Dear Friends and Family~

We have been in the Nilgiri mountain range for a little over one month now. We had decided to come here because I longed for fresh mountain air and a tranquil lifestyle. Now that we have had some time to live, we have new perspectives—a fresh look at our lives.

We live on the edge of one of 14 small villages in a small valley. Wikipedia describes it as being full of temples and fairly noisy. I couldn't believe it, and still don't accept it. Isn't it funny that the 50+ temples would all play different music at the same time? I also am including the several Christian churches as well. Where we live, the 4 AM music rises up the valley; the music waves cumulate into a disharmonious audio experience—a very distorted sound. This lasts until about 8:00 AM, unless it is Sunday, and then we will listen to the local CSI church preach on loud speaker. I don't pay attention to this anymore, unless the musical distortion plays havoc with my precious dream time.

We begin to see the underbelly of this tiny village, and the lesser value of living in such a remote region. My internet server sometimes doesn't work; electricity goes out randomly, sometimes for 30 minutes, but sometimes for 12 hours. And I find that I have to fight to keep the connectivity with my friends and family. I'm doing “my level best” to keep this communication. I welcome you to call me on my mobile from Skype—this has been the most successful. It's easy, just buy Skype minutes, and the rates are very reasonable. Don't have my phone number? Email me at susanrajkumar@fastmail.fm and I will answer you as soon as possible. “Level best,” remember? ;-)

Most of the inhabitants of this area are from the Baraga tribe. My husband theorizes that they belong to an Aryan race (white) although the people that he has spoken to don't know where they come from. They have honey colored eyes and different customs. Three days ago, my husband attended a Baraga festival high up on the mountain. He could see our blue house. The celebration, he said, reminded him of the Native American Pow-Wows in the U.S.A. “It was so similar. They gave thanks before they ate, they prayed to the Earth Mother Goddess, they danced, and they prophesied.” He was truly glowing when he returned home.

As we begin to get to know people slowly, we also hear feedback about other people. “Watch out for this person. Be very careful,” someone told us. I had already said something similar to my husband, and this warning confirmed my feelings. Diplomacy and good manners go a long way—although truth and personal preference rule. We tip-toe about, enjoying our neighbor's gardens, accepting tea invitations; my husband gave two medical consultations, although he promised his best friend in Trivandrum, also a medical doctor, not to advertise that he is a medical doctor, “Or they will be calling you in the middle of the night.” This is our vacation time, after all!

And so the latest talk around the village about us is that my husband is a veterinary doctor. With four dogs and three cats, people assume he is a vet when he tells them that he is a doctor. He doesn't specify. Raj just nods and smiles.) Another village highlight is that, “his wife is from the U.S.A!” They are pleased when I tell them how much I love living in India. And when they ask why I like India so much, I tell them that I can speak about God freely, without having to worry about insulting someone's religious (or non-religious, atheist, Buddhist, Agnostic, Wicca, etc. ) sentiments. I have no religious preference, by the way, for other people; my wish is only that they be connected to a Good source of inspiration and practice the Good, and love their neighbors.

Yesterday my dogs were barking loudly. I have them chained (sorry, in India people chain dogs) to the fence, as there is no compound wall for them to run freely. It was a great source of stress for us when we first moved in, because we like to see our animals running freely. Setting this aside, our dogs were barking at the three little monkeys that sat on my rooftop. These monkeys are so cute, and one turned his head sideways and made squeaking noises when I told him that we had an agreement that they were not to make my house their playground. He wasn't much concerned until I went to the rooftop and shooed him and his buddies away. The neighbor boy and his sidekick were throwing rocks at the monkeys today, and I also had to gently shoo them away as well, because the monkeys were starting to chase them.

Harmony...balance...peace...these are some of my favorite feelings. Last week I went to Germany for a three day conference. It was so wonderful to see friends again, and to take these feelings into my heart.

There were indicators that I've been away from the high technology. I felt a little funny not knowing how to operate the motion sensitive faucets and paper towel dispensers in the airport. Later, a friend generously handed me a sound card that is plug and play for my video camera—Wow, thanks! I didn't know what to say. Now I can record directly to my computer. I saw and experienced so much while I was in Germany. Every day was full. I brought back a new feeling about India, and about my purpose here—my life work. And I was happy to see my husband, who had done a lot hours of travel in order to meet me at the airport.

Today, we went to the city of Ooty. We ride the bus, usually the bright green one. While we were waiting, a neighbor from the green house 100 meters up the road from us was there also. A lady came up to us, speaking to him in the language of Kanada. This language comes from the same Dravidian roots as Malayalam, so we understood some words. We heard the words white, dark, and blue. It's always a little funny when someone is speaking about you while standing in front of you staring, with a smile. I've grown accustomed to it, from living in the little villages. This woman was wearing traditional Baraga dress, a sari with a white wrap around her (like a sarape from Mexico, or a shawl.) She was trying to figure out why I was so white and Raj was so dark. It wasn't a racial “thing,” but more of a question of her belief that we were also Baraga people (I had a shawl on my head with sunglasses and a very large bindi on my forehead, so she couldn't clearly see me :-). Baraga people generally have lighter skin, and honey colored eyes. In this lady's mind, my skin was too light for Baraga, and Raj's too dark to be Baraga. The neighbor explained that Raj is from Kerala, and that I am from America. “Why would she want to come to live in India? Our people go to America all the time.”

The bus arrived, and it was packed. We squeezed in along with everyone else. In these situations, my “sense of personal space” is put to the test. In Kerala, I found myself always having to watch all around me to make sure that there was no “funny stuff” going on with the men. Usually, I sidle up next to the women, and all is good. Here in Tamil Nadu, it's different. Women and men are more integrated, and therefore there isn't such a “stigma” about being near a member of the opposite race. But today, we were really pushed up against each other, and the conductor was encouraging more people to squeeze in at the stops, with nobody getting off at the stops. I pushed up against my husband, and all was well for the thirty minute ride. I can see why they play loud music—it helps keep people distracted from the reality of being confined (I realize that this is my Western perception, and maybe not at all the truth.) I enjoyed the ride and the loud Tamil tunes.

We were on the way to see the rose garden, a very spacious, three-tiered garden that holds about 2500 different varieties of roses. Sweet rose scent wafted through the air. The feeling there was very peaceful, and we sat on a bench under a very large eucalyptus tree munching on Indian snacks and drinking mango juice. We also took in the healing stream, and wished good thoughts about the people in our life. Young newlyweds passed by, looking coy. “Hello, how are you?” ventured a brave boy. We sniffed the roses that were close to the fence and read the labeled names of the many varieties. We shared some lozenges (that I had brought back from Germany) with the gardening women. I apologized for speaking only Malayalam, which one out of four women understood. My husband's fledgling Tamil translated, and they were very pleased with the lemon/menthol flavor of the tablets. They sat down on the steps to enjoy it. They had just pruned a section, turned the soil, and were adding generous piles of cow-dung in the rows. People in Tamil Nadu really know how to work hard, and they are such great gardeners, something that I admire. Late May is the time to come, when all roses are in bloom, and also the time of their rose festival.

Two days ago, Raj brought home ½ kilo of cracked corn. I made a wonderful corn bread that was so moist and tasty (two days in a row, and I might make it again today) and a bean soup to accompany it. I am so grateful for healthy taste buds and a good appetite, so that I can experience good food from my kitchen. I'll write this recipe down for you, because it was another one of my fabulous “ad-lib” kitchen recipes. Enjoy!


Salsa Corn Bread

1 cup flour

½ cup cracked corn

½ cup corn flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 medium size tomatoes, diced

1 small red onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic

A few sprigs of coriander leaves, (cilantro) chopped finely

3 eggs

1 ¾ cups whole, organic milk

2 Tbs water

2 Tbs. Oil

Grated cheese

(Optional: chopped green chili pepper)


Heat oven to 350 degrees F | 178 degrees C. Mix dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Cut and dice all vegetables. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry, add the vegetables. Pour into a greased baking pan. Bake to a golden color. Test the bread with a stick to make sure the inside is cooked. Add the cheese to the top, and allow to melt. Bake for at least 25-30 minutes (I'm at 7000 feet | 2300 meters, so things take longer to boil and bake.) Serve hot with a wonderful bean soup.