For the Brothers

This August full moon, it’s down to recycling my Raksha bandan post from two years ago.

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Raksha Bandan – Bond of Protection

When I lived in Zambia my family celebrated Raksha Bandan, a North Indian festival that honours the love between sisters’ and brothers’. It falls on a full-moon in August every year.

My parents, aunts and uncles took a day off work, we a day off school. We wore traditional Indian clothes and jewelery, and gathered at one if the homes.
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My mum, aunts and I picked out beautiful rakhees weeks in advance. There is a range of choice, from simple threads to more extravagant ones with mirrors and gold fringes. A few years ago there was one that played a popular Bollywood song. This year the fashionable rakhees have green, red, and shiny diamond-like stones on them.

I always chose the simplest threads and tied one around each of my brother’s and “cousin-brother’s” wrists. This gesture was to symbolise my love for them. In return my brothers’ had the duty of protecting me. From what, I wasn’t always sure.

After I tied the rakhee, we hugged each other. I always whispered an awkward, “What are we doing guys? Do we need this string to symbolise our feelings?”

I was the pain-in-the-ass, no fun girl who wasn’t into rituals, or for that matter, kitsch Bollywood dance because as a classical Indian dancer, Bollywood dances were corrupt versions of the real thing.

So, back to the hugging, after that we fed each other Indian sweets that my mum and aunts had prepared over the last week or two. In return, the brothers’ proudly offered me envelopes stuffed with notes.

Next was my mum and aunts’ turn. They tied rakhees around their “cousin-brother’s” wrist. He was the only one in Lusaka. They sent the others theirs in the mail, without fail.

My dad received his two rakhees by post, usually in good time. Since his sisters lived elsewhere it was my job to tie them. I got two envelopes from him as well.

Once it was all done, we’d have a big meal, and spend the rest of the day together.

When I left Zambia at 16, I forgot all about Raksha Bandan. One July my mum called to remind me about it. She asked if I’d sent all the boys a rakhee. I replied that I hadn’t so she quickly bought some on my behalf.

On the full-moon day, she called me. My little brother had refused to wear the rakhee since it wasn’t an initiative of mine. I was taken-aback. I had no idea that this really meant anything to him, or to any of them.

I immediately apologised, and ever since, I’ve made a special effort. I don’t always send them a rakhee in the mail, but I call or at least email.

This year, my mum only “reminded” me about it yesterday. There is no way I can get them rakhees in time. Phone calls will be in order, and a promise of more planning and organising for the years to come.

In my mum’s typically thoughtful and unimposing manner, she mentioned, by the way, “I’ve sent you a rakhee that L can tie around R’s wrist, if you guys want to do that of course.” I can’t wait to see the mini-rakhee.

My brothers are dearer to me than I can express. I do in fact feel safe, supported and strong when they are around.

So why not have a special day that celebrates the bond between sisters and brothers.

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Raksha Bandan This Yeara

Raksha Bandan – Our Version

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This morning – Our version – two rakhees, one each.
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9 Years and Moving to the Beat

9 years ago today Maher and I got married. In Montreal. We were amidst close family and friends – a party we won’t forget.

Guajira – I Love U 2 Much

Dandia RaasThere was dancing – from barefoot in the rain with Yerba Buena at the jazz fest, the garba and dandiya raas non-stop night, to the gypsy band “Soleil Tzigane” who used to play Friday and Saturday’s at Cafe Sarajevo, what used to be my hangout while we long distanced. We were thrilled that the musicians accepted to do our reception.

Ederlezi – Goran Bregovic (First dance)

I can’t just grab a photo that represents the occasion from my phone’s camera roll or off FB, our wedding photos are stuffed into a steel box in Chengdu. Hard copy.

Together koh samui

4 moves, a few mistakes, a stroke, IVF, NICU time, Leila and Rahul, long distance all over again on, and we continue to sneak moments together, learn about each other, grow in our relationship, listen to each other more intently, accept each other more sincerely, continue to compromise, let go, and love more deeply.

At least that’s what we try to do anyway. And hope for more years together.

Related:

Waiting for Cafe Sarajevo to say Good bye.

Hit by a Whirlwind

Last night, we had to dodge: balls, balloons, trains and tracks, horses, blocks, dolls, grapes, icing, biscuits, sippy cups, shoes, 15 or more little people, and as many big people, to get anywhere. Rahul was fixated on a little blond girl. He’s a flirt and charmer, but this time, it was to keep HER (not any of the other 15 kids who ransacked his playroom) from touching HIS tennis ball, HIS stuffed doll version of Iggle piggle, and HIS motorbike.
Leila found me whether I was in the kitchen, amidst the big people, or in the washroom.

But when the “Tangled,” cakes they requested, came out, things changed. Leila’s had a picture of Rapunzel on it; Rahul’s had Maximus the white horse, on it. L stood tall and blew out her two candles. Rahul blew his out at early, at “…dear Rahul, happy birthday..” They stuck their fingers into their respective cakes and…yummy!

They waited or should I say cried, all afternoon for their chocolate and cheese cakes. Leila sang “To you,” to me, many times. Rahul sang, “Happy Daisy Doo,” all day because Upsy Daisy Doo has a birthday too!

Once they got their cake, and the music was pumping, they were in their element. They danced to the Bollywood hits they love, the Zambian music D2 brought for us, and some reggae.

We all had a blast, if you can say that about a couple of 2 year olds birthday party.

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For his birthday, Rahul asked for a piano, Leila followed up by asking for a guitar. We were proud. Now we have a little electric organ in the living room. With a microphone. YES, A MICROPHONE. And did I mention that R and L both love to sing opera? And that we don’t know what the Chinese character for “volume” is. So yeah, we still have to FIND a mini guitar.

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All week I’d been brainstorming for a two year birthday post, and yet the 1st of November came and went. It’s in a bit of a list form, here goes: I thought to write about how Leila is a beautiful, sensitive, little girl. Extremely expressive. She imitates hip hop, Belly dance, Indian classical dance, and Chinese Opera like a pro.
When she saw a scrape on my knee the other day, her face showed immense concern, she turned both palms up questioningly and asked “…happened?”
She’s the “stuff police.” No one can touch, forget about borrow, her “papa’s shoes.” Today she chased him around announcing that the t-shirt he was wearing was Jalal’s. Maher and I had wondered which one of his brothers t-shirt it was. She knew!
She’s cheeky, and mischievous. She overheard that Rahul was looking for the baby elephant toy. She found it, took it, and ran. She’s fast.
And she’s fighting back now. She’s no longer the vulnerable poor little girl who gets bitten or hit from behind. She turns right around, snarls at her brother, either pulls his hair, or snatches her toy back.
She loves her new motorbike. It’s a shared toy that either she doesn’t let Rahul ride a whole lot, and/or Rahul is not terribly interested in, and he lets her have it most of the time. Either way, we know where her motorbike gene comes from.

Maher and I spend a lot of time teaching the children how to negotiate.

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Rahul is sweet, he gives kisses. He loves his ayi (nanny) to bits. Many days he doesn’t smile until he sees her.

He keeps his dads contact lens case in his palm day and night. It might be a way of keeping a piece of Maher with him.
He calls things “jolie.”
He has to have whatever L has. Yet, he can happily play on his own for extended periods of time.
He’s a word machine, and mostly what he says makes sense. He repeats anything, even Greek! He talks when he dreams: “Dog, one, two,” he said at 4am the other night.
The longer the word the better. His favorites are “disanaur”, “tephelone”, “capilo” (caterpillar), and “hecolopta” (helicopter).

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L and R are jealous of each other, and they compete for attention. But if anyone gives R something to eat, drink, or play with, he always asks for one for L. Leila does the same.
Often, Leila’s first question in the morning is, “Aya?”, (interpretation: where is Rahul?). Rahul’s first question is “Naina?” (interpretation: where is Leila?).

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They test our patience everyday. For every time we scream or want to scream at them, they do something that makes us want to hug and kiss them 10 times over.

So we do all: the screaming, the hugging, and the kissing.

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I wrote “Medium and Happy” (http://natashadevalia.com/2011/05/09/medium-is-just-fine/) 6 months ago. We’ve come a long way since the whirlwind hit, 2 years ago.

Pancakes, Chocolate Milk, and an Award.

I got an award. The Versatile Blogger Award. The last time I was awarded anything I was 16. So man was I shocked, and ecstatic! And it’s for my blogging. I only started doing this a few months ago. I’m a novice. It’s encouraging to know that someone is reading this stuff though, and even liking it.

The blogger who awarded it to me, whose blog, The Valentine 4 you have to check out, is a good, spirited writer. I stumbled upon it from a comment she made at another blog I was reading. I was immediately hooked to her strong, sensitive, and honest, writing style. So I subscribed.

She has two children, runs a household, runs a home daycare, runs races as a triathlete, does yoga, reads, writes both thought-provoking and thoughtful posts…Wow!

So back to the award. I told M immediately. I smiled, and thought of cart-wheeling, jumping up and down, and running around the house. Maybe I should have, but that morning R and L were doing enough damage.

The chocolate milk that was accidentally knocked off the table turned into on-purpose spilling. I cleaned it up while discussing the Zambian elections with my parents on Skype. Every time they said anything L sang a loud song in my ears.

I was also chatting with a friend in NY. He still had a few more hours in the evening to go, while we had just woken up. I grew up hanging out with him, in Zambia. He hoped the democratic process would win. In other news, he told me that a mutual friend and his wife would have twins soon. I was even more excited. R tapped the keyboard. Strange boxes appeared on the screen.

The computer crashed.

I was clearly trying too hard. And the whining and crying that went on a lot of the night, was worse. It was getting to me.

What we all needed was Savasana.

I walked into the kitchen where M was making pancakes. “I can’t handle it today. I’m going crazy….” I said this to him, almost shaking.

Our ayi (nanny) walked into the apartment at the same time.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

“My Pranayama.” I replied.

“Ask xiao He (ayi) to give them a bath. Do your Pranayama in the spare room. Close the door. I’ll take them out for a walk,” he replied.

I was proud of myself for talking to him right then. For asking for help. Grateful for his response.

As I was doing my breath-work practice, R burst into the room naked from his bath. I froze. I didn’t want to erupt, not again today. Not now.

He gave me a sweet, long hug.

I melted.

Maher walked in, asked Rahul if he wanted to make R, L, and N shaped pancakes with him. Rahul rushed out of the room.

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A few days on, a little more calm, probably just because I’m the only one up in the house at this hour, I’m showing off my award!

The “award rules” state: Thank and link the blogger who awarded it to you. State 7 random things about yourself. Award it to 15 newly discovered blogs you enjoy. And let them know.

Here are my 7 things:

1. I used to be a classical Indian Bharatanatyam dancer. I went to Chennai, India right after high school for a three-month stint at a renowned dance school. I Chose to go to uni in Canada instead of continuing seriously with dance.

2. I was at an all girls dorm for my first year in uni. I was scared shit-less because it was the first time I would have to “deal” with girls. I have two brothers, a male cousin I used to hang out with, and mainly guy friends. Despite listening to the other girls on my floor whining about their boyfriend issues, and to my screaming neighbour if anyone woke her up after she went to bed at 8pm, she and others became some of my closest friends.

3. The last time I went “home,” to Zambia, was over 8 years ago.

4. I started to drive when I was 15 My brothers were even younger. I stopped at 17, when I left Zambia. I’ve changed many wheels, and fixed other basic car stuff. Now I don’t can’t drive or do any car related things.

5. I’ve bungee jumped off a 110m high bridge in Livingstone, and jumped out of a plane. With a parachute! And an experienced teacher.

6. I saw a psychic in Calgary.

7. I was under 5 years old when the car my dad was driving in the middle of the night, at high-speed, on an unlit highway from Lusaka to Livingstone over-turned. I was in the back seat. A family friend was next to my dad. I don’t know if I had my seat belt on. None of us were hurt.

And now, finally to the best part. Here are the 15 bloggers who get The Versatility Award:

OnoLisa
Tuesday2
Hedvig’s Permaculture Adventures

Momma Be Thy Name

Seana Smith
Peaches and Curry

Balance Yoga Wellness
Pakistani Ashtangi

Culinary Adventures


The next two are young cousins of mine who trusted me enough to start blogs!

Anu Madrid
Catawampus Kid

The next four are twin mum blogs that I have only occasionally dipped into, either because I have very recently discovered them, have two toddlers running around all day and up often at night, or because of the internet censorship with certain blog carriers like blogspot here in China.

Goddess in Progress
Double the Fun

Life Not Finished
Little Grovers

Thanks for reading, taking the time to comment and discuss, even like posts on my blog.

If you’re on this list, pass on the love.

“Ma na”

This evening in the yellow van cab on our way to the airport, past the Calgary Tower and not far from the Calgary zoo, I told the children again that we are headed back to China.

M asks : ” Who are we going to see in China?”

L responds: “Ma na!”

“Yes,” I say. “Can you say Mar wan?”

L: “Ma na”

Me: “Maar waan”

L: “Maa naa”

Me: “Maaaaar waaaaan”

A long pause.

L smiles cheekily. “Maaaaa naaaaa,” she repeats.

Me: “Ok, fine. Marwan.”

L: “Ee Ye” (Liu Yan)

Me: “Who else?”

L: “Pata, Imad, Ayla”

Me: “Yes! And ayi?”

L and R: “ayi, ayi

Wormwood Scrubs Park

A bright London day at Wormwood Scrubs Park. Maher often runs there when he is in London. We went with a couple of my close girl friends and an uncle. The endless grassy space mesmerized me. The four of us ran around and spun circles. R learned how to roll in the grass. The colorful wild flowers were pretty. L was attracted to them. An unforgettable afternoon in June.

One day

Meg and Eoin drove from Chengdu to Cape town. This is a four-minute video of some of the smiles along the way. I still can’t believe they did it!

Catch the little boy running back and forth under Meg’s back bend.

Me…start a blog?

Over the last two years my world has revolved around taking care of Leila and Rahul, my almost year-and-a-half twins. So to start a blog now, seems a bit strange. What could I possibly have to say? I don’t know which regimes are being toppled over, I haven’t seen photos of the effects of the recent earthquake in Japan, I don’t know what yoga workshops are on in the region, don’t know if Federer is still kicking ass, or who presented at the Chengdu Bookworm literary festival; or anything for that matter. Outrageous, I know.
Only a few years earlier I didn’t even know what a blog was until friends in Chengdu complained that they couldn’t access blogspot. Facebook, YouTube, and a number of blogging sites can’t be accessed in China.
After some complications in my pregnancy while in China, I ended up spending 4 months in bed including 7 weeks in hospital, split into 4 different hospital stays.
A number of foreign doctors here, in Shanghai, and Beijing recommended that we leave for the birth, due to the high risk of going into preterm labour and possible lack of high level care for premature babies.
So went to Hong Kong at 26 weeks gestation. L and R came at 31 weeks, and were cared for at the Queen Mary NICU.
The bed-rest, high-speed internet and open access to all sites meant lots of time on the internet, and my initiation to blogs. But it was only when L and R were five-months-old, after my mum who had spent 9 months with me left, and both of those things coincided with our return to Chengdu that I really got into it.
I came upon some blogs that MoT’s wrote. For the first time in a long time I felt like I could relate. They wrote how exhausted they were, how they only bathed their babies a couple of times a week, rarely dressed them in anything other than pyjamas. I didn’t feel as guilty anymore that L and R didn’t go out everyday. They weren’t the only ones. To have them both ready to go out meant nappies changed, both well fed, not too tired, and a big diaper bag full of provisions.
I remember a post by a father of twins about how his two-year-old girls were finally sleeping through the night, most of the time, anyways. So my two waking up a few times each and every night means I can still be considered in the norm.
One mum wrote about her birth story; similar to mine – it included flights, hospital stays for both mum and babies, pumping pumping pumping, stress, fear, pain, relief.
Then there was one couple that blogged about their micro preemie twins birth, NICU stay including all the medical details, the obsession with weight gain, the monitors, breathing, digestion, good days, bad days. It wasn’t the most fun blog I ever read. They were born much earlier than L and R, but I could relate to much of it and realised that I would have to deal with this part of R and L, and in fact all of four of our lives one day, and to be at peace with it somehow.
Reading these stories was like holding a mirror out in front of me. a way to see what we had been through, a way to realize we were not alone – and importantly to let go of it.
There were honest, touching posts as well like the one HDYDI MoT, rebecca, who wrote One Baby Envy ( http://hdydi.com/2008/03/02/one-baby-envy/ ). Others complained about the silly questions (  http://multiples.about.com/od/familyissues/tp/aatpquestions.htm) they got when they took their twins out. If I get started on the questions and comments I got in Chengdu it would never end.
Sometimes the comments were funny – MoM’s bitching about how J Lo (on the cover of People Magazine March 2008) could possibly look as perfect so soon after she had her twins.
I related to these parents and it helped with the isolation I sometimes felt being in China without my family and with no experience with babies whatsoever. Neither of my brothers or brothers-in-law have children. One of my childhood friends has a son in Zambia who I haven’t yet met. I had held one of my friend’s tiny babies in Lebanon a couple of times last year feeling clumsy and incapable all the time. So yes, I had that experience.
I had a few parenting books. They only briefly covered twins if at all.
But, we were together again, the four of us in Chengdu. That was our main source of strength. I had help from people here. L and R ‘s nanny or “ayi” meaning aunty as she is called endearingly is a superwoman, a great source of real support and help.
A friend as close as I imagine a sister to be was strong and present when I needed her most.
Another friend lent me lifesaving books at every stage along the way. And there were many others who made up my “village”, both in real life and in my blog life. The crazy thing now is that sometimes my kids both sleep for a few hours at the same time, but silly me stays up to blog.
In addition to relating to other mums and dads on blogs, I found tips, such as this post ( http://hdydi.com/2008/04/05/product-review-double-strollers/) that gives advice about choosing a double stroller that works for you depending on it’s use, tips like store big quantities of diapers, wet -wipes, food etc. so you don’t need to go out to the stores until really necessary. Obvious, but hey at least I don’t feel crazy when I walk into my pantry and see the hoarding.
There were videos of calm mums simultaneously feeding their babies. R and L were rarely on the same schedule, so it didn’t apply, but still nice to see how others do it.
So even though I live in this tiny world of eating, playing, bathing, trying to schedule, exploring and sleepless nights, I feel like I am above water, some of time at least.
So now I have the occasion to share my own stories and maybe get some interaction going. Perhaps a new mum, even a MoT will come across it and feel she can relate, find some useful information, or just have a laugh. I would be glad to contribute to that somehow.
These are stories for R and L to read one day if they want to. And if nothing else a way for friends and family to keep up with our lives in China, or wherever.
The other day I read a blog about the therapeutic effects of blogging. That did it for me, a few minutes later I signed up! Not really, but it made me realise that every time I put down my thoughts they rarely came out negative or depressive, but rather I manage to find the “funny” in things, now that I am not sinking all the time, of course.
It reminded me of a phrase from a song my dad often used to say to his not so smiley teenage daughter, “When you smile the whole world smiles with you. When you cry, you cry alone.”