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Coconut Land

Kerala Jungle

Kerala plant life

(This post was written July 22)

We’re in the state of Kerala, the southwesternmost state in India. It’s a place with a strong communist party, clean streets, and more civilized drivers than we saw in the north. Incessant horn honking does not seem to be part of daily life here–a welcome change.

The name “Kerala” translates to “land of coconuts,” and indeed there are palm trees everywhere–along with banana trees, rubber trees, and dense, tropical foliage that I can’t name. Neither Pakis nor I has ever experienced an environment like this. Reaching for parallels, my mind goes to the aviary at the North Carolina zoo, the tropical birds puzzle that my family used to do at the each, and Gilligan’s Island, the ridiculous 1970’s sitcom that my brothers and I found hilarious at the time.

We took a long drive up to Periyar, a game preserve in the “hill country” inland from Kochi. On the way we saw a lot of coffee and tea plantations. Women harvest the tea, trimming the top three leaves of new growth from bushes. Working all day, they can harvest 20 or more kilograms and get paid $2.35. That’s a living wage by Indian standards, but a tough way to earn it. I guess there are a lot of tough ways to earn a living in India.

Tea Pickers

Tea pickers taking a rest

The hill country in the central south is also where all the spices are grown. We took a tour and saw cardamom, cloves, allspice, vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, and several kinds of pepper growing. The pepper was especially interesting. It’s a vine that climbs on other trees; often it’s planted in the middle of tea fields, which have trees spaced out to serve as windbreaks.

Many of our “tours” or demonstrations, including the one at the spice planation, end with a sales pitch. We find ourselves in a place with chairs or couches and are invited to sit down and drink tea. Then they start bringing out rugs or scarves or spices and telling us about the ways the “others”–the shysters down the road–cheat everybody, whereas they themselves are totally honest purveyors of superior products. It’s all quite enticing, and you wish there were time to think, to do some comparison shopping, etc. But you’re going to be moving on to the next place and you won’t be able to return. It’s a cleverly designed system that is widely used around the world. And of course they don’t leave you alone to think clearly or talk about things, they just keep bringing out more products. At least Pakis and I have one thing going for us: we can discuss our options in Greek without them understanding. It helps a little.

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