Sunday, May 28, 2006


Today's vocabulary words:

pancher = puncture or flat tire
take diversion = detour
road hump = speed bump
ladies' toilet = turditorium

On the flight from Frankfurt they showed a program touting the upcoming World Cup matches, which starts in June in Germany (and for which Lufthansa is a major sponsor). Apparently Brazil has a famous fair-skinned one-named player called Kaka. But he pronounces it "Ka-KAA." Brazil is favored to win the cup. Uganda has a team with white guys on it; they are out to prove that the country isn't just about crises. They have mixed feelings about playing their former colonial masters, Portugal, in the first set of matches. But I digress...

Yesterday Prashanth and I motorcycled out to Bylakuppe, the Tibetan refugee settlement that's home to several lovely Buddhist temples. When Sean and Kike ("KEY-kay")and I visited in 2002 we hired a car with a surly driver and got a flat tire.

The roads have gotten even worse since then, but like everything else here they are widening and improving them -- and hacking down age-old banyon trees in the process. I had slept the night through, from 10 to 6 and was feeling quite good. It was pleasantly cool and drizzling and we saw hills and green fields and dark clouds and pink lotuses growing in water.

But about an hour into what should have been a three-hour trip we got a puncher. The nearest village was three kilometers away. Since it was a slow leak, one person could ride to town if they went fast. Prashanth flagged down a private bus so full that men were hanging out the doors. Somehow they made a spot for me and I stood, one foot on the bottom step, one foot on the platform and holding on for dear life in front of the open door, traveling along awful Pancher Road.

Not one of the men leaned or bumped against me, yet they all watched -- perhaps to marvel at the pastiness of my skin, perhaps to make sure I didn't fall out, perhaps a bit of both. They dropped me off at a bus stop in a village that's pronounced Ba-LEE-ka-dee. In no time a crowd of men with moustaches (oops, redundant) had gathered round the Firang-girl, and I was thankful that I'd decided to wear Indian dress that day (I'd considered jeans and a t-shirt, since in Tibetland they don't really care what you wear, but went with the Salwaar Kameez because it dries quickly).

After we'd gotten through "What is your name" and "Where are you from," more and more men gathered, and we began a dance in which they would inch a step closer to me and I would inch a step back. This went on for several minutes, until I'd gone several feet down the hill. Meanwhile they wanted to know if I'd like chai (no) and I asked their names in Kannada and the population of the village (6,000). They told me the name of the village means White Lake. "Like me," I said, pointing to myself. No one laughed.

Finally the cell phone rang, which seemed to amuse them. It was Prashanth, asking where I was. Apparently he'd passed the bus and had been at the pancher repair shop long enough to know he needed a new tire (Rs 750, or $18). He picked me up in a rickshaw and brought me to shop -- about a block away.

Across the narrow street a woman and her daughters sat in the sun weaving those colorful plastic bags I like (shaped like a Kenya bag, but far more festive). I went over to sit with them and asked their names. No one knew English and I can only say about five things in Kannada. Nonetheless there was a lot of smiling and soon I had the camera out and we were laughing and taking pictures, which they showed the husband in the shop next door. I called Prashanth over to translate and learned that the basket-bags take about two days to produce and cost Rs 160 ($4). I hope to return to get one. In any case I got their address so I can mail 'em the pictures if I don't.

Then it was on to Bylakuppe, which is home to loads of Tibetan refugees including many many monks (who eat every type of meat imaginable, it seems -- even beef). The most famous temple is the large, colorful Golden Temple which features three massive gold versions of Buddha. We did some sightseeing (one building had a huge sign painted in the side: Boycott Chinese Goods, which seems almost impossible to do -- especially when most Indians I spoke to had never heard the word "boycott" before). We sat in the temple for awhile and then of course I had to urinate. A nice Tibetan monk boy directed us to the Ladies Toilet, and, shoeless, I went in. It smelled barnyard-bad but not that awful in the overall scheme of things.

When Prasanth heard my scream he thought:
1. A man had attacked me in the bathroom
2. I had fallen down
3. I had seen the devil

But it was none of the above.

In my search for a clean toilet I came across a tarlike pile of poo. I was backing out of the stall when the arch of my left foot made contact with a different fresh slippery human turd, which was in front of the recessed toilet. In my rush to get to the foot-wash I noticed piles of turds here, there and everywhere -- except the toilets. It was the like those invisible ink kits they used to have, where you'd write something but couldn't see it until you passed over it with the other marker. Suddenly, all I could see was shit. Or maybe it was the devil.

When I came out a small crowd had gathered to watch the crazy Western girl act crazy. I felt like an uptight English Lady in some Jewel and the Crown / Passage to India drama, who just couldn't deal with the "native" experience.

Something tells me they were thinking the same thing.

A few moments later I had disinfected the pads of both feet and searched for open sores (none)and put on my shoes and made my way to a pay-toilet (Rs 2), which was halfway decent. But I felt awful for a long time afterwards.

The irony of course is that I had expected to find a spotless stall in Tibetland. However during my late-night car trip from Bangalore to Mysore I'd expected to find a shit-smeared toilet at the male-dominated filling station. Instead, it was one of the cleanest toilets I've ever used.

Yet another India lesson about expectations is there, Madam.

1 comment:

  1. dreyfuss' pedicurist11:20 AM

    I gotta tell you, based on your Sunday posting I'm not sure you'll ever be invited to write a travel brochure about Bylakuppe. Unless, of course, the publisher wants someone with first hand (or foot) knowledge of where to find the best place to step in crap.