it is a great mystery to me, how there can be more creepy crawlies in an INDOOR shower (here) than in an OUTDOOR one (home). there’s a particularly pervy gecko (i call him tom, as in ‘peeping’) as well as any number of centipede-esque critters, all of whom are perpetually underfoot or overhead. it’s quite unnerving when one is singing to oneself in the [cold] shower and suddenly realizes one has company. tangentially: if anyone knows WHAT exactly a gecko is, i’d love to know. i feel like it’s a strange reptile-amphibian hybrid, like a lizard eloped with a salamander and they had an albino child, but… anyway, ten points if you can tell me a., what a gecko is, and b., if they live in northeast india. cool. thanks.
in other news, the week is wrapping up (they work half days on saturday; sunday is free) and i feel settled in, for the most part. the train is still a wild card, since it is always late and sometimes never comes at all, but today it was a good lesson in letting people help you, since, on my way back from the kasturba, i got on the train which appeared semi-close to the correct time (there oughtn’t to have been any other train for 3 hours) and very quickly people started yelling at me (okay, speaking kindly but very loudly and at close-range) and, ultimately, i was persuaded with pantomime to climb down the other side of the train, and loiter dangerously on the center tracks with a group of people including a student of english (which didn’t help his language skills much. or at all…) and a gaggle of gawkers (today the theme was ‘let’s take pictures of the freakishly tall pale girl on our cell phones’) and a peanut vendor, as well as the usual women, children, monks, and assorted livestock. i’ve taken a great liking to the train station goats~ THEY aren’t wont to stare at me, and today i befriended two kids, not more than a week or two old by their size and softness, and whilst waiting for the train engrossed myself in the pleasant task of scratching their dirty chins. the adage that goats will eat anything, while not true of my own spoiled creatures, evidently was born in india, where they are constantly scrounging the remains of the station-stalls’ goods~ paper cups that once held chai, banana peels, trod-upon peanut shells and the like. it’s sad until you see them frolicking on the stairs and in the green of the fields and realize they’re happy to get into mischief, and here no one cares. and i had a desperate urge on the train today to buy a snack of peanuts (roasted and served with salt and a thin green pepper, all wrapped in newspaper), until i realized that my feet were in a massive puddle of day-old (at least) vomit. that rather put me off my need for chaat.
i have a bit of a schedule now, although the aforementioned train’s lack of such is a perpetual annoyance. but when i stay in forbesganj i go to the women’s center in the red light district and teach english to women who are working as prostitutes. it’s touching andheartbreaking both at once. yesterday i had 5 women and 2 children, and one woman in particular, who looked 60 but was probably half that, was just overbrimming with enthusiasm, repeating everything i said with great vim, if less than great pronunciation. we sat in circle and introduced ourselves, and she would every so often just take my hand and squeeze it and smile at me. in the afternoons i go back and teach the children at the kishori mandal (after-‘school’ program for children of sex workers who live at home) and that is the highlight of my week. they are just the most beautiful, eager, generous souls you could imagine. they positively glow. they follow my every move and repeat my every word (which is good since it’s a combination english-dance-therapy couple of hours) and i already adore them. i started class with 5, and 3 more quickly joined in, and by the end 4 more had come, so hopefully word will spread and we’ll have a big group of beautiful dancers in no time.
it isn’t hard, as i imagined it might be. or at least, not yet. they are so resilient adn lovely, it’s hard to be heartbroken, even when you see how little they have, or how much help they need (several girls have cataracts, or horrible scaring as from burns, or club feet, and so forth). to be sure, they themselves are anything but heartbroken~ they are laughing, dancing, colourful creatures for whom pity would do little good. the women is harder to bear; they look so tired, and so worn. even though prostition in india is illegal, it isn’t enforced and most police are corrupt and so even when a woman does gain the courage to file a report, the reaction will be soemthing to the effect of, ‘you can’t file a report, you are just a prostitute’ and so there’s nothing to be done. it seems to be consensus that there is little to be done for this generation of prostitutes, save provide them with safe houses and legal advisement and so forth, but that the real issue is to break the familial cycle, and prevent the daughters from following in their mothers’ footsteps.
but i digress… that wasn’t happy or uplifting… i promised to provide just a titch of ‘food porn’ so let me regale you with stories… breakfast today was ghee-ed chapatis with spicy potato tomato ginger stew, lunch was basmati with channa dal with garlicky okra, spicy cumin stewed turnips (omg best turnips EVER. and i don’t like turnips. who does, really?) and dry-spiced potatoes, with homemade yogurt with raw sugar and fresh bananas. yeah, that’s what i’m talking about. plus the ever-present offer of chai… sweet and spicy and dark. the amusing spectacle of course is to watch melinda try and eat properly, using only the fingertips of her right hand. the rice and dal are particularly difficult, but i’m getting better. or at least, i think i am. and oh my gosh the chaat… today i walked to the other side of town (literally ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ and had my first pani poori… and, well, i am in heaven. i could have stood there in the hot sticky dark and eaten for hours. as it was i had two helpings and felt that all was right with the world. tiny crisp hollow balls, like little miniature balloons, are filled with a potato cilantro onion mixture and then drenched in spicy tamarind water. words fail me. i have found my calling in life: to eat as much pani poori as humanly possible. updates on that particular goal to follow…
and it occured to me that i could teach the children their numbers by counting the mosquito bites on my body… we could get up to a hundred, at least. i look like a leper. ah well, it gives the locals something else to stare at!
oh and in closing, i wish to retract my previous (kindly) statement about rats. opinions change, you see, when one is awakened in the night by a rodent walking over one’s head…
farewell, dear readers: don’t stare at strangers, wash your hands before you eat, and be kind to wandering goats.