Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monkeys, Cricket, Dead People,etc. Parte Deux, Second Try

When we last saw our heroines, Vicky and Cheryl were in Agra. Touring was over for the evening, shopping had been done, a mediocre meal consumed and the ladies had retired for the evening...

We had made arrangements to meet Dubayah the Guide (not to be confused with "Dubya" for all you Molly Ivins fans) at 9. Somehow, I thought we were headed for Fatehpur Sikri, a city built and quickly abandoned by one of the Moghul kings but Dubayah said we were headed for Akhbar's tomb. The site is on the outskirts of Agra, theorhetically a fairly short ride. However, India does not have freeways or highways to speak of so it's no picnic getting from here to there. Mostly, the ride was through city streets.

About Agra: the entire city seems to be comprised of buildings in varying states of repair, unfinished or collapsing buildings, people and all manner of animals, and piles of rubble. Piles of rubble every 50' or so. I am not exaggerating. There were piles of building materials, piles of bricks, piles of broken brick, piles of dirt, piles of gravel and lots and lots of piles of trash. Some of these piles were being moved from one pile to another, others had apparently been a part of the roadside so long that they had taken on a state of permanence. Oh, and every so often, a small fenced-off gravesite. In the middle of the road. It seems that these sites are the resting places for some of the Muslim holy people. They had been buried in those tombs many, many years before the road, so the government just built the road around the tombs rather than create problems by moving the graves. There is now a law in place that forbids new graves or shrines from being constructed near roads, train tracks or subways.

Akhbar's tomb was beautiful. Akhbar the Great is a person I've been reading about since elementary school, so it was pretty cool to have a chance to see his tomb. The tomb is in a large park which is home to black-faced monkeys, chipmunks, the corkscrew antlered "deer" (aren't they Ibex?) and hundreds of green parrots. This is fledging time for the young parrots so there were several squawking youngsters and shouting mothers working through that "I'm kicking you out of the nest" thing. Look carefully and you will see the mother perched on a small ledge and the fledgling trying not to fly. The park was very serene and quiet, except for those familial discussions.

Akhbar's Tomb was also where were reunited with Mr. Singh, the driver. At least it looked like Mr. Sing, but it may have been his evil twin, Skippy. This Mr. Singh seemed determined to get us home whilst setting a new land speed record. He would speed up as fast as he could, then hit the brakes just as doom seemed inevitable. He wove in and out of traffic like a Kashmiri carpet maker. He passed everything that could be passed, but his true talent was on the horn. He played that horn like a virtuoso, with passion and flare and the concentration of one determined to give the performance of a lifetime. The angels wept. God, in heaven, looked down upon us and said, "I hope the ladies from Seattle understand that they are in the hands of a master. They should appreciate the gift."

We got back to Delhi in the requisite number of parts. That's all we cared about.

Newly-sprouted grey hairs aside, the drive back was worth the price of the trip. We believe that the huge numbers on the roads were due to it being "Will everyone in Uttar Pradesh please get up and change places" Day. The roads were packed with all manner of transportation: bullock, donkey, horse, camel and elephant carts; bicycles and motorcycles; cars, trucks, and overloaded "lorries"; people on foot and in the ubiquitous tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled conveyance that has a cab large enough for the driver and usually two or three passenger. Most tuk-tuks are powered by 1940's era sewing machines. It is not uncommon for a tuk-tuk to have as many as 16 people aboard, and there is always have room for one more.

Rural India is a very busy place. Everyone seemed to be engaged in some task, whether cutting firewood on the side of the road, digging holes, working in the wheat fields, or making dung cakes. The dung cakes are used for fuel, but first they have to be patted out like a tortilla and then laid out to dry. They are then stacked into house-like structures and they manage to turn the dung cake structures into works of art. Others were engaged in brickmaking and brick kilns are everywhere. Some folks were selling fruits and vegetables from hand-drawn carts, still others were selling from trays, on the side of the road.

Once we were safely back at the Global Fortune Select Hotel Vicky and I decided it was time to check out the 750 rupee, 1 hour massages offered at the spa. A teeny, tiny but very energetic Indian lady does the massages and she worked HARD! Both of us felt great afterwards but I've never seen someone put so much of her energy into a massage.

Training Monday went fine, although we were a little behind by the end of the day. Okay, 3 hours behind, but our choices were to either whiz through the material so that no one understood or to slow down and make sure that people were getting the material. We chose the latter. We began and ended Tuesday 3 hours behind, but by the end of yesterday, it seemed like people were really beginning to understand what we are trying to accomplish and to make it their own. Les was muttering something about staying through Saturday to finish up, but the Sri Lankans are leaving mid afternoon Friday and Vicky and I are on the first flight out on Saturday morning. He can stay if he wants, but the only one to hear what he has to say will be the mosquitos in the training room that have spent the last week and a half trying to give us malaria. I do think that peer coaching and problem-based learning have a real shot at success here and that feels pretty darn good.

Here's how pathetic we have become: by the time we get back to the hotel in the evenings, there's usually not time to go anywhere because of the traffic. So, we've been eating in the hotel every evening. Tuesday night, we did get a chance to do a little shopping. When we returned to the hotel, the restaurant manager greeted us at the door, saying, "Would you like food? We are ready for you." Then, as we were seated, he said, "White and Red wine for the misses and for Sir a beer?" When the drinks were brought, he stopped by to ask if we had a special request for the Two-bit Taiwanese (news update: they are there on a seven year contract and actually the male singer is quite nice). We'd already heard Patsy Cline, so there really wasn't anything we wanted to hear. The power went out for a minute or two, but not the music. Sigh.

The weather was terrible for first two days of this week, with winds, thunder and rain that had all of us looking for a house falling out of the sky. Apparently, it's been much cooler than usual and everyone apologizes for the weather. We survived Winter '06-07, a little rain and thunder here is nothing, especially since the power goes out 10 times a day.

That's my story, for now.

Next: the signs of India.

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