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November 01, 2006

215. Air India Flight Attendants

Air India en route to Delhi, a trio of flight attendants pushed their serving carts down the same aisle, dispensing drinks and chilly smiles before creating a traffic jam at row 37. Was it their first day on the job?

November 02, 2006

216. Didar

His was the first auto-rickshaw in the queue. He chatted with us as he negotiated the Delhi traffic. Then he negotiated with us – we should hire him to tour us around Delhi for the day. Persistent beyond belief, we agreed.

November 03, 2006

217. Paula

Paula loves her job as a tour leader. She enthusiastically raves about everything we’re going to do and see on our trip. She shares funny anecdotes starring past tourists in embarrassing roles. I wonder what stories she’s telling about us.

November 04, 2006

218. Sarah

Sarah’s on a 5-month excursion. India is her proving ground and she proves concerned about illness. Hands are disinfected with foamy cleanser. She refuses the delicious street foods; won’t eat in the roadside dabahs. What kind of holiday is that?

November 05, 2006

219. Sam

Something about people from Perth is that they play things close their vest. Sam is a quiet observer, sitting surveying us. I wonder if she judges me harshly for being talkative. By the second week, she reveals she’s a mum.

November 06, 2006

220. Sue

Sue is a cutthroat Uno player. My grandmothers would have loved her crafty strategies and her wicked, gleeful giggle when she wins a hand and tallies her score. She inspired us to buy Uno cards and kick up our competitiveness.

November 07, 2006

221. Jean

She wailed “My baby!” when her son announced we’d marry. Unfortunate, unintentional emotional bruising followed; hey, he was my baby, too. It’s taken many years of mutual mellowing (and 6500 miles of distance, perhaps) but we get along great now.

November 08, 2006

222. Sikh sailor

An aging, weathered man in clean but faded clothes asked us a question at the gudawara. When we answered “Japan”, he reminisced about his travels there. Then we discussed a grammatical error on a poster. Certainly not what I expected.

November 09, 2006

223. Alu

Smiling broadly, Alu anointed us with red paste, “Our guests are gods.” She let us try making chapatti then dished up a feast, serving Sai Baba, the real family god, before we enjoyed her laboriously prepared curries and carmelised kir.

November 10, 2006

224. Savitri

Savitri stood with her parents when we came in then retreated to a safe distance. Clad in a yellow salwar kameez, her eyes glittered as she watched us. I tried to ask questions about school, but she gently, girlishly demurred.

November 11, 2006

225. Raju

Raju plucked my hand and gestured with his springy head, “Come dance!” I made a poor partner to his wild gyrations and fluid spinning. Ten years old, he comes from the village to perform Rajistani dances for tourists at dinnertime.

November 12, 2006

226. JP

JP presides over the metal thali at Ajay’s restaurant, filling little dishes with his homemade yogurt and five-year fermented lemon pickle. He ensures we all have condiments in abundance. His grey mustache curls across his cheeks like a Hindu god's.

November 13, 2006

227. Jun

Jun is the once glimpsed daughter of a friend. She has her mother’s creamy complexion plus her father’s height and beaky nose, which makes me believe she’s going to be a self-confident knockout in a couple more years. Beware, boys!

November 14, 2006

228. Marn

I met Marn as a preteen. Then she was a troubled college student, an on-track career woman and now she’s a working mother. 18 years have passed and even though we’re in the same family, we only ever meet anew.

November 15, 2006

229. Dr. Arora

Dr. Arora sat at Tod’s bedside in Jaipur, taking his history, checking his vitals and chatting about a trip to America. He’s a practical, fatherly general practitioner – offering advice while writing up a prescription without drama or fear of lawsuits.

November 16, 2006

230. Shakti

Shakti’s cooking class in Udaipur was part demo, part hands-on, and part good advice. Beyond the classroom, he’s relaxed and generous, dishing Tod third helpings at breakfast. In the market, he buys from beautiful women who give him extra mouli.

November 17, 2006

231. Tarun

Tarun gave us a tour of his family home. He opened his closets to reveal his wife’s saris hanging in colorful rows and folded in stacks “Women need lots of dresses,” he smiled, proud to treat his wife so well.

November 18, 2006

232. Abhijit

Crab is taller, funnier, even sweeter in person than he is as a chat friend. He took a day off to show us one of his favorite Delhi spots, treated us to lunch and invited us back. We’ll come again.

November 19, 2006

233. Kaye

Kaye offered her spare room when I traveled unexpectedly to Adelaide. She drove out to the airport to say hello next time I blew through town. I’m glad to have such a sweet and generous surrogate mum in South Australia.

November 20, 2006

234. Kristin

Kristin, red-headed, right-brained, and full of ideas, is a glass artist who has nearly given up her own art in pursuit of teaching others to explore their creative side. She encourages everyone with happy words, gentle suggestions and sunshine smiles.

November 21, 2006

235. Jonathan

Jonathan is surprisingly American, which seems strange for someone who grew up in India and has lived in Japan for 20 years. He does not fully marinate in cultural immersions, but his kitchen marinades trump cultural ones at every party.

November 22, 2006

236. Hon-ki

Hon-ki was my first encounter with functional illiteracy. She couldn’t read or write even her native Chinese, but she spoke two languages and her schooled children helped her with forms. She cleaned our Singapore accommodation and gave us homemade charsui.

November 23, 2006

237. Martha

Martha was my intellectual nemesis in high school. She scored 4% better than I did on the SATs and graduated top in our class. At MIT, she shaved her head. I didn’t get around to that til I was 30.

November 24, 2006

238. Dawn

“Sit here next to Don; she can help you today,” said my new teacher. Don? She? Dawn was a plain-looking farm girl as tall and broad as the 4th grade boys. Embarrassed in that initial moment, we never became friends.

November 25, 2006

239. Scott

By the time I’m called in for impossible deadlines, Scott’s already sleep deprived. He shakes off his exhaustion to ensure that his hard-working staff are taken care of with delivered dinners, snacks, genki drinks - everything he can offer except sleep.

November 26, 2006

240. Aunt Lou

A Lutheran deaconess with a quirky sense of humor, Sr. Louise was also one of the keenest Scrabble players on the planet. Aunt Lou beat the pants off everyone in the family. Her standard Scrabble dictionary was an unabridged Webster.

November 27, 2006

241. Squeen

Squeen wasn’t her real name but she was a grown up and I only knew her as Squeen. Blonde wasn’t her real haircolor either. She let me make cream puffs with the kids and watch Betamax videos when I babysat.

November 28, 2006

242. Lynette

In sixth grade, Lynette was the first girl in class to get breasts. They grew quickly! Most of the rest of us were envious, but I think she was embarrassed by her bounty. By high school others had surpassed her.

November 29, 2006

243. Guy

In 1968, Guy was my seat in the moving van. I was two. We played with the map while Dad drove. He was also the college-aged son of my father’s new boss in New Jersey. Did he have a guitar?

November 30, 2006

244. Jonathan

We met via the well-meaning school crossing guard. He was charming and swarthily handsome but equally jealous and controlling. His goal was to have a child as soon as possible. Mine was to never have babies. We didn’t last long.