Since I am technically back from being Away, I've decided to mainly use my old livejournal for my writing, though I'll add stuff here from time to time. I kind of want to keep this one travel-only. Otherwise it'll just get cluttered up with nonsense.
Although I am back in a land where livejournal isn't blcked by the minions that be, I still plan to co-blog here because it's just so much more photo friendly. And link friendly. And font friendly. However, I'll still be writing at livejournal because I like to maintain continuity. I guess I'll be bouncing back and forth. Kindly do not get dizzy from this and bill me for the barf on your screen.
In other news, I am back at work, and this time out at Vodafone. Vodafone is a big building complex behind a high pointy fence with lots of shiny mirrored window sides and long silent beige carpeted halls and banks of elevators and security checkpoints and card scanners and windowless classrooms, and it's located in Ikitelli, which is somewhere bleak and dismal and semi industrial out by the airport.
However, it is not as dire as it appears to be at first (aside from my minor thudding headache, which is either due to fluorescent lighting or the fact that I've decided to go cold turkey on coffee ad sugar today). It's actually remarkably positive (note this is Post Day 1 speaking). Here is why:
The driver picked me up at 9:30 this morning from the Pera Hotel, which is a pleasant 5-10 minute walk from my flat through Asmali mescit Sokak, which I quite fancy. The drive to work was 20 minutes maximum, dropped off at gates. Heading home at 7:30pm after finishing at 7pm, we were home within half an hour again, dropped off even closer to home.
They feed us. For free. The cafeteria is huge and it has a lovely big salad bar and we can eat whatever we want. I had soup, salad, kofte and that creamy cheesy pumpkinny thing with bubbly water at lunch, and grilled chicken, more pumpkinny thing, more salad, and that meze dish that's the cooked greens covered with yogurt and more bubbly for dinner. For free.
I get my very own classroom. It's mine. I can hang things on the walls. I can leave my stuff in it. I can camp out there during breaks.
And speaking of mine: each teacher gets a laptop to use for teaching- for music, for power point, for planning, for whatever. I get a laptop. Woohoo.
Regular hours- I'm doing 3 classes a day, 2 hours each, with only shortish breaks in between. I'm at school maybe 9 hours a day, teaching for six, eating lunch for one. No more 14 hour marathon split shifts with nowhere to eat and nowhere to rest. I'm in, I teach, I eat, I teach, I'm out. And I only teach 4 days a week.
I teach the same levels twice- I have two Beginner 1s, two Beginner 3s, and a Beginner 2 and Intermediate 1. I can double up my lesson plans for the first two, and can use some of the Beginner 3 materials later on with the Beginner 2 class. Very minimal planning needed.
My students are quite cool and funny (so far).
I may end up hating it next week, but so far it just seems quite good. This is why I am noting it all now, for posterity.
After storming around the flat for a few hours in a cleaning frenzy, I stomped back out again and up the hill for breakfast, since there was nothing left in the house to eat that wasn't uncooked pulses or moldy . Cold, grey, rainy Istanbul froze my toes and neck and I haven't stopped sneezing or wheezing all day. Stopped in at Tramvay cafe for a very good cappucino and menemen and lingering cay, with age of Kali to read and text messages to send out. I've arranged for the handyman to come soon today to get the lights working in the kitchen and to drill holes for my lovely art things from India (Ganesh batik and the painted leaf) and to rewire the wavy Moroccan lamp whose cable Lola ate while I was gone. Looking forward to a lit flat.
The menemen was good. I may go there every sunday for coffee and book and cheesy gooey eggy tomatoey peppery indulgence. I felt much better afterwards. A lot less hostile.
My great trek to the creek and back yesterday appears to have destroyed me, at least temporarily. I came back after five hours of roaming and promptly felt like death, with a full body fever that needed tylenol to bring down, complete and utter exhaustion, and my first full night's sleep in ages. On the upside, I now have a new cat thanks to Azzam. He brought this pink thing back for me along with a kitkat and dairy milk and a dvd last night when it became clear that I really was feeling appalling. It perches on my hip like Lola, with legs splayed, draped, boneless.
On the upside, unlike last autumn when I was here and gained weight, this time I've lost weight. Hooray for India, hooray for neverending colds and flus!
From Mumbai to Aurangabad, the 6:10am train, 2nd class AC Seat car, 7 hours.
This was the one we bought the emergency tickets for at the last minute for the hefty cost of $7 apiece (our later 2nd class non-AC sleeper coming back was $3). Our seats were one in front of the other, both left hand window seats, with Azzam in front and me behind, squeezed in by several dozen Korean middle aged women on a tour.
The short-permed stocky ladies waged a battle of armrests with me for the first hour of the ride, at one point actually demanding in Korean that I give up my assigned window seat and moving ahead to the empty middle seat next to Azzam. In eventual resignation, I did move up front to the empty middle seat next to Azzam, only to discover that the seat back was broken and kept flopping backwards. I returned to my old seat, forcing the squat, permed woman out of it, and asserted my co-ownership of the armrest. This seemed to impress the women, and they spent the next six hours of the journey talking to me in Korean and feeding me from their tour-packed breakfasts.
It started out with a few proffered orange wedges, which were gifted with such volume and vigour that my hands were sticky with juice and littered with seeds. The oranges were followed by an offering of boiled egg, lovely coffee-flavoured boiled sweets from Malaysia(for these they actually demanded that their tour leader give me a handful from his bag- I'm still working my way through them), and a makeshift cup full of spicy korean ramen noodles, made from folding the lid of the noodle cup into a cone and chop-sticking several consecutive courses of noodles and broth into the cone for me to down in one shot.
They had actually demanded that the tour leader bring me my own private ramen cup but I explained that I would be ordering the train breakfast soon, not to worry, please stop feeding me. They made a second shot glass out of the paper lid, filled it with more noodles and broth, and insisted that I pass it forward to my poor starving husband, along with a fistful of coffee candies.
The feeding frenzy carried on for a few more hours, culminating in lunch, when the train stopped for an hour somewhere in the middle of someplace. The train-carful of Korean matrons decided to donate part of their packed lunches to the beggar kids lining the windows, with hands to mouth miming eating and imploring with enormous eyes. One of the women gathered a bag full of the foil-tray packed white bread sandwiches and handed it generously to the kids-- charitable deed du jour accomplished.
The kids, however, opened the bag and peeked inside, lifted the cardboard lids from the foil trays, looked quizzically at the white bread and processed cheese crustless sandwiches, the proceeded to open up each tray, dump the sandwiches out on a bench and assemble all the valuable cardboard and metal in a fresh new bag. They seemed delighted by their massive recyclable haul and ran off skipping to their mother. The foot high stack of sandwiches just sat, slipping downhill, on the grimy bench, untouched. A thin, ragged, old man who had been begging at the train across from us stopped to investigate the sandwiches, nibbled a pinched nub of crust, then walked on.
The sandwiches were ignored by all except a mangy dog who ate the cheese out from the middles. When we pulled away after an hour, the stack of white crustless sponge was still there. The Korean ladies were furious, watching their charitable donation being repeatedly rebuffed. Their fury reached a boiling point when another woman put out a final bag of garbage and the same kids ran back, tipped out the last of the sandwiches onto the ground, and happily set to folding up the metal trays into a neat pile to join the other ones in her old grocery bag. Twenty-odd middle aged korean noses pressed against the window glass and howled, insulted and bewildered. Charity rebuffed. I felt for them, though I also had to stifle a fierce, swallowed burst of laughter.
Hopped up on Arabian Claritin in an effort to stem the amazonian flow from my stupid nose and to pop the bubble of my head. I woke early yet again to find that I was feeling even worse this morning than I was last night, when I wobbled around the flat, sneezing unnecessarily often, eyes glazing over mid-page. A fine way to spend my last week off. In an effort to ease the brain drain, Azzam gave me the Claritin, which stated that I must look at the enclosed paper in the box for dosage information. I carefully unfolded it and tried to focus and refocus my eyes in an effort to make sense of it until I realised I was reading the Arabic side.
Still recovering emotionally from yesterday's great excursion out into the shopping malls of Dubai in a futile exercise in buying trousers. Apparently I can't even squeeze into a British size 16 here, even though I could have sworn I was swimming in 12s back in Turkey. My ego is pretty bruised from the effort, especially since I tried trousers from a number of places in both Lamcy plaza and the Burjuman. I eased my turmoil and tried to foster hope with a low fat latte and macrobiotic detox plan book at Coffee Bean And Tea Leaf, up on the top floor of the Burjuman.
I suppose this all means I must go trouserless from now on. I shall teach in underpants and blouse. I dare my students to question me.
Monday morning, with coffee and a sore throat and the white noise of the washing machine sudsing away nearby. I'm feeling decidedly unambitious today, yesterday, now. I only have a few days left in my Awayness and I wish I was in a better mood for it. I don't even feel like writing. I tried to attach a few photos from the trip but the ones I wanted were all the vertical ones and the photo uploader on this site makes everything horizontal so I got fed up with fallen buddhas and flat-on-back cows and tipped vendors. I give up.
Back in the deserts of Arabistan, with my fourth unnecessary coffee of the morning (now noon). We arrived back at 2am Saturday, after a 4 hour delay in Mumbai, and a 2 hour delay in Goa, cementing my certainty that no one at Indian Airlines actually owns a watch. All four flights in the last two weeks have been very very late, with no ground staff anywhere with even a hint of a clue as to when a plane might eventually show up. It's always blamed on the heavy fog in Delhi, even if the flight is routed through Bangalore or Oman.
Yesterday we took Azzam's film to the photo developing place where the main technician (a sweet Indian fellow) wobbled his head a few times and told us it would be ready in an hour . When we returned in an hour, he wobbled his head again and said come back in half an hour. After half an hour, we came back and he wobbled his head again and said 15 minutes. At some point we did pick up the film. I suppose the heavy fog in Delhi had something to do with it.
As soon as my brain starts functioning normally again, I'll add a thorough write up about the journey. I just can't process enough right now.
We've shacked up in a stilt hut on the beach, with bucket shower, mosquito netted no-poster bed, floorboards made of plywood that bends so you can see under and outside the hut when you walk over it or press the walls. We have a balcony with wooden railings that spell out the name of our little collection of beach huts (BRENDON). It costs about 300 rupees a night (45 rupees=1usd- you do the math). I woke up this morning with the sun at 6 and was serenaded by many many roosters, birds, dogs and crashing waves, and got to ease my way out of sleepydust slowly because the forest of palm trees around us and above us filtered the light most greenly and softly. We arrived yesterday morning, after catching the ungodly 6am bus from Panaji. Our baggage was up on the roof of the bus, and we were uncertain whether we would ever see it again given the bumpiness of the road between Panaji and Chaudi, and the driver's complete lack of fear or steering. When we stopped briefly at Margao, Azzam climbed back up onto the roof to tie our bags to the railings using every clip and snap and cord they had on them. They emerged intact. Half of me had almost wished they would bump their way off the roof and into red dirt oblivion beneath the palm, simply because I really do hate baggage and would be relieved to not have to haul it onto further buses and planes. Our tin can bus from Chaudi to Palolem had no roof rack to I had to hold the thing on my lap, blocking my vision and mobility entirely. I hate bags.The beach is good. I am not a beach person, but I am a trees/water/book/sleep person so these aspects please me. It's very calm here, with no rave bunnies or package tourists around to annoy me- so far it is travellers of all ages, all going independently, with kids, with dogs, with cellulite, with pleasant energy. The water is lukewarm and there are no scary things in it so far. I could learn to live with this. Have gone through almost all my books though (Holy Cow and Is Anybody Out There are done, Ukrainian Tractors half done) so I suppose I must leave at some point. Bugger.
I couldn't access blogger in Panaji, so this went to my old journal. I have cut and pasted it here for your viewing pleasure (or...whatever) In Goa, in a little place called Panaji, which is apparently the capital but I don't believe them. It is small, there is a river with an arched footbridge, there are a few whitewashed churches and lots of little red dirt lanes lined with pleasantly disintegrating rainbow coloured houses with wraparound upstairs balconies and lots of walnutty old women wrapped in lengths of coton sari sitting on the ground selling mini bananas, sardines, red pebbly fruits, fly-buzzing shrimp but remarkably no packs of tissues or tree sap flavoured chewing gum. I suppose that must be a Turkish quirk. It is lovely here. There are palm trees and lots of lazy dogs sleeping everywhere. I frequently feel the urge to stop and place mirror to dog mouth to check if alive or run over. There are endless fresh lime sodas and Portuguesey Goan foodstuffs with coconut milk and pao. The public buses cost pennies and are filled with mini shrines to Jesus and Mary and Ganesh and Santa Claus, ringed with garlands of flowers and flashing christmas lights, divided into disregarded sections for Ladies, Eldery, and Handicapped, with torn seats, absent suspension, absent lane differentiation, scooter dodging, chicken playing, standing room only except when you are inexplicably invited to sit up front with the driver on a padded bench, divided from the masses by silver bars like a gogo girl cage. The outsides are like multicoloured smaller versions of school buses, but muchmore beat up. They don't stop to pick up passengers or to drop them off- they merely whistle, shout, and slow down. In the past two days we have visited the abandoned old Portuguese capital of Old Goa, caught a tiny ferry to Divar island somewhere across a river near there, hiked down a marshy palm treed lane to a tiny village, sipped a lime soda, watched the world fail to pass by, hiked from Hindu temple to Hindu temple, hired another auto rickshaw driver to take us to an organic spice plantation near Ponda where I bought cinnamon oil for muscle stress and depression and lemongrass oil for nice skin, muscle tone and stress, and several baggies of organic whole nutmeg, cinnamon bark, lemongrass stalks, freshly ground garam masala and whole cardamom seeds. My bag smells lovely.
In Mumbai airport, in an archaic internet cafe, waiting for our flight to Goa. Very very very tired still from my night of the undead on the non-sleeper train from Aurangabad. A pillow and a horizontal surface would be jolly lovely right about now. It's 35 degrees outside, the traffic was mad coming in from town by taxi- tuktuk mini taxis pretending they move with the ease of a bicycle, children filling every available window in your taxi flogging newspapers and pirated novels, dust, exhaust, honking in all pitches, a free flow of lanes and inter movement with an inbuilt caste system within the vehicles (trucks being brahmin, pedestrians dalit), and a sweet taxi driver who got us here in record time at half the price quoted by the other taxi sleazebags at the railway station.
We came in at 6am on the train from Aurangabad, and Mumbai was asleep until eight. We walked over sleeping bodies and past newspaper boys counting their enorous stacks and strapping three foot stacks of newspapers to the backs of their bicycles and weaving off into the morning darkness, past sidewalk sweepers with their twig brooms, down deserted avenues, and into one of the lone open places for a place to sit and get our brains composed in time for the second leg of the journey. The coffee was hot condensed milk with a few tablespoons of sugar thrown in for good measure, and a few granules of nescafe to add just a hint of tint but no discernable coffee taste to the stained plastic tea cup's contents. I sipped myself into a diabetic coma and watched the sky lighten through the scraggly street trees and outline of a phone box.
The journey from Aurangabad was a non sleeping sleeper train, in non AC second class- essentially the bunkbed dorm class, with as many blue vinyl diner booth padded benches as can be squeezed and stacked into a railway car. I slept a foot below the curved roof, a foot away from a roaring ceiling fan that blew freezing air in my direction all night with great noise, and a flickering fluorescent tube that went on at random times, just above my chest area. I didnt sleep.
In an internet cafe a storey above a street in Mumbai, above sidealks crowded with sellers and buyers and the legless and skinny and fat and sequined and torn, cluttered with sleeping nursing-nippled bitches and sugar-filled silver leaf pan sellers and all the same Indian (tm) pretty things you can find pretty much everywhere else in the world, including some of the wall hangings I bought in Cappadocia a few years back. It smells like old cooking oil, pee, fused and smoking electrical outlets, and exhaust. It sounds like car horns. All different pitches and timbres and personal rhythms of honking.
The roads and sidewalks have sudden craters- much like Turkey. Crosswalks flash the green walking man just as it becomes most unsafe for one to walk. Skinny men in cotton ring huge bells in a sidewalk side temple as another man drums and another man waves a chunk of burning something around and shoeless crowds gather and recite whatever it is that one must recite in such situation. The buildings are crumbly old colonial, with brilliant windows and balconies and maybe 10% of the original paint job. The air is warm and thick and heavy but nowt compared to Ghana. It is, after all, winter. Maybe 30 degrees, nothing oppressive. Overall, nowhere near as scary, overwhelming, difficult, or frantic as I had been warned. It's actually quite...easy. (wood being knocked on as we speak)
On Elephanta Island today, an hour away by open sided, life jacketless, little ferry boat, a macaque with good aim tried to tackle me and steal my water bottle. Luckily I was 700% bigger than he was and so emerged with water intact. I saw Siva's linga(m), in an abandoned temple room in a cave on the island. It was about a metre tall and half a metre in diameter and crowned with a garland of flowers. Flowers for the phallii. Very romantic. I dared not sit near it lest I become inadvertantly fertile.
The food is lovely and I walk around in a constant state of stuffedness. All veggie, all the time, with forty million course thalis with endless roti and a mountain of rice and a big tall glass of fresh lime juice and sugarcane juice mixed with fizzy water for about two bucks. Breakfast at the hotel consisting of homemade yogurt, aloo parathas, potato bhajees, many random dhal'y goops and spuddy concoctions full of turmeric and popped black mustard seeds, and instant coffee that's as cloyingly sweet as those annoying 3 in 1 packets in Istanbul (but free!), and dainty little white crustless sandwiches filled with spicy, yellow mashed potato and a few stray leaves of an unidentified green leaf. Finger bowls full of lemon wedges and warm water to wash the roti dust from your finger tips. Pistachio kulfi to ensure the immediate weight gain that even 5 hours of walking doesn't seem to be able to keep at bay. Chai so spiced as to be brown and sturdy even with condensed milk.
Tomorrow we do more things. I believe one of the things involves and aircraft carrier and the other the Prince of Wales. Monday morning at 6am we board a train to Aurangabad. We bought our tickets today, even though they were sold out. The ticket man at the absurdly beautiful train station ended up selling us Emergency Tickets, which are for, well, emergencies. On every train, they set aside a few seats for people who must go to see dying family members or who must go to a hospital far away or any other occasion which may be classified as Emergency. Our desire to go to Aurangabad on Monday morning has officially been declared an Emergency.
The skies are blue again after most of a week of Krikkit-esque white beige hues blending sand with sky with buildings and creating some sort of atmospheric quirk that has left me with a temple-to-temple brain ache all week. I was beginning to think that I was being slowly prepped for an aneurism, with little men digging away at the synapses behind my eyeballs and near my ear drums. Since we will be in Mumbai come 3am this forthcoming morning, I figure an aneurism would not be most beneficial to the situation.
However, the brand new blue skies and bright sunlight are slowly salvaging my sanity, and am now able to sip on my horrific milky nescafe (o, how I miss my coffee maker! my espresso whoosher!) as I wait for all parts of my body to wake up and perk up enough to venture out for some form of walk. I had planned to venture out to yoga, but the 10am class meant I had to be out the door by 9am for the long, scary, depressing walk through sandy lots and mindless drivers and honking horns and absentee sidewalks. I couldn't even bear contemplating that thought and so decided I'd do a few sun salutations at home and go scout out a latte in a cafe later instead. I am terribly undisciplined. Somebody must spank me, or at the least give me a stern talking-to.
The trip looms near, and I have finally managed to convince Shazbat that I really really really don't want to hear more about how dirty, noisy, crowded, maddening, tummy-bugging, impossible, wobble-headed, overwhelming India will be and how I will undoubtedly be floored by the lunacy of it all. And maybe I will. My latent autism may well just kick in and I'll curl up into a little ball somewhere in the arrivals hall and refuse to uncurl until placed safely into a cave pansyon in Cappadocia. Or, whatever it was that carried me through Egypt, Ghana, Bulgaria, Romania, South Africa, etc, will carry me through the teeming humid masses of Hindustan. I'm not that easily daunted, in spite of my meek, mild, shy, introverted exterior. I just don't want to be told in advance everything I will feel. I will decide that later for myself. He said that he was just doing it so that we can be prepared for any situation, like Boy Scouts. I was never a Boy Scout. I wasn't even a Girl Guide. I barely prepare for my lessons, let alone trips. I went to Bulgaria with just a printout of the cyrillic alphabet, the name of a pansyon written in non-cyrillic letters, and a vague idea of where I was heading (er, Sofia, Plovdiv). I went to Ghana knowing that I was heading to Accra, and little more. In South Africa, Pieter and I just drove. And drove. And it's all worked out fine so far. If I dwell on all possibilities and what must be done if they happen, my brain will just stew in them and I will spend the whole trip in a tizzy. I am the Anti Boy Scout, apparently.
I did plan some things, though: I booked us a room at the Railway Hotel in the Fort area of Mumbai, which is just on top of the neighbourhood we had originally wanted. I couldn't reach any of the listed hotels there, except the ones who told me they were very full or very expensive. Thus did I solve my first bout of Indian Challenge. If you can't get exactly what you want, find something else that could also be pleasing- this hotel is an easy block from the railway station where we must go after arriving to book our train to Aurangabad. And they serve free tea and coffee in the rooms in the mornings, upon waking. I like that aspect.
We will be in Mumbai for about four nights before we head out to Aurangabad and the caves. A few days roaming around the caves. Apparently they have Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain temple carvings spread throughout the many many caves, like an ADHD Goreme Open Air Museum. And then either heading back to Mumbai to catch a train to catch a plane to Goa, or bypassing plane and Mumbai train altogether and catching a train from near Aurangabad directly to Goa. And most of a week either being lazy in Goa or not being lazy in Goa. It could go either way. We are considering a few days in a yoga-doing place, but have yet to decide.
Here's hoping my sanity is as sturdy and intact as I think it is.