I am a child. Everything is strange and unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am. I hear people speaking. I can’t make out the words. I don’t know what is going on around me. I don’t know what people are doing. I can not read signs. I can’t read anything. I am illiterate. I don’t know where to find what I’m looking for. I have to ask for everything I need. I might not be able to find it. I have to speak slowly and enunciate, exaggerated. My needs are anticipated. Decisions are made in my best interest. Meals are prepared for me. I eat at predetermined times. I can’t go anywhere by myself. I need an adult everywhere I go. I am always escorted. It isn’t safe for me to cross the street by myself. If there was an emergency I couldn’t just call the police. I’m not exactly sure how to use the bathroom.
Everyone stares at me. Everyone. Stares.
I am soaking everything up wide eyed. The sun is bright and hot. Sweat drips down my back. The landscape is so vast. The sky is so big. The clouds are so high. I look at the ground. Almost everyone I’ve ever known is standing on the other side of the planet with the soles of their feet facing mine. Our heads are pointed out toward space in opposite directions. Everyone and everything I’ve known is upside down. I feel the immensity of space between me and home, family, a slightly terrifying distance. Sometimes panic plucks a string in my back. I look out the back seat car window and breathe deep into my belly, silently telling myself “Sab Theek Jaya” Everything is OK. The little wings in my back vibrate and flutter until I get distracted with something else. We drive a long time to get to the city.
Everywhere I go is loud. Horns honk at my heels, people call out from every direction. Everyone wants us to stop to talk, to get us to buy something, to take pictures. Colors are vivid and striking. There are stalls and stalls of things to buy. I’m not sure what the things are or what they are for. People move in every direction at once on all sides all around. Scooters and motorcycles steer around my ankles, bulls walk toward me as hands reach out toward us to shake hands. You really have to keep a keen eye, a perked ear, and send your super-extrasensory tentacles out in every direction at once. You have to look up and down and around you before you place a single foot in front of you (don’t slow down or speed up either or you will definitely get smashed to bits, and by all means never ever side-step!) to avoid getting run over by scooters, tuk tuks, motorcycles, minivans, utility vehicles, sedans, merchant push carts, small goods carrier trucks, and the occasional bicycle. One must walk into the road slowing traffic to veer around piles of broken asphalt, piles of broken concrete, bricks, parked motorcycles, parked cars, clusters of fareless drivers milling about their parked tuk tuks jutting into the road, vendor push carts covered in piles of sweet limes, chilli peppers and vegetables, spices, ceramics, socks, jeans, floor length skirts, or imported clothes. Also it is very likely the minute you stop paying attention you may step in goat, pig, chicken, cow, dog, monkey, or mystery poop, food packages, rotting fruit or vegetables, detritus, mystery puddles, mouth-rinse spit, tobacco spit, betel nut spit, re bar or chunks metal sticking out of the ground, gaping holes in the concrete over deep storm drains, the occasional dangling electrical wire, or oozing pipe. Everything smells peculiar, sometimes pretty, sometimes enticing, sometimes wretched and I cover my face with my scarf. When we stop for tea or coffee someone will come to talk to us or beg for money while we wait.
Away from the city in the high desert we are tucked into a patch of jungle surrounded by farmland where I can wander and wonder. I can’t help but save Fuzzy Caterpillars from being stepped on, Praying Mantis from being run over, Beetles from crawling to death on their back, Puppies from wandering into the road. One can not ignore the ever present yet invisible Flat Lizards that leave little drops of dooh high on the walls of our flat. One is living in the electric box, and another squeezed out of the hem of the curtain when I opened it. I suppose it was as cozy as a hammock in there. It made a fleshy plop sound when it hit the ground but it must have been ok because it scurried across the floor and hid under a suitcase. Pinprick Ants parade the bathroom sink, and I find Venus Army Ants motionless on their back in the windowsill. Striped Chipmunks make wind-up chirps and bound around the trees just outside our window. Sometimes the Hanuman Langurs come to eat passion fruit and leaves and I watch them from behind the screen. A lonely beta male ran right past me once on the garden path. I felt wind ruffle my clothes and saw it running paces ahead before I realized what happened. He’s as big and stout as a rottweiler with a long looping tail. When I walk I scare Skinks and Oriental Garden Lizards off the path where the Spittlebugs hide. I watch Dung Beetles push monkey dung backwards. Sometimes they get stuck in a chip in the concrete, stopping to assess the hold up. Once I even found a mate riding a jawbreaker sized ball. Giant Soldier Ants explore our toes when we stand still. Wild Cats think they are sneaking around unnoticed.
Bashful Peacocks waddle away from us or fly over the tree line when we come down the forest path. Butterflies flitter about, Dangling Worms impede progress. I hop over Centipedes. I’m glad the Peacocks and the silky black Civets are here to keep the deadly Cobras, Kraits, and Vipers away. Packs of Feral Dogs bark in the distance or lounge with a weary eye as we pass. They are docile yet one of the the puppies comes bumbling to jump on our shins. Egrets follow Cows in the field, Rusty Crows imitate monkey calls from the trees, song birds sing songs and twitter, iridescent blue Kingfishers rest on boughs, Herons peruse garden grass, and three different Birds of Paradise perch and glide. I’m still waiting to see the famed radiant hummingbirds of India, Sun Birds.
After it rains Pebble Frogs hop out of growing puddles. I’ve been told they fall with the rain. I rush all sizes of Toads off the road while black Pinstriped Slugs, Giant Snails, River Crabs, Fanhead Leeches, Inchworm Leaches, and the ever mysterious crawling Millipede Spawn pile slither around. When the sun sets Flying Foxes rush through the canopy above. Smaller Bats dive bomb the night, sometimes a little too close to my head. Crickets scratch my skin as they crawl up my arm, my back, my hair, and when the Flying Cockroaches hatched and found me I also wished to wrap myself in twelve feet of fabric. That spontaneous mystery itch I’ve oft concluded must be genetic memory of bugs crawling on me now means that a bug is actually crawling on me. Our stairwell is a mortuary for Grasshoppers, Crickets, Weevils, and Moths of all sizes and colors — some as big as my hand. I try to save as many as I can from the stone chamber of no return. They seem to send their pheromones out into the night air only to drag their lovers to their doom.
On Krishna Janmashtami morning the tv news showed babies dressed up like newborn Krishna~ blue skin and all topped with a peacock feather tucked in some little head wrap~ stumbling and crawling around clutching flutes in their teensy hands. It was endearing to see a celebration of such innocence, unbounded love, wonder, and playfulness. It was a refreshing break from the daily political cacophony, or the occasional broadcast of unspeakable violence and people’s most tragic and frightful incidents caught on cell phones played in hypnotic loops. The morning news oft snares my drowsy attention into a quiet dismal dismay. It can be a dreary, dreadful way to start the day. I stare out the window now.
I see how I have been so spoilt with every possible comfort. A daughter of the American Revolution of Pleasant Support. Extensive effort has been put into ensuring that temperatures are temperate, there is a doodad and whatchamathingit designed for any given need and can be easily acquired, and most importantly: all backsides rest on materials with the just-right kind of give. No one shall ever be uncomfortable under any circumstances, ever. Even the most modest homes feature a plush la-Z-boy parked right in front of a television. Toilet paper, hot water, soap, a cloth to dry your hands, or a bathroom at all when I need one are, I’ve learned, luxuries. I’m learning how to hold it. I carry soap and a hankie. It’s kind of like camping, I guess without the skillet on the campfire part, or the hiking part, or the sleeping outdoors part. (Which is super because I’m daring, but there are actual Tigers and Leopards stalking out the night.)
A single day bed with a thin mattress doubles as a couch in most homes, however, meals are cooked and shared, and guests are entertained all on the floor. An entire family~ mom, dad, children, grandparents siblings, cousins, all roll mats out on the floor and sleep in one room. In traditional village homes the floor is swept Earth itself. When we show up for visits plastic lawn chairs appear from outside, the most common indoor furniture. I am beginning to insist that we sit on the floor.
Tiles and concrete leave my shins aching. The bed we were given is as soft as soap stone. We were given a couch. A hip designer couch. The couch is softer than the floor. Very few homes have a couch. I may be the only Madame here with a washing machine. Cabinets used for storage and clothing closets are office quality. Being foreign, our apartment had to be furnished. I see how much care was put into anticipating our standards of living. My heart swells with warmth. I know we were given more than people usually get. The desk is just the right height.
Shortly after we returned from our almost perfect and most romantic honeymoon I came down with the inevitable Travelers Stomach Bug, a brutal kick in the pants, and the gut. I spent the first week in our new home in bed. Just as soon as I started getting myself up and ready to get sorted out and set up, I forgot to pay full alert attention. I tripped and fell into a pit of despair.