The other day I burned a bunch of old coconut fronds as well as some other bits and pieces of old plants that weren't the best for composting. Burning on a hot day. Fun! But the smell was nice. I had a bucket of water nearby, just in case.
I did it behind the back house, near the field where the neighbors grow rice in the monsoon. There was a bull back there, but they sold it this year. My neighbor, the husband, cried. All of this information was passed to me in the way that such things are passed in the village. From mouth to mouth. Jaya in the morning makes chai and says, "Did you know that Maria and Rosario sold their bull?" And I say, "No! Really? Why?" "One of the brothers wanted to sell it. Rosario was very sad. He cried."
Rosario is a very passionate person who cries easily, but the fact that the brother wanted to sell Rosario's prize bull doesn't surprise me. Rosario was constantly leaping around that bull, trying to keep it under control. He's small, and the bull was large and very mean. A large brahmin bull with a large hump and a mean eye.
But no worries, we still have a bull in our life. I was doing some cleaning in the kid's room yesterday and caught some motion outside the window, like someone was watching me. When I looked up, I found myself staring directly into a large, red, bull eye. The bull is tied up under the tree just past the fence, only about three feet away. Why are there bulls? Sometimes for work, for plowing fields. And also, I just learned this year that they have bullfights. Often, on the beach, you will see two men taking a bull for a swift walk, very, very carefully, because these are dangerous animals, after all.
It is part of the bundle of contradictions that makes up India. Here is this small state that was colonized by the Portuguese, and while a huge population of India reveres cows as sacred, Goan Catholics hold bullfights on feast days. It happens everywhere, though. Muslims slaughter goats for Eid in a Hindu holy city, Hindu's have temples with statuary of gods strewn throughout just blocks away from a mosque which has no images, no shrines, no altars. Like my friend told me, each religion practices something abhorrent to the other.
Sometimes it makes you wonder why there aren't MORE violent outbursts. Instead, Jaya walks through the Catholic part of our village, averting her eyes when they are butchering pigs in the street, or refusing to go into our neighbor's house when it is a feast day and they are preparing beef and pork. Meanwhile, Maria and Rosario have practically arranged a marriage for her. I've seen first hand in this little traditional village, how people put differences aside for friendship.
And then at other times the religious conflict in India is so great that friends turn against friends.
Anyways. I really got off track there, distracted by village gossip.
So I was burning the pile of branches, and when it burned down I turned to go back to my house, through the little corridor that runs between the back house and the house next door. When I came around the corner, I saw my kids on the back steps of our house.
"Mama!" YaYa called. "We're eating ants! And one just bit Kid A on the tongue!"
They were all sitting on the back step eating fire ants. Which is questionable in multiple ways.
"They're really good for you!" Kid A said.
I guess I have Man Vs. Wild to thank for that. But I've been trying to convince them for years. Sometimes ants used to end up in the muesli box, and inevitably a few would be a part of breakfast. "Just eat them," I said, if anyone complained. "They're good for you!" Even I would have drawn the line at eating live fire ants.
But the fire ants have been so prolific this year that they've kept every other species of ant away. This is the first year that we haven't had ants in the sugar, or ants in the cereal, and the kids have taken to eating fire ants.
Our friend M tried to convince them that they can get their nutrition in other ways.
"Listen," I said. "Don't eat ants. That will do if you are stranded in the wild and you need to survive, but you can get your protein from, you know, all the beans and lentils we eat."
They sighed big sighs. I'm no fun at all.