People who can’t stay with me.

The recent blog post “people who can’t travel with me” from Ciao Chicago had me dying of laughter and also shedding baby travel tears because it was so true. How often have I not been able to articulate my lack of willingness to travel with certain people or groups for one of those very reasons? I felt guilty or perhaps just plain naive about the shortcomings of some travel companions and I kept my mouth shut while they ruined my trip. Oh… well, no more guilt is the new black. This got me thinking about other travel experiences I’ve had that require a list of ground rules. So, let’s talk about houseguests.

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5. No shirt, no shoes, no service.  Well, not exactly, but you can’t just walk around my house bearing all sorts of skin that makes no sense for our actual relationship or your actual attributes. Case: We recently had a houseguest who proceeded to iron his clothing bare-chested in a common room every time he wanted to go out. So, this means man boob first thing in the morning and before heading out at night, multiple times over his stay, all over my house. I’m like, you’re too comfortable, dude. Oh and in a similar vein, know when to cover your feet, depending on how they look and smell. Again, let’s not find out that we’re really not friends during an overshare experience. Shoes (that aren’t tracking mud or dirt through the house) are acceptable and socks will do when shoes don’t. Again, I’m all for “make yourself comfortable” hospitality, but depending on how close we are (or aren’t) and some basics on aesthetic, one guest’s comfort is another host’s cringe.

4. Food etiquette. First things first, there’s no pork in my house. No joke, f’real though. I’ll throw that isht out. Don’t get me started on how much it grosses me out, but seriously, ahhh don’t do it. But, beyond pork, I think it only makes sense to organize the food situation upfront, esp. if guests don’t have a car. Case: We recently had houseguests who waxed poetic about going to the supermarket to get food early on in their stay, but never actually went. This is fine because I actually know how difficult it is to get to the supermarket and I planned accordingly for their food situation by buying lots of food, b/c they’re tourists – they don’t know that they don’t know anything. However, this led to some awkward moments when they showed up from a day trip starving, without transportation, were too scared to ask to eat something in the kitchen, but wanted to hitch hike to a restaurant at midnight that I had to politely inform them was actually closed. Mind you, I had all this food in the house that I clearly bought for them (I don’t eat chicken!) and they’re trying to be below the Mason Dixon-style polite, which is at cross purposes with the human need to eat. It was ridiculous. Listen, if I don’t want you to eat food in my house, trust me, you won’t be invited to my house. Would it be nice if you contributed to the food purchase or went to the market to get things you’d like to eat or told me your food plans beforehand? Yes, but being weird about eating and not eating leads to awkward silences three times a day, for the entire length of one’s stay.  I need guests that knock that right out at the beginning, eat out or in or cook or whatever, but every meal shouldn’t feel like a hostage negotiation.

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3. Shadow. I’ve been this guest, so I know how easy it is to become. I’ve had this guest, so I know how annoying it can become. This situation occurs when a host thinks you’ve come to visit their city, but a guest thinks they’ve come to visit the host – things get weird. In the interest of full disclosure: I like my personal space and I’m easily suffocated.  I vet my companion lists with scrutiny for each activity presented and if I don’t say ‘the more the merrier,’ it’s not something to be inferred. I’ve had guests who take the ‘I’ll just do whatever you normally do‘ approach and since I don’t normally have a human shadow as I walk around my house in a robe, this methodology quickly falls apart. There is way too much pressure to make my boring daily life touristy and/or entertaining. And again, there are times when the guest really isn’t invited, but there’s a song and dance about leaving them behind so they can go see the sites (which they don’t really want to see alone or they don’t know how to get to) and they look like a sick puppy as you drive away to personal-space-freedom-land. Sigh. Being invited into my home doesn’t inherently mean being invited into every aspect of my life. Just sayin…

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2. Germophobe scaredy cat. Don’t act like you’ve never seen a roach before. You have. Don’t act like you’ve never killed one before. You have. Don’t act all brand new in my house. I’ve never lived in any place that’s actually clean and has undeniably, safe, potable drinking water. So get over yourself.  While I’m always profusely embarrassed & grossed out when something undesirable creeps in, I can’t help but feel like a grown adult human being should be able to take this in stride. Case: Mozambique is generally clean hygiene wise, but the sewer systems are pretty basic and close to residential areas. Trash pick up isn’t regular. And for some reason, which I’ll blame on the location of our house near a hilly, wooded area, there are huge cockroaches that end up in our house despite having a maid 4 days a week and putting down bait. Mah dude, I’ma need you to just kill it and move on. Why? Because you came to visit me in Southern Africa… or North India… or DC… or NYC… and you know what those places all have in common? They’re on earth, a planet which humans share with roaches, spiders, mice, frogs, lizards, and other things that are small and slimy or gross.  If you want to visit some place that’s spick and span, maybe try some city I’ve never lived in. Or try a town that’s been sterilized just for your visit. Even Disney had a kid get eaten by an alligator… you can’t control ALL the elements. If a cockroach freaks you out, you probably shouldn’t leave your house – ever – and you definitely shouldn’t come to mine.

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1. My dog lives here. I have a dog. He’s crazy and loud, but he’s mine. I can’t un-own him for visitors’ sake. But, I think some people underestimate their dislike for pets and rather than just say that they’d rather stay in a hotel, they try to control my dog – in his own house. I used to pander to that, but I’m over it. He’s going to jump on you when you walk in the house. He will definitely bark at you. He may try to sit in your lap. Why? Well, because he’s a dog. Poorly trained and all, he still lives here and you don’t. So, we have to get real. If you’re not into pets, then you don’t have to interact with him, but I’m not going to guarantee that he won’t interact with you. Repeat: He’s an animal. Second repeat: He lives here. At this point, folks who don’t like dogs or my dog are totally respected by me to the fullest. I was once one of you. I get it. But, at the same time, you probably shouldn’t stay with me, for obvious reasons.

The end.

Things I am going to go ham *sammich* on when I get home!

People say that when you travel, you miss the weirdest things – JIF peanut butter, Kleenex travel packs, and seat belts in cars. I have got to concur fully, but I’m privileged to have the vast majority of America’s creature comforts, including working seat belts in my car. Nevertheless, there is always something worth missing about home and I’ve just built up enough homesickness to explode. Without further ado here is the list of things I miss most from home. I bet you can’t guess the order of importance!

I love you written on the sidewalk in chalk --- Image by © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Image by © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Sidewalks – So underrated and so essential to quality of life, sidewalks not only keep people from walking (where? you guessed it) in the middle of the road, but they also reduce my likelihood of striking an innocent person while driving to the supermarket. Phew! I can appreciate that and I can’t wait to take that daily burden off my plate. I also plan to take long walks on top of said side walks and to cross the street using cross walks (or as South Africans say ”zebra crossings”) that lead to new side walks. I have never missed cement so much in my life!

Tap water – I can’t wait to put my whole head under the faucet in my sink and drink without fear of cholera. Oh you hoity toity suburbanites will say, oh but there’s lead and there are pharmaceuticals and unfiltered fecal matter in tap water. Eff you nay sayers! If I could show you the green water that runs near my house and the trash infested sewer system that dumps right into the Maputo bay where fishermen eagerly catch seafood to later serve to unsuspecting tourists… then you’d understand that the grass (and the water) is, in fact, greener on my side of the world.

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Ethiopian food – Culinary variety is something I’d taken for granted until I moved to India and couldn’t find anything for under $50 a plate that was served sans turmeric. Now, I’m in the heart of southern Africa, where food is fresh but deliciously predictable. Mediterranean is supposed to be a variation on Portuguese fare, but it all tastes the same – full of olive oil, garlic, onion and tomato and hot sauce, if you’re feeling adventurous. Eff that! I am going to eat so much injera I burst and anything made without garlic and onions will be the dish for recurring breakfasts and I may overrate restaurants on zomato.com as a result of my palate’s pure enthusiasm for stimulation.

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Thieboudienne – benstew.wordpress.com

Haitian *Poisson frit, black rice, and green plantain* AND Senegalese *thieboudienne* food – Anyone who knows me knows that my post colonial studies have taught me a very important lesson. African people colonized by the French make the best fish dishes on earth. I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s true and I dare anyone to contest this fact with proof on a plate. Let me say that I’m not particularly fond of French food. I find it even more underwhelming than Portuguese food, but you can bet that I’ve never tried a Martinican, Haitian, Malian, Senegalese, Ivorian …I could go on… fish based dish that I didn’t like (i don’t eat other animals so I limit my praise to this narrow sliver of the culinary world). So, I plan to eat these dishes up like cookie monster before childhood obesity campaigns gave him veggies. Caution: I may need a bib.

Bookstores with chairs and a cafe – I go to South Africa and all I can think is… I wish I could sit down right here and read this book over an over priced coffee with soy milk and then put the book back before the store closes. In Mozambique, I think… I wish there was a bookstore with interesting books for leisure reading – a bestseller not by Paulo Coelho or Mia Couto would be nice. This means I order from amazon and sit at my dining room table, wishing I was in B&N at Union Square. I’m going to get hella cozy on the floor when I reach home and the only thing I’m paying for are the extra shots of espresso!

Mom’s Organic Market – They say that every cloud has its silver lining and of my 3 years stuck in DC this (among Bikram yoga, a size 4 waist, being close to my bestie Elyse, and lots of free entry to the VIP section of clubs) tops the list of positives. Mom’s beats Yes! Organic market, though Yes! has some vegan cookies that I can’t find anywhere else. I skip Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods, because the prices and the self-righteous customers make me look bad. Mom’s is like a home away from home and I love discovering new things that won’t poison my body with toxins. Oh, and they give away free samples!

Shitty Day (and Night) Time Television – I am going to O.D. on Mob Wives, every Housewife series on Bravo except NJ, True Detective, Game of Thrones, Jerry Springer, Maury, anything on O! and TLC, House Hunters, Homeland, Basketball Wives, Love & Hip Hop, Empire, Power, season 6-8 of Madmen, and pretty much anything that doesn’t have a Kardashian in it!

62-KeyLimePie_1-menusKey Lime pie at Bubba Gump Shrimp – Graham Cracker crust. Period.

Face time with my Fam & Friends – I am eternally grateful to the makers of Skype, Vonage, facebook, gchat, and cellphones, but there’s nothing quite like a hug. I can’t wait to have my family and friends close enough to see their faces when I piss them off. It’s a really precious thing to know that no matter how close or how far apart we are, we can always be ourselves – face to face. No hiding behind screens or spotty phone lines. I can’t wait to poke my niece’s singular dimple and sleep in my mom’s bed! Priceless!

Ate breve U.S.A!

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.