In an attempt to broaden my cultural culinary skills and to expand the horizons of those interested, I started the Around the World Club. For a donation, I create a meal from each country to which Hannah has traveled. So far I have been able to find delicious recipes and the food has turned out pretty good…but now she is in India. I cannot even pronounce the name of the dishes, much less the ingredients in them. Fortunately for me my friend Orly from Israel is a fabulous cook who happens to LOVE Indian food. She offered to help teach me about Indian cooking, so last week I had a lesson in Indian cuisine and culture.
We traveled to Decatur which has a high population of people from India. First step to increasing my cultural awareness was to try some authentic food. We arrived at one of Orly’s favorite restaurants which smelled of curry the moment we stepped inside. A Bollywood movie was playing on the TV in the corner. Plain white tables set with paper placemats and a fork and spoon were scattered all around. The chairs were church chairs…the kind that you hook together and have a place for a hymnal underneath. At the far end of the room was the buffet line filled with food I did not recognize at all. It is a great benefit to take someone along who knows the food let me just tell you. Orly gave me a tour of the dishes, explaining what was in each one. Determined to stretch myself I took a little of each item on the bar…including the goat. We sat and ate. I was slow because I am not too good with spicy food…the things I think are spicy make lovers of heat laugh. For me ALL of this food was fiery hot, but despite that I liked some of it. We tried the items from our menu for the dinner we are making, and while I still cannot pronounce them I do think they are tasty.
When we finished our lunch we went a couple of doors down to the Indian market. Now this was a cultural experience all on its own. There were rows and rows of rice. I had no idea there were so many kinds. Also grains, beans, and flour. The selection was overwhelming to me. I didn’t even recognize alot of the stuff in the produce section. It was interesting just to look at, and I could have except that I would have been run over. It was crowded, like 5:00 traffic in Atlanta crowded. People in all manner of dress, some in western clothing, some in sarees, and some in what seemed to be a mixture of both. There was Indian music playing, and horns blowing…yes I said horns. I am not sure where they were exactly, as our cart did not have a horn…maybe there were electric carts somewhere? Not sure, but the atmosphere of afternoon traffic was only perpetuated by the sound. It was nearly impossible to get through the isles, and the checkout lines were longer than Walmart at Christmas. I think I was the only English speaker in the whole place, and I spent most of my time just trying not to be in the way. I was unsuccessful. I couldn’t get the hang of leaving my cart at the end of the row to shop. Inevitably I would go back with my arms full and the cart would be gone, pushed out of the way by some other shopper. Trying not to drop the items in my hands I would wander looking into carts to try to find the right one. The problem with this is that every cart had foreign items in it and, since I cannot read Hindi, I had no idea which one was mine. Add to this scene weaving in and out of cart traffic, dodging between foreign speaking women and their children, and jumping to avoid the horns coming up behind you and you have the picture. It was like some sort of nightmare scavenger hunt. Once the cart was found and I moved to the next row the exhausting process started all over again. It was a microcosm of India.
I think Orly saw the deer in headlights look on my face so she suggested I get in line while she finished up the shopping. I was more than happy to oblige. It gave me a chance to just watch without having to use my useless American navigational skills in a foreign country. I can stand in line. No way to mess that up. Orly returned fairly quickly, but she was empty handed. She offered an explanation, “There was a fist fight on the isle I went to. We can get these items at our next stop…the Dekalb Market.” We found out that the crowds were due to an upcoming Hindu holiday. Think Black Friday in an Indian market and you about have it. We moved through the line, out the door, and on to the Dekalb Market which was more international, but less chaotic. Not to mention the fact I am familiar with it because I grew up going there. We got all that we needed plus some.
It was an adventurous day that left me praying for my daughter even more diligently. I felt like I had a tiny taste of what she must feel in a place that is so foreign. To do this day after day would be overwhelming. To do this for a year…I cannot even conceive the idea of what it would be like. I was in that market for less than one hour and I wanted the familiar of my world. My admiration of my daughter and her fellow racers was raised about 100 notches. My guess is that you would get kind of used to it over a month’s time, but the reality of trying to fit into another culture is hard. Even with one helping me who knew the ropes I had difficulty. My mind was bombarded with unfamiliar sounds and smells and crowds. It made me homesick. How crazy is that? I was there, in a U.S. city, in a store, for 45 minutes and I was homesick for my small town, my mountains, and my quiet place. It also made me think of the racers so far away from home and missing the familiar. By now our squads have been on the race for 4 months and I feel sure that as they enter the 5th month this week that they are battling homesickness, among other things. I know that I am having some Hannah-sickness, and missing my girl who is heading to Nepal tomorrow.
It is important for me to remember that being uncomfortable is also a place of growth. As much as the trip to the Indian market caused discomfort for me…I also learned a lot. I was stretched, and tonight I will taste that stretching as I eat the food we purchased. I will have an appreciation of the culture and its people that I would not have had without that trip. Growth is not always a relaxed place for me, but it is one that is worth the effort.