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March 24, 2000 (Email)
The True Meaning of Holi
(a.k.a., "Forgive Your Friends, Behave Generously,
and Try Not to Get Killed")

OK, it's been a long time. I'm going to try to write this email with some sort of organization so that I'll forget as little as possible. 


I'm sitting in my living room watching the Knicks/Pacers game as I write this. I know I've told you about the big transition which occurred when Kraig moved out and Junee (Virginia) moved in. As if the personnel change wasn't enough, it was at the same time that we inherited a ton of nice, new stuff. Radio/cassette player, rice cooker, blender/coffee grinder, coffee press, dishwasher, mattresses, sheets, pillows, blankets, etc. I paid to have Bill's old TV fixed (2600 Rupees) and to have a cable line spliced in from our family's line. The novelty of having TV again, even with a lousy selection of stations, hasn't worn off yet. I have CNN, BBC, a movie channel, two sports channels, an Australian channel, a Russian channel, and about a dozen identical, interchangeable channels of constant Hindi film music videos (Hindi videos themselves are interchangeable, so these channels are virtually indistinguishable at any given moment). In the few days I've had it (including the day I was holed up alone hiding out from the Holi celebrations - see below) I've watched Stakeout, Stakeout II, Inventing the Abbots, Money Talks, and the Big Lebowski. I visited Sommer at her post in Kalaiya two weekends ago and bought some rugs for our place. One for my room, one for the hallway, and one for Junee's room (my birthday present to her - March 15). They are very much like the rugs we used to have in our bathroom at home -- a collection of vertical lengths of different colored material sewed together. Very cheap, very colorful - just what our drab rooms needed. Oh -- by "dishwasher" I mean that we have begun paying an extra 100 Rupees a month to our family's servant girl (Lolita) to do our dishes. This has freed us up to make tea, coffee, snacks, meals, etc. whenever we want without a care. I hated cooking when Kraig was here because I hated washing dishes in the shower. The family has installed a sink in our kitchen since we started paying Lolita - which makes it even easier to play in the kitchen. Oh, and the inheritance of enough pots/pans/plates/mugs/etc to cook and eat properly (from the various people who have left recently) also helped. Favorite thing to make... brownies and coffee. I think I've told you that I've started drinking coffee. More out of boredom than out of any need to be awake. I hope it doesn't confuse the waitresses when I come back home (four coffees?). I moved Kraig's big bed into my room and put a lot of pillows and a nice new mosquito net on it. Very smart. I've been sleeping well ever since. Junee's entrance was also a catalyst to rearrange. We converted Kraig's room (the largest room) into a sitting room with all the nicest furniture - sofa, chair, table, bench, shelves, desk with TV on top. All arranged in the classic pattern of every rectangular living room in the world. The living room also has windows in two walls, a ceiling fan, and a door to the outside. I wish I could say that all this ventilation makes for a comfortable room, but the fact that our house is a one-story concrete block with a black roof more than counteracts anything we can do to cool it off inside. Also, it's been getting...

I've been sleeping with the windows open and the fan on since mid-February. I've also been trying to bike to work very slowly to minimize how hot and sweaty I get. Trying to keep my eyes closed for as long as I can to how hot it is getting. It's probably only in the 80s, which isn't really that hot. But it's also only March. 

Our family adopted a "guard dog" (puppy) after four bikes were stolen from our back porch several months ago. Well, Kalu ("Blacky") became very sick one day about two weeks ago and stopped eating. She became extremely skinny and disoriented from dehydration. There were two nights in a row where I said good-bye to her because I was sure she wouldn't make it through the night.

It was only at this point that we all realized that she wasn't eating because she couldn't! Some sort of infection in her throat made her unable to use her tongue or swallow properly. Ama (our Nepali mom) took her to the vet (unheard of in Nepal!) whereafter she received a shot every other day for a week. Junee and I started pouring water down her throat. Despite how awkward this must have been, she cooperated fully. She must have been so thirsty. Each day she seemed a little more able to open her mouth and swallow. Junee disappeared for a few days at this point, which left me to nurse Kalu from water to milk to ground up tuna to normal food. It was a very time-consuming, messy process (I won't get into the details), but I feel like I saved Kalu's life. And she loves me now -- she even shuts up when I tell her to, which she never would do before.

A girl named Aba is visiting as part of a women's studies program run through
her college in America.  She, and the other students in her program, are expected to look for volunteer opportunities overseas. Well, she went back to Kathmandu last week to comfort a friend of hers who had gone to India. Her friend hadn't been able to deal with all of the stares, comments, and harassment which is such a central trait of the culture there. Aba herself had been having quite a difficult time. I think it's probably even more difficult for a black person to get by here than a white person.  The few times I went out with her while she was here were very hard for me. It was as if I was re-experiencing the first few frustrating, difficult days of life in Janakpur through another person's eyes. The stares, the rude comments and insults. And she hadn't had the three-month buffer period of training that I had had. I hope she comes back and volunteers at the center -- I liked her a lot. I in her place, though, would stay in Kathmandu and find volunteer opportunities there. I had never heard how difficult it was to travel in New Delhi, Agra, Calcutta, etc. But since coming here, I have heard universal condemnation of India (especially northern India) as a travel destination. 

The last few days have been a holiday known as Holi. No holiday is just one day long in Janakpur. Holi is a Hindi holiday, but nobody seemed to know the exact history behind it. I couldn't allow this to upset me overly much given that for a few days I had been unable to explain the history behind St. Patrick's Day to anyone who asked. ("The day you wear green." seemed a pretty lame explanation after I had done so well explaining the history behind Thanksgiving and Christmas). Well, Holi is the day you forgive your friends and behave generously. In reality, it's also the day when everyone is supposed to drink a lot of alcohol (like St. Patrick's Day) and throw/spray/rub paint on each other. The verb used to describe the observance of Holi is not "observe" or "celebrate", but "play." "Are you going to play Holi?" The morning of Holi was actually very nice. There were a lot of visitors in town, as usual. Sommer, Jill, Abby, Cherie from my group. Annie, Martha, Amanda, Connie from 188.  There were also a large number of Nepali and Indian tourists. We all wore our least necessary clothes and walked into  own around 10:00.  People were very excited to have a chance to paint white people, but were also somewhat tentative and polite -- hesitating before they smeared us with paint to make sure we wouldn't react badly.  The most fun episode of the day occurred at lunch as we sprayed people on the street from the balcony of the Rajastan restaurant with our just purchased water pump-guns full of dyed water. The Hindi-speaking restaurant staff seemed relatively sober as they ran back and forth charading orders and ensuring that we had a constant supply of watered down paint on hand. The crowd of people which invariably gathered on the street cheered as two brave souls stealthily scaled the wall and threw pitchers of pink paint over the railing onto us.  When I left the restaurant at around 2:00 is when things took a bad turn. 

I was, stupidly, the only one of us on a bike. When the crowd became unruly, I was somehow separated from the two people I had left the restaurant with. A group of about 20 kids surrounded me and took my bike, so I couldn't make a run for it like my friends did. After a while, I finally was able to regain my bike and get off the street, but not before I was kicked in the back, punched in the jaw by a drunk teenager with silver paint all over his face, pushed around, insulted, had my arm twisted and my shirt torn off. Oh, the group also broke my bike lock and the hat and water gun I had just bought. The twisted arm is the only thing that still hurts. The situation was scary because of how bad I knew it could get more so than because of how bad it actually ever became. In a way, I'm proud of how I handled myself in the melee -- but it would also have been nice to degrade myself and get into a fight. Me against 20 drunk Nepali teenagers would have been a close call.  I had never been hit quite like this in the past, so at least now I know what it feels like. I guess I've learned that I can take a hit pretty well. It made my head jerk back a few inches when it happened, of course, but afterwards I made a point not to rub my jaw, step backwards, or do anything that would make it appear as though I had been hurt. I thought doing so would just encourage the silver boy. I simply slowly turned my head towards the boy and gave him a disappointed look. He must have thought I was made of iron (I think he had hit me as hard as he could). He freaked out and took off. It did hurt, though. 

Everybody else, including Junee and her friend James (visiting from Boston!) had left Janakpur (as planned) by the next morning. I stayed holed up in my house alone for the next two days with my TV, kool-aid, and some cans of tuna.

What else....

The Pacers won.

The new manager at the Women's Center is Shradha. She is from Kathmandu, fresh out of college, and somewhat difficult to deal with. She seems absolutely convinced that she knows what she's doing, is perfectly capable of handling the job, and doesn't need any help. Very unfortunate state of mind to have in her situation. I'm hoping she'll come around in time.

Still playing a lot of cribbage. I taught Junee the game when Kraig left and now we play as much as I played with Kraig in the past.

School has been pathetic lately. Between the Holi holiday, my headsir's son's wedding, and wedding season in general nobody seems to feel the need to come to school anymore. I haven't seen my headsir more than a couple times in the past month. My class size has dropped to around seven over the past few weeks. I've taken to playing chess and singing songs more than teaching math. Very disillusioned, but having a good time. 

I should be in Kathmandu on Saturday night (my time). I may be joining Junee and James on a quick trek before All-Vol. After All-Vol and a 189 conference I'm going to a micro-enterprising conference with a counterpart from the center (Junee is also coming with another counterpart from the center). I'm not sure what we'll do there, but it's a week long and I know a lot of people on the Peace Corps staff (including Mary Lou) take an interest in our organization. If we're smart, we'll take advantage of the situation somehow.

I had the women make 200 mugs with Maithili designs and the Peace Corps logo for retail sale at the All-Vol conference, with the profits being split between the center and the Women in Development organization. The same thing was done last year.

Time for bed. I'll call this weekend.


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