Friday, September 12, 2014

New sights in India

Whenever I travel, people keep telling me to take lots of pictures. It makes sense some of the time, but a lot of the places I've had to travel to for work in the past few years have been the same places over and over again, and so there really isn't much to see that's new anymore. In India, for example, there are only so many photos of cows in the street or rickshaws or people hanging off trains or scooters that you can take before it becomes redundant, so I find I usually take a lot fewer photos than I used to. But whenever I get to go somewhere new, my shutter-happy finger takes off again, and I find myself wanting to snap a shot of everything I see, almost.

Rolling hills of tea plantations
This is what happened in Ooty. I arrived in the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, the first time I had been to that city and state before. From Coimbatore, you take about a 3 hour drive up to the city of Ooty, a hill station in the Nilgiri mountains. It's a beautiful road, and we set off in mid-afternoon for the drive. By the time we were heading up into the hills, dusk had started to fall and a full moon was coming out over the valley between the steep hills of Nilgiri tea plantations. The area is not that heavily populated, so you could see the stars in the sky, different constellations than what I get to see at home, and we passed various kinds of wildlife I'm not using to seeing, like baboons and a bison. I couldn't get photos of those, unfortunately, because they were on the wrong side of the road, and it was dark--and the darkness is dangerous because the road is quite narrow with several hairpin turns, and visibility is poor, so my chances of getting hit if I went out would have been huge, plus who wants to get out with wild monkeys around? It's just not safe!

In any case, the city and drive there and back are spectacular. Apparently you can take a train, too, which I imagine would be just as scenic and enjoyable, as long as you can stand the windy roads or tracks. The British established this city because the air is cool and fresh on account of the altitude, and some of the schools I visited were founded before Canada even became a country. Life there seems more tranquil and a lot less chaotic than in the large metropolises I normally go to. It looks like India, but you can see the British influence there more than in some other parts, perhaps, and you'll see more horses and donkeys just roaming about. I was also surprised to see a group of people riding English style down a street as well, properly attired and everything. That's not something you see everywhere in India!

Scenes around Ooty
Near to Ooty is a tiger reserve, and you can see elephants (in fact, there was an elephant crossing sign on the road from Ooty back to Coimbatore, though I don't know how they would get around the steep slopes), and other types of interesting wild animals--staying in your car, of course, like any safari in Africa. I wish I could have had time to go, but unfortunately, when you're travelling for work, you can't do stuff like that all the time.  I did, however, buy some tea as well as some sandalwood and eucalyptus oils, which are much cheaper there than anywhere because they produce it. And I bought some chocolate. For some reason, there are handmade chocolates for sale all over the city, and after tasting a free sample, I was surprised how tasty it was and bought some small packages from bulk to take home and share.

It's a beautiful trip, and the air and cleanliness reminded me of home. I guess I'm feeling a little homesick, too, so it made me start counting down the days until I'm home. Just one more week!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Battling Bangladesh

There are a number of battles here: climate, traffic, the dense population, politics, economics, and who knows what other battles go on.

The climate is hard if you don't like heat and humidity, but even if you do, and you're from here, you might be a farmer losing your crops to the severe flooding that has plagued a number of regions in this tiny but densely packed country. My flight made a stopover in Sylhet in the north (by the way, I've been advised never to fly Biman Bangladesh again for a variety of reasons! haha), and flying into the city, I couldn't figure out how there could be a city there, much less a runway--or even how anyone found enough dry land to live on because there was so much water. I know that there is lots of rice grown here, but people still need to sleep on something dry so they have enough strength to harvest it! To the north of Sylhet are some beautiful hills, and a wide river with silt and sand spreads out into these floodplains, if indeed, that's what they are. A lot of really well-to-do looking British citizens of Bangladeshi heritage got off here in Sylhet, which surprised me. I thought for sure they would be headed to Dhaka. Again, not much land to live on here, so I was surprised this was their destination. I've been told that there are lots of ties between this city and England and that a lot of the students from this city will go to do their higher studies in the UK. I'm not sure what the historical relationship is, but it's worth finding out.
It's not surprising to me that there have been predictions of Bangladesh slipping completely under water and climate change raises ocean levels. Where will these millions of people in the most densely populated country in the world go? Who will take them, or will it just be the rich that get out, and the rest drown because they were born poor? It's not a pleasant thought, and the prospect brings tears to my eyes.

Upon arrival at the airport, I had to wait a bit as I had opted to do the visa on arrival. I wish more countries would have this, although I suppose it would mean longer line-ups and waiting, as opposed to just sending in everything to an Embassy or Consulate and then having them send it back to you. No line-ups there, except for at the post office where you need to buy your courier envelopes. There were some Chinese travellers ahead of it, but they were at least all in one group, so that helped in a way because it wasn't a separate application process for each one. By the time I sifted through that, I thought for sure my luggage would be waiting for me. I'm sure I had taken at least 45 minutes to come out from immigration by the time all the processing was through. When I got to the baggage claim belt, it wasn't even moving, and luggage was yet to surface! I probably waited at least 15 minutes more. A young guy waiting near me said "Finally", when the conveyer belt started moving, "you have to wait at least an hour for the luggage to come out. So frustrating, but still we come!" I guess he was a local that had moved away, but it gave me a chuckle. The weird part is that once it started coming, it was so sparse. They emptied 3 separate truck loads, and the luggage came out so slowly. Finally mine came, and I was on my way to meet the hotel shuttle waiting for me.

When I met the hotel shuttle greeter, he told me we would have to wait a bit before we leave because of the hartal. Did I mention that yet, that there was a strong possibility there would be violent protests known as hartal upon my arrival? That was just great timing. The last few trips I've taken, some sort of natural disaster occurred. In light of there not being one this trip, I guess I had to have a man-made disaster of a sort. Thankfully it was short-lived, and I could accomplish the rest of my work tasks here, but things were looking pretty iffy at one point. Our shuttle couldn't arrive too soon--as we neared the hotel, a group of protesters were making their way down the road, and if we had arrived even a minute later, we might have had to wait for the parade to pass before we were able to even get into the hotel. I was thankful we could get in right away. I had already been travelling for nearly 29 hours by the time we reached the hotel. There were threats of it happening again two days after I arrived, but I'm glad it didn't end up coming to fruition. Once was enough for me!

One of the things I love about Dhaka is the colourful decoration of the rickshaws. I saw a great book on them at one of the school libraries a couple of years ago, and unfortunately I can't find anything like it at home. The book must have been a local publication. I was so disappointed. They're much prettier than anywhere else I've seen them, so I wanted to have some sort of keepsake with them. Oh well! I was able to get a somewhat decent photo of some of them. I took another couple of random street shots, one of which was to highlight what the buses look like there. Most of them look like they will fall apart at any moment and look like pieces of scrap metal welded together. One of the colleagues I was with told me they might be made from re-purposed ship materials as there was a huge shipping industry there, so we're not sure. Only we agreed that the buses looked frightening.

One thing I really wish is that I could speak the local language so I could go out and do more things. It's not really a tourist location by any means, so it's difficult to get around, and a person could probably get lost easily in such a large, populated, chaotic place. I don't really feel like I've got to know the country or the city. I just stay there and work. I'm in India now. I arrived this evening, but I already can't wait to get back home again. Even in India, I'm in some new cities, and even now being in Kolkata, though I've been here before, I still won't really have time to see anything, I don't think. It's all work and no fun!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Poetry from Swaziland part 6 (final poem)

Gugu Mdluli
November 18, 2011 at 1:53pm
Shelling ears of mealies 
Long dried, far from their vast green

Ping-pinging kernel after kernel
Into a red-petaled enamel basin.

Absent fingers churn out
Thought-images of hot weeks in December
spent among trees and grasshoppers.
Sing-song sashays through sibilant grass.

Ticking and tocking memories
Flicking them one after the other
Into one waiting bowl.

Time held in cobs and rows -
A stuttering trance
Of dusty barefoot days
at my grandmother's.

Guava trees wild, yellow-green
Climbed, raided.
The glorious return home with the biggest, juiciest,
yellowest of the fruit.

An isolated patch of cropped, cool grass
from which we watched night fall -
the leisurely sinking of the sun, beyond those dry hills.
Then star-studded blackness.

The long, wistful howling of mongrel dogs
with forgotten names and old eyes

Slow SiSwati stories. A candle
burns until dawn.
A mass of skimny limbs tangled - the owners picked off by sleep
one by one.

Tick, ping, tock, ping
Shelling mealies.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Poetry from Swaziland part 5

Gugu Mdluli
November 18, 2011 at 1:19pm
he sees nothing strange
in the undiluted warmth that -
when in my mind images dance
of his lollipop-delicious mouth -
traverses my vein-rivers red
and visits my sky blue summers.

awed but not unmanned
by my smiling brown stare
that -
in unbottled wonder -
says every day:
i adore you.

he is for me.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Poetry from Swaziland part 4

Tableau: driving past a parlour
Gugu Mdluli
August 2, 2011 at 3:27pm
In a staggering line, they walk
An Asian mob of about 8 men
Tightly knit
Arm-in-arm almost.
A tableau,
apart from the clamouring train of traffic
beyond the wall.
Grave, they walk.
Disarmed by

The little middle-aged woman
Newly barren
Among men.

She, her face a furious red
With the force of her bewildered
Tears. Worldless. She
Grips for life the hands nearest to hers.

The little band soldiers on

A crumbling mother and her 8-man buttress
Stagger to the line of waiting cars.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Poetry from Swaziland part 3

Talk to you (Lil' darlin) Talib Kweli & Bilal
Gugu Mdluli
April 26, 2011 at 2:25pm (typos original)
I want you, 'cause you make my heart skip the beat that it drum to
I want to be the one you run to, when pain confronts you
You're everything, sometimes I get nervous when I'm in front you
You can hear it in my voice when I ask you if you comfortabl

Look how love do, I'd practice the Art of War for you like Sun Tzu
Come through and arouse you every morning like the sun do
If you blackout and collapse I want to help you to come to
Notice I haven't yet gotten to what I want from you

I want you to come to when I come through and make you shine like the sun do
I want you to be the valley for my river to run through
You're everything, send your soul through your lips to my heart
Sweet music will start I want you to be the muse for my art

When people try to rip us apart we got to work to stay together
Go through the seasons of love and never change with the weather
This is my wish list, what I want not what I need there's a difference
These days I'm learning that words got power so I'ma be specific

Can I have a talk with you?
Can I make a dream come true?
Can I be in love with you?
'Cause I would if I could

Yeah sunflower
You must live in the infinite blackness that exists when I close my eyes
I see you when I fall asleep, I see you when I dream

Lil' darlin'
Set your soul on fire