My Best Friend’s Wedding

IMG_0367In my line of work, I miss out on lot. Often the people I care about the most are the people I see the least. Their moments of triumph are posts I “like” on Facebook. Their good days are shared over Skype. Usually, I’m able to take the good with the bad. I recognize that in doing what I love (and what I think I’m good at), I’m either on or I’m off. There is very little in between. When I am not home, I’m very much not home. I’m plane rides and calling cards and time zones away. But when I’m home, I’m very available. And I’m very committed to the little things. Yet, today – of all days – I’m not home. And I’m missing a very big thing. I can’t help but be sad about it. Today is my best friend’s wedding and I’m not there.

It would be different if I were jumping up at Carnival in Trinidad or riding in jeeps deep in a Kenyan safari. But, I’m just at my house, sitting in my dining room, reading Pearl Cleage’s ‘Things I Should Have Told my Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs.’ Essentially, I’m just waiting for a new day. If I were out having fun maybe this event would pass with little commentary. Or if I felt like where I am is where I should be, then maybe it would soften the blow. But, alas, this is the situation and we’re oceans apart. That is the unfortunate reality.

So, next week I’ll be ready to write the happy blog post I actually intended to write when I started writing today. The one where I celebrate all the things I love about my Pumpkin. Where I tell all about how in high school I raked her over the coals for some dumb thing I can’t even remember now and how we spent months not talking. I’m not sure how we made up, but she probably initiated it. I probably didn’t say sorry, even though the whole thing was probably my fault. I was young and dumb then. I’ll talk about how she was the only reason I seriously considered going to UNC Chapel Hill. Yet I couldn’t be enticed to suppress the big city girl in my heart. I’ll say all the happy, joyous, praiseful things I should have said to her face when I last saw her in D.C. as soon as I come to grips with the reality that I’m missing out on the biggest day of my best friend’s life and what I’m doing now is definitely not worth missing that.

This is the ugly underbelly of life as I know it.

I should be in North Carolina right now. Of that, I am certain.

This American Life…

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When life hands me lemons – I’m known for making damn good mojitos! So, I’m confident that my re-Americanization process will get progressively easier with time. Unfortunately, though, if you’ve been around me for the past few weeks, you know that I’m still muddling through and highly likely to make a fool of myself along the way. But, such is this girl’s American life. What can you do but admit that being Carmen Sandiego is not as easy or as glamourous as it seems? Below is a list of the top 5 issues I’m coping with since being back in America:

Homeless#5 – I’m homeless: Some people don’t realize that my moving a lot really means that I have no home. I am like a college student on summer vacation. All my mail goes to my mama’s house, so everybody thinks I still “live” there. But, let me debunk that myth. I sleep in my old room. Too bad for me, my mother isn’t one of those nurturer-for-life types. “My room” is actually a library/ guest bedroom now. She converted it when I moved to D.C. I think she spoke some vile rumor into existence when she said, “you’re an adult now” and charged full speed ahead with her conversion plans. To make matters worse, I have no car. My dog and my brother’s dog are not aware that they are, in fact, cousins. Sigh. I’m thankful to have a roof over my head, because I have friends who are forced to stay in hotels for months. But, sheesh, I sure do want a home!

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#4 – It’s cold outside! I haven’t experienced a real winter in two whole American years. I came back and had to grab an old tattered coat that hasn’t been cleaned since the first Obama presidency. Not only am I homeless, but I look it too.

#3 – Food is ‘authentic.’ Yes, authentic tasting food is a real thing. I forgot that. In India, ‘good food’ is usually well intentioned fusion, pan-Asian food or homemade Indian. The two Delhi exceptions are Culinaire for Thai and Diva at the Italian Cultural Centre. Everything outside of that tends to be just shoulder shrug quality or deathly expensive. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my Haitian fried red snapper, my Chinese pan-fried dumplings, and Senegalese Thiéboudienne. My tastebuds sing America!

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#2 – Things make sense. I often tell people about the pedestrian crosswalks (a.k.a zebra crossings) near my job would actually end either in a ditch 3 feet deep or a median 3 feet high. These public works efforts were really just death traps. You’ll now understand why I’m typically very suspicious of anything that’s intended to be helpful. I know it’s backward. Since I’ve been back in the U.S., however, I have let my guard down. The little white walking man comes up when it’s safe to walk. The red hand pops up when it’s not. I appreciate putting my brain on autopilot and letting my legs do all the work.

Black is Beautiful Tee#1 – I see BLACK PEOPLENow this is complicated. Complicated, yet refreshing. Let me explain. I went to India expecting to blend in. Somewhere in those 50 shades of brown, I thought I would be safely absorbed. Instead, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was reminded, early and often, that I am Black! Not brown, not African, not Indian – Black. So, I got used to being one of a handful. There were just a few of us “Black people” in town and we were thick as thieves. Can you imagine being a minority within a minority? Ohhh chile’! Sometimes I just wanted to curl up on the couch with a tall glass of purple drank and watch “Cornbread, Earl & Me,” followed by a matinee of “Juice.” Now, those days are long gone. I’m walking down the mean streets of urban America and I’m surrounded by a sea of young, gifted Blacks – many of whom are sipping from tall bottles of Fiji water! I sure am proud to be just another face in this crowd.

Ohhhhh America…thanks for the warm welcome!

I been gone too long. True or False? Right or Wrong?

I must admit a very serious truth that may in fact dismantle the superheroinism that shrouds me in the blogosphere (and not so much in reality). As the frequent traveler with miles out the wazoo, and travel tips hasta las narices, I have a tendency to appear unfazed by the temporal changes and competing commitments of global travel. And the vast majority of the time, things are precisely as they appear, save one very understated exception. When traveling to and from home, I get deathly ill. Not kinda sick, not borderline unwell, I mean “wow, I think I’m going to die on the floor of my bathroom, never have kids, leave my mother to pay my debts, the dog will die of sadness and never bark for help (cuz’ he’s a mystery that way), oh is that ‘tuberculosis or the black plague’ I feel welling upside my lungs, a disaster on the borderline of deceased” debilitated and impaired.

This has happened to me for as long as I can recall. And I genuinely believe that about 5 years ago, I subconsciously began to orchestrate the type of illness I hoped to suffer.  There were the times when I just needed my immune system to collapse so that I wouldn’t have to endure some overblown event a friend had planned for the day I returned. There were the headaches, whose throbbing I could feel in my throat, which meant that I would surely have to sleep in the next day – prohibiting any form of work for an additional 24 hours, at least. But each time, my conscious self was always shocked and surprised by the fact that I was (again) sick and so devastatingly so. I’m not sure if these illnesses were just excuses for avoidance or delay on the other end, or if it’s been to up the ante since just boarding a plane is now as mundane as stepping onto a public bus, but I think it has come to mean a crossing of a threshold. It has meant my exerting effort; I don’t just hop on a plane, I must traverse that unforeseen space between life and death, called insert acute concocted illness name here, to decide that YES, I really want to leave/go home.

Going to/ From home is not just another trip. It’s not simply hailing a taxi in New York to catch a show that I’ll miss if I take the subway. It’s a choice. There’s a wide world out there, after all, and maybe I should reconsider going back to some place I’ve already been. And, hey, if I miss that flight who could blame me – dude, I’m coughing up a lung through my earlobes. If I do make it home, well, shouldn’t somebody take good care of me and give me attention? After all, I’m as sick an abused dog in a country of drought. And, of course, why leave the comforts of home for some wretched land of mysteries and unforeseen problems? Shouldn’t I really take another day, maybe that’ll allow the antibiotics to soak in, see if I can get my flight changed for a later time or not at all, since I don’t really feel well?

See, I’m crazy! There! I freak out, subconsciously, even when boarding planes regulated by airlines that always mess up my vegetarian meal and seat me in the middle and oblige me to carry only one checked bag.  But, I’m only human in the face of home… for the rest of the world, I’m pretty dagnabbit robotic.

Imagine the world of wonder that opened to me when I got my version of whooping cough before embarking on this trip to Spain. What a wonderful surprise! After all, I haven’t considered Spain home in about a decade and the last time I was here I was certainly here for vacation, but this trip… thanks to my near death experience… reminded me that I was in fact reuniting with a place I’d called home. And why not? After all I had spent a very formative year here. Well not, here here, like Madrid, but here like Spain. And it was spent with my mama, not my mom, but my mama Espanola. So, surely, coming back to Spain to stay in the house of my Spanish host mom – even though it’s not the same house – was so much like coming home that the requisite bodily rejection was subconsciously elicited, like a charm. How friggin’ cool?!

So cool that I certainly missed an entire day of site seeing while hocking up loogies in my sleep, which lasted from siesta time ’til 7 in the morning the following day. And while I’m walking now by the grace of God and the act of good judgment that permits double fisting advil and paracetemol, asi es la vida!

I remember la Plaza del Sol, and the Caixas with their art exhibitions (I never understood how a bank would double as an art space or as an exhibitor (are they investing people’s money in fine arts dealing?), but…hey, it works). And the Prado and the Reina Sofia, I remember you too. It’s been so long, but you’ve changed so little. So much that could be forgotten in a decade, and yet what’s important remains like the coating on a non-stick pan. The night is young, my ears have stopped popping, and I think my eye will stop twitching after I take a short nap. After a home cooked meal, I feel better already. Even my mother (the real one) would appreciate that at this very moment someone is whistling “These are a few of my favorite things” in the open courtyard below my room.

Let’s just say, being at home is a lot like riding a bike – you never forget – or else you’ll bust your arse and surely the self-inflicted, highly avoidable pain will serve as a reminder not to forget the next go round.

Resident Outsider

I would not consider myself a Delhi expert. There are people who have lived their whole lives here who would not dare say with a straight face that they ‘know’ Delhi. It is cities upon cities, villages reinvented as towns, farmers come urbanites all compounded on top of themselves. Suffice it to say that Delhi is dense. And quite frankly, it is a category of dense I’ve never experienced in any of my previous travels.

So, it is particularly interesting when I get to host other travelers, and I get to play tour guide to the foreign stars. They want the Taj Mahal and tikka, they must see Lodhi Gardens and Lutyens; and while I do my darnedest to make it happen, what I don’t always have the time to do is give them the gems of my day to day. Perhaps not the most glamorous or adventurous sights and sounds, these are the places I find myself feeling particularly guilty that I didn’t tell them all about. Now, my favorite places aren’t secrets by any means. Locals and expats have discovered them and frequent some with vigor – but they don’t appear in too many guide books that pride themselves on over glamorizing the Indian experience. As a tip, never trust a book that presents Old Delhi as magical (instead of a bustling haven for pickpockets and claustrophobia) and Qawwali as a calming religious experience (instead of a hot, outdoor graveyard packed to the brim with Delhi’s prayerful and pauper population).

I suffer from the great gentrifier’s conundrum – trying to strike the balance between sharing info about what’s new to me, without building a buzz large enough to draw the types of crowds that will destroy all the splendor. Suspending all that, with great reluctance and great enthusiasm, I’ll give you the top 10 Delhi sites that I wish each of my guests got to see (but never told any other tourist about):

1 – The Rose Cafe in Saket – As you approach the Garden of Five Senses, there is a one floor building, painted rose pink on the right side of the road. It’s a very pregnant pink. It makes you think there’s got to be something sweet inside. Oh, how the Rose Cafe doesn’t disappoint with tasty beverages & bites, served amidst pleasant, French country-house style decor. What a sweet respite from the dirt road outside.

2 – The ruins at Hauz Khas Village – I always thought that at the end of the road, there wasn’t much beyond the gates after Yeti. Alas, I couldn’t have been more wrong(er). There are so many little inlets and passageways in the ruins that border the lake. No one can seem to place the complex in a clear historical timeline, but perhaps it was a madrassa campus. Regardless, it’s a cool place to pass the day, except when the weather is hot – of course.

3 – My yard – It ain’t much to look at by normal standards, but in my neighborhood yards are not normal. My little patch of green, furnished with an apricot tree, potted roses, mint vines, and bougainvillea all around, is a sight for sore eyes. The tandori pit doesn’t hurt either.

4 – The pub at the British High Commission – Diplomats comprise a popular percentage of the expats in this city. So, naturally, Embassies hold a particular allure. The Brits’ pub isn’t special as far as pubs go, but Delhi’s bars aren’t known for cigar chairs and Strongbow. Maybe the pub’s endangered status is intentional, but I’m happy that one still lives on.

5 – The reservoir in Nizammudin – Step well, reservoir, swimming pool, same thing. Built by Hazrat Nizammudin 700 years ago, the structure houses a spring that is enclosed on all sides by sacred spaces and residential homes. While the enclave’s residents can now, more than ever before, drink the water (though I still wouldn’t) – they also take baths and make pilgrimages in it too. Through the geometric cut outs in the walls, I prefer to observe boys doing backflips off the steps into the brownish, greenish pool below.

6 – ‘The cave’ in Sarojini Nagar Market – Unlike Khan market or South Ex, Sarojini market is pretty pedestrian. Mixed in between the shoe string lady on the opposite side of the street from the mobile phone recharge booth and the mid-range sari shops is a little inlet known as ‘the cave.’ I’m not even sure that it is a structure, per se, but a clump of clothing vendors who have laid down and pinned up tarps to make a mini market to hawk their goods. Dresses for 400 rupees, shirts for 2? It’s an experience…

7 – Museums in Gurgaon: This one is a cheat. I know Gurgaon isn’t part of Delhi, but once you get here you’ll realize just how much it actually is. There is more to Gurgaon than high rises and multinationals – and no, I don’t mean malls all named DLF.  There are lots of museums and art galleries out there just waiting to be explored. Where else to house these collections except in converted farm land or on sprawling farm house properties? Have your pick: Sanskriti Kendra Museum, Museum of Folk and Tribal Art, The Devi Art Foundation… and more.

8 – Normal people’s houses – It is hard to understand what ‘normal’ really means here in Delhi. But, visiting different people’s houses gives you a sense of the complexities of the term. Whether it’s a one bedroom flat it Mayur Vihar or a 5 house complex in Saket, you will only get to know Delhi-ites by being welcomed into their homes – where they spend time with the people they love.

9 – Lado Sarai – What a quirky little ‘hood this one is. I hope it’s the under-discovered, under-popularized Hauz Khas Village that people don’t ever go to – except maybe you and me. With its high end and niche brands in the Crescent Mall, and it’s design houses and odd shops, I’m cornering this part of town as my new playground.

10 – The India International Centre – I’m often rendered awe-struck by the kinds of programming this place has. Who knew it had an annex? Whether it’s book launches or movies, educational talks or cultural displays, I find myself going to the IIC about once a month to unhinge my inner academic and learn even more about India’s charm.