Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hyde Park

Some may think our life is adventurous. Most of the time, it doesn’t feel very adventurous. Most of the time my job feels just like any other 9 to 5 job. Sometimes, I feel more like a bureaucrat than anything else, the person weaving webs of red tape ensnaring the unsuspecting instead of slicing through it. As for home life, we have many of the same worries we would have in the States. We wonder what we will make for dinner, how to get homework done, and finding a babysitter for Saturday night. Of course, too, we have other worries, some that we wouldn’t have if we lived in the good ole U.S. of A.

The things we see and hear that once fascinated us so can, over time, become routine. There is a man who pushes a wooden cart full of bright red tomatoes through the neighborhood next to ours. This is his sole vocation, a peddler of tomatoes. He walks through the street shouting, and women come to the second and third story windows of their flats and shout back down to him. They lower a bucket on a rope to the street with money in it and he sends the tomatoes up. Elise had described the transaction to me after having seen it on one of her photo walks, but it was one thing to hear the story and another to see it with my own eyes.

Nowadays, I see the man every day. I am no less impressed with his business acumen as I was that first day, but I admit I don’t feel the same sense of wonder and excitement I did when I first watched him sell tomatoes to women in high places.

I don’t want to become desensitized to India. This morning on my way to work I saw not one but two platinum plated horse-drawn carriages clopping down the middle of the road. Sundar pulled up behind it and started honking the horn, but the road was narrow and there was nowhere for the horses to trot to. I asked him what they were, and he told me they were wedding carriages. Later this evening they would carry brides and grooms.

No adventure is typical or always wholly expected. It is often the unplanned adventures that can be the most fun.

When we planned our travel to India, both when we first arrived, last November and our most recent trip from the States earlier this month, we planned an overnight stop in Europe, the unofficial halfway point.

In November, we spent less than 24 hours in Frankfurt, Germany, but in that short time we braved the German rails and ended up in a gothic city center near dusk. Church spires were silhouetted against the indigo sky, the black forms of pigeons flapped in flocks overhead. As we made our way over the cobblestones, we tucked our hands deep into our pockets against the unexpected chill. We were looking for a traditional German meal, maybe bratwurst and a stein of beer, but ended up at McDonalds instead.

Clementine fell asleep in my arms, and we fed the boys french fries and took the train back to the hotel near the airport. Elise and I ordered brats and beer from room service.

This time, we stopped in London. I had never been to London before, but Elise and the kids had when they flew out from Chennai to Washington. After checking into the hotel, we took a quick nap, then headed out the front door of the lobby to see what we could find.

Elise and I had already toyed with the idea of taking the kids to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park so we took the bus back to the airport and hopped on the Underground to take us into town. The train ride alone—as it was in Frankfurt—would have been enough to tickle the kids.

The playground was truly impressive, but what I know was more memorable for me was the ice cream afterwards.

We bought soft serve ice cream cones and sat on the grass near the carousel. The boys finished their ice cream and started pretending they had bows and arrows. They ran through the grass with a sense of abandonment I hadn’t witnessed in a long time. They drifted further and further from where Elise and I sat with Clementine in the grass, perhaps pretending to be two Hawkeyes from the Avengers, but never out of sight. The park was crowded, but they were never unsafe, and we let them run. I was comforted by the security they must have felt there, knowing that we would always keep an eye on them (despite the fact that we did almost loose Petey in the Underground). We let them go. They were having their own adventure.

One of the things I love most about my life is not infrequently I find myself in situations I never could have imagined being in only a short time ago. I never in my life thought I would get to see my sons run happily through a field in a London park. It made me happy to give them that small freedom as fleeting as it was.



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Home

It is ironic that it took us leaving India for it to feel like home, but everyone, Elise and the kids included, agree that it is good to be home.

The jetlag was worse than I remembered it, even though the trip from the U.S.—as a whole—didn’t seem as long. No one slept on the ten hour flight from London to Chennai, but everyone held it together pretty well until the last 20 minutes. We landed a little after four in the morning and collected our bags. I put three gargantuan duffels and three car seats on a cart with a wobbly, uncooperative wheel, and struggled to make it out of the baggage claim.

As we stepped out into the muggy South Indian night, there was Sundar waiting for us. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been standing there for the last month…or at the very least for that last three hours, eagerly anticipating our return.

Though the jet lag seemed more acute, it didn’t seem to last as long for everyone. Except Elise.

Having been up all night, we got home around six in the morning. I left for work an hour later…just as everyone was going to bed. The next night I would sleep four hours and two hours the night after that, staying up with the kids. Pete was the next to kick, then Sam and finally Clem. Elise wouldn’t get quite over it until a full two weeks after our return. One night I sat up in bed and patted the empty space next to me. I snuck out between the slit in the mosquito net and found her typing away with her thumbs on her iPhone, her face framed by the neon blue gloaming coming off her screen. She glanced up at me and said, “Can’t sleep.”

We only gave Sam a week off before sending him to his first day of 1st grade. He made it all five days only because Friday is “Fun Friday” at his school. On Saturday, I asked Sam, "Do you want to take a nap?”

He shook his head.

"No."

"Do you need the rest?"

"Do I need the rest of what?"

Pete is swimming stronger than ever. He dives in just as if he were starting from blocks, pulls with one arm right into a freestyle stroke, and swims the full length of the pool. The other morning, I was giving him a submarine ride while the Doctor was swimming laps next to us. We raced the Doctor, me doing a spastic doggie-paddle with Pete on my back. We still beat the Doctor, though, and Pete took off for the other end of the pool.

I didn’t think anything of it, until I noticed Pete launching himself from the wall at the same time the Doctor started another lap. Me, Sam and Clementine all burst out laughing once we realized what Pete was doing. He was RACING the Doctor. AND HE WON!!

After swimming at the pool, I made leftover chicken noodle soup for the kids yesterday after swimming at the pool. Clementine came up to me in the kitchen and tells me, "I all soaking wet."

"What happened?"

"I got noodle water on my shirt."

"You mean the broth?"

"No! Noodle water!"

The boys have made a vocation of coveting new Legos. Instead of caving to their pleas, they have been given chores, one each for every year they have been on planet Earth, and an allowance of exactly 100 Indian rupees each week paid on Pay Day, Fridays. I've also told them we don't need to buy anymore legos when we have 15 models that are completely disassembled and need to be put back together. 

This is harder than it sounds, because every single lego brick we own has been combined into one large pile. So, we are painstakingly rebuilding all of our legos, made phenomenally difficult by the fact that we have to literally search for needles in haystacks in order to find the right piece to complete any one step. 

To make it easier we have dumped all the legos on the floor and started separating them into color-coded piles. Our new babysitter/cook, Rita, has even gotten into the spirit of things, by helping with the sorting.

It is nice to be home.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer Part One // A Study in Black and White



The full post of film images can be found here: http://bit.ly/1snL9Mb

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thoughts from 35,000 Feet


* The following post was penned on our 10 hour flight home from London to Chennai just a week ago. 

The truth is I feel more at home on a plane than I do at home in Washington. Or even in Florida. It's a place in between places which happens to be right where I've always lived in some place or another. A place without a place that I thrive. 

Even though nothing about Chennai felt familiar in the beginning, or even in the first seven months, coming back here feels a lot more like coming home than leaving home. Like the last time.

I boarded the plane reluctantly, almost getting caught up in passengers boarding flights to Paris and Dublin. I may have threatened to stay in London, too. 

We almost lost Peter, about five times. Once in the turnstiles of The Tube in London, once on the train to Terminal C and once down an escalator in Heathrow, but he was instinctively caught up in a sea of saris as we boarded our plane to Chennai. As if he'd finally been found. 

It wasn't the swooshing saris for me or the raven black braids of my seat-mates, but instead the first taste of our mediocre Indian airplane food that brought me back. Curdling excitement in my belly for our return to India with spice, flavor memories that had been dampened in the USA. 

We're all better for having travelled home. No matter where you are the grass is always greener somewhere else. Some people just believe that, we move. We pick up our fence posts and haul them to those greener pastures. But the thing about greener pastures is that there is always a catch: wind, storms, predators, heavy rains or year long droughts. Or maybe you're just allergic to the grass. This doesn't make it any less green, just difficult in a different way.

Pete stopped biting his nails this summer, my cuticles have healed and so has my head, Sam's hair is poofier, Clementine knows the names of so many family members that love her that she's forgotten all our names, "Whats a name?" And Paul is always Paul, something that never waivers, like the chirping of birds in the morning. No matter where we go or what language they chirp in, they're always there providing comfort. 

I've got thousands of notes scribbled on the backs of magazines, in my planner and on Post It notes throughout my bags. I've got plans for the ideas that have been desperately and uncontrollably pinging around my head since we arrived in Chennai. This place creates a fire in my creative soul, but seethes the energy it takes to make them come to life.

All things get better with time, even airplane food. Nine hours into my ten hour flight I'm devouring my South Indian breakfast like I would a crispy bacon, egg and cheddar breakfast sandwich. I have hope that the things I initially found so amazing about Chennai, will remain amazing, and the things that held me back from achieving my goals and blowing the roof off of this two year tour have been beaten by a few months to regroup and get my thoughts in order. 

My plans include finally beginning my garden and feeding our bodies it's greens with the fruits of our labors. Watching impossible seeds become possible tufts of lettuce. They include joining a gym and building muscle to support my heart and my mind. To run more and run confidently outside because I am only here and now. To pour more into myself to be a good example to my children about what a strong, healthy woman looks like and to all the women around me that are on the verge of setting themselves free. To love myself more for all I do instead of beat myself down for all I don't. To realize the places I can make a difference and learn to let go of the ones that I can't. 

If this so starting to sound a little like the serenity prayer, well, so be it. India requires serenity, but even yoga isn't enough sometimes.

I want to drive more and listen to more music. I want to take more chances with my work and believe that other people will believe in the images that I am passionately creating in this place.

I've been more reluctant to lay down roots here than ever before because I know how quickly two years passes and how hard it is to dig them up. But having returned home to my old neighborhoods this summer and having seen how tall the trees have become, I'm thankful we planted them when we did. They now protect our home from the wind, provide shade and stability to the clay earth in the spring and the neighbor's homes who's owners have changed several times in the passing years.

I want to be more patient with my children because seeing them
through our families eyes I see their perfection, their growth and they're potential more clearly. I'm thankful for my village, albeit far away, I learn more from watching you with your children and with mine than I do from any books. 

I'm raising a big glass to the next year and five months. It's got a hell
of a lot of potential and thanks to our family and friends and they're generosity, for filling up our cups this summer until they overflowed.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reunited

It has been two weeks since I watched my family run down the jetway at PBIA. In the days and weeks leading up to our reunion, I imagined what it would be like, and just the thought of seeing them again caused me to tear up and a lump to form in my throat.

The actual reunion was anticlimactic. Elise's father, brother, and his girlfriend came to the airport with me, so I had an audience and had to be on my best behavior. As Sam and Clementine ran toward me, something happened to Peter. I am not sure what, but he ended up on the carpet of the jetway crying. Moreover, Elise had passed the invisible line of no return beyond which TSA will not let you retrace your steps or renter the terminal. So, there was Peter on one side of this invisible line, crying and visibly distressed and Elise on the other with a TSA officer warning her not to go back for her fallen brood.

Once Peter made his way over the invisible barrier, I swept him up in my arms, and we were all back together again.

The next two weeks were a blur. There was a wedding on the beach a few days later. We rented a house in Tequesta with a swimming pool in the back yard, and there were several afternoons of poolside revelry, an extended family reunion with great-aunts and uncles, small boys flying through the air, splashing down into the water, and beers drunk in the sun.

A few days ago, the newlyweds headed home, and Elise's parents got on the road to head north to South Carolina. The house grew less hectic, but in this vacuum was an unwelcome quiet. The chaos suited all, and now there is too much space and not nearly enough bodies lounging about. The house was seemingly made to accommodate large numbers of people dripping in wet bathing suits. Fortunately, we look forward to filling it back up on Tuesday when more company arrives and the second half of our Florida beach vacation begins.

I was recently talking to a colleague at work in India about Florida. As my flight from LAX to West Palm taxied into the gate, I distinctly recall not feeling as though I were coming home, but that I was coming to Florida to visit family. It has been almost five years since we moved from Florida, and I don't know if I suspected this feeling to come sooner or later. Perhaps, five years is just about right to emotionally separate from a place. We still own our townhouse here, but that stopped feeling like home a long time ago. Certainly when we rented it out to complete strangers and unquestionably when we had--not one--but two floods in the unit to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

I have a visceral disdain for South Florida. My colleague sensed this and asked why, and I could not clearly articulate my feelings. Don't get me wrong. Florida is a nice place to visit. The weather is generally good. It has nice beaches, good restaurants and Disney World, but perhaps not unlike a Nebraska farm boy who can't wait to get off the family farm, I had long ago outgrown Florida.

I grew up in Florida. I spent three years there right after I graduated from college and another ten after grad school. I ventured away. I went off to college in Baltimore and again wandered away to Colorado, but for some reason always came back. Maybe it was to return to my parents' safety net where I could regroup rent-free while plotting my next move. I was like a boomerang. Only no one had flung me far enough outside of Florida's gravitational pull until I took my present job.

I still do not really know why I left Boulder and came back to Florida in 2000, but I am glad I did. After meeting Elise, who is from Washington State, we quickly recognized that our joint fortunes lie west of the Rockies. Even before we left Florida in 2010 for my current job, I had been trying to move into a real estate job in Denver. I had one job offer in Portland to join the Department of the Interior, but the package wasn't quite enough to make the jump. A few months later, I'd be out of work.

Florida is still a nice place to visit. I just wouldn't want to live here. I have spent a lot of time in the last two weeks trying to figure out exactly what I don't like about Florida. That may sound like a negative pursuit, but it is important for me to know why I feel this way, and, perhaps in doing so, learn a little something about myself, because, on paper, Florida seems like a wonderful place. Sun, beaches, boats...who wouldn't want to live here?!

Therein lies part of the problem. Florida is paradise. So a large majority of the people around you are retired or on vacation. Especially in South Florida. So Florida becomes a stereotype of itself, and the tropical, Jimmy Buffet, "It's 5:00 Somewhere" facade replete with palm trees, boat drinks with tiny umbrellas, hammocks hung between coconut trees, cold Coronas, flip flops, and fishing boats that we sell vacationers and Snowbirds from the North becomes reality. Everyone lives the "Salt Life". I am not exactly sure what living the Salt Life entails, but imagine it has something to do with cleaning pools or waiting tables during the week, then anchoring the boat at Peanut Island on the weekends and drinking 27 cans of Miller High Life before passing out in the sun. To each his own, I suppose.

And after two weeks of serious contemplation, I think I have discovered it all just boils down to personal preference. I like the beach, but I like the cold better. I love snow, seasons changing, and leaves turning. I like the water, but I like to ski, hike, rock climb, camp more. I love to run, but running in Florida is miserable all but, perhaps, two days a year. I love coffee shops and dark beer.

I like mountains. Sorry, Florida. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

R&R

I am writing this on a four hour lay-over in London. I love London already, though I will only see the airport. I am sitting with an ice Americano from Starbucks, my first Starbucks coffee in eight months, looking out over the tarmac, at giant jumbo jets taxing down the runway, taking off and landing, and can’t help thinking how much Pete and Sam would love to see this, then remembering that they have already seen this when they flew through London five weeks ago.

I have never had a four hour lay-over before and don’t really know what to do with myself. I am used to rushing from one connection to the next. As I ponder my next move, I remind myself that I have a five hour lay-over awaiting me at LAX, so save some for later. I might have a late-lunch/early-dinner, grab a salad. I know that sounds lame, but you have to understand the lack of lettuce in India causes one to just crave something crisp and fresh. Though I just walked past an advertisement for juicy hamburger that looked pretty good, too.

I don’t even know what time it is. Airports are timeless, places outside the normal time continuum, places where time stops, and morning, afternoon and night all become one. Airports are one of the only places it is okay to drink something other than a bloody mary at eight in the morning, so I think about having a beer when realization washes over me….I’m on vacation!

The flight from Chennai was uneventful, except I was a minor celebrity on the airplane. My job in India is to facilitate travel to the United States, and half of the passengers recognized me from recent visits to my office.

In my half hour in Heathrow I already recognize it as the intersection of the world. I don’t think I’ve heard so many languages spoken in one place or seen so many people from different spots around the globe. It is fascinating and amazing and makes me love my life even more, that I get to see some of them.

A friend confided in me recently that he “doesn’t believe in borders”. I found this an interesting sentiment given our line of work, but not one I can’t appreciate. Especially as many borders are meaningless lines on a map and do nothing to demarcate one place from another and especially as so much time, money and effort is used in patrolling and protecting them, one can’t help but wonder what a world without borders would be like. Certainly, there would be an initial period of chaos were the world to decide to capriciously and spontaneously remove all borders, but after an initial settling out period, I wonder if natural forces wouldn’t take hold.

I don’t know what the free movement of people would bring. Most of the people I know growing up haven’t strayed from their hometown. I imagine most would want to stay in a place that was familiar, where the food, the language, the customs and norms were comfortable. I some level I know this is fantasy and a na├»ve ideal. Of course, as natural resources become scare or climate change affects the world in new and unpredictable ways, the free movement of people may bring conflict, but war already has the ability to destabilize entire regions despite borders. For now, borders are good job security, if nothing else.

I have already traveled nearly ten hours and have just under 24 to go. It already seems like a lifetime ago when Sundar was maniacally ringing the doorbell while I was in the shower, panicked I’m sure that I would miss my plane. I didn’t have the energy at three in the morning to argue with him, so I let him take me to the airport at an ungodly early hour to only sit around for another hour waiting for my flight to board. I was so tired, I didn’t realize I hadn’t given him overtime for the ride to the airport until a few hours into the flight. Oh well…he knows where I live.

The first flight went quickly and I hope the next one does, too. I am beyond excited to see the kids but also nervous to parent again. Will they listen to me? Will they be the crazy hellions Elise has been describing to me over Skype? I don’t want to have to yell at them. I just want to play with them and read to them, make them breakfast and play in the pool. I am cautiously optimistic that if I do those things with them that the listening will fall into place. We’ll see.

I am also nauseous with excitement to see Elise. I can’t wait for her touch. I know that sounds weird, but when she does it is like sticking your finger in a light socket. I am all of a sudden alive again.

Less than 24 hours. 


Friday, July 11, 2014