Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Little Good News

I've heard from various sources that so far, most of the Westbank has escaped the flooding. The neighborhoods near where my parents live look like they are not too bad. There is wind damage in the area, but overall it's not as bad as most of the city.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

People Who Are Safe

Here's more information on people who evacuated safely...

Margaret Murray is in Baton Rouge.

The McCathy's (Amelia's family) are all fine.

Jonathan Jones' family made it to Mississippi.

Arletta (Natasha's mom) is in New York and will be in Gonzales atthe end of the week. James was able to leave with all the animals and make it to safety.

It's impossible to speculate on the state of people's houses... but I would have to say that everyone I know living on the Eastbank of New Orleans is feeling homeless. Reports coming in suggest that Algiers (where my parents live) is not flooded. there has been wind damage and structural damage in Algiers, but how extensive is not yet known.

The Mayor has ordered a second evacuation of New Orleans. People are being told to not come back to the city for a month. There's more bad news but I don't want to write about it anymore.

Thank you to everyone who has written with kind words and thoughts. It helps.

I'll be trying to get on the computer as often as possible. There are frequent power cuts here in India and the next scheduled one is in 40 minutes. We haven't been able to find a hotel with BBC or CNN so Indian CNBC is all we've got. It is not nice to watch people in suits talk about what stocks and futures are rising because of all the devastation Katrina has left in her wake. But I'll take what I can news is available.

So happy that people got out of the city in time.

I'm worried about the people at the zoo, trying to take care of the animals. Any news out there about them?

Love to everybody...

Oh my god

I feel like I'm going to throw up.

This is the top news item on

"Break in 17th Street Canal Levee is now 200 feet wide and slowly flooding the City of New Orleans. Huge sand bags are being airlifted to try to stem the rush of water in that area. The expectations are that the water will not stop until it reaches lake level."

The lake is considerably higher than the city.

Somebody make this all stop.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Where People Are...

After nine hours on the bus, we are back in email contact.

News is that my parents safely reached Austin, Texas, with the cat and the dog.

The LeBlanc's (Lauren and Mark's parents) are in Shreveport.

The Mojgani's (Shokufeh's parents) are a little north of Baton Rouge.

The Ayo's (Jeff's parents) are in Knoxville.

The Heck's (Laura's parents and brother) are still in New Orleans but so far have been fine at Mr. Heck's workplace.

That's the loved ones news for now. Please post comments if you know the locations of other people.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

La Catrina

India fades into the background as all thoughts turn to home. One of the top emerging news stories is that a potentially huge hurricane will be bearing down on New Orleans. Evacuations are already mandatory in the outlying areas of New Orleans and the mayor of New Orleans is urging everyone to get out. My family wrote yesterday to say they had packed up valuables and prepared the pet carriers to flee to a safe place.

When I was a kid we never evacuated for hurricanes. There weren't any big enough to make everyone run. With hurricane strength measured on a scale of 1-5, most hurricanes that threatened us were the weakest categories, only 1's or 2's. But the storms have gotten stronger. In the last seven years, I think my family has had to pick up and get out of danger's way three or four times. Luckily for New Orleans, the storm has always turned and gone somewhere else. It's a strange feeling to be wishing a orm away, knowing that if it isn't battering your loved ones, it is hitting someone else's.

Every place seems to have it's worst-case disaster fears. In California there is The Big One, the earthquake that will slide Los Angeles into the sea. In parts of China, it is the massive flood that would result from the dams failing in the Three Gorges project. In Naples, it is the idea of another Vesuvius erruption...

For New Orleans, the worst case scenario is a strong hurricane (Category 3 or greater) hitting the city and following the course of the Mississippi River inland. The river would supply the hurricane with water and energy and the storm wouldn't lose strength as it should. The city, sunk in a bowl, is in many places at least 3 meters below sea level. Quickly the waters would start to rise and the city would flood. Pumps could push water some of the water into the enormous Lake Pontchatrain, but the storm would pick up the water and dump it right back. Water levels could rise as high as 20 feet. People might evacuate into highrise buildings and the Superdome as the roads leading out of the city become submerged under water. In the worst case scenario, thousands of people could die.

Absolute worst case is that the storm would contine up the Mississippi River, wrecking the Army Corps of Engineer's controls that keep the river flowing through New Orleans. The river should have changed course in the flood of 1937... but it's been held in place with man-made engineering. If the Mississippi changed course, the water currently flowing through New Orleans would silt up, and one of the largest ports in the US would literally become a backwater. But that's longterm worst-worst case. Better not to think about that.

People always hope that an approaching hurricane isn't The Big One. The storm will peter out. It will turn. There will be less rain and strom surge than predicted. The pumps will work better than expected. Everyone will evacuate in time. And so far, that's always been the case. Unfortunately today's news repots say that all simulations and computer models show the storm hitting New Orleans. The storm was just upgraded to a Category 4.

Concern is running so high that the President of the United States is telling people to evacuate. The Mayor of New Orleans is asking people to put loved ones on planes, if they can, and fly them away. Current estimates are that as many as 100,000 people have no transportation out of town. There's talk of requistioning trains and buses to get people out. Getting out isn't the only problem. What will be left of the city if the storm hits it directly poses other problems. What will people come back to?

So, on this side of the world, there is not much I can do. Hoping to hear from family and friends that they are safe. Watching the news on tv and checking the internet as the storm gets closer to shore. With a hurricane, anything can happen. Fear and prepare for the worst, but ultimately hope for the best.

Fingers crossed, the storm will weaken, pass over a sparsely populated rural area, and quickly fall apart to be nothing but dramatic thunder and lightening. I'll be sitting here with fingers crossed. Thinking of everyone at home. Hoping for the best.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Power Cuts

There are some photos to share of our train ride to Jaipur. Nothing too exciting, but it hasn't been possible to share them yet due to the power cuts this afternoon. Everytime I try to write an email or upload the photos the power goes out and the computer shuts off. It's the fourth or fifth power cut we've experienced today.

Power cuts are nothing unusual in India. Several businesses that depend on electricty have alternative sources that keep them going evben when the municipal supplies are down. This internet cafe is one such place. Half of the computers are on an alternate generator. I was on one of the computers not hooked up. The owner is lending me her personal computer at the moment. So nice of her, but I'm feeling guilty as she is just sitting with nothing to do now.

This morning we went to the post office so I could mail some things home. Mailing an international package is different in every country, but it's especially different in India. Instead of hunting for an appropriately sized cardboard box, it's time to hunt for a tailor. Jaipur has a tailor in residence in the front of the post office. All items are protected first in a plastic bag and then he measures out lengths of white linen to sew a custom bag for the contents. The end result looks something like a lumpy pillow.

From the tailor, the package has to be carried to the package counter. It seemed dark and stifling inside the post office, but it didn't become clear how dark and how stifling until the electricty flickered on for a few seconds. Overhead lights switched on, fans began to whir. And then the power was cut again. The air stopped moving and the room was plunged into darkness as the eyes took a while to dilate. The one constant, with or without electricity, was the computers. The post office has modernized, to an extent, and the computer work went on, municipal power supply or not. Diesel generators are the saviors of high tech enterprise in the cities. My package was weighed and the computer spit out the postage amount due. Business goes on.

As I've been typing, the power in the cafe has gone on and off again twice more. Back on again... for how long? What's most amazing is that people don't bat an eye. Power is great, but without it... life goes on.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Train to Paradise

Our epic train jounrey on the Jaipur Express cum cattle car will actually be more like 20 hours rather than the 16 I was hoping for. One of us is good at math. One of us isn't.

Chris has renamed the train, "Train to Paradise" because it is taking us to Jaipur where we will stay at Hotel Pearl Palace. I stayed there in January and fl a little bit in love with it. We will have air conditioning and Oprah will be on the Sky TV. And there is yummy chai on the roof while little boys fly kites next door.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


This morning I had a little anti-India meltdown. There's a bit of culture shock involved in coming down off the mountain. We went from an Asian way of doing things back to the Indian way of doing things. I don't cope with the Indian way very well. Chris copes everywhere. He is the rock I cling to.

We're back to the heat. We're back to the noise. We're back to the flies.

The other night I stayed up well past my bedtime escaping into the novel The Rule of Four. It was preferable to pretend to be in Princeton, New Jersey at Easter than Amritsar, Punjab in August.

Tomorrow afternoon we leave Amristar on the train. It should be an experience. 16 hours across the plains of Punjab and Rajastan in a train that resembles a cattle car. Bars on the windows and people hanging in the doorways, hoping for a little fresh air.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Today is our last full day here and tomorrow it is time to move on. In some ways I am ready, we've said our goodbyes, we've finished our cooking classes, we're done everything on our list that we "had to do." But it would also be so easy to stay.

We've been making friends and getting into a routine. Our first night in town we went to eat at a place called Nick's Italian Kitchen. The food was so good and the people running it so nice, that we decided to move into the hotel above the restaurant the next day. With the monsoon rains and narrow streets jammed with cars and scooters during the national holiday, it was so great to live in the same building that we took most of our meals in. We've eaten our way through most of the menu and it would be hard to recommend the Italian portion of the menu over the Tibetan. Dishes from both cuisines are delicious.

Yesterday I caved in and finally bought a Buddha statue. I'd been looking on and off for about a week. With all the styles to choose from and the many different Buddha representations, I couldn't quite get my head around making a selection. In the end I chose a medium sized Buddha in the teaching position. The most enjoyment I've had from our time here in McLeod Ganj has been working with Yidam, a young Tibetan, and giving him English lessons, so this particular Buddha seemed appropriate.

One of the great things about staying in McLeod Ganj was the feeling of having a purpose. We took classes. I gave classes. We did very little sightseeing in our eleven days here.

Chris pointed out that four months from now, we'll be boarding a plane to go home. My travels will be at an end and I'll be getting ready to go back to school. I'm looking forward to having a routine again. And being surrounded by family and old friends. Those comforts are given up in exchange for travel and new experiences.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Dog Tired

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Every night in McLeod Ganj there is an all-night dog party. By day, the dogs sleep in the streets, waking for no man or vehicle. But around the time dusk falls, they begin to rise from the pavements, stretching legs and marking their territory. Once most people have retired for the night, the dogs gather together, howling and barking from mid-night to dawn. It's a canine symphony. Now we understand why they look so exhausted during daylight hours.

I've been looking just about as perky as the dog in the photo for the past few days. There is a lot of mildew in this town thanks to daily rains and leaky plumbing. My allegies attacked and won. I've been drugged to near unconsciousness with cough medicine and anti-histimines for the past four days so we haven't done much exploring. We have seen the inside of three hotel rooms though. Third time's the charm because we finally got one that is mildew free and I am on the road to recovery.

I have managed to read a few interesting books in the last few drugged-out days. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Himalaya by Michael Palin, and Holy Cow by Sarah MacDonald were all good. Now I'm finally reading Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. It's been in the bottom of my backpack for over a year now, to be saved for a rainy day. Everyday is rainy here, so it's time to break it out.

This morning Chris and I got up early, while the sun was still shining, and wandered up the road to another village. Monday is a national holiday in India and so there are lots of Indians coming up to visit the area for the long weekend. This morning we saw hundreds of young Hindu men on their way to the swimming pool that is part of a temple in Bhagsu village. Almost all of them wanted to have photos taken with us. "Just one snap, please!" Just one snap with each of the hundreds of them. I think I have had more photos taken of me today than I have had taken in all the previous years of my life.

We'll never see these photos, but I like to imagine the stories that will be spun. What countries they might tell people we are from. What we do for a living. Our names. How we met in Bhagsu... They'll have to make up the stories because they didn't ask us many questions. There was one question I wanted to ask them, but I didn't. "Where are all the women?"

The men on holiday continue to pour into McLeod Ganj, faster than the rains. There is a traffic jam on the street where we are staying. The pavement is wide enough for one vehicle, going in one direction, but there are an uncountable number of jeeps, rickshaws, taxis, motorcycles, scooters, and trucks trying to go in both directions. All of them are full of men and most are decorated with orange Hindu flags with gold tinsle. Even the ever-sleepy dogs are being disturbed by all confusion.

We've escaped for a bit to walk down a road that is still being paved. As a result we've found where some of the Indian women are. Dressed in saris, they are carrying rockfilled baskets on their heads. Without the female roadgang, the road won't be finished. No holiday for them, even when the afternoon downpour begins.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Blog Crash

Yesterday I spent a while changing some of the photography links on the blog template. Now you should be able to click on individual country albums and go straight to the photos.

I thought I was being very clever, but something went wrong when I saved the template and half the blog disappeared. Now some of it is back, but with bugs. If you notice weird things, let me know.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Yesterday's Tibetan cooking class was all about momos.

What is a momo? In Tibet, it's the name for a dumpling. In Japan, a momo is what you call a peach. And in Mandeville, Louisiana, it's the term of endearment for a friend's grandmother.

Our class of nine people sat around a small table and spent at least an hour trying to learn how to manipulate the momo dough into fancy crescent, moon, and tailed shapes. Thanks to some experience with ceramics and many years of leading playdough activities with small children, I had it easy. Pinch squeeze, pinch squeeze, pinch with one last last squeeze results in a beautiful crescent shaped dumpling. Smush push, smush groan smash doesn't work so well. By the time an hour was up, everyone could make the three shapes. Our teacher, Lhamo, was great and very patient.

During the two hour class we made vegetable filled momos (round moons), potato and ginger filled momos (crescent shaped) and sweet momos (braided with a tail). The sweet momos, covered in fresh honey can easily give Turkish bakalava a run for its money.

Today we are making either soup or bread. Chris and I don't remember which. I'm going to try not to sneeze or cough into anything while we cook. We might have found a little piece of heaven here in McCloud Ganj, but it seems that allergies are able to follow absolutely anywhere.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Monkey Business

We are not quite in India anymore and we have found a little piece of heaven.

McLeod Ganj is the home of the Tibetan government in exile and as such lots hippied out travelers come here to be close to the Dalai Lama. He's currently in Switzerland as far as we know. Regardless, the town on the edge of the Himalayas is much cooler than Delhi (with it's current heat index of 110F) and there are no monkey gangs like in Shimla.

Shimla was an interesting place to spend a few days, although I don't think we need to see any more monkeys for a while. Monkeys are interesting, monkeys are cute, monkeys are smart... and in Shimla they are gettig a little revenge on the human interlopers who have taken over their habitat.

One of the main places we wanted to visit in Shimla was the Hanuman monkey temple, set a top a forrested hill. Walking up the steep track towards the temple, we passed shops selling cups of tea, trinkets, and sticks. As we passed by, one man gave an enthusiastic salespitch in favor of stick rental. His heavily accented English was difficult to understand. Chris asked if he was promoting the sticks as helpful for climbing the steep path. "No, he said we could use them as protection against monkeys along the way."

We passed on the stick rental.

Halfway up the hill, the mist rolled in and swallowed us. We could see a few trees, a bit of the path, and a couple of vendors selling monkey snack food. We also passed on the monkey feed. The path narrowed and monkeys appeared. Mommas with babies clinging to them sat on rock piles. Males strutted and fought each other. And then they turned on us.

Our first monkey interaction was with one who charged us and hissed. An Indian man reached down as if he was picking up a rock and the monkey backed off. Nice to know that the same trick that works against maddened dogs in Mexico also works for aggressive monkeys in India. I picked up a handful of small stones, just in case.

We walked a bit further through the mist. I was ahead of Chris when I heard a screech and a shout. Twirling around, Chris had a monkey on his back. She was trying to steal his backpack while her baby clinged on. She jumped off again and I bounced a couple of rocks off the pavement to show that while stickless, we were still armed.

Monkeys kept their distance until the top of the hill. Then we were surrounded. The Indian family who had also been climbing upwards laughed and pointed at our bags, shaking their heads. Bags and no sticks! Bad combination. Charged by another monkey, we decided not to go any higher. We never made it to the Hanuman Temple.

Later in the day I put my hand on Chris' shoulder and he jumped, thinking it was another monkey.

Now we are in a place with few if any monkeys and have a vegetarian Tibetan cooking class in a couple of hours. Like I said, it's a bit of heaven.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Helter Swelter

We made it to India.

I've spent the last couple of nights wrapped around a ice cold water bottle. Delhi has been so hot and humid that it resembles a sauna more than a city. Sitting and doing nothing causes one to sweat. As does sleep. Chris says to think of it as a new fitness regime. We can sweat off pounds without any effort.

The photos from France are finally available. They are the visual proof that we did manage to see something other than the Indian Embassy while in Paris.

Speaking of the Indian Embassy in Paris (which I hope to do never again), the reason I was finally able to get a visa to come to India has nothing to do with them. After 20+ hours paying visits and standing in lines at the Paris Embassy, the only solution was to cancel my application, pop an application and my passport into an envelope and overnight everything to the States. First my mother then my father offered to get on a plane with the documents and fly to the Indian Consulate in Houston. Dad won the toss-up, made it onto a full plane, raced to the Consulate, got the visa issued within 15 minutes of arrival, and popped everything back in an envelope to send it back to me in Paris.

In the Washi Waxwing festival of praise, Mom and Dad win the Best Parents of the Year award. The staff at the Indian Consulate in Houston win the Best International Bureaucrats award. The Myanmar Embassy in Delhi wins an honorable mention for that award for issuing our visas for Myanmar after two 5 minute visits.

After leaving Paris we enjoyed 36 hours in London with no explosions. We had a wonderful dinner with a few close friends and hopped on the plane to India. No horrible floods here in the north, unlike in Bombay. We hope to continue our track record of avoiding both terrorists and natural disasters.

Tomorrow it's off on the train to Shimla in the foothills of the Himalayas. It's supposed to be a bit cooler there. It might be possible to leave the cold water bottle out of the bed.