Dia de los Muertos

I went to a posh club for a Halloween (Dia de los Muertos) party (thankfully things fell into place and I didn’t miss my favorite holiday of the year). The party was somehow connected to the Mexican Embassy.

My costume, last-minute and on the cheap: Twister.

I found a toy store, bought the game for $6.50, cut a hole in the mat, turned it into a poncho/shirt (duct tape and carabiners to hold it together), hung the spinner around my neck with a shoelace and voila!

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Look at this Indian devil

halloween

Khan Market gets just a little festive

Happy Halloween everyone. Given how much I love this holiday, this guy absolutely made my day. Helps that I also found what sounds like a decent party and a costume in the span of an hour.

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Enemy No. 1 in Delhi: plastic bags?

noplastic

Plastic bags, a bigger threat than bears

But seriously, plastic bags are considered a huge environmental menace by many officials, environmental activists and an increasing number of ordinary people. They can be especially hazardous in a country that has more than a billion people and less aversion to litter.

Stories pop up from time to time of major floods and outbreaks of disease being caused by plastic bags clogging drains and sewers. Look along railways, in parks, gutters, streams, zoos, markets, potholes, lakes, EVERYWHERE: discarded plastic bags.

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Ronald and Tommy do India

mcdhilfiger

Khan Market, in Delhi, a new and old city

It’s been more than five years since I was in Delhi, India’s capital. It’s at once a very old and very new city. It is and isn’t how I remember it.

This afternoon, I had a meeting at Khan Market, a favorite shopping center of expats and middle-class Indians. It has all the hallmarks of old India — still loud, a bit cramped, stores and traffic are chaotic, you might get run over by a motorbike and you can spend four hours shopping for saris and bangles.

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Season of bright lights

diwalilights

I missed Diwali by a few days, but the neighborhood where my uncle lives still has plenty of decorations.

All the shops are displaying flowers and lanterns and shiny posters and garland.

And at night, the lights. And the fireworks.

It’s a bit like Christmas.

The festival — known as the Festival of Lights — has significance primarily for Hindus, but also Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. My family, being Christian, doesn’t celebrate.

For Hindus, Diwali, also spelled Divali or Deepawali or variations thereof, marks the return of Lord Rama after he defeated the evil multi-headed demon Ravana who had absconded with Sita to Lanka, as retold in the Ramayana. It is also symbolic of other victories by good over evil, or so I’m told. By Wikipedia.

I’ve read (not on Wikipedia) of mothers telling their children, “we light the lanterns to lead Rama home.”

The holiday spans multiple days and does involve a good amount of ritual partying. I like, especially it for the lights and firecrackers. With any luck, I’ll still be here for it next year.

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Things Africa taught me

I’ve now arrived in India and am getting settled and spending a little time with family in Pune. I’ve also been coming up with a list of lessons learned from seven weeks in Africa. In no particular order, here goes:

  • French, that language I really thought was useless, is so not useless. Especially if you’re in Madagascar in non-tourist towns, trying to report and the only people you meet competent enough in English to be a translator are either employees of the company you’re writing about or  activists in the community.
  • mudReef flip flops are awesome. Seriously. Reef. Write it down. Best sandal I’ve ever worn. Damn near the best thing I’ve ever put on my foot. For example, when I accidentally stepped into two and a half feet of quick mud and lost a flip flop (again, thanks Sara from London, for a great laugh), I immediately paid the local who pulled me out another 500 shillings (a little more than $7, probably his weekly wage) to get back in the mud and retrieve my flip flop. (Dear Reef, I’m hoping for an endorsement deal. “Backpack journalist in Third World swears by Reef sandals.” Sounds good, no?)
  • I like parentheses.
  • Eat bananas. Leg cramps suck.
  • Save some bananas for the lemurs.

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Railway sadhu

oldman

A bridge at the Dharavi railway station

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Potraits from Kibera

Somali mom

Somali mom

Dry cleaner

Dry cleaner

Disabled grandfather

Disabled grandfather

Shy grandkids

Shy grandkids

Charcoal brick maker

Charcoal brick maker

I spent several days on trips to Kibera, a sprawling slum of Nairobi. People there aren’t always eager to have their pictures taken, but these portrait subjects all agreed. I met them in the company of NGO workers who advocate for clean water.

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Forgive me, this photo is disgusting

Nothing a good teeth brushing couldn't fix

Nothing a good teeth brushing couldn't fix

Cringe. I do when I see this photo, and I was there. Hell, it’s my own mouth.

This is the aftermath of paan, a wonderful Indian treat. It consists of areca nut, tobacco and sometimes spices or paste wrapped up in a betel leaf. The resulting little triangle of goodness goes into your mouth where you chew it, suck on it, tuck it into your cheek and slowly spit it out.

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To hell and back

saraclimbing

Surreal hiking in Hell's Gate National Park

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