A little extra care.

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On Sunday I made community lunch, but first I had to shop. I bought 10 kgs of mountain rice, eight cabbages, a whole bunch of vegetables, and toor dal (to make sambar.) I need coconut, so after I bought everything else, I drove over to the coconut shop to pick up some fresh grated coconut.

Leaf told me about this shop when I thought there was no more fresh grated coconut in town, and I had despaired over it. The man who used to do it in the market shut his operation down. What to do? But then she told me about this place.

It’s a sort of warehouse-y home, with a collection of family members of all ages. I never know who belongs to whom. There are some babies, some women around my age who know everything about me (where I live, how many children I have, but they exaggerate how long I’ve been here—”10 years!” they say) and a few snoozing older men and women in cane reclining chairs.

On Sunday, however, only one person was there; one of the old men. I sat down to wait after I told him that I needed a kilo and a half of ground coconut. After a moment at the machine, he brought me a pot of coconut water and told me to drink it.

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“How should I drink it?” I asked, looking around for a cup or a straw.

“Just like that,” he said. “Out of the pot.”

So I did. I drank and drank and drank. It was from mature coconut, nearly like water, not as flavorful as young coconut. But I was thirsty, and it was good, and I drank about half the pot. When he was ready with my grated coconut, I stood to go, and he told me about the benefits of coconut water. “It’s good for your liver, your stomach, and all of your insides. It prevents cancer. It keeps you strong. (He popped his muscles for me.) It keeps you young. I am eighty-one years old!”

I told him that he looked remarkably young and strong. I went to pay and leave.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Drink all of it.”

So I stood there and drank the rest while he watched, and when I was done, he nodded in approval.

It had been a more difficult kind of morning, one filled with self doubt and recrimination.

But God knew that I needed someone to extol the benefits of coconut water to me, and then make me drink a liter and a half of it, for my health. I needed some extra care, and that day, it came in the shape of a old man and a very large pot of coconut water. 

Aiming to miss the ground.

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This time it was Leafy. It often is. The spark of joy that reminds me of something like a blue sky, or a bird diving, or a nap on a quiet afternoon.

Kenya and I were sketching at the table and Leafy was rambling on about superpowers. He straps a compass to his arm. Says, “If only I could learn to fly, I could get anywhere with this. It would be the coolest to have the superpower of missing things. Then I could just aim at the ground and miss!” 

He gets up and runs toward the gate, as though he will try to launch.

Just being around him makes me feel more peaceful. 

He is creativity unfettered. 

***

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Grandma

Leafy and his Great-Grandma, just before he turned two. 

Leafy and his Great-Grandma, just before he turned two. 

It was nearly a month ago that my grandmother died at the age of ninety. I wrote this poem for her. 

Grandmother

I remember water.
A lake, to be precise, 
a clear one, large, but not so large that we couldn’t see the other shore.
I was twelve years old.
My grandmother was thigh deep,
wearing her bathing suit, a one piece,
the kind of old woman who swam
in the cold, clear water of a Canadian lake. 
The cousins and my sister and brother and I rowed a canoe out.
We found a small rocky island, 
and it was like we were the first who had ever been there,
we clambered onto it, lay on the sunny rocks
fell asleep and woke up burned by the sun
red as flames

I remember the canoe making its way through the rushes
thigh deep, my grandmother laughing with my mother
and later, consoling us
when a water snake decided to swim alongside
without our permission.
It came onto the land
“Don’t worry, it’s harmless,”
my grandmother said, and I wouldn't be surprised if
she whispered the same to the snake:
“Don’t worry, they’re harmless."
 

There were leeches in the pools, mosquitoes in the dusk.

I remember water.

I remember the screened-in porch of the cottage,
sitting together, books and old magazines
afghans and the smell of warm wood,
My grandmother playing checkers with me.
Rain came one night and dashed itself against the wood boards 
of the little cottage
but we were dry inside, towels strung everywhere
from the day’s swimming. 

“King me,” she said. 
And I did.

A Writer's Dream

I'm sitting in my new office on my front porch, watching the sky turn pink, swatting away mosquitoes. It's hot and humid already and the sun isn't even up, and I have a to do list as long as the little lane we live on. Most of the things on my to do list include scrubbing mold, in the heat, so what I'd really like to do is share one more moment from Varanasi with you.

This one I'll share as a story.

Back in our friend's courtyard, an old friend stopped by. I'll call him G Baba. I hope it's not too presumptuous to call him an old friend, since I've never really spent as much time with him as I'd like to. But he's in the family, so to speak, he's great friends with Brendan and Leaf and Ute, and we go way back, to the time that I stayed in Varanasi for a few months, almost eleven years ago.

He came by, and I made chai, and we sat and chatted for a while, while the kids skippered around us  and the chipmunks stole out with great daring, to find crumbs that we missed at lunch.

G Baba is a Canadian who made his way to India as a young man, and never left. He's been in Varanasi for forty years, living life as a sadhu. It means he doesn't own many things at all, he's poor, he walks everywhere. It's a difficult life. He's following a path, he says, trying to find God. When he was young he thought it might take a few years. Now he believes it will take his whole life.

We chatted about lots of things-- where our family will live in the future, political things, how stupid he thinks this upcoming race in Delhi is. I asked him some questions about his life, about the places he goes (not many) and the curves in life that brought him here.

And then we got around to talking about my book. G Baba read Leaf's copy of The Eve Tree and he began asking me about my writing process, how long it took me. He asked me at what point I came up with the scene at the end of the book, the pivotal scene. I told him it was the idea that sparked (ha ha) the whole book, although it didn't come out in its entirety, take the shape it has until I wrote it. G Baba called it my "Million Dollar Scene." He said it came upon him like an epiphany. He really liked the book. He really understood it. He GOT it.

I want to say that it was one of the most rewarding moments of my life, sitting and talking about The Eve Tree with G Baba in that courtyard. This independent publishing journey has been like a stiff hike up a tall mountain, with breathtaking views along the way and lots of sweat and gallons of water gulped from various streams. Talking with G Baba was like rounding a corner in the Himalayas, and getting a glimpse of snow capped mountains.

Everything I've wanted with my writing was right there. To tell a story of one world with someone in such a different world, to have them understand it and love it. To have it effect them, bring an epiphany. I didn't know my writing would bridge my worlds of travelers and of books, but it has, it's starting to.

And I see God in all of it, working in it right along, even as I take time from all my community things to pore over my notes and I hole myself away in a little room somewhere. I see more and more, this is what I was made to do. Back in Goa now I've been remembering all the little rooms I wrote in. The little studio back with the pigs, the hut on the beach which was hot and started to smell like sewage. Fighting for time, scrambling for words, waking in the early hours before anyone else is awake. And then I turn the corner and there G Baba is in the courtyard and the view is breathtaking. It makes the whole thing worth it.

Why I don't play ping pong.

We had a gentle weekend. Chinua is finally getting over his jetlag, and after some friends gave us ping pong rackets and balls, we decided to head down to one of the outdoor ping pong "tables" so Kid A and Chinua could play.

Of course, other people got involved as well.

 

I promise that Chinua and Kid A DID get to play together a little. But not without some pressure.

It looked like fun. But what was I doing?

I was finally trapped, is what I was. A man came over and started his sales work on me. He was selling posters of the Annapurna Range. I didn't particularly *want* a poster of the Annapurna range, but I was already feeling a little badly for him because I had overheard an American woman tell him that he was creating bad energy in the space by pushing her to buy something.

In her exact words. "Everything was fine until YOU created bad energy."

I'm sure he had no idea what she was talking about.

But his method was effective. He simply told me all about his five children and their school fees and how much it costs to pay for tiffins (packed lunches) and bus, and books (for five kids!) and how he is always trying to work, and how most guests feel to help (especially guests from Canada--his words) and before you know it, I was buying a poster. I'll put it in the kids' room in Goa, when we are far from the mountains. (We may as well be far from them now, for all the clouds will allow us to see them. Every once in a while we catch a glimpse, and we are falling over each other to get onto the back porch and ogle.)

YaYa also bought a tiny poster. And the boys all got free postcards, none of which were wanted, and none of which could be refused.

And THEN. Well, I had proved my susceptibility. There are many Tibetan women in Pokhara, who live in Tibetan settlements outside of the town. They walk around with backpacks all day, waylaying unsuspecting tourists with beautiful smiles. I've shrugged my way out of it too many times with "Maybe later, maybe another day..." I also look a little less susceptible than some of the clean and shiny trekkers, so I don't have such a hard time, but this is off-season, and this woman wasn't going to let me get away with buying a poster and NOT looking at her handicrafts.

(They weren't the best handicrafts I've ever seen.)

She kindly took some photos of me trying on various necklaces. And I bought one, a turquoise and coral one that I didn't hate. I didn't love it either, but she IS exiled.

But THEN. Then came this woman.

 

Who promptly started yelling at all the other Tibetan ladies because I had told HER that I would look at her handicrafts some day. I had told her SEVERAL times, I was HER sale. (I'm assuming this was what she was saying, I had to read all the signs, since I don't speak Tibetan.)

What, that lady? you say. DO NOT be deceived. These ladies can bring the smackdown.

So what could I do?

I had to take a look. Again.

And find another necklace that I didn't hate.

I left the area about $10 poorer, with two necklaces and a poster, none of which I hated. I hopefully helped with at least a couple of tiffins, and I fulfilled some obligations to the Tibetan community that I had apparently piled up.

And well, I'm going to learn to say 'NO."

Someday.