Archive for the ‘ travel ’ Category

The Day I Donned The Hard Hat & Orange Vest

God and I have a pact: he gives me as much varied experiences as possible before he gives me what I really want. That being said, when I got out of college I had a lot of jobs: a lot to the point that even after 5 years at one company, my future employers are still concerned about my “commitment”. Commitment was something I was afraid of-true but not in my career. I was ready to buckle up and spend 5 years in a company easily. But the first 2 years after graduation, the longest I was at a job was 8 months and shortest well, a few months. I still did not have a one day job like some of the celebrity marriages.

As an engineer out of college, the one job I least expected to take was a construction gig. Being a female, 5’5, I knew early on I was not made for construction. Well God had different plans for me.  How could I define my construction gig in few alphabets? FEAR FACTOR!! After a technical interview, I received my offer letter the very same day….no waiting anxiety, yay!! I was stoked.  A day before I was officially going to start, I got this call from my boss and he asked me to pick up my hard hat and orange vest the day I start. Did it ring any alarms in my engineer brain? Heck no! So here I was on a Monday morning picking up my busted company car, an orange vest and a hard hat. I was ready to be chauffeured to the site which was 2 hours away and we had to get there at 7.  I still remember the moment the big gates opened, and I saw big burly men and few very well built women walk through the gates. I got stares, a lot of them- to the men here I was a normal sized woman and Indian at that. A lot of them did not know what Indian looked like. Here I was an exotic bird in the construction zone.

My first day at the job I got to jump down a 7 foot sump or commonly known as a hole. I am 5’5 in case I did not specify it. I now know I am claustrophobic (thanks to the wonderful MRI machine that ate me for few minutes few years after my sump travel), but back then I was young and stupid. I had my inhibitions, but when a 6-foot guy refused to jump in if I did not do it, I just had to do it for womanpower. I did with no escape route planned. After 1 hour of stretching my legs like I never have, I made it alive outside the sump. The 6 footer did not make the cut and was laid off, but I got to do more cool stuff. I laid pipes, used all sorts of grease and in the 2 months I was there I never got to do any engineering.

I was the Angelina Jolie of the construction zone. No, I don’t look like her from even outer space. I was small in comparison to the construction women and that they did not know where I was from helped.  Let’s call him R just in case my construction boyfriend read this blog:

R: Hey, where you from? You Latina or some

Me: No I am Indian

R: Where that be? Like Native American. You don’t look it.

Me: No from India, India.

R: A’right!! So you make curry? When you going make curry for me? (this question was asked everyday we met)

Me: Ummm…never!

R: what you do here?

Me: Engineer

R: did you go to a 4 year college and s**t?

Me: Ummm…yeah

R: you are what I was looking for. I dropped out of 4th grade. I always wanted to be with a girl who went to college and s**t.  You have the book smart, I got the street smarts…you know what I am sayin?

Me: Yeah (in my head: not really)

R: If you feel me like I am feelin you, then we can have somin special

Me: I have a boyfriend in San Jose

R: What that mean? You could have a boyfriend in San Jose and I could be your boyfriend in Sacramento. That’s how we do it here.

Me: Laughing.

The construction industry is different and hard work. They wake up early to get to the site by 7. We had to do daily stretches to ensure no one was injured during the day’s work.  R would stretch sexily in front of me so I could see what I was missing. He would turn, look at me and stretch. I got free food from the road coach (food truck). All of R’s construction friends were jealous he was talking to me.

My two weeks in the construction zone was beyond funny.  I got hit on by every possible man: tall, fat, short and thin. In case I did not mention R was 5…so yeah! Construction work is hard work! Each day I would get home by 5pm and I would crash on the couch by 7pm. My construction gig is one of my proudest achievements ever. How many women can claim to work in a construction zone? Every time I go for interviews and they ask me “define a moment when you were a hard-ass?” I spring my construction days on them, and they are stumped. I also happen to meet the most genuine people who were hardworking beyond anything I have ever known.

It’s been over 5 years since I left my construction gig, but to this day I do a double take when I see someone in an orange vest and hardhat. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I may not have eaten cockroaches or jumped off the building like the fear factor show, but every day at the construction site taught me how strong I was as a person, mentally and physically. They certified that “fear was not a factor for me” unless it included an MRI machine.

Advertisements

She is today but a dream- soon to be reality!

Today is a new day, a new story, a new beginning. My husband and I are starting a new journey into the unknown. As we fill out the last few sections of our adoption papers, I am nervous, excited, scared and yet very happy.  A dream I had for years is finally taking shape, and now it is our dream after months of discussions and talks. Phew!  As I fill the remaining sections, I wonder if she is even born and yet here I am anxious to hold her in my arms. My maternal instincts have been on an overdrive since I first went to an orphanage as a fourteen year old. I met this little guy with cleft palette who clung on to me.  The emotions I felt that moment were so surreal. I wanted to take him home with me, but I was smart to know I was miles away from being a mother.

IMG_4290My first stint with motherhood began four years back. On a sunny December morning in Chennai, India, I was embarking on my first blind date of my life. I was nervous, excited, jittery- all of the above as I packed all my gifts for my date. My blind date was special- she was a little three year old I had seen pictures of since she was a few months old. I had seen her grow in those bi-annual updates I received of this child I was sponsoring from an orphanage in Chennai. Her name was Methilda, and I feel like I have grown with her. I was a new college grad, in my first job when I decided I wanted to sponsor a child.

Little MethildaSo here I was going to meet my little girl whose picture I have flaunted as my own for years. I took my husband with me so he could meet my daughter. That’s right- she was mine before I married him, ain’t no sharing in this aspect! We got to the orphanage, and were taken to a room where Methilda was with a bunch of other little kids. I was overwhelmed beyond I had ever experienced. Now, I am far from the emotional crying kind. I make people cry! I really have to be upset to cry and I have never experienced crying with joy in my lifetime. For the very first time, I was fighting back tears as I held her in my arms. I bought her a Minnie mouse from the US, and a bunch of chocolates anticipating competition. I distributed the chocolates to the children in her class, while she walked around with me. We spent a lot of time with those children, taking pictures, talking to them and just enjoying the innocence in the air.

As we walked back, I saw a little girl hold my African American husband’s hand and walk.  They had no language in common and yet this little girl was talking to him and he was listening. She insisted she walk with him. I translated some of it but the rest they were having a conversation.  That day when I got to hold Methilda will always be special. Her smile lit up my world for those two hours, and nothing mattered but her.

As my husband and I start this journey into the unknown, we know it is not going to be easy. There will be trials, heartbreak and tears- I was warned of all that by the agency. I am prepared for the battle ahead of me. Here we are round 1 of many more to come, but we will survive. I know it will be worth it when I hold her in my arms. Until then, she is a dream waiting to become our reality!

I boarded a roller coaster named America!

I boarded a roller coaster named America!.

I boarded a roller coaster named America!

I was waiting at Chennai airport to board my first flight ever to come to America. After 23 hours on a flight, I could see the San Francisco skyline from the flight. It was beautiful, all lit up on a cold July evening. Was I prepared for my American life- sure I was. When you are a teenager, you know it all. And I knew America. How could Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and Friends be wrong? Friends had to portray real America- they lived in New York, hung out in a coffee shop for most part and Hollywood movies: Oh yeah, I sure knew America. I knew English real well, I wore jeans and t-shirt, and I love pizza and hamburgers- I was American already.Image

DISCLAIMER: Everything in this article portrays India before 2001.

A day after we landed in America my mom and I decided to go to 7-11 to buy some sandwiches. As we walked there, this African American man looked at us and said “Y’all are pretty!” The complement totally passed by me as I gave him one of my “excuse you” looks. How dare he say I am pretty, the balls on that man! I wanted to fly up to him and punch him for calling me pretty. Anyways I was smart to realize that at 5’5, there was no way I would even dent his 6’5 frame. So there I was angry that this random guy called me pretty! I came from India; we never smiled at strangers on the street, so pretty was not acceptable.

My first day in college was trickier. I was a tomboy, who up until 2001 wore big jeans, bigger shirts and had short boy cut hair.  I went to college dressed exactly like that: big jeans, shirt and short boy cut hair. I used to be a popular girl in my high school, so why would I change my style in America? The girls stared at the fiasco I was. It took me three years to shrink my jeans to proper size, big shirts changed to right size shirts. While hair grew long too- that was partly because of a challenge. I would trade my horse tail mane for my cool spunky cut any day.

I had to mentally prepare myself to be a girl. Even though I was a tomboy in big clothes, I still got asked on dates. Dates did not exist in my vocabulary. I wasn’t sure why these guys I met wanted my phone number. Some were real slick: Do you want to give me your number so we can study? Sounds legit right! Not really. That study session was all about what do you like to eat, do you dance, do you want to go out for dinner-  I had no idea how dance and eating had anything to do with electrical engineering. Well, It took me two years to get past making excuses like,” my mom has cooked for me”, or “I don’t eat outside”, versus just saying blunt no. Dates scared me and I dreaded eating with a fork and knife. It took constant reminders of which hand the fork needed to be and which hand the knife should be.

Starbucks, why were you so impossible. I wasn’t invited to the coffee renaming session when Frappuccino, cappuccino replaced coffee. On one of my unaware dates, this guy took me to Starbucks. The whole time I told myself, “I can do it, Be cool, its coffee, there is no fork and knife”.  I looked at the menu and I was stumped. I thought it was going to be in English. Frappuccino, Cappuccino, espresso- I stood there stumped pondering on this new language. So I did the easiest thing ever- I ordered coffee. I hate black coffee. In India coffee comes with milk, sugar already in the coffee and that’s what I ordered at Starbucks. My Starbucks coffee came with nothing but black water. My “date” showed me the milk area. I did not know milk came as half-half, whole and fat free. It was too hard to decide so I skipped milk. Sugar, well I thought a bag of sugar equated to a teaspoon of sugar, so I put two bags. I walked out of Starbucks accomplished that I had made my first American coffee. Not really!! First sip and it was bitter, but I did not want to throw the coffee the guy bought, so I drank most of it until my bus came to save my soulwoman-freaked

My American journey took almost three years in the making, before I could confidently walk into an unknown territory knowing I can handle this. 12 years since I first landed in San Francisco and I still get culture shocks. Ordering food still brings out the immigrant in me. Even a simple question like wheat or white bread leaves my head in a swirl, perplexed if I really need to choose. But I do, and I have realized all it takes is a breath of air. A gasp of fresh air and I am ready to choose sourdough!

THREE WEEKS AT HOME!

After eight years and six failed trips, here we were finally in San Francisco airport making our way to India. This trip was special for many reasons. I was going back home after eight years and a marriage. I was stoked to take my African-American husband to India and nervous how he was going to handle it all.  We were miles apart- he was as American as I could find and I had lived most of my life in India. So here I was taking him to see me.

Here was our agenda: Bangalore, Coimbatore, Madras, and the state where my family was from- Kerala. While I could go on and on about the first two places, Kerala was a place I had visited twice before.  I was excited to explore the place called God’s own country…. and in every sense of the world it was as heavenly as it could get.  We toured the backwaters of Kerala where you truly know why it is called God’s own country. Calm, serene and just peaceful- that one night on a houseboat in the middle of the backwaters was exactly what I needed. I was rejuvenated to say the least.Image

We explored Kerala by ourselves for the most part, except for a few days with family. That was when the fun began. My African American football-playing husband was a freak of nature in my country. Sure, there were men who were taller than him, and bigger than him- what my people never understood was why would a football player have big shoulders!! Soccer was football in India, and American football was an alien sport. In Cochin, a state in Kerala we decided that we were going to get my husband a kurta (a tunic in America). While people wondered why he was built so weirdly- they thought maybe just maybe he was related to Mohammed Ali, and he boxed for a living. While Mohammed Ali became his family, he represented President Obama to them. There were countless times when people told him they loved President Obama, and he stood there stumped.  While African Americans often complained about their hair, India loved it. My family and friends loved touching his hair, and combing it with a pick. It was a new toy and they loved everything about it- texture, fluffiness –all of it.

ImageKerala, what do I say about the state that is my identity. There is no place like her. She is calm, untouched by technology and going there takes you into a trance as you wonder how on earth could a place be so untouched by modernity.  I had been away from India for eight years, so much had changed and yet nothing had changed. The warmth and love that I think is the core of India was untouched.Image

India is more than just food, or yoga as the world sees it. She is an embodiment of love and immense sacrifice. The moment I got out of the Chennai airport, a sense of belonging filled my soul. I knew I was home. After years in the US, an American husband, a home, a career- India still remains my only home.  India might have changed with her booming economy, but the heart of India remains untarnished.  No matter where I might travel, going back to India is rejuvenating- It’s homecoming for my soul!

My rendezvous with mystical Morocco

Packing my bags, getting on a flight, sitting for hours in a cramped up space: while all this might sound horrendous to scores of people, for me it is therapeutic. I absolutely love the thrills of waiting for the D-day of my trip to unknown horizons. New cultures, people, food, food and food..hahha…I totally live for this. Morocco was one such adventure for me.

When we decided on Morocco, it was based on a budget vacation. The price was good and we had never been there. Sure we knew where Morocco was, and the food was amazing…. but besides that there were no expectations.

D-day did arrive and here we were going to Morocco. After the long flight ride from California to New York and New York to Casablanca, here I was spell bound from the second I landed in Morocco. We were welcomed by our tour guide Ibrahim and 12 other people with whom we were going to spend the next 14 days of our lives. We had young, old, fashion designers and people who were so well traveled that suddenly I was a novice in traveling. I had never met more people who had traveled to India than on this trip. For the first time in my life, I was among people who yearned to travel as much as I did. The interesting stories, the breakfasts and dinners, the bus rides, the endless laughters- each of those moments will be relived a million times. We were a family for 14 days, and we shared everything together.

As our bus ride took us through the streets of Casablanca to Rabat, I was hooked by the gorgeousness of the place and people.

Rabat, the capital of Morocco was like every other big city in the world. Absolutely stunning, this place was filled with history among jeans clad young people ‘hanging out’ at 8 pm. Rabat to me was a culmination of old meets new, a perfect cozy start to tourists like me.

From Rabat, we made our way to the old Imperial city of Fez. How do I describe Fez beyond the old imperial city with its magnificent palaces and forts? The air smelled of spices, the aura of artisans making pottery, crafts and carpets welcomes the shopaholics to the city known for its arts and crafts.  We enjoyed a day of shopping for carpets, spices for your every problem including snoring (So ladies if you have a snoring husband- Fez is your snore stopping destination!), and magnificent pottery. For the art lover in me, Fez was divine.

Our journey to Ouarzazate was another highlight of our trip. We saw Morocco’s own Grand Canyon. While they called it little, it was no little Canyon. Standing there amidst the tranquility of mother earth was both overwhelming and enchanting. We saw courageous rock climbers, and people enjoying the stream of water amidst nowhere.

ImageOurzazate our new stop was the desert city at the gates of the Sahara. My first time at a desert and I realized how overwhelming it could be. We woke up real early to get to the desert by 5 am to see the sunrise on the dunes. Being an avid hiker, I figured it would be real easy. Little did I know Mother Nature was right there to tame the cockiness in me. Fatigued and tired, I felt like I scaled the Mount Everest as I reached the top of the dune escorted by my own Moroccan prince.  Tranquility set in as I sat on top of the dune waiting for the rising sun. The horizon was orange and red, and the most beautiful sight I had ever seen in my life. The camels were hanging out as we were watching the beautiful sunrise- a Kodak moment captured in the canvas of memories forever! Ourzazate, you will always be my first desert love.

IMG_8834If all this wasn’t highlight already, we were going to the magnificent Marrakesh. Marrakesh reminded me of my home, India. The Jaama El Fna Square with the snake charmers, food, belly dancers, monkeys doing tricks- as I walked down Marrakesh, I was walking down my childhood lanes as I relived India again. While tourists marveled at the tricks, I was reliving a part of my past again. Thank you Marrakesh for making me nostalgic. As I sat on the highest floor of the café’s, the hustle and bustle of the square brought back memories of my life in India where a simple evening at a square like this was an event.  I know I am rambling about the square, but that’s where I spent every evening in Marrakesh! Besides the square, Marrakesh had beautiful Palaces, Gardens, and amazing architecture.

Essaouira, a beautiful beach town near Marrakesh was an absolute delight. Calm, pristine and blue- it was almost like the sky washed down to the earth in the form of the beach. Argan oil, the magical oil for your hair made by women owned and operated company was our next stop. We clearly went overboard shopping all things Argan. Who doesn’t want beautiful hair after all!! I am sure men would have bought some if it would have cured baldness!

Our next and final stop was Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco. Modern architecture adorned the streets of Casablanca. The magnificent Hassan II Mosque rested in the lap of Casablanca was the most serene point of our trip.  At Casablanca, we as a group had our last farewell dinner where we spent our last few precious moments before adieu.SONY DSC

Morocco, a mystic place that made me hers from the second I landed there. The people welcomed me because they loved Shahrukh Khan, an Indian actor. Suddenly, I was popular because I came from the land of Shahrukh Khan. I will forever be indebted to you Morocco for the nostalgic feelings you evoked in me. Thank you for welcoming me with your hospitality and showing me how simple moments in life are the most precious ones.

Advertisements