Chinese fishing nets
Much to my delight, my friend Elissa came to India for work, and at the last minute found out that Iâ€™m here, too. Elissa had a four-hour (!) conversation with our mutual friend Sharon last December, and the subject of India never came up. Thankfully when Elissa talked more recently to our other mutual friend, Gabby, she mentioned her upcoming trip, and Gabby told her Iâ€™m here. Phew! That was a near miss. Elissa and I decided to spend a week together in Kerala, a state on the southwest coast of India.
Iâ€™m adjusting to life in India and slowly making connections in Bhubaneswar; that said, I was so looking forward to seeing a friend.
During our planning phase, when Elissa was at a conference in Bangalore, we had several giggly phone calls. Elissa is such a trooper: She attended a conference all day every day, gave presentations, slogged through jetlag and luggage lost somewhere in Paris, and then did half the research for our trip and talked to me late at night. Elissa, youâ€™re a rock star!
More Chinese fishing nets
The day I left for Kerala, I got a care package from my folks, filled with all kinds of goodies I asked for, plus a few extras -- including homemade cards from my nieces Maya and Eva, the best presents I couldâ€™ve wished for. Some women are born naturals with children; Iâ€™m not one of them. But those girls -- my god -- I'm crazy for them. They mean everything to me. Words fail me in describing it. Ah, but I digress.
Fresh catch of the day
I flew down to Bangalore to meet Elissa, so we could fly to Cochin together the next morning. We stayed with a colleague of Elissaâ€™s. Finding her apartment was a bit of a challenge; we knew we were nearby, but eventually we realized we were literally driving in circles. At one point the driver got out of the car and left us there for 10 minutes, and he was literally nowhere in sight. Turns out the house numbering system in India is a littleâ€¦ umâ€¦ different. Say all the houses on a street are numbered 1-50. If a new house is built in between, say 10 and 11, instead of being numbered 10A itâ€™s numbered 51. Oh, and there are almost no street signs. I donâ€™t know if this is true in all of India, but itâ€™s definitely the case in Bhubaneswar (where I live).
Anywayâ€¦ we eventually found the apartment building and visited with Elissaâ€™s colleague, who was lovely and a most gracious host.
I'm a Jew in Jew Town!
On Wednesday morning we flew to Ernakulam. Waiting for the ferry to get to Cochin, we saw other white tourists wearing completely inappropriate clothing: one woman wore shorts and a spaghetti strap top, with her bra straps (and lots of skin) showing. It made me feel embarrassed to be associated with her by skin color -- it's so disrespectful of this culture.
We made it to the Leelu guest house and collapsed. Eventually we rallied and went down to the water, saw the famous Chinese fishing nets (which have been used in Cochin for over 500 years), and people selling clothing and trinkets on the side of the road.
Later we had a lovely dinner at The Tea Pot, a British-inspired restaurant, unsurprisingly filled mostly with tourists. We actually had Keralan food, which was quite delicious and turned out to be our favorite meal of the trip.
Elissa and me at the gate just opposite the synagogue
The next morning I went back to The Tea Pot for a much-needed breakfast of familiar foods: scrambled eggs, toast with butter, a big bowl of bananas and pineapple, and coffee, but sadly no bacon -- an ironic thought since I was about to head to Jew Town. Yes, thatâ€™s right, Jew Town. Cochin was a safe haven for Jews as far back as 700 BC. While there are few Jews left here today (most have emigrated to Israel), thereâ€™s still a functioning synagogue.
For a little perspective, the girls living in my hostel in Bhubaneswar have never heard of Jews, and can't get their heads around the fact that I'm an American but don't celebrate Christmas. We autorickshawed it over to the synagogue, which is on Synagogue Lane! The synagogue was great, and we sat for a while and waxed philosophical about being Jews and how amazing it was that Jews found refuge here. (And if Elissa heard me say "I'm a Jew in Jew Town!" one more time I thought she was going to lose it.) We walked around in the spice, blanket, and jewelry shops, and sadly realized it was time to head back to the guest house and then head down to Alleppey.
Back at the guest house, I got a pleasant surprise: Earlier in the morning when I went to pay for the room, I had a different memory than the proprietor as to the price sheâ€™d quoted me via email.
We compromised -- a little higher than I wanted, and a little lower than she wanted. When we got back after seeing Jew Town, her son said they checked the email, saw that they had in fact quoted me the price I claimed (which was an error on their part, lower than the normal rate), and gave me some money back! It wasnâ€™t a lot of money -- the equivalent of about $5 -- but it made a big difference to my spirits. Unfortunately Iâ€™m used to being overcharged for everything, and dealing with an honest businessperson was quite refreshing. Off to Alleppeyâ€¦
Shopping for beautiful handmade blankets