Sunday, June 20, 2010

Learning India

This past weekend, Jessica and I attended a three-fold celebration: a baby shower, a 60th wedding anniversary, and graduation celebration. 

Colors, music, talking and standing Indian men surrounded us early on.   The lovely pregnant woman and her younger sister sit on the love seat accepting the blessings and prayers from female relatives and close family friends.  Perfumes, oils and incense are waived before their faces, then oils and spices are spread across their cheeks and forehead, and, finally, rice is thrown into their hair.  The men did not offer blessings.  I guess it was not our place to bless a pregnant woman.

In the hour Jessica and I watched the child-blessing ceremony, we saw 30 or more women bless Smirthi and Swati.  The parade of blessings began with two women and a man chanting in an old language.  The chanting lasted close to 15 minutes.  At most Indian events, we have heard the chanting.  At Swati’s wedding ceremony the chanting began and ended every significant event: the engagement ceremony, the trading of gifts, the blessings, music and celebration, and throughout the entire wedding ceremony.  I should not have been surprised when I heard the chanting begin, but I was. 

As with every other Indian ceremony and celebration I have had the opportunity to attend, everyone except those at the center of the celebration is talking.  An Indian religious ceremony is a social event, not merely a solemn rite.  I think that is something lacking in Christian ceremonies.

In 2008, Jessica and I were invited to ten weddings.  We were able to attend five (several overlapped other weddings or me taking the Bar).  Four were variations of the traditional Christian wedding and the fifth was an Indian wedding.  At each of the Christian wedding ceremonies, people sat or stood during the ceremony.  We paid attention to the bride and her groom and listened avidly to their vows and smile at their unabashed love for each other.  Socializing was before or after the ceremony and largely restricted to the specific events designated for celebration and socialization, like the rehearsal dinner (the get-to-know-the-other-family dinner) and the reception.  At the Indian wedding, 300 plus people socialized during the entire four hour ceremony, at times requiring the priest/monk to ask the designated MC to tell everyone to be quiet so a particular rite could be performed without interruption.  While the Christian Bride and Groom are the center of attention for the day and the eye of a storm, the Indian Bride and Groom are the calm at the center of a category 5 hurricane for three days of social ceremonies.  Privacy and clear thought are for those on the outside of the hurricane.
This last week, at the baby shower for Smirthi, again the celebrants socialized and seemed to pay little heed to the reason to be at the party.  Do not take this to mean that Indians do not respect their own religious traditions.  Much the opposite.  As Jessica was pulled by Jothi, the Grandmother-To-Be, to the next in line to give blessings, I moved to a typical male Indian position and role: proud on looker and cameraman.  I stood off to the side of the love seat and took a dozen pictures of Jessica and the lucky mother-to-be.  From that vantage, I could see that all aspects of the event center around those women.  The women folk, able to become pregnant and bring life into the world, offer their blessings to the newest mother and life-giver, while the men folk smile and talk and help maintain the familial ties.  The socializing during the event ensures that the family ties are maintained and strengthened.  Possible new connections are made and family politics play. 

Never was I told from my Indian sources that I should beware of talking to one relative about politics, issues, or another relative.  At no point did I have the feeling that I would be endanger of offending a member of the family.  It seems as though this large and extended family had no in fighting.  I know this is not true—common sense and past experience tells me that.  But at the family event, all the problems that may be under the surface are not invited into the celebration.

Every individual invited is brought into the fold of the family, like Jothi pulling Jessica to the front to offer good health blessing to Smirthi and “get pregnant vibes” to Swati.  The Indian heart is large and encompasses the family friends.  The ceremony is a reason to the pull the family together and ensure that the family renews its ties—beyond email, facebook, and phone calls.

In addition to all that I have learned about Indians, I have not learned much of India.  I have learned of the people that have come to the United States and have grown up here, but of India, I only know its successful, hard working, and opened hearted class of people.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Not Your Mother's Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I did up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches for dinner.  The normal method is two slices of bread and a slice of cheddar cheese.  Stick on pan, let cheese melt a little, flip, brown or burn some, then serve and eat--usually with some soup.

My Grilled Cheese Sandwich is not that simple or normal.

Grilled PPC Sandwich

  • Pepperoni
  • Provolone
  • Cheddar
  • Bread
  • Butter (or whatever you doctor says is good for you)
  1. Crispy the pepperoni.  I wrapped up four pieces of pepperoni in a paper towel and microwaved them for 20 seconds.  
  2. Butter the outside of the bread
  3. Heat frying pan (medium heat--for electric stoves, you will need to turn the heat down as you make more).  Throw some butter in the pan.  
  4. Put one slice of bread in pan, butter side down.  (Ignore the Dr. Seuss book about the correct side for butter.)
  5. Place the slice of provolone on, then pepperoni slices, top with cheddar, then put the other slice of bread on with the butter side up.
  6. Flip the stack when the cheese has melted enough and you think the bread is browning.
Eat and Enjoy!

Most of the ingredients are interchangeable with the ones you would like better.  Munster works well.  Lunch meat tastes good, but it should be cut down some to allow the cheese to bind the bread together.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fish Bowl

The Fish Bowl is not about one fish a bowl, it is about a school of fishes in a bowl.

When Jessica and I arrived in Iwakuni, we were told that we lived in a Fish Bowl--a small town where everyone knows each others business.  I believed those people.

Conceptually, I understood the meaning and thought I had experienced the Fish Bowl.  Because of my billet as the legal assistance attorney, I know half of the gossip on the base and from the horse's mouth.  Because I am in the legal office I know most of the crimes on the base.  Because of both those things, I cannot go anywhere on base without seeing someone that has either walked through my door or been associated with something on the base.

Case in point: today I had lunch with Jessica at Crossroads.  Crossroads is the fast-food food court at the non-military business center of the base.  I arrived around the meet time, and hunted down a booth.  During my booth hunting, I saw a Marine that had asked me questions at a different social gathering.  I again told him to come in to my office--standard line for most things.  I grabbed a booth and while I waited for Jessica I saw several familiar faces, and one that came to ask questions about his/her case.

I want clients and potential clients to feel like they can approach me at any time.  Most won't because they think everyone will know their business--not because of me, but because human paranoia makes us think our private lives are public knowledge.

Another aspect that has made me know that Iwakuni is a Fish Bowl is the criminal case I was working on.  Several witnesses lived in the same building as the accused and the investigator.  Other witnesses lived in the same building as me.  Just like I live in the same building as some of my legal assistance clients.

And if they don't know me, they know Jessica.

The Fish Bowl is not about seeing through it or being on display.  The Fish Bowl is about being in close quarters with everyone else.