I received from a colleague.

He sent an e.mail out about the various forms of juice that can be used to achieve different health benefits. Then he sent various pictures, such as those seen below.

Finally, the e.mail contained these sentences -

Quite interesting!

Keep Walking.....

Just to check this out......
The Organs of your body have their sensory touches at the bottom of your foot, if you massage these points you will find relief from aches and pains as you can see the heart is on the left foot.

Typically they are shown as points and arrows to show which organ it connects to.

It is indeed correct since the nerves connected to these organs terminate here.

This is covered in great details in Acupressure studies or textbooks.

God created our body so well that he thought of even this. He made us walk so that we will always be pressing these pressure points and thus keeping these organs activated at all times.

So, keep walking...

You never would see this in the US! Not that these ideas fit my weltanschauung at all, they do not. But I am amazed that this kind of thing happens here. I am not offended by it, but I think sending something like this would get one in trouble in the US corporate world.

Different land, for sure.....

Monday, December 3, 2007

The neighbors

Jonah went over across the street to take a picture of Devi. She is the cutest little thing and is our friend. She lives, more or less, on the sidewalk across the street from us. Seriously, she has a home (as you can see) but she is always outside of it. When Jonah announced that he was going over to take her picture, I thought better of it. But then I considered that kids here walk huge distances alone from the age of five onward. The daughter of our help walks a quarter mile to school daily - alone. So, having him cross the street and enter the servant's quarters over there seemed a small thing.

^ This is the picture he took. I have never been in a place like that here in India. I'd be surprised if after two years I did not see the inside of where the various servants in the neighborhood live, but this day it was Jonah's turn.

Isn't Devi cute?!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Small world.....

It really is a small world after all.....

We have met a couple from Greenville, SC who spends time over here. They have not moved here yet, but are getting close. They are American, he is white and she is of Indian descent. They're really nice people and we enjoy seeing them when we do. So, at the Marriott brunch today we met her sister, a woman from Charlotte who was visiting. She and her husband live down behind Stone Crest shopping center. He is a Christian counselor, she stay at home with their growing family. He went to Gordon Conwell Seminary, where my friends Jamie and Tim went (she did not recognize your name, Jamie). They go to church around the corner from our home, Church at Charlotte. No connections with the names of people we know that go there.

It was a very ordinary conversation where we were trying to make connections and learn if we had any specific friends in common and the like. As I sit here now, it's really amazing that such an ordinary and local-feeling conversation would happen on the poolside in Hyderabad, India. It's incredibly likely that she and her husband walked by us in a Charlotte store, swam at the YMCA pool with us, or would have been in our presence, as strangers, in Charlotte during any number of situations. And we meet this woman here in Hyderabad. Very cool.

What felt really nice was that we made a connection with some people who have the general friendliness of our hometown of Charlotte. Even though she was a first generation Americans of Indian ancestry, and we are Yankee transplants, Charlotte has a nice feeling of fellowship and friendliness that has impacted us.

It is a small world. One wonders why certain people meet certain other people..... Time will tell if we connect with these folks when we move back, but I sense we will.

Life is incredible.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


^ Jonah went to another birthday party but did not want his picture taken with his tiger face on. I insisted.

^ There was a portrait artist at the party, as well. This is Aidan as a cricketer, which he has become. It looks more like Aidan with Jonah's eyes.