Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year Grinch

So, supposedly, I have the look of a Bombay girl gone baaaaaaaaad! I don't know how I feel about that. I am not sure I even know what that means.

It's the 31st of Dec, like any other day. That is my story and I am sticking to it. I hate new year's and all the hype around it which is always anti climactic. Why do we feel the need to celebrate this day? Why the need to celebrate it SOOOOOOOO much? Yuck, thooey.

We never did anything about it when we were kids and I always felt like I was being left out of something. I recall once as a kid, and this is the only new year's I remember as a child, where my sisters and I heard firecrackers outside and we bounded into our parents room all full of vim and vigor and my mom totally deflated us and sent us back to bed. We cracked open a kit kat between the three of us (the fourth extra stick was evenly divided and I think our feeling of bonding was so strong that there was no argument who was getting the bigger piece of the fourth bar and in fact, we were all being sacrificing souls and pushing the minusculy bigger piece onto each other so that the person with the shortest piece could justifiably feel even worse and be the heroine of the night), we wished each other and went to bed.

My first new year's party was in Todt Hill, Staten Island. My older sister had a friend and it is the only time we went to her house and every time I pass the signpost to her house on the highway, I think about it. I must have been 17, I guess and it was this aunty uncle party and I recall thinking, wow, my parents are letting us go to a new year's party. It was a big step for us. This must have been when my sister came back from doing her first fieldwork since something happened and all of a sudden, we were allowed, just the three of us to drive ourselves far distances...distances beyond the mall which had also just opened up to us even though Appie could drive perfectly well for years. You give an inch, they take a younger sister in her last year of high school drove herself to school everyday...unheard of. Never mind that she now lives in her car and comes and goes at all odd hours and my parents don't bat an eyelash if all of a sudden they wake up in the morning and find her sleeping on the couch when she is supposed to be four hours away in DC and probably started her drive at 8 pm with stops all along the way to say hi to her various friends who are scattered over the DC to NJ belt which I think they should rename in Saks honor. Beltway Saks.

So, I hate new year's but at least I tried it first before I started to loathe it. I like learning by doing.

Plan is to make some pasta and sit with a bottle of wine, like any other night, talk to the people I am living with and fall asleep peacefully. Hurrah!

I don't do resolutions either since I make and break them all the time....actually, not true. I make only the ones that I know I can keep for the most know what? I don't make resolutions. I just live my life.

Happy fucking New Year people with lots of love from the New Year Grinch.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Random; Jungles and Bombay Ramblings

I like writing random posts. I have been wanting to write in my blog ever since an anonymous commenter said they liked reading my blog. That makes me happy. But you anonymous people should tell me who you are. I like hearing from you.

So, like I said, I am in India and it is fun. I am bored and worried about work but somehow, I would still call this fun. I was here two years ago and it is interesting to note the changes in myself. I am less....frentic, perhaps? I was told already that I seemed calmer than the last time I was in Sri Lanka and I like that. I don't know if that means I am more boring or something. Doesn't really phase me.

I met a new person yesterday afternoon and then saw him later on at night and I told him I work in the jungle. Ampara is hardly a jungle but more jungle than I am used to and the most rural place I have worked so far. For a self purported city girl it is a jungle. And if you are not on the coast in Sri Lanka then you are in the jungle. Inland is a term only used to denote the inland side of a coastal road.

This guys wife when she met me later in the day said, you are from the jungle then? And he has taken to call me jungle queen. Walking in Bombay he asked if cities seemed overwhelming to me just after he had looked at me and said, yes, you do have a real jungle vibe, you do lok like you have just walked out of one (I don't feel like I look any different than I used to....nothing too jungle about me as far as I can tell).

I like Bombay. I would like to come and be in this city for a while. Only issue is that there is no real disaster or conflict and all offices of iNGOs that I want to work with are in Delhi. And I did decide this time that I didn't want to be in Delhi. I would feel constant Bombay envy. Delhi is sweet and nice and all but I can't do it. Too small.

Maybe someday I will come to Bombay. We will see. I am drinking water in India by the way that way I should in Sri Lanka. And my skin is getting dry. It is strange to be out of the tropical humid weather I am used to. I am supposed to be getting dressed to get out of the house but I am liking sitting in my pajamas with my mac listening to music, downloading podcasts, stealing internet and drinking coffee.

I finished reading A Passage to India. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I am in India. I just had wanted to read the book for a really long time and after finishing it I remembered that I had already read but good thing to re read it since obviously I could not recall a single thing about it. Why do people love it? I think I tend to read for the story first and I forgot to read for the prose and the observations. I don't think I am going to bother to re read it for a while again. Someday I will be mature enough to get into the prose and observations with a lot more patience. I like when while reading I feel the need to stop and re read a sentence because it is so beautiful or an observation that is just offered up as fluid thought. And on that note, I am reading a book of essays by Mukul Kesavan which I am enjoying sooooooo much. Called The Ugly Indian Male....something like that. Hilarious parts of it. Longer pieces and smaller pieces and little vignettes of thought nicely presented. Recommended even though I have only read a handful. Also just started The Omnivore's Dilemma which is another one I have been meaning to read for about two years and found it in a bookstore here and bought it. Intro so far and the question being answered is, What shall we have for dinner tonight?

Bombay is food conscious by the way. Menus and stuff with talk about sandwiches where the bread has no egg yolks in it and brown rice as a healthier substitute etc. Very Atkins the whole thing but not just about carbohydrates. There is a marathon that is coming up soon as well and magazines are all about getting your body marathon fit (at least the cover says that and though my curiosity was great, I still could not bring myself to open up the Indian version of Cosmo or Seventeen or whatever it was. John Abraham, the hottie, is going to be running it. Sachin Tendulkar ran it last year but can't this year but is the third highest in terms of brining in money and sponsorship. I have been gathering bits of information I know and am presenting it as if I know something about this all. It might be just enough for me to get away with pretending like I know something about where I am. I don't. Don't let me fool you, I can be very convincing.

Friday, December 28, 2007

In Bombay post Bhutto

So, I am out of SL for a little bit and came to India for the 'holidays'. Nice to be back after precisely two years and I went to Delhi first and you know what? I need to write about Bhutto first before I go any further. It seems disrespectful that someone whose power you lived under and was the only woman leader to give birth in office and the first woman leader of a modern Muslim state (and no, I am not going to talk about what exactly a modern Muslim state is given what Pakistan is today), but anyhow, I should say something.

I found out two hours after the fact even though I am in a neighboring country which seems to be in a state of shock and people are glued to the TV wherever you go, which is interesting. Just a few hours ago I had sent a text message to a friend of a friend and describe myself as not quite Pakistani, not quite Indian and reluctantly American. I said that last bit to be cute since I am anything but a reluctant American...I very much love being American...however, given the above description, what am I supposed to feel right now? I feel shock but then again, so do tons of people. It is shocking. An assassination is a shocking absolutely horrible thing. I was told by my friend Ishita who I was with in Delhi and I went over to the DNA (daily news and analysis) office where my friend works and people were kind of walking around stunned but working since this was a newsroom and this was news and it had to be printed and a stories and information needed to get out.

The photos are from today's DNA...I was there when they were putting together the two page spread by the way. Not all the photos since I am stealing internet and don't want to chance losing the connection again.

We didn't vote for her when we lived there and I have written about elections in Pakistan before and I would have been disappointed had she won the election in Jan. I say this from a completely uninformed POV since my Pakistani politics are only informed by my parents and my father only just stopped voting Republican. It's not even like any great realization has come to me that I know nothing about Pakistani politics....I already knew that about myself and was not sufficiently bothered to amend it. My Pakistani politics are still informed by my visits to NJ here my parents sit and watch GEO and ARY satellite tv and when they talk during a program or at the newscaster or to me as a willing but silent audience, I pick up bits and pieces.

People are going to sk me about this when I go back to SL the same way they asked me about Mohsin Hamid's book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist or when The Namesake came out as a movie and since I am South Asian I should have not only seen it but have some sort of a definitive opinion on it.

I don't. The only opinion I have is that assassinating someone is an awful thing to do and it is a high price to pay for power. But again, I think people in power know that.

Pakistan is still burning and as my mom said last night when I spoke to her, when people are happy, they burn stuff, when people are mad, they burn stuff.

I feel so far removed from the whole thing even though it is LIVE around me all the time.

I am not quite Pakistani, not quite Indian (though in the neighborhood RIGHT NOW where my mom was born) and very much American...

Thursday, December 13, 2007


So one very sweet project we do is a plant distribution for al the households that we work with. Mango, coconut, cashew, orange among the varieties we give out depending on the village, climate and market. I love it. Last week we did this in Thirokovil, a place I love working in. Tamil area and historically underdeveloped and pretty conflict affected as well as tsunami affected. Some photos from that distribution. I as particularily excited that I as able to get the man with the curly hair in blue and the lady in the red sari in one shot since every time I see them, I just think they are two of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. The lady in the sari is one of my favorite people since the first time we went to this village at a huge community meeting (of which there are photos on my as called my first PRA or something, I think), I asked people to sing a song and no one would and all of a sudden, she broke out into song and it as just gorgeous and we have a bond since then. This last time she gave me a big kiss just as we were leaving. Isn't she gorgeous?

I love the photo of the girl in the lap of her...grand dad, I am guessing. And yes, that is one of the plants we give out and I gave my normal speech of, we hope for our livelihood project to take root and blossom throughout the years in much the same manner in which these plants will in your homes....cheesy but what else are you supposed to say? And you know what? I do hope our projects blossom and grow like the plants.

On a time crunch but man, I love work. Must write about the group grants we are doing and how they kick ass.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Hungry Tide

I just finished reading Amitav Ghosh's book, The Hungry Tide. That was painful. It was ok. He basically lost me completely on page 282 when he wrote:

"'Marxism and poetry?' Piya said drily raising her eyebrows. 'It seems like an odd combination.'
'It was, ' Kanai agreed. 'But those contradictions were typical of his generation....'"

How can one DRILY make that comment? Only an idiot would make that comment. Not someone who is a zoologist researching dolphins in the Sundarbans with some suave know it all who is trying to seduce her while she is falling for the local fisherman who she cannot communicate with unless it is through their mutual love of the water and the creatures within except for the one paradox that tears them oceans apart....he sees the creatures as food, she as a heritage to preserve. Spoiler alert. Don't read the above if you don't want to know what happens in the book. Don't read this line either: Her fisherman lover but not consummated love dies in a cyclone where is just him and Piya and we already knew that since his dead mother told him in a dream two nights ago. He died saving her...sort of. They were knotted to a tree in his wife's sari. At least they didn't get eaten by a tiger which with the amount the damn tigers were mentioned, I would have thought that is how they would have met their end, but I think the tiger was a poor metaphor for some forest demon who makes an entry somewhere in the middle in some folk tale and I guess the tigers are supposed to just be the metaphors for bad news lock eyes with them and you have just locked eyes with death!

The whole thing was pretentious. I just suffered through the book. Learned some interesting facts but perhaps Amitav should have stuck to being the anthropologist he is.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Notes on Notes on a Scandal and other movies

I have been wanting to watch this film forever and finally tonight, I got around to doing so. Loved it.

I should just post the blog that way. Loved it, end of story. But no, this is Zehra and she does not know how to be succinct. I get flack about that all the time since I am incapable of writing a short email and everyone wants to bang their heads against a keyboard when an email from me is sitting and watching them in their inboxes.

So, my notes, in brief:

I love Judy Dench and Cate Blanchett but then again, I always have.

Why do people immediately assume that someones problem is linked to them. Mostly, it is not, atleast not in my life. Specifically, I am thinking about the scene where the husband, another great actor whose name I do not know, is yelling at Cate Blanchett and is asking why and keeps saying things about himself and she yells back, I DON'T KNOW WHY I DID IT, which to me is a perfectly reasonable answer and I was getting frustrated that he felt like the whole thing had something to do with him. Sometimes, (most times), it doesn't. Things people do have to do with themselves. Why does another person feel like they MUST insert themselves in anothers pain, thoughts, feelings, life etc? I understand that sharing (it's caring) in a relationship is something that is supposed to happen and I am cool with that, but really, there is a limit and there is no way you can share EVERYTHING with just one person and sometimes, things are just for you. I als get it that actions have consequences etc but still, sometimes you don't have answers and even if you do, they have to do with things going on with you and may not be connected to the person you are with. That whole scene made me feel suffocated and I was glad I was not in a relationship since suffocation like that makes me want to walk out the door (which I do...bad z). So, a good scene.

Judy Dench smoked a lot and that made me nervous about my smoking. I do not want to end up like her. She freaked me out.

Good pacing, smart, funny etc. Watch it if like me you have been living under a rock and have not done so yet.

Since we are talking movies, let me just say, saw Kiss Kiss Bang Bang last night, and for the life of me, I do not get what the hype was about. Everyone kept saying to me, watch it watch it, it's fab! And I didn't think it was. At all. It was fine but smarmy like Adaptation which I could appreciate for its slickness but really, I didn't like Adaptation either and preferred the earlier movie the pair did, Being John Malkovitch....which I did totally love.

Saw The Constant Gardener as well and I loved it. Thought it was gorgeous and thought other things too which will make me sound like I am fetishizing Africa which as an aid worker I need to shy away from when I saw The Last King of Scotland or Blood Diamonds and I wanted to get on the first planes to both Uganda and Sierra Leone, but I wanted to do that in school as well when I would read about the poverty reduction strategy papers or the like of either country...

It is movie weekend for me in Ampara. Too many movies I have been wanting to watch and just have not and this is my chance to get it all in.

I had my good cry with Blackie when I came home. Both of us are feeling better. She has lost her Spark and I am guessing she will spring back to her jungle monkey self again soon enough. Me too.


Pakistan was recently having issues which I think I failed to mention or write about since I like to live in lala land when it comes to thinking or writing about Pakistan and on that note, a brilliant comedy sketch video courtesy of youtube and my sister who sent it to me from an amazing show that used to be on tv back when Pakistan was a VERY cool, hip happening place with lots of culture, cutting edge thought and intelligence. The show was called Fifty Fifty and it was basically like Saturday Night Live or Little Britian with little sketches etc with a cast of comedians. This clip is called Disco Chor, meaning Disco Thief and this is probably circa 1975..


Friday, December 07, 2007

An Ode to Spark

So, today Spark died. This is my second dog to die in Ampara. He got hit by a car this morning at some point and when I came outside to go to the office, I was on the phone and Mr Bandara, our guard, all he said to me was that Spark was injured and I thought perhaps he would just be lame or something since that I can deal with, and I was looking from afar and could see Blackie hovering near him and licking him and all of a sudden, I thought, something is really not right and I hung up the phone and ran over and there he was, my sweet Spark, dead. He got hit by a car. It does happen a lot in this country but I thought they had learned by now. I knew I was not freaking out for no reason that every time we come home, and it is almost a game now, but both Blackie and Spark try to get under the wheels and I squeal at whomever is driving to be careful since I was convinced we were going to run them over ourselves. I called up my boss and started bawling. Mick is on vacation and not around and my boss saw them last with me and he lets me bawl on him so I did. And his whole family texted, which is sweet.

I loved Spark and am happy that I got to spend some time with him. I am now worried about Blackie and hope that she will be ok with her brother gone. I think her legs were shaking earlier when she was trying to revive him. I am a little afraid to go back home right now since I think it will make me just too sad. I think I need to be strong for Blackie. What an awful weekend. Some photos from last Saturday, Thanksgiving, of Spark that I took. They aren't great but it is what I have.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Seriously, what the hell does this mean?

Who is a hoodwinked man and how is one brought in front of him?

Arrested Tamils would be brought before 'hoodwinked' man-SUDAROLI
Hundreds of North and East Tamils taken into custody following the search operation during the last few days in Colombo and suburb will be brought before hoodwinked man. They will be released when they are proved to be innocent. This message was conveyed to Tamil politicians, it is reliably understood.

I think Sudaroli is a newspaper....I get a newspaper summary from two different sources and I am guessing this is translated but really, normally I can read these translations or realiably understand.

The press cuts/news summaries I get are depressing by the way. It is getting worse and worse and crackdowns and killings, abductions and speculation is all rife.

On a funnier note, yesterday when in a disaster management workshop with our staff we talked about floods and the resulting soil erection.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone

I am a thanksgiving fiend, as most people who know and love me are aware of. This year it was again unlesehed away from home on unsuspecting individuals who for some reason are befriending me. It was fun, even though it was about 10 days late. I messed up the date....I always thought it was the last Thursday in Nov, but no, it is the 3rd Thursday. Rule when abroad is the first Saturday after Thanksgiving is when I will celebrate since I am not going to work hungover on a fun. Doing it on a Saturday makes way more sense. Must remeber to get the date right next time...

Anyhow, big turkey (of which I have no photos..I know, I can't believe it minute it there was and the next, it got all carved up...and we nearly finished the 14 lbs bird too...impressive for 14 people!), stuffing (two kinds, one with dried fruit, which I refused to eat and another normal one), two kinds of mash (one with block olives which was tooooooo good), gravy (which was going to be German style and then was not but very good), fresh bread (no joke, as in fresh, kneaded in front of me by Jo...her dough babies, which we are the next day, all fresh as well), pecan pie (yep, you guessed it, fresh and home made, again by Jo), and brownies (divine Jo brownies), martinis, the proper kind (yep, Jo strike again), tiger prawns in some sort of a yum sauce, nice fresh veggies and....and that might be it. I think. It was filling and stuffing and totally deliscious and I loved it. There are photos but strange random ones. I was the only American this year. That has never happened before. Usually there is atleast one more American with me. But I think I held down the fort pretty ok...Everyone had to go around and say what they were thankful for and it is always interesting to see what people will say (and how many will take it seriously)....I was thankful for what I am thankful for every year: A good group of people with whom I can share a holiday that is important to me, and my loved ones, family and friends are all good well alive thriving and that is really all I can ask for.

I am becoming soppy since I almost got all choked up when I was saying it and I hope no one noticed.

It was pretty amazing that once again this year, I got away with putting together a party while having to do ZERO work. This year I had serious rock stars who literally did everything.

I had an adventure with my oven in the morning. I turned it on and all of a sudden it smelled like cooked dead roasted rat meat. You do NOT want that smell in your kitchen, house, nostrils ever. Fucking nasty. I called in the trusty Anoj to fix it (after I called in trusty Leela since one of the mice was sort of stunned on my kitchen floor with third degree burns) and they eventually found the problem and advised I not use the recent grave of the three dead mice as my cooking equipment. I had to go and borrow an oven. Which ICRC was so wonderful to provide us with. I love how Red Cross that reaction is by the way-whatever you need, you first call it visiting prisoners in detention, tracing family members, transporting dead bodies or needing an oven in a hurry....always to the rescue those guys. In the end, it was ok and the meal (and more) got cooked.

Photos of the day soon with more stories...