Sunday, April 24, 2016

An Exponent Series

The Exponent contacted me a few months ago to ask me to write a couple of essays for an upcoming series for their blog.  The series is on singles and the Church, a topic which I am rather familiar with. It looks like they're running them now.  If you're interested, here's the address:

Friday, April 22, 2016

Monday, April 11, 2016

In Which I am Wooed by a Married Man

You'd think that the adventures of Holi proper were enough for any good travel storyteller, but that day was not over yet.

As we'd expected, most of the city was closed for the holiday.  We mentioned to Shiva that we wanted to do some shopping, and he said he knew of a few stores that would be open in the evening (because of course).  So, showered, de-powdered, but still stained pink, orange, and green; we met Shiva outside our haveli at 5:00 to stimulate the local economy.

Our first stop was a jewelry store.  I picked out some earrings and a ring, Justin some gifts for friends, and Jason some bracelets to secure his status as the Favorite Uncle.  The store owner was pleasant and chatty and the bartering was friendly.  He liked us so much, he declared, that he was going to give us gifts.  He ducked behind a counter and rummaged through a basket, then presented each of us with our very own rock.

"Uncut [name of gem I can't recall]!" he said beaming as he held my new rock up to the light.  It was ...a rock.  But we cooed over them and thanked him for the gifts like the polite Americans we are.  If nothing else, we figured, surely our new rocks would bring spiritual enlightenment and guidance, as we saw the hippies using similar rocks in their meditations at Machu Picchu.  Jason demonstrated their use later that night for Justin:

You can just sense the zen, can't you?

Our next stop was a fabric store for textiles.  Jason was on the lookout for whatever the next trend in Elle Decor will be, having successfully purchased items on previous trips months before they showed up in the magazine; and I was looking for fabric for bedroom curtains.

One of the workers met us outside the store when Shiva parked the tuk-tuk.  He greeted us formally with a "Namaste" and a bow, then immediately launched into a well-rehearsed explanation and demonstration of block printing.

Having educated us on the process and told us all about the hard-working women who make these fabrics in small villages such as the one he's from (naturally), he led us inside.

The small room was packed with layers and layers of fabric.  We dove in and soon Jason was climbing up counters to find just the right pattern:

while Justin sorted through tablecloths and I was shown sari after sari.  None of the saris were the right colors or patterns I wanted for curtains, and I turned down the salesman's many requests for me to "just try one on!"  I looked over the bolts of fabric that stretched from floor to ceiling all around us, but found no inspiration for curtains.  I did, however, find inspiration when I overheard the salesman trying to convince Justin for the fifth time that he should get a custom-made suit.

I started sorting through the silks and cottons to look for skirt and/or dress material.  Summer's coming, after all, so it's about time for some non-costume sewing projects.  When the salesman saw that my goals had changed, he hopped right on the new sale, complimenting my taste in fabrics at every chance he found.  I was just doing the yardage calculations in my head when he mentioned that they could make me a skirt in two hours.

"Two hours?" I asked.

"Yes," he assured me eagerly.  "Or a dress overnight!"

Custom-made clothes overnight? Why not?  I firmly tucked away the pioneer voices in my head who protested, "You could make these yourself!" and decided to get me some clothes.

After a lot of fabric sorting, some browsing through their catalog of dress designs (which had less variety than promised, given that they were all in the Indian tunic style), and making a couple of sketches for the salesman to explain what I was thinking; I was perched on a stool next to a pile of fabric, waiting for the tailor to measure me.

Eventually, the navy/white one on the far left became a dress, the blue/black a knee-length skirt, and the white/multi-colored floral a flared long skirt.

The tailor was wrapping up with another customer and my salesman drifted back over to Jason and Justin, who had covered the other side of the store with pillow covers in their indecision.  I was flipping through Holi photos on my phone when another store worker sat down next to me.  He had been hovering during my shopping, offering opinions on the fabrics I was considering.  His opinions were not the most useful since they all consisted of, "Very beautiful fabric!  Made even more beautiful by you!" but I was amused by his tactics.

"Where are you from?" he asked, friendly-like.  We started chatting about the usual traveler topics - America?  Where?  Oh, Colorado!  That's near the Grand Canyon, right?  He laid on the charm a bit, but not nearly as much as before.  Nor was it anything like what came next.

"I'm Sattar," he said.  

"Amanda," I responded. 

"You are very beautiful," he said.  "Are you here with your..." he looked over at Jason and Justin, earnestly discussing the merits of a pillow cover with an embroidered gold elephant on it, "...boyfriends?"

"No," I said, "Just friends."

"Ah," he said knowingly.  "Boyfriend back home."


"Husband?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No, no husband," I replied.

"No husband, no boyfriend?" he repeated aghast.  "How can this be?  You are so beautiful!"

I wasn't entirely sure how to respond to that one.  I shrugged.

"You are!" he said, getting more passionate.  "You are so beautiful!  How do you not have a boyfriend?"

"If I knew why, I'd have one," I said with an awkward laugh, really uncertain now how I was supposed to respond to comments like that.  Happily, we were interrupted by the tailor coming to take my measurements.

I was a bit distracted, though, since while the tailor measured me and we held up my fabric choices to my waist to discuss skirt lengths, Sattar stood directly behind the tailor.  Whenever I happened to make eye contact, he'd mouth the words, "Beautiful!  You're so beautiful!" at me with exaggerated deliberateness.

Measurements were taken and pickup arranged, and I rejoined the boys on the other side of the room.  They had wrapped up their purchases as well and were chatting with the original salesman.  I found out later that this chatting was strikingly similar to Jason's conversations with Mose when we visited him and Faye in Chincoteague.  Apparently, the salesman had abruptly launched into some "guy talk" by telling a series of jokes that were so inappropriate, I could only get one of them out of Jason afterwards.

Having finished our fabric shopping and, at least on my part, turned down the 14th offer to try on a sari; the salesman naturally revealed that they also sell spices!  We should come next door and take a look!

Jason and Justin were roped in against their protests.  I had declined the spice tour offer earlier, and oddly, the salesmen didn't push me on it.  I suspect there may have been some behind-the-scenes conspiring, since Jason and Justin were whisked quickly out of the store and I found myself alone with Sattar and the tailor.  

The tailor was busy behind the counter measuring and cutting my fabric.  Sattar flipped over the "Open" sign on the door and circled the room, turning off the main lights.  We were left in a soft yellow glow of the desk lamp where the tailor worked, and Sattar sat down on the couch.  "Come, sit," he said, patting the cushion next to him.  "We'll talk heart to heart."

Feeling a mixture of amusement at the situation and annoyance that Jason and Justin were so oblivious that they didn't even realize they had abandoned me to be seduced by an older man ("Ha!" Jason exclaimed later.  "I didn't even notice!" thus proving once again that any comfort my mother derives from the thought that at least I'm traveling with men who could protect me is woefully mislaid); I sat down on the opposite end of the couch.

"Amanda," he began quite seriously, "I am worried about you."

I raised an eyebrow.

"I can tell that you are very strong here," he tapped his forehead, in between his eyebrows.  "You are very strong in your head chakra, but your heart chakra," he paused, shaking his head in sorrow, "that is very weak."

"Okay..." I said.  "How can you tell?"

"I can tell," he said, looking at me with a c'mon-we-both-know-that-I'm-right kind-of look.  "I can tell that you have been hurt here."  He patted his chest over his heart.

I gave him a c'mon-we-both-know-I'm-not-buying-this kind-of look.

Sattar scooched closer, took my hand, and lowered his voice.  "I can tell that you have been hurt in your heart."  He paused dramatically, looked down at my hand, then back up into my eyes.  "You have been physically intimate with many, many men, and it has hurt your heart."

I bit my lips to keep from laughing out loud and shook my head.

"No?" he asks, confused.

"Nope," I said.

"Ah, then some men.  Your last boyfriend.  You gave yourself to him physically and he hurt you."

"Nope," I said again.  "That didn't happen."

"Then why did you break up?"

I decided, as I often have to do, to stick with the parts of the assumptions that are easiest to explain.  "It just..." I shrugged, "... didn't work."

"Because you were physical with him and with so many other men." He patted my hand sympathetically like the best confidant ever. 

"No..." I said, really starting to wonder what exactly it was about me that gives off such whorish vibes.  Time for cliches.  "We just wanted different things."

 "I don't understand," Sattar said, hurt evident in his expression.  "Why would he let you go?  You are so beautiful!  Why wouldn't any man want you?  They should be lining up for you back home."

Again, this was a comment that I had no idea how to respond to.  Sattar decided to return to his main point.  "Your heart chakra and your head chakra are not in balance," he said, releasing my hand to illustrate his statement with gestures.  "Your heart is full of hurt because you have been physical with many men."  He looked at me for confirmations of his recap.  

I shook my head.  

He tried again.  "Because you were physical with your boyfriend back home?"

I shook my head again.

Guess #3: "He left you because you would not be physical with him?"

"No," I said, starting to wonder what the crap was keeping Jason and Justin.  Were they actually buying the spices?

"You have not been physical with any men?" Sattar asked, sounding the most incredulous yet.  I decided we were done playing Guess My Sex Life.

"How do I fix my heart chakra?" I asked.

"Ah!" Sattar said, straightening up again.  "For this, there is a mantra.  I will tell you this mantra, and you must repeat it every morning.  Can you take one minute for yourself every morning to fix your heart?"

I dutifully agreed that I could, and he insisted that I pull out my phone to write down the mantra.  "Om shani deiwai namah," he repeated, reading my notes over my shoulder to make sure I took it down correctly.  "Repeat this every morning and you will begin to heal.  You can also come back to India to heal. Do you like India?"

I assured him honestly that I did.

"Good," he said.  "You come back to India and you text me and I will take you to my village and will help you heal."

"You'll show me your village?" I asked to clarify.

"You will come to my village and stay with me," he said confidently.

"What about your wife?" I asked.  

He looked surprised.  "My wife?"

"Aren't you married?" I asked, taking a shot.  "You showed me a picture of your son earlier."

He laughed.  "My wife is happy," he assured me.  "You can come to my village."

To my relief, the door opened and the boys came in.  They didn't seem to take any particular notice of the mood lighting or Sattar's proximity to me on the couch.  The salesman gestured for them to sit on the floor and called for their assistant to bring in some tea.  We tried to decline, but we were not getting out of there without tea.

 It was actually very good tea - lemon with the right kind of spices for my taste, and we chatted as a group.  I cannot for the life of me recall what we talked about, probably because I was still trying to figure out what makes me seem so promiscuous.

As we finally began to extract ourselves from the shop, a group photo was called for.  I had my phone out, so I directed the men to group together to get a picture:

From left to right: the tailor, Shiva, Justin, Jason, Sattar, the original salesman, and the assistant

As I checked the photo I had taken, one of the men called out, "Who is the most handsome?"

They laughed, and I shook my head, laughing.  "I can't answer that!"

They called out protests at my dodging until the assistant figured out the right answer and proudly announced - "You!" he gestured at me.  "You are the most handsome!"

The men affectionately ruffled his hair and chuckled at his smoothness.  "Beautiful," Sattar corrected.  "Not 'handsome.'  She is beautiful."

My phone buzzed the next morning over breakfast.  I looked at the screen and snorted.

"What is it?" Jason asked.

"Sattar," I said.  "I made him a contact on WhatsApp in case there's a problem with picking up my clothes."  I showed them my phone.

It buzzed again.

Oh, dear.  I decided to send him the group photo, another reason he insisted we should be contacts.  He was quick to respond:

I ignored the text.  He sent me this:

He sent me my own profile picture.  I was confused, but his next message confused me more:

A bedazzled elephant sleeping on a blue rose?  Okay....

I decided to stick with my plan to ignore the texts.  To my relief, Sattar wasn't there when we picked up the clothing at the shop that afternoon, and soon we were on our way to Agra.  The next morning, my phone buzzed again:

And the next day:

And the day after that:

I started to wonder if he just keeps a slew of "Good Morning" bling photos on his phone.

I continued to ignore his texts, only feeling a little guilty about my disregard of social etiquette.   After all, he's friendly, highly entertaining, and truly seems to have my best interests at heart.

My slutty, slutty heart.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Holi in Jaipur

Many of you very nice people have reminded me that I have yet to blog about India.  "I want to see pictures!" you say.  And so, I give you pictures. Some of my favorite pictures of the trip, since they tell the story of our Holi celebration.  (Because I'm giving myself reasonable expectations for blogging and I am going to go by story priority this time instead of in chronological order.)

For me at least, Holi, the Hindu festival of spring and colors, was the entire reason to go to India over spring break.  It's been on my To Do list for some time, but I just figured I'd wind up playing colors in Utah at some point.  To have the festival align with my break dates was sheer providence, and I wasn't going to pass an opportunity like that up.

If you'd like the tl;dr version of this tale, our Holi experience is pretty much summarized in this clip from our ride around the city:

But if you want the details, by all means keep reading.

We arrived in Jaipur on Wednesday, and our haveli (former mansions turned hotels in India) greeted us with carnations:

Holi is actually a two day festival, with a bonfire and festivities the first night and the color games on the second day.  Our hotel, eager to offer "safe" celebrations for their guests, encouraged us to join in at the bonfire that night.

They greeted us with red and gold thread wristbands, dots of red on our foreheads, and handfuls of popcorn:


It was a fairly tame celebration, and we turned in for the night shortly thereafter.

Thursday morning we donned our Holi clothes and headed out on the town.

It occurred to me that this is an excellent opportunity to pull out my Thai monastery clothes.  We also put the waterproof iPhone cases Jason put in our Christmas stockings to good use.

Problem is, we weren't quite sure how to go about finding festivities.  Our hotel was hosting a Holi celebration that included a buffet lunch and "safe, organic colors."  This sounded unappealing to me.  I didn't want to spend Holi in India behind the garden walls of a hotel surrounded by other tourists.  I wanted to be out in the town!  See the real thing!  Be accosted by and celebrate with strangers!  Warnings from guidebooks, websites, and our hotel hosts be damned, I wasn't going to waste this holiday in sheltered safety.

And frankly, we were absolutely fine.  We met lovely people, had a blast, and aside from some lingering hugs from a few guys and one unexpected enthusiastic groping (which I'll tell you about in a moment) I was not harassed or treated inappropriately in the least.

A big part of the success of the holiday we owe to this guy:

That's Shiva.  We met Shiva when we stepped outside the walls of the haveli and he pulled up in a tuk-tuk.  "You want a driver?" he asked.

We hesitated.  We didn't have a plan yet; which if you know any of us you know means we were all feeling a bit wary, exposed, and overprotective.  Still, this is what I wanted, isn't it?  So let's go for it.

"Sure," we said, climbing in.

"Where to?" Shiva asked.

"We want to see Holi," we said.  And suddenly, we had a plan.  Or at least Shiva did.  He assured us that we were in good hands, put a bit of color on us to get the party started, and we were off.

We drove for all of one block before Shiva stopped next to a group of people at the start of color play.

It was a mix of foreigners and locals, and at least the locals seemed to know Shiva.  He greeted the group as if he was friends with all of them.  The other foreigners seemed a bit shy like us, but they gradually started patting colored powder onto our faces.  Shiva thrust a bag of color into Jason's hands so we could repay the favor, and soon we were exclaiming over the vibrant colors and happy atmosphere.

It wasn't long before Justin broke out those dance skills he honed at BYU:

and even Jason acquiesced to getting messy; although I think his expression in this video shows just how big a concession that was for him:

Soon Shiva suggested we move along, so we waved goodbye to the revelers and hopped back in the tuk-tuk.  

Shiva took us through the city, showing us parts of Jaipur and stopping at one of the many stands to get each of us a bag of color of our own:


He also stopped to get himself the turban he's modeling in that first photo of him.  We didn't buy any of the hundreds of water guns we passed at similar stands, but we did get attention from passing revelers.  They'd point at us, wave, call out "Happy Holi!" and, if we were at a stoplight, they'd hop off their motorcycles to pat color on our cheeks and receive color from us in return.

One fellow sidled up next to me at a stop and asked, "Selfie?"

"Okay," I said, and smiled for his camera.  I held up my phone to indicate wanting a photo of my own.  He nodded enthusiastically, then swooped in:

We heard loud music thumping up ahead and soon came upon a group of men partying.  Shiva pulled the tuk-tuk over and encouraged us to hop out and dance.

Jason and Justin jumped into the crowd, but I hung back to get a few photos.  Well, the photos were mostly an excuse since dancing's always a bit intimidating for me.  Soon Shiva gestured for me to join in, Jason called out to me from the throng, and I reminded myself that I was there to celebrate Holi, dang it.  I tucked my self-consciousness deep down, picked up my skirt, and started dancing.

The men cheered.  It wasn't long before they were taking turns dancing alongside and/or with me.  A few of the braver ones would take my hands or pretend to grind while their friends cheered them on.  One fellow plunked a turban on my head and snapped a few photos of me in his headgear.  Another worked up the courage to stop dancing, hold out his arms and say, "Hug?"  Laughing, I hugged him as the surrounding guys hooted and called out, "Lucky!  Lucky fellow!"  Next thing I knew, they were coming in for hugs from all directions.

We decided to move on not too long after I got an accidental mouthful of color powder.  As I rinsed and spit out bright pink water over and over again, Shiva shook his head and counseled, "When playing colors, eyes closed, mouth closed."

After looping around the city in his tuk-tuk, Shiva invited us to go back to his house to see how the locals celebrate.  He had explained that families all celebrate at home and the public revelry is really just the guys who want to go out and get drunk.  Indeed, we had yet to see any Indian women out in our adventure, so I was eager to see a family celebration.

Shiva is also a liaison for an international volunteer organization, so we swung by their dorms to pick up a teenager from Bogota who's been under Shiva's care for a few months; then headed back towards the hotel to Shiva's neighborhood.

He parked near our haveli, next to the entrance to an alleyway.  There were some other tuk-tuk drivers and tourists there, and after we all did the compulsory color-patting on each other, Shiva led the way between the buildings.

"This is where my family lives," he said cheerfully.

"How many people?" we asked.

"About 1500," he said.

We encountered more and more kids as we went further in, some of whom were brave enough to say, "Happy Holi!" and put a bit of color on the foreigners.

At one point, one of Shiva's friends (cousins?) grabbed my wrist and announced, "Women this way," pulling me into one of the homes.  There I met a group of women who were in the midst of cooking lunch.  They greeted us and we exchanged colors.  The cousin pulled an older woman up from the floor of the house and insisted that we give her some color.  We refused at first, she since was obviously telling him quite sternly that she did not want to get messy, but he told us to do it anyway.  "It's Holi!" he said.  "It's expected!"

I held out my bag of color and the woman dipped her hands in and patted my cheeks green.  I dipped in a finger and brushed a dot onto each of her cheeks.  She beamed at me, then gracefully turned to repeat the ritual with each of the ladies the cousin had pulled inside.

We rejoined the rest of the group and Shiva led us through the maze of dirt paths between cement and pink and white-washed walls to his house.

 Shiva's wife poked her head out of the kitchen when he called a greeting, then came out smiling shyly.  Pros by now, we greeted her with pats of color.  She used our color bags to put a bit of powder on Jason and Justin's cheeks.  She patted my cheeks as well, then grinned cheekily and shoved her hand down my shirt.  "Happy Holi!" she shouted as she flapped her hand between my breasts, covering my stomach and chest with color.  I exclaimed in surprise and had barely caught my breath when she grabbed another handful and lifted up my shirt from the bottom to clap even more powder on my stomach.

By this point, we were certainly colorful messes:

Shiva introduced us to his kids, who ran up to the kid from Bogota and quickly covered him in color.

They obviously knew him well, and when Shiva's daughter came at him with a bowl of muddy-looking colored water, he stopped looking as shy and uncomfortable as we seemed to make him and joined in the fun, grabbed her as they both squealed and giggled:

 Shiva fetched a blanket from inside and spread it on the ground for Jason and Justin to share, then found a small plastic stool for me to sit on.  Shiva's wife came out with a plate of food we passed around and sampled.

The yellow stuff on the right tasted sweet and coconut-y while the nut mix on the left had some kick to it.  Shiva brought out a photo album to show us pictures of his kids, of his family, and of the various travelers he's met.  At every picture of a foreigner, he would tap the photo, tell us his/her name, and proudly announce what country they were from. 

Someone turned on some music and soon the alley was packed with people.

I was chatting with two girls from Australia when a man showed up with a small metal bowl of spicy yellow rice.  The man (Shiva's brother, perhaps?) went to each of us in turn and insisted we try the dish "because it's Holi!"

 Jason got away with taking his sample with his fingers, but the fellow scooped up a big helping with his wee metal communal spoon and pushed it directly into my mouth before I could object.

As the party seemed to be winding down, we excused ourselves to head back to the haveli for a late lunch.  We called out farewells, I was force-fed another spoonful of rice, Shiva walked us back out, and we made plans to meet him again later in the day for another excursion.  We paid him, thanked him, hugged him, and walked to our hotel just down the path.

After the exuberance of the street celebrations, the hotel's affair looked so much the quieter.  We picked up some food from the buffet and took a seat in the large dining tent.

We were certainly not the only tourists covered in powder, but I think we may have had the most layers.

We took turns in the bathroom trying to scrub the color off our hands, but as I ate speckles of red and purple kept falling on my plate from my face. I ate around them the best I could; then figured that if I was going to die of color poisoning, the mouthful of pink from earlier is what would do me in.  (That's homemade cinnamon ice cream in a banana leaf cup Jason's enjoying, btw.)

As forecasted, the celebrations were pretty much wrapped up by then, about 2:00 in the afternoon.  We weren't quite done yet, though.  There were two elephants in the driveway of the hotel, and we were going for a Holi ride, dang it!

The attendants got all three of us up the ladder onto the elephant on the left, and once we were settled we took off for a loop around the driveway.  The attendant took my phone at one point and shot about 600 photos of us on our 8 minute ride.

When the elephant returned to the tent, the attendant instructed Jason and Justin to step on the elephant's head and hop down:

I scooted forward to do the same, but both attendants flapped their hands and insisted I wait.  And so I sat on the elephant waiting.

And waiting and waiting.  It was long enough for me to wonder if they were going to let me get down or if I was going to get a bonus ride.  It was also long enough for both of the elephants to let loose phenomenal amounts of urine, which actually made me glad that I was a good nine feet or so above the splash zone.

Eventually, they brought a ladder to the elephant so I could climb down from my elephant as a lady should.

The hotel had put out giant barrels of water in the garden, so we stopped there on our way to our room to try to get the worst of the powder off.  Justin wasted no time stripping off his shirt and soaking his head.

I meanwhile was a little less sucessful getting the color off:

We took turns in the shower, gingerly avoiding touching anything until we had sloughed off the worst of it all.  Even with a lot of soap and scrubbing, my skin stayed pretty pink.  Well, except for my belly which, thanks to Shiva's wife, stayed pretty green.  It took a couple of days for the pink stains on my face to fade, and my scalp stayed pink long after I got home.

I tossed out my skirt and garments but kept the t-shirt and bra, which I now fondly think of as my Holi bra, streaked with pink, purple, and brown as it is.  Relatively clean, we headed back out to meet Shiva for some shopping, which is a good enough story to merit its own post.

And that was Holi!  It was an absolute delight and one of my favorite things I've ever done while traveling.  I am happy that we didn't stick to the safety of the hotel, and I am really grateful that we met Shiva, since he made the day what it was for us.  It's fun to think that in Jaipur there's a photo album that I'm sure now includes a picture of me, which Shiva will point out to his future guests and say, "This is Amanda.  She is from America."