Friday, November 20, 2009

An Ode to a Toilet, A Trip Out West

Last night I found myself gazing fondly at the Indian squat toilet in my bathroom. Unlike its Western cousins, the Indian squat toilet does not have a bowl or any flushing device. It's literally a hole in the floor, connected to a pipe, which leads down through the house and into the city's sewer system. There are nice little notches for your feet to grip whilst you relieve yourself. There's also a spicket conveniently located somewhere near your left hand so that you might fill your dipper and cleanse your nether regions, which requires you to pour water over and clean yourself with your left hand. Which I know sounds gross, but here's a thought: in America, we smear our shit onto a piece of paper on a regular basis. FOUL. Toilet paper: the number one thing I dread about my re-assimilation into the Western world. Wearing deodorant again is a close second. (Yeah. I went there.)

These are my last days in Madurai: admiring toilets and biking home through shin-deep torrents of water/sewage. Oh hi, monsoon season! After Saturday night, my research assistant-cum-travel agent Rachael and I will be embarking on a magical three-week voyage of research and hair-raising debacles, sponsored by a grant from Bates. First, to Mumbai! The city Aldous Huxley called "the worst of any hemisphere!" (Mumbai '09, no parents!) Then, to Gujarat, which the guide books call the Wild West of India! Where we will (hopefully) talk with tribal women about the significance of their tattoos and piercings, and where we will spend a magical Thanksgiving staying at a palace! Then finally, to Rajasthan, where we will interview women who work in beauty parlours about modern female adornment and its connection to female empowerment! Look at my excellent use of key sociologist phrases!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway. The North is supposedly a might more sketch than the South, so I plan on whipping out my pocket knife on every night train and cleaning the blades in front of all the passengers. THAT'S RIGHT, Y'ALL. I GOT A KNIFE WITH WHICH TO SHANK YO ASS.

And finally: happy birthday, Mom! Happy belated birthday, Dad! And Happy Thanksgiving to all you turkey and tofurkey lovers!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Here's a question: what is Halloween to you? To me, it's never been more than another annoying night where everyone around me looks like a two-dollar hooker and no one is sober enough to remember my name. It's also a night where I am inevitably forced to take a shot of Listerine while participating half-heartedly in Bates' most charming tradition, Trick or Drink. (Anyone who says Bobcats aren't classy is clearly wrong.) So take all of these components away. Now add equal parts India, a homemade Haunted House in the SITA building, my first ever truly frightening costume, and the girls I've been volunteering with at an orphanage who have never seen a Jack-o-lantern before, much less a Haunted House.

Best Halloween EVER.

In any other country, our Haunted House would've been lame and unappreciated. But in India, where spirits aren't just feared but warded away with amulets and herbs, we actually had two little boys cry. Asumi, the Other Portland Girl, painted all of our faces to make us appear properly undead and blood-thirsty. I was a corpse chained to the wall; we had a girl play that chick from The Grudge; we had a mummy/ghost; we had a mad scientist who made everyone stick their hands into her patient's stomach to feel the "guts" (pumpkin goop); we had a rage zombie, played frighteningly well by Nathan; we had a witch and her prisoner; and to end the Maze O' Terror, we had an insane asylum victim who stuck his head through a hole in the cardboard wall and screamed. It was AWESOME. Grown adults yelled as their ankles were grabbed, there was praying involved, no one wanted to walk down the corridor where Nathan was eating a (plastic) human foot...

The best part was when the girls I invited from the orphanage arrived, whom shall here on out be known as the Birdsnest (Orphanage) Girls. As soon as the door shut they screamed, and one girl clutched the door handle and crossed herself, whimpering, "Jesus, Jesus." I put my glasses on so they could recognize me - "Sister!" they said, relieved - and they held tightly onto my arm as I led them through, pretending to battle the ghost (nice one, Sarah) and fend off Rage Zombie Nathan. On Monday when I went to Birdsnest, the girls presented me with two pumpkins and told me to show them how to make Jack-o-Lanterns. Halloween was all we talked about, which made me realize how little I actually know about this holiday. My bad. I made up crap about people defying the Church and threw in a little Salem witch trials for good measure. That's historically accurate, right?

Anyway. It was a wholesome night, full of screaming and games on the roof and cake and sticky face paint that wouldn't come off, and completely devoid of alcohol and slutty cowgirl costumes. That, friends, is the perfect night.