"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Monday, September 29, 2008

School Visit and announcement about future events in this space

Today, I visited two fourth grade classes at the Vidyarania School, in Hyderabad. I was a nervous wreck, going there. 
What if the children were bored? 
What if my mind went blank, the way it so often does when I'm chit-chatting with people - is anyone out there cursed with the same incapacity to have simple conversations about nothing, you know, the weather, or whatever? 
Anyway, I needn't worry, as usual. Not only did it go beautifully, I also truly enjoyed it. Actually, as I was coming out, the principal asked me to sit down at her desk to tell her about the visit, and I just couldn't - sit, I mean. I kept talking and talking, and she had to gently remind me that I was welcome to sit down. I was way too excited to sit ! 

I will see both classes tomorrow again to collect their questions and do some other activities, and I'm totally looking forward to it. One of the questions they asked me was where I came from, where I lived. When I said that I lived in Hyderabad, a little girl said: "you don't look like you live here." I asked if it had anything to do with my wearing western clothes, and I told her I would come with a salwar kameez, tomorrow. She had a hard time believing I could wear a salwar kameez, and found it even harder to believe that I actually own two saris. Even Kora telling her that I do did not seem to convince her. I said I'd bring photos :)

And a delightful boy, upon hearing that I'm French, asked me if I know "The Three Musketeers." I could have kissed him right there. Here is another proof of the magic of books, and stories. How wonderful to be able to connect with a child from India about a book written some 150 years ago, by a French writer ? A book that happened to be my very favorite as I was growing up. I really wasn't expecting that.

I won't be writing more, as this is part of the Global Virtual Tour I'm preparing for Amadi's Snowman. 

And I use this opportunity to let my faithful readers (hello, thank you so much for being there!) know that the tour will last one month ! Yes, one entire month. Initially, I had planned for a long week-end, and then, as Tilbury's wonderful publicist, Sarah, and I came up with new ideas, we thought it might last two weeks, but now, we have enough material and enough interested participants to last four weeks.

OK, I can't resist posting a picture of today's visit. Only one. There will be many more in November. By the way, I took Kora, my older daughter with me. She's seating in the first row, wearing a blue t-shirt. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ganesh Festival, Before and After

As a follow up to my previous posts about the joyous festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, I want to add that after all celebrations, one must clean up. This is pretty standard anywhere. One of the reasons I'm not at all fond of throwing parties is that even though I love it while our guests are with us and we're all having a good time together, I hate having to go through the preparations - I stress out so much because I want everything to be perfect - and then having to clean up the mess. And yes, I know all about needing to live in the present, but knowing about it doesn't make it any easier for me to actually DO it. Those out there who maybe wonder why they're never invited to our house, well, now you know it's nothing personal. I'm just a very reluctant hostess. :)

Now back to Ganesha. As mentioned before, the elephant-headed god must be immersed in water after up to eleven days of offerings and prayers.

 Hyderabad has a big body of water in its middle:  the lake Hussein Sagar.
 During the festival, cranes are installed along its  shore, in order to lift and then bring down some of  the enormous statues of the god into the water.  

The biggest statue is 47 feet tall, to give you an  idea. Here it is again, at night. See how small people are, at the bottom?
Now what happens, once everyone, every neighborhood, has brought their statue of Ganesh, big or small, to the lake and immersed it in the water?

See below a few pictures taken by my husband (who drives by the lake every day to go to his office), on the day after...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lord Ganesha travels to the Dominican Republic

Last year, I wrote this post about the festival of Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings. We had friends visiting from the Dominican Republic, at the time, and of course, we took them around the city,
and we also went to see the giant statue of Ganesha, before its immersion in the lake Hussein Sagar.

Today, I received this picture from Genevieve. She created a little altar to Ganesha (see the small statue of the idol with the elephant head, lost in the foliage and flowers behind the candle?) in her home in the mountains of the Dominican Republic.

I love it that our friends took with them the colors, fragrances, and beautiful details of this joyous Indian festival and decided to recreate it on the other side of the world.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Two great reviews for Amadi's Snowman...

One in none other than the Kirkus Review website!

"Snowmen are not often found in small towns in Nigeria, but Amadi discovers one in, of all places, a book! The elementary-grade boy can do his sums but hates his weekly reading lesson. He wants only to be a trader, an honorable job for an "Igbo man of Nigeria" as he thinks of himself, but his small-businesswoman mother knows that the world is changing and everyone needs an education. Hoping to escape his tutor in the marketplace, he spots Chima, an older boy, actually enjoying a book with a picture that Amadi can't identify. What could be so white and round and have a carrot for a nose? Know-it-all Amadi starts to change his attitude when he realizes that there are things outside of his village life that he wants to learn about. Tokunbo's palette contrasts the bright colors of people's clothing, both contemporary and traditional, with the light-brown muddiness of the village roads and houses in her vigorous paintings. Purposeful, yet without the heavy didacticism of some books on the topic of literacy, this tale shines a welcome light on cultural differences. (Picture book. 5-8)"

And the other one in Foreword Magazine.

Today is a very good day :)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New Look !

When I first decided to have a blog, I spent hours trying to understand the whole template thing. Not that it's so difficult, but this was totally new territory for me, and I'm not the quickest one when it comes to figuring out these sorts of things. The whole html-code-thing has my brains tied up in tight knots. I'm not much more fluent in the language, nowadays, but nor am I intimidated the way I used to be. So, I decided to change the colors of the blog, make it warmer. This may still change, I'll see how I feel when I get back to it again and again.
Want to let me know what you think?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Expat Musings

In the months that preceded my going away for the summer, I felt pangs of nostalgia whenever I thought that we might soon have to leave India and move to another country. I imagined ideas for stories set in India. I kept telling myself that I needed to fill my eyes, and ears and mind with images, sounds and memories of the place, so I could carry them with me, and most of all, not feel that I didn't take full advantage of my being here - the way I often do about my time in Nigeria. To avoid having regrets.

I feel the need to add a note, here, about the repercussions that the departure preparations can have on a person in the long term. After four years in India, I have come to the conclusion that the reason Nigeria has not left me any respite - especially as a writer - is due to the fact that I didn't leave the country in a way that would have brought closure to the whole experience. I just wanted to be out of there : I was seven months pregnant, in a hurry to settle in the place where I was going to give birth, all the while dealing with the anxiety linked to any international move, on top of my daughter going through several bouts of malaria for almost two months, until we found out that the medications she'd been taking were fake and her whole immune system was pretty shot, my husband being relocated to India, to a city that we knew basically nothing about, etc, etc. Not exactly peaceful circumstances to help with the transition. I remember vividly how I just yearned, almost physically, to be on the plane out of Enugu, as it would mean I was finally moving on to the next stage of my life. Now, having read Third Culture Kids, by Pollock and Van Reken, and Expat Expert Robin Pascoe, I knew that I needed to prepare my almost 4-year-old daughter to this move, and I did, thoroughly. We took pictures, said good bye to the trees, the birds, and everyone and everything around. But I completely overlooked my own preparation. Huge mistake !

Back to India, before the summer, where we're waiting to hear about our relocation. Anyone who knows me well enough, also knows that I'm not exactly zen ; more your pretty average control freak. I like to know what I'm doing tomorrow, and possibly next month, too. Which doesn't preclude adventure. I love adventure. I don't think I would have lived the life I have, so far, if I didn't. But I have to be able to PLAN it. So, the "not knowing where we're going next" part is not something I'm very good at negotiating.

During the whole month of May, I felt terrible. I mean, physically bad. As if something heavy and hard was sitting somewhere in my gut, making it difficult for me to breathe. Until a light bulb went up in my mind and I realized that for the past twenty years of my life, I had never lived in the same place for more than 3 years. It was as if my body and my mind were screaming their need to move, as if I have some internal clock telling me, "woman, it's time, where are the packing boxes and all the usual preparations"? As soon as I realized that, I felt better. I could breathe again. I just told myself : "we will be moving, sooner or later, but this time, it looks as if we may be staying in one place a little longer than we've been used to for the past two decades, so, just relax." And I did.

Then, started my crazy continent-hopping summer.

I left for France, and during the four weeks I was there, I kept thinking that I loved it there. France is such a beautiful country. The weather was gorgeous. The food, well, do I need to say more? Everything felt familiar. The quality of life is high, even though the French love to complain about pretty much anything under the sun. I didn't want to go. I wished I could stay longer. I didn't think forever, mind you. I know better. But I felt good there.

Then, we went to Haiti, where I spent over a week. And once more, I realized how much I love that country, its people, so joyous and dignified in spite of all the hardship. At my mother in law's house, the house were my husband grew up, there was no electricity most of the time. They rely on inverters and ancient gas lamps. Comfort is sparse. And yet, I was sad to leave and would have liked to stay longer. No, not forever. Because, yes, I know better. But definitely longer.

Then, I landed in New York, and I was so happy and moved to be walking the streets of Manhattan. Slipping into old habits was so totally comfortable. I was home again. And of course, it was much too short.

I didn't see much of Los Angeles. I was too busy with the conference. But there again, I recognized places and names - I lived in LA for four months, in 1989, and drove myself around a lot - and it would have been lovely to be able to hang out in Santa Monica or Venice Beach, and to revisit old spots. So, there also, I would have liked to stay longer. Not forever, we know that by now, but longer. Then again, how much longer?

I flew back to New York, and we spent three wonderful days with friends, in Brooklyn. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese could be heard in that lovely, crowded apartment in Sunset Park, with our children who represent so many countries - France, Spain, Haiti, Brazil, Germany, all of them US citizens - playing together as if they'd known each other all their lives. We went to a concert in Prospect Park, the way we used to do it so often when I lived there. The night was lovely, a little cool, and Lila Downs was singing on the stage, and people sat all around on blankets, and I remembered how much I love New York. More than in any other part in the world, I think - and that includes France - I feel at home, there. Then again, I also remember that I when I lived there, I needed to get out once in a while, and I HAD to go to France at least once a year. So, yes, I wanted to stay longer. Much, much longer. But by now, and even though I dream of New York becoming a base when I grow older, I also know that I can't be there - anywhere? - forever.

Finally, as my husband returned to India to resume work, I flew to Spain with my daughters. We stayed at my aunt's small apartment, in the working class neighborhood where I spent most of my summers, growing up, and even though a lot has changed in Malaga, that particular neighborhood hasn't. The streets are pretty much the same. The place where we used to eat ice creams and drink "horchata" is still there, as is the church where I used to practice my piano at the harmonium, seating on my father's lap, as my legs were not long enough to push the pedals. We went to the beach where I played so many afternoons, as a child. And we went to La Feria, and I was so happy to dress my girls as beautiful gitanas. By then, I had been leaving in suitcases for a month, and I couldn't stand it anymore. I just wanted to get back. But I also felt sad to leave, even more so because my brother now lives in Madrid and I'd love to go and visit him, and it was also great to speak Spanish and eat Spanish food, and hear Spanish music. So, there again, longer would have been nice. Not forever. Just longer.

And it occurs to me that having moved around the way I have, and having roots in these different places, too, I have formed strong emotional attachments with them all. As usual, there are two ways of looking at this.

I can feel torn, and I can feel as if I'm leaving threads and pieces of myself everywhere, and give in to a feeling of sadness and "uprootedness".

OR, I can accept the nostalgia, even nurture it, but still rejoice, because at the end of the day, all these places are a part of me, and they make my world so much bigger and richer. It's a bitter sweet statement, but truth is that all things considered, if I were given the choice between staying put in the same place and not having to deal with some of the heart break mentioned here, or doing it the same way all over again, I would still go for the second option. So, it would look as if this is the right choice for me, after all (unless I'm just a nutcase-sucker-for-pain, of course, but we're not gonna go there, today).

And I can also look forward to the day when I'm able to control my time a little better so I can actually stay in once place until I've had my fill, and then move to another, and start all over again. Or is that just another illusion?