Thursday, November 30, 2006

Blood and Bugs

This morning, while preparing breakfast, the innevitable happened. Ananya fell off the rickety stairs to our loft and bit all the way through her lip. Blood was gushing everywhere. Fortunately we were able to quickly stop the bleeding with a diaper (a clean cloth one), and Ananya was anxious to return to her maniacal roaming ways.

Bruno, our lovely Italian host, drove us, all disheveled in our early morning state, to the "hospital" - well actually it was a bunch of huts for the disabled who were instructed by a sign to "live life free and happily"; anyway the place does have a doctor on call. We got there and did what one normally does at the doctors office -- we waited. Fortunately Ananya's teeth were so sharp they made a nice "perfect" clean incision. The doctor said there was no need for stitches and that it should heal quickly.

While we're on the topic of medical issues, the mosquitos here are hardcore, and for some reason the kids' bites get all huge and puss filled. Innevitably they scratch at them until they pop and gush goo all about. We have been obsessively applying lotions and spray like neurotic western parents do when newly arrived to the tropics from a bug free zone. Last night a Swedish couple arrived at our place with their 3 year old daughter. They have been here for 2 months -- both Ameen and I were horrified yet slightly comforted (since our kids look totally tame by comparison) by the sight of their daughter's arms and legs -- completely covered in huge red bites. This reminds me, I've never quite understood why westerners so idealize the tropics. I can count the number of bug bites I've received in Seattle in the past 25 years of life on 1 hand -- a number that's an order of magnitude larger here in less than a week. Ah well, our days in Kerala, and nights huddled in the mosquito net, are coming back to us.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Evil Eyes

If I ever drop out of life and go back to grad school, I think it will be to study cultural anthropology with a dissertation having something to do with the nearly universal presence of the "evil eye." For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, I wrote a bit about the evil eye and its presence in India.

In Punjab we do things like put little black marks behind our kids ears so "nazar na lug ja ve" (they look doesn`t get them). We have some Greek friends, who will spit (well sort of a fake spit) if anyone says something like "wow what a beautiful child you have." The theory goes, in Punjab and I suppose in Greece as well, that you have to do or mark something ugly to ward off the presence of the eye whenever the temptation of vanity is near. Well interestingly, here in Oaxaca, they seem to have an almost opposite tradition. Instead of protecting a child from the eye, the "looker" has to be protected.

We were lounging at a local cafe on the beach when a nice gentleman from Oaxaca city remarked on how cute our kids were. I was waiting for Ameen to spit, or one of us to grab a black pen. Neither of us moved due to the heat and comfortable positions we were in. I did manage to mutter something in my mind (I don`t realy believe in all this, but I figure the cost of complying is so low, and the even remotely hypothetical cost of not complying is, well, so high). Anyway, this man went on to explain that in the local tradition, if they see a cute child, they have to touch the child, otherwise, they need to go to a local witch doctor, and have him swirl some eggs (I think thats what I heard) around in circles and do something else I couldn`t understand but I think it involved smoke. Of course we granted him permission to touch the kids so as to spare him all the witch doctor effort.

Nayan played along well enough, but Ananya started screaming and ran under the table. We all laughed. Since then, I´ve noticed a lot of roaming beach seller types smile at me and tap the kids non chalantly on the head.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Yoga Man Sensations, Positive Vibrations, Yeah

Well its a big day in blog-land. It seems Blogger has finally upgraded me to the new Beta. I have no idea if it will work, since everything in this computer is in Spanish, and as everyone may know by now, my Spanish is non existent. Nonetheless, my blind clicking seems to have lead me to a new interface.

Today was an interesting day. I woke up, wandered down the beach a few miles, in search of ¨The Yoga Place.¨ I should mention some qualifiers. I´m not much of a yoga guy. 7 years ago, my wife dragged me to a drop in yoga place in the U-District. We were waiting in the sweaty-feet-stenched hallway with a naked, except for a leopord skin speedo, yoga man with a big afro stairing at me from his safe paper poster home. The site of this poster freaked me out. Fortunately I was able to concince Ameen that proceeding with the whole yoga thing was clearly a bad idea in light of this horrific oppressive image. Ever since that day, I´ve been leary of yoga types, with their tight stretchy pants, and perfect posture. So anyway, after Ameen booted me out the door, to ¨go fix my back¨ (I´ve been whining about it for years) while wandering down the beach, I realized I had no idea where this place was. In my early morning wisdom, I started to follow stretchy-pant-perfect-posture people that arrived out of no where. Sure enough I made it there.
So to the uninitiated, yoga pretty much sucks. It involves all the pain of climbing your mountain bike to the top of a peak without the added bonus of an hour plus lush single track adrenaline rush filled descent. Not only do you have all this pain, but it´s in particularly bizarre parts of your body. Apparently the woman here is some sort of Dutch yoga-God that attracts foreigners from all over the planet. Sadly for me, this meant I was the only clueless one in severe pain. I was determined to never come back, but alas, yoga-woman walked over to me and by simply looking at me for 10 seconds, proceeded to detail the location, cause and solution for my back pain, hand pain, neck pain, and every other geek-posture induced problem from the past 10 plus years of my life. She also ordered me to come back every day I´m here so she can correct the wrongs the modern-evil-computer-life has given me. Between her and my wife, I´m afraid I´ll probably be back.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cabanas in Zipolite

Life: After an all night plane ride with stops through Thanksgiving-crowd filled airports, we finally touched down in lovely, inviting, and most importantly -- sunny and warm -- Huatulco airport. We left Seattle in the cold dark of night with snow in the forecast, and arrived here with sweat-on-brow and many layers of clothing to peel off.

My friend Matt (locally referred to as Mateo) picked us up at the airport. Its a very rustic town with the distinct Bohemian hippy vibe of places I´ve travelled to like Dahab in Egypt, Arambala in Goa - most traveller types have seen similar towns. There are no ¨normal¨ tourist types or infrastructure anywhere, in fact, with all the tension in the capital of Oaxaca city, there are very few travellers of any type. Nonetheless things are peaceful here, and we´re settling into a daily routine of meeting Matt´s many friends, playing at the beach, sipping local beverages, and most deliciously, savoring the very fine Italian cuisine here.

There are many Italians who have settled in Zipolite, and hence, there are many tasty wood fired pizzas to savor. According to a woman that hangs out at our hotel place, this (the presence of many Italians in Latin America) is because Italians grow up getting sent to the beach with their relatives as children and they identify with a Catholic country. Not sure exactly how all that stitches together, or whether I understood it all through my reliance on 8th grade Latin and 12th grade French to understand the blend of English, Spanish and Italian communicating it, but it sounds like the basis for an interesting theory.

Hopefully I´ll be able to upload some photos soon. Unfortunately we have no electricity at our cabinas, with the exception of a few solar powered bulbs, and my laptop battery is now dead since we stayed up watching Shrek last night all cuddled under the shelter of our mosquito net.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mr. Macaca's Thumped. Democrats take Senate

Politics: Yesterday's news got even better today. Mr. Macaca, also known as George Allen, according to the New York Times, will be conceding sometime today. This means, the Democrats have a senate majority, and are now totally in charge of Congress. Here's a snippet:

Many election analysts concluded that Senator Allen was unlikely to close the roughly 7,000 vote margin separating him from Mr. Webb, who has already claimed victory. And the Associated Press, a widely accepted authority for calling elections, agreed on Wednesday with Mr. Webb, declaring Mr. Allen, a Republican, the loser. A Webb victory gives the Democrats control of the Senate, with 51 seats.

A senior Allen adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said on Wednesday that if the margin did not narrow significantly, Mr. Allen would not challenge the result.

“He has no intention of dragging this out,” the adviser said.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Well the Sun is out, and its a bright day for Democrats

Politics: I remember the crisp November day vividly, it was 1994, I had recently finished graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, and I was driving straight to work in Chicago after a weekend of visiting friends in Madison. It was a long empty highway at 7AM, just me, NPR, and a few meandering cows in the Wisconsin countryside. For a hard core Democrat like myself at the time, the news was truly depressing. Newt Gingrich and his cohorts were giddy after having swept Democrats off the map nearly everywhere. I was shocked and revolted at the thought of Newt and his gang decimating the country.

Well after 12 long years of tiresome, frustrating, and downright skanky GOP incompetance, the Congress is back in more sane hands. While I can't say I love Democrats anymore, and in fact, I even hate the GOP less now than before, it still feels pretty good to actually win. Finally, we Dems can hold our heads up, and not be scared at the mere mention of the words: Karl Rove, and most importantly, the word Democrat today, is no longer synonymous with the word loser. Its indeed a time to celebrate. One of my hardcore lefty friends (the kind that just starts swearing up a storm if you even mention the word Bush) said he spent all night standing on his couch singing the Star Spangled Banner. I too am feeling so patriotic today.

While writing this, I also just got word that we took Montana, and are leading in Virginia. Looks like Dems are going to have it all! And to top it off, Donnie Rumschmuck just checked out. Oh yes, the sun is out in Seattle today, the sky is popping through, and even if the election machines are tampered, we still won!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rain Rain Rain Rainy Darkness

Life: Well its raining again here in Seattle. Its been raining a lot. Its starting to flood out along the riverbanks, as it does every year this time of year. Its also dark. As I stare out my window, I see dark clouds hanging over the city, unyielding rain, cars rumbling by with their head lights on, and the sound of pools of water shooshed away momentarily by each passing car. Its that time of year when the weather drives people to jump off the Aurora bridge. Which reminds me, the other day a friend of mine told me a bizarre, sad, and macabre story.

He has a little boat that he tools around Lake Union with. He was under the Aurora bridge, relaxing, when he heard a huge explosion only a few feet away from him. Startled, he scanned around, and saw a number of people gathering on the shore, all crouching and pointing next to him. He looked over, and saw a big bloated woman. A police boat showed up, the two of them hauled the woman's body on board. The cop informed him that this is a known phenomenon here in suicidal Seattle. An unsettling tidbit of knowledge imparted to my friend by the policeman: apparently women always jump into the water, whereas men always jump onto the land.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Happy Birthday Nayan

I remember mountain biking at Tiger Mountain with my wife. It was a warm, sunny, midsummer day -- the day after a crisp rain. We had just started our ride, and uncharacteristically, Ameen said she didn't feel like riding that day. I smiled, nodded, and cruised off into the woods with Maya (our chocolate lab).

A couple days later, with my dear wife grinning and watching, I opened a little card informing me that one of the 3 greatest joys in my life (my wife and daughter being the others) was to be born in a mere 6 months.

My amazing son is 5 today. 5 years ago I was holding a tiny little baby and so amazed by the miracle of life God gifted me. The moment I first held Nayan, I assumed my son would stay tiny and in my arms forever. Well now my jaan is tough and tall; I struggle to haul him up to his bed when he's fallen asleep in the car. Nayan is strong willed, articulate, creative (like his mother), loving, intellectually curious, a great listener (when it matters), and an all around energetic ball of joy. Needless to say, I am the proudest father in the world today.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Soldier's Thoughts

I ran across a truly spectacular blog called A Soldier's Thoughts which really deserves to be published in a book. It's Marine Sgt Zachary Scott-Singley's first hand accounts of his life in Iraq as an arabic translator. His writing is powerful; I wish every politician would read this daily. Here's a snippet from one of the best months in his archive; I can't bear to break up his post, so I've posted it in its entirety here. I hope he doesn't mind. Its a post titled: It was still dark...

It was still dark. I got dressed in that darkness. When I was ready I grabbed an MRE (meal ready to eat) and got in the truck. I was going to go line the truck up in preparation for the raid we were about to go on. The targets were three houses where RPG attacks had come from a few days prior. Sitting there in that darkness listening to the briefing on how we were to execute the mission, I let my mind wander from the briefing and said a prayer. "Just one more day God, let me live one more day and we will go from there..." It was the same prayer I said every day because every day I did the same thing. I left the base. With a small team I would go out each day on different missions. I was their translator.

There were different people to meet each day. There were some who would kill you if they could. They would look at you and you could see the hate in their eyes. I also met with people who would have given me everything they owned. People, that were so thankful to us because we had rid them of Saddam. Well, this day was not really much different from all those other days so far. After the briefing we all got into our assigned seats and convoyed out to the raid site. I was to go in directly after the military police that would clear the building.

The raid began without a hitch. Inside one of the courtyards of one of the houses, talking to an Iraqi woman checking to see if her story correlated with what the detained men had said), I heard gunfire. It was automatic gunfire. Ducking next to the stone wall I yelled at the woman to get inside her house, and when the gunfire stopped I peeked my head around the front gate. I saw a soldier amongst the others who was pulling rear security by our vehicles. This soldier I saw was still aiming his M249 (a fully automatic belt fed machine gun) at a black truck off in the distance. His was the weapon I had heard.

I ran up near his position and overheard the Captain in charge of the raid asking what had happened and why had this soldier opened fire. The soldier kept his weapon aimed and answered that he was sure he had seen a man holding an AK-47 in the back of the black truck. I was amongst the four (along with the soldier who had fired on the black truck) who had been selected to go and see what was up with that truck.

We were out of breath when we got to the gun-truck nearest to the black civilian truck(a gun-truck is a HUMMWV or sometimes called a Hummer by civilians, with a .50 caliber machine gun on its roof). There was a group of four Iraqis walking towards us from the black truck. They were carrying a body. When I saw this I ran forward and began to speak (in Arabic) to the man holding the body but I couldn't say a word.

There right in front of me in the arms of one of the men I saw a small boy (no more than 3 years old). His head was cocked back at the wrong angle and there was blood. So much blood. How could all that blood be from that small boy? I heard crying too. All of the Iraqi men standing there were crying and sobbing and asking me WHY? Someone behind me started screaming for a medic, it was the young soldier (around my age) who had fired his weapon. He screamed and screamed for a medic until his voice was hoarse and a medic came just to tell us what I already knew. The boy was dead. I was so numb.

I stood there looking at that little child, someone's child (just like mine) and seeing how red the clean white shirt of the man holding the boy was turning. It was then that I realized that I had been speaking to them; speaking in a voice that sounded so very far away. I heard my voice telling them (in Arabic) how sorry we were. My mouth was saying this but all my mind could focus on was the hole in the child's head. The white shirt covered in bright red blood. Every color was so bright. There were other colors too. The glistening white pieces of the child's skull still splattered on that so very white shirt. I couldn't stop looking at them even as I continued telling them how sorry we were.

I can still see it all to this very day. The raid was over there were no weapons to be found and we had accomplished nothing except killing a child of some unknowing mother. Not wanting to leave yet, I stayed as long as I could, talking to the man holding the child. I couldn't leave because I needed to know who they were. I wanted to remember. The man was the brother of the child's father. He was the boy's uncle, and he was watching him for his father who had gone to the market. They were carpenters and the soldier who had fired upon the truck had seen someone holding a piece of wood and standing in the truck bed.

Before I left to go back to our base I saw the young soldier who had killed the boy. His eyes were unfocused and he was just standing there, staring off into the distance. My hand went to my canteen and I took a drink of water. That soldier looked so lost, so I offered him a drink from my canteen. In a hoarse voice he quietly thanked me and then gave me such a thankful look; like I had given him gold.

Later that day those of us who had been selected to go inspect the black truck were filling reports out about what we had witnessed for the investigation. The Captain who had led the raid entered the room we were in and you could see that he was angry. He said, "Well this is just great! Now we have to go and give that family bags of money to shut them up..." I wanted to kill him. I sat there trembling with my rage. Some family had just lost their beautiful baby boy and this man, this COMMISSIONED OFFICER in the United States Army is worried about trying to pay off the family's grief and sorrow. He must not have been a father, otherwise he would know that money doesn't even come close... I wanted to use my bare hands to kill him, but instead I just sat there and waited until the investigating officer called me into his office.

To this day I still think about that raid, that family, that boy. I wonder if they are making attacks on us now. I would be. If someone took the life of my son or my daughter nothing other than my own death would stop me from killing that person. I still cry too. I cry when the memory hits me. I cry when I think of how very far away I am from my family who needs me. I am not there just like the boy's father wasn't there. I pray every day for my family's safety and just that I was with them. I have served my time, I have my nightmares, I have enough blood on my hands. My contract with the Army has been involuntarily extended. I am not asking for medicine to help with the nightmares or for anything else, only that the Army would have held true to the contract I signed and let me be a father, a husband, a daddy again.


Sgt Zachary Scott-Singley

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Candy, Candy, Candy -- I Can't Let You Go

Life: The morning after Halloween, and I see my two littl'ns hiding underneath the desk in the office, quitely shoveling candy into their mouths as fast as they can. Normally very protective of his "stuff", I asked Nayan, my 4 year old son, why he let Ananya (our 1.5 year old daughter) in on the action. The answer: "So she wouldn't scream." Of course -- how I could I miss that.
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