Saturday, June 27, 2009

Maximum Uh-Oh

I am currently reading Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta. I admit that I am barely into the book... maybe page 30... but this portrait of Mumbai is getting my goat. I think one of the reasons I am slow to move through this is all of the honestly that Mehta's narrative seems to put out there. From what i can tell, this book is a narrative portrait of Bombay (Mumbai). His writing is fantastic. I am really enjoying the style and voice... he really is a great read in that way.. but the subject is really difficult and he spares little (if any) detail to let youknow how this world works.
I imagine everyone who would ever wander upon this blog knows by now that I'm headed off to South Asia for a year so that Ian can do legal fellowship there. And if you didn't know, well there you have it. That's what I'm up to after my near 6 months of stony silence while existing in the UK. Right now I writing from the porch of our current place of staying looking out on the American street, that for some reason looks rosier every second while reading this book.
Here are some quotes that I have written down today. A lot of these things I already had in my knowledge base, but Mehta's narrative voice is really hitting these home for me at the moment.
(pg 20) "... eight thousand human beings living on a few acres of land. It is the population of a small town."
(pg 24) "India has the third largest pool of technical labor in the world, but a third of its 1 billion poeple can't read or write."
"It is an imitation of a Western city, maybe Chicago in the twenties."
(26) "... the ethic of Bombay is quick upward mobility and a scam is a short cut. ... A scam shows good business sense an a quick mind. Anyone can work hard and make money. What's to admire about that? But a well-executed scam? Now, there's a thing of beauty."
(28) "Violence in Bombay can strike very close at any time. And the present dispute, as usual, is about space..."
(29) "... air that has ten times the maximum permissible levels of lead in the atmosphere."
"Breathing the air in Bmbay now is the equivalent of smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes a day."
(30)"101 out of 100 are dishonest. Still my India is the best" (sign on the back of a truck)
(31) "I miss cold weather and white people."
"It was when I realized i had a new nationality: citizen of the country of longing."
(35) "The first world lives snuck in the center of the third."

So there you have it. What I am supposed to make of all of this I am unsure. Some days I am really excited about going, and other days (specifically those i pick up honestly written narratives about Bombay) I am convinced we might be moving to some ring of hell on earth.
Still, I am learning a lot. I have found that I am going to need an illustrated guide to Hinduism because i have no idea which deities are which in statues and poems.
Yay for not knowing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Figs, Google, and the Bible

I really like my computer. It is kind of a problem sometimes. I use it for near everything and I really like the internet. I am in many ways truly a pure-blood American twenty-something. I don't panic when i can't get online, but boy do i prefer being able to. There is so much information readily available! Today, once again, this came to the fore front in my every day life.
I'm really trying to get better at reading scripture. I have really good times and then times that I just flat out suck. Lately my bible reading is not just something i should be doing, but a solution for moments of panic that are becoming less few as Ian and I navigate the next steps of "OMG WHAT NOW!?"
So today I read in Mark where Jesus curses a fig tree. Here it is in the New Living Translation... which is generally the one I read... mainly because that is the one i have and for not much other reason anyway.. Mark 11:12-25... ready go.
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
Jesus Clears the Temple
15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.c]">[c] 17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”d]">[d]

18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.

19 That evening Jesus and the disciples lefte]">[e] the city.

20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”

22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.f]">[f]

Previously this has made zero sense to me and today I decided that google was going to help me fix the "wtf?" moment that happens evertime I hear Jesus curse this fig tree that didn't have fruit on it even though Mark SPECIFICALLY notes that figs are NOT in season. Really Jesus? What the heck? What is with you and randomly running around killing trees today?
So.. google and I cuddle up to figure out this issue. It doesn't take much to have a couple answers sitting in front of me. Here's th short story to the fig deal: figs get a form a fruit before they get leaves. The don't neccesarilt get figs, but these little almond size things that are well known traveling snacks of peasants and wanderers. Not only that, but these things forecast the productivity of the fig tree. No goofly almond thingers... no figs. When Jesus hops up to this tree in the story in Mark, it is noted that the tree only had leaves. No fruitish stuff.. no almond-y thingers. Leaves. More or less this tree is saying 'look at me all alive and flourishing! I am a leafy fig tree!' If that is true, leafy fig tree that is showing the signs of productivity should have somethng on it... mainly the almond-joy snacks. So Jesus approaches, sees no fruit and curses the tree for boasting to be productive but not being.
Now, generally I think I would have been a really bad disciple. I would have been over in the corner going "seriously? It's only a tree. No need to get worked up about this. This Jesus character gets spinning over the strangest things. What is his deal?" Or perhaps I would have been all "YEAH! Stupid tree! THIS SUCKS! I HATE THAT TREE!" Either way the trip back past this tree the next day when it is seriously withered away would have still been shocking. Good disciple or not, I suppose.
I was thinking about this froma purely experience direction and realized that a tree completely dying in 24 hours is totally nuts. We used to cut down trees in our yard and the braches would stay leafy and fairly alive looking for days. When i wandered orchards for my summer job there would be trees that had completely fallen apart and had half the tree completely detached and was leafy still for at least a couple days. A 24 hour turn around is pretty darn crazy.
Now there are plently of other things I learned about figs that are of note. I looked throug the life cycle of the fig wasp.. which was reall interesting. I found out (if I understand this correctly) that a fig is more like a flower than a fruit. The traditional flower we think of blooms inside the what we think of as 'the fruit' and it takes that really specialized wasp to pollinate it. I thought that was wild. Even in the midst of all of those fun facts, this one thought of why Jesus used this as a visual learning device caught me. I really need to pay attention to where I get this stuff, but one article mentioned how this could have been an allusion to Isreal and how they were showing all of the signs of being spiritually productive and healthy, but really they were just showing off leaves. I'm nto sure how that conclusion was reached, but I am willing to make that jump.
My main beek comes when the disciples and Jesus pass by it the next day and after the group noting at how crazy it is that the curse worked so fast, Jesus tells them that they can move mountains. Nice. Okay.. cool.
But that part that really got me was how after "you can move mountains if you have faith.. pray and beleive you have received it.. great... okay OH! and when you pray be sure to forgive anyone you have grudges against first!" *sigh*
I don't know that I have much to say on that other than moving mountains and forgiving grudges in this context strike me as things that are on the same level of difficulty. If you are going to move the mountain, first you have got to get over your grudges. Ouch.
Tough stuff for today.
I was all game when all we were talking about was figs... but then i get my butt kicked.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Enjoying DC while we can

Ian and I are still waiting to hear back from prospective employers around the globe, but while doing that we are hanging out in DC with some friends and soaking in the atmosphere. Well, at least I am. Ian is still stuck studying, but I got him out and about for a quick walk to Eastern Market today. On our way back we bumped into a new friend and also had a few fabulous finds.
For starters this guy-
I know a lot of people hate graffiti and I can understand why. A lot of it does not make your day better or happier.. but for some reason this one makes me happy :) a bird with shorts? Wonderful.
Next glorious thing-

These were all over the park on our way back and I had to see what they were about! We followed what Ian told the mom of the young businessman was "effective advertising"...
And enjoyed one of the wonderful things about being in a fairly busy neighborhood in the summer :) Lemonade and chocolate chips from a young entrepreneur. He even asked us what color cups we would like! His mother let us know that "color is really important at this age" and I replied "oh! I still think color is important!" We got a red cup and a blue cup :)
Fantastic. I love lemonade stands. I need to remember to stock up on quarters for the summer!