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Friday, January 26, 2018

Visit to Amaravathi

What brings my husband and I to India, besides visiting family and friends, is a commitment to accompanying and encouraging an underserved minority group, recently moved into makeshift neighborhoods, in developing family and community life. Over the last ten years, the project has pretty much settled on the mutually agreed-upon priority of supplementing the education of their children.

The latest addition to the project is a group of about sixty families living just half a block from a museum of local and Buddhist history in the village of Amaravathi.  (Amaravathi is the name chosen from a trio of cities/towns rapidly being developed as the new capital of Andhra Pradesh. Andhra
was divided in two, two years ago, with this, the east side of the 'old' state, retaining the name while the western portion, now named Telangana, retains the 'old' capital,Hyderabad.) Here, however, when I say Amaravathi,  I'll just be talking about the neighborhood we're working with.

My husband was asked to consider working with this group, and made a visit or two last year to assess the situation. He was impressed with the need, and agreed with a few elders that we would provide a teacher to supervise and coach their youngsters in the evening.  Then the search for a willing, educated person in a nearby neighborhood began..  We made  one visit before one was found.

Visit number one: December    , Visit to Amaravati Franklin and Shirley walked about a block from car to the church building where the evening school is to be held, just a few blocks from the bus stand, museum, and historic Buddhist sites which are being developed for tourism purposes.  We sat on picnic chairs brought from homes ranging from sticks and rags to sticks and palm leafs to concrete block structures of one or more rooms, amidst piles of rock and sand for ongoing construction. Aside from the single concrete road on which we walked, there were no roads. People watched us, smiled if we made eye contact. Children gathered for the evening school—Franklin started interviewing them right away...many were unkempt, and in charge of a toddler or two.  Children literally tumbled in and out the door whose threshold was four concrete steps and a high wooden lintel?) 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Small Pleasures

Saturday, November 25, 2017 10:07:28 AM                                 (Actually, January 23, 2018)
Subject: Thanksgiving Greetings are always current
Dear Friends,
‘Giving thanks for you all, and your part in our lives. Reading Ps 100 in The Message Bible, ‘found appropriate verses for you all: “Bring the gift of laughter, “ and “Know the password: ‘thank you.’” And you do, and so we do. God bless you all w health, healing, family laughter and spiritual enrichment.

Who knew that 'season's greeting' message to friends, sent just before our annual trip to India, would figure in a blog nearly two months overdue. The Psalm verse jumped out of my  devotional reading that morning, and laughter and thanks have been on my mind ever since.

Humor is important for our health because of the endorphinine warm fuzzies it brings and for our relationships because it's a sharing of friendship, a bonding experience. But laughter based on words can be elusive in a foreign language. Linguists say it's the enth degree of foreign language learning-- and I'm not there yet.  Whether in a small group or large gathering, a foreigner can feel a bit (understatement) left out of camaraderie in a foreign language, even lonely, when she doesn't get the point about which everyone else is laughing. Even more so when you are evidently involved in the meaning, but have to ask what it's about, and the moment for joining in the laughter, thus allowing the possibility that you are, after all, a good sport, has passed.

All the same, there's no use crying in the soup (see, that one could take a bit of interpretation--even to a younger generation of English speakers), because life is short, and there's so much to be thankful for, including humorous, dear, or striking observations and occurrences that simply cause a person to smile.

Some of this season's smiles:

Pushpa (our household helper)'s  joyful nature and smile, despite language differences.

Narrowly escaping the angry flutter of a pigeon which often  rests on top of the air conditioner unit on our laundry verandah.

The laughter of half a dozen little children who live with their  (six or eight) families in two lines of connected rooms under corrugated rooftops, just under our back window. I can hear little voices calling to each other and their mothers in the slate lane between their homes;
small twins fighting over a low stool where the winner squats only briefly while the 'loser' feigning nonchalance, wanders away, probably already planning her own adventures, the laughing of childish voices, little ones playing around a mother washing clothes or dishes at the common tap in the corner of the lane.

Realizing( for the enth time) that the daily, early morning pounding sound in the neighborhood is not the sound of construction, but of the mother slapping twists of wet laundry against the slate before rinsing them--an early version of the washing machine.

The absence of construction sounds (think truck motors dumping sand and other materials in the night, scraping of hand-mixed cement, pounding, workers calling back and forth) which the neighborhood has had in the last couple of years.

Blooming aedeneum and miniature orchid plants in pots, one by our front door and one on the coffee table, courtesy of a sisterinlaw.

Glancing out our fourth floor  window and noticing youth playing badminton (here, aka shuttle cock) on a ROOFTOP (?!) across the street.

When you really do get the joke, no matter who it's about.

Warm, crisp dosais for breakfast.

Stunning tv  performances of song (classical Indian music) and modern dance by children

A security guard, bystander, our driver's hand offered to help lest I falter on the commonly uneven ground and un-protected stairs outside many homes and public buildings.

Remembering to be thankful for (most) everything, even the awkwardness. It's all part of the mix.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Good Bye and Hello

Good-bye, and Hello.

Three of our nearest neighbours moved away in October.  Though they moved just a suburb away, to senior living, I would miss them, especially my next-door neighbour Sue, with whom I’d chat on the phone, visit, commiserate, pray,go for an outing, and/or walk several days a week over the last twenty years.  Who can replace a neighbour like that?

Three houses stood empty for two months as we wondered what kind of families would move in, and when. For Sale signs were posted Cars drove slowly by, appraising curb appeal and the neighbourhood, Sunday viewings were held. A few days before we departed for India for the winter, a SOLD sign went up in front of Sue’s house. We watched in vain for signs of the new occupants. Finally, as we left for the airport around noon on November twenty seventh, we saw a car in Sue’s driveway. We would have to wait until our midwinter return to meet our new neighbours.

Our MSP-CDG Delta/Air France flight was stellar, smooth, calmly and efficiently attended. Wheelchair service in Paris was prompt, and the extra-attentive attendant narrated details of the route and every little routine during the transfer to our next flight. At the entrance of the second terminal was a glut of wheelchairs and second-terminal attendants,talking excitedly, apparently at odds about how to proceed, causing everybody a delay. Perhaps it was their shift-change time?

As I teetered on legs stiffened by hours of sitting, one disgruntled attendant, a woman, abruptly jerked my arm, pushed me into a wheelchair, plopped my very heavy carry-on in my lap despite my protests, and, with a parting rejoinder to the others, set off without first placing the footrests, careening around corners and complaining loudly to another attendant pushing a chair in the same direction.

At the gate for our next flight, this attendant unnecessarily and awkwardly'transferred' me to a chair. What a relief! As I sat there, I enquired from a passing employee about a customer service desk, although I knew that I had neither the time nor the energy to pursue the matter. Within a minute, however, an intermediary appeared and hunkered at my feet, enquired gently about my welfare and the incident, and advised me to report it, if only for the sake of other frail  (frail? who's frail?) passengers needing wheelchair assistance in the future.  The disgruntled woman attendant later re-appeared, all smiles and cheer, to wheel me right up to the door of the JET Airways plane. She’d evidently gotten the message. (I filled in an e-report form Air France sent me later, but then promptly lost it into cyberspace.)

 The Jet Airways flight from Paris to Mumbai was less than stellar, understandably so, considering the almost completely full flight, inadequately restocked with meals and supplies, understaffed by a very young cabin crew, too inexperienced , undertrained and/or tired to handle it all. However, to their credit, they tried their best, on their feet the whole way.  Two Indian women pilots (there may have been more) navigated a smooth ride.

After an awkward exit, with no wheelchairs at all, and a lo-o-n-n-g  jetway,  we tired travellers hesitated at the unmarked corridor encircling the perimeter of the new Mumbai terminal, confused  over which way to turn. Most passengers eventually headed to the right. Thankfully, we old geezers could embark on a cart which miraculously made its toward us through the crowd. But, what is this: we hold our breath and/or murmur, when it heads to the left, the driver assuring a querulous old gent that we’ll eventually get to the right place.  (I mean, how far could you high jack an air terminal electric cart?) Scolding loudly, old gent struggles to get self, wife, and suitcase down, continuing his diatribe as they join the trend trudging  to the right.

Meanwhile a scroungy looking, tall white ‘trekkie’ brashes his way along through the crowd, trumpeting his excessively self confident self as being “not like the rest of you bastards.”

'No, but worse!' I murmur, as our cart rolls in the opposite direction, My fellow passengers in the cart are bemused.  Our cart cuts through the center of the building, and we find ourselves at the baggage carousel ahead of the walkers. Memory hazes over regarding the remaining Mumbai-Hyderabad terminal transfer and flight. Two long flights have taken their toll on intended alertness. We doze.

Upon our arrival, Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport appears busy but running smoothly. We barely have to pause with a porter to claim our luggage, and head for a quick shower and few hours’ nap in a tiny room of the airport’s tiny, dimly lit Plaza hotel.  Never mind that there’s barely room enough to maneuver between bed, bathroom and luggage, we have all the amenities you’d expect to find in a full size hotel. And it’s squeaky clean.

Owing to the eleven and one half hour time difference between US and India, it is early morning on November twenty ninth. We’re the first to inaugurate the Plaza's Indian breakfast buffet, and eat our fill of upma and idli/sambar before calling Raghava, our driver, to bring the car around from the parking lot. A wide brass bowl full of fresh rose blossoms fronts the checkout counter as we depart.

We alternately doze and listen to current updates from Raghava during the five hour drive along an ever evolving national highway.  Oleander bushes line the median most of the way. We make brief  stops for tea and toilet at a small restaurant and gas station, a pause for a toll station, and a half-hour halt to say hello at the PUSHPA sewing center in Rajupalem, which is on our way, before finally segueing off the freeway and entering dusty, rush hour traffic on the edge of Guntur. We pass through the smog of a truck unloading area. Piles of rubble clutter the spaces in front of severed buildings in a neighborhood awaiting road-widening.  We gradually begin to recognize familiar streets and lanes.  One final turn brings us to the cream colored gate of Mary Shree, our familiar, cream color apartment building named after my motherinlaw, Mary Margaret Gummadi. 

Our watchman ambles out to open the gate that is already ajar, Raghava glides the car through, and we disembark at last, glad to stretch our aching bodies and limbs. We nod to the watchman and his watching family,  press the button, and pull open the double gates of our tiny elevator. A diminished but familiar, disembodied female voice greets us with her stern unfailing admonition, “Please shut the DOOR!”

As we rise to our fourth floor, we see, first, feet, then bodies, and finally the smiling faces of half a dozen family members and the housekeeper, waiting and ready to greet us with smiles, hugs, and a hot, late lunch. .It’s good to be at home again, in India.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

NaPoWriMo 2017, Day Twenty Two: A Double Elevenie

You thought
I'd lost track of the time
my dear,
But I was just writing a rhyme.
It seemed
to be raining outside
or not,
but I was staying close to home.
Would it
make any difference
if I were as tall
as you?

You were
the compatible one,
the one
fulfilled all the requirements.

Friday, June 23, 2017

NaPoWriMo 2017 Day Twenty One: I hear things

Today's NaPoWriMo challenge is to  to write a poem that incorporates overheard speech. It could be something ... heard on the radio, ...remember(ed) from ..childhood, even ...overheard a coworker say...! Use the overheard speech as a springboard from which to launch (a)poem. (The) poem could comment ...on the overheard phrase or simply use it as illustration or tone-setting material.

OK, I heard, at a party, somebody describing a particular kind of party:  "It's all in fun. Everybody visits and plays games and somebody wins.  Nobody loses because they all get a turn. It's great fun."

Asking about the food:  "How do you make this?  I want to get the recipe.  I'll invite _________ over to make it and watch how she does it.

" Y ou've been here before? We're all seeing it for the first time."

"The Party"

It was great fun, she reported,
You really, really should have come.

But this poem had to be written,
the words had just started to come.

When you're hot with an idea,
there's no question of 'just begun.'

Inspiration has no recipe
to follow until it is done.

Invite inspiration over,
when she visits make her welcome,

Serve her food that she likes, play games.
Listen to her comments and then some.

Ask her whether she is comfortable,
and whether she'd like some iced tea.

Watching her reflection, I learned,
that my best inspiration is me.

Friday, May 26, 2017

NaPoWriMo 2017, Day Twenty It's Just a Game

Day twenty's challenge is  to "write a poem that incorporates the vocabulary and imagery of a specific sport or game. Your poem could invoke chess or baseball, hopscotch or canasta, Monopoly or jai alai."

I made my choice of a common sporting game and began to write.  As I go along, trying to create a poem, it seems to be unfolding as more riddle-like than relevant vocabulary laden. So I am following that lead. Here's the beginning--let's see where it takes me! (Can you guess yet what game is being described??)

When You Set Out

Start in the middle, always the middle, or as close to the center as you can.
If you're first to depart, take your time, and take heart
Remember, the journey, whether easy or hard, will only endure for a span.

Keep a pine cache before you, just so, that its treasures enchant only you.
Though your choices may be moot, sometimes it's a hoot
and a holler to discover the unexpected and, thankfully, true. be continued off line

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NaPoWriMo 2017 Day Nineteen: A Neo Creation Myth: A Beginning...tbd

That's the writing challenge on day nineteen.  Something absolutely new, or fictional, or experience, re-imagined...I'll try my hand at mythologizing a story that has its  real place in my memoirs.

How the Sweet Tooth Came to Be, by Shirley Smith Franklin

Actually, the tooth was there from the beginning.  
And the child, a girl child, somewhat fragile, content to spend early childhood days shadowing her mother at home whenever she was't reading a book held in one hand, eating an apple held in the other, she was there too or, failing an apple, sucking on her thumb..
It was such an ingrained habit, that sucking of the thumb.  At first it had seemed a good and valid way to avoid over-eating.  But when she became  seven mother said it was time for that sort of habit to stop.
It was post-war (doesn't really matter which war, every war  has its contingencies), so understandably there were some tightenings of the belt, limitations on the family budget, and extra work required in order to create, at home, flour-sack clothes, knitted mittens, and canned produce from the victory garden. A night out for the parents was always as modest as visiting friends, attending a church choir practice, or community square dancing.
And what did the girl child do when parents were away? If you paid attention before, you will have guessed reading.  Which is only partly true.  Read she did, in the attic where nobody would disturb her, and thus the story, on days when it was fair and warm.  Not too hot because that would be insufferable among the stuffy rafters, clothing and decorations stored until their season came due; not too cold, because after a sweater became not enough, a winter coat was too clumsy to wear up the narrow and twisty stairway and amidst the boxes, besides being not enough still to prevent the chill of a Northern Minnesota winter a way into the bones.
Night times in the attic were out, because the one feeble light over the twisty stairway was not sufficient with which to read, at any time of year.  And after all, who would want to be so far away from the world on a night when mommy and daddy weren't even around to know where you were.
No, at night she read in her room, or, strangely comfortably, sitting in a straight chair, at the dining room table.
Now the dining room,my dear, next to the kitchen, may not seem one's first choice for reading. Unless, of course, one has strong associations with food. Strong associations, nay longings, for certain types of food.  Desserts, perhaps, or, as the little girl was often prone to think, candy. All of which little or none was ever found in that house.  Desserts, okay, they were sometimes had, and could be excused as being part of a meal, Sundays or special days.  And they would never be left over.  Two older brothers made sure of that. Certainly there were not desserts everyday, and most certainly no candy.  What would happen to the children's teeth, for heaven's sake!
Every time the asked her mother or father to buy some candy, one or the two of them would definitely say one of two things: Father: We can 't be frittering our money away  on something  that we don't need. Candy is a luxury.(Ironically the word luxury itself was a kind of riches, the smooth beginning and simple ending surrounding that almos- un-American sound, 'ksh'.) While mother would say It's nothing but butter and sugar.
And so it happened that one night the little girl looked up from her solitary reading and thought, I'm hungry for candy.  As she glanced toward the kitchen and thought of how her mother would stand there, cooking and baking the most delicious things, she became aware that her sweet tooth was wanting some candy, and it wanted candy right soon.  And so it occurred to the girl that it might, just might, mind you, not be all that difficult to make some candy herself......After all, hadn't mother said it was only butter and sugar?