Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Reflections on a Tumultuous Week of World News

Boston Marathon runners
This past week has been a blur of violent events from around the world, which I have read with a sense of shock and sadness mixed with anger. From the terrorist bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon to the rape of a 5-year-old girl in New Delhi; from the devastating earthquakes in Iran, Pakistan and China to the killer blast at a fertiliser company in a small town in Texas, so many lives have been lost or changed forever.

As an American living in India for the past two years, I was incredulous when I first heard the news of the Boston Marathon bombings. This lasted for about 30 seconds before I burst into tears as I read the news online over my husband's shoulder. I used to run marathons as purely a recreational runner and have done the Boston Marathon five times. My parents waited for me at the finish line one year and I remember the volunteers at the end of the course being phenomenal, mostly retired folks who just wanted to somehow be part of the event. It made me physically sick to think of any of them being in harm's way.

I am from Boulder, Colorado, which is a huge running town in the US and is the location of the Bolder Boulder, one of the largest 10-k races in the country. The race draws over 50,000 participants each year and is held on Memorial Day in the US. This year, I will be in Boulder for the race and plan to walk it with my husband and members of my extended family. I think there will be a big turnout this year, in particular.

I find it appalling that such a soft target as a running event would be used as a terrorist target and pray for everyone who suffered a loss or injury in the blasts. I also pray for everyone killed, injured or traumatized in the events of the past week worldwide.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Scenes from Life in Tiruvannamalai, South India

 Arunachaleswara Temple,Tiruvannamalai, South India 

It will soon be two years since I moved to India to take a job as director of a technical writing training program in Chennai. I have spent my weekends and worked from home part time in Tiruvannamalai, a town about four hours southwest of Chennai. Tiruvannamalai lies at the base of Mt. Arunachala and is famous for being the home of  Sri Ramana Maharshi, whose ashram is located here.


Sri Ramana Mahashri
My husband, David, is a writer and has lived in Tiruvannamalai for the past 36 years. He is originally from the UK. His sister, Geraldine, who is a photographer ( made a lovely video of this area about five years ago (before I even met David), which he sent out as a Christmas card to friends.

I thought readers would enjoy this short seven minute video set to Indian music, which includes scenes of friends and their children swimming in our well, a house being constructed near ours, and some lovely shots of the garden and Mt. Arunachala during the Deepam Festival.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

India tourist visits down 25% following fatal Delhi gang rape

Golden Temple of Amritsar in Amritsar, Punjab, India

I recently sent a link from the UK Guardian to a friend from Ireland who lives and works in Chennai. Erin (not her real name) is a 40-year-old business woman who has lived in India for eight years (off and on) and acts as a business liaison for Irish companies considering doing business in India. She has her own consulting company based in Chennai.

It was an article with the headline:  

India tourist visits down 25% following fatal Delhi gang rape - Tourism industry survey contradicts rosy government picture, showing tourists are shunning India over sexual assault fears

Photograph: Manpreet Romana/AFP/Getty Images
 To read the entire article, click the following link: 

I had just hit the 'send' button when two minutes later I got an email back from her saying, "I can't believe your timing. I was just attacked in a guesthouse in Mahabalipuram (a popular coastal tourist area one hour south of Chennai) two nights ago by a man with a knife."  

According to Erin, a man had knocked on her door at the guesthouse not long after she had retired for bed. Thinking it was her friends who were in the room next door, she opened the door a crack but the man pushed his way in, threw her on the bed and drew a knife. She tried speaking a few words in Tamil to the intruder, but he did not respond so she began to shout and ran for the door. My friend is tall, an avid surfer, does yoga and is in great physical shape. (She was actually in town to surf with her friends that weekend.) She was able to push past him and began shouting and pounding on the door of the room next door where her friends were sleeping. The intruder ran off into the night when her friends opened their door, but Erin was very shaken up, needless to say.

It's not surprising that tourism is down in India due to the recent sexual assaults making the international news. What is particularly troubling is that the Delhi incident, the Swiss tourist incident, and my friend's attack all occurred when there were other people close by like husbands, boyfriends, and groups of male friends (as in Erin's attack).

The response by the police and other officials has been less than reassuring. My friend reported the assault to her embassy but did not report it to the local police since she waited more than 24 hours and it was too late to make a report, she was told. 

Tomorrow, my friend heads back to Ireland for an already planned trip home. She still loves so many things about India and is in the business of encouraging others to do business here. She says that she has already gone back to the guesthouse in Mahabalipuram and shared a room (this time with a friend), because she does not want this incident to keep her from enjoying her passion, surfing, at a place she has been visiting for the past eight years.

The locals who know and love her were outraged by the incident and believe that the attacker was from another town. He was observed again on a surveillance camera at another hotel in town, so hopefully, he will be caught before he can assault anyone else.

It would be a shame for tourists to by-pass India since India has so much to offer, but officials will have to take these cases of assault very seriously to encourage travelers, especially women, to continue to visit this exotic and mesmerizing country.

Monday, 1 April 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Soursop fruit (just starting to grow)
The temperature continues to rise here in South India as summer has officially set in. The mornings are still relatively cool but the afternoons are steamy. Our temperature and humidity gauge shows 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees F) in the morning. Not so bad to wake up to, but by mid-afternoon the temperature has been hovering around 36-40 Celsius the past week (97-104 F).

You can imagine that it takes a lot of work to grow fruit trees in this heat because they need so much water to keep them alive during these hot periods of the summer. My husband, who works from home, spends many hours during the summer dragging the hose pipe around the garden making sure that the trees get enough water to survive the intense heat. He planted the trees six years ago when he moved into the house and many were small saplings, not even a foot high. We have well water that is fed by a reservoir so are very dependent on the rainy season bringing enough rain to keep the well full for the summer stretch. Thank goodness, we had enough rain this past year to see us through the summer season.

Figs growing off tree trunk
I was introduced to a variety of tropical fruit trees since making my home on South India. Growing up in the USA (Indiana) and living in Colorado for the past 26 years before relocating to India, I was only used to seeing apple and, occasionally, peach trees ....and a whole lotta corn growing up in the Midwest. It's been exciting to watch the fruit trees in our garden produce bumper crops of papayas, mangoes  water apples, lemons and figs. Some of the more exotic trees (to me) are breadfruit, eggfruit, soursop and starfruit trees.

I have included photos of some of fruit trees that surround our home in Tiruvannamalai and keep us well fed with healthy treats year round.
Breadfruit (can get as big as a grapefruit)
Water apples (small, crunchy and delicious)
Two eggfruits
Papaya tree
Lemon tree
Chilies drying in the sun
It is also a good time to dry chili peppers in the hot sun and some of our neighbors have been busy picking chilies and drying them in the sun in front of their house. Other crops being prepared for storage in canvas sacks for future consumption include beans (dhal) and millet (ragi) dried in the sun along with the chilies.

Being from the suburbs of both Indiana and Colorado, I have never had the luxury of eating what is grown just outside my front door, so I am definitely enjoying this new experience of watching how our garden grows...

Beans (dhal), millet (ragi) and chilies drying