Friday, October 21, 2005

Kate's Cooking Tips

Kate's Cooking Tips #29

No matter how hard up you are for proper baking equipment, do not
--under any circumstances--
attempt to make a quiche in a tart pan with a removal bottom.

**New photos from Sports Day are up**

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sports Day

Happiness is a funny thing. Sometimes it sneaks up on you. Saturday afternoon I found myself forming the base of a human pyramid, laughing hysterically, and shrieking “hurry up and take the picture, we’re dying!” And it occurred to me that I’m happy here in India. I complain a lot in my blog about the monkeys and the food and the mold, but really—this is a great place to live. Fabulous people, awesome scenery, good job. If I could import Josh into the picture I’d be content for quite a while, I think.

But why was I part of a human pyramid, you ask? My friends and I were being silly and photographing our house pride at Sports Day. Sports Day is another one of those fun time-honored Woodstock traditions. It’s a track and field competition day where all the middle school and high school kids compete in a variety of events, earning points for their house. The whole thing takes place down below dorms on the track field and spectators and students waiting to participate fill the stands. And since it’s a boarding school, all of the teachers and many of the staff show up to help, cheer, maintain order, and even compete.

Upon arrival at the sport field (to the sound of the band playing Eye of the Tiger), we divided up and sat according to house. The mighty Merlins, all of us in our red t-shirts, were positioned at one end of the field. The house showing the most school spirit is always awarded an extra 20 points and—of course—the Merlins won. Monty, the crazy Irishman I’m going on Activity Week with, led us all in rousing Merlin fight songs, playing his electric guitar with his amplifier in his backpack. We belted out “We Will Rock You” and other well-known tunes, such as “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean,” which had been tweaked to:

My Merlin flies over the ocean
My Merlin flies over the sea
My Merlin flies over the ocean
Oh bring back some medals to me, to me!

And the kids waved Merlin banners and held up “Merlins Rule” signs and did victory laps around the field bearing the Merlin flag and generally had a ridiculous time.

The races themselves were fun to watch because the kids really put their all into the day. The boys especially took the competition very seriously and there are some great athletes out there. The best race was saved for the very end of the day—the staff-member 4 x 100 meter relay race. Oh yeah. I ran for the women’s Merlin team and I am very proud to announce that we smoked the competition. Our final runner even had time to do a little victory dance as she went by the Merlin grandstand. Cheeky, I know.

My favorite thing about the day, though, was that it made me think about my grandfather a lot. When he was here at Woodstock, back in the 30s, he was something of a sports star and set a number of school records. Even though it was just a silly staff relay, I felt like I was carrying on a tradition when we won our race. And throughout the day, it was ever so easy to picture another handsome young man, blue eyes sparkling, racing exuberantly around the track, just like the current crop of boys (though probably in somewhat shorter shorts).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On Gender

One of the middle-school teachers—Christine—is pregnant, much to the excitement of the general Woodstock community which loves nothing more than small children to adore. We’ve got two right now, just a few weeks apart, but they’ll be growing into the walking and talking phase soon so everyone’s eager for a new small person to carry around and snuggle.

Talking with Christine about her doctor’s appointments paints a very informative picture of the typical Indian view of the relative importance of the two genders. Christine went in for her first ultrasound last week. All’s well, but what’s interesting is that in India they won’t tell you the gender of your baby before it’s born. They fear, and with good reason, that the majority of families who find themselves pregnant with girls will terminate the pregnancy. And my doctor friend has confirmed this. She’s the ob-gyn at the local hospital and one of the things she does with alarming frequency is sterilizations for women who’ve had as many children as they can support and too many abortions to go through any more. It’s really sad.

I also learned that at the hospital, the doctors have to be constantly vigilant against accusations of switched babies. Families will claim that the hospital switched their little boy for a little girl unless preventative measures are taken. These measures sometimes take the form of refusing to cut the umbilical cord until the family acknowledges that the child is a girl!

It’s absolutely astounding and just so heartbreaking. If that’s the value given to girls from birth, it’s no wonder by the time they get married their greatest worth is in their dowry and some men are perfectly willing to kill for it. The international visibility of bride-burning and other dowry killings has gone down in recent years, I think, as the government has been attempting to clamp down on it. But the problem isn’t gone and it seems to be just the most violent manifestation of a wide-spread cultural devaluation of women.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Weekend Report

Okay, despite the fact that I didn’t really do anything this weekend – I am loving not being in school and not having to do homework on a Sunday afternoon – I still have several exciting things to report.

1) I experienced my first earthquake! And I’m fine. No need to panic. I realize the darn new stations keep reporting only that Pakistan and “Northern India” were rocked by a massive quake, but allow me to clarify. Pakistan got hit horribly, and it’s a mess there. Some bits of India suffered some damage (like Kashmir). In Mussoorie, the chairs rocked for about 2 minutes. That was all. But, for me it was all very exciting anyways. I was sitting in the sun room reading Harry Potter when I suddenly felt kinda woozy. I looked up from the book and realized the wooziness probably stemmed from the fact that the room was moving. This actually took a few moments to fully comprehend. I stared blankly at the chairs that were swaying back and forth, realized I was swaying with them, and finally a synapse kicked in and the little “earthquake” light bulb went on in my head. By which point it was over.

2) I am pleased to report the return of Basanti, my puppy friend. I realize that none of you knew she was missing, but she was for about two days and I was terribly afraid that a horrid mean monkey had eaten her. But she’s back so all is well.

3) But speaking of horrid, mean monkeys, my housemate Joanna and I had quite a scare yesterday. We were hanging out in the sunroom (of course—that’s where we live) and noticed a large pack of the buggers in the yard, grazing. No problem. They’re outside, we’re inside. Except that Joanna suddenly realized she hadn’t bolted her apartment door, allowing for the possibility that they could get inside. Ack! We crept outside together –safety in numbers and all that jazz – to quick check the door…just in time to see a mother and an adolescent monkey disappearing into her apartment. Not good. Joanna immediately leapt into Attack Teacher mode, raced over to the apartment and shouted “OUT!” while pointing dramatically with one hand. And, interestingly enough, they came out. But they weren’t happy about it and suddenly decided to attack. She got into the house and closed the door just as the adolescent threw himself at the door. Repeatedly. And of course, I was still standing outside, somewhat shell-shocked until a snarling monkey broke me from my trance and sent me fleeing into my side of the house. Nasty critters, really.

4) In other, happier, news—I bought an oven! Hooray! A pair of teachers is leaving and they were selling all their stuff, so I got it at a bargain price. And of course I had to make sure it worked so I made French bread, apricot/walnut bread, and chocolate peanut butter cookie bars. Now I have to distribute the food items quickly, lest I eat them all myself and suddenly weight 300 pounds. Fortunately, there has never been a shortage of willing snack-tasters here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Delhi Part 2 -- Chez Karishma

We stayed with Joanna’s friend and ex-Woodstock-staffer, Karishma. As more proof to the tiny-ness of the world, Karishma went to Beloit for a semester, before my time. How’s that for random? Anyways, Karishma lives with her family in a “village” just outside of Delhi proper. She picked us up at the airport and we bumped and jolted our way along a very poor excuse for a road for a while, then turned through a walled/gated enclosure into…a whole different world.

Their house is set on 2 acres of beautifully manicured lawn, with trees and massive rock formations (apparently the whole area was massive boulders and they cleared out tons while building the house). The house itself is amazing. For one thing, it’s octagonal. You walk through the main entry way, resplendent in marble with a fountain and large metal statue of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god. After the entryway, you find yourself in an interior courtyard. Then off to each of the eight sides, are more rooms, none of which adjoin each other—you always have to go into the courtyard to get from one room to another. Marble everywhere. It was just gorgeous.

My favorite room was probably the living room/library. You walk in and there’s an eating nook with a small table. Then beyond the table, two sets of staircases, along opposite walls, lead up to a loft, three walls of which are covered in bookshelves brimming with novels of all shapes and varieties. There isn’t enough room on the shelves, so more books are stacked up on the floor, patiently awaiting a spot. It made me giddy.

And I quickly discovered just how easy it is to get horribly spoiled. The family employs several full-time domestic helpers, including house-keepers, gardeners, a cook, and a general butler-type guy. This fabulous man would appear in the morning as we were blearily waking, offering us tea and coffee on a tray. In the afternoons, it was lemonade and trays of star fruit and veggies. Mmmm. The cook took requests as to what we’d like for breakfast or dinner and took great pleasure from creating the best scrambled eggs ever and some divine caramel custard (sort of like flan). Decadence indeed.

And did I mention the dogs? 14 of them to be exact. Yes, 14. And we’re not talking Yorkies here, either. They must have averaged 50 pounds each! As far as I can tell, they’re all mutts. Karishma and family have a large soft spot for strays and regularly rescue them. And you know you’re dealing with dog people when the construction of their house took the dogs into account. They have a large outdoor run, a holding area where they’re bathed and fed, and even their own refrigerator and min-kitchen where doggie dinner is prepared. Sadly, they’re not super friendly so I only got to meet a couple, but I would watch out the window when they were let out several times a day. The door to one of the rooms off the octagon courtyard would slide open (they all slide; none opened on hinges) and a frenzied mass of barking fur would stream across the courtyard and out through another door. I loved it!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Delhi Part One

This weekend was Quarter Break which brought with it a four-day weekend. Hooray! I spent those four days down in Delhi and have much to report so I’ll break it into several blogs to prevent eye strain.

First things first: traveling in India. It sucks. Let’s just get that out in the open right now. Getting around this place is not designed for the frail or the impatient because it takes many hours to get anywhere and is often a bumpy ride. Delhi is about 250 kilometers from Mussoorie (or about 150 miles). In the States that would take, what, maybe 3 hours? Here it takes 6 hours by train and almost 8 by car. On the way down, Joanna and I went by train and on the way up we went the car route. As we shall see shortly, the correct decision was the first one: Train Travel.

The train to Delhi is called the Shatabdi Express and operates once daily. Everyone takes the Shatabdi so it’s often packed with students, staff, families, etc. The train actually leaves from Dehra Duhn so no matter what you have to take a taxi down the mountain. The trip takes about 45 minutes and gives new meaning to the phrase “vomit-inducing.” Not quite literally. There was no puking in the car, but several of us in the taxi looked (and felt) like it might be a good idea. The roads are super windy, the taxis have very bad shocks, and no air conditioning. Bleah.

But once we got to Dehra Dun things perked up. At first glance, the train left a little to be desired (blue vinyl chair covers and a faint smell of urine in the air) but the seats were actually quite comfy and there was plenty of leg-room. Luggage space is severely limited but we were traveling light so didn’t have to engage in any hand-to-hand combat to procure a spot for our bags. Because this is India, we got tea on our trip down and it was quite cute. It came in a little package labeled “tea kit” and contained one tea bag, a small packet of sugar, and an individually-sized creamer. We each got our own little hot water pitcher as well. Very refined.

As a side note about the train trip: You know you have finally mastered the delicate and ancient art of the squat pee when you accomplish this feat on a moving train in an India bathroom that consists of a pair of metallic footprints on either side of a hole opening directly onto the tracks racing by below. I am the Queen.

Anyhoo, we arrived safely in Delhi and had a grand time, to be detailed in forthcoming posts. On the way back up, Joanna’s friend and our host for the weekend, Karishma, agreed to drive us back to Mussoorie so she could visit friends up here. This seemed like a fantastic idea. And in some ways it was. We got to stop when we wanted and we had room for our considerably-enlarged luggage.

The downside was that Karishma drives a Gypsy. It’s sort of like a cross between a pickup truck and an SUV. There are two bucket seats in the cab and a padded bench in the enclosed “bed” in the back. That’s where yours truly spent most of the trip. Indian cars in general are not known for their great suspension. And Indian roads are, in fact, known for their atrocious potholes the size of VW Bugs. The result is an…exciting…ride. And the traffic pattern does not help calm things down. The “highway” we were on was a two lane road. One each direction—right? HA! Really it’s a mass of whizzing cars, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, ox-drawn carts, horses, donkeys, cows, and pedestrians that weave in between and among one another with heart-stopping disregard for the personal safety of any of the above. Horns blare continually and I eventually had to stop watching.

Next time I vote we travel by flying carpet. Wouldn't that be fun?