Monday, August 24, 2015

Where do I stand?

We have all had friends at some point.  Well, we think they are friends and then the going gets tough and you realize they really are not your friends; or you find a friend come out of the wood works.  Friendships are very important in life and I believe they shape you in a lot of ways.  Yes, your parents are your first critical influence, but your friends help mold your character and fine tune your personality sometimes.  They help you learn and understand issues that are hard to deal with or one simply cannot discuss with your parents.  They serve as one of your pillars of strength and it’s a significant one at that.

I’ve gone through friends in my life and I’ve been foolish with them or even immature and disrespectful.  Over the years, I’m left with 3 friends that are not family and not related to me.  Well, I’m kinda fibbing.  One of my “friends” is a family friend and well, she is kinda family although she’s not family, but I’m including her in the “friends” category to make me look good.  So, there you have it.  I'm sticking with the number 3!  I have 3, not 2 very good friends!

I’ve never really pondered on what made a good friend and what didn’t, but something happened recently that made me think about this.  It’s the topic of secrets.  Whom will you hold secrets for?  Also, whom would you trust with a secret?

A few weeks ago, I was privy to a secret.  I got a call and as we talked I got wind about someone else. Of course, the person who called me said, "don't tell anyone this.  I don't think s/he would want others to know..." and you get the story.  The secret itself wasn't "impressive".  If I were to grade the gossip, I would give it a B-.  Besides, the person who I got the run down on wasn't a good friend of mine.  Was an acquaintance.  Wasn't even someone I dealt with on a regular basis.

A couple of days later, I see some "news" on Facebook.  An engagement or something like that. Now, this was interesting because I didn't even know that the couple who got engaged were dating.  This could have been something my friend could have told me about.  But she didn't.  I never questioned her.  See, the thing is this.  The person who got engaged was her best friend and so she was protecting her privacy.  Maybe the person who got engaged had told her not to tell anyone that she was even dating.  Maybe she didn't want things to be public 'til it was official.  That's pretty standard psychotic desi protocol - "don't tell anyone."

So, a blog post was born.  I took a step back and thought about it.  It is true.  We defend the privacy of our friends that are nearest and dearest to us.  We hide their mistakes and make them look good even when they are not there.  Don't talk poorly about our best friends in front of us.  We will defend them because we truly love those that are close to us.  If I were to talk about someone in a manner that may compromise them, then perhaps, they are not my closest friend and one can gauge who my best friends are based on who I talk about and how.

Sometimes I run into a secret I'm trusted with to not tell anyone and someone calls me to tell me about this secret and I wonder.  Is the friend who trusted me with the secret, just telling me something that's not a secret and pretending to make it a secret?  Or does she not trust me, but wants me to believe we have a great friendship?  I'm still working on the fake trust part, but friendships are so interesting, but it all boils down to understand and respecting another human being.

In reality, the best principle is to not talk about people whether you like them or not, if you can help it.  It's just the right thing to do.  Whoever said doing the right thing was easy?
I step back and think about my friendships.  Who are my go to friends?  Who are my fun friends? Who are my acquaintances that I love to gossip about?  Here's the thing though.  If you do have an acquaintance and you find out you hang out with them long enough to call them a friend, things change.  It's all about truly getting to know someone and having empathy before you decide to not talk about them.  Or something like that.
Until next time,

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wax be this, wax be that!

We all know what wax is, right?  Well, we do and then we don't.  There are several sides to wax.  No, this is not a gross story about ear wax, so please get that off your mind.  Now that I have said that, let's start off with the prep to my story.  It's really a defense story, but here goes. As most of you know, I'm a dentist and part of my dental school training is learning to sculpt teeth on wax.  I can't recall the name of the wax, but we had different colored wax for that.  As I progressed through dental school, I progressed through the waxes - boxing wax, bite wax, sticky wax, rope wax and I'm sure several others that I can't recall right off the bat.  It has been a while.  So, when someone talks of wax, you can see how I get confused easily.  It has potential to be a complicated topic.  And of course, there's the wax that everyone thinks about; the kind used for candles.

Anyway, my story really is about getting a manicure/pedicure.  I found this local shop where they do the job, but what I liked most about them was that the treatment included the pink paraffin wax.  This shop used it for the hands and the feet.  It feels really great after dipping ones hands and feet in the wax.  Well, as time progressed, I guess to cut costs the shop stopped offering paraffin wax for the feet and soon they didn't offer it at all.  I stopped going there.  I decided I would look for another place that offered wax as a standard part of the manicure; at this point I had given up on any store using wax during the pedicure.  As I looked, I was disappointed.  No one offered it.  What's the deal, I wondered, but I continued on my hunt.

Couple of months ago, I went to a mani/pedi to one of those mall spots.  I took my 12 year old friend with me.  So as they are doing the manicure, I ask if they offer the wax.  They said yes, would you like wax?  I said, yes, I would, how much?  They thought about it and said $10 more.  I said OK.  Let's do it.  I said, also, I know she would like the wax too.  I was mentioning the friend I took along.  As luck would have it, they said they would do it and they were heating it up.  I said OK.  They were finishing her manicure and applying her nail polish and they hadn't done the wax yet.  I asked about it and they said they could do it after.  Most of you know where this story is going, but I was clueless.  I was surprised that they would do it after the manicure.  I usually got the wax before and then we washed our hands and then they applied the nail polish, but oh well.  Who was I to question?  I don't know about this stuff.

They asked me how much wax I wanted, if I wanted the whole arm.  I should have known by then, but no, the light bulb in my brain was still off.  I explained that I only wanted my hands and didn't want any above my wrists.  I was quite confused.  No one ever had me dip my hands in the wax above my wrist.  Whole arm?  What?  Anyway, they finished her mani/pedicure first and took her to the wax.  They told her to sit down and that they'd be right back.  I was getting my nails done nearby but something was not adding up.  Well, the woman came back and applied the wax (the kind to wax hair from your body) to her hands.  It took all that for me to say, "No!  Stop!  We don't want that.  We want the other wax, you know, for the hands?  You dip your hands in it and it makes it feel smooth?"  The woman says, "Oh you mean the paraffin wax?"  Duh!  I said, "Yes!  The pink paraffin wax."  She says, she doesn't offer it there.  She asked if we still wanted our hands waxed.  I said, no!

I was telling my friend's mother this story and she was laughing up a storm.  She threatened never to let her daughter come with me again; she was joking.  She told me to blog about it.  She said it would be funny.  So, I decided to write this blog but I thought I would defend my case.  Honest mistake.  Anyone could have made that mistake and besides, someone like myself, who has dealt with a lot of different waxes is bound to get confused at some point, right?  So, there's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Interesting enough, I went to a spa for a mani-pedi recently and still no paraffin wax.  The woman said that they had to stop using it for hygiene reasons?  Or something like that.  I don't know.  Oh well.  I guess, I won't be searching for it anymore then, if it has been pulled from the regimen.  And hopefully I won't make a total fool of myself again!  C'est la vie!

Until next time,

Saturday, August 8, 2015

American Fruit

I used to think that pears were the bomb!  And then I came to America.  Funny thing here is that apples and pears are abundant.  What about the fruits I grew up with?  Jackfruit?  Nees berries?  Custard apple?  Guava?  Where are those?  I will talk about fruits and the reason for this post, but let's start off with something simple.  Coconuts.
Growing up in India, in the hot and humid climate, when we were thirsty we found a coconut vendor on the street.  Coconuts are such a treat.  A guy with a machete knife, will cut through the top of the coconut, make about a one inch diameter opening into the coconut, stick a straw into it and there you were, drinking nature's best electrolyte filled thirst quencher.  It doesn't end there.  After you are done with the drink, you return the coconut to the vendor;  another strike with the machete knife right through the center of the coconut.  One more cut with the machete to slice a piece of husk, used to release the coconut jelly and also used as a spoon for the jelly.  That's how you do coconuts!
I've been to Thailand, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Ecuador;  yes, same story.  There's a right way to do coconuts and then there are variations.  Well, in Cozumel, Mexico, the coconut story varies a bit.  Yes, there's the coconut, yes, there's a machete and yes, you drink the coconut water with a straw. Oh!  And the coconut water was the sweetest that I have ever tasted or can remember; and yes you return the husk to the vendor to prepare for the coconut jelly.  Except, in Cozumel, the vendor offered to spice the jelly with a mixture of chilly powder, lime and salt.  I have to say, that was my first time and it was out of this world.  It was really good.  I can buy that variation for coconuts.  Why not?  If it's better, I say, go with it.
And then there's America!  Coconut vendors aren't on street corners here; It's hard enough to find a vendor.  So, walking outside the Hemingway home in Key West, Florida, there was a woman selling coconuts.  My eyes lit up.  Coconuts?  In America?  Of course, I went.  $5 for a coconut.  Yes, overpriced, but it's such a rare thing.  So, my husband and I asked for 2 coconuts.  The woman picked up a couple of coconuts and before I could scan for the machete, she pulled out a wireless DeWatt drill.  Yes, a drill!  She bore a hole into the coconut with a 1/4" bit or something and stuck a straw into it.  I don't remember much else.  I drank the coconut water, but I was more in shock at the drill than the coconut or a street vendor in America at that point!  OK.  There are other ways to get into a coconut.  I'm learning.  I'm not impressed, but I'm learning.
I finish the water and return the coconut to her to open for the coconut jelly.  The coconut jelly is half the thrill of having a coconut.  How was she going to open it up I wondered?  I didn't see a chop saw there on the street!  Well, unfortunately, the story ends here.  She said she can only drill into it for the water.  2 coconut jellies; wasted!  It's like one threw away perfectly good food.  Yes, she didn't have a chop saw and you couldn't "plug it in" in the middle of a street, but she should have been using a machete knife in the first place!  I'm disappointed and disturbed at the waste of food;  And my $5 coconut, did not include the jelly, so essentially, I paid even more for the coconut than I had originally thought.  Yes, I would have still bought the coconut and drank the water, but it's just the principle of it. If there's a job worth doing, it's worth doing well.  That's the bottom line.  If you want to open a coconut, learn how to do it the right way.
I did say I was learning, right?  Well, I guess I wasn't.  This is where the Jackfruit story comes in.  When you live in America and haven't had certain fruits or drinks, you crave it.  Especially when it's available in the store, you want to go right out and get it.  Any taste of it.  Exotic fruits, the fruits I grew up with and took for granted before I came to this country are just so rare;  you crave it.  When I get wind that jackfruit was being sold at the local Whole Foods Store, I was excited.  Jackfruit?  Really?  Just recently a friend of mine had posted a picture of jackfruit on Facebook and I was jealous and already craving the fruit.  So, yes, I went to Whole Foods.  I should have known that the average American doesn't understand exotic fruits.  Didn't I learn my lesson in Key West?
I had jackfruit in Jamaica 2 years ago, so it hasn't been years, but I'm still craving it.  Incidentally, Jamaica is the place for fruits.  OMG amazing.  I want to return to Jamaica just to eat the fruits.  They are sweeter than any other country I remember, including Thailand and Thailand is also known for their fruits!  I'm digressing.  Back to Whole Foods.  So, here I am in Whole foods, and they have slices of the whole jackfruit!  I mean, the whole fruit was in one inch slices!  They were treating it like a watermelon!  Yes, it's the same size as a watermelon, but this is a completely different animal!  No, the pods were not separated and I tried to explain to the guy who worked there that jackfruit should be sold by the pods or larger wedges.  He looked at me and said, "Well, people use the other parts of the jackfruit, like the white stuff!"  Really?  This is news to me.  I have never heard of that.  It's like saying, people eat the banana peel.  OK, the white stuff is not totally the peel, but it's just the fibers that hold the pods (the main edible parts of the fruit) together.  The guy asked me if I wanted to buy a whole jackfruit and with just myself and my husband, I said no!  I decided to buy a couple of slices, for what it was worth.  Maybe I could find a few half pods in there, I thought.  So, yes, there was a few half pods.  I would say off the 8 - 9 half pods, only 4 were half way maybe sweet.  The rest were tasteless.  I might as well have been eating the white fibers.  There may have been no difference in taste at that point!  I did boil the remaining seeds and those were surprisingly alright.  I don't know.  I haven't had boiled jackfruit seeds in over 15 years, so maybe my reference point has shifted by now?  Don't know.  I do know this.  In America, when it comes to fruit, we need to stick to apples, oranges and pears.  If I'm looking for exotic, I need to buy it from a vendor who understands the fruit.
The reason I mention a vendor who understands the fruit is because in Chicago, in Devon Avenue, where there are a lot of desi stores, they sell fresh sugar cane juice.  Yes, it tastes like the original and it's good.  So, I can't down everything in America - just people who don't understand or take the time to truly learn what the fruits are and how it's served.
Other than the obvious spoof on Americans doing exotic fruit, I guess I want to say that if you are in Cozumel, drink the coconut water and eat the coconut jelly with the spices.  It'll add to your experiences.  And in Jamaica, their jackfruit is sweet as sweet can be.  Don't miss it there!

Until next time,

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Red - a tale of a horse.

Every birthday, my husband plans a surprise for me.  As with every birthday, I spend months guessing what he has up his sleeve.  I had exhausted all options and suddenly one day it hit me.  What did I really want?  My husband has always been able to give me the perfect gift; somehow he manages to figure out what I want the most.  So, instead of spending time guessing, I decided to get introspective.  What did I want? I wanted to ride a horse; I wanted lessons and such.  Yes.  I had guessed my gift correctly.

My husband had me block my schedule for the Saturday morning before my birthday.  I kept telling him I think it's a horse.  He kept telling me that I may be disappointed if I didn't get my wishes.  Well, Saturday morning, I'm still rolling in bed when my husband says that my hint was waiting for me on the kitchen table.  I jump out and run to the table to see a black cowboy hat sitting there.  "We are going on a horse!" I jumped with delight.  "Yes, we are.  Run along and get ready!" he said.  "It's the bestest birthday gift ever," I squealed and off I went to finish the morning hygiene routine.  And readers, yes, I know that "bestest" is not a real word!

We drove an hour to the Royal Arabian ranch in Illinois.  Apparently a friend of my husband told him about this place.  He had further recommended a particular horse for me.  Red.  Red was supposed to be great with first timers and so my husband had called in to reserve Red.  I have ridden him twice now and I can see why Red was the recommended horse.

For a first timer, they use a step stool to help us mount the horse.  They make sure the stirrups are the right height and well adjusted.  There I was, in the indoor training arena, on Red;  I couldn't have felt better.  He was just calm and it seemed like he didn't care that I was on him.  The instructor told me to kick him and say "walk on".  I tried that.  Red wouldn't move.  He just stood there bored.  "Kick him harder!"  "But I don't want to hurt him," I retorted.  "You can't hurt him.  You are like a fly to him!  Kick him or he won't know you want to go."  So, I tried;  over and over and over again.  He finally did move on the instructor's direction.  Oh Red!  "He just doesn't want to work."  That's what the instructor said.  Perhaps.

I must add that it's hard to kick a horse, with your toes pointed up and trying to keep your feet in the stirrups all at the same time.  No wonder it felt like a fly to Red.  It's just tricky.  Red eventually got the hang of it.  He moved and he also took direction very well.  He went right and left as I guided him.  He did well.  It took him a while.  "He knows you are new and if he can get away with not working, he will."  That's what I was told.  As we made our way through the trails, all it took was one kick "walk on Red" and there he was, walking again and navigating his way with my direction.  There was a particularly sharp turn and I helped him navigate through it;  he did wonderfully to avoid a head on collision with a tree.  Red did well.  Through the ride, he stayed calm and bored.  He knew I was nervous but he didn't care.  He probably thought, another day another kid!  He was also good at reading me.  He knew that I didn't know any better and he could get away with not moving, if he could.

This past weekend, we went back to ride.  I requested Red again.  I liked that he was calm and disinterested.  I guess when you are riding a horse you don't want one that's just going to take off and leave you stranded.  I mounted Red using the step stool again.  My instructor gave me the same instruction.  "Kick him and say walk on."  So, I did.  Red walked immediately.  Then they asked me to stop.  Red stopped immediately.  They did say that was probably his favorite command, but I was surprised at how responsive Red was.  It felt like a different horse. Maybe Red knew I was more confident?  I don't know.  Red followed my directions precisely through the ride and he was going at the pace of the instructor.  We did have to stop several times as my husband's horse, Queen, didn't want to move this time.

Seems like tables were reversed.  This time around, Red was moving and I hardly had to tell him to move and Queen was constantly being talked to.  I could hear my husband from behind going "Walk on Queen."  "Come on Queen.  Walk on."  This went on the whole trail ride.  Red, was a different issue this time.  He just decided he was going to have a good day and I was lucky to ride him.  I'm not completely sure that Red takes all my commands, but I will request him again.  He's just a quiet fellow and I would love to get to know him better.  I'm coming back for you, Red.

Until next time,

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A conversation with an Iraqi woman

I've wanted to blog about this for 2 weeks now, but my schedule only delayed this blog.  It's been waiting to be written.  Everyday, this blog calls to me and tonight, I finally have time.  I would like to write this blog as it was narrated to me, by my Iraqi friend.  Of course, I didn't tape our conversation so I'm quoting, but it's really a paraphrase.

Here's what she said:

"You know, when I was in Iraq, we had Saddam Hussein.  At that time, he was very strict and no one could say anything bad about him.  That's how we grew up and that was life.  We just knew not to talk about him.  If anyone said anything bad about him, they would be taken to the town square and killed in front of everyone.  If people did anything bad, he would kill them in front of everyone.  We knew the rules and we didn't break them and we followed them.  It was very strict.  Maybe it felt too strict, but that was life.  When Saddam Hussein was no longer in power, that's when we missed him and wanted him back.  Yes, Saddam Hussein was very strict, but when he was in power, he ruled with an iron fist.  There was no corruption.  There was none.  We were too scared to say or do anything, but everything worked fine.  The only thing was that he didn't pay us well.  He had all the money but he didn't give it to the people and we wanted more money.  We didn't say it, but we thought that would be nice.  Then America took Saddam Hussein out of power.  When Saddam Hussein was gone, we missed him.  We all wanted him back.  You know when you have someone you don't realize it and we wanted Saddam back.

See, the new leaders started to give us more money and that was nice but then corruption increased.  We couldn't be at peace.  The doctors were scared to send their children to school, because people knew the doctors had money, so they would kidnap our children.  We may never see our children again, even if we gave them money and for those of us who did get to see our children again, they were not the same.  They did horrible things to them.  We wished for Saddam Hussein.  This kind of corruption would not have taken place when Saddam Hussein was there.  People just knew how to behave.  We couldn't even say the words "Saddam Hussein" but who cares?  It was more peaceful.

Why did you take Saddam Hussein away?  Why?"

At this point, I didn't know what to say.  I'm historically clueless and I live under a rock.  That's not a great excuse.  I didn't even know what the two wars were about.  I really didn't.  I knew thousands of innocent lives were lost, but ones empathy dies when the numbers are high.  I read an article about that.  I'm not making an excuse, just stating what I had read about empathy, but back to the conversation.

"I think Bush invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein was mistreating women or …"  I wasn't allowed to finish my sentence, not that I had much more to say to further expose my ignorance.

"It's lies.  It's all lies." she pleaded at me. "No, Saddam Hussein was good.  He ruled very firm but he was good.  Times were so much better when he was there.  You all took him out of power and Iraq is so messed up.  But we recovered.  You know, we Iraqi's are strong.  They destroyed a bridge and we rebuilt it immediately and it was done in 2 weeks.  As soon as the war was over, my mom told me to go back to school, the very next day.  We are strong people.

And then Bush came back and destroyed us for no reason.  He said we had chemical weapons and nuclear weapons and it was all lies.  We had nothing.  They found nothing.  My mom and I were at home and a bullet went right above our heads.  If we were taller, we would have died.  You know, my mom came home in shock and crying one day.  There were 2 babies on the street and the tanks just rolled over them.  And the soldier who shot into our homes, just lost it.  He just opened gun fire on us and then he started crying and saying he's sorry.  What is he sorry for?  After he shoots everyone?  Why were they killing all of us?  What did we do to you?  Bush came in and killed our people and he should stand trial for those charges.  He is a prisoner of war.  I will tell as many people of this as I can.  He just came and killed us for no reason.  No reason.  What did I do to you?  What did my people do to you?"

What does one say to that?  "I'm sorry.  I don't know what to say?"

"I hate Americans.  Iraqis hate Americans.  I didn't want to come to this country but my mother explained to me that if they destroyed our homes, they are obligated to give us homes in their own country.  We think you just destroyed our country and then you let the educated people come to America so you steal the brains from our country.  You know there are Iraqi people in high positions in America because Iraq was destroyed.  If we were there, it would benefit Iraq, but we can't be there because of the corruption because the war destroyed us.

I'm torn in this country.  I thought Americans were horrible people and then I met my neighbors and I met the people here.  Everyone here is so nice and inviting.  I'm torn.  How can nice people live in this horrible country?"

"I think the people don't really know the truth." I tried to explain, to no avail.

"Then we must tell them.  Bush is a prisoner of war and he should be tried for his crimes.  He just killed thousands of innocent people and no one said anything?  I will keep telling people as long as I can.  I will tell as many people about how horrible Bush is and how he should be tried."

"You do that!  I think the people do need to hear."

"Yes, I will."

So ended the conversation.  I wish I had it taped.  It was far more powerful than my paraphrase 2 weeks later.  I could ask her again, but I hope I got the salient points of what she had said.  It's ironic.  Few years ago, I was in a play called The Buffalo, by Steven Clark.  I played the character of a dead Iraqi woman and at the end of the play, I had this speech.  It didn't sink in then, but it does now, and I'll end this blog with one of the lines from that speech.

…We once had a king.  A great, but terrible king, but he is lost forever….

Best always,