Indian Railways

view from Indian train

view from Indian train

Indian Railways tickets are dirt cheap. The trains are crowded, uncomfortable, slow and unbearably hot. They are often hours, sometimes days, late. More than once, I sat in a train station for more than 24 hours, amazed at the chaos and incredulous that no one seemed bothered by it. The absolute best thing about the train is that you can run- if you’re late, or if you jumped off at a station to buy bananas- you can run even though the train has started moving, and you can catch it- grab a handle and jump on like some kind of hero.

This photo is taken from a train I was on, through the window. The windows don’t have panes of glass, just two metal bars across a large opening. At this station, the professional beggars took some time to dawdle, as all children are wont to do, and watched the workers work. The boy is a spray-painted silver Ghandi. (Click photo for close up.)

Many homeless people sleep in the stations. For the rest of my life I will remember a thin man and a thinner woman lying on a grey rag, spread neatly on the cement floor by a track, with the tiniest baby nestled between them, too tiny to be alive, I thought. They were defenseless and had to be exhausted to sleep in such a place. But they had nothing to steal, it seemed.
Ah, but still, they had the rag! You might think it was nothing…you might mistake it for garbage.

One day, a train stopped right beside mine, and I surreptitiously watched a young woman eat newspaper-wrapped curry and rice with her fingers. When she finished, she dropped the wrapping out the window onto the tracks between our trains. As I was judging this “littering”, a boy swooped down the track, grabbed the newspaper, opened it and licked it, sucked it and then tossed it on the ground. “Oh,” I thought, “Now it’s garbage.” Before my train moved, a goat came along and ate the newspaper. And I learned that nothing is really garbage.

Train robbers were a real threat- I was told they were bandits who would stop a train, come aboard and rob each passenger and then disembark. Once my train stopped in the middle of the night with a lurch. I rolled right out of my short bunk with a thud, scared the bandits had come. In fact, we had hit a cow and didn’t move the rest of the night.

I met families who brought stoves and cooked whole meals on the trains where we slept, talked, played games and music, and for some time, lived together. (It took four days to get to Delhi from Bangalore.) They told wonderful stories too. My favourite was about a woman who had terrible stomach pains. She went to the bathroom, which is simply a hole over the rushing tracks (please hold it ’til we get out of the station). To her surprise, when she squatted, a baby popped out of her, slid down the hole and disappeared. The train stopped, and they went back to pick up the baby who was perfectly fine, waiting on the tracks.

Lentil soup recipes- Indian & Turkish versions

Turkish lentil soup (in bowls)

Turkish lentil soup (in bowls)

Base (Step 1 for both versions):

Pick over about a cup of orange lentils in a medium-sized soup pot. Rinse in cold water until water clears. Fill the pot with broth (or water & a bouillon cube).

Add 1 chopped onion

1 teas. turmeric

1 teas. ground cumin

Boil 20 minutes, skimming off foam. Take off the heat and blend (easy with a hand blender) a little. Leave some texture, or not, according to taste.

Version 1- Indian lentil soup

Crush together to make a paste:

3 cloves garlic

2 + teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1-2 green chilies

½ cup chopped coriander

(If you make this in bulk it can be mixed with olive oil and salt and kept in the freezer indefinitely. Scoop out a big chunk and add to fresh soup base and curries when needed.)

oil, garlic, ginger, chili & coriander freezer-handy

oil, garlic, ginger, chili & coriander freezer-handy

Add above paste to soup base with a chopped fresh tomato. Simmer and adjust thickness. Salt to taste.

spice & seeds in oil

Next- in a larger pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Add 2 teas. mustard seeds (black/grey would be authentic)

1 teas. ground cumin

optional: cumin seeds and/or fennel seeds to taste. I like about a 1/2 teaspoon of each.

Cover the pot and shake. Let it heat on medium-low until seeds start to pop. Be patient- don’t turn it up or they’ll burn.  When they start to pop, open lid and pour the soup into the larger spiced oil pot.  Do this over the sink and stand back- it will splash!

Garnish with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with naan. Yogurt can be stirred into individual bowls to cut the heat if needed.

Variation: A lot less water and it’s dahl. Decadent dahl- add butter and some cream.

Version 2- Turkish lentil soup (mercimek)

Add a big spoonful of salce (recipe here) to soup base and simmer. Adjust thickness by boiling it down further or adding water. If you have fresh tomato and fresh mint- chop and add. Add salt to taste.

Serve with red pepper flakes and cut lemons. Squeeze lemon generously in bowls and stir.

Variation: Add cooked brown rice for a heartier soup.

Ottawa Turkish Festival

Turkish traditional clothes

Turkish traditional clothes

Turkish folk dance video

The Ottawa Turkish Festival is large, yet it maintains the sense of community trust that I remember from living in Turkey The coffee was served in real Turkish coffee cups with saucers, the assumption being that everyone would return the valuable dishes when their treat was finished. The children wandered free of their adults and played wildly in the balloon tent. Some children manned a booth on their own, giving out festival souvenirs. One thing I noticed that was different from where I lived in Turkey- the men and women mingled freely; there were no distinct gender groups and families sat together.

I made a beeline for the food:  gozleme and borek (spinach and feta), dolma (rice and salce rolled in grape leaves), kofte patties, mantu (handmade pasta with beef, yogurt sauce and a spicy oil). I ate ’til I was stuffed, then went back for more tea and some baklava.

Entertainment was spectacular, as always. Enjoy the videos here!

Turkish folk dance

Sitar and spoons

I spoke to many people and despaired that my Turkish has further dwindled. In line waiting for barbeque kofte, a man with a strong French accent asked me in an undertone, why the women cover their heads. “Is it culture or religion?” he asked me, the white Christian, when he was surrounded by Muslims.

When Turkey filled my mouth, ears and eyes, and the last entertainer started singing songs from the western world, I turned toward home. As I walked away I could hear her song, one of Sarah McLachlan’s- “In the arms of the angels, may you find some comfort here” and I suddenly wept, without knowing I would, for my Bey, even though I felt him close by.

One Right at a Time for Kurds in Turkey

Euphrates River in Kurdistan during heavy rain

Euphrates River in Kurdistan during heavy rain

The letters q, x and w have long been illegal in Turkey due their use in the Kurdish language. (It was illegal to speak Kurdish until the early 1990s although many residents of East Turkey knew no other language.) The 3 offensive letters were not needed for Turkish words.

Finally, the Turkish government will lift the ban on q, x, and w as the peace process inches ahead, There is still much to be accomplished, as Kurdish, the first language of thousands of Turkish citizens, is not spoken in public schools. However, it is finally legal to spell Newroz, a Kurdish holiday, correctly.

see more at

Book launch 1

With joy, I release my story!

With joy, I release my story!

I’ve never been to a book launch, but I suspect toasts and people looking at me. My stomach clenches at the imagining, and I remember a reception I was invited to as a university student. I’d won an award for lyric poetry and I forced myself to attend.

Before arriving at the reception, I ate a fried bologna sandwich in my Chinatown apartment and cut my own bangs…repeatedly because I couldn’t get them straight. I arrived at the reception with bangs so short that they attracted stares, but not smiles. I was wearing $1.00 Chinese slippers and the only skirt I owned.

There were no introductions, no announcements, no hand-shaking. In fact, no one spoke to me at all, and I worried I might have crashed the wrong party. I stood against a wall and then circled the room a few times. I went home without having uttered a word. The “award” turned out to be $100 cheque that arrived in the mail. Read the poem.

All this to say that I decided to be comfortable at my own book launch. I know who I am now.

I plan a 3-way launch- by boat, by balloon, and by rocket- at the beach near my house. On Sunday, (part 1) I launched my book with balloons. My friends were there. A few passersby in bathing suits came over to our little table for Turkish Delight and Turkish coffee. We talked about love.

I had tied laminated notes to each of 3 helium balloons, saying the finder was entitled to a free softcover book. I sent the first one off to Oprah’s garden with clear intent, but the laminated card weighed it down…we saw it bounce on a few roofs instead of heading up high and southerly to the States. The next one obviously struggled with its weight as well. We clipped the card off the third balloon, and it flew straight up into the sky. We cheered and then watched until it disappeared.

For me, these launches are physical manifestations of the energetic work I’ve been doing for months. Daily, I visualize sending The Word Not Spoken up into the sky, where it spreads around the world, through computers on a giant spiderweb, and by friends who pass it along to friends, saying “Have you read this? It’s such a great book. You’re gonna love this!”

Headed to Oprah's garden.

Headed to Oprah’s garden.