Dengue…Monsoon…Eviction…

Written May 24, 2011 – June 8, 2011

It’s been a very odd, long, delusional month. I’m now at my one-month anniversary with Dengue and I feel like a different person. My energy has returned and I’m back to the streets and the train and work – doing it all slowly and cautiously, of course. Monsoon began promptly on June 1st and so the rain drip drip drips in a small puddle from a beam extending from my living room into my bedroom. Drip drip drip – bye bye Bombay. (NOTE: There has been a slight change since writing this post just two days ago…see the last bullet – you’re in for a surprise (as was I)!

Notes on a Return to Life:

  • Khar Danda: As many of you know, I live in a neighborhood of kohlis – fisher people – who are the oldest and original population in Bombay. As you’ve seen from my photos of the shore, they are still actively engaged in the fishing industry. The fish market and the smell of drying fish is a signature of the neighborhood. While I was sick, and as I drove to the hospital every other day for blood work, I got to observe the daily routine of my neighbors, sifting through their catch and setting different fish out to dry in the sun. I was struck by something that I remember feeling when traveling in Bolivia in 2007 – the closeness of the people to the earth and to the ground. Our livelihoods have moved so far from anything that keeps us close to the ground – like farming or fishing (for most of us, at least). For the past year I have lived among a community that retains this practice and this closeness to the earth, surrounded by the skyscrapers just down the road (Bandra). So it evolves. 

Fields of drying fish

Bandra building behind the fishing village - this is Bombay

Fish drying

Bombay duck...a favorite Mumbai snack (fish)

At the shore

Before sunset

"Nikalo" - Take my picture...

  • Exhibition in Dharavi: My good friend Meg, fellow Barnard alumna, has been on a Fulbright here in Mumbai for the past 10 months. Her work has focused on creating relationships with people in and exploring Dharavi, a neighborhood (the largest “slum area”) in Bombay. Her project has taken many forms and at the exhibition she had text and painting on the walls and played audio from the oral histories she has collected from her work with youth in Dharavi. See some photos from the day. 

Meg working on the "window"

Text from the oral histories

Finished wall and Meg

Meg and Rachel

A visitor at the exhibition

Outside the exhibition

  • Lag BaOmer – On a Boat: A comedy and a total disaster. Lag BaOmer is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated with a picnic and music. It was my first time venturing out post Dengue and the picnic was on a boat – leaving from South Bombay at the Gateway of India. The water was choppy – the food could not be placed on the tables due to the rocking – people were falling over and falling out of their chairs – Leiky (the Chabad hostess) was completely nauseous and trying not to get sick at the front of the boat – and the Jews kept eating…Then this 10-month-old baby projectile vomits across the deck. Everyone is concerned and she looks totally blissed out and continues to eat french fries. It was the perfect dramatic climax to the evening and a wonderful reentry post-Dengue. 

Exodus onto the boat...there are no other photos

  • Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC) April Newsletter and American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Annual Report: The MMC newsletter (written and photographed by me – an Indianized version) came out last month after the pain of harassing a graphic designer to format it properly for over a month (see Issue 8). http://mumbaimobilecreches.org/publications.htm . And, the AJWS Annual Report 2010 came out as well – as beautiful as ever (One of my photos is in it – the one of the Ugandan woman standing under tin sheets with the text on CEDOVIP…from my trip with AJWS to Uganda and Kenya in February 2010).  http://ajws.org/who_we_are/publications/annual_reports/2010/
  • Encounters on the Train – Lubna: After two weeks of being splayed out on my couch from Dengue, it was finally time to go back to work. My second day in the office I decided to leave early and avoid the rush hour craze at the train station. I got into the second-class all-women’s car, relieved to be in a relatively empty car and to not have to interact with anyone (I had such little energy). Then, of course, a woman sitting ahead of me turns around, sees me and starts speaking to me, asking if I work in South Bombay. At first I feel annoyed that she is speaking to me, but I quickly check myself and remind myself to be friendly. We start talking and she explains that she is coming from a job interview – I wish her luck. She proceeds to tell me that she comes from a very conservative Muslim family. I was surprised that she was wearing typical Indian garb and was not fully covered in a burka. She explains that all the men in her family are against her working and believe that she should remain at home with her 1.5-year-old son. Clearly she disagrees and is pursuing employment against their wishes. She tells me that she wants her son to see that she is an educated and hard-working woman – just like his father. Just a typical train conversation, right? I was amazed by her honesty and openness. As we approached her station, she pulls her burka off her lap and begins to button the front and wrap her head. Her headscarf blows off from the wind in the train and she gently recovers her hair. Lubna – an amazing woman looking to create change and opportunity in her community. Not to mention that her sister-in-law, inspired by Lubna, has decided to go back to practicing dentistry. This interaction was so notable in that these experiences happen to me with some frequency in my life here. Sometimes it is necessary to just put my head down and get to where I need to go – a clear survival tool for living in the intensity and craziness of this city. When, however, I have the energy to open myself to the things around me, I meet people and see things that enrich me in ways that I don’t always understand. Living in the city of ups and downs. I read an article by an expat who has lived in Mumbai for over three years and she writes of the city, “She hugs me, she punches me, and then she hugs me again.” It’s hard to understand this without experiencing the city, but she couldn’t have been more concise in her insight.
  • If You Can’t Hire a Horse – Hire a Wallah: Just an observation. There is a man for everything here – a wallah. One day, I’m walking out of my alley into the street and I see a man high above a surrounding crowd of wedding attendees – clearly the groom. I assume he is on a white horse, as is the tradition for certain communities here, only to find out that he is not riding a horse…he is riding a man. Another type of wallah. What kind of wallah would you be? It’s the question of the year.
  • A Gujurati Wedding: Kamini weds Jayesh! And then Kamini moves to New York. My coworker, Kamini, is New York bound after a beautiful Gujarati wedding (Gujarat is a state north of Maharashtra, which is where Mumbai is located). Sadly, I missed yet another ceremony, but made it to the reception. Kamini was dressed very simply, by Indian standards, and looked stunning in a blue and gold sari. Anita and I went together and congratulated the new couple. We also ate am ras – basically fresh mango pulp (eaten every night by Gujarati families…mmmm) – and other delicious and sumptuous foods. There are no photos of the food – I was too busy consuming. I apologize.

Kamini weds Jayesh

Another chance to wear my sari!

With Anita

With the couple on stage

The scene - the receiving line and the media

  • Banganga Tank – Where the Ganges Flows In: As I somehow keep repeating, Mumbai is not a monumental city…and then I go on to write about some monument that I went to see. Here I go again! Arielle (AJWS fellow), her two friends visiting from the U.S. (Jen and Aliza), David and I decided to venture to the Banganga Tank one late Sunday afternoon. The tank is the oldest Hindu site in Mumbai – from the 9th – 13th century – and it is a stepwell surrounded by houses and temples. In the water you find…people, ducks, coconut shells, flowers and other unmentionables. The tank is considered a holy site, as the source of the water is supposedly the Ganges River. We got there at that perfect hour where the sun glistens and does not scold and where you feel the power of a place and the happiness of the people to be there in that moment.

The tank

Mirror side view

The bathers

Ganesh

Neighboring temple

Resting gatekeeper

  • Palm Reading in the Office: So, my first palm reading in India revealed that I would have a long life, two major loves and that I would come into a large inheritance. Any ideas on the latter? That reading was easy enough to accept – quite painlessly, actually. Now, the other day, I’m sitting at lunch with my coworkers (our daily return – they believe in lunch breaks in India, it’s amazing) and I find out that our community outreach coordinator reads palms. After finishing my masala dosa (another semi – daily routine – oh no, where do I find a dosa in New York for less than $10…sorry Hampton Chutney Co.), Rajesh took my hands. He studied the left and then the right. The reading wasn’t particularly exciting, though every person who has read my palms (three people) has correctly guessed that I had a childhood illness – strange, no? So, when looking at my left hand, Rajesh tells me – “Oh, you have a very strong business line. You will run a strong and well-run business.” I felt very good about myself at that moment – unforeseen, yes, but I accept! He tells me a few more things from observing my left hand – pinching my palm and looking at the lines the pinches create. Rajesh then takes my right hand and says, “Oh, oh wait…Your husband will have a very strong and well-run business…you will support it very well.” The man – always the man. Just no. Thanks, Rajesh…I’ll go out with that one. Palm readings? No mas.
  • A Second Viewing of Sharukh Khan: You’ll remember that after the 15,000-person rage on Carter Road following the Cricket World Cup (and Indian victory), I saw the famous actor, Sharukh Khan. The other night after dinner at my friend’s apartment in Bandra, I was in a rickshaw going down Carter Road and I see a Lamborghinis – I am immediately grossed out (it’s the context – not the car) – and the driver starts shrieking something incomprehensible in Hindi and rocking back and forth in his seat. It takes me a minute and I realize he’s losing his cookies, screaming, “Sharukh Khan, Sharukh Khan, Sharukh Khan, Sharukh Khan, Sharukh Khan, Sharukh Khan.” YAY!
  • Benny and Amina: Update on the photo front of the cuteness…Benny turns four on July 28th, but he had a little party at school (see below). Amina continues to be delicious – edible lips and cheeks!

Riding his trainer on the Cape

Amina!! So big!!

  • A Maharashtrian Baby Shower: The former CEO of MMC, Devika, is seven months pregnant, so the staff decided to throw a traditional baby shower for her. She came in a beautiful and brightly colored sari and was then ornamented like a Christmas tree with a flower belt/bracelets/armbands/headdress and decked out in jewelry. (To be culturally correct she was actually ornamented like the Lord Krishna, but I figured that a Christmas tree has more cultural currency for this blog-reading crowd.) They sat her down and offered her and baby a number of prayers – putting a red and orange bindi on her forehead and waving fire around her five times. Each woman from the office carried out a different tradition and it was absolutely beautiful to watch. They ended by feeding her a sweet and singing traditional songs in Marathi (the local language). 

Devika - suited up in sari and flowers

Traditional jewelry

Devika and Vrishali

MMC Program Officers on the Office Balcony

Green bangles and floral bracelets

Fire blessings

Find a peda in your dabba and determine the gender of the baby!

Sabudana khichidi (tapioca) - traditional food

Blessing the blessers

  • An Eviction: Today is Wednesday, July 8th and Monday was July 6th. I leave India on Thursday, July 16th. I was out for a goodbye dinner with Katie (AJWS fellow), Meg and David – enjoying delicious Maharashtrian coastal food. At 9 p.m. I get a phone call and, as is typical at any Indian dinner table (a practice I WILL NOT continue at home), I picked up my cell phone. It was my landlady, Poonam – David and I call her “The Poon” (excuse the inappropriate, though perfectly assigned, nickname) – and she seems to be telling me that I need to move out of my apartment. I clearly react in an upset/stern tone – she tells me that I am “being rude”…we hang up. I see her about 20 minutes later at her shop (downstairs from my apartment) and I go in to apologize for “being rude.” She doesn’t listen to a word I say and rants for 10 minutes – a pity/woe-is-me case about me moving out earlier than she expected, her finding new tenants that need to move in immediately, all the money she will lose and the money problems she is having (don’t see how that is pertinent here), BLAH BLAH BLAH, and smiles at the end – as she always does when she feels any emotion really (this reminds me of Mr. Doctor – the music teacher at Brown Middle School in Newton – who would be telling a kid to leave the class for misbehaving and simultaneously beaming as though he were first in line for an amusement park ride). I consider slapping/strangling/doing other violent things to her but restrain myself (thank you dad for teaching me how to do this)…I am a lady. Then consider something else…this is who she is. Poonam – “The Poon” – has to live the rest of her life being who she is and treating people the way she does – poor her. So, I move out within about 24 hours – unhappily, yes. Supposedly the new tenants move in today – seven people (an Indian family). If karma serves correctly, they will likely be the worst tenants she has ever had and she will feel deep regret for her current actions. Only bhagwan (that means god in Hindi) knows. In the meantime, my eight days of homelessness mean that I get to stay with my friends Kate and Abby and got to Ahmedabad with David to see Arielle and Shaina (AJWS fellows) for one last weekend in India. C’est la vie. And the beat goes on. My roof shall leak on someone else’s head.

This has been a rough month. Still enjoying my work and time here, but it’s now a real countdown to my arrival on U.S. soil. Sure hope they let me back in…Summer plans include – decompressing, seeing all you people and eventually finding an apartment and job (in New York…duh). Eeeekkk.

With love – xoxo,

Ava

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And then…I got dengue.

Written March 27, 2011 – May 13, 2011

It has been a rollercoaster week of dengue fever! Feeling hot at work last Wednesday, I joked with my coworker that I better not have a fever or some weird illness…hours later the thermometer hit 104 and I hit the floor. The positive dengue antigen sealed the deal and it’s been a week of battling fever, body ache, headache, sensitive skin and RASH. I may or may not have scratched off about five layers of skin. But, with the loving care of my personal nurse – Meg Kelly – my good friend who is currently staying with me – I survived the dengue fever and never went to the hospital! I’m still in super recovery and my immune system is weak, but the worst is over. Phew. Advice – don’t get dengue fever.

The rash!

The rash....

Flower delivery from AJWS - thanks guys!

Notes on Life Before Dengue:

  • Britannia Diner: Like an old parrilla in Buenos Aires, Britannia Diner in Fort, Mumbai is an old-school establishment. The thickly bespectacled owner walks around the restaurant greeting his patrons, showing off a laminated photograph and letter from Queen Elizabeth. I wonder what he thought of Princess Kate’s dress? The diner is packed every day of the week and the delicious Parsi food is not only inexpensive, but it is superbly delicious. Get the chicken berry pulau – berries imported from exotic and far off Iran!

Britannia

Parrilla-like

Nellie!!!

Nick! and mutton!

  • Haji Ali: Bombay is not a site seeing city – it a place to be experienced and explored. That being said there are a few major sites and Haji Ali is one of them. The walkway through the Arabian Sea out to the mosque is lined with people of all faiths going to check out the famous site. Lining the path are lepers, blind people, others with disabilities, beggars and women sitting with neatly stacked piles of change. Walking to the mosque, I couldn’t figure out what the women with change piles were doing – of course on my walk back to the mainland, I realized that people were changing bills for coins and filling the pots in front of the beggars. Everyone has a job in India – everyone. Seeing this human exchange was the most impressive part of the visit – that and the obscene crowding and pushing on the men’s side of the mosque to deposit a holy cloth on the tomb? Quite a scene.

Construction materials on the walk to Haji Ali

Haji Ali

Refreshing snack?

On the walk out

On the path

Umbrella-ed

Umbrella-ed #2

Umbrella-ed #3

Entrance to the mosque

Inside the mosque

Mosque ceiling

  • Mumbai Mobile Creches – Neptune and Billimoria Site Visits: A few weeks ago I visited two Mumbai Mobile Creches daycare centres to photograph for the April newsletter. A few feature articles in the newsletter focus on MMC’s new advocacy push for the documentation of workers on the construction site, as many of the workers hold no photo identification. At the Neptune and Billimoria sites, a number of the workers have obtained documentation, which means that they will be able to get other documents, such as ration cards and therefore be able to access government services. It’s a long, bureaucratic and tedious process, but MMC continues to expand its community development work across construction sites in Mumbai.

Neptune Centre

Teacher with P.A.N. card

Neptune Creche Babies

English lessons

Family at Billimoria Centre

Worker with P.A.N. card

Another worker

P.A.N. card

Family with documentation

Family with documentation

Billimoria Centre

  • Benny is “Bivalent”: No blog post is complete without an anecdote on the Shapisrael children. Amina is cute as ever – she is now over 6 months and is sitting up and rolling over! A funny Benny story…So, Benny attends pre-school and his pre-school class went to see a play. When asked how he and his friend Eli felt about the play, he responded, “We liked it. We didn’t like it. We were bivalent!” Children’s use of language never fails to amaze me – careful they’re listening…

Amina!

The siblings

The BK Family

Amina!

Amina sits up on her own

Benny's 1st School Photo

  • Cricket World Cup: “This may be the biggest sporting event in recent history.” That is what I was told before watching the Cricket World Cup. India beat Pakistan in an epic semi-final match and the country went wild. Now, the World Cup final was another story. After defeating Sri Lanka with the final Indian batter “knocking it out of the park” (excuse me cricketers – I don’t know the correct terminology) India became the Cricket World Cup champions and the streets of Bombay went MAD. I was with a group of ex-pats and we hit the street, heading to the shore on Carter Road in Bandra. It was after 10 p.m. and there were probably at least 15,000 people on the street screaming and cheering “India, India, India.” Bodies shot out of every possible opening in every vehicle – flags and trophies were strewn all over and music and horns blared. A public bus was completely overtaken by pedestrians climbing on the roof and the traffic inched along. AND THEN…I saw Sharukh Khan. Now, for most people reading this, that name means absolutely nothing. BUT, I had literally just watched over nine hours of cricket and other than cricket players Dhoni and Tendulkar, the face that I saw most frequently was Sharukh Khan on the commercials between plays. He is one of the most famous Bollywood actors in India and he lives in Bandra. The street roared and I looked up to see a huge BMW with the sunroof open and a well-manicured man standing out waving an enormous Indian flag. AND THE CROWD WENT WILD.

Sharukh Khan!

  • Mumbai Mobile Creches’ Film Shooting: Creatives Against Poverty is a collaborative of artists, journalists, etc that volunteer their time and resources to create films and other resources for NGOs. MMC partnered with them to create four short films on our work and I am project managing the shooting and editing. It has been a really great experience so far and I have been able to photograph at the centres while we do the filming. Here are some of the photos from the shoot.

All smiles

Framed

The line up

Chandivali Centre

Dr.'s Visit

Proud of their art work

Fish

Creche

Creche

Outside the centre

  • A Keralan Passover and the Oldest Jews in India: This year marked my third Passover away from family and my first outside of the U.S. and Argentina. Six fellows got together and headed down to the Southwestern state of Kerala to hang on the beach, boat on the backwaters and see the oldest Jewish community in India. We flew into Cochin and took a train four hours South to Varkala the next morning. Varkala is a gorgeous beach town with stores and restaurants on a cliff and a beach below. We relaxed on the beach and swam in the ocean – the waves were amazing and refreshing. Now, after the first day everyone got intensely burned, and somehow I seemed to avoid it. The next day, I stayed under the umbrella the whole time, except for when I was in the water, and I managed to turn into a tomato. Oh well! We also made a seder one night at the place we stayed – mango salsa, quinoa salad and fresh fish! Following our few days in Varkala, we took the train to Allepey and went on a thatch roof houseboat for an overnight tour of the backwaters. Life on the banks was bustling with action and the backwaters were full of fisherpeople. We ate amazing fish, coconut and banana products – typical Keralan cuisine. We spent the last two days in Cochin exploring the city. We walked around and finally arrived at the synagogue – supposedly the oldest in India – and it was…closed. It was like the Taj Mahal all over again! This time, I didn’t bat an eyelash – I was like…of course it’s closed…and moved right on. I have learned to roll with the unexpected punches of India – hah! The trip was completely relaxing and delightful – loved Kerala and could certainly have spent more time down there. I shall go back…

From Cochin to Varkala

Station

Hand

Hands

Hand - Black line means she voted

Varkala Beach

Shiney and Arielle

Beach before a storm - saw rain for the first time since September 2010

Tree designs

Preparing mango salsa for the seder

Seder

Seder Dinner

Waiting for the train

On the backwaters

The water

Laundry

Thatch

Church on the backwaters

Backwater farming

Houseboat

On the boat

Bananagrams - Andrew and Shaina

Swimming

Fishing

Morning

To work and school

Cochin

Chinese Fishing Nets in Cochin

Pretty color chips

Ambassador

Fishing dock - Cochin

At the fishing dock

Communism and Judaism unite in Kerala...? At least on the doors...

Jew-town!

Jewish star windows

The synagogue

Jew-town Town

Judaism and Hinduism co-exist

Keralan Communism

By the piers

Use me...

  • Celebrating the Goddess – the Maruwai Road Slaughter: A dramatic title, I know, but let me tell you…walking down the street and witnessing the slaughter of hundreds of chickens is a powerful thing. The streets were literally streaming with blood and feathers and the Maruwai Goddess must have been content. This annual festival to celebrate the Goddess is marked by the sharing of fruits, coconuts, flowers and chicken and it does not pass without a bloodbath and music! It was a shocking spectacle – take a look.

Maruwai Road - my street

Chicken Slaughter

The men of the slaughter

Bloodbath

For puja!

Indian doctors call it dengoo – and it’s the worst. I promise you that you never ever want to get this illness, so you wear your bugspray and watch out for those squeeters. I hope to be back in working order sometime next week. Let’s see how it all pans out – it’s a slow going battle with this bug. Just gotta keep at it!

And, of course, if you want to email me – avashapiro@gmail.com.

With love – xoxo,

Ava

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Exit and Reenter – Through the Gift Shop? Maybe Through the Pan Shop

Written January 26, 2011 – March 26, 2011

Now it’s actually been too long since my last post – you’re about to read why I haven’t had time to write one…It’s been a month of travels – international and domestic – with visits in between and, thankfully, a renewed energy and inertia pushing me through the last four months of my stay in India. Again, I set myself up for missing the nuances and details of aspects of the events of the past two months – given the time and shift from those specific moments. Alas…here it goes.

Notes on My Disappearance:

  • Zoo Visit: You may be surprised to learn that the state of Bombay’s Byculla Zoo does not fall outside of the international decrepitude of developing country’s zoos. I accompanied a few corporate partners on a field trip with a group of kids from a Mumbai Mobile Creches’ center. It was very interesting to watch the kids relate to being in a large open space, as they are typically in the centers, which limits their movements. At first they were in a single file line walking through the zoo, but once they realized that they could move about freely, they were running from cage to cage! While they seemed to enjoy jeering at the various depressed animals, the kids were most grateful to find the playground, where they spent the majority of their time.
All the kids

Monkeys - my favorite!

German volunteer, Theresa, and kids

At the playground

  • Pride Week and the Queer Azadi March: Week long festivities were held around the city to hail in Bombay’s 6th annual pride parade. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that Bombay’s Gay Pride Parade was my first experience with pride parades. The movies, concerts, poster making and talks leading up to the parade were all held in public venues that encouraged the community to get involved, by the mere fact of their presence. One night there was a poster – making session on Carter Road (right on the water) where hundreds of people gather nightly to go for walks and hang out on the promenade. David, Sami and I met a new friend, Srini, there and designed posters for the parade. A whole group of young local kids came over to help us and while they may not have completely understood what they were doing, the fact that they were exposed to the language and meeting people, which is something that can be so limited here and everywhere, was a success. The parade was held in South Bombay and over 3,000 people joined the march. To my surprise there were seemingly more transvestites in the crowd than lesbians – who’d have thunk it? It was amazing to be a part of the flow of the crowd and I was delighted to learn that this year there were more people marching without masks than in years past. A testament to the progression of people’s comfort and perhaps to society’s growing acceptance of these marginalized communities. The reaction of the surrounding crowd was mixed – some people joined the marchers and others just stood by watching. It was unclear if many people really understood the representational symbols of the rainbow, etc. Regardless, it was a successful awareness-raising event and it made me feel…well, PROUD.

Pride Banners

A Gay Prince of an Indian State

Hijra Community

Pride Marchers - David, Anita, Sami and Ariel

The Most Famous Hijra in Bombay

Always Rainbows

  • Kala Ghoda Festival: Every year the streets of Kala Ghoda, the Chelsea of Bombay – only in reference to the presence of art galleries, not the “sceney” feel of New York’s Chelsea – fill with art and craft vendors, installations, street performances and PEOPLE. This year, Mumbai Mobile Creches put up a number of our children’s art works from the November art workshop. While the festival lasts a week, I was only there for the first couple of days, as I flew out to New York before it ended. The street fair felt like a New York street fair with about 10 million more people – surprised?

The kid's art work

AMAZING BEARD

  • Surprise Puja with Neighbors – A Wedding Sequel: Arriving at my apartment alley with an armful of groceries, I encountered the familiar sound of music and drumming. My neighbor Megna came down the stairs in a flurry and told me to change quickly and come take part in the puja (Hindu prayer/blessing) and dinner for her sister-in-law (Krutika – the neighbor whose wedding I attended). Sami and I threw on our most suitable Indian wear…not truly acceptable for the occasion, but the best we could muster, and headed to our neighbor’s house. Walking up the stairs of the building adjacent to our house the drumming grew louder and completely filled our ears as we entered a small room with five or six men sitting on the ground with large drums in their laps. Krutika was dressed in a sari, looking older and more confident than I’d seen her at her wedding, where I thought she might be 17 years old. Following the cues from the women ahead of me, I prostrated myself in front of a small alter, took Prasad (food that you offer the gods), accepted a bag of bananas and sweets from Krutika, and left the room. The drum sounds followed me out – the pounding remaining in my ears as I went to the kitchen in the bottom of the house. Sami and I had a delicious dinner of dal, rice, puris, vegetables and julab gamuns (sweet-like dough balls that sit in syrup) – all the women stared as we ate with our hands and giggled. I returned their giggles with smiles – per usual. Another excellent and unexpected celebration with the Kholi neighbors.

  • Movie Theaters Round #4: Somehow I have only been to a movie theater twice in Bombay! While I relayed my first Indian movie theater experience, I thought I would rehash this experience. I went with my friend Anita to see Javier Bardem’s new film, “Biutiful,” and it is one heavy film – go see it! We went to one of the older theaters in Bombay, but it has been completely refurbished. There were less than 25 seats in the theater – all lazy boys that lean back and had pillows and blankets. A man comes around to take your food and beverage order at the beginning and during the intermission – yes they have intermissions for all films. People managed to stat off of their cell phones during the movie or they were discrete enough that I didn’t notice. Of course the volume was loud enough to allow a deaf person to hear it. Relax and enjoy the feature presentation!

  • New York Visit: What a relief…I LOVE New York. I really really love New York. I had an incredibly pleasant and enjoyable trip from Bombay to Zurich to Newark and met a couple of people with interesting stories to share along the route. Samara, Benny, Amina and Sasha picked me up at the airport – JOY! As the traffic was somewhat worse than expected on the way tot the airport, Amina (AHHH – in the flesh – pure happiness) began to whimper, so Samara asked me to drive. So, after a 25-or-so-hour journey, I got behind the wheel on Canal Street. This was my first culture shock. New York’s Canal Street is a zoo…isn’t it? IT’S NOT. Excuse my current frame of reference, but the fact that there were no cows, dogs, rickshaws, motorcycles, people and any other moving and unseen vehicles/beings made New York’s Canal Street…a quite enjoyable ride. While my depth perception may not be the best, people’s idea of “close” in New York really does have different international standards. A quite pleasant first drive in New York, sigh. The week was filled with seeing friends and family. Amina was more beautiful in real life than pixilated skype could ever reveal! Benny was full of energy and love…and he is one smart cookie. One night when I was putting him to sleep, he said, “Shh, A-A, do you hear that noise?” and I listened carefully and responded, “Noodle, I think it’s Amina’s baby swing.” To which he responded, “A-A, the plates are moving!” Not quite sure what to say, I replied, “Benny, what?” “A-A, don’t you know when the plates smash together they make mountains!” Sigh. Tectonic plates…silly A-A. Thank you 3.5 year old, Benjamin Israel. Sushi, salad, fish, pasta, bread, cereal and LOVE. I LOVE NEW YORK.

Benny, Sam, Me and Amina - YAY!

Delicious

Cupcake and Tude - He is my nephew for sure.

In BK

Cousins Visit!

Relaxing with Sasha and Amina

Love

Amazing Headband from Cousin Randee!

  • Tamil Nadu: After a week of almost unbearable jet lag back in Bombay, ten fellows made their way South to Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. The AJWS midpoint retreat was held at Blue Bay Beach Resort “The Party Place,” located on a semi-private beach with roaring waves of the Bay of Bengal. I participated on the planning committee for the week sessions and we had a nice mix of interesting sessions on international development, power & privilege, story sharing and work challenges. We also had the opportunity to swim in the ocean, hang by the pool, visit local temples and sites, and enjoy South Indian food! One story from the week illustrated by the photos below…A few of the female fellows were laying out on the beach and a few women working nearby stopped near our towels. They sat there and we all stared at eachother for a little while. One of them got up and walked to the shore where she lifted her sari and began to dig a hole. Having seen this practiced farther down the beach for defecating, I thought to myself… “Does she really have to do that right here?”…but a few moments later she came back to our towels with her hands full of a mussel-like clam! The women all started speaking rapidly in Tamil and led us to the shore to begin digging. Within seconds of scooping sand we picked the same shells from the sand. We all laughed and smiled and not a word of shared language passed among us…yet perfect understanding in a smile and a laugh.

Blue Bay Beach Resort, Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu

Butterball in Mamallapuram

Goats

More goats

On the street

Rock-cut

The Shore Temple

The beach at our resort

Katie, Arielle and Shaina

Digging with the ladies!

Clam-Mussels!

Me and Shaina digging away

Bye ladies...

  • Ellora and Ajanta Caves: Upon returning to Bombay, my friend from Barnard, Laura, came to visit, following her almost three month stint working in Nairobi. Luckily I had a Saturday off and we went with David on my second overnight bus journey! It seemed to be a much less winding road than the one to Goa (thank goodness) however the bus was freezing cold. We arrived in Aurangabad (Eastern Maharashtra) and checked into our hotel before heading out to the Ellora caves (one hour ride away). These caves were of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain origin and while they were not in a particularly beautiful setting, the details of the temples were incredible. The carvings were precise and quite stunning. The Ajanta caves, located two hours outside of Aurangabad, were in an incredibly gorgeous setting – on the cliff interior of a valley. There were about 30 caves at each site. The Ajanta caves were all Buddhist and had many preserved paintings inside. Like my experience in Machu Picchu, I was in awe of the amount of work and precision that must have gone into the creation of the caves without any modern tools. Quite impressive work! Laura, David and I enjoyed the weekend together exploring the caves and baking in the sun. Here are the caves…

Laura at Breakfast in Aurangabad

Ellora Caves

Rock-cut

Column Carvings

Voluptuous Female

David and Laura

More Ellora Caves

Peering from one cave to the next

Other visitors

Amazing detail

Interior of Ellora Cave

Ellora continued...

Monkeys!

Interior of largest monolithic sculpture in India at Ellora

Largest monolithic sculpture - they removed 22,000 tons of stone to create this temple

Elephants

With Laura

Ellora continued...

Stupa with a Buddha

Rock-cut exterior

Ellora Caves

Top view of largest monolithic structure

Marriage sculpture

Ajanta Caves

Buddha

Ajanta Caves

Paintings in the caves

Column details

Exterior carvings

Buddhas

Paintings of Buddha

Reclining Buddha

Visiting Chinese tourists and Buddhist monk

  • Sushi in Bombay: Though I thought that I had received my sushi fill in New York, I was unaware that I would have the privilege of eating at one of the best sushi restaurants in Mumbai. The Taj Hotel’s Wasabi is a world-renowned Morimoto sushi restaurant. Sasha’s mom’s friend, Sandy, came to visit Bombay and we ventured to this delicious and delightful establishment. An evening filled with champagne, caviar, spicy tuna, fresh salmon, wasabi, ginger and laughter. What else does one need?

  • HOLI: A largely North Indian festival about throwing away and getting rid of evil from your life. How do you do it? You put on clothes that you don’t mind getting messy, you cover yourself and I mean LATHER yourself in baby oil – skin and hair included, you join your friends, you drink baang – a happy kind of drink (some don’t), you head into the streets, you are immediately identified as having not been colored, you get colored powder smeared on your cheek by a six-fingered lady (auspicious?), you proceed down the street and little kids throw color and water balloons at you and…you know it’s HOLI! Following my neighborhood experience with Meg, I headed to Juhu Beach to meet my friend Srini and others. It was a hot and colorful afternoon – color throwing/smearing and water gun color shooting. The photos speak to the vibrancy of the colors. Don’t worry…they’re organic!

Tiffin-wallas (lunch delivery men) play Holi

Tiffin-wallas

Meg and Ava also play Holi

As do tiny babies

New friends on Juhu Beach - Me, Greg, Srini and Juliette

Foot party

A little guy on Juhu Beach

Greg and Juliette

Srini

Juliette Profile

My Profile

And backside

  • MMC Staff Social and Sleepovers: Last week my organization had its annual staff social, allowing all 120 MMC employees to gather and share an afternoon together. Everyone gets dressed up, so I wore a new sari that Sunita (AJWS program staff) purchased on my behalf in Chennai. The Board honored the MMC staff that have worked with the organization for 30 – 20 – 10 years and had all staff introduce themselves. Anita encouraged me to introduce myself in Hindi, which I did…eeek! “Me Ava hun. Me America se aiye hun. Me volunteering karti hun.” The ceremony was followed by a thali lunch – my first fish thali of Konkanan food – yum! Anita and I went to our coworker, Rekha’s house in Powai for the evening and I slept over. It was an afternoon of snacking and eating and eating…seeing a theme here? Rekha made bhel puri, idli and chutneys. I got to grate part of a coconut (see photo), which was highly enjoyable. I love manual labor…Rekha is a fantastic cook and a wonderful friend, so it was great to spend the evening hearing her stories of international living and travel. Another great night of Bombay-living.

MMC Staff Unite!

Vrishali (CEO of MMC)

My sari from Chennai!

Pragna, Devika, Anita y Yo

My coworkers put a bindi (red dot) and mangalsutra (black and gold marriage necklace) on me!

MMC Ladies

I am a giant...I am 5'3"

Rekha making chai

Grating coconut with a foot grater...awesome

I got really into it...I like manual labor

Life has been busy busy busy in Bombay. I am around the city for a while and then traveling to Kerala (in the South West) for Passover with the other fellows. In the meantime, I continue to live life here and explore the city and people. Missing all my friends and family, but in due time, I will be back. And, of course, if you want to email me – avashapiro@gmail.com.

With love – xoxo,

Ava

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Visitors Alight on Bombaybye

Written December 17, 2010 – January 25, 2011

This seems to have become a monthly exercise. I store up my photos, my stories and all the other tidbits until I can finally sit in front of my computer and think about what I want to share and how to share it. Every day here provides enough material to keep a daily blog, but that would be tiring for the both of us really. Sometimes I feel that details are lost using this method, alas… I provide the exhaustive monthly chronicle, and you, dear readers, make it through however much you can…

Anecdotal Visitations:

  • A Stay at the Greek Consulate – Juhu Beach: In November my organization, Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC) took part in a collaborative fundraiser, largely organized by a woman named Arti. We developed a very nice relationship over the course of the events, and when I told her my parents were coming to Bombay to visit she was adamant that we stay at her in-law’s house on Juhu Beach. I was hesitant at first, but her insistence that it was a lovely place and that we would enjoy being together in a house seemed…well, accurate! So, the night before my parents arrived, I went with Sami to check out the place. Not only was it located directly on the beach, but also it turned out that Arti’s mother-in-law married the Greek Counsel General and it was a Consulate house. The Greek emblem on the outside of the door really gave it away. I picked up my parents from the airport on a cool Bombay evening and brought them to our weekend getaway, a mere 20-minute ride from the chaos of Khar Danda (my neighborhood). As Arti promised, it was the perfect place to begin their stay. The housekeeper, Mohan, served a simple and delicious breakfast of tea, toast, fruit and eggs every morning and we enjoyed sitting on the patio watching the morning sports on the beach that dissipated as the sun came up and returned as the sun went down. We sat and read and chatted and explored…a truly relaxing and welcome pause from my daily routine.

Juhu House

The house

Breakfast nook

The backyard

Juhu Beach

Inside garden and stairs

On Juhu Beach...tiling

Ganesha

Breakfast

  • Elephanta Island – Monkeyland: Sunday is a good first day for a local train ride in Bombay. There is the possibility of escaping the masses of the weekday commuters and enjoying a ride into South Bombay. Venturing down to Colaba’s Gateway of India (right next to my office), my parents and I decided that Sunday was a good day to see Elephanta Island – home to 5th and 8th century Hindu rock-cut caves. Ferries leave from the Gateway every half hour with a strict warning that you must return to the Gateway no later than 5:30 p.m. from the island…otherwise you will be stuck there with the monkeys and the dogs. The ferry ride did not remind me of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket…but we enjoyed making eyes with cute babies and taking in the “fresh” sea air. Upon arrival on the island there is a bridge that leads you to the mainland and there begin the trinket shops, corn stalls, water kiosks, etc. Entering the gates to the caves you ascend a surprisingly long stairway inhabited by souvenir stalls selling – all the same stuff. Once you reach the top, the monkey masses and dogs are there to greet you. There is a warning sign about being careful with your food around the monkeys – no joking matter. For those of you who remember my coati experience after an illegal border crossing into the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls – you know what I’m talking about…don’t leave food on the outside of your bag. As with almost every place you go here, there were…a lot of people. Lots of cautionary and some more adventurous picnickers were scattered about – eating in groups or with their families. Some were so daring that they began to feed the monkeys – questionably not the greatest idea. We walked through the caves, admiring the rock-cut deities – the famous Trimurti (Shiva with three faces – all different aspects of the deity) and other robust female deities throughout. Sadly, the Portuguese used the caves as a firing range, destroying many of the figures. On the way out we ate some delicious roasted masala corn – ready to return to the cows of the mainland.

First train journey

This can only happen on an empty train

Azad Maidan in South Bombay

View of the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel from the ferry

Relaxed on the ferry

Boat on Elephanta Island

On the way up...

Like the Jain Temple in Gujarat - Chairs and Porters to go to the top of the hill

Monkeys!

Rock-cut

Elephanta Cave #1

And the crowd

Padres

Trimurti - Shiva

Cave #1

Rooms in the cave

  • Checking for Closings – the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri: A warning to future India-bound travelers: “Ehhheeemmm…..if you plan to visit the wonders of the world, do not assume that it is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year – check for dates when it is closed.” I hope I haven’t given away the punch line of this tidbit. After a few exploratory days in Mumbai, it was the night before well…almost Christmas…but also our departure on an 8 a.m. flight to Delhi. I woke up at about 5:30 a.m. to find that my dad had been battling Bombay belly for the previous five to six hours. Needless to say, he was ready to get on the flight and we had a successful journey to Dehli – even through the morning Delhi winter fog. Sunita, the AJWS Program Coordinator, had her driver pick us up at the airport to bring us to her house for a 12-dish meal. I was the only one of the three to benefit from her incredible cooking (see below). It was wonderful to see her in her home and experience her command of her kitchen and house. Our next stop was Nizamuddin Train Station in Delhi, where we boarded the Punjab Mail Train for the most bazaar three-hour train ride. Within ten minutes of boarding my mom was almost incapacitated – lying across my lap and my dad’s lap. Her only waking moment was to run to the Indian style, hole in the train floor, toilet to throw up. Sorry for the graphics, but it’s really quite challenging to express just how strange this ride to Agra was. We arrived in Agra at around 8 p.m. and were greeted by a blanket of fog and cold (cold!). In their semi-incapacitated state my parents followed me to the taxi line and we headed to our hotel. Seated next to my mom in the backseat, the driver looked into the rearview mirror and noted, quite aptly, that she looked sick. Yes, yes she did. His next comment was, “So, what is your plan tomorrow?” To which I replied, “Oh, well, we’re going to go to the Taj in the morning, to Fatehpur Sikri in the afternoon and then back to the train to go to Delhi in the evening.” He replied, “Taj? Taj is closed tomorrow.” Exhausted, I laughed and repeated, “Taj is closed tomorrow?!” He replied, “I can take you to see the backside of Taj tomorrow. Same as front side, you just can’t touch it. Same same, just can’t touch.” Brain stewing and internal crying, “Well, let’s see how she is feeling in the morning and we can decide.” Ravi told us that he would come to the hotel at 6:15 a.m. the next morning and we could decide if we wanted to see the backside of the Taj and also go to Fatehpur Sikri. I thanked him, still semi-crying inside/semi-laughing at myself/semi-resigned, and headed into the hotel. My parents were asleep within 15 minutes of entering the hotel room and I read, ate a banana for dinner and fell asleep by 9:30 p.m. To add to the already strange experience of Agra, the phone in our room rang three different times, waking us from our sleep – each time it was the wrong room. Also, at some point around midnight, the electricity must have gone out because a dim floodlight came on in the room, again stunning us awake. Twilight? Real life…not the movie. We woke up at 5:45 a.m. and somehow everyone was well enough that we decided to take Ravi up on his offer and met him downstairs at 6:15 a.m. only to be greeted by Agra fog. Ravi drove for the next 30 minutes, occasionally rubbing the condensation off the front windshield, scolding my dad for trying to help him, and finally sticking his head out of the driver window to see what was in front of him. The backside of the Taj did not feel promising. We arrived at our destination, which appeared like a strange foggy side of the road stop, and Ravi told us that we could wait in the car for a little while or get out of the car to walk to the river. I won’t speak for my parents, but a moment of skepticism and pessimism overcame me and I opted to stay in the car for a while. We spoke to Ravi about his life and his family and once we grew more comfortable, we decided to venture out toward the river. A ten-minute walk down the street landed us at a barbed wire and fog bank and supposedly, in front of us, was the backside of the Taj. “Same as front side, you just can’t touch it.” We spent the next two hours pacing around to keep warm and enjoying glimpses of the Taj. It was an incredibly gorgeous and dream-like experience, as minute pieces of the domes and spires of the almost-perfect structure came into view. Following the trip, I came to realize that this was exactly reminiscent of my experience in India – you’re so close and you’re almost there and you can almost see it – but not quite. The lesson is that you have a choice in how you experience things. So, while I could have experienced this as the greatest mishap, I instead did exactly what my boss at MMC, Vrishali, constantly urges me to do…I “rolled with it.” And it was fantastic and stunning and a magical experience. The day didn’t end there. Our next stop was an hour from Agra – Fatehpur and Sikri. Both sites were built by a Mogul Emperor and subsequently abandoned due to lack of water resources. Fatehpur was a religious site built to honor his only son and Sikri was a city with three compounds (one for his Hindu wife – one for his Muslim wife – one for his Christian wife). The sites were incredibly impressive and beautiful (see below). The train ride back to Delhi was uneventful and we arrived at our bed and breakfast quite easily – a long day.

Lunch at Sunita's in Delhi

Delicious

The backside of the Taj Mahal - across the river through barbed wire at a police base...picturesque, no?

Police Officer standing guard at backside of Taj Mahal

Waiting for the fog to lift - through the wires

And there it is...like a dream

And more...

Through the fog...

And there you have it...

A clearer shot

In front of the backside of the Taj - huh?

A friend along the way

On the way back to the hotel after "seeing" the Taj

Fatehpur Gate Entrance

The Shoe Guard

Inside Fatehpur

Tomb

Door to a study

Detail

Dad

Mom

Horseshoe adornment on door

Entryway

Smaller side entry door

Back inside Fatehpur

Family tombs

Cut Marble Brocade

A tunnel that supposedly leads to Delhi - the Emperor would ride there on horseback

Musicians outside of the tomb

Column detail

Just reading the newspaper

The 3 of us

Lantern in the prayer hall

Feet washing

Henna Beard

Sikri - The Housing Complex

Housing for the Muslim wife

Another housing structure

Emperor's Court

The grounds

  • Washington D.C. vs. New York City: This is the common and assumed analogy that I use to distinguish Delhi and Bombay – respectively. As the capital of India, New Delhi has many beautiful government buildings and clean streets, while the polluted and dirty streets of Old Delhi are a few train stops away. Bombay, like New York, has some nicer areas, but is a largely diverse (economically and socially) and melting pot city. We spent Saturday and Sunday walking around, getting lost, seeing monuments, looking for restaurants and enjoying one another’s company as well as the comforts of our bed and breakfast (home). As expected, Delhi had easy shopping – very tourist friendly – and cold weather. The metro system there was a sight to behold – people were forced to make lines and to exit and enter the train in that order…WOW! Highlights included seeing the Red Fort and purposely running into my Barnard friend, Parisa! It was a welcome break from Bombay, though my city of preference remains my current home, Bombay.

Mom in garden of Delhi B&B

Dad in Connaught Place, Delhi

At the India Gate in Delhi

Snacks at India Gate

Lodhi Garden

The structures and the crowds in Lodhi Garden

Red Fort in Old Delhi

Detail

More design details

Amazing tree

Inside the Red Fort

Marble Inlay

Detail of inlay

Still in Red Fort

Tattoo art on the streets of Delhi

Parisa in Old Delhi!

  • Creative Movement Workshops by Priscilla Harmel: I don’t think I have ever seen the kids at a Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC) daycare center as focused and involved as when my mom had them in a circle arching their backs and flipping over into tabletops. They repeated every word she said and watched her every move. It was incredible to see the kids hold one another in a train (a daily movement activity that the teachers lead), unaware of the availability of SPACE in which they could move their bodies independently – a foreign concept to these kids. My mom led three workshops in the center – with teachers, trainees and kids. The teachers were very engaged in the workshop and their mobility and seeming comfort with movement was inspiring – it would be so beneficial for them to use this with the kids – we shall see! Thanks, mom!

Receiving a thank you for the workshops from the cutest twins - Hassi and Kushi

  • A Moment of Familial Praise: This section is dedicated to new photos of Amina and Benny…surprise!

  • Goa Away: Five days before my parents departed Bombay, Sasha arrived! It was a glorious 3 a.m. reunion at the Mumbai airport…She spent the next few days with Bombay belly, but was miraculously healed by Cipro. This was just in time for our great South Goa adventure! On January 5th, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SASHA, we waited on the loudest, most horrible corner of Bandra East for the 1.5 hour delayed NEETA sleeper bus. Now, having only traveled on long distance buses in South America, I had a seemingly unrealistic idea of what long distance bus travel could look like. The Indian sleeper bus is literally twin-sized bunk beds with two people per bed. Luckily I happened to know Sasha, so we did ok…but did I feel sorry for those who were traveling/spooning with strangers. Not to mention that we spent the subsequent 15 hours gripping one another and the window bar to avoid falling out of the bed and tumbling into the aisle. One could say it was a sleepless night. The discomfort of the bus ride dissipated the moment we arrived at Palolem. It was majestic. A u-shaped beach lined with palm trees and beach huts. Our two-day residence was booked for Ordo Sounsar, located at the Northern end of the beach near the mouth of the river. A footbridge spanning the river delivers you from the main beach to Ordo Sounsar’s property. It was simply divine – the sparse, clean and simple beach hut, the multiple outdoor seating areas and the FOOD! We spent our 2.5 days there lounging on the beach, eating fresh coconut meat, relishing the coconut curries and various seafood dishes, swimming in the warm ocean, watching the millions of tiny crabs make beautiful ball sand-designs with the sand, and enjoying the sunsets from huge rocks at the end of the beach. We were really in a state of glee. Did I mention that I didn’t wear shoes for three days?

Pre-Goa Bagel Shop Brunch - carrot juice!

Lox and Bagels...kind of!

The sleeper bus - bed...crazy.

On our way...already a bit exhausted before the journey. Alas!

Ordo Sounsar in Palolem, Goa

A seating area at Ordo Sounsar

The dining area

The huts

Our hut!!

The footbridge to get to the beach

Bridge...

 

River fishing boat

Dinner - Seafood BBQ

Relaxed

Our neighbors

On the bridge

River crossing

Sunset

Sunset still...

Walking toward the rocks

Tiny crab

Tiny crab sand designs

More sunsetting

 

Calf on the beach

So many palm trees

Don't want to leave. Ever.

Last lunch - stuffed mackerel

  • A Catholic Wedding: After a somewhat shorter, though equally sleepless overnight bus ride back to Bombay, Sasha and I ran home to shower and change for Mass. Just a normal Sunday for the two of us…We made it to Bandra’s famous and beautiful Mount Mary Church just in time to see them exchange vows, to hear Blossom sing and to wish them well. That evening we went to the reception at the Bandra Gymkhana (club) and spent the evening dancing and eating. A perfect reentry into Bombay after our beach getaway.

The entry to the wedding reception

Sasha!

The stage to receive guests

Blossom and Nishant

Tan/burn shot of Sash

  • Bombay Belly: So, after my visitors got their dose of Bombay belly, as I had perhaps pessimistically predicated, I was struck with a minor case about five hours before Sasha’s departure. It slowed me down for about a week, though thanks to Oflox-OZ, which is a killer antibiotic that made me so so sleepy, I was cured! It was somehow a “nice respite” to have something slow me down. Not to say I should depend on something of the sort to slow me, but it wasn’t the worst thing. NO PICTURES>>>DON’T WORRY!

  • Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2011: Sasha left at 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning, I got sick and 30,000 people ran the Mumbai Marathon on Sunday! MMC had corporate teams running for us, so I participated in the Dream Run (walk) and took photos of our sponsors. Guess what? There were a lot of people! It was a fun experience and a nice opportunity to walk on the streets of South Bombay without fearing for your life – at least in terms of autos. Sigh. Love you, Bombay.

Marathoners

TATA Motors ran for Mumbai Mobile Creches

Pragna, Nalini, Vrishali and me before the Dream Run

Victoria Terminus aka CST and the Dream Runners

I am now 2 weeks away from my plane ride to New York. It will be a welcome break. From this city to the next – time to reboot and reenergize and just enjoy each moment. My goal is to make these next weeks a time of good energy so that this place feels like a good one to come back to – 5 months down. And, of course, if you want to email me – avashapiro@gmail.com.

With love – xoxo,

Ava

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A Sweet and A Sweet = Celebration!

Written November 16 – December 15, 2010

This post is a little weak on the prose – do forgive me…So, I have uploaded over 80 photos to compensate. Enjoy and lots of love in this December 2010. One important update – I am no longer sweating! Bombay has cooled down and I am an energetic and humidity-free lady! Perhaps with lethargy’s exit went my attention to detail in writing. Do not fear, it shall return! In the meantime…excuse my disclaimer and read on…

  • Invitation to an “American Family,” a Haldi Ceremony and a Wedding: One night, while on Skype with Michal, I heard a knock on my door. For those who have received a Skype tour of my apartment, you know that I have a double door to enter, one of which has a metal window grate so that you can see into the apartment. The hallway was dark, so I didn’t recognize the figure (nor the voice). Once I got to the door, I realized that it was my downstairs neighbor (Martin) – he is always a joyful man. I also recognized him because he had a huge gash on the back of his head a few weeks earlier, which seemed to have healed quite nicely. Martin excitedly waved a sparkly envelope in front of me and repeated approximately 10 times that there was to be an engagement and wedding the upcoming weekend on Sunday and Monday at the temple across from my house and then at another temple by the fish market. While I understood the dates of the events after the 3rd round, I was still a bit confused about who was getting married…but who really cares if you know the bride and groom, right? So, Martin passes over the envelope and exits. I go back to Michal, who is laughing at me due to the ridiculous hand gestures and lack of understanding (she was watching and listening over Skype), and see that on the envelope is written “To: American Family.” I was in a hysterical – in both utter excitement to attend a wedding and the way that the communication occurred. Martin will be known as a “repeater” by the end of this story. So, after consulting my colleagues regarding appropriate dress and gift – see below. Sami, David and I suited up on Sunday night for the engagement. We seemed to have arrived slightly late as the groom’s family was on their way out. Turns out that the bride was not Martin’s daughter, which is what I had originally understood, and was in fact another neighbor’s daughter, whom I had never met. The engagement party started under a big tent with a group of women sitting at the front and all other guests, divided by gender, sitting in chairs facing the women (there were about 200 people present). Upon being seated the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom, walked around passing out snacks to the guests (see below – the chips and ladoo – orange ball sweet). Following the snacks, the bride exited the temple and walked up and down the aisles and through the rows touching the guests’ feet. Many people met her halfway so that she didn’t bend down completely. The bride wore an off white sari that seemed to have a yellow sheen, as did her skin. I soon learned that this was the tumeric that the women used to cover her body – they were just getting started…Dancing…following the bride’s processional, the groom’s family left the temple and the dancing commenced. It was a ladies only dance party and Sami and I joined in with great enthusiasm. We danced barefoot and in a circle – watching the other women and picking up the steps. The band was inches away, so we heard that rhythm loud and clear – letting the drum lead you to the next turn or clap or frantic movement into the center of the circle. The women were impressed with our stamina and we could have kept going! Alas…dinner time! A buffet of Goan non-veg food… The bride’s family is part of the Koli community (fisher people), so the fish was most sumptuous, fish curries in fact – we were in bliss. As is the tradition here, our plates were filled multiple times before we were excused from the table, allowing the next round of guests to sit and eat. At each transition, Sami and I were ushered by a group of women onto the next activity, so there was little room for confusion, just the enjoyment of inclusion! Now after the dinner and dancing was when things got very interesting and quite emotional. The “Haldi” ceremony began with the bride seated on a small bench close to the ground with fire (very auspicious and used in most Hindu ceremonies) and wet tumeric paste. Women literally covered the bride’s face, neck, arms and legs in bright orangey-yellow tumeric and placed a sweet in her mouth before handing her cash! Most of the female guests, including Sami and I, were called up, told to sit down and then asked to put tumeric on the bride’s face. We nervously obeyed the large woman with the microphone and it was a rather intimate moment with a stranger. The more intimate moments were between the bride and her mother and the bride and her family members. Once they put tumeric on her, they held eachother and wept. This was a goodbye for the bride and her family – an exit from her family and into her husbands. I was not left dry – cheeked (thank you Shapiro/Harmel genes). The engagement ended shortly after and Martin reminded us for the nth time that the wedding would be “cross the fish market – next bus stop.” Thanks to Martin and properly clad in a sari (me), salwar kameez (Sami) and Nehru suit (David), we arrived at the RAINY wedding the next night. It was a very interesting affair – photos will speak to that. The bride was beautifully clad in traditional Koli wedding wear and it was a double wedding (two couples). The reception included a buffet – this time veg and not quite as exciting – and a receiving line. Unfortunately we missed the wedding ceremony, so we caught the second half which consisted of the two couples standing on an awesomely decorated stage with a huge audience in front of them and an even longer receiving line of guests going on stage to deliver their gifts (cash) to the couple and have their photo “snapped.” It was quite the scene. I will let the photos do the talking here. Yay for my first 1,000 person Indian wedding…more to come. Did I mention that it’s wedding season? Yeah…

 

The invitation...

Our "alley" converted into a wedding processional space...Sami looking lovely.

Offered sugar cane on the way into the temple

Flowered

Snack

The bride greeting the guests

Dancing!

Beginning of the Haldi ceremony

 

Dressed for a wedding!

The entrance to the wedding reception

The bride and groom

The receiving line

Waiting in line!

Mother of the bride

The band

Flowered hair piece worn for festivities and celebrations

A fan mister....

  • Yoga – Bandra Real House Wives: So, I must admit that I came to India with some romantic preconceived notions about what yoga would look like here. As you know from my last blog post, those notions were quickly forgotten. I will say that I take “yoga exercise” (Barnard ladies – remember that?). Now, I go to class after work about three to four times a week – luckily it is a five minute walk from my house – and every class is some different scene. The other ladies who go there are mainly there to lose weight and fit into “blue jeans and a white t-shirt.” After reading that you may be wondering why I go there…well, the truth is, while it is not traditional yoga in any way, I sweat. And now you’re saying – Ava, all you talk about is how much you sweat…but I think you know what I mean. The hilarious part about it is that although I have done yoga very inconsistently for a number of years, I am considered the expert yogi there. All of the women ooo and ahhh at my flexibility (thank you Shapiro/Harmel genes) and grumble about the difficulty of doing any to all of the exercises. The section reference to the reality show “Real House Wives” – well, that’s who these women are…if I had some funding, background and interest in reality t.v., I would most certainly be following these “Aunties” around – they are hilarious and amazing. Come visit and you’ll see what I mean.

  • A Published Author: For those of you who aren’t aware, my brother in law is very accomplished and I see no reason not to boast – I do have your attention, right? Anywho, he found these amazing photographs by the deceased photographer, Peter Hujar, of an artist, Paul Thek’s work and subsequently wrote a cover story for the well-known art magazine “Art in America.” I was impressed…you should be too. Have a look: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/features/finding-theks-tomb/

  • New Amina and Benny Photos: And while I’m on the topic of my lovely family – here are some new photos of Amina, Benny and family. Enjoy!

Grandma and Grandpa with Amina Dora

The kids!

  • Dia de Gracia – Bombay Style: It was looking bleak around 5 p.m. on November 25th when David, Sami and my supposed Thanksgiving hosts had yet to get in touch with us to let us know…where they live. Thanks to the lovely people in Crossword Bookstore in Kemps Corner, David checked his email on the Help Desk computer and we located the phone number of his family friends. Upon learning the family name and location of the dinner, I became aware that we were going to Thanksgiving at the Godrej’s house – they happen to be the largest private landowners in Bombay. The house was on Malabar Hill and the meal…the meal was the fanciest, most diverse I’ve had for Thanksgiving. Did I mention that they were the most welcoming and wonderful hosts? It was a motley group of guests – including a woman who was a victim of the 26/11 terrorist attack on the Oberoi in Bombay and subsequently started a peace organization called “Peace Dragons” to foster inclusion among children through art. The evening was spectacular and though it was hard and sad to be away from family, it was the best expat meal one could have asked for…thank you Godrej family!

  • To the Hill Station We Go – Lonavla: Surrounding Bombay are a number of hill stations that serve as weekend getaways for Mumbaikers. Niket, Sami, David and I took part in this experience and zoomed off into…traffic to Lonavla. The once quiet hill stations have become seemingly overpopulated. But who cares? It was my first time out of Bombay since arriving here and I was elated. We went to Niket’s house and just hung out – I even wore a jacket…need I say more? It was a delight to be out of the city and see a different terrain. We ate masala eggs at 12 p.m. and it felt like 4 a.m. – danced in the streets of the complex and enjoyed a carefree evening. The next day it was to the shops to buy chikki (various types of nuts and jaggery – unrefined sugar) and fudge – Lonavla is known for those two sweets. A much needed reprise from city life. Thanks, Niket!

 

The Hills!

Hard to get the scope - but it gives you an idea. I was just in awe of the greeeeeeen!

Sugar cane juice and tired Ava

  • Happening Upon Things: I just needed a little section to include the many photos that happen in and between things. These often involve the best stories. The woman in the photos was sorting through dried shrimp. I asked if I could take her photograph and upon consent these images came to be…I sat with her for a little as she talked to me about her leg (I think – it was in Hindi, so gesticulation was in order) and was pointing to different things around us. In the same walk I met this man sitting with a group of other men playing with puppies. They live in ocean front property and I can only imagine that in the next 5 to 10 years they will no longer be there…Bombay is growing at a rapid rate. In the meantime, they were hanging out and again chatted with me in broken Hinglish. So, here are some photos from those in between moments and interactions…

 

Lady picking through dry shrimp

Earrings

Fish

Dhobi Ghat - this is where all dhobis (laundry people) bring clothes to wash and dry them. I will go back and take more photos - this deserves its own section!!

Happened upon a wedding!

Bandstand in Bandra - the waterfront

The Sea Link Connecting Bandra and Worli

Bhel puri vendor - a common rice puffed snack

  • Work = Life: Kid’s Art Workshop and Exhibition, Sports Day and Centre Visits: There is a lot going on at work! We just finished a 10 day awareness and fundraising festival called “Shine On” – a collaboration of 4 NGOs working with children and education in Bombay. It was hectic and I certainly learned a new flow – glad that I did it and glad that I’m moving on! A few photos from some of the events! A private school hosted a sports day for our kids, which was wonderful. It is amazing to see the kids running around and I constantly have to remind myself of how unique an experience it is for them – how we take this all for granted. The freedom of movement on a construction site is beyond limited and safety at an all time low, so to be in a relay race – oh my – what a foreign concept! I’ve also done some great centre visits to see the different sites and learn more about the program. I don’t feel like writing too much on this now, as there will be ample opportunity, but here are some photos.

Had this photo published in "Time Out Mumbai" - no credits, but pretty sweet!

MMC kids at the art workshop

Chalk drawings

They were asked to draw buildings...one kid drew the site on which he lives and added the name of the builder.

The finished product - reimagining Mumbai in architecture...

Hung at the art gallery

Sports Day for MMC kids at a private school in Mumbai

The younger kids line up

Note the construction in the distance

Stage for the guests of honor and school principal

Rangoli - a colored sand design used at festivities and celebrations

The award ceremony

 

A day care centre visit

Mumbai Mobile Creches' CEO - Vrishali Pispati

Nap time - keeping the mosquitoes away

  • Hannukah and My 24th Birthday: My birthday was the first night of Hannukah! As is the tradition on one’s birthday, I brought sweets to the office for my colleagues. I brought a variety of things, which in going for Indian tradition, I was told was so American…so many choices! Oh well! My colleagues got me a cake and gifted me a beautiful kurta (tunic). While it was no extra-large cookie or ice cream cake at AJWS (missed you all…) it was a nice celebration. There were some more birthday festivities with a few friends – a relaxed time! Now, for Hannukah! Sami made a menorah out of Styrofoam, which was actually amazingly impressive. We celebrated one night over Skype with Arielle (living in Ahmedabad), had a Hannukah party (latkes by a Jew – me and a Nigerian – Sami’s coworker), and lit candles at the Gateway of India. A most unattractive photograph of me was subsequently printed in the “Times of India,” which is the equivalent to “The New York Times” – oh no! My fame as a “Maiden” in India grows…eeeekkk!

 

Sami's home-made menorah

A Hannukah Skype Date with Arielle and Rachel (present)

Hannukah at the Gateway of India

David being interviewed by Indian television

Rabbi Chanoch lighting the menorah

A HUGE menorah

Posing with Chabad couple - Chanoch and Leiky!

Featured in the "Times of India" - oh my...

A beautiful banner made by and sent from my Barnard ladies - their bodies spell out "Happy Birthday Ava" - they now live on my wall! Roommates!

I am now heading into a month of visitors…phew! My parents arrive on Friday and will be here for two weeks then Sasha comes for 2 weeks. So much to look forward too…that means more blogging for you upon their departure. Also, for those of you who haven’t heard, I will be in New York (only) from February 10 to 19. So, if you live there, stay there and if you don’t, think about visiting! And, of course, if you want to email me – avashapiro@gmail.com.

With love – xoxo,

Ava

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Cross, Cross, Hit, Hit and I HAVE A NIECE

Written October 17 – November 9, 2010

So, too much time has passed since my last post – so much time that I had to amend my post title. Before November 4th my exciting note was about doing traditional Indian folk dance at a Navratri party – now more festivals have come (and almost passed) – but most importantly, I am a proud round#2 aunty! Samara gave birth to Amina Dora Israel at 7:27 p.m. on Thursday, November 4th! The family expands and though I am far away, I get to see a pixilated version of Amina and Benny daily – can’t ask for much more! On that note, see below for the last six weeks of Bombay living…

Notes on Life:

  • Oh, I Work Here: I am now entering my sixth week at Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC), an organization that runs daycare centres on construction sites in order to provide children (birth to 14 years) with an informal education, safety and healthcare. MMC has been in business for 38 years, partnering with builders, who allow us to set up centres on their sites and with the government to make sure that services reach people living on the site. A little background – most construction workers are migrant laborers who move to Bombay for economic reasons with the hope that they will return to their native village in years to come. For most, their ticket to Bombay and their stay is much longer than anticipated and a construction worker can move to as many as 25 to 30 sites in their life (along with their family). Now, these migrant laborers move to the city with their wives and children and they live in shanties behind the tin sheets that surround the site – “invisible” to the outside world. They are the “poorest of the urban poor” and they are certainly among the most vulnerable and marginalized due to their geographic point of inhabitation in the city. Something that my coworker said during a meeting really gave me a clearer understanding of the situation – she said that construction workers strive to live in the slums because that would mean success and stability for them – a pretty incredible thing to think about. That is a very brief background on the situation. Now, what does MMC do you might ask? MMC runs daycare centres that have a crèche (0-3 yrs), balwadi (3-5 yrs) and primary (6-14 yrs). They provide holistic care for children living on the site (healthcare, nutrition and education to start) and work hard to integrate the parents into the program – offering parenting meetings, chai meetings, street plays (for educational purposes) and teacher training programs (for women living on construction sites – 40% of MMC’s teachers are women living on sites). A note of interest is that there is a law called the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act (1996), which mandates that a builder include a crèche on the site if there are over a certain number of children – this is not enforced…There is much more to say about the work, but I shall do that at another time. So, you’re next question may be…sounds like MMC does great work – but what do you do? Right now I am helping to organize collaborative theater fundraisers with surrounding awareness raising events. The play is an Indian adaptation of Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” and all the proceeds are going to four NGOs working with children and education. From my desk at work, I can see the Arabian Sea (through the trees)! There is a lot of other stuff going on at work, but that will remain for another post!
  • Visiting the Daycare Centres (note the “re” spelling – Brits always do it): I have visited about 5 of our 29 daycare centres (not nearly enough – I’m working on it). They are located all over the city and in the suburbs – sometimes hours away. Builders are required to give MMC a room with three divisions for the different programs as well as a kitchen and bathroom. After this provision, we are left to do with the space whatever we like. MMC puts a lot of time and effort into making the spaces warm and beautiful for the children – they are covered in murals and artwork! I won’t write much about the kids, but I’ll let you take a look at their photos – they speak more clearly than I could write…

Kids outside of 1 of MMC's 29 creches around Mumbai

Inside the creche

Kids outside the creche next to the construction

Mata (mother) and baby

Black marks ward off the evil eye

Kid's portrait project

Bhai (brother)

Another Creche

Creche baby

Another Creche

Daily dance train routine

Cribs in the creche

Music time

Primary age kids

MMC Parenting Class

Skit put on by MMC teachers about children's nutrition and health

Attentive mothers

Diwali E-Card Twins!

  • Kites: I just wanted to put this down as a note that there are indeed a lot of kites here. You see kites on electrical wires like seeing shoes on electrical wires in NYC in the 1980s. That’s a lot of kites…One fun fact that I learned about the kites here is that the string has small shards of glass in it to cut the other people’s kites – as it is a game and pass time (excuse the ignorance if you know this already). I heard there was a lot of kite flying here and if you heard that too – it’s true!
  • Train Incidents: The numbers are unclear, so I won’t give you a statistic. What I will tell you instead are stories from two days (in a row). The other week, I was traveling on the train from an out of office meeting back to the office with my coworker, Anita. We were chatting, as we do constantly, and the train came to a halt. It was busy on the train, so we were standing. A few minutes passed and the train wasn’t moving. I looked outside the door to the car (they are always open – I was very careful, don’t worry moms) and there was a huge crowd standing on the track looking under the car. It only took a few minutes to understand that we had hit someone – and the statistic that I received was that there is a daily average of eight people hit by trains. I was pretty upset and asked my coworker what the procedure was for this kind of thing – she explained that they promptly remove the body and things keep moving. It was an intense and somewhat hard-hitting moment – we were in motion within 10 to 15 minutes. There is no room for or point in making a value judgment – it’s not that life is less valued here – but the amount of life around you is so great that these kinds of occurrences are not irregular and are therefore routine. The fact is that the train hits many people daily and while passengers show concern – everyone must move through their day and continue on attending their livelihoods. The second story is that the following day my train home sideswiped a girl on the platform – note to any visitors…the yellow line is there for a reason. Expect to be hit by people run-jumping off the train and stand back. There is no “stand clear of the closing doors please” memo – the memo is the following “move the hell out of the way now or else you may lose a limb…or your life.” The take away is that I do not do not do not run to get on any train here and I am extraordinarily careful when in and around the station. Just remember, “mind the gap.”

Track crossing...

Empty station

Track work

Chawls (individual yet shared living units) from the tracks

View of construction from the tracks (that site has a MMC daycare centre on it)

  • Blue Frog: This is the name of a very popular live music venue in Lower Parel, Mumbai. I went there a few weeks ago with a few new friends (yay friends) to hear a rapping saxophonist. He was surprisingly creative and (dare I say) good! He had the audience give him a word for each letter of Mumbai and then did a free style with the words – the words I remember are “umbrella,” “misogynist” and “India.” I’ll let you do the creative work on that one.
  • Yoga No-No-No: I am on a search for a yoga class and I think I just found one! This story is not about that class – this is a yoga no-no story. In the midst of my yoga class search, a coworker offered for me to attend her Iyengar class at the Hare Krishna Temple in Juhu, Mumbai. Obviously curious, interested and open to trials of all kinds, I accompanied her to the class where I was told that I was meant to observe and not to participate. Iyengar is an extremely physically intense form of yoga. I arrived at the temple and walked around – saw the various shrines and dancing/music-playing going on in the courtyard. The teacher arrived and let me tell you, she was one intense lady. How to describe her? She was no more than 5 feet with the skinniest little legs, a big cylindrical pelvis and torso and popping bug eyes (is that redundant?). She began her instruction of the class and subsequently yelled throughout the class and walked around forcing peoples bodies into various positions. About halfway through the class she tells me that this is, “not something that can be observed. How do you think you know what they are feeling? You must do this only.” After a class of mixed messages and abuse of the students (don’t get me wrong – they seemed to accept and enjoy it) I was…you guessed right – not sold on Iyengar yoga. I shall take my practice elsewhere – I’ll let you know about it.
  • Gallery Openings: I went to gallery opening and suddenly felt transported to New York. Not only was there free wine and snacks, but also the people were dressed in New York garb. I think I was the most traditionally dressed person there in my kurta (tunic), salwar (baggy pants) and dupatta (big scarf). It was fun to be surrounded by the Bombay art scenesters – oh nostalgia – oh Chelsea. I love New York.
  • An Apartment Update: One day I arrived home and stopped into my landlord’s jewelry shop, as I tend to do, to check in on the various things that don’t work in the apartment or that need attention (aka fans that remain still for 2 weeks – have I mentioned that it’s hot here?). On this particular visit, Poonam (my landlady) told me that the “furniture-walla” had come to retrieve furniture from the apartment, as it was “on rent.” Who knew? Upon going upstairs, I happened to notice that half of the furniture in the apartment was gone…It was a star moment – oh India! About two weeks later, we became the proud owners of a beautiful matching six-foot trundle sofa and chair set. Thanks, Poonam!

A dinner at home - cooking parathas - David flips a roti!

The completed meal - parathas (rotis stuffed with potatoes and other delicious things), guacamole and some beansprout dish - prepared by David, Sami, Sachin (my neighbor) and me

Sachin (my neighbor)!

Sachin and Sami

A view of the chairs and trundle couch (and David)

Typical position for email, skype, etc.

Local Hardware Shop...

My banana-walla

Key ingredients: potatoes, onions and tomatoes

Vegetable vendor

  • Participatory Dancing – Garba/Ras/Dandiya! And the Close of Navratri: Navratri is a holiday that is mostly celebrated in the state of Gujarat with lots of garba, ras and dandiya dancing – typical Indian folk dancing. Sami’s (my roommate) coworker invited Sami, Rachel (a new friend) and me to come to her apartment complex for the celebration. A fun fact is that the complex used to have a MMC daycare centre on it when it was under construction. We arrived and were distractingly underdressed, though “being white” somehow excuses that (don’t understand that one). We ate delicious snacks, which I thought was dinner and overstuffed – of course they were appetizers. It was fun because they were serving “street food,” but it was totally hygienic and I could try all the things that I have missed out on! The complex was gorgeous and decorated with lights and a big stage. There were dance performances and then the community dancing commenced! Sami, Rachel and I kind of danced off to the side for a while and then decided to take a walk around the complex. We bumped into one of my coworkers and her family – this coincidental meeting seems to happen to me all the time! – and they adopted us for the rest of the night. We danced with them for five hours and were kept on our feet the entire time. The title of the blog post – “Cross cross, hit hit” is in reference to a dance form called dandiya, which is either partner or circle dancing with sticks. A truly amazing night of sweating, eating and dancing in Bombay!

Garland preparation for Navratri

The building complex's lawn for the Navratri celebration! There were around 1,000 people there!

My coworker, Rekha, her family, Sami and Rachel

Rekha's sister-in-law, in typical Navratri garb, dancing with her daughter

  • An Introduction to Adventures with Niket: A now not so new friend, Niket, took Sami and I on a driving tour of the city. We started with a coastal Maharashtran seafood brunch – the start of our love and desire for the restaurant Jai Hind. He took us to all over Southern Bombay and it was absolutely fantastic. More on adventures with Niket in posts to come.

Ganesh altar in Bandra (near my house) - it is only accessible during low tide, when people bring offerings, and at high tide all the offerings are washed into the Sea. An amazing place!

The altar

Ganesh (the elephant deity)

A view back to the mainland from the altar

Typical Bombay trees with roots coming down from the branches

The recently constructed $1 billion, 27 floor home to 5 people (with over 200 servants) in Bombay (Owned by Ambani - he is the owner of a conglomerate called Reliance). Ew.

Street celebrations during Navratri - this one was near Matunga train station in Bombay

  • Street Cred and Halloweening: So, a few weeks ago I went to this well known expat bar in Bandra called Toto’s Garage. I went with a fellow Barnard alum/new friend here in Bombay, Meg. The music was very loud and we were shouting across the table to two Germans – one visiting and the other a resident. Given the proximity to Halloween, I asked if they would be celebrating and then confessed that I had not yet chosen a costume. Given years past of Halloween planning with Barnard ladies, this was a big disappointment for me. Then, in that moment, I looked around and realized that the waiters were wearing these fantastic overall-like orange jumpsuits. Turned out that the resident German was a regular at the bar and knew the owner. One thing led to another and I was guaranteed an orange jumpsuit for Halloween! I collected my uniform on Friday and wore it two nights in a row to my first ever house parties in Bombay. Got many compliments and confirmations of my “street cred” and I managed to pull off the most comfortable and least cumbersome Halloween costume to date. My main Halloween disappointment: lack of candy – who has a Halloween party without candy? I felt confused.

Two pumpkins and a Toto's Waitress

Plus an American and a dhobi walla (laundry man)

Assassin and Uma Thurman from "Pulp Fiction" (really quite a remarkable resemblance)

Practicing for Bollywood

  • Obama’s Comin’ – Obama Came: For those of you following the travels of President Barack Obama, you know that he came to Bombay Friday, November 5th – just in time for one of India’s biggest festivals – Diwali (the celebration of lights) and Amina’s birth! Sami, David and I hosted six AJWS fellows over the weekend, and while we were denied an audience with President Obama, we did share the city with him. In fact, he stayed at the Taj Hotel in Colaba – literally two buildings from my office. As expected there was intense and heightened security in the area! Supposedly he rented out the entire hotel (those are your tax paying dollars friends and loved ones) and there was no public transport allowed within 5 kms of the hotel – what? So, Bombay was put on hold for President Obama…

Obama!

  • Diwali Baby – BABY!!!: So, this is section is really just an excuse for me to boast about my new niece and put up photos of her! Supposedly Benny is loving being a big brother and tells everyone how “cute” Amina is and how “little” she is – a real character (he fits into the family quite well!). On another note, Amina was actually born on November 5th according to my 5 a.m. wake up call from my mom. That means that she was born on Diwali (the festival of lights) and more importantly, she was born on Lakshmi Puja, which is the most auspicious day of the Diwali festival! This is what Wikipedia says: “Lakshmi Puja marks the most important day of Diwali celebrations in North India. Hindu homes worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the god of auspicious beginnings, and then light lamps in the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and well-being.” How very fitting for our new light – here are some photos of the new Shapisrael baby – Amina Dora Israel!

A photo for Benny

  • Diwali: I’ve already touched on Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights. Typically celebrated by visting family and friends and delivering sweets – nice holiday, right? It is also one of the louder holidays – competing with Ganpati (the holiday in September that celebrated the god Ganesh) – as people set off fireworks, firecrackers, sparklers and anything else you can think of that will destroy your eardrum. Sami and I hosted four AJWS fellows for the weekend and David hosted two, so we were a whopping group of nine fellows! I had a three-day weekend, which was an absolute pleasure (I have been working six days a week), and Friday started as a girl’s day with Sami, Shaina and Arielle. Our first stop was to Al’s Tatoo N Body Piercing for ear piercing! It was a hygienic and quick procedure and I now have a new pierce! Saturday began with bagels (oh yeah) at the Bagel Shop…it was heavenly and they really tasted quite delicious (say my 2.5 month old Indian taste buds). The rest of the day was an exploratory journey through South Mumbai – including the hanging gardens of Malabar Hill and Chowpatty Beach (referenced in earlier post). It was great to see everyone and to hear about the various experiences of living and working here – all very different than one another and a mix of enjoyment and frustration (to be expected). It was both wonderful and exhausting to have everyone here – a very good distraction from missing being home for the birth of – Amina Dora! Sunday was a late morning and slow moving day – we explored Bandra and had one of those moving from one eatery to the next kind of days. It was a good one! One other story about the weekend is below.

Note the floor design - lots of color designs on doorsteps for Diwali

Puja (prayer) at a local roadside temple

Marine Drive

Marine Drive and view of Malabar Hill

Sami, Shaina and Arielle

Taxi

Chor Bazaar (literally meaning "Thieves Market" - an antique and thingymabobs market

  • A Block Printing Workshop and a Saree Purchase: Shaina, fellow AJWS fellow, is volunteering with an NGO in Bhuj that works with a women’s handicraft collective. She was in Delhi at an artisan fair for two weeks and there was a stall with beautiful block printed sarees and dupattas (scarves). Turns out that their workshop is in Bombay, so Sami, Arielle, Shaina and I decided to go check it out. We went after a very long day of exploration and I was feeling pretty exhausted (this was after my 5 a.m. wake up – Amina Dora!!). Our taxi driver couldn’t figure out where to go, but we eventually turned onto the correct street in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood – Damar Galli. Our visit started with a tour of the building roof, as we couldn’t locate the workshop – the roof was covered in small goat pellets and a few goats and chickens! Sami posed with a baby goat and we watched the sunset from the roof before reentering the building. Upon finding the workshop, we were welcomed by the fifth generation manager and subsequently given fresh coconut water (out of coconuts)! They have been in operation for many years and had very interesting stories to tell about the changes in block printing. For example, he showed us a block that was eighty years old (see below) and is no longer in use, as people are no longer trained with the accuracy to use such a design. It was an absolutely incredible experience to see the men at work and learn about the process of making the prints (photos below).

The 80 year-old carved woodblock

  • Worth Your Time and Your Support – AJWS’s 25th Anniversary Video by Judd Apatow: So, American Jewish World Service just turned 25 and Judd Apatow (who produced Knocked Up and Superbad, etc.) made a video for us! It is pretty hilarious and has already gotten over 400,000 views – not too bad! Take a look (if you haven’t already) http://ajws.org/apatow

And, if you want to email me – avashapiro@gmail.com.

With love – xoxo,

Ava

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Onto the Next Big City…Bombai?

Written October 5 – 11, 2010

While it’s only been two weeks since I wrote my last post – it has been a long two weeks. Orientation ended, all 11 AJWS fellows are at their placements (in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra), and I have moved to a new city and started work! What remains consistent in this semi-chaotic time is the sweat that pours out of my body. On that note – a quick story to start this off – the other night Sami (my AJWS roommate) and I were sleeping in our bedroom (we share) and the fan started off a little squeaky – as it has been. By about 5 a.m. the squeaking sounded more like a high pitched screeching that begged us not to sleep and it won! Sami dragged her bed sheet into the living room to sleep on our leopard print futon (we bought a cover for it – not to worry – it’s now covered by a nice Indian textile) and I followed suit about 5 minutes later. The thought of being in our bedroom without the fan was not only insufferable – it was a death wish…but fear not – “I LOVE MUMBAI”!

Points to Point Out:

  • Last Days of Orientation: After a fantastic and full month of sessions, adventures and bonding, we moved out of the Ashram (“Namaste Gandhiji!”) and onto an NGO campus (many Indian NGOs have dormitories or some kind of sleeping facility for people to use for trainings, etc). Counterparts from our 11 NGOs met us there and we began an orientation with them. The woman from my organization was really sassy and wonderful, so we got along very well and it was comforting to connect with someone who I will be working with for the next 10 months! Not much to note here, other than the sad goodbye with the fellows at the airport – David, Sami and I are living in Bombay, so we took a flight to the city. It was worth noting – since I have already shared my experience with Domino’s Pizza (thank you Lindsey W for noting that I can spell words in Hindi, but fast food chain names in the US are a complete guess for me) – that there was a Subway (as in the sandwich shop) in the Ahmedabad airport and that was my first non-vegetarian meal in India. It was indeed a tasty sandwich – turkey on honey oat bread – and my first Subway experience – imagine that!

 

Oh yeah - the AJWS fellows were featured in 2 newspapers in Gujarat...can you find me?

 

  • Arriving in Bombai: Note that the spelling is intentional – I am having trouble determining whether I should call the city “Bombay” or “Mumbai,” as people use the names interchangeably (I apologize for inconsistencies – please forgive me AJWS Style Guide and PTG!). Sami, David, Jamie (a past WPF volunteer facilitating our orientation) our NGO counterparts and I arrived at Bombay’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport after midnight. We collected our belongings – thankfully all arrived promptly and in tact after descending the airplane. Managing all of our bags was a bit of a scene, but we managed to drag them (and ourselves) out into the thick Bombay night air, though somehow not as thick as I was expecting. I suspected that we would take a few taxis to our apartments (Sami and I were to live together and David was to live somewhere near us), but upon entering the pick up area two men began to hoist our bags into an ambulance. Perhaps I was delirious and I was certainly confused, but I did not question what was happening. After all the bags were stuffed into the vehicle, Sami, David and I packed ourselves in “like sardines” (sorry for the overused phrase) and slammed the back doors shut –precarious…With bags piled on our laps and in between our legs and with half my bottom on the seat we managed to exit the airport (not without our ambulance driver fighting with some random airport official who was trying to charge them for picking up passengers – illegal?). Moments later I found out that the “ambulance” – and I put this in quotations only because it was more like one of those really skinny and tiny vans that you see outside of the US – came from David’s NGO partner. My momentary question of “is it normal to be picked up in an ambulance from the airport in India?” was scratched out and it all became quite clear. It was, in fact, a perfect entry.

  • Jigan Niwas – My Apartment: First impression was – wow – this is a lot bigger and nicer than I was expecting! I live on a quiet street (still don’t really know the name of my street – an inconsequential matter here in India it seems. It’s more of a landmark-giving crowd instead of a street name kind of place.) in a neighborhood called Khar Danda. Khar is directly north of Bandra (known as the “Brooklyn of Bombay”) and has a more local feel. There are no expats in my neighborhood, but walk five minutes and you are in Bandra – the expat hub. There is a tiny jewelry and fashion shop below my apartment where my landlord Poonam and her husband, “Uncle,” sell gold wedding jewelry. Directly across the street from my apartment building is a green private park. Though I have not confirmed that it’s private – it is amazingly clean and green – safe to assume that it’s private…The other people in my building are mostly families – there are people coming in and out of the apartments all the time. There may be some kind of preschool on the bottom floor of my building, as I always hear the sound of many children – a floral curtain in the doorway blocks my full knowledge of the situation. There is a young American man living across the hall from me – it was rumored that he doesn’t speak to other expats and that seems to be true. He has an Indian friend living with him right now who is incredibly friendly – a documentary filmmaker and a sweet guy, so that’s as friendly as it gets in the building right now. Sami and I have done some furniture rearranging and are sharing a bedroom. Having our beds under the fan is a must – shifting from one position to the next in my bed I get a nice moist line down that part of my body. These are things we must embrace, otherwise it becomes intolerable and I don’t want to go there! The kitchen has two burners and a water filter, so we are cooking all the time! While there is a showerhead in the bathroom, the slow drip is relatively inefficient, so I have mastered the skill of a 5 to 10 minute bucket shower – it feels good and keeps me clean. The apartment is wonderful and fully equipped for at least 5 visitors – nudge nudge…
A wine bottle found in my fridge…Samara!
End of the Ganesh festival – street below my apartment

 

 

 

 

Alley entrance to my house - note the jewelry store on the left

 

My building!! The top floor with the tinted balcony windows – that’s where I live!

 

 

My local street altar for puja (offering prayer- Hinduism)

 

MORE PHOTOS TO COME…TRIED TO POST A VIDEO AND IT DIDN’T WORK

  • Sukkot and Shabbat: The day after we arrived in Bombay was Sukkot – the Jewish harvest holiday. While my life in New York would not include a Sukkot celebration, this seemed like a good opportunity to check into the Jew scene in Bombay. With a lot of encouragement from David, I took my first train ride (more on that later) to downtown Bombay to visit the city’s new Chabad house. We landed in a neighborhood called Colaba and were welcomed into a vast and well air-conditioned apartment filled with Jewish texts. The table in the foyer was littered with Jewish resources in the city as well as a photo of the Chabad couple that was killed in the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Bombay. In July of this year a new couple – Chanoch and Leiky – moved from Israel with their 18-month-old daughter, Mousi, into the Chabad house – until the messiah comes. They are the most welcoming and sweet people – David and I immediately felt at home in their new home. We have since enjoyed three meals with them and other Jews living in or passing through Bombay. This has been a very surprising and welcome source of comfort and feeling of familiarity for me. David and I look forward to the challah, chicken (I am mostly vegetarian – they say “veg” – here), fish, salads and sweets they serve as well as the warmth and their feeling of ease with us. While I don’t feel compelled to explore my Judaism or delve into the depths of text study, I appreciate these new friendships. Two side notes – one is that I found out that Leiky, the wife, just turned 24 – I had assumed that she was in her late twenties and was shocked to learn otherwise. The second is that at the last Shabbat I met a couple who went to Columbia, the husband was from Newton and they met on a trip to El Salvador on an AJWS Alternative Spring Break – the parallels were extreme!

  • This is Not Thomas the Train (Written for Benjamin Noodle – 3 year old style): If Thomas the Train came to India – his stories would not be child friendly. So let’s leave Thomas in the US and I can tell you about his Indian brother – Vijay the Train! So, there is a Raj who is the station-master (like Sir Topham Hatt) that runs all the trains in India – he is the biggest employer in India – that means he has many many station agents! He has many different train lines and there are millions of people (about 8 million) that travel on his trains every day in the city of Bombay. Some of these people travel by themselves and some of them travel with very big bundles of things like fruit, vegetables and even fish. The people with the big baskets of stuff travel on a separate car because their baskets are very heavy and hard to move. There are also five other kinds of cars where the passengers can travel – there is ladies’ first-class, gents/co-ed first-class, ladies’ second-class, gents/co-ed second-class and a cancer patient/handicap car. All the people ride on the train together, but some of the cars have many more people than others. The busiest car on the train is the gents/co-ed second-class and you have to be very careful on that car because people are very pushy! Often times all the people can’t even fit into the car, so they hang out of the doors, which remain completely open as the train moves, and have to hold on very tight to the handlebars otherwise they may fall out – it’s very dangerous! So, the Raj keeps all of his trains running on their tracks always watching the big station clocks to make sure that people arrive on time. When people ride on the train they look out of the barred windows and see many people starting their day, because people live right next to the train tracks. In the morning, something people see very often are butts! The Raj’s brother – the State – doesn’t really like to build bathrooms for all the people who live in Bombay, so there are many butts on the track in the morning! To get on the train, people must jump on very quickly! If people jump fast enough then they may be able to sit down, but they have to squish in next to many people (Aunty AA always takes the first class ladies’ car). If there are other people standing up they like to ask the people who are sitting when they will get off so that they can sit in that seat when the person gets off the train – it’s a system that the Raj thinks helps organize train rides. Sometimes when people take the same time train every day they see the same people and sometimes these people become friends (mostly on the ladies’ car). When these ladies are friends they bring eachother yummy snacks like cut up guava with sugar and masala (spice) and other treats. Sometimes they even put money in a monthly pot and pick out a name at the end of the month so that one lady gets a whole lot of money – they call this a CHIT and Aunty AA thought this was very interesting and funny. When you arrive at the train station there are so many people! You have to be careful where you walk so that you don’t bonk someone because there are many people to bonk. At a very big station at the end of the train line (called Churchgate) there are men who wear all black and sit on the ground with a box in front of them. They hold a big black brush that they bang on their boxes very very loudly. These men want to clean your shoes and it seems that many people want to have their shoes cleaned or fixed, so they are very busy men. Other exciting things happen on the train, and I will tell you a story about Vijay the Train again soon!

 

Churchgate Station - clearly not rush hour....and it even looks clean!

 

 

A train car - a new train car - notice the open doors

 

 

Train car interior on ladies' first class (on a Sunday - notice the empty seats)

 

 

Do you see how many handle bars there are? There are