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Yale Writers’ Conference (part 2)…..

If you were here yesterday, you’ve already seen Part I. But if not, you can click here to read it first.

Yesterday was about the speakers and the workshops, but today is about the other stuff–the friends you will make and the fun you will have.

I’ve met some amazing writers through Yale and I’m thrilled to say that many of them have also become friends. They inspire me, encourage me, and make me laugh.

2013_June_18_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_748 2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_159 Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 15, 2014-15Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 09, 2014-36I don’t have pictures of everyone I keep in contact with but these are my girls! They are talented, kind, and super fun to be around. In fact, making writer friends is probably the biggest benefit I can see in attending writers conferences. I’d say I make at least one new friend at every writer event I go to. No one in my house really cares too much about reading or writing (I know, I have failed them all miserably), so having friends who share the same passion is amazing.

I mentioned yesterday that dinner is not included in the tuition for the Yale conference. That gives you a chance to get out and explore New Haven. There are tons of restaurants–Chinese, Indian, Burger Joints, Pubs, Mexican. Here are some of my favorite places:

Tomatillo – think Chipotle but better. It’s super casual and not too expensive. No alcohol is served there.

2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_22 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_23And then there is Oaxaca Mexican Restaurant. They have yummy guacamole and the margaritas aren’t so bad either.

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_572 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_571 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_570 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_569Then there is the Indian Vegetarian Restaurant Thali Too. Their dahl is dahlish!

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_315The Atticus Bookstore has yummy tomato soup and great salads and sandwiches.

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_420One of the places I enjoyed most was Mory’s. It’s a private club but they invite the writers from the conference to come anytime during their time in New Haven. The side patio is lovely.

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_321 2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_160 2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_157Ordinary has the most fabulous grilled cheese sandwich, but be patient, you might have to wait a while for it. 😉 I also loved the beet salad at the Heirloom Restaurant in The Study Hotel.

For the world’s most famous hamburger, go here. There is very little room to sit down, so plan on “to go”. Just fyi, they don’t offer many condiment options. Well, you can have ketchup, onions, or I think tomato. But nothing else. Think Soup Natzi. And learn from my mistake–do not, I repeat, do not ask for mayo. And, dear God, whatever you do, do not ask for french fries. It’s chips or nothing. Personally, I don’t get it. The meat was rawish and the burger is served on bread rather than a proper bun.  But, like, I said, the line was out the door.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 10, 2014-2 Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 10, 2014-4

Yale holds their conference in June. Both years that I attended New Haven was also hosting the Arts and Ideas festival at the same time. Bonus!2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_240New Haven is full of amazing libraries and museums. You could easily spend ten days just sightseeing. There is the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

 The Sterling Memorial Library:

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The Bass Library:2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_3

Yale University Art Gallery: 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_337 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_361 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_389 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_396

The Center for British Art:2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_421

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The Beinecke Rare Book Library where you can see the Gutenberg Bible:

 

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_493 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_494 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_498 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_499 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_500 Some of the other fun things you will see around town:

Skull and Bones.

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It is an “ivy” league school after all. 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_8 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_9

Yummy kettle corn2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_12 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_24 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_29 2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_55 2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_56 2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_57 2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_60

Some people say rubbing his foot will bring you good luck. Other people say that rubbing his foot will make you look like a dork. 2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_129 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_224 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_235 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_237 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_242 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_246 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_257 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_291 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_293 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_317 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_326So, why are you still here? Log off and go get your submission ready! 😉

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not the  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.

So hard to explain………

I have been really grappling with how to share my transition back to America. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes I am truly paralyzed at the thought of doing it all justice which means that I have not been putting fingers to keyboard very much and I am afraid that some of it is going to slip away from my memory.

At least ten times a day, I look around and think (sometimes to myself and sometimes to any poor soul standing near me) that America is exactly the opposite of India. And I really, really mean that. It is exactly the opposite! And that does not mean bad or good – just so extremely different that I know my words would have a hard time describing it accurately.

This morning at Walmart was no exception. Just walking into Walmart is a little bit overwhelming. Heck, just getting to Walmart is different. I grab my car keys and I hop in the drivers seat and I drive myself there. No waiting for Rajinder to fill his water bottle. No giving a list to Francis and Rani for what I want. No asking Ravi if he needs anything. No trying to translate what he actually asks for. No waiting for the guard to unlock/open the gate. And certainly no wondering if I will be able to find what I need. Just me, myself, and I hop in the car.

I control the radio – hey, I listen to the radio. I decide which route to take. This way or that way is up to me once more.  On the way to the store, I pass tons of green trees along roads where (nearly) everyone stays in their own lane (everyone except those dingbats who are texting and driving – seriously that needs to stop). No one honks their horn. People stop at red lights and use their blinkers. There are no wild cows or dogs on the road. In fact, people are walking dogs on leashes and they are fatter than they need to be – the dogs and many of the people. There are no children begging or doing tricks on the side of the road. There are no bicycles with 3 or even 4 people on them. There are no women on the backs of motorcycles with their dupattas (scarves) flowing dangerously close to the back tire. There are street signs (in English) absolutely everywhere. There are no people running to literally catch a bus that is so full of people that it already looks like it might explode.

I pull into Walmart’s abundant parking lot and I pick where I want to park. I don’t have to tip anyone to push another car out of the way to make room for me. I don’t have to ask Rajinder where I should meet him when I am done or explain how long I think it might take. A man greets me as I enter the store and I get a cart. Oh sweet shopping cart heaven. No one follows me through the store. No one asks me 25 times if I need help. Two people and two carts can easily pass each other on each aisle. And while I am shopping I can get a Subway sandwich (with meatballs and s.a.f.e. lettuce), order eyeglasses, fill a prescription, develop photos, and just about anything else I want to do.

I do have to push my own cart and pull my own items from the shelves. And it takes me so much longer because there is so much more to look at and so many more choices. But I only have to go to one store.

The reason I went to Walmart was to get clear trash bags for the recycling container. Once again, we are responsible for our own recycling. And we have two trash cans in the kitchen. One for regular trash and another for anything that can be recycled – paper, plastic, glass, and metal items. So I like clear bags for the recycling. That way we can tell which is which and the trash men know which bags have recycling in them. I also wanted small bags for cleaning out the cat litter.

Here again I am assaulted by choices. Upteen size and color options. I really just want trash bags but now I have to decide if I want white, flexwhite, green, black, clear, or slightly opaque. Do I want handles or ties or looped handles. Do I need 8 gallon, 15 gallon, 33 gallon, or yard bags. It takes me just a second to focus. But then I found the recycling bags I wanted.

Now onto the small trash bags. Holy trashbag batman – they come in colors – vanilla and mint green. Then, I realize – not just colors but scents. Huh? I fully understand that perfume was invented to cover up body odor – but we have moved away from that because it can really be a toxic combination. And as such, deodorant was invented. Perfume is much better on a bathed person and scents are much better for candles. And I know the makers of these cute little mint green 8 gallon bags with handles did not know that they would be used for litter – but the potential certainly existed that they would be used for something smelly. And not for nothing, who decided that 76 bags was the right number of bags. That must have been a fun meeting. And who lost out – the person who thought that 88 was just the right number?

So India is the land where not much of the trash finds its way into a bag and America is the land where trash bags are supposed to smell like a cupcake or a bowl of ice cream. I really don’t know if this makes sense to anyone who has not lived in both places – but honestly, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything is different, different.

And the the final irony is that I searched and searched for these small bags for our kitties poop only to be given about 15 bags of almighty plastic to hold all of the c-r-a-p that I bought at checkout. And they are the same, same size and they do not smell like cotton candy and they would work perfectly fine for holding cat litter. And I would be recycling if I just used those.

On to checking out. Even that is different. The woman in front of me was using coupons. Dang, I forgot about that. Note to self – get Sunday paper, cut out coupons, and remember to bring them to the store – then remember to use them at checkout.

Most transactions in India are in cash – so the debit card machine temporarily stunned me. Do I want cash back? It’s a simple question – but I forgot that it prompts you for that. I stand there waiting to be done – and the people behind me think I have dropped in from another planet – how can I possibly not know what to do here. Okay, okay. No, I don’t want cash – well, unless it is a door prize – but I am guessing that is not the case, so no, I don’t need cash back. But that is not the end of it. Do I want to contribute to a fundraiser for a children’s hospital? I can buy a paper balloon and write my name on it. I should not have to think about it – but wait a minute – what did you ask me? Oh, a charitable donation? Sure. How much? A dollar? Fine. And no thanks, I don’t need to write my name on the balloon. Besides, my hands are full because I am going to have to carry my own bags to the car and remember where I parked it.

So many choices………

Whenever I arrive back in Delhi, I am reminded of (really assaulted by) the fact that India is not the U.S. But the same is happening in reverse. When we land in the U.S., the differences jump out at us.

One of the things that you might be surprised to hear is that the number of choices we Americans have to make can be simply overwhelming when you are not used to making them.

When we got home, I almost immediately went to the grocery store to stock up on all the essentials our favorites. We emptied the house completely before we left this summer to return to India, so we “needed” everything. I literally walked up and down every aisle. I marveled at the choices. Twenty-five types of bread, sixty-three choices of cereal, five types of onions, and 6 types of tomatoes. Then there was the delicatessen – unbelievable – forget it – there was pasta salad with oil-based dressing, pasta salad with mayonnaise-based dressing, pasta salad like your grandmother makes it, pasta salad like your mother-in-law makes it, and pasta salad like you make it because you don’t really care for it the way your grandmother or your mother-in-law makes it. Sweet pasta salad.

On the 26 hour flight home, I made a list of all the things we wanted from the store. And, I left that list on the plane. Yep, brilliant!

But we love tacos. So I knew for sure that taco fixins were top on the list. I remembered everything except the corn. Luckily I remembered in the check out line that corn was (supposed to be) on the list. I unloaded my cart onto the belt and dashed over to the canned vegetable aisle. Holy corn, batman. Honestly. I did not remember that there are approximately 8,000 types of canned corn. Now, don’t forget, I am very jetlagged at this point and I have not been in a grocery store in 6 months. Heck, most of the time, I don’t even do my own shopping.

I was temporarily stunned by the options – not just the brands available but the sheer number of types of corn available was honestly astonishing. In India, corn is pretty much corn. IF you can find a can of corn, you will likely only find one variety. You would be amazed how easy it is to “pick” which one to get. It only took about 15 seconds, but I seriously had to reorient myself as to what we liked. Creamed or sweet or white or yellow or Green Giant or Libbys. Good heavens.

The same was true in the toothbrush aisle. I now live in the land of few toothbrush options. In fact, some vendors will sell sticks on the side of the road. These sticks do not come with any bristles, much less soft, firm, or medium. They do not come in different colors or different lengths. They do not come with a choice of cartoon characters. They do not come in electric or manual form. It’s just a choice of this stick – or that stick over there – that happens to look a lot like this stick over here.

Of course, you can buy more traditional toothbrushes in India too. But you will most likely only get to pick from one or two options.

Please don’t even ask me about my trip to the sub shop where I had to make these choices:

Wheat or white bread?
Hot or cold sandwiches?
Cheese or extra cheese or plain?
Mayo, mustard, or both?
onions?
If you don’t want ham, do you want double turkey?
pickles?
Do you want to make it a combo?

Really, when you count your options, count your blessings too! 😉