"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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Motherhood Muse Blog Tour : A Challenge to Change the World

As mentioned yesterday, I'm hosting The Motherhood Muse, today, on the occasion of their blog tour.
I will pick a person's comment at random, and the lucky winner will receive one free subscription to the 2010 issues of the Motherhood Muse.

A Challenge to Change the World

Throughout my life I've been challenged to change the world, to make it a better place. The sister and brother living on the streets of Tijuana, begging me when I was seven years old to buy Chicle. The sea animals dying under the weight of oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Costa Rican boy running barefoot on sharp stones in the street to a home without electricity or hot water in the mountains as I walked along in my college
hiking boots. The Japanese grandmother picking up trash and passing me up the path on the way to the top of Mt. Fuji just a couple of years before I became a mother. And my two daughters, who babble at the cowbirds gobbling the birdseed outside and hug tree trunks while I unload groceries from the car.

Each person, every moment has spoken to me and inspires me to try harder to preserve our world (its nature, the cultures, the languages). We must cross borders, share what makes our cultures so diverse and our families so similar, and explore the land under our toes to make the world a better place.

The Motherhood 
Muse literary magazine aims to take on this challenge by publishing literature and art (in a digital, green format) to help individuals develop a more meaningful relationship with nature. We feature writing that explores the connections between motherhood, nature, childhood and cultures. Our writers come from every corner of the earth and so do our readers.

We often hear the phrase "Think global. Act local." As a mother I often connect with nature on a personal level but think about how this connection unites all mothers. My own footsteps into nature may be of a local realm, but as I write about motherhood
 and nature I find a deeper connection across the globe with all mothers.

We'd love to receive your thoughts in writing on how you connect with nature, cultures, and languages and what this means for you and women around the world. Please share your ideas in the comments and submit your writing to our magazine!

Thank you Katia for hosting us here today!

Kimberly Zook, Editor-in-Chief
The Motherhood

You're welcome, Kimberly. Good luck on this new and praise-worthy adventure...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Catching up

Life is funny. When I have too much to do, I still find time to do more. But as soon as my schedule becomes lighter, I catch myself doing less. I still haven't figured that one out.

Of course, the fact that I've been fighting a pretty bad throat, and then chest infection hasn't helped.

Anyway, May is around the corner, the heat in Hyderabad is now reaching its peak, and I'm busy trying to finish a first draft of what I hope will turn out to be my first completed "shitty first draft" of a novel, in true Anne Lamott fashion. If - no, scratch that - WHEN I type the words THE END on the manuscript, I intend to treat myself to something very special (haven't decided what yet, but I'll have to.) In the meantime, I'm now about to reach the crisis point somewhere around the third quarter of the novel.

My weekly posts on Haiti have also suffered from my being ill, but I have another problem. I'm running out of pictures.

My husband came back a few days ago, so exhausted he cannot even read a short story to his younger daughter without falling asleep in the middle on the book. Quite unfazed, the little one just let him sleep, and came to me with her book, so I could finish it, coughing or no coughing. She's not one to let exhaustion or illness get in the way of hearing a good story. My coughing so much allowed us to introduce a new ritual, though. I now read her one or two bedtime stories, and she reads me one so I can rest my voice - or what's left of it, these days. It is such a joy to see her slowly overcoming her shyness of words unknown and becoming more and more confident about her ability to decipher them.

Tomorrow, I'm hosting The Motherhood Muse, a digital literary magazine that comes out four times a year and publishes literature on motherhood, nature, children, cultures and more.

Kimberly Zook, Founding Editor and Publisher came across my blog, and sent me an email, asking if I'd like to participate in their blog tour to promote their second issue. I was immediately drawn to their mission statement of encouraging mother writers to rediscover and reconnect with nature through their bodies, minds and souls, but I knew for sure I wanted to participate when I read Kimberly's profile. Someone who lived "in a hut in a Costa Rican forest for a few years and journeyed through the back country in many places on Earth?"

So, please come back tomorrow so you can read about "A Challenge to Change the World." I will pick a person among those who leave a comment and the lucky winner will receive one free subscription to the 2010 issues of The Motherhood Muse.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Varanasi : So Long

Just a few more pictures out of the 478 I took, in six days. Just because...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Varanasi : And the Muck

All right, I cannot write a series of posts about Varanasi and turn a blind eye (and plugged nose) to the muck that one encounters while ambling through its maze of lanes and bylanes. Here you are, basking in the beauty of a towering old palace when the stench of urine suddenly overwhelms you. Or you follow a narrow street, suddenly spot a small temple, and almost walk into a pile of shit still fragrant and warm.

That's India, but more so than anywhere else, I felt, it is Varanasi.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Varanasi : Hidden Temple

On the last afternoon, we were looking for a place to have lunch and spotted what looked like a pretty outdoor restaurant inside what must have been an old haveli at some point in time. We hopped off our rickshaw and went in. The restaurant was pretty, but the food was more than average, and I suspect it's what I ate there that was responsible for my not feeling well, the following day. Should have stuck to the street side stalls selling chaat. Anyway, inside that open area was the most beautiful little temple, built apparently by some maharajah who still comes to visit once a year. Look at that beauty.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Varanasi : Autorickshaw ride

Taking an auto-rickshaw in India is often an adventure in and of itself. I also knew that people share autos all the time, simply to make the ride cheaper for everyone. But I had never had people jump into an auto while I was riding in it. 

So, here am I, watching the busy street scene in Varanasi from the inside of my naturally ventilated auto, sipping water from my bottle because it's so hot, when suddenly, even as the auto is moving, two policemen jump in, one on each side of the driver, and sit there as if it's the most natural thing to do. And I guess it is, because when my friend asked the auto driver why he let them do that, he just shrugged, and said something like : "what can I possibly do ?"

Now, my friend, who is not the type to sit quietly while people abuse a situation (as we say in French, she does not have her tongue in her pocket) is asking them - in Hindi, of course - what they're doing here, and could they not ask for permission to use our rickshaw, when a policewoman jumps in at the back, half her body bent so she can fit in the low space. This time, my friend argues vehemently, and refuses to move to allow this lady to squeeze in and sit with us. In the end, she jumped out again, saying that my friend was making her life too difficult.

The two policemen got off at a crossing, maybe five minutes later, without even a thank you. Then again, maybe they didn't feel welcome.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Varanasi : Morning rituals along the Ganga

The absolute highlight of my visit to Varanasi was the morning boat ride on the Ganga, right after sunrise.

The light was sublime, the air carried a lovely fresh breeze, and being on the river, with the sound of the oar parting the water as we glided along the ghats watching the morning rituals, was magic. As soon as it was over, I wanted to do it again. Unfortunately, I was not feeling well the following morning (and last), and could not renew the experience. No matter, I took dozens of pictures, and the images are still vivid in my mind.

Here we see a man mediating against a backdrop of collapsed temples half immersed in the water.
Our boat-wallah had an explanation about this : a pandit was meditating on this ghat and asked to move so a temple could be built. When he wouldn't, he was forced to. Furious, he declared that no temple would ever stand straight on these steps. (It is a very similar story to the story of the Mehrangarh Fort, in Jodhpur, as reported here.) My traveling guides simply mention that the elaborate structures of that temple were so heavy that they collapsed. That ghat  is eerily beautiful.

A family taking a dip, and waving happily.

Below, pandits performing a puja on a little platform complete with umbrella, on the water.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Varanasi : Offering to the Ganga

During our evening boat ride, we bought diyas to this little girl I mentioned before, and offered them to the Ganga.

I bought four of these little recycled paper cups filled with petals that the girl probably picked up from some seller at the end of the day, or who knows where as they looked extremely tired. Each had a wick and some wax in the middle. One for each member of my family. You are supposed to have a thought, or wish, as you do this.

My friend is a widow with two grown-up sons, and she also offered four diyas to the Ganga. Interestingly, the first one capsized almost immediately.

As she looked at my little diyas moving with the current, she commented on the first one moving much faster than the others, and said : "Here goes Michel, way ahead of everyone else." I started looking at this little group of diyas. She was right. One kept on moving ahead, two were very close together, and one seemed to hover on the side, not too close, but not too far either. I like to think that it was my diya, and the others were my daughters.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Varanasi : Buying Sarees

So far, my experience buying sarees had been limited to going thrice to some of the big shops in Hyderabad. You go in, sit on a chair in front of a long table, and a salesman gets sarees out one after the other.

In Varanasi, thanks to my friend and her numerous connexions all over India, I discovered a new way of shopping for sarees.

First, you take off your shoes and enter a big room where the whole floor is covered with white mattresses. You sit against bolster cushions, drink chai or sweet-and-salt lime water, and a man brings saree after saree after saree until the mattresses around you have beautiful piles shimmering with bright colored silks.

The salesman will even model the saree for you, as seen below.

And yes, I brought two home... Souvenirs, you know.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Varanasi : People

One of the highlights of Varanasi was the warmth of its people. I had read in some guides that tourists get pestered a lot, and having experienced that in other places in India, I expected to have to say, and repeat, and repeat again a lot of "no, thank you." Well it didn't happen, even when I went off on my own along the ghats or in the lanes of Varanasi.  I was greeted by a lot of "Namaste" and that was about it.

Above are two ladies sitting outside their home, chatting, and watching the world go by.

Below,  is a family having lunch.

Young people having fun in the water.

After a few days on the ghats, you start recognizing faces. We kept seeing this girl. Here she's selling us diyas to offer to the Ganga.

And finally, one of our rickshaw wallahs.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Tuesday picture of Haiti : Man at Work

Twelve weeks today since the earthquake. Almost three months.

I hear that reconstruction has begun in parts of the capital Port au Prince. New little houses, probably prefabricated, are replacing rubbles here and there, and my sister in law, whom I mentioned in my post about Canapé Vert, here, reports that they're now living in the middle of a construction site : the school has been demolished, and so has the chapel, which was the only thing left standing after the quake, but I imagine no longer safe.

My husband is on his way back to India, after two months of working seven days a week, often 14 to 16 hours a day, in the difficult conditions that prevail in Haiti at the moment, and the only phone conversations we've had lately have been spoiled by our arguments, because I happen to harbor the ridiculous notion that after such an effort, he ought be given at least a week off. But it seems that I'm being unreasonable. Go figure...

Here he is, working away.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Varanasi : Lassi, Chaat

As mentioned in the first post of this Varanasi series, one of the things that made this trip so different for me was that I didn't have to be as careful as I usually am when traveling with the children (and my extremely hygiene-conscious husband.) I won't say I didn't experience some trepidation as I sampled some of the Indian staples sold in the street, because I did. But oh well !

Our breakfast, each morning, was lassi, which is a yogurt based drink. One on the first day, two on the following, because it was so incredibly yummy. Eating it out of the little clay pots is not easy, but it's part of the fun.

Of course, I then realized that the clay pots cannot be recycled, which is why you see piles of broken earthware in so many places. Better than plastic, I suppose.

Another new experience was eating Chaat. I'd had some here in Hyderabad, before, but in a mall. Now, I realize that the dish on the picture may not look like much, but trust me : it was absolutely delicious, and for someone who's been living in Andhra Pradesh, known to have one of the hottest food in India, pleasantly mild !

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Varanasi : Daily Evening Aarti to the Ganga

Hindus in India worship the river Ganga as a goddess. Every evening in Varanasi, aarti is performed at the Dashashwamedh ghat. We watched it twice, once from the ghat, the second time from the waterside, in a boat.

It is a beautiful, resonant, and majestic spectacle with a very precise choreography involving rituals performed by several priests, to the sound of bells, drums, cymbals, and Sanskrit mantras.

The rituals begin with the priests blowing in a conch ; they then hold incense sticks in their right hands and perform intricate gestures, while the left hand constantly plays a bell ; the incense is then replaced by a large camphor lamp, and finally a pyramid of little flames, as seen above. The river is also worshiped with flower petals.

Friday, April 2, 2010


I just returned from a 6 days trip to Varanasi, often referred to as the holiest city in India, or the City of Lights. It was a great experience in so many ways. I traveled with an Indian lady, someone I met briefly at a wedding, in Hyderabad, two years ago, and then saw again, once, in Delhi where she was my guide in the lanes of the old city. In other words, we were virtual strangers to each other. Six days later, I feel that I've made a new friend.

Of course, it was extremely different from traveling with my husband and children, a bunch of foreigners staying in hotels usually ranging from very nice to luxurious, and eating breakfast and dinner in them too, as it is so much easier to be on the spot at the beginning and the end of a touring day: kids can eat familiar and safe food, and have their bath before we tuck them in at night.

Both my friend and I were adamant about staying on the ghats, as opposed to the Cantonment where the nicest hotels are. This means that what you pay for is basically the view. Careful research on the internet and trusted guides like the Lonely Planet yielded only half a dozen suitable places, and the preferred ones were full. We ended up at the Sita Guest House, on Rana Ghat, and the experience reminded me of my old backpacking days, when I toured South East Asia on a 5 dollars a day budget. But the place was clean, and when the electricity worked (Varanasi has power cuts everyday from 1 to 3 PM, and most of the time from 4 to 5 PM, with a few surprises thrown in) we even had A/C - most necessary, as the average temperature during our stay was 100 degrees F. and up (39 Celsius).

My friend Sangeeta, who is the type of person who makes friends the second she arrives somewhere (funny, as my husband is like that ; I'm much more reserved by nature) met a young pandit who offered to take us to the main temples in town. Contrary to me, whose agenda was basically to visit this famous city, look, look, make notes, and soak in the atmosphere, Sangeeta had a carefully planned program that included visits to a list of temples, and buying sarees (Vanarasi is known as one of the best places in India for sarees). I'm glad to report that we both more than fulfilled our expectations.

Here are a few pictures. More posts to come...

The arrival. After almost six years in India, I've grown accustomed to the fact that the country is the second most populated in the world. But Varanasi is something else. Even my friend was stunned by the swarms of people, vehicles (cars, cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, old tongas pulled by buffaloes, bicycles) and animals (cows, more buffaloes, horses, goats, dogs) filling the streets and lanes of what feels basically like an overgrown village.

My first glimpse of the river Ganga.