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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Istanbul Beckons

The buildings above and the streets below are centuries, if not thousands of years old. They are selling cell phones in markets that have been in existence since before 600BC. Wrap your brain around that.

These cobblestones wind their way through markets and neighborhoods where the domes and spires of mosques soar overhead. Turkey is predominantly a Muslim country which is reflected in the architecture.

The European side doesn't draw me in as much as the Asian side. It's less touristy, more real to me. Parks, street art, and the sights and sounds of everyday life.

I spend one afternoon wandering through Üsküdar, along the Bosphorus, stopping to drink tea and watch the life on and around the water.

Later, after I hike up stairs and more winding streets, I stumble upon a gigantic farmers market, which I told my guesthouse host I have a knack for.

The sheer abundance of produce is staggering. And the size of things! Cabbages larger than basket balls! Softball sized black radishes! Leeks a yard long! Mind blowing, I am in awe.

One of the major downsides of living here is that everyone smokes. Everyone, everywhere. My lungs burn from it. But the sunshine and the cool, mild winter air (mid 40's to high 50's) make me happy.
Christmas isn't as in your face and all encompassing here. So I'll spend my eve and day catching up with family and friends in the states, eating whatever the hell I want (Merry Xmas to me!) and taking pics of the moments of holiday cheer I happen to stumble upon.
My holiday wish for you all: Peace!

Monday, December 21, 2015

It's Hard Living In Paradise

Pole Pole the say when I arrive at Paje Beach on Zanzibar. It means "slowly, slowly". That's how life moves there, no need for speed.

Paje beach was a last minute decision, which seems to fit the lifestyle as well. The beach is white sand and the water a blue that is astonishingly beautiful.
I found a guest house on AirBnB that fit my budget and was a 2 minute walk from the beach.
Saloum the caretaker, and his pup Sela (I may or may not be spelling their names right) greet me and show me around.

It's rustic and just a quick two minute walk to the beach. I cannot even fathom this blue.
There are housemates who are Dutch and Estonian. As the days slide by, pole pole, we find a German to wander with as well.
I cook for them, simply. Fresh fish tucked with lime and garlic, wrapped in foil and tossed in the coals of the fire.
As we eat one of them, the Dutchman I think, exclaims " It's hard living in paradise..."
We sit outside and watch the night sky as shooting stars put on a show.
Most days the water is bath water warm and your swimming is held captive by the tides.
One night and day it pours rain, so we walk up the beach to visit another guesthouse for lunch. Along the way women are working their seaweed beds while the tide is out.
The following morning I catch the tide before it goes out and the water is refreshingly cool.
I cook once more, my last night.
We shop in the village. As we walk through children play and giggle with us.

I cook fish the same as before and bananas in a curry sauce. The bananas are called Elephant Fingers due to their size. They are best for cooking and in the sauce work well with the salty delicacy of the fish.
My last night I jump in the ocean as the stars fill the sky above me.
It sure is hard to live in paradise.
I'm in Istanbul now and head to work on a farm on Friday.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tanz to Zanzibar!

I spent some weeks with the sweet Coyle-Browns in Arusha Tanzania. They gave me a much needed dose of friends, kids, dogs and Mamma Jackie to bring me back to myself after India beat me up.
Had a blast teaching this bunch a Dumpling Class.
Oh and they let me tag along on Safari with them. Mind blowing! Their friends at Matembezie Safaris gave me an unforgettable glamping experience.

I'm in Stone Town Zanzibar now. It is beyond hot and humid. But wandering through the alley like streets and discovering the street food makes me happy.
The son of the proprietress of my guesthouse offered to show me around. Abdulla has lived here all his life and is adept at finding the out of the way places. And his cell phone ring tone is Justin Biebers "Sorry", so that's perfect.

 This is a bakery where they bake thousands of loaves daily. And roast some peanuts.
These bananas are gigantic! Used for cooking, they are called " Elephant Fingers" in Swahili.
 Okra and chapati, Arab and Indian Influenced.

This is an ijira like pancake, with collards, beans and peas. That was breakfast. Damm good.
My directional dysfunction, oddly enough, isn't a problem on the streets here. There seems to be enough visual clues, doors, alleys, store signs, that I'm able to find my way through the maze almost easily. Yeah me!
The beaches here on the west side of Zanzibar are OK, but I head to the east today. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

India Broke Me

I've been in Tanzania for 10 days now and India has caught up with me. There is a head cold muddling my brain and a dry cough rattling my chest. India broke me.

It's my way, to have stress get to me long after the fact. When I worked retail over the holidays, pulling double shifts, overtime, closing then coming in to open 6 hours later, I'd feel the stress of all that by mid-January, with a weeklong malingering flu or bronchitis. And now I'm feeling it. India broke me.
I was ready for it, or so I thought. It was going to be loud, smelly and dirty at times, I knew that. But I was sure the beauty of the place, the kindness of the people and the food (oh, that glorious food!!) would more than balance out. But India broke me.
First the beeping. The motorbikes, tuktuks (motorcycle rickshaws), cars, busses and trucks beep their horns incessantly. I'm pulling up next to you where there is no lane, beeep! I'm behind you and do not care that there are feral cows slowing you down, beeeeep!! The light has turned green and we five cars behind you want to make sure you know it, beeeeeeeep!!! It is endless.
Secondly the in your face commercialism, for lack of a better phrase. Everywhere I went, "Madame you like?" Getting off the night bus in Hampi we travelers were mobbed by tuktuk drivers, about 30 of them, thrusting maps in our faces. 
Most stores or restaurants have a hawker out front insisting you enter. The tourist restaurants were heartbreaking for me, with their multicultural menus, extolling Russian, Israeili, Chinese, pizza and pasta selections. Finding Indian food in those areas was like searching for the Holy Grail. When I did eventually discover a street vendor in Hampi or an All Veg place down an alley in Goa, I returned again and again out of sheer relief. Mumbai was, thankfully, flush with cheap, interesting and delicious street food. Fresh fruit and sugar cane juices, fruit plates, pressed sandwiches, idli, parantha, masala dosa, biryani and so much more were thick on the ground.
Third and lastly, the poverty. I'm no Pollyanna, skipping along whistling a happy tune and throwing rose petals about. I know it exists worldwide. For me what was overwhelming was the myriad of ways it presented itself everywhere I went in India.
The mounds of garbage on the side of city streets, country roads and beaches.
The begging children and cripples.
As I woke in the morning on the night bus to Hampi, I looked out the window to see picturesque rice paddies with men defecating in them.
An elderly women selling roast peanuts as I waited for a ferry in Hampi, stood and walked over to the side of the road, lifted her sari, crouched and urinated.
Plastic water bottles, which are almost always the only access people have to clean water, litter the countryside.
Big glamorous houses surrounded by shacks and squalor.
It was not all depressing.  There were moments of beauty and joy throughout my month there.
Finding a kind tuktuk driver who showed us the temples and markets of Old Goa.

Becoming a familiar face to the Superman-hatted sandwich vendor down the street from the hotel in Mumbai.

Finding tiny used book store oaisis' in Goa and Fort Kochi.

Listening to Israeli hippies pick up a tune strummed by the owner of a tiny roadside cafe as I read a book, drank a spicy chai and waited out the rain outside of Hampi.

Meeting a curious family in a bus station in Hopstet.

Those moments sustain me. They will, with the passage of time, help to soften the harshness and sorrow that India wrenched from me.
I love you India, and yet I do not always like you.
I'm off to Zanzibar next week.