Monday, April 12, 2010

Week 18: India --La Vida Loca Part 2

In Part I of A Vida Loca (see Week 11), I ended with butterflies (a miracle of a bug, in my opinion). In this part, the less miraculous forms of insects will be discussed, but not extensively since what I know about bugs is limited by my meager experience.

The bug which has impacted me the most here is the mosquito. They love sucking on me and there are welts and itching to prove it. Obviously, there are others who enjoy the same complaint, as India has many contrivances used to prevent and destroy mosquitoes. First there is the mosquito net. We obtained one of these in January (after the fact, the bites were numerous by then) and since then it has protected us at night. Another gadget which may be peculiar to India is the plug-in mosquito deflector. Essentially, it is a small tank of toxic insecticide, when plugged into an electric outlet, releases fumes to repel mosquitoes. We do use them, but as I have seen mosquitoes flying around our apartment; its effectiveness is in question. A third line of defense is the mosquito zapper. This device is shaped like a badminton racket. When turned on, the webbing is electrically charged to electrocute mosquitoes( or any other bug which get in its path). So on many nights we play the game of mosquito badminton.(we love the smell of mosquitoes frying in the evening.) Lastly, of course, there is the mosquito repellant that you apply on your body. A nurse told us that the only thing that really works for more than ten minutes is preparations loaded with DEET. I have only used this on occasion since learning that besides repelling mosquitoes, the substance can also cause neurological problems (especially in children). As I already had Jungle Brain, I didn`t want to chance it.

The second type of bug which is a source of amusement and aggravation is the humble ant. One day I was totally mesmerized by about twenty tiny ants trying to carry a fly up to our kitchen window and over the wall outside. It was like watching some piano movers, with the same starts, stops, reversals and final success. Very entertaining. Not so entertaining when you find them in the closed containers that are supposed to prevent them from contaminating the food, drowned in the pan we use to boil water, or on anything you leave on the kitchen counter for more than five minutes. Spiders inspire the same ambivalence. Now the huge full bodied ones still engender fear and destructive impulses ( At Kurisumala, there were some huge ones. But considering the spirit of ahimsa that permeated the place, I controlled aggressive impulses. Often I did not sleep well, however.) But for some reason, I have always liked Daddy- Long Legs. And they try to inhabit over twenty corners in our apartment. I am always torn, since they do me the favor of killing mosquitoes and other bugs. However, their webs make the place look like I haven`t cleaned for months (OK...Did I hear those that know me saying, SO, What else is new?). About once every two weeks, I destroy their homes, not them. They repay the favor by rebuilding.

Another miracle in Kerala are the varied and exotic flowers. Bougainvillea, hibiscus, and other tropical plants of which I have no name bloom in a variety of colors fuchsia pink, red, golden, and salmon colored in the low land areas. The other day Mike brought home a tropical bud given to him by a Hindu. It is called the Hood of Shiva and looks similar to a peony bud before it flowers, pink but outlined in red. Inside there is a multitude of red stamens, where supposedly Shiva sat atop this feathery tuft. You may have seen the orange and yellow hanging thunbergia which Mike posted on the blog several weeks ago. This was a photo taken at Shanty`s Mom`s house in the mountains. Also common in the higher elevations are huge types of pure white and pink and white lilies.(The plants are over 6ft tall.) Another type of flower which Shanty called a Christmas lily, looks more like a small bouquet of red orange flowers.. And of course, huge red poinsettia plants grace the mountain roads. What appears to be a type of morning glory is seen everywhere, but they are usually light purple or blue in color. There is another common vine with yellow flowers and a large dark center, which surprisingly is a variety of thunbergia (alata),. In potted plants, we found a relative of the crown of thorns we have in Oregon. But this variety has larger stems and flowers which come in a variety of colors (not just the red we have). What an adventure is experiencing a fragrance in the dark and discovering the source-jasmine! On Christmas Eve midnight mass, I kept smelling it- but where was if coming from? Finally, I noticed many of the women had white garlands of it in their black hair!

As mentioned before, women provide outstanding color and elegance to the culture. However, while you will only see women in Kerala modestly dressed in churidars or saris, bill boards, periodicals, and media represent women in Western attire-jeans, shorts, tank tops and bikinis. Somehow it is OK for actresses, models and celebrities to dress this way but the ordinary woman would not consider even wearing a sleeveless dress! On the other hand, men appear to have quite a bit of freedom, especially in informal settings, other than work. Western clothing (jeans and a tee shirt), dhothi (the ethnic dress for men is essentially a wrap around skirt which may be worn long or short above the knees) with a shirt or shirtless. While the women are covered with layers of clothing. Such apparent inequality is not restricted to apparel. Women are still primarily responsible for child-rearing and domestic chores. Even when a woman is college-educated, she may not be employed outside the home, especially if she has children. When women do work, they do double duty. Meals are an arduous affair. All three- breakfast , lunch and dinner require hours of preparation.(most women arise at about 5:30am). What we have seen here is generally, the women prepare, serve, and clean up. Only after the men and children have eaten do they serve themselves.

While I have to admit to biting my tongue in the face of what our culture calls women`s oppression, I also need to say, most women do these tasks with grace,and even joy. And although the men generally do not do domestic work, most often they do have s spirit of courteous service. For example, Stany often takes it upon himself to drive us to and fro, calls to make sure we are alright, and is totally responsive to our needs. Reflecting on the Easter mystery and Jesus who said he came Not to be served, but to serve, I wonder that in our quest for equality, we have lost what it means to serve with joy. Like Peter, we balk at tasks which appear too mundane for greatness!

What`s in a NAME?

Christians in Kerala employ an interesting variation of biblical identification. Although they do have what they call family names, they do not use those as surnames. For example, our friend Stany last name is Thomas, which is his father`s first name (like Jesus, son of Joseph). Stany`s children are Tom, Anna, and Hannah Stany and Shanty, his wife, is Shanty Stany. But he is still Stany Thomas. Recently, I went to the doctor and the nurse, who was a nun, asked me for my name, and after some verbal back and forth, we decided it was easier for me to write it for her: Kristine Sonnleitner. My file was completed and written on my chart was the name: Cristeen Michael. Go figure!

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