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Articles of Confectionation

“What country?” The question always interjects from the madness. It catches me off guard and I look for the face of the inquirer – people passing by on the train platform, school children crammed in the adjacent auto, the auto driver.

“America!” we chirp. Reaction prize goes to the young boy in the auto who repeated “America?” with wide wondrous eyes as if the word itself surprised his mouth with delicious enunciation. Most people just grin and then walk away, apparently edified that they’d discovered the whole of us.

This simplicity precisely explains my intense admiration for the 4th of July. I don’t especially enjoy lighting fireworks or grilling or Old Navy shirts, but I do appreciate the holiday’s theory. It celebrates a premature victory. Thomas Jefferson stood up and  said, “Okay, guys, we decided are free. Now, corroborate that.”  We don’t mark the end of the war, when all the great minds argued in Paris and then in Philadelphia and then until they formed the Constitution which formed SCOTUS, and they could properly continue the arguing in D.C. We celebrate our imminent victory over everything.

Our celebration, too, will precede action. We are 10.5 hours  in the future here. By the time the tailgates pop in parks all over the homeland, the guards will have swept up the remnants of the ten fireworks we can scrape together. The barbeque paneer, the closest analog to meat we could find, will have been long devoured. We’ll become those people who set off their poppers too early at party and start eating their cake before everyone’s received a piece.

Still, we had an obligation to spit watermelon seeds and nearly light someone’s hair on fire with a sparkler, I said to the group. And being beyond America’s borders, I had found quite a bit to appreciate about it. I valued paved roads, tall men, and jumbo-sized Doritos bags. If we couldn’t eat them, we could at least celebrate their memory.

At breakfast, I made my own declaration: I would find us a flag cake. I set myself to it – our dutiful but ultimately deflated celebration required one. The task required all the fibers comprising my American spirit – enterprise, navigation, neurotic time-sensitivity and forcefulness covered with a Midwestern smile. I didn’t even know where to find a bakery or how I planned to carry this dumb thing back in a rickshaw, but God bless America when I did.

So, I made a black-and-white print out of a flag, in turn using that to flag down a rickshaw at the front gate. After ten minutes, we stopped in a promising area on the busy highway. Anna, Isabelle, and I bummed around until we found KS Bakery. KS for the Wheat State. Perfect.

The bakery pleasantly displayed rows of trays of Indian sweets. Sweet shops are the nail salons of India – every corner, basement, and chat stand sells gulab and ice cream. Coinci(dental)ly, the city owns nearly equal numbers of dental clinics.

I tracked down someone behind the counter and showed them the print-out with my best “Howdy!” manners.

He shook his head. “It’s not possible.”

“Why not?” I inquired, deflated. I wasn’t about to admit defeat on the day America swore itself against the idea. “No American flag?”

He shook his head again, and walked through the swinging door to the kitchen. The customer at the counter was looking at my print-out and snickering. Then the employee returned hanging onto the arm of his coworker, laughing even harder than Guy 1.

I repeated the request, unfolding the print-out. “Can you put this on top of a cake?” I mimed icing with my hands like an umpire making a safe call on a base. The lethal, flailing arms seemed to hack off words from their matching sentences. We spoke in a parsed-down pigeon English.

“Cake?”  he said.

“Yes, yes. American flag.” I looked up, doe-eyed and eager.

“No stars,” he said when scrutinizing the black-and-white design.

“Five at most?” I said, smiling.

“No stars.”

“Not all,” Anna helped. “We don’t even need stars, really.”

“Little dots okay,” I said trying to strike a compromise with him.


“Yes. If that is easier?” Okay, he shook his head.

“What size?” I inquired.

“1 kg 2 kg?”

“One cage?”


“How big is a cage?”  I thought “cage” might be a nuanced baking unit of measure. I am always willing to concede I know less than an expert when any misunderstanding occurs, bakers included. This time, cage sounded about as accurate as the rest of our conversation.

“1 kg,” he said writing it down. “Oh no, no. I said.”  I still didn’t know how to judge this cage.  I pointed to a square cake of an appropriate size in the display case. “That size?”

“Rectangle,” he insisted. “3 kg”

“Kg!” I realized finally. “Kilograms!” I said with laughing with Anna.

“Only rectangle,” he insisted. “3 kg”

“Oh no, it doesn’t have to be a rectangle. We aren’t that patriotic.”



This reciprocal geometry lasted at least five minutes. We couldn’t find the straightest path to understanding. Finally when Anna physically folded the print-out into a square did we calculate a hypotenuse together. We wrote down the colors on the black-and-white print out, and he wrote down our order on a receipt. He dashed into the back. “Saturday morning?” I suggested. Stale cake might indicate our mood, but I wasn’t paying 400 rupees for us to chuck it. If you’re forbidden to drop a flag on the ground, I’m pretty sure you can’t throw its more delicious forms into the trash. Another head wag, and I paid the advance.

On July 4th 1776, the conglomerate colonies awoke to find themselves suddenly lumped together by freedom because some guys spit, shook on it, and whipped out their quills.  The new nation waited for the new patriots to open fire with their arms against the British. Come July 4th, 2009, I will awake to find a cake decked out in stars ‘n stripes, smelling of fresh butterscotch and patriotism, waiting for my open arms.

I think.


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I know I have been getting some quiet chastisment from everyone for not updating in a while, but I should explain that my hard drive crashed the second day I arrived here. I have been wandering around a bit lost, reading books, attempting to write out full descriptions in my journal but failing, scribbling “blog post?” next to certain incomplete phrases, for later times. I am thinking of you, just unable to type.

My laptop feels nearly like an organ. I am used to the warm drone on my legs as I sit ankle-crossed or Indian-style on my bed, writing. Peeling its slightly sticky bottom from my legs always signals the end of time spent typing a paper or an e-mail or looking at things other than the papers and e-mails I should be typing. My thoughts didn’t flow succinctly from my brain to the clunky hostel computers I have been using;  my neurons have fettered my thoughts to the synapses of my fingers and my keyboard. This organic disruption troubles me some, but I am also a fast typer and I like to watching Arrested Development online too much to give the idea much weight.

The thing is as disposable as a kidney but retains all my inherent flaws. My folder files are disorganized, my keyboard lacks two keys I never bothered to replace, and the hinge of the screen wobbles. I failed to love it in the way I fail to love everything with any working order. By all means I had this coming, but the separation disoriented me even more than expected. I have spent most of the last two weeks biking into main campus to use the phone, which allows me to interact with call center employees who are well-intentioned but unable to understand me when I say, “I don’t know the service tag. Doesn’t the thing run on fairy dust?” My abhorrent lack of knowledge about this machine that I rely on for everything isn’t new or unrealized before, but now an added level of mistranslation. In some ways my computer couldn’t have crashed in a better location. It’s a homecoming, really, as I am sure many of these parts were manufactured here. I just don’t want it to become a buriel.

In yoga I am learning about muscles I didn’t even know my body had, and when the Dell repair man came he unscrewed and etherized parts of my computer that I weren’t aware unscrewed and separated in less time than it took me to say hello to him. Within five minutes, I had a new hard drive and he was gone.

But my computer was still by all means a corpse, which is how I ended up sitting the tiny windowless room of the campus IT office all afternoon yesterday. The place had a total of three outlets and above me, a fan spun with such devotion that I feared it would unbridle itself from the ceiling at any moment. I listened as three busybodies around me chat in Hindi or maybe Telegu. Their lilt of language was wired with some generic, technical terms that I recognized by ear but were just as meaningless – ram,driver, cd.

They had given me a harsh once-over when I burst into the room asking if they could upload Windows XP to my brand new hard drive, sweating and exasperated from my bike ride there and the situation in general. But tenacity and a sheer doe-eyed look of desperation does pay off. “You will have to wait three hours” turned into “Come back in an hour” and then “we can do it now that you sat across the hall and  realized we were done eating lunch but not telling you that.”  And within the two hours comprising the uploading process, “Find internet drivers yourself” transformed into “Come back tomorrow when we have finished downloading this for you!”

So now I am sitting in the familiar position on my bed, trying to regraft this cold metal device back to my life, but something is askance. The screen resolution isn’t just so. I don’t have any music or photos identifying this hunk of wires and boards as my own web of needs.  I need to re-invent it, re-format it to the circumstances, and decide how much of my old self I am willing to include in this blank, foreign existence.

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There is a sketch from the old Nickelodeon show All That in which Kenan Thompson plays a character named Baggin’ Saggin’ Barry, who wears circus-tent sized pants. Throughout the scene, BSB reveals that his pants, in addition to having flair, serve as a superstorage device.  The items start small, such as bottled water, and become more and more preposterous. Inevitably, BSB pulls out a dining set or an airplane or something else that would have caused major chaffing.

My packing strategy followed a similar drama.  Everyone, even my own family as they watched me stuff my life’s belongings into a 3500 cu backpack, inquired as to what, exactly, I would take with me to survive for two months. Here are the basics, and we will see if prudence translates to practicality over the next few weeks:

tp, kleenex, body lotion, parade of wet wipes

tp, kleenex, body lotion, parade of wet wipes

I hide this body lotion in a random compartment for myself to find as a pleasant surprise, because it smells so nice. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure, which I justified by its minute size. The rest is absolutely necessary for travel in India, where running water and attached bathrooms aren’t necessarily guaranteed in accommodations. I guess I will be abiding by Sheryl Crow’s “one-ply” rule judiciously.

marine first aid kit, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, poncho, umbrella, travel towel, mosquito net, backpack rain cover

marine first aid kit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, poncho, umbrella, travel towel, mosquito net, backpack rain cover

I have dedicated at least 1/3 of my backpack to bug and rain deterrence tools. At least the cool rain will feel good on all those mosquito bites?

Allergy, typhoid, malaria, stomacheache, and general pain medication, itch relief stick, neosporin for everything, bandaids, pocketknife

Allergy, typhoid, malaria, stomachache, and general pain medication, itch relief stick, neosporin for everything, bandaids, pocketknife

I sound like I am packing a rattlesnake in my carry-on, but the added airport security check sure beats going to the nearest hospital with my spleen hanging out of the rickshaw.

Eye care, glasses case, make-up bag, shampoo + conditioner

Eye care, glasses case, make-up bag, shampoo + conditioner

This L.L. bean bag works wonders for travel. I managed to fit my make-up, multiple toothbrushes and toothpaste, a sewing kit, nail clippers, hair accessories, earplugs, and the ubiquitous wet wipes into its small frame.

wallet, passport, change purse, card case, safety pouch, satchel

wallet, passport, change purse, card case, safety pouch, satchel

This is the bare minimum amount of material that will transport me from one end of the globe to the other. Notice the House of Representatives throwback on the card case. I have to pull my weight somehow, since I will miss 4th of July.

computer, video camera, digital voice recorder, webcam, CReSIS promotional material, still camera (not pictured), what do all those cords go to anyway?

computer, video camera, digital voice recorder, webcam, CReSIS promotional material, still camera (not pictured - I didn't even intend this pun, Nicole!), what do all those cords go to anyway?

Because I will be working for CReSIS for two weeks of my trip, I needed to be well-connected and able to record a variety of information. I think I could probably send out radar signals with all the equipment I am loaded up on. I am not thrilled about lugging around my large notebook for the duration, but I need it for work and school.

underwear, clothing, shoes

underwear, clothing, shoes

I ended up taking two skirts, one pair of jeans, five shirt, some tights, and one pair of shoes, which still feels excessive given the amount I plan to buy. I bought a pair of Keen Newports, which should survive the torrential rains with good sole support.

iPod, books, sleeping mask, notebook

iPod, books, sleeping mask, notebook

I would like to sleep for the 24 hours of my transit, but even my sloth can’t meet the challenge. It was so difficult to decide which books to bring, but I will surely finish both of these before even landing in Delhi. I also brought a few letters from friends and family with me, too, which I will certainly keep close and look at often for comfort.

All of these things inevitably must fit into my backpack, although I have forfeited some space in it for a duffel bag to use as a carry-on. Even at this bare minimum, I feel like a packhorse, and will be looking to shed any bulk I can whenever possible.  Although, unlike BSB, I cannot fit an airplane in it, I feel as if I could as I prepare to board one in KC at this very moment.

backpack backpack 2

It was difficult to hand over my backpack to the counter employee at check-in, trusting that somehow, like me, it will be circulating a bit dazed at baggage claim, all the way in Delhi.


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