Friday, May 22, 2009

It's Gotta be the Protein.

I just spent an hour lying on my bed, mentally making and re-making the perfect turkey sandwich. A rather odd pastime for a vegetarian, don’t you think? Cold turkey, a little mayo, cranberry sauce, leafy greens, a hearty white bread, this is what I want to eat 4 times a day every day for the rest of my life. Well, occasionally my sandwich fantasy is interrupted by dreams of a bacon and cheese sandwich on a fresh bap, but I’m guessing a lifetime of turkey is a lot healthier than a lifetime of bacon.

I think this unusual yearning for white meat is a result of being sick earlier this week. Did you know that your digestive system actually needs a surplus of water in order to work? Unfortunately, any surplus H2O in my body this week went straight into my pillow and mattress during the night. I was sweating so much at night that I could easily wring moisture out of my bedclothes every morning, making a little pool of wasted sweat on the floor. My room has been—I think quite literally—baking me to death. It is on the top floor of the hotel, and is detached on three sides, so it gets full sun on at least one wall all day long. Plus, the water tanks are on my roof. They gather heat all day long, and release it into my room all night long. The AC unit in my room stopped working a couple weeks ago, and even though I mentioned it to the Hosts, they didn’t seem to really understand what I was saying.

I’ll spare the blogosphere the details, but on Wednesday afternoon, I was suddenly and dramatically ill. For about two hours, I was quite seriously sure that I was going into full renal failure. When I finally dragged myself downstairs to the dining room, I must have looked pretty damn bad, because Mr. Host instantly went to work on my AC unit, and Mrs. Host started pouring glasses of watermelon juice with black salt for me. I managed to add some daal and rice to my stomach, but mostly I just used what little energy I had left to become a two-fisted drinker: water in my left hand, salted melon juice in my right hand.

After dinner, instead of walking across the street to see the doctor, I went back to my room to rest. The floor of my room was so hot, I couldn’t take off my sandals for fear of burning my feet, and the AC unit (actually, the voltage stabilizer, not the unit itself) still wasn’t working. I decided to sit out on the balcony—it was so lovely outside, with a nice breeze. Well, as it turns out, the surprise was that it was still 113F outside. My room was so hot that it made a hot summer evening feel like cool spring. I think even Mr. Host, who was trying to get the AC to work, was shocked by the heat in my room. I had mentioned it a few times, but I think it just sounded like White Person Whining, not a potentially dangerous situation.

Mr. Host couldn’t fix the AC, so he unlocked the room next to mine for me to sit in, with AC going full blast. I was going to sleep there if my AC didn’t get fixed, but just as I was getting ready to go to bed, an AC technician showed up, played a bit with the voltage regulator, and voila! suddenly the AC unit came to life. And I’ve spent the last three days moving slowly, trying to recover, drinking water non-stop, and wishing my body would return to its normal state of being. It’s a struggle, because we are still dealing with three-hour scheduled power outages every day, so even if I stay only five hours at the archives, that is three hours in a small, hot room with no air circulation, in the heat of the day. I can’t drink enough to keep up with the sweat, really.

You have to wonder: is grad school supposed to kill you? I mean literally, and not figuratively, speaking? I feel like I’ve engaged in so much risky behavior over the past four years, in India and the U.S.: falling asleep behind the wheel while commuting, going to conferences with whooping cough, eating tainted food, drinking bad water, riding motorcycles without helmets, playing games with heatstroke, talking to strangers, riding with drunk autorickshawallahs, traveling with people I don’t really know, etc. I know getting a Ph.D. is supposed to be hard, it requires a lot of sacrifice, a lot of suffering and a huge amount of work and worry, but really, should I be dead by the end of it? Because that’s kind of the message I’m getting these days.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Not dead (yet).

It's hard to write in a blog when you have no electricity I think we still have electricity for more hours of the day than we don't have it, but it's getting pretty close to an even split. Up until this week, the power outages were numerous, but random. If there was a storm, the power went out for a couple of hours. If there wasn't a storm, the power went out for a couple of hours. Sometimes the power goes out for fifteen minutes, comes back on for two, then goes out for a couple of hours. Yesterday afternoon, the power went on and off and on and off and on and off and on and off and on so on. Annoying, but fine, okay, I live in a desert city with poor infrastructure, okay.

This week, we have mandatory, scheduled power outages, three hours every day. Yesterday, it was no power between 12-1:30 and 4-5:30. Today it was no power from 9:30-11:00 and 4-5:30. This regularly scheduled power outage doesn't stablize the grid. We enjoy this darkness, plus the fun described in my first paragraph. The problem these days is that Rajasthan isn't producing enough energy, so they have to siphon off electricity from Bikaner for three hours to send to nearby villages to give them three hours of power. That's all those villages will get for the day. All the cities in Rajasthan are having power siphoned. I think Jaipur might have 6 hour power cuts right now. In Ajmer, it is really bad because not only are they having 6 hour power cuts, there is a water shortage. Not just a shortage, but no water, period. So, it could be worse, I could be stuck in Ajmer.

I think my hosts are afraid I am about to fade out and die. They keep bringing me watermelon and ice cream for lunch. I'll take it!

Right now, I am 15 minutes from the next power cut, so I am stripping down to "take my rest." I don't sleep at all at night, it is simply too hot (yesterday it was cooler, only 115), so that fake nap in the afternoon helps keep me alive. I am drinking way too much bottled water. Sorry, environment, I'm not trying to kill you, it's just that I'm really, really thirsty all the time, and I need clean water. I will stop drinking bottled water when I get back to the U.S. I promise.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My fingertips and the outside edge of my right thumb have been really painful lately, like the nerve-endings are exposed. It took me a few days to figure out why, but I finally realized they were sore because they are burned. My laptop keyboard and touchpad get so hot they are starting to damage my fingers. My laptop has two internal fans, and it is sitting on top of a heat sink with three fans, but the heat still doesn't dissipate. It's just too hot in my room. Consequently, about fifteen minutes after I turn on my laptop, the heat starts leaking out through the keyboard. Not fun, not fun at all.

I think the Hosts worry about me being out here all by myself, because they invited me on two family outings last weekend. On Saturday night, we went to Laxmi Niwas Palace for dinner. You gotta love a dinner with a common denominator of butter: butter chicken, butter paneer, butter naan, butter roti, and a local vegetable. After dinner, we went to the only ice cream parlor in town and had butterscotch ice cream. Aside from the threat of heart disease, it was a wonderful night to be out. We ate outside on the lawn under the full moon. One of the nephews went with us, and he kept us entertained by disobeying every order given to him by Mr. Host.

On Sunday, I dragged myself out of bed at an ungodly hour (okay, 8 a.m.) and joined the family for a trip to a holy lake, Lake Kolayat (my photos). This is a pretty important pilgrimage lake, on par with Pushkar, only not so horrible to visit. It was hot, but really pretty. And all that water! I guess I have never seen lotus before, or I would have known before now how big they grow, right?

On the way back, we stopped at Gajner Palace, just to look around at the luxury. The Hosts are pretty concerned that I see everything there is to see, and this was worth a look. There is probably a lot I could write about these late 19th-early 20th century palaces, but you know what? My fingers are starting to burn. I'll continue this later.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Make Mine a Double.

Was I drunk when I wrote that last post, or what? Typos, weird grammar, repeated phrasing, irregular paragraph breaks...geez. I fixed the misspellings, but I think I'll leave the rest to remind myself of what it feels like at the end of a day at the beginning of summer in Bikaner.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Desert is Dusty.

It may be my imagination, but it seems to me that we're getting an awful lot of air traffic over Bikaner these past few days. Who is bombing who in my part of the world?

Aside from runs in the evening, I spend most of my time inside. It hasn't been as hot--it was only 109F today--but it can still be painful to be out in all the radiation. I don't mind burning skin, but even with sunglasses, my eyes can only take so much of the glare.
I'm only putting in five hours a day at the archive, for two reasons. First, that about takes me through the maximum amount of material they will let me look at in day. Second, it is physically uncomfortable to stay longer than a few hours. The room is okay as long as there is electricity to run the ceiling fan. They even brought in a window AC-unit, not that it does much good when there is no insulation, the windows don't shut tightly, and the door is left hanging open. Then, too, my back starts to hurt after about three hours, and I just have to grit it out for the last two hours of every day. The worse problem, though, the thing that really gets to me, is that there is no women's bathroom at the archives. There are two men's rooms, and a row of urinals out behind the building, but for women? Nothing. Today, I actually used the men's bathroom, but I got caught, so I guess I won't do that again.

Anyway, five hours max. I'm getting my work done, but I am mostly doing it in a heat-and-hunger-induced stupor.

Another thing that has been keeping me inside my room is the dust storms. Friday to Monday = four days of wind and dirt and heat, so pretty much stayed low the entire weekend. Well, on Saturday, before the late-afternoon winds arrived, Mr. Host took me to KEM Road to get a new pair of glasses. And on Sunday, we went to Deshnok to the Karni Mata Temple (AKA "the Rat Temple" photos here). Otherwise, I spend a lot of time practicing taps, cuts and rolls on the tin whistle, and obsessively messing up my Rubiks cube. It turns out that no matter how long I spend messing it up, it still takes the same 1 minute to solve the damn thing. That's not much of a distraction.