Prison for Food

A twelve- year old boy receives seven days of hard labor for stealing a chicken. A fourteen- year old boy receives seven days of hard labor and twenty lashes for stealing two loaves of bread.

These children ended up serving their time in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland. Built in1796 for hardened criminals. Murderers and robbers. It was one of the most modern prisons in Ireland. Officially called the County of Dublin Gaol, and run by the Grand Jury for County Dublin.The older prison housed prisoners in individual cells. The prisoners could put their arms through the windows as the people who passed by slipped them drinks, cigarettes, and money.

I am in Dublin, Ireland for seven days before heading to a writer’s workshop in Donegal. I have walked the street for three days retracing the steps of the Irish who were forced to leave their country and suffered under the English regime. I bought a three- day travel card that allows me to use the Green Hop On Hop Off Bus. This is day three. I want to see the places that I missed. Suddenly the driver yells out “There are three tickets available to enter the Kilmainham Gaol. Does anyone want to get off?” At the entrance to the Gaol, there is an agent holding up three fingers indicating the available tickets. I take my chances and jump off the bus. I didn’t know much about the prison. It turned out to be one of the best and worst experiences in Ireland.

Kilmainham Gaol is used in movie scenes and documentaries and is one of the five most visited sites in Dublin.

But, sure, jail is a grand place, if one can forget that one’s in it ( Evelyn Masterson, veteran Civil War prisoner of Kilmainham Jail)

I pay for my ticket, have my bags checked, and begin the tour with five other tourists from Germany and England. The corridors are very dark, harsh, and not very welcoming. It is referred to as the old dungeon fortress by the Irish citizens. Yellow paint is peeling from the walls. The iron bars around the stairs are rusty. The openings in the walls are small and square. I feel an extreme sense of fear. There are no windows and very little light. I am safe. I am on a tour. How did the people who were incarcerated feel? They had no way out.

Kilmainham Gaol located in Dublin, Ireland on Gallows Hill was built in 1796.  Constructed of limestone and granite. The height varies from thirty- fifty feet. The walls are 51/2 ft. thick at the bottom and 31/2 ft thick at the top. There are three iron and wood gates. A prison for hardened criminals. Murderers and robbers. It was touted as one of the most modern prisons in Ireland. In 1821, two women, 19 and 21 years old, were hung for their crimes. The last public execution was in 1865. The prison closed in 1925. It is now one of the five most visited sites in Dublin. The prison is used in movie scenes and documentaries.

The building in not the original Kilmainham Gaol. It was located near St. James hospital, a short distance from Gallow’s Hill in the direction of Dublin City Center. In the Old Kilmainham prison, the incarcerated shared cells in long narrow rooms. The prisoners were able to extend their arms through “grilles” and the people passing by would slip them liquor, cigarettes, and money. The prisoners were always drunk. The conditions of the prison were deemed inhumane by the citizens of Ireland.

The East Wing (This building is often presented in movies)

The East Wing opened officially in 1861and reflected the continuous development of prison reforms. It is the form of a horseshoe so that the prisoners could be constantly observed. The main goals for running the prison effectively were: silence, observation, separation, and light. The enormous skylight in the roof allows the rays of the sun to “pour down over the prisoners souls” and spiritually cleanse them. 

The Jail is divided into three sections: The middle part is the administrative section containing the largest and most comfortable rooms. The top floor is the “Governor’s” quarters.  The ground floor rooms were linked and used in the daytime by women who were in prison because they could not pay off the family debt.

Kilmainham Jail served as a prison for over two centuries. A prison that was supposed to be more humane entered a time period where people were being imprisoned for petty crimes. Crimes they committed so their families could eat. I can’t imagine having to steal a chicken, bread, and grass for consumption because my family is dying of starvation.

1847- Less than 2,500 prisoners, 1848- 4,655 prisoners, 1849-6,888 prisoners, 1850- 9,052 prisoners

Peter Henry- thiry-four years of hard labor for stealing a pair of shoes from a dead man

Michael Donohue-thirty four years for ill-treating a bear in the zoo

Thorman Lynch- eighteen years old- one month for unlawfully milking a cow and stealing a quantity of milk. Two extra months for stealing the bucket.

Martin Walsh- ten years old- fourteen days for stealing grass

We enter the Catholic Chapel. I am surprised at the beauty of the chapel. The windows let in the light and the walls are painted green and red. Everyone on the tour becomes very quiet as we take in the beauty of a room located in a prison. A place with no hope. The altar was built in 1882 by James Lalor. He was from Belfast and was sentenced to seven years for receiving stolen goods. I was a carpenter who was rumored to have completed various projects in other prisons. The altar is well known for the wedding of Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett in May 1916. Joseph Plunkett was scheduled to be executed. He had one hour left to marry. They were not allowed to talk to each other during or after the ceremony. No one was allowed to attend. He was executed the day after.

Our next stop is in front of a jail cell. A jail cell would hold up to 5-6 people, women, men, and children. Food included bread, water, milk, tea, potatoes or rice, oatmeal, Indian meal, and if they were lucky a little meat. The food was not that great, but for many “bad food was better than no food”. Buckets were used as toilets and dumped out in the morning. The stench must have been terrible.

From 1845–1850 the prison filled with men, women, and children charged with begging and stealing. “The Great Famine” referred to by the Irish as “The Great Hunger” began to rise. The jail cells swelled to capacity. There was no segregation of prisoners. Men, women, and children were incarcerated in the same cells. There were up to five people in a cell measuring twenty-eight square meters. Everyone was given a candle. This candle was to last for two weeks. It was their only means of light and heat. Male prisoners slept in iron bed stands. Women and children slept with straw mats on the floor.

Female Crimes

Eliza Corty- twenty-seven– five days for using obscene language

Eliza Keenan- forty-seven– one month for knocking on a hall door without lawful excuse

Anne McIntyre– twenty- stealing potatoes- sent to a lunatic asylum

These women were trying to raize families and feed their children. They were desperate. I would steal to feed my family.

We walk past cells that are painted blue and the exterior walls are white. The color makes it seem royal. Royal, it is not. Prisoners were not able to look out to see the sun. It was very bleak.

The beginning of the Famine

How did the famine begin? Was it the fault of the Irish? The English accused the Irish of two things: overpopulation and laziness. Irish families were big Catholic units. Many of the Irish produced children to help on their farms. The women didn’t practice birth control. The Irish are laid back. They like to have fun drinking, dancing, and singing. The English looked at this style of life as wasteful.

The English dominated the Irish. In 1801 The Act of Union brought the country of Ireland under the control of England. The English created “Penal Laws”. The Catholic Church was outlawed. Their native language, Gaelic, was banned. The English forbade any export trade. These new laws destroyed Irish commerce and industry. The Irish could pretend not to be Catholics or leave the church completely. Some of the Irish were forced to practice their religion in secrecy.

In 1600 Protestants owned 10% of Irish land. In 1778 they owned 95%. The Penal laws prevented Catholics from buying land, getting an education, entering a profession, holding political office, and living within five miles of town. They were not allowed to fish or hunt.The only employment left for the Catholics was farming. They were allowed to have small plots owned by landlords. They had to pay rent to absent landlords in England. Many of the tenant farmers had poor living standards, no money for medicine, clothes, nor adequate shelter. Homes were falling apart and landlords were not required to make improvements.

The potato was the only crop to produce a sufficient yield on limited acreage. In 1840, 50% of Ireland was dependent on the potato.

In 1835, 75% of Irish workers were without regular work and turned to begging and stealing.

 

Irish farmers became desperate.  Not getting the help they needed, some of them decided to enter workhouses providing them with shelter and food in exchange for hard labor.  Irish farmers with more than 1/4 of an acre were forced to give up their land before acceptance into a workhouse. No food or shelter would be provided to their wives and children. The only hope was to beg, steal, or runaway.

From 1845-1850 Kilmainham Jail contained the poorest of Ireland’s citizens. 1847 brought a new law: the Vagrancy Act. It was now a crime for hungry people to beg in the streets. They ended up in prison along with the thieves. The last official year of the “Great Hunger”, 1850, Kilmainham Jail Registers recorded 9,052 prisoners living in fewer than two hundred cells.

The Great Potato Famine has been debated for years. Was it the fault of the Irish or the English? Was the potato the root of the problem?

In 1846 the Prime Minister of England, Charles Trevelyan, banned all food distribution to Ireland. The English exported grain-based alcohol, wool, flax, wheat, oats, barley, butter, eggs, and beef from Ireland to England. These were products being produced in Ireland but not available to Irish citizens. Did the English create the Famine? Food was being taken out of Ireland.

 

We enter one of the cells which were lucky enough to have some light. People could do nothing in these cells. Some of them had to stand up all day because they were so crowded. We were five and we could not all fit in the room together and feel comfortable.

 

 

Stonebreakers Yard

There are no windows overlooking this yard. The darker areas around the yard are reminders of the huts that men were placed in. These were the men sentenced to heavy labor. Breaking stones for the construction of roads. The black cross marks the place of the execution of the leaders of 1916 Rising. 

The walls of the prison are 5 1/2 feet thick at the bottom and 3 1/2 feet thick at the top and constructed from limestone and granite. There are three iron and wood gates.The height varies from 30-50 feet. The “death bell” rang after an execution.

On the other side of this wall was the exercise yard for children who were in prison. Children were treated like little adults. Joseph Williams, six years old, traveling with his parents on the Great Southern and Western Railway without a paid fare, sentenced to prison. Children who were caught stealing to provide food for their families were sentenced to prison.

 

Mural of a Madonna painted by Grace Gifford Plunkett while she was held during the Civil War.

After the death of her husband, Grace Gifford threw herself into the Republican activities of Cumann na mBan – Ladies Auxiliary to the IRA – and was herself jailed in the women’s section of the same Kilmainham jail in which her husband had been executed. Like Joseph before her, she left an artistic memento on the stone wall of her dreary cell – it was a sketch of Mary, the mother of God, perhaps in remembrance of Joseph’s middle name. Admired by all the women prisoners, it was dubbed the Kilmainham Madonna. 

Entrance to Kilmainham Gaol, Five Dragons in Chains above Entrance. The five dragons represent five serious felonies: murder, rape, theft, treason, and piracy. Two women Bridget Butterly 19 and Bridget Ennis 20 were hung for a burglary where a woman died.

 

Plaque marking the executions of the leaders of 1916 Rising.

The tour turned out to be one of the best and worst experiences in Ireland.The best because I learned at how hard life can be when people are not cared for and forgotten. Food is important and should be something that everyone has access to. I was aware of the history of Ireland. My ancestors came from Ireland. I realize the tremendous problems they suffered and how other countries such as Australia, Canada, and the USA received them. They were not received well. They arrived sick, poor, and dirty. There were signs everywhere in NY warning people not to hire the Irishman because they were dangerous and dirty. Imagine if the Irish ended up not settling in the US because the government did not want them. It was the worst experience to see how people were treated in times of need. Children and women going to prison because they were caught stealing food to provide for their families. Has history taught us a lesson?

I would like to conclude with my final thoughts. No one should have to go to prison for lack of food. Famine is not brought on by the people, but by governments who control the food and goods going in and out of the country. Could The Great Hunger of Ireland have been avoided? Can this happen again? I leave you with these questions.

 

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.

 

 

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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