Abu Halen Bested by India, Cries Uncle (and Other Catchy Headline Ideas)

I think it was when I stepped out my front door to go to work one morning and I felt something viscous yet substantial strike the crown of my head, and I reached up to investigate and came away with with runny bird feces on my fingers, I think that was when I realized that I'm no match for India. Birds poop on people's heads in lots of places, probably even in wonderful places like Omaha, I bet. But it feels different in India somehow, like the bird was trying to crap on the head of the guy who had just showered and had damp hair, so that the avian diarrhea would more easily drip through the hair and onto the scalp. As I put my head down, slumped my shoulders, turned slowly on my heel, and trudged back inside to take another shower, which would make me late for work, that was probably when I started crying uncle.

How Abu Halen feels after one year in India. (Weligama Bay, Sri Lanka; Jan 2018)

I guess sometimes things don't go the way you want or expect them to. About a year and a half ago, I wrote about our excitement at moving to India, at experiencing, as I think I so artfully put it, "the color and the motion and the smells and the air and the dysentery."

Well, I actually had dysentery, or at least something a lot like it, and it turns out it's not exciting, or even interesting. All it is is being drug delirious into an Uber by your wife for a half-conscious trip to the clinic to be hooked up to an IV for hours to combat the incredible dehydration.

As for the smells, they seem exotic until you live thirty feet from an open sewer. Then they're just, well, smelly.

I don't really remember what I was thinking when I declared that I was excited to experience the air, but it was wrong and stupid. The physical and psychological toll of Delhi's air put me on more medications than I could shake my fist at, if I could in fact have actually shaken my first through the prescription drug-addled haze and lethargy.

I guess you could call it all a little bit of a breakdown. But as I believe the poet once said, "Hey, you know, breakdowns come and breakdowns go. What are you going to do about it? That's what I would like to know."

When India throws Holi confetti at Violet, she throws it right back. (Delhi, India; Mar 2018)

Well, sometimes you've just got to know when you're beaten, and India has bested Abu Halen. We've shortened our three-year assignment down to one -- a "curtailment" in Foreign Service lingo -- and will be headed back to Washington DC in a few weeks to work domestically for a year or two.

I guess in a way it's embarrassing to stumble so spectacularly, even though I know intellectually there's nothing to be ashamed about. Sometimes you just feel things that don't make sense though. Just before leaving El Salvador I wrote about the danger of knowing too much and being too comfortable, of the virtue inherent in that sensation you get when you step blindfolded into the unknown. That kind of sentiment feels a little blase now that this particular step for me into the unknown of India has amounted a stride right off a cliff.

I think I thought I was stronger than I am, and realizing that is probably a gut-punch of a blessing. We've airplaned around the world, landing in some pretty dicey places -- Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador -- and coming out no worse for the wear. I confess to looking askance from time to time at those who struggled with life in those sometimes-inhospitable places. It just seemed pretty simple to me -- just practice the art of the shrug, do the Steve Winwood and roll with it, you know?

But now India has had its way with me. And I'm crawling home hoping that those for whom India is colorful and wonderful and easy will look on me with a little more charity than I've shown in the past to those I've heard cry uncle. I knew what it sounds like, but now I know what it feels like. I hope somehow that will make me a better neighbor when life poops on other people's heads.