Posted on May 19, 2013
Yesterday we went to the Indian market as a family. It is a trip we take about one a month where we stock up on all things Indian from spices to legumes, flours and vegetables, hair oil and incense. I discovered the market within a few months after I moved back to the United States. The market was a haven to me, connecting me to Karan who was far away. A thread between us. There I would explore ingredients and learn how to use them.
There was a gentleman who worked at the market who was friendly and helpful to me. It was simply that, nothing toward, but I could tell he was very curious about this American woman who came regularly to his market. One day I asked him which flour was used to make chapati and he asked me “How do you know how to make chapati?”. I told him about Karan and how he taught me some Indian cooking. I explained that I wanted to learn more about Indian cooking in preparation for him coming to America. I talked about our visa process. Over the course of nearly 2 years I would go to the market and chat with this man. I never knew his name. Each visit he would ask me about the visa and I would always sigh and explain how we were still waiting.
One day I mentioned in particular how Karan was struggling to get his birth certificate, how he had hired 3 different lawyers and they took his money but never delivered the certificate. He then said something to me that I have never forgotten:
“It is not his fault. You need to believe him and be patient. India is not like here. There is a lot of corruption. It is very hard to get documents.”
Even though I already believed Karan, it was so wonderful to hear from someone who understood the situation and defended Karan instead of doubting him.
Then, early last year, on one of my visits to the market, he told me that he was returning to India. He was fed up with American culture and wanted to leave. I was sad to see him go, this man who wasn’t really a friend but a friendly face, and wished him luck. The months passed. I remembered his words and hoped he was happy back in India. Then yesterday, on our trip to the market, I see him there. He shyly says hi because men do not greet women that are not their family, especially in front of other men. I was pleasantly surprised to see him and asked him if he was back to stay. He nodded but did not say more. I then said how we finally got the visa and pointed to Karan “This is my husband.” I said. He nodded again, head down. Karan explained that he would never talk with me the same now that he was there. It’s a cultural thing he explained. Still, I was so happy to see him and show off Karan. It was redeeming for me after all those visits where I told him how we were still waiting for the visa. It was then that I realized the role he had played in my life. He was our witness to love.
I first learned of the concept of a “witness” when I read the book The Drama of the Gifted Child. The book talks about how most gifted children have experienced some form of trauma as a child and that the difference as to whether they would grow into Stalin or Picasso depended on whether they had a witness as a child which attested their value of being born. Sounds intense but it made sense to me because I was a gifted child and my childhood was filled with trauma. I understood the author because, as she explained, when a child is very bright, they understand much earlier than others that the trauma they are experiencing is wrong. So then they question their value of being on earth at all if it is only to experience that trauma. The pain, if unchecked, turns to poison and they can become very destructive and dangerous adults. If, however, that child has a witness, someone who loves the child and all their brilliance, who makes them feel worthy, then that painful trauma can be channeled in a productive way.
Ironically, it was my father, my chief abusive influence in my childhood, who gave me the book. I don’t think he read it. I think he saw the title and thought it was a statement on what he perceived as an overly rebellious teenage period. I was surprised and empowered when I read it. I did have such a witness. His name was James Murphy and he was my math teacher and so much more. Like a surrogate father, Murphy honored my bright nature, nurtured my spark, and gave me the courage to eventually push my trauma aside. Half Irish and half Cherokee Indian, Murphy dazzled me with his open nature, poetry writing, and string figures (like cat’s cradle but far more complex) which he used to teach math to kids who were convinced they hated math. He had many followers like myself who got to school early just to hang out with this man who honored them even though they didn’t fit, even though they struggled through each day.
The power of a witness is not to be overlooked. They can be the difference of life or death for a child, healing or hate. For an adult, a witness is important too, especially when going though difficult time. Faith provides a lot of this as adults but it is a general form of support, not specific like a person who honors your particular path. The visa process for Karan was the hardest thing I went through since my childhood. What was particularly hard is that I felt alone in my journey (outside of Karan of course). My friends and family in the States tried to be supportive but the reality is that they just didn’t understand. No one can understand how hard immigration can be unless you go through it. So while they would smile and offer their support, underneath I could see their suspicions and questions: Why was it taking so long? Maybe Karan isn’t who he says he is and that is why he can’t get the visa. Maybe he doesn’t want to come… It was very hard on me because I could not provide an explanation that would satisfy them. Instead I just stayed quiet and true to myself, knowing that we would prevail. For this reason, the man in the Indian market was so important. His comments that day were a witness to our love. He did not doubt, did not look at me with suspicion. His belief in us was very important to me at the time — our love is true, our love is worthy. I’ll never forget it.
Posted on April 28, 2013
A few months ago an Indian woman that I didn’t know asked to be my friend on Facebook. This was on my personal profile, not Amor y Sabor’s Facebook page. This happens a lot actually because of the blog and I usually accept because I consider all Facebook to be public anyway. So I accepted her friend request and she began a conversation with me. She asked if I was Indian, which I replied that I was not but married to one. She then asked if it was a “love marriage”. I had heard this term before but only on the periphery so I had to think a minute as to what she meant before I responded “yes”.
Love marriage is a term used in India to indicate a marriage formed because of love, versus the more traditional arranged marriage which is formed for a variety of reasons: economic, benefit, family ambitions, astrological compatibility and necessity. The term love marriage may seem strange, redundant and archaic to a Westerner because it is our assumption that all marriage is a result of love, or at least the fantasy of love. But this is not the case in India. Except for Mumbai and some of New Dehli where India has become Westernized, arranged marriages are the norm, they are the expected outcome. In fact, arranged marriages are such the norm that many Indians who migrate to the West still go back to India for an arranged marriage.
In Indian cultures, families sacrifice everything for their children, far greater than in Western culture. It is as if the parent’s purpose is only to ensure a good life for their offspring and nothing more. Traditional Indian culture, especially where my husband Karan is from, is very strict. There are clear definitions of good and bad, what you can and can’t do. The result is that most parents feel it is not only expected, but 100% necessary, that marriages are arranged and their offspring comply with their choice.
But times are changing and more and more couples are joining because of love, often with dangerous results. It is the dark underbelly of Indian culture which, although it celebrates love through its gods and goddesses, considers duty to be more important than life itself. It is called honor killings and it is a brutal response to a betrayal of the expected duty. This duty can be to a parent or a husband. Most common it is for choosing who you love.
In India, or at least in Karan’s part of India, women marry only once. Divorce is not allowed even if the husband is abusing them. Even a woman who is widowed is not allowed to remarry. This burden of marriage falls solely on the shoulders of women because the same rules do not apply to men. Men can remarry after their wife’s death without rebuke. They can even have multiple wives. It is an unfair double standard where a woman can not even be considered worthy of marriage if another man has touched her sexually, never mind have the right to leave an abusive relationship.
This double standard for women in India was brought to international attention after several brutal rapes of women in India. Even in the case of rape, the woman is considered tainted and not worthy of marriage. No other man will have her so it is common for the rape victims to be pressured to marry their attackers as this is their only option of marriage in India’s traditional culture.
It is hard for us in the Western World to understand this aspect of Indian culture which is so obviously unfair. I do not defend or agree with it but I have come to understand it. In traditional India, marriage is the goal of all women. Not being married is not an option. But in the midst of this traditional, even ancient culture, a new mindset is starting to seep in and more and more people are demanding change — change for a culture that rewards men and punishes the victims of rape and change to stop the honor killings.
Enter a group called the Love Commandos — funny name but important work.
I first became aware of them through a news article. They have received a fair amount of press for the good work they do. When a couple comes together for love, against the wishes of their parents, they can not publicly express their love, they can not be together and they need to marry in secret. This is because their families will do everything to prevent their union, from forcing them to marry someone else to beating up them or their loved one and worse. But even when they are finally married, the danger is not over. The anger over their defiance familial duty forces them into hiding as one or both of their families can hunt them down and kill them.
The Love Commandos provides a network of safe passages and safe houses to protect the lovers, much in the same way that the Underground Railroad provided safety to the slaves fleeing servitude in America’s past. It is a wonderful organization but until there is a cultural shift, many will still die as there is not enough resources to help them all.
Before Karan came to the Dominican Republic, he had garnered some attention in Chennai. A body building champion, he was a favorite at his local gym and appeared in several local television commercials. He caught the eye of one particular girl who stepped forward one day and expressed love for him. In Karan’s culture you do not date or engage in any kind of romantic contact before marriage. Instead to watch and think until you are ready and then you express your love. So Karan, only 18 at the time, thought about whether he could love this girl and after a few days decided that he could.
With a decision clear in his mind, he went to the girl’s father to ask for her hand. Even doing this was outside the norm because the correct protocol would have been to ask his parents first but Karan has always been a bit of a rebel. When he asked the father he was flatly denied. Why you might ask? After all, he was somewhat of a minor celebrity at the time. He was denied because he is Hindu and the girl’s family was Muslim. An interfaith marriage was out of the question.
Karan, who had been considering going to the Dominican Republic to work with a shipping company as an engineer, made up his mind to leave as soon as he was denied by the father. He did feel love for the girl even though he hadn’t known her long and he didn’t care she was Muslim. To Western eyes it is hard to see it as real love, instead of a crush, but for Indians, love comes quickly and is strong and dramatic. Karan knew he was blocked from being with the girl which made him so angry that he left the country that he loves because he felt that it stifled him.
In this context one can see that when this Indian woman on Facebook asked me if we had a love marriage, it was not a light question. When I answered yes, I could feel her envy. I do not know if she was even married but the envy was of freedom — freedom to choose, freedom to love.
Posted on April 7, 2013
The term “Indian English” is a real one. It refers to the adaption of English by Indians but I should have named this post “Karan’s English” because not only does Karan speak Indian English but he has adapted his own version of that. This makes for a comical conversation at times to say the least.
I look at a different pages that listed Indian English terms and selected the ones I hear Karan use. Here they are with their American equivalents:
Because Karan is still learning English overall, he uses the words from Indian English that he is familiar with and simplifies everything else. Plus, he doesn’t talk much anyway. Most verbs he uses are in the “ing” form and he eliminates plural form. Here are some examples of things is known to say:
- When the kids are misbehaving: Coming blood. or Broke the head. = punishment (of course Karan does not do either of these things literally)
- Wash the hand = wash your hands or put the glass = put on your glasses
- I appreciate you = thank you or that was thoughtful
- how to eating = the correct way to eat something
- go to place = put something back in its place
- nothing talking = do not say anything
There are so many more but it is hard for me to remember them all. Then Karan has is own phrases that he called “opposite talking”. He uses this with the kids to play with them. If you ask for a big piece of chicken he gives you the smallest one and says “big meaning small, small meaning big”. This becomes hilarious because the kids don’t know what to say.
Another one is “chocolate” which Karan says “do you want some chocolate?” but it means punishment if they are being naughty. As I said, he never actually does what he says but the kids pay attention and it is quite amusing to see them try to figure out if Karan is really offering chocolate or if they are in trouble.
It’s hard to share in a post how amusing and interesting it can be communicating with Karan but I have tried to share a little.
Of note: Karan will probably object to my choice of photo as it appears that he is drinking beer. It is cider actually and he barely even drank any. Karan is a a body builder and therefore a purist when it comes to what he eats or drinks but I chose the photo because it shows the fun-loving side of Karan that comes out when he talks (a rare occasion).
Posted on March 23, 2013
There was this television show in the 1970s called “To Tell the Truth”. I remember watching it as a kid. In the show, there were three people all claiming to be a certain person. One of them was the person who they said they were and the other two were impostors. A panel of celebrity guests asked the contestants a series of questions and had to determine who was telling the truth, who was the “real” so and so, by their answers.
I thought of this show recently in a situation that arose in our family. If you have followed this blog then you already know that my husband Karan is not the biological father of Elsa and Marcos. The biological father, Valerio, is Dominican and although he has expressed his love for the kids from afar, has done little for them from the time they were born. Karan, on the other hand, is an active, dedicated father who both disciplines the kids and plays with them. As far as they (and the rest of the family) is concerned, Karan is their real father.
I respect the role, albeit brief, or should I say contribution, that their biological father played in my children’s’ lives. I do not talk badly of him; i honor their Dominican heritage. They even share his last name. But when we lived in the Dominican Republic, Valerio was not there for them in any way. He would visit every couple of months and take the kids out for ice-cream or a movie. The kids would come home on a high and then he would leave. Marcos would immediately become rebellious and aggressive towards Elsa, ignoring anything I said. Elsa would be mopey. Finally after struggling with the both of them for a couple of hours, their emotions would crash and Marcos, who is older and therefore more affected. would burst out sobbing. Marcos remembered when Valerio had lived with us so he felt the loss all that much more, although even then Valerio was hardly there. It broke my heart.
Every visit was the same — never enough to give them what they needed, just a glimmer of what they didn’t have. The sobs would always follow. It got to the point that I was conflicted about whether to let Valerio visit. On the one hand I felt it was his right and I did want the kids to know him, but on the other hand it seemed like unnecessary torture. Then Karan came into our lives.
Karan’s presence, the love that he poured into those children, was so healing. He gave them attention, he played with them, he made them feel worthy to be alive. Before Karan there was a part in those kids that was broken, deeply hurt. It is still there but heals more each day. The proof was that after Karan came into the family, the sobbing stopped. The kids would visit with Valerio and when the visit was over they were fine. No more rebellion; no more tears.
Still, despite everything, the decision to leave the Dominican Republic and bring the children to the United States was not an easy one. I knew I was not just separating them from their biological father but also from their culture and native language. I thought about it carefully but one of the biggest factors which influenced my decision was that Valerio was not involved in their lives, despite numerous opportunities to do so, and this lack of involvement was present even when we were together. The chance that this would change, that the occasional visits would suddenly turn into active participation in their upbringing was very slim.
Originally I thought that once Karan got his visa, we would regularly travel as a family to the Dominican Republic and that would give the kids a chance to know their culture, their native language and also for Valerio to be able to visit once in a while. But Dominican immigration law is very strict when it comes to children and divorce/custody agreements are not honored. In my case, when I divorced Valerio, I had him sign a legal agreement granting me full custody including the right to travel out of the country with the children. The United States recognizes this legal agreement as binding which is how I was able to get passports for the children without Valerio present. But Dominican immigration does not recognize an agreement that is part of a divorce. Instead, each time I travel to the Dominican Republic and wish to return to the U.S. with the kids, I need special travel documents to be permitted to pass through Dominican immigration. These documents must be drawn up by a lawyer, signed by Valerio, stamped and sealed in all sorts of places, and sent to various agencies. As part of the process, a Dominican immigration officer calls Valerio to verify by phone that the agreement was entered into willingly and then, and only then, can I go to the Dominican immigration office, with current photos of the children to be stamped and stapled to the travel permission documents which they finally release. The whole process takes two to four weeks and costs over $150.
Each time I wanted to visit the Dominican Republic with the kids I would have to do this. The travel documents are for a specific trip with specific dates so there is no way to have documents for a period of time. Not only is the process cumbersome and expensive, it is also risky. If Valerio refuses to sign the travel documents, I would be unable to leave the country, stuck in the Dominican Republic with the kids. I couldn’t risk that, especially considering that being American, I could also be extorted for money in exchange for signing the documents. Valerio’s current ‘wife’ hates me so it is not outside of possibility. No, no, no. Traveling to the Dominican Republic with the kids is out for now.
The kids have been in the United States now for nearly three years and they are flourishing. They have lost some of their Spanish but I try to keep their Domincan culture relevant for them. Valerio calls every couple of months and asks how they are doing. I tell them they’re doing well and growing bigger. I say how I hope to bring them to visit one day (not really) and Valerio, who is now on Facebook, sees pictures of the kids. We talk for about 5 minutes. That has how it has been for the last three years.
The whole concept of Valerio being in my life at all, past or present, is a sore spot for Karan. In Karan’s culture, a man does not marry into a family with children by another man. But Karan loves us so he resolves the conflict with his culture by considering my children, his. It is a wonderful solution for all of us but it is a challenge when the reality of this “other” father comes up. We have struggled with what to have the kids call Valerio. Marcos remembers him but really has no interest. Elsa is interested but has no memory of him. Finally after trying different ways of saying it like “birth father” or “first father” we just call him Valerio.
All of this came up rather recently when I got a message on Facebook from Valerio saying he was in NYC and wanted to see the kids. I was so surprised. When we were married I got him a travel visa to the United States but honestly I never expected him to use it as he could barely make it cross town to see the kids. Knowing that a trip to the Dominican Republic to visit was out of the question, I felt a strong pull to see if I could go to NY with the kids and give him a chance to see them.
The visit was to be during Spring Break from school and visiting with Valerio was only the secondary reason to go, the first being to see my brother and some business I need to take care of. Karan didn’t stand in my way of going but the whole situation was a bit awkward, culminating with a comment by Marcos that he was going to see his “real father”. Marcos didn’t mean how it came out, we were still trying to figure out what to call Valerio at that point, but it stung Karan just the same.
As it turns out, after planning and preparing for the trip, we ended up having to cancel for reasons unrelated to Valerio. I have mixed feelings about it. I am curious how Elsa and Marcos will react to Valerio after all these years but I also know the time will come, the right time. In the meanwhile, they have Karan, their real father in so many ways, that they get to spend every day with.
Posted on March 16, 2013
The image above is from our first few months together. For me it symbolizes the hope of all that is to come…
I have written before about the power of dreaming and how important it is to have dreams. I have had dreams ever since I can remember — potent dreams, prophetic dreams, romantic dreams, …soul dreams.
Imagine for a moment your heart’s desire, your deepest desire, being fulfilled. Not the superficial wants like more money or fame but the desires that give us purpose and make us feel like life is worth living. Just imagine…The act of dreaming and of pursuing one’s dreams can become so much a part of one’s life that often it isn’t considered what happens when the dreams come true.
November 23, 2012 my dream, my dream of all dreams, came true when I brought my true love, Karan, home with me to the United States.
I’m not new to dreaming, I’m a skilled dreamer, who has dreamed of and realized, several smaller dreams before this one. The dream of marrying the man I loved and bringing him to the United States was the biggest yet. All chips were in.
It has been nearly four months since Karan and I flew home together. In that time we have settled into the busy life of taking care of our family and the days have passed quickly. But in the pauses between our chores, in the calm of a Saturday breakfast or sunny day, I am struck by the reality that I have created, the achievement, the completion that is my life. Contentment followed by amazement flows through me as I take the time to see what we have now — the wait is finally over.
Few of us take the time to imagine the realization of our dreams but it is the imagining, the full visualization, that brings us closer to our dreams, to the realization as we attract it into focus. In the three years we waited for an immigration visa for Karan, I imagined in detail Karan coming to live with us in the United States. I imagined from the mundane of where he would put his things to how his presence would affect the kids. I saw him here, I willed it to be true; I prayed and I dreamed every day.
My dreams, my imagining, started before I even met Karan, for it wasn’t about a specific person but the feeling, the love, the knowing someone could give that to me.
But it was when Karan came into my life and he asked me to marry him that my dream of years before started to take on strength. For three years we waited and hoped, preparing for the worst — a second denial of a visa for Karan to the United States, while praying for the best — to be together as a family in the country that gave us the most opportunity: the United States. It would have been a blow to be denied the visa a second time, a feeling that God was against us, but I knew we would get through it somehow. No matter what the outcome, we were committed to each other so in essence my dream of true love had come true either way. Which country we lived in was just logistics.
Still, we were due, overdue, for our devotion and patience to pay off. For this reason, I wanted so desperately for Karan to be granted a visa to the United States. I wanted my home country to accept my love, to honor my choice. To believe me. So while I reminded myself that no matter what we would get through it, I dreamed harder than I had ever dreamed for this one to come true.
I have had lesser dreams come true before. The first of these dreams was to make a living using my creativity. I realized this dream by having my own business. The next dream, a bit bigger, was to live in another country and learn another language. I had hoped to make it Europe, France in particular, but it was the Dominican Republic that came into my life. One important part of dreaming is to be flexible to the core of your dream and let the rest go. In my case, the core of my dream was to experience another culture and language. In my romantic mind I wanted it to be France, and I’m certain France would have been wonderful, but my path led me to the Dominican Republic instead. I could have ignored the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic because it didn’t fit the “idea” of what my dream was, but instead I recognized that I had the opportunity to fulfill my dream on a core level.
But beneath all the other dreams was the big dream which was to find true love and live happy ever after. Sounds like a fairytale I know but I believed it to be not only possible but a dream that could come true. Like my dream of living in another country, it didn’t manifest in the way I expected, or when I expected. I waited a long time but I never gave up. So of course when Karan and I fell in love, I was never going to give up then.
So here I am, many years after the first glimmer of this dream, the dream of true love, big love — sweep you off your feet love — I have it. I wake up to it every day, I go to sleep with it every night. My dream came true and the significance of it is greater than the dream itself. It means so many things: I am worthy, I can believe, I have nothing to complain about, anything is possible. I am filled with such contentment and sense of peace that rushes in at random times. Our life is not where we want it to be yet but we made it this far, overcame so much, that we knew more dreams can come true.