Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two Months Too Long

There was an ant in my contact lenses.

They have invaded our bathroom now, eating toothpaste and drinking coconut oil, having a regular 'ole ant party.

After succumbing to what was most likely dengue a week or so ago, our nanny, Rita, got into an auto (tuk-tuk, not automobile) accident and lost her bridge. We're just glad it wasn't worse. Elise was shaken up, and as we sat in Papa John's waiting for carry-out pizza, she looked at me and repeated something I had already been thinking, "Two months too long."

Then, Papa John's got the order wrong.

We left in a huff, me warning the kids that when we get back to the States, we're not ordering Dominoes, Papa John's, or Pizza Hut, because in the United States those places are crap. We're only going to eat good pizza. I'm not a huge fan of delivery pizza to begin with. I'd match rather go out for pizza and pair it with a cold IPA. I think this preference goes back to early childhood visits to the Pizza Hut on North Lake Blvd and unlimited refills of Mt. Dew or Dr. Pepper out of Big Gulp-sized bright red plastic cups.

We stopped at Papa John's after an impromptu trip to Foreshore Estate Beach. The previous week, Elise bought us our own Ganesha clay-idol to place in our home as part of the ten-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival. At the end of the festival, on the tenth day, you are supposed to take the idol down to the beach and place it into the sea.

After much haranguing, Elise and I finally convinced all the kids to pile into the car on a Sunday afternoon so we could drive down to Elliot's Beach and place our idol in the Bay of Bengal. As we were driving to the beach, we passed an ox cart pulling one of the giant (nine feet tall!) Ganeshas to the shore.

Elise was apopletic, because according to her usually extremely reliable sources, the parade of the really gargantuan Ganeshas was supposed to happen next Sunday, not this Sunday. She practically grabbed the steering wheel from me and ordered me to make a hard left toward the beach, screaming, "This is not supposed to be happening now!"

As we got closer to the beach, the traffic increased, until we came upon an interminable queue of trucks and ox carts--each with both a giant Ganesha and a pile of celebrating Tamils in the back--lining up to hook their Ganesha up to the construction crane that would raise it into the air, swing it out over the waves, and drop it into the ocean.

We parked and joined the parade. Think Mardi Gras, Carnival, or New Year's Eve in Times Square. There were bands beating on drums, men dancing drunkenly in the streets, and flowers being thrown from the trucks. I picked up Clementine, and soon we were both drenched in sweat. Elise--camera out--started clicking away. Young Tamil men ran up to us, cajoling Elise for a photo. Though the scene was clearly crazy, and Elise said it was ten times more wild than it was last year, we never felt unsafe, despite the furor.

Everyone smiled broadly and wide. All the men in one van had been doused in day-glo purple powder, shimmering gold in another. We climbed over broken sidewalks to the beach, then--just as we saw the crane in the distance, a giant Ganesha swinging lazily high in the air--we decided to turn back, having had our fill. The kids were disappointed, but happy. If we hadn't left the house at all, instead surrendered to the heavy gravity of home, or left India two months earlier, we would have missed one of the biggest festivals of the year entirely.

Last night, after Peter got out of the shower, I played the same games with him and sang him the same silly songs ("Mas alguma coisa or mas ou menos a mesma coisa!") that I did when I used to pull him out of the bath in Brazil. This got me reminiscing about our time in Brazil. I told Clementine that she used to get up very early and I would bring her into the kitchen in her bouncie chair while I washed the dishes from the night before and made breakfast and school lunches for the boys. It made me miss that house, that kitchen. Though the more I thought about it, I started to wonder if maybe it wasn't the house or the kitchen that I missed so much. The kitchen was bright and hot. It didn't have air-conditioning, and on when we did eat dinner there--which was frequent--we would all sweat through the meal. It smelled like gas, like Sitti's old kitchen on Flamingo Road.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I didn't just miss the routine, the familiarity of doing the same thing every morning, the ease of our life then, and I suspected I would miss the same thing about India, not anything specific about India, not our house or our kitchen in India, but the routine, the getting up in the morning, washing the dishes from the night before and making breakfast and school lunches for the boys the same way I did in Brazil. Certainly, there will be routine in our new house in Falls Church or Washington, D.C. or wherever we end up living when we are back in the States.

On my way to work this morning, Sundar and I were stopped at a red light a few cars back from the intersection. An old woman with white hair in a sari and carrying a plastic bag full of groceries was working her way slowly across the intersection. A young man on a motorcycle was also stopped at the light, and she limped up to him and said something into the side of his helmet. Of course, I don't know what she said, but the motorcycle rider jerked his head to the jump seat. She bent, flipped down the running step, and hopped on the back. When the light turned green, they sped away.

They clearly didn't know each other, and this shared mode of transportation was something that I just didn't know existed in Chennai. Everyday, I see hundreds of scooters with two men, but I guess it never occurred to me that they didn't know each other and that the one guy was just giving the other guy a lift.

Needless to say, seeing this young man on the motorcycle give the old woman a ride stuck with me. I imagine there will be a lot of things I see, hear and do in our last two months in Chennai that do and make me glad we didn't leave two months earlier.  

The Brotherhood

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fun with Tropical Diseases

I admit it. Elise knows it. I know it. I'm the worst sick person in the world.

For most of almost two years, I swore off mosquito repellent. I can't stand the smell or how sticky it makes my skin feel. Elise would try to spray me down when she doused the kids, and I inevitably waved her away, mistakenly believing myself immune to mosquito-borne illnesses. Boy, was I wrong.

Though the blood work came back negative for dengue, the doctor seems convinced that's what it was. When I woke on the fourth morning with swollen hands and the beginning of a rash creeping up my arms, even Elise was convinced maybe there really was something wrong with me.

I was standing on pretty shaky emotional ground before I got sick. Now, after the illness has passed, I'm convinced our two-year assignment in India should have only been for one-year and ten months. I'm ready to go.

I know this is a terrible thing to admit--and I know there is a part of me that is confident that when Elise and I look back on our time in India, we will recall India with nothing but fondness, if only because of all India taught us about our own limits, human frailty, and about the importance of being humble as we travel the world. But I also know that I will recall India with fondness when I remember how much I children grew in India, and how India shaped part of the individuals they will become.

The other morning, Sam sat at the breakfast table, eating his bowl of Crispix. As we got near the bottom, I asked him if he wanted another. He didn't say anything. All he did was bobble his head at me. He was completely honest in his response, and I knew exactly what he was saying. It was beautiful and maddening at the same time.

I was sick in bed with a 102 fever for four days. On the fifth day, I had to fly to Bangalore for a work commitment. As I was waiting in line for security at the airport, I had to hold my arm up and keep not one....not two....but three men from cutting in front of me as I was waiting to walk through the metal detector. Part of me understands that in a country of over one billion people no one gets anywhere by waiting in a queue, but after almost two years of people honking at me all the time, I think I need a break from the constant press of humanity.

We have six weeks to go, and I wish it was tomorrow. I am already a ghost at work, merely a phantom wandering the halls. I remember experiencing the same thing at my office in Brazil, a feeling of being obsolete, written off...especially after my replacement arrived, but I don't remember it happening so early. I feel trapped. I want to be outside....all day long....without dying of heat exhaustion or battling a million mosquitoes....eating a turkey sandwich and peaches, drinking a very hoppy beer, looking into the sun filter through oak trees, watching the kids play on the playground equipment. I want to go to the Lion Man park and climb the trees and pretend like I am on the TV show American Ninja.

I remember when Elise and I first moved to Ballston, when we first left Florida to start this new adventure. I took Sam and an infant Peter to Quincy Park. We walked from our apartment building in the city; I pushed them in our first double-decker Phil 'n' Teds stroller through the busy city streets, and I remember the sun shining in my face and feeling such a sense of accomplishment. I had saved my family from financial destitution. I had a job, a good job, an exciting job, and I was proud and happy.

There is so much sadness, angst and stress associated with moving from India back to Northern Virginia. There are so many unknowns, but there can't be as many unknowns this time as there were then, when we didn't even know where we were going, before we knew what wonders awaited us in Brazil and then India.

And all I want is to be back there with the sun in my face again. We will go to Starbucks everyday, and I don't care if we go broke doing it.