A Dog’s Best Friend

 

He can’t get the girls anymore, but he has the dogs eating out of the palm of his hand

Phil Volk was born October 4, 1925. He is a proud 92 and never misses a day at the park doling out treats to the dogs, ducks, and birds. He gives hugs to the owners.  He stands by the turtle, the mascot for the University of Maryland, at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, AZ.

Phil and the turtle

Phil arrives every morning at 7:30 a.m. at Fountain Hills Park with his side kick and best friend Kermit. Phil is 92 years old and Kermit is 82. His black leather designer bag hugging his left shoulder. He carries his “treats” inside the bag. He shuffles over to the turtle where the dogs are waiting impatiently for his arrival. The dogs tug at the leashes incessantly urging their owners to move towards Phil. Like children waiting for treats from the ice cream man. The dogs come in all sizes.

Linda wearing her black rim Ferragamo designer shades adorned with Swarovski crystals, and a floppy hat that makes her look like Ellie on the Beverly Hillbillies, comes running over with her dog Ted. Ted is a black and white Bichon/Shitzu mix with an under bite. Ted sports a colored Mohawk depending on the season. Orange for Halloween, red/pink for Christmas, and green for St. Patrick’s Day. Linda started walking around Fountain Park when there were no sidewalks in 1998.

Phil refers to Linda as “Peaches”.

 “Your skin reminds me of the peaches that grew in my orchard when I was young”. 

Linda says, “His smile warms my heart. Every time I see him my problems disappear.”

He greets Linda with a kiss on the lips, clasps his hands around her face and says, “You are a humdinger, be good, have fun, and enjoy life.”

I wear anything to keep me warm on the cold mornings, blue jeans, long sleeve shirt, padded vest, and a scarf. Ok, so I live in Fountain Hills, I still feel cold at 40F.  Chloe my reddish colored, no tail, stubborn Cocker spaniel is pulling as hard as she can to get to Phil. It takes her thirty minutes to go halfway around the 1.5-mile trail around the park and only five minutes for the last half. She knows that Phil is up ahead and is loaded with snacks. He will feed Chloe the way kids feed the ducks. Nonstop.

I reach over gently, touch his arm, and whisper into his ear “No more snacks for Chloe”.

He smiles and says “OK”.

As soon as I turn my head, he slips more snacks to Chloe. He refers to me as “Professor”. I used to teach at ASU.

Ruth Ann, also dressed for the cold weather is holding on to Teddy. Teddy a red Golden Retriever has more manners than some of the other dogs. Ruth Ann and Teddy have the same color of hair, red. Ruth Ann says that Teddy is the one who dyes his hair not her. Phil greets her with a kiss on her cheeks. Kisses from Phil are harmless and have so much meaning. He lost his wife almost seven years ago. He really misses her.

All of the dogs wait patiently for Phil to hold out his hand and slip them a long- awaited treat. As soon as the treat disappears, they want another one. Appreciative owners help out by bringing bags of treats. Treats include bacon, chicken, and salmon flavored snacks.

Phil attended public schools in Baltimore, Maryland. Graduated from High School in 1944. Trained as a pilot in the Airforce from 1944-1946 during WWII. Never got a chance to fly because the war ended. His best memory is graduating from the University of Baltimore with an MBA and joining the third- generation family business of shoe design established by his Bavarian grand-grandparents.  He held on to the business for 62 years. One of his proudest achievements. A peek into his closet reveals a collection of leather shoes that would make any female shoe connoisseur envious.

He met his wife in a choir in 1950. They both sang and were accomplished students at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. They were married for sixty-two years. One of his worst memories is the passing of his wife in 2010. Cancer was the cause.

Phil and his wife moved to Fountain Hills, AZ in 1994. He started going to the park every day to meet people. He walked around the park at least once. The park is 1.5 miles. He doesn’t walk the park now because he is not as stable. He worries about tripping and tumbling.

I ask him,” What makes you happy?” “Being with my friends, feeding the dogs, and waking up.”

He moved into an Independent Living facility near the park in 2016. He wasn’t sure it was a good decision. Now, he is satisfied and content. He spends his free time watching TV and taking naps.

“What is your secret for living so long?”  “Work hard and be happy.”

My journey through life has been an incredible story. Everything I tried from childhood to adult life seemed to work out well. Starting with my early days. My parents were very loving people who guided me and to this day left me with loving memories. Along the way, I have met many wonderful people and I have many wonderful memories.

Phil Volk

Phil grew up when times were different. No Internet, cell phones, computers, nor automatic cars. A picnic was a date. Money was scarce. Manners were strict. Mothers stayed home and had babies. The baby boom generation. Fathers went to work and brought home the money. That was their only responsibility. No babysitting, changing diapers, or cooking responsibilities. He tries to understand why things have changed. He is not shy about asking people what they think of politics today. “Why don’t more people fly the American flag? People should respect the president.” He doesn’t get into nasty arguments. His comments are more questions than answers. Your answer is respected.

Phil has a hearing problem. Everyone has to shout for him to hear or speak in his left ear. Hearing aids don’t work for him. He has tried many of them. He gets frustrated when he can’t understand what people are saying. We spend most of our time yelling, so he can hear us.

Kristi is a woman from Alaska. She is Phil’s favorite. Kristi met Phil in the summer of 2013.

She only comes about four times a year. The first time she met Phil she knew he needed some special loving.

“Hey, are you, new?” shouts Phil as a young woman with a blonde ponytail bobbing up and down walks by with her white Labradoodle, Ostin close to her side. He started out with the name Austin. The spelling got changed when her son went to elementary school and gave a report about his dog “Ostin”.

“Hello I’m Phil. I haven’t seen you around before”. The young woman shyly approaches Phil. Phil reaches out to Ostin and gives him a treat from his bag. Ostin barks for another one. Phil repeats the act three times. She will do anything to help him out. She calls him “darling”. He calls her “sweetheart”. Kristi is happily married. Phil tells her in jest “I will wait for you forever and if Dave (her husband) ever decides to trade you in I want to be the first to take his place”.

 “How can anyone not love someone who truly loves dogs. He used to call me his Bay Watch girl. Phil just makes my heart smile. He’s who I think of when I think about Fountain Park!”

Kristy owner of “Ostin”

To get ahead in life you must have a good education and a lot of enthusiasm.

Phil

Phil’s best friend, Kermit stopped coming to the park with him. Phil was seen driving down the wrong side of the street and Kermit’s wife was notified. She will not allow him to ride with Phil anymore. Phil now stands alone feeding the dogs and the birds. His best friend no longer keeping him company at the turtle.

How long will Phil continue to come and feed the dogs at the park? As long as God permits him.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hello God! It’s me, Sumio!

Friday March 13, 2015 there was a knock on the Pearly Gates.

The gates swung open and Sumio stood there facing God.

God said “Hello Sumio, welcome to heaven. I have been waiting for you. You fought a very long battle with lung cancer and you look worn out. Worry no more. You are safe here with me.”

Sumio asked “Are you God?”

“Yes, I am”

“I am sorry. I don’t know much about you. Everything I know I learned from my wife.”

“She has told me a lot about you too. You are not a religious person. She put in a good word for you. You are an honest husband, father, friend, and teacher to those around you.”

“I didn’t go to church on Sundays. I played golf and went fishing.”

“I was with you at all times.”

“Do I qualify to enter heaven?”

“Yes, you do. Your wife sent a letter of recommendation with special instructions to keep you busy.”

“I thank her for that. She has always taken care of me. I know the last two months were not easy for her. It was difficult for me to express my thoughts and feelings. I knew the end was coming. I couldn’t let her know that.”

“She misses you a lot and needs you to protect her. You will become the guardian angel of both your daughter, Lisa, and your wife, Carol. Your responsibility is to sit on their shoulders all day long. Protect and guide them.”

“Carol never likes me to tell her what to do. Will she agree with this idea?”

“She already has. “

Goodbye Pura Vida

 

My flight from Costa Rica arrives in Phoenix at   11:00 p.m. An airport shuttle picks me up and takes me to my car. I get into my car and drive home. I am exhausted and at the same time inspired. Exhausted from listening to a child cry for four hours on the plane. Inspired by the Writer’s Retreat I attended for 7 days at Pura Vida.

I approach the front door. I hear a slight whining noise. I insert the key, the latch clicks, and I open the door. Chloe, my cocker spaniel, long ears, short tail, and brown hair pees on the floor. She is so excited. She wiggles her little butt and gives me sweet kisses with her tongue on my cheek. The pet sitters have stayed up to wait for me. Richard helps me carry my bags into the living room. We agree to talk in the morning. I am exhausted. I put on my pajamas, brush my teeth, and lay down on the bed. Chloe jumps on the bed and nestles her head next to mine. She wants to be so close. I pat her head and soon we are both gone into dreamland.

I am just beginning my writing career. I taught writing to English as Second Language students for forty-two years. Elementary school students, High School Intensive programs, Business classes, and adult classes. I spent five years in Japan and five years in Mexico. I had a language school for ten years and spent 20 years teaching in colleges and universities. Now, it is time for me to write. It’s not easy starting a career as a writer. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Social media takes up so much time. I joined a Memoir group in my small town. We meet once a month. I need more writing practice. I need to be inspired.

I raked through all of the writing retreats posted online. Many of them were for experienced writers. I didn’t have the confidence to register. I stumbled across Ping Pangea. The pictures of Costa Rica looked inviting. Who doesn’t want to go to Costa Rica in February? I looked at the reviews, checked to make sure it wasn’t a scam and talked to Jackie the organizer by phone. I took the chance and registered.

It’s 7:30 a.m. Breakfast is served at Pura Vida. Orange chunks of juicy papaya, slices of sweet pineapple, fresh watermelon carefully sliced and displayed in a straight row. Homemade bread, cinnamon, glutton free bread, wheat, freshly made in the kitchen. Fluffy yellow scrambled eggs from the chickens nearby. Oatmeal, fried bananas, pancakes, homemade jams, and quesadillas. No bacon, sausage, or cereal. A freshly prepared breakfast greeted us every morning. Coffee, herbal teas, fresh water, and fruit are always available during the day.

Granola, cinnamon bread with chocolate chip honey, potatoes with green salsa, papaya, pineapple,

I wake up at 5:30 in Phoenix and I have to find my own breakfast. Where is all the fresh fruit? I look in my freezer and find frozen strawberries, blueberries, and cherries that I bought at Costco. There are oatmeal and some milk. I miss you, Pura Vida.

We are a group of twelve women. Young women with various writing skills. Some of them are writing books others like me just beginning on their writing journey. I am the oldest in the group and our experiences are very different. Women who had bad relationships with men, divorced, in the dating game, and happily married women. I am a widow who was married to a man that I loved and respected. He treated me well.

The retreat is held at a retreat center, Pura Vida. Activities include yoga, massage therapies, excursions outside of the retreat center, swimming, and sitting in the hot tub. Many of the younger women in our group choose to worship the sun at the pool and around the hot tub. I wasn’t interested.  I didn’t even bring a suit. The sun has already done enough damage to my skin.  Yoga is a popular event for everyone in our group and the other groups that are part of the retreat center. There is a group of twenty yogis who participate in yoga seminars for five of the days we are here.

The first day we meet in one of the yoga rooms. No chairs, we sit on the floor, legs crossed or spread out in front of us. The chairs have no legs. Like the chairs, I sat in for five years in Japan. Everyone is very comfortable with blankets draped over their legs. I am not as agile as the young ones. I am not comfortable. The doors to the room are open bringing in the fresh air. The room has a huge picture window looking out towards the volcano. One day we spot a rainbow. The reading sessions usually begin about 9:00 and last for two hours. Everyone would share the stories they wrote the night before. We make positive comments about the readings.

Excursions outside of the retreat center include a trip to the Wild Life Rescue Center. Paulo was our tour director. He was very knowledgeable about animals and coffee. He not only led this tour but all of the other tours. The Wild Life Rescue Center holds animals that have become instinct. Many of them are the only species left because of illegal hunting and trading. The animals are fed only natural food. The food they would find in the forests if people had not destroyed the forests by farming. He also led us to some waterfalls.

The tour of the coffee plantation included the process of drying the “coffee cherries”. Paulo tells us “The best coffee is sent to countries that pay the highest prices. Costa Ricans drink the cheap coffee that other countries don’t want”. He also tells us “The people who live in the US don’t know what good coffee is because we use coffee makers which remove most of the flavor from the beans.”  He also enlightens us by telling us that “espresso beans have less caffeine than the mild blends”. He gives his speeches in English with an accent. He has a good sense of humor at times. On the Skywalk tour during a tour of the forest, a white-faced monkey was ready to attack us with a stick. Paulo said, “Come on guys, don’t take any more pictures, the monkey is ready to attack us.”

 

The writing retreat comes to an end. I am inspired. I am ready to go home and write. Now, I have stories to tell. I really recommend writing retreats to all writers and most of all to those who are just beginning. My next retreat will be in Switzerland in June.

Goodbye Pura Vida

 

If These Castle Walls Could Talk


If These Castle Walls Could Talk

Today is a perfect day to visit a castle in Ireland. Grey, misty, damp, and a bit of mystery in the air. Castles are mysterious, secretive and overwhelming. Ireland never had any kings. They were under the kingdom and power of England. The Normans came to Ireland in the Medieval times and built castles that didn’t last long. They were trying to conquer Ireland. Many of the castles became ruins or were destroyed. Irish castles were built by foreigners trying to overtake and control the Irish people.

My four classmates, a married couple from New Jersey, two Irish women, and I pile into an old blue Ford van. Members of the Ireland Writing Retreat on Donegal held up in the inn for almost four hours. The weather is not being very cooperative. Then again it is Ireland. It begins to sprinkle as we travel about thirty minutes to our destination. The land is desolating. There is no one around. There are a few farmhouses, some goats roaming around and eating grass, and a lot of green. It is green everywhere. At home in Arizona, I see the desert. Cactus, snakes, coyotes, and bobcats. It is exciting to see such a different climate. I can put up with this rain for now.

We arrive at Glenveagh Castle located in Churchill, Letterkenny, Ireland. It is no longer sprinkling. It is pouring. We jiggle the door latch to open the door. The door slides open and out we jump. My umbrella refuses to open. Norma, one of my Irish classmate attempts to share hers with me. Norma is an author. She has written two books. She is a very happy woman in her 80s and we have become friends. Her daughter is the same age as mine and we both lost our husbands about three years ago.  She has become my hiking buddy. There is only one minor problem with the umbrella situation. She is much shorter than me. I slowly slip the umbrella out of her hands and hold it over both of our heads.  We share a laugh. We head straight to the information center. The room is very small. The receptionist is behind the information desk. There are at least eight other people squeezed into the space. A family with two young boys are sitting on the bench. The older boy keeps asking his father “Do we have to see another castle? Can I wait in the car?” This kid is castled out. We get our tickets and have to wait for about twenty minutes. I am not waiting in this crowded office. I want to go outside and take pictures.

I head outside. I have my trusty raincoat with a hood that I bought on Amazon one week before the trip. Thanks to the quick delivery provided by my Amazon Prime membership, it arrived two days before my flight. I am sure I will be protected. It is raining much harder now. My curiosity will not go away rain or not. I take out my camera. Cover the lens to the best of my ability and start snapping away. I am in the garden. The garden is walled and was planted and taken care of by the wife of John Adair, the original owner of the castle. Unlike her husband, Cornelia was a kind landlady and very generous to the poor. The garden was modeled after Italian gardens. There is a total of eleven hectares of informal gardens with a different theme. I wish I could see the flowers without the rain. The smell of the rain and the flowers are powerful for someone like me who sees rain twice a year. Yellow dahlias, pink and white roses, Japanese cherry blossoms, yellow osterglocken (daffodil) from Wales, white orchids from Panama (Holy Spirit Flower), and the pink Scottish Bluebell (national flower of Scotland). It is September and many of the flowers have reached their peak season.

 

I find a small bench and sit for a while protected from the torrential rain falling around me. I look around me and the mist has fallen and taken over the beautiful scenery of the garden. It is very mystifying. I find my mind wandering off and thinking what life would be in a castle. I look at my watch and realize our tour will begin in five minutes. I navigate my way to the entrance. I feel like I am walking in heaven. The rain makes me happy and gives me energy. It adds mystery to the castle.

John Adair was one of the most hated men in Ireland. Many Donegal natives would consider it a curse to even mention his name in conversation. Adair had a temper and felt a sense of entitlement that most people did not appreciate. He became a very affluent man by traveling to New York in 1850 and working on land speculation. In 1870, he returned to Glenveagh, Donegal. He began to buy up smaller portions of land the locals owned to create his large estate. The local farmers were struggling to keep their families fed and clothed. Adair was not interested in the problems of the people around him. He had no interest in helping them.

Adair had a dream. He wanted to build a castle that would be much bigger than Balmoral, Queen Victoria’s Scottish Retreat. In 1870 he built the castle on 16,958 hectares of mountains, bogs, lakes, and woods. Glenveagh Castle is four stories tall, rectangular, and made from granite.  The walls are 11/2 meters thick. The castle includes turrets, a round tower, and fortified battlement ramparts to keep out the enemies. Adair didn’t have any enemies to keep out. He wanted to keep out the Irish farmers. They were no threat to him.  Just a nuisance.

Our tour begins in the entryway. The walls are off-white and four pairs of deer busts with their antlers adorn the hallway. Two of them mounted on the wall and two on small pedestals. John Adair was an avid hunter. He replaced the poor Irish people with deer. This made me sad and I wonder how a man could be so cruel. We enter the music room. It is small, blue ceramic fireplace in the corner, blue/green plaid wallpaper on the walls (reminds me of my school uniform),  an antler chandelier hangs in the center of the room, and a big window opens to the lake below.

Our guide tells us this is where the men hung out, smoked their cigars, and shared hunting stories. We visited the oval bedroom. The guests slept here. If they needed anything, they had a little bell that would summon the servants. There were twelve indoor staff and eight gardeners.

One of the bigger rooms in the castle is the Drawing Room where the women would meet. They gossiped, worshiped themselves in their mirrors and worried that their makeup would melt because the room was so warm. They didn’t want to “lose face”. This is true and everyone in the group began to laugh. The women talked about their husbands, boyfriends, and children. They didn’t have any household duties. If they needed someone to attend to them, they rang the bell and someone would be at their beck and call.

I wanted to find out how the castle was built. Who were the laborers who carried the stones from the lake and painstakingly built the walls? Were they paid for their work? Were they the poor Irish farmers living on the land of John Adair? The guide didn’t give us this information. Another mystery.

The first thing Adair did was to evict the local families. Some say it was because he wanted to “improve the view from his castle.” Who wants to look at the poor?” The local families lived in homes with thatched roofs made of cereal straw and reed covered with wooden rafters. The walls were double packed with earth. The floors were flagstone or packed earth that didn’t help in keeping the home warm. A hearth was located in the central area of the home. There were neither chimneys nor windows for the smoke to escape. The people would have had to pay more taxes for the windows. The soot-blackened homes were known as “black houses”.

The locals became very upset and protested his hunting retreats crossing over their lands. They reported him as trespassing. He became furious and even more determined to get these people off of the land. Adair wanted to use the land as a sheep farm. He had brought his own shepherds who eventually got into a bit of trouble. One of them was accused of murder and having an affair with the dead man’s wife. She became pregnant and was sent off to Scotland.

Eviction of the locals began with Adair acquiring the necessary documents that would allow him to send his “crowbar men” house-to-house evicting families. The first house they came upon was the home of a widow and her seven children. After the family was given the news, their house was destroyed so that they could not come back and live in it. A total of two hundred and forty-four people were homeless including one hundred and fifty-nine children. Michael O’Grady paid for half of the people to move to Australia. O’Grady had purchased land in Australia for the sole purpose of providing land for the displaced farmers. Forty-two of the evicted ended up in workhouses in Letterkenny. These evictions were the most infamous in the history of Ireland.

John Adair passed away in 1885. His wife lived until 1921 and was remembered as being kind-hearted. Glenveagh was bought by a Harvard professor, Arthur Kinsley Porter. He led a very lavish lifestyle. Frequent dinner parties, deer stalking, fishing, and kept a wonderful garden. He disappeared from nearby Inishbofin Island in 1933. His death is a mystery.

Castles are pieces of European history. They represent the great divide between the rich and the poor. Who built this grand castle in Glenveagh? There is no mention of the men who carried the massive granite stones one by one up and down the hills. Were these men paid? How much were they paid? Where are the answers? I can only guess that some of the farmers left behind built the castle with no pay. They were slave laborers. There is no plaque or description of the builders. Could it be something that people just want to forget? It is important to remember history and to honor those who put so much sweat into this great castle.

I left the castle with these questions. We had some time before our van returned. We stopped at the restaurant in the visitor center. There were pies, cookies, chocolates, tea, and coffee. We all ordered something to eat and drink. I ordered coffee and a piece of cheesecake. I asked my group if they knew who built the castle. No one had the answer. The information desk wouldn’t give me an answer. Is it a secret? I want to know.

The van arrives. The rain slows to an annoying drizzle. I am disappointed. I would like to spend more time at the castle. We drive down the road and I can’t resist turning around and looking at the castle tower. It is so tall and profound. I can imagine what the life of the people outside of the castle and inside the castle was like. Two completely different groups occupying the same land.

The road we travel back is the same road that so many of the Irish walked to arrive at their ships taking them out of their country into a far and distant place. Places such as the USA and Australia, no longer in charge of their destiny.

This bridge was crossed by the evicted farmers and their families.

A message carved in Gaelic wishing everyone safe travels and mourning their loss

I look out into the vast green farmland. It is quiet and has an eerie feeling. There are no people in the fields, driving cars, or walking around. Was it always like this? It looks so lonely. No one talks as we make our way back to the Tec.

The countryside as it is today

Castles are mysterious. They hold secrets that we will never know.

 

 

How Important is Religion in India?

Cultures grow on the vine of tradition.     

Jonah Goldberg

Religion plays a very big part in the lives of Indians. There are mosques and temples scattered everywhere throughout the city of Delhi. Not many churches are visible. Hinduism is practiced by 82% of the population, Islam 12.8%, and Christianity 0.87%. People who are Hindus have altars in their homes. They pray every morning and night in hopes that these gods will bring them happiness and health. The altars are decorated in bright colors and are usually placed in their bedrooms. I did not feel comfortable taking pictures of gods and goddesses in the temples nor in the home of Hiroko’s friend.

If religion has given birth to all that is essential in society, it is because the idea of society is the soul of religion.
Emile Durkheim

Jama Masjid Mosque

This is my first time to visit a mosque. Jama Masjid is one of the largest Islamic mosques in India. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built it in 1656. I took eleven years to build. We arrive during prayer time which begins at 12:00. We must wait until 1:30 to enter. The mosque is in the center of one of the busiest marketplaces in the area. There were white-haired tourists taking their pictures while riding on the rickshaws. I am sure this was part of their tour package. Some of them have very nervous faces. Their rickshaw drivers are trying to navigate the traffic while these tourists feel that their lives are at risk. The air is thick with smog. Many of the stalls are firing up their gas stoves getting ready to prepare food for the lunch hour. The prayer at the mosque as ended. The people descend in groups down the stairs and pour out into the streets. It looks like a dam has let all of its water flow at one time. The streets instantly fill over their capacity. People stand in line waiting for food. I feel vegetarian and confused. I lose Hiroko for about 1 minute. It felt like a lifetime.

We finally emerge from the hoards of people and walk up the stairs to the entrance of the mosque. We are greeted by a young man who feels that he has a very important job.  He tells me I must wear a robe over my clothes. My forearms are exposed. We must also take off our shoes. We take off our shoes and carry them. We could have left them at the front entrance and paid a fee to get them back.  I didn’t trust the guy manning the shoe stand. Hiroko gave me the signal to carry them with me. We walk around the mosque barefoot. I must admit it didn’t feel very comfortable. The ground was not very clean and everyone was walking around barefoot. Hiroko gave me the heads up about leaving our bags in the car safely guarded by our driver. Bags and backpacks are not allowed into the mosque area.

Carol at Jama Masjid in my cover up

The mosque is completely outside. People are washing their feet, face, and hands. The men are in one area and the women in another. An Indian family rushes up to us and wants us to be in a picture with them.  The children are all smiles and ask us where we are from. Hiroko says, “I am from Japan” and I say “I am from America”. Most Indians can’t tell the difference between a Japanese and a Chinese. Hiroko is sometimes referred to as being Chinese. The country “America” has the same meaning as the USA. They can’t distinguish between North, South, or Central America.

Carol and Indian family at Jama Masjid

It was the first place that I didn’t feel very comfortable visiting. Most of them just stared at us and we didn’t spend more than 40 minutes walking around and taking pictures. We exited the mosque and I handed in my coverup for the next foreign tourist to wear. On our way out of the mosque, we were approached by a Canadian couple. The young woman was less covered than I was. They had their backpacks and cameras. I told them that they would have to leave their backpacks with the shoe guy and she would have to wear a cloak over her clothing. They asked if it was worth the chance. I said no. They decided to not go in.

Hiroko calls her driver and instructs him to take us to her favorite restaurant.

Vinod is our driver. He is employed by the company where Hiroko’s husband works.  He is 27 years old. He has been married for 3 years. His wife is expecting their first child in May. He doesn’t see his wife very often because she lives 8,000 kilometers from Delhi. Before becoming a “driver” Vinod owned a cigarette stall for three years. It was shut down by the police. Someone turned him in for not having permission to operate his stall. He says it was a disgruntled customer. He had to find another job. His brother taught him how to drive. He practiced four- six hours a day.  He obtained his license and applied for a driving position. He hasn’t had any accidents. I commended him every day for his driving skills. He was ready every morning with a huge smile and greeting.

Our driver Vinod

Claustrophobic Mandir

Understanding the Hindu religion is not an easy task. For this reason, I present you with a description of the goddess Kali. She is one of the most worshiped goddesses in India.

The idea that women are innately gentle is a fantasy and a historically recent one. Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, is depicted as wreathed in male human skulls; the cruel entertainments of the Romans drew audiences as female as they were male; Boudicca led her British troops bloodily into battle.
Naomi Wolf

It is partly correct to say Kali is a goddess of death but She brings the death of the ego as the illusory self-centered view of reality.

Hiroko’s friend Lily has lived in Delhi her entire life. She like many other Hindus worships in mandirs, temples. She accompanies us to vegetarian Mandir. It is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the world. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Lily has connections with the Chief Priest at this temple. We arrive and are led to the room where the Chief Priest will present himself. We are served masala chai and butter cookies. Masala chai is always presented to visitors and customers. We sit on long brown leather sofas. A recliner is sitting on a stage. A gold curtain is behind the recliner.  Very important meetings with other religious leaders take place in this room.

The chief priest arrives forty minutes later. We rise to bow before him. He talks to Lily in Hindi. They have been friends for a long time. I think Lily donates much of her money to this temple. We are led into the worship area. It is jammed. People are chanting mantras in very loud voices.

Kali Mantra for Worship

Kring Kring Kring Hing Kring Dakshine vegetarian Kring Kring Kring vegetarian Hiring Hung Hung Hring
The Mantra consists of three seeds, krim, hum and hrim, and the name ‘dakhshina kalike’ and ‘swaha’, which signifying offering. This mantra is used by the devotees of Kali, the preserver of Earth, who saves us from all the ignorance and the fear of death.

They are lined up and pushing each other into the worship area. We are led into the area and people are instructed not to push us. The people are so surprised to see foreigners in their temple. The statue of the god is hardly visible. Worshippers bring garlands of flowers to throw onto the statue. They throw some money and before they leave the area, they are given gifts to take back home. Most of them have altars at home. These altars have a statue of the god sitting in the main position. They decorate the altars with flowers and food. They pray every day for wealth and happiness.

We give our thanks to the high priest and I am relieved to be able to breathe air again.

Gifts are given to us at the mandir

Holy Cows

Cows are revered among Hindus. Most Hindus practice vegetarianism. They refrain from all meat.

SRI CHAITANYA CHARITAMRITA, Adilila, Chapter 17, verse 166,
Caitanya Mahaprabhu confirms:
o-ange yata loma tata sahasra vatsara go-vadhi raurava-madhye pace nirantar
Cow killers and cow eaters are condemned to rot in hell for as many thousands of years as there are for each hair on the body of every cow they eat from.
It is further written – Those who fail to give cows reverence and protection and choose to foolishly oppose and whimsically ignore the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures by selling a cow for slaughter, by killing a cow, by eating cows flesh and by permitting the slaughter of cows will all rot in the darkest regions of hell for as many thousands of years as there are hairs on the body of each cow slain. There is no atonement for the killing of a cow.

Cows are highly prized as gifts. Do you want to impress someone? Give them a cow for their wedding gift. There are more than 44,900,000 cows in India.  The highest population in the world. Cows in India roam the streets, eat garbage, stop traffic, and sleep on the streets. Most of them are not owned by anyone. They are dirty, smelly, and many of them are old and sick. There is relief for some of these cows. Gaushalas  offer a home for sick and homeless cows. They recieve medical treatment, a lot of hay, a clean place to rest, and music.

Happy cows at the gaushala

Hiroko and I are on our way to visit a gaushala. We travel down the street hitting various potholes, a mother pig with her six piglets trailing behind her and three dogs barking and running around going nowhere in particular. It is just another dusty day in Delhi. We arrive in front of the gate and are greeted by two girls who work at the “compound”. We enter the gate and the ground is covered with green grass. I haven’t seen green grass for three days. There is not visible grass in Delhi unless you visit a park. Even the trees in Delhi are dusty. There is a small courtyard very neatly taken care of. Flowers of various colors yellow, red, and white are blooming near the courtyard. No dust anywhere. Four older men are sitting on the benches sharing the news of the day.

Our guide, Manisha, shows us around. Manisha came to Delhi when she was seventeen. She received her B.S in agriculture. During her college years, she became very interested in helping others. She became involved with this project. The first stop is the gaushala. The gaushala employs people who previously did not have jobs to clean, milk, and feed the cows. These workers are provided housing, food, wifi, and electricity within the “compound ” they live. The compound is much cleaner and healthier than living on the streets

The gaushala is only a part of a much bigger program on this compound. There is a center for women to receive sewing classes. The women make bags and purses that are sold at the market. Many of them are just beginning to sew. The center also provides after school homework help for the children. The children are taking English classes as we walk in the room. They greet us with “hello, hello” and “konichiwa”.  Hiroko volunteers her time at the center by teaching Japanese language and Japanese handicrafts. Her Japanese friends join her to teach Japanese traditional songs and dances.

Sewing classes

Children getting help with homework

The center receives donations to help continue their work. It is part of a grassroots movement to help those in need.

We say goodbye to the children and the volunteers. We exit the gate to the dusty street and wait for our driver to retrieve us. He didn’t go too far. He was parked in front of the compound. I wonder what he does while he is waiting for us.

Please read the next entry coming soon: A trip to Jaipur

 

 

 

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An Old Friend, A New Culture: Delhi India

One of my main purposes for traveling to India is to visit a very good friend. I met Hiroko in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was a student in my ESL class. Hiroko is one of the most adventurous persons I know. We traveled to Chicago many times by train to shop and sight see. Hiroko’s husband was transferred to Delhi, India almost seven years ago. My husband became sick and we were not able to visit. Unfortunately, my husband passed away two years ago. I decided it was time to go to India and see Hiroko.

Travel by rickshaw

Rickshaws are a very useful source of transportation in India. They don’t require fuel, are easy to repair, and are cheap to maintain. The investment is attainable. Bicycle rickshaws are a very cheap way for everyone to get around. They transport food, hay, bricks, heavy boxes, and people. School children ride bicycle rickshaws to and from school instead of school buses.  Rickshaws can cram up to 8 children at one time.

Rickshaws lined up and waiting for customers

My friend, Hiroko, and I decide to climb into one after negotiating the price. There really isn’t a lot of room for negotiation as a foreigner. The price starts high and is only reduced a few rupees. We climb into the small cabin. Everything is so much smaller when you are tall and not very thin. Hiroko holds out the palm of her hand and draws a circle with her finger indicating that we want to go around the local market area. We don’t speak Hindi and the driver doesn’t speak English. The driver is in his forties and probably weighs no more than 150 lbs. The weather is warm and I can see beads of sweat running down his face and neck as he peddles through the narrow streets lined with vendors.  We hit a few potholes and bumps on the way. The padded seats don’t seem to help the impact. It is a good thing that I have a naturally padded rear end. The driver is getting tired and looks frustrated. I feel sorry for him. He can’t figure out where we want to go.  He stops every five minutes and asks the question “Where is the entrance to the market?” No one knows the answer. Fifteen minutes have passed. We are lost.

He stops, descends from the bike, and summons a man who has a very good command of English. He asks us “Where do you ladies want to go?” Hiroko tells him that we want to go to the front of the market. He relays the information to the driver and gives him directions. He seems to understand and off we go. The destination was right around the corner.

This is not a place where foreigners/tourists come. There are no museums, famous temples, shopping malls, or supermarkets. These streets belong to the people and their stalls that sell fruit, vegetables, food cooked in front of you, and clothing. These people are hard working and want to you to purchase their items.

Fruit and vegetable stall

Everyday Life

We stop at a samosa stall. A man and his young son of about 12 years old welcome us into his stall. His son greets us with a “hello” and shyly smiles. We sit down on two white plastic buckets. He serves us each a  deep fried samosa filled with potatoes. I ignore all of the advice given to me about not eating street food. It is just too tempting.  We dip our samosas into a green chile salsa. I tell him that these are the best samosas. He smiles. We pay for our purchase and thank him. I hope we made him happy.

Man and his young son at the samosa stall

As we are walking down the street I notice this woman standing in the heat holding an iron.  She stands on her feet for about 8-9 hours a day. She irons clothing that the people in the neighborhood bring to her. The iron weighs about four pounds and is very hot.

The ironing lady

We stop at another stall. A man is making sugar cane juice. He is older, maybe in his late 60s. We watch the sugarcane stalks go through the grinder as the juice comes out of the other end of the machine. He smiles and I urge my friend to stop. We buy some juice and drink it. It is very sweet. I only hope that today’s food doesn’t come back to haunt me tonight in my sleep.

Sugar cane juice stand

We decide to take a ride on a tuk-tuk to the local supermarket.

Tuk-tuk

Supermarkets are not as popular with the common people as the local stalls. Supermarkets are expensive and the vegetables are not as fresh. Not everyone is allowed in the supermarket. Many of the locals are kept out. Our bags are checked at security. Men and women are lead in separate directions.  The women enter a small enclosure and the curtains are drawn. The security guard who is a woman proceeds to slide her wand all around me. I pick up my backpack and proceed into the supermarket. It is about one-third of the size of our monster supermarkets.

There are no “street” people, fixed prices, and not many customers. I wander through the store and find Kellogg products, Heinz tomato sauce, and Nestle instant and condensed milk. The prices are about triple the prices at the stall. Hiroko prefers to buy her vegetables at the local stall because of the freshness. We decide to invest in three small boxes of mango juice. We are checked out by not one cashier, but three cashiers. Not a single woman is working in the store.

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Foreigners are not allowed to drive in India. They must employ “drivers”. Hiroko and her husband both have drivers who take them where they need to go. Hiroko’s husband uses his driver to go back and forth to work every morning. Hiroko keeps her driver very busy. She is always on the run. Vinod is our driver. He greets us with “Namaste” as we exit the apartment complex. We climb into the car and Hiroko begins giving directions. Vinod has a very limited command of English and Hiroko speaks Japanese. He has been her driver for almost 6 years. They have their way of working out the language differences. We are on our way to the center of Delhi.

The traffic moves very slowly. There are almost no working traffic lights nor stop signs. People drive defensively honking their horns and almost never using their turn signals. Vinod is a very careful driver. He has a knack for squeezing in front of others without hitting them. The traffic makes me nervous. I decide to focus on the people around me. We aren’t going anywhere. Women with babies and small children sit on the back of motorcycles driven by their spouses or other male members of the family. Most of the time women sit sideways. Some are wearing helmets, but the majority are not. Women don’t drive in Delhi. Vinod told us he doesn’t let his wife drive. I can understand. I wouldn’t want to drive here either. It reminds me of driving bumper cars at the state fair.

Six to eight elementary school girls wearing their green plaid uniforms and green sweaters pile into a bicycle rickshaw. The girls are giggling and catch a glimpse of us in the car. They start waving frantically and yelling “hello, hello”. I roll down the window and they all shout “What’s your name? What’s your name?” I yell above the noise of the cars and busses, “Carol”. I make the mistake of asking “What’s your name?” because 8 different names come flying in my direction. I didn’t catch a single one. Our car finally inches up and before I can take a picture of the girls a van pulls up and blocks my view. The girls are gone.

The van passes us and behind him is another rickshaw. This one has seven males in their twenties. They catch my eye and began to send me hand signals. One asks me if I want to meet his friend. I throw up my left hand and point to my wedding ring. They laugh and wave goodbye. Friendly banter in the middle of traffic going nowhere anytime soon.

First Tourist Stop

Forty-five minutes later we arrive at Qutb Minor, a 73 m-high tower of victory, built in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak. This is one of the must-see monuments in Delhi. Foreigners/tourists are charged three times the price as locals. Hiroko is considered a local. She carries a document stating that she lives in Delhi. We don’t have a guide. Other foreigners have formed a line behind us. Many of them accompanied by a private guide they have hired to shuttle them around all day. Guides are a very helpful for tourists in India. They provide valuable historical information, recommend restaurants, and protection when necessary.

Groups of Indian elementary school children dressed in their gray pants and navy blue vests are trying their best to stand in line.   Their teachers are telling them in English, “Line up here”. They proceed into the park in single line formation following their teachers. Elementary schools in India have both coeducational and segregated classes. Some of them pass by and sneak a smile and a few giggles when they see the foreigners watching them and taking their pictures. I wonder what they think about us.

School children waiting to enter the Qutb monument park

We take pictures, read the guidebook, and walk around. Every time I turn a corner, there is a young Indian couple stealing kisses and embracing. Showing signs of affection in public is not acceptable. Young people take advantage of theaters, museums, and national monuments to show their feelings for each other.

Qutb Minar

Qutb Minar

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We stop at the market on the way home to pick up some things for dinner. The market has stalls of vegetables, dry goods, pharmaceuticals, dried fruits, nuts, and clothing. Hiroko has her preferred vegetable stall. We quickly pass by all of the others who are trying to hawk their products. Hiroko walks into her vegetable stall and everyone greets her with “Namaste”. She goes about picking her vegetables. She is being closely followed by one of the workers who is holding a small plastic container with small holes.

Hiroko chooses a vegetable and he places it in the container. He tries to get her to buy mangoes, she says no. There are gooseberries, grapes, cauliflower, ginger, bananas, and cabbage. He hands the plastic container of vegetables to another man who weighs it. The tally is done by hand with pencil and paper. The next man gives Hiroko the total. She haggles for a little less and is successful. She pays with her debit card.  We leave the bag with them and proceed to the next stall.

There are no women shopping nor working in the stalls. The men lie around, drink tea, and talk to each other. I walk through the stalls observing the colorful clothing and the various choices of nuts and dried fruits. Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, dates, apricots, and apples.

Vegetable shop

Vegetable stall

This was the first day of my visit to Delhi, India. Please read Part 2.

 

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My First 10 Days of Retirement

Life is a circle. The first part is learning. Learning how to be someone, a child, a teenager, and an adult. The second part is teaching. Teaching your children and your students to be someone. The third part of life is back to learning . Learning how to be a retired person.

Carol Kubota

I have just completed my first ten days of retirement not counting holidays or weekends. I began counting on January 3 because all of my colleagues had to report back to work and I stayed home.

Staying Organized

When I was teaching, I did the same thing every day. Go to class, teach, come home, grade homework, prepare the next day’s lessons and repeat for five days. It was easy to keep track of my time. Now, every day is  Sunday or Saturday.

Now I have three calendars, one in my bag that I carry everywhere, one on my Outlook, and one on the refrigerator. The first thing I do when I wake up is to check the day and date on my cell phone.  I am always afraid I will miss something.

Retirement has a different meaning for each person. I was not ready to sit home, sleep in, or watch TV.  I didn’t have any plans to play golf, mahjong, or pickle ball. My idea of retirement was being able to leave a job that I no longer found challenging to a place where I could travel, write, and connect with my community.

Ten things I did in my first 10 days of retirement.
  1. Became a member of the Kiwanis club in Fountain Hills
  2. Had lunch with another retired educator and didn’t care about the time. Neither one of us glanced at our cell phones to check the time.
  3. Attended a six-hour training for Chloe, my Cocker Spaniel, to be a therapy dog
  4. Joined the Arizona State University book club
  5. Had an interview on Skype with a start-up travel group, Joey, in San Francisco
  6. Attended a  “Wanderful” meeting with  other women who like to travel
  7. Became a docent for the art tours in Fountain Hills
  8. Signed up for one class at Changing Hands bookstore for travel writing
  9. Coffee shop hopping around Phoenix
  10. Completed  two online writing classes

I spend about two hours a day on my computer trying to write enticing stories to attract readers to my web page. Writing is not easy and I am in the process of finding that out. Teaching was not easy when I first started, but with time and experience, it became less stressful. I hope that eventually, I will be able to write with clarity, enthusiasm, perfect punctuation, and a much bigger vocabulary.

This is the beginning of a new adventure and I want to invite my readers to come along with me.

 

 

Up Up and Away

 

World Hot Air Balloon Championship

It was July 13, 1985 when I had my first encounter with a hot air balloon. Our family of three had just arrived to Battle Creek, Michigan from Japan. We had been living in Japan for five years and my husband was being transferred to Battle Creek, Michigan to help open a new plant. We had just ended a twelve-hour flight and we were tired and disoriented.

We arrived at what seemed to be the only hotel in Battle Creek because it was so crowded and the city was so small. We checked in and held on to our three-year old so that she wouldn’t get lost. We finally found our way into the crowded elevator trying to squeeze our over packed luggage along with a stroller. As we were successfully stuffed into the elevator a young man of about twenty-two asked my husband if he were one of the Japanese balloonists. We both looked at each other because we had no idea what he was referring to.  We said, “No, is there a balloon festival?” and he said, “Yes”. We headed up to our rooms in the elevator and my husband was asked the same question again. We turned on the TV and realized that Battle Creek was celebrating their annual World Hot Air Balloon Championship representing twenty-one different countries. One of those countries was Japan.

We attended the festival in Battle Creek for twenty years. Now, my friend and I  were on our way to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta one of the largest balloon conventions in the world.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

It is 4:00 a.m. and we are on our way out the door. The early morning is very dark, not a star in the sky. The morning is crisp with a very slight wind blowing in our faces. The GPS is set for our destination which should be no more than ten minutes away. It is giving us the directions, “turn left on Jefferson, in two miles turn right on to Washington.”  We arrived at the Balloon Fiesta field outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one of the largest balloon conventions in the world. It began in 1972 with 19 balloons and expanded to 600 balloons. This event takes place every year in October for one week. Balloonists who participate come from all over the US and the world. They must compete in their own states and countries before they are accepted to participate in the event.

We walk towards the only light we have seen for almost 40 minutes and find ourselves in front of vendors which are tightly lined up on the side of the path leading to the main field. The smells of doughnuts, elephant ears, breakfast burritos, and Pinon coffee are in the air. We walk over to the field and find some old wooden picnic tables, which we can’t see until we bump into them. This is when a flashlight would have come in handy.

The Launch

There are two very important factors that prevent hot air balloons from ascending, too much wind and rain. These factors will make or break a perfect launch.

The sun is beginning to rise which means that the balloons will be inflating and we will soon be witnessing one of the most popular hot air balloon festivals in the USA.  There is only one problem, there is too much wind. Spectators sits around on the picnic tables and lawn chairs waiting patiently for the announcement of ascension.  There is anticipation for everyone who has traveled from all over the USA and the world to watch these colorful bulbs get up into the air.

The balloonists are laying out their envelopes, the actual fabric which holds the air, on the field waiting for the “all go” signal. Everyone’s eyes are focused on the sky above them.

Lift Off

The signal finally comes and the balloons begin to inflate.  People are crowding on to the field and getting their cameras ready for the artistic panoramic scenes the balloons will create once they are all launched. The balloons are orange, red, blue, green with designs that include stripes, stars, diamonds, and sponsored balloons which have names such as Pepsi, and Kodak.

Animal shapes of famous cartoon characters, such as Tweedy Bird with his bright yellow head and orange nose, followed by Puddy Cat, the big black and white cat with the red nose, who is forever chasing Tweedy Bird around. Both the children and the adults identify each balloon by name as it is being inflated. It is a magical moment .

Unfortunately, these balloons are not able to ascend very far, they are heavy and cumbersome to fly long distances and the wind is working against them , not allowing them to get more than fifty feet into the air. They stay above the crowd and no one is disappointed because this is the time to get some great shots of these magnificent balloons. The bigger balloons don’t stay up more than fifteen  minutes before plopping down on the grown and showing their frustration. The rest of the balloons end up landing no more than one to two miles away.

This time the wind won.  Balloon Festivals take place outside and depend on the movement of the natural elements wind and rain. They don’t like either one.

Consider yourself lucky, if you  experience a successful Hot Air Balloon Launch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Last Final Exam

“Exams test your memory, life tests your learning; others will test your patience.”
Fennel Hudson, A Writer’s Year – Fennel’s Journal – No. 3

It is 2:00 p.m. Thursday the last day of exams for our program. It is also my last time to give a final exam. I can’t count how many final exams I have given in the past  forty-two years of my teaching life.

Nineteen students file in and place their beloved cell phones on the table in front of the room. They sit in alternate seats so that they don’t cheat. The rows in the class are set up as five sets of desks going across the room and six sets of desks in each row. They place their backpacks on the floor next to them and take out only an eraser and a pen or pencil.

One student does not have a pencil and asks his friends if they have one he can borrow. This student has not been prepared for class since he walked in the door seven weeks ago. One of my very well prepared students offers him a choice of two pencils and he chooses one. I pass out the test to the students in the front rows and they pass them back to the other students in their rows. There is complete silence and anxious faces. I go over the directions and ask for any questions. The student who did not have a pencil asks me to put the time on the board. I point to the wall clock in front of the classroom and tell him to watch the time. He and the other students never knew there was a clock in the room. The only way they keep track of time is with their cell phones. They vibrate in their pockets when the class is over.

The students have seventy-five minutes to take a reading exam. The exam is worth 15% of their grade. This was a good class so I expect most of them to pass. The test begins and I keep an eye on them. I have never been one of those teachers who feels comfortable reading my e-mail, grading other papers, or searching the Internet during a test. Students have figured out so many ways of cheating. I once had a student who wrote an essay on five ways to cheat during a test.  The information was not very surprising, but when your future depends on a test you will try anything.

Twenty minutes have past and students are reading the passage flipping the pages back and forth because the first part of the story is on the front page and the second part is on the back. Some students begin to crack their knuckles, some are tapping their feet, and others are staring at the clock. The students have been in my classroom for seven weeks and I know who will get a passing grade and who won’t. Fortunately there is only one who will not pass. Yes, you guessed right. The one who came to class without a pencil.

Ten minutes are left in order to finish the test.  Ten students have finished and handed in the exam. They grab a brownie, wave goodbye , and head out the door. As time goes by more students are finished and leave the room waving with brownie in hand.  Time is over and the last student to hand in his test is the student who did not have a pencil. He hangs back until all the students have left and asks me if he is going to pass. I must give him the news which he already knows , no he will not pass. He asks me if there is anything he can do to pass. I tell him it is too late and I am very sorry. He looks at me sheepishly, takes his brownie and waves good-bye.

“The job of an educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves”
Joseph Campbell

unadjustednonraw_thumb_1cd0This is the last final I will ever give . I will miss my students and I will miss walking into a classroom and seeing the expressions of my international students who had to listen to stories that I told them about my life when I was a student and how easy their life is. As I sit  here looking  at the empty classroom, I begin to feel sad. Teaching has been my life, but it is time to move on.

Goodbye students! Goodbye teaching!