For almost all my married life I have waited for those words. At the beginning of our marriage, in late nineties, Sean called once from whichever country he was traveling to, if he could, to let me know he had arrived. After that phone call, I did not hear from him till he came home. We moved to India soon after and he traveled to Taliban controlled Afghanistan. He made calls home via satellite phones sometimes to let me know he was safe. Now I think back and wonder how I managed my anxiety then. He was at Colombo airport trying to fly out to Delhi because baby Sahana was very sick and I asked him to come home. He was at the airport when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group or LTTE tried to blow up the airport. He and a young Srilankan woman with a small baby escaped the airport together and hid while bullets flew. Next morning I woke up to my landline ringing. “Have you landed in Delhi?” I asked. He hadn’t. He was having breakfast in Colombo at the home of the woman whom he took back to her family in the middle of the night. Her family was very grateful. The woman was flying out to Rome with her baby to join her husband but the rebel group destroyed Colombo airport. Sean was stuck in Srilanka. I met her when I went to Srilanka with Sean. She said “Your husband stayed with me and my baby the whole time. I don’t know what I would have done without his help.” When 9/11 happened Sean was in Bangladesh.
With cell phones, it became easier to communicate when he traveled. He texted “Arrived safely in _____”. And with that message safely tucked in my mind, I went about taking care of home and children. Now we have whatsapp. “I have arrived safely in…” message has transferred to our group chat in whatsapp so the two children can see that he is safe. Sean tries his best to just drop in a line whenever he can but sometimes he can’t connect to the network or whatever and that line takes time to appear. I still go about my life but I wait for that line all day.
These days, however, I know things are well when I get his Wordle results in the whatsapp group. Everyday, even when he is traveling, he diligently shares his successful Worldle completion. Followed by “I have arrived safely in….” Wordle results of my husband when he is in a faraway country gives me peace of mind. We, indeed, have come a long way.
We both were tired of driving 2 and a half hours each way to go hike in different Canyons. It was also our 25th anniversary and I, more than Sean, wanted to sleep in and get a leisurely start to the day. We left the hotel around 8:30 am to drive a short distance to Zion National Park to hike up to Canyon Overlook. We crossed the 1.1 mile long historic tunnel and fortunately found a parking right at the trail head. It was a relatively easy hike up with a spectacular, panoramic view of the significant canyons in the distance. But the crowning glory of this particular hike was a chance meeting with 3 very handsome mountain goats. Sure, we had to stealthily go off trail to get close to them. And when we did, they just raised their heads to say, “Oh hey! How’s it going?” They were clearly not intimidated by us.
After finishing the trail, we found less traveled and unmarked trailheads to go down the canyon to the river bed. The rock formation there reminded me of Gothic architecture.
The popular trails were fun and beautiful. However, discovering new trails and chancing upon hidden waterfalls, finding the perfect rock in the shade, far away from hikers, listening to birdsong and trilling sound of water as we lay on the cool rock gave us such peace and tranquility. We loved hiking the crowded Narrows and the Emerald pool hikes and we loved the less traveled hikes and the exciting discoveries. This trip will be memorable for us. We celebrated our 25th anniversary, I went searching for tranquility for my anguished soul with the man I love after both my parents were taken away by this horrible virus that has snatched so many loved ones. Being amidst nature soothed me. I felt happiest I have felt in a long time when I was surrounded by nature. I could meditate. I could bring the smiling faces of my parents into focus when I closed my eyes.
When the heat started getting unbearable, we drove back to the hotel and took shelter till late afternoon. I had hoped to dress up for our anniversary dinner but I was deterred by the heat. We went to an Italian restaurant for a delicious pasta and pizza dinner. I must say, all our meals in Sprindale, Utah were fantastic albeit a bit pricey. As we finished dinner, the power went out in the whole city. We had to forego ice cream and walked slowly back to our hotel as diners around us wondered where to get food. We were witnesses to the recent New York black out and now we are proud witnesses to Springdale black out. A local informed us this never happened before.
Our 25th anniversary ended with watching reruns of our favorite crime show Law and Order SVU, next to each other on bed, content.
Indian Dick, a Paiute elder living on the Kaibab Reservation, told the Bryce Canyon hoodoo legend to a park ranger in 1936:
“Before there were any Indians, the Legend People, To-when-an-ung-wa, lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds–birds, animals, lizards and such things, but they looked like people. They were not people. They had power to make themselves look that way. For some reason the Legend People in that place were bad; they did something that was not good, perhaps a fight, perhaps some stole something…the tale is not clear at this point. Because they were bad, Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now all turned into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks. The name of that place is Angka-ku-wass-a-wits (red painted faces). This is the story the people tell.”
We again rose very early to get a head start to see the much acclaimed Bryce Canyon. After a picturesque drive, we arrived at the Visitor center, made a plan for our day and started our hike. We took the shuttle to the end of the shuttle stop – Bryce Point and walked the Rim Trail. For a long part of the walk, Sean and I were silent. There was truly nothing to say in front of such splendor and beauty of nature. I do not have words to express the magnificence of the canyon that we witnessed today so here are some photos.
I do not know if the hoodoos are the bad people turned into stone by the trickster Coyote, but they reminded me of intricately sculptured fortresses or castles or even temples.
From the Sunset point of the Rim Trail, we decided to descend about 350 feet to the Sevier River at the bottom of the canyon. There were two combined trails but we chose to hike the 1.3 mile long Navajo loop. I almost died the day we hiked down North Rim, but we had gone down 1400 feet that day. Navajo loop, I told myself, was nothing compared to that. In this trail we saw 3 different and famous structures created by rocks that have been named – Wall Street, 2 bridges and Thor’s hammer.
There was a cool breeze blowing which kept us comfortable as we climbed out of the canyon. I took several breaks to catch my breath but also to take it all in. After completing this hike we walked further along the Rim of the canyon till we got off the trail to get to our car.
The Visitor center had interesting information about the rock formations and also about Paiute Indians who inhabited the area. We then decided to drive 17 miles up the canyon to its highest elevation point, Rainbow point to get an expansive view of the area.
On our way back to exit the park, we saw a prairie dog scurry from his burrow. Prairie dog sighting is quite common in these parts we were informed. Bryce canyon is one of the most picturesque canyons that I have seen. The sights of the hoodoos, the clear, blue sky above, the twisted bristle cone pines stubbornly clinging on to life despite being repeatedly hit by lightning, the chipmunks who tried to climb up my pants to beg for my trail mix, the sighting of prairie dogs – the whole tapestry of the canyon gave me peace. Mother Nature heals, a friend messaged me. “May you find peace in nature.” I did.
We drove back with tired bodies and refreshed souls.
On Sunday, I almost died because I am terribly out of shape. But that is besides the point.
We got in the car around 7:00 am to start our 2 and a half hour drive to North Rim, Grand Canyon in Arizona. Driving through the hairpin bends of the Zion canyons were slightly alarming but mostly breathtaking. And we saw this family on the side of the road, grazing for breakfast.
We arrived at North Rim visitor center close to 10:30 am and started our hike after filling up our water bottles and looking at the different hike options. They were mostly easy hikes with only 2 moderate to difficult. Guess which one certain someone chose. Yes, “we” chose one of the moderate to difficult ones – of course. The North Kaibab trail went steeply down about 0.3 miles to Coconino overlook for a view of the Grand Canyon. My hope was to hike down there and hike right back up. We went down to the overlook, smiling at fellow hikers, giving way to mule riders and paying attention to mule poop and mule pee. Once we reached the overlook, we took a break taking in the scenery around us.
As we sat in the shade, we heard other hikers talking about Supai Tunnel further 1.7 miles down. 7 miles below that was Cottonwood campground and 7 miles further down was Roaring Springs at Colorado River. Sean gently nudged me to go down to Supai tunnel. The canyon around me was so magical and the hike down did not tire me out so I agreed to climb down further. With each switchback I thought to myself “what goes down must come up” but decided to worry about the climb later. We reached Supai Tunnel. Sean spoke to every single hiker that we passed. A jovial “Hi, how is it going?” Or some sort of jokey comment. It was evident he was in his element. The responses were mostly enthusiastic and friendly. Some, however, especially from those straining as they climbed up were just panting grunts. Their panting scared me but I valiantly kept climbing down.
After resting for a while at the tunnel and after replenishing our bodies with plenty of water and refreshments, we started our hike up to the top. And I almost died. It was a steep 2 mile climb with no level ground at all to regulate my breathing. At one point, I felt my heart was going to beat out of my chest. At every switchback, I sat down to bring my heartbeat down from 178 or so. Sean was right by my side the entire way, carrying our back pack, supplying me with water and saying, “Look how far you have come. Look, we are almost there.” I thought in my head I can not make it. But I did. It took a long time, but I made it up to the trail head. That feeling of accomplishment gave me such confidence. At the Coconino overlook, surrounded by the serene, regal canyons, I closed my eyes to meditate. Sean took a photo where a halo is seen above my head. It is nothing but the time of the day and the position of the sun. But when a friend said that looks like blessing from all those I lost, I liked it.
From the trailhead of North Kaibab trail, we hiked 1.4 miles back to our car, fortunately on level road, drank some more water and trail mix. Then we attempted the easy trail to see the depth of the Grand Canyon from the top rim. Bright Angel Point trail gave us this view along with hundreds of other excited hikers, busy snapping photos. Sean and I sat on some rocks quietly. I whispered to him, “Happy Anniversary!” It seemed the perfect place to tell him that I am so happy to be with him for the last 25 years.
On our way back we had delicious dinner at Wild Thyme in Kanab complete with a fantastic carrot cake. Drove through scary hairpin bends of Zion National forest as the sun set behind the canyons leaving their looming dark shapes and a bright orange hue in the horizon. The silhouette of the canyons were awe inspiring and the drive through those winding narrow mountain roads was harrowing.
We had a 14 hour day. My body needed an easier day but my spirit was ready to go. We were undecided on what to do on Monday but were sure we will think of something.
“Is it time already?” I croaked as Sean gently touched my shoulder at 3:52 am. Our Lyft was scheduled to come at 4:30 to take us to airport for our 6:45 am flight. We were flying into Las Vegas and then driving to Springdale, Utah for a few days of hiking in Zion and Bryce Canyon. My concerns were twofold – my aging knee and my gung ho husband who would want to attempt the most strenuous hikes and I would have to remind him he is not as young as he used to be, without hurting his ego.
I said goodbye to ma, baba, (their photos on my bureau), cleaned up, blew a kiss to Sahana’s closed door and left for the airport. After almost 5 hours of flying, during which I watched all episodes of The Chair (I highly recommend) and 2 episodes of Alrawaba School for Girls, we touched down.
We got our rental car and drove for 2 and a half hours to Springdale, checked in to our lovely hotel with gorgeous view of rock faces.
After charging our devices, we went out to get the lay of the land. We took a free shuttle to the Zion visitor center and a shuttle from there took us inside the canyon. We did a loop of the Emerald pool hike which was roughly 3 and a half miles in total. After many months, my heart felt a familiar sensation. I vaguely remembered it. It was happiness. It was gratitude that my parents gave me life so I could witness this wonder of nature. The magnificence of the rock faces, the silent strength of nature humbled me and set me free, at least for the time being. Pictures do not do the grandeur of the Zion canyon justice but we made a humble attempt to capture what we could for memory.
There is a word in Bangla – bikkhipto which roughly translates to restless. My mind is restless, angry. My heart is sad and I always question what bad karma led to this tragedy in my life. My ‘why’s and ‘what’s receded to the back corner of my mind as I hiked up and stopped often to imbue the beauty surrounding me within my soul. I got a reprieve.
If I am not too exhausted, I will continue my Zion diary in the coming days.
This was a vacation week so it was not only a good week, it was a great week. The losses still remained, the unanswered questions still lingered but I forced myself to simply focus on the moment that I was living. Just for this week. Please! For the most part I was successful. There was a night of sleeplessness and intense sadness but the “goods” in this week pushed the grief to a corner.
Sean and I drove down south for a road trip.
Our first destination was Raleigh, North Carolina. After fighting traffic we arrived at the city famished and found a delicious Indian and Nepali restaurant right across from North Carolina State University campus. After lunch we walked around college grounds.
Next stop was Durham and a walk around the campus of Duke University. The buildings are gothic and gorgeous.
We had amazing biscuits at True Flavor diner in Durham. I highly recommend if any of you are headed that way.
On Sunday we drove down to Charleston, South Carolina. The waterfront park, the houses on Rainbow row, a long, hot walk along the historic district, a ghost and graveyard tour, a trip to Fort Sumter, Folly beach, Sullivan’s Island, more walking in the downtown, not to mention the scrumptious shrimp and grits, shrimp rolls and pulled pork, this city stole my heart.
On our drive up to Virginia beach, we stopped at Myrtle beach and then Wilmington, North Carolina. We had lunch at a funky restaurant called Mellow Mushroom right by the river in Wilmington. If you ever go there try their pizzas.
We arrived at Virginia beach around 9 pm. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we went out for a long walk.
The two days at Virginia beach were filled with lazy afternoons, some romp in the sea, leisurely strolls, lot of people watching and delicious meals at restaurants that were off the beaten track.
Those were “goods” of the week. The “bests” were a lot of laughter, lot of meaningful conversation, some tears, being together, being fully present in the moment, realizing, yet again, I am still hopelessly in love with the man I married.
Life is waiting with all of its sorrows and hopefully happiness at some point. This week was different.
On Saturday night I dreamt of ma and baba. Both were young, healthy and smiling.
Hope your list of “goods” is long. Have a great week.
I have spent considerable time in my life filling out forms to either leave a country or enter a country or stay in a country. My experience is perhaps not too different from many immigrants who decide to settle in a different country and also travel to different parts of the world. My first endeavor started when I took on the Herculean task of getting an Indian passport in my twenties. And do believe me when I tell you that it is no mean feat. It involves filling forms, producing many, many documents, standing in line, police verification….and the list goes on. Next was getting a fiancée visa to come to United States. Fortunately, my fiancé pushed the papers on that one so I only had to sign some papers and send him some documents. Once I came here, we got married within 10 days and thus began my sojourn to change my status to become a Resident Alien in this country. After several form filling and back and forth to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, I got my green card or Resident Alien status. Although I am not an Englishman in New York, I sang along with Sting, “I’m an alien, a legal alien…” an Indian woman in Bawlmore!
After a year of getting my green card, Sean got transferred to India. We picked ourselves up and transplanted in New Delhi. I was beyond thrilled of course except when we had to come in to US twice a year. You see, if one has a green card in this country, they are required to live here for certain number of days and we were not fulfilling that requirement. The customs officers asked us many questions at the port of entry, nodded their heads, frowned, were nasty to me often and we were completely dependent on the clemency of the officer in question. I started having butterflies in my stomach as I stood in line to enter the country. After a harrowing experience each time, the officer stamped my passport and I breathed.
After 12 years of our marriage, I finally decided to seek citizenship of United States. Travel was difficult with Indian passport. Getting a citizenship involved form filling and trips to USCIS again. However, it was done. I got my US passport and right away I filed papers to obtain a PIO card to enter India without a visa. PIO card stands for People of Indian Origin. It was similar to a green card in US, no voting rights but the card ensured hassle free entry to my country of birth where my loved ones live. After a few years, Indian government decided to discontinue with PIO card and I had to convert my card to OCI one. OCI stands for Overseas Citizen of India which gives the card holders the same rights as PIO card holders. The whole point of writing all is this to show that I ensured that my entry to India was never delayed or hampered. I filled forms, I planned ahead. I was in control for the most part.
I used to worry about the 4 to 6 weeks that would take to renew my passport when the time came. I worried that if something happened to my parents in those 4 to 6 weeks I would not have any means to get to them. Now that worry seems so trivial. I worried about 4 – 6 weeks? I never thought a day would come when I would not be able to go to India for over a year. At the beginning of this nightmare, I was distraught and lived in agony. Then slowly I started realizing that the whole situation is not in my control. Pandemic taught me a valuable lesson to let go of things that I can not control. It was a hard lesson for someone like me, who likes to be in control but I did learn to let go.
I am a planner. I am planning to renew my passport and get my papers ready to go whenever I am able. But I am slowly learning to control my anxiety by chanting, “Let go of things beyond your control. Keep positive thoughts in your head. Let the negative go.”
There are nights when I still lie awake with disturbing thoughts. But then I count waves in my mind, breathe deeply and remind myself to let go. Easier said than done, but I try.
The baser instict is bubbling up within me. The green eyed monster is raising its ugly head in the inner recesses of my heart. I can feel its presence every time a relatively young, healthy person posts a photo of himself/herself getting a Covid vaccination shot. The good in me is preaching patience, perseverence, waiting for my turn at getting vaccinated, the evil in me is whispering “jump the line, look s/he did, so why not you? Once you get your vaccination you can get on that plane and go see your parents. Do it.”
I am having a difficult time suppressing the jealousy. The lure of seeing my parents is so great yet I know I will not jump the line. The rule follower in me will continue to follow the rules. And I will continue to be jealous of all those who are getting the vaccine and planning to go see their loved ones or going back to work…..like educating our children. I know, I know they should be ahead in line but I will continue to be…..wistful. Now, that’s a better word than jealousy.
That is it. This blog is about vaccination envy. 🙄
Friends often commented in the past, or rather when we did not live this reimagined life and Sean traveled constantly, “Oh your husband travels so much, you don’t have wet towels lying on the floor. Your house must be clean!”
No, it is not. My husband is truly the picker upper in the house. The house was cleaner when that guy stayed home for more than 2 weeks at a time. Although I should say that travel for the last 8 months has been a distant memory. Sean has not kept the house as clean as I expected him to. We all are somewhat past caring about the little things at this point. Well, he is also working all his waking hours, now that there is no “going to office”, putting in work hours at office and distancing himself from it at home. There is no boundary any more.
Well, the point of this write up is really my choice. I have the day off and the house is …not quite filthy but well on its way there. Last night I went to bed determined to dedicate today to cleaning. I woke up to a gray, gloomy, rainy day. Perfect day for cleaning, right? Wrong, if you are me. I weighed my options. Do I want to clean or do I want to make koraishuti r kochuri (pea filling stuffed fried dough)?
I procrastinated. I talked to my parents in Kolkata. I messaged some friends to chat. I discovered Sahana has used up ALL the ginger in the house. Ginger is important to make the pea filling. I checked the freezer and found a forgotten bag of peas. I have flour and powdered ginger. I have cumin powder and garam masala. Most importantly, I have the desire to put in all the work needed to make this labor intensive delicacy of Bengal. I will go to any length to avoid cleaning, work harder even in the kitchen.
I checked the dirty floor and dust laden surfaces. I introspected within – what does my inner self really want to do? My inner self chose koraishuti r kochuri. As if there was any doubt.
Here I go. Cleaning is for another day. How to make Koraishuti r kochuri? This fantastic cook, who happens to be a friend has got you covered. Here is her channel. See this particular recipe and her other recipes.
A big debate ensued within the family. Should we visit Sahana in Madrid over Christmas break in 2019 and tour Spain as a family or go someplace else so Sahana, along with us, can see a new country? My vote was for Spain, Sean wanted to go to a new country since Sahana would be touring Spain anyway as she was spending her junior year of college there. I held my ground till Sean floated the idea of Morocco. Why would I NOT want to go to Morocco? Spain could wait.
Sean, Ryan and I left for Morocco a few days before Christmas and flew into Casablanca. We had already rented a car and a very nice man was waiting for us with our vehicle at the airport. Sahana flew in from Madrid and met us at Casablanca airport as well. Finally reunited with our darling daughter after 4 months, we drove 210 miles from Casablanca to Chafchouen, a gorgeous, blue city at the foothills of Rif Mountains in North West Morocco. We parked our car in the dark and went in search of the riad that we had booked for a few nights. A riad is a traditional Moroccan home that are very popular with tourists to get the full experience of staying in Morocco. We lost our bearing completely while navigating the serpentine, narrow and sometimes steep alleys of the ‘blue city’ and after asking several locals, we finally arrived at Riad Nersjaonsar. The owner was sitting on a bench just outside and welcomed us with a big smile. We went into our room, cleaned up in the common bathroom, went to sleep and woke up at 11:00 am the next morning. Although breakfast was only served till 10 am, the very hospitable owner had his son cook Moroccan bread, eggs and Moroccan coffee for us along with fresh orange juice, rich honey. We ate breakfast on the terrace under the shadow of the Rif Mountains. It was magical. Our tour of Chafchouen will always be the brightest spot of our Moroccan trip and I will let some photos do the story telling.
Our next destination was Fez. However we stoped in Volubilis on our way to Fez to explore the ruins of the Roman city. After spending a beautiful day walking among the Roman ruins and marveling at the ingenuity of Roman engineers and builders, we got in our car to drive on to Fez. Again, we wanted the experience of staying in a riad in the old part of Fez. We arrived at beautifully decorated Riad Sunrise.
The medina (market) of Fez was magical and it seemed like we had stepped into history however my memory of the city is tainted by the youth who offered to take us out of the labyrinth of the Medina and then asked for an exorbitant amount of money. We did not pay but I was concerned that he might hurt us.
Fast forward to Marrakesh, a gorgeous city of wide avenues, beautiful gardens, historic Medina, famous Koutobia mosque and fashionable people. We all were looking forward to desert visits and camel rides. The plan was to spend the night of December 31st in the middle of Sahara desert. Sean and I did not book anything in advance and we thanked our lucky stars for that later. We were staying in Marrakesh for 6 days, so we thought we had ample time to book a desert tour. After an early pizza dinner on the day we arrived, we retired to bed, hoping to explore the city and book our desert trip with a local tour company the next day. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of Sahana retching in the bathroom. That was the beginning of our nightmare. She had one of the worst cases of stomach infection that went on for days. While she rested in the hotel room, glassy eyed and dehydrated, Sean, Ryan and I went out for short walks to buy some dinner and to bring back crackers and electrolytes for Sahana. Each day we thought maybe Sahana will recover and we can still book a desert trip. On the third night, I was gently awoken by Ryan saying, “Mom, I just threw up. But don’t worry, I feel fine now.” Well, he did not feel fine for long. From that point on both of them threw up every hour as Sean and I tried to keep them hydrated. When they were not throwing up, they were taking hot showers or resting in their beds. Sean and I went for long walks to get fresh air when the kids rested and toured Marrakesh as much as we could. I fell in love with the city, despite the nightmare that was unfolding in our hotel suite. Here I must mention the kindness of our housekeeper, Nadia, who without saying a word of English, commiserated with the kids, with us, cleaned up their mess and asked me if the children had eaten at the Medina. They had not. She always made sure to bring us extra towels and sheets. I was touched by her kindness in that foreign land and when we checked out, we made sure we left a generous tip for her.
I picked up a small vial of argan oil from a supermarket (of all places) in Marrakesh. I had no idea what argan oil was or what purpose it served before going to Morocco. I simply wanted a memento of the country that I could bring back in my carry on luggage and I saw argan oil being sold EVERYWHERE in every Medina we visited. Argan oil came home with me along with regrets, some anxious moments, bad memories and some amazing experiences.
I started using argan oil on my face as a moisturizer and also on my wild hair. The change in my skin and hair within a couple of weeks was remarkable. This oil not only moisturizes but also protects from sun damage, reduces wrinkles, prevents skin from getting too oily. I am a convert. And for my hair? Well it controlled my uncontrollable frizz! Enough said. After my small vial from Morocco was gone, I bought more of the oil, and now that is a part (only part) of my beauty regime. As I was massaging argan oil in my hair last night, the memories of Morocco came flooding back to me. I could not bring myself to write about that trip right after our return because it seemed like a vacation of nightmares. However, enough time has passed and the bad memories are slowly being replaced by memories of magical Chafchouen and the wonderful welcome we received there from the locals, memories of walking miles and miles in beautiful Marrakesh with Sean taking in the glitz of the big city juxtaposed with the narrow alleys of colorful Medina steeped in history.
Sahara eluded us this time and most likely we will not go back to Morocco for a vacation. I am still not sure what my children ate to cause such violent sickness and why us, the parents, were spared but if I could I would go back in a heartbeat, because, I for one, absolutely loved what I saw in this beautiful country. And the country gave my my magic potion along with some stress related highlights (gray hair) – argan oil!