Friday, March 15, 2013

The Highs and Lows

March 14, 2013

The Auroville Bakery and Tea Stop got our patronage once again. You just can't beat a $2 breakfast that fills up two people. Matt and I have made some furry friends at the Tea Stop that visit us in hopes that we'll drop some goodies for them. Matt has named the tan one with the collar, Jackson, and the black one that places it's head sweetly in Matt's lap and watches him chew, Patterson Grace. There's a new one with a lame leg that we affectionately call Jumpy because of his crazy walk.

The crows also hang around hoping to get in on the treats, but they're less bold than the dogs. One young newbie had gotten her chocolate croissant and left it alone while she got her tea, and a crow took off with the whole thing. Matt witnessed it, and I turned just in time to see the girl realize her breakfast was gone and then see the crow drop it on the ground. Patterson Grace trotted over and helped herself.

Since we had gotten up early to run our errands, we happened upon the morning begging crowd. We're now preparing to head for Cambodia and wanted to tie up all our loose ends including getting visa photos printed.

On our way out of the bakery area, we were accosted by a young woman and her sickly, tiny baby. The girl looked to be maybe 15. She put her hand to her mouth, then to the baby, then out to us to fill with money for them to eat. We were on our moped already, so we shook our heads and drove off, almost hitting the other woman with a baby who was waiting outside of the gate.

We drove to visit the ATM and to get another liter of petrol and were found by two little boys. One had a drum and he marched right up to us as we paid for the gas and played a few beats, then held out his hand. I shook my head, but his brother wasn't far behind. His brother had one good eye and a bowl of rice on his head. He pointed to the banana on the stand and then to his mouth. The drummer boy, mad that we weren't paying attention to him, pulled my arm and started saying all the fruits that he wanted. I said no very sternly and turned away from him. The woman that was selling us the petrol yelled at them, but it didn't phase them.

Matt and I got in the bike where the boy was now leaning and walked it ahead to get him off. He was yelling by this point, so Matt gunned it and we drove off to find some postage. I felt upset by the experience, and I couldn't quite shake it.

We got lost looking for the post office, so we decided to give up on that endeavor for now and go get our water for the day. We ran back to Youth Camp to get our empty bottles, and I was still in quite the mood from our begging experiences.

The thing that I have the most trouble with is deciding how it should be handled. I feel strongly that giving money or food isn't the right answer. I think teaching them that when they heckle white people, they get what they want will just promote more and more people to do it. The scams will get worse, the children's injuries will get more grotesque, and families and adults looking for an easy business will depend on the handouts more and more.

But, when I'm looking into the eyes of a child and maybe denying him the only meal he'll get today, I feel like I should be more compassionate. Matt and I just had tea and pastries for $2. I could pay $5 and buy him rice and bread and bananas and feed his family for the day. This is something Matt and I could more than afford with our American-sized wallets and disposable income. So, why should I have the gall to deny him this?

I can't figure out what the real issue is for me. I'm sad because I wish these kids were in school, and I wish the parents could be working in a fun job they enjoy. I wish there were opportunities for the women. I wish that the economy in the places we've visited wasn't based on tourism, but that's the reality.

I'd really love to hear other people's thoughts on the issue because I don't think I'm a seasoned enough traveller or knowledgable enough in the cultures and societies we've visited to really make a sound argument. It definitely put me in a funk for the morning, so Matt and I took some time at Youth Camp to have a reset.

We decided to go and get our water, send our mail, print our visa photos and then get Matt a haircut. This set of errands would be a perfect distraction to my woes. We made it out to a different post office near where we fill up our bottles with dynamized water. We discovered a neat amphitheater and walked around the premises for a bit. Then, we grabbed water and started off for Town Hall where we heard we could print photos.

After a little bit of lost driving, we walked up to Town Hall where there was some sort of funeral happening, slipped into the back door and found the xerox services. The printing was quick and painless, and we got what we needed to get into Cambodia. (We hope!)

Matt had seen a barber shop over by our old hotel, and he had his heart set on going there for his hair cut. We parked on the side of the road and walked up to the man cutting hair in a bright pink building. We asked how much a haircut was and found out it was a whopping 50 rupees. So, less than a dollar. We sprung for it, but the man in the chair had to finish first, so I walked to the handicraft shop next door to see what they were selling.

I was greeted by a very boisterous momma-type character who was very much from the Middle East and not India. She old me to come in, come in! "Browsing is free, so you had better get in for a look." I obliged and she opened the door and led me into her one-roomed handicraft haven. There were all kinds of neat crafts made out of marble and wood and beads and fabric. Things were very nice looking, and the prices seemed to match me perceived quality. We were running low on fun-money, though, so I had to go check with Matt and see how much I could spend on fun trinkets like ankle bracelets and elephants.

I thanked her and said I'd come back (because I really did want one of those anklets), and she grabbed my chin, wiggled my face and said that she would give me a discount because I was now her daughter. Excellent. I shall cash that in...once I go make sure Matt hasn't been smuggled away.

I found the pink building with no Matt in sight and with a sheet over the door. His haircut seemed a little too private. I barged in, and found Matt in the chair, sprayed down and getting the chop from a nice little man named something like Ver-Dow-Son. He was quick with the sheers and did a great job on Matt's hair. At the end of the cut, Verdowson pulled out what looked like a well used dust pan broom and proceeded to whack Matt all over with the bristles. It was so rough, I found myself laughing aloud at the situation. Matt was not hiding his discomfort at the flogging, and the man wasn't noticing a bit. It was hilarious.

Verdowson finally felt satisfied with the amount of clippings he had removed from Matt's face and neck, and put down the brush. Matt approved the new do, and tipped 10 rupees. We gathered our belongings and sauntered back to momma-handicraft. She was delighted to see me, and even more delighted that I wasn't lying about a husband and a haircut to get away from her. She approved of Matt's hair and then told him that I was her daughter and I was getting a very good price. She said my big smile meant an extra discount.

I don't think she had had a sale in a while and I don't think we we're getting any discounts, but we went in with a budget and found what we liked and left with a couple marble elephants and an Indian anklet for me. With all the women decorating me at their homes, they got me in the mood to have their ankle jewelry, too. So cute!

With all of our errands done for the day, and Mouhsine busy all day tying up loose ends to leave for Cambodia with us, we went to lunch at Aurolec, an Indian buffet that runs in a cafeteria in an office park type place. Mouhsine had taken us there the first day, and we were so afraid to eat anything or drink the juice that we mostly ate white rice. Today, our confidence was boosted (having not gotten sick once - knock on wood) and we loaded our metal pans and tried a little of everything. They had fresh watermelon juice today with a little bit of cinnamon in it. It was delightful! We ate out on the back patio and watched some really neat birds hunt in the gardens and then some dogs fight over food scraps.

Happily full, we went to Youth Camp for our daily cold showers. Then, over to Prakti labs to check in on the team who were busily meeting. Sabagya is leaving tomorrow morning and Mouhsine was meeting with a visitor who had come to check out the lab, so everyone was trying to get everything done before the team splits up again. We head out on Saturday morning to film Mouhsine's factory and then go to the airport to catch our 1am flight to Phnom Penh.

We decided to test out Roma's one last time, and we were not disappointed. They took great care of us and we tried some new Indian dishes with our butter, garlic nan. Matt tried the mutter paneer masala, which is a tomato-cream based curry with tofu and peas in it, and I had the ginger anu gobi which were sautéed vegetables with fresh ginger grated into them. Makes for good sleeping with a tummy this happy.