Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dinner at Nazar's home

Nazar is a man who works with boats in the marina.  He has been working with cruising boats for years, long before this marina opened almost a year ago.   Before the marina was built, Nazar used to greet boats when they anchored in front of the Malabor Hotel to clear into Cochin.  Now that the marina is open, he rarely is available to personally greet arriving yachts in the quarantine anchorage in front of the Malabor Hotel because he is busy at the marina.   So, being in job competitive true Indian spirit, another man now calls himself Nazar and rushes to greet arriving yachties -- effectively stealing business away from the original Nazar.  Competitiveness to the Nth degree!  We, as well as most of the other cruisers, were roped in by who we now call Skinny Nazar when we first arrived.  Skinny Nazar did a fairly good job of taking care of yachtie needs.  Heck, he even rented us the SIM card from his cell phone when we first arrived; a huge benefit which I will describe farther down in this posting.  And he handled our first few loads of laundry.  His prices were very reasonable.  Later, in the marina, we met the original Nazar, whom we have affectionately dubbed Fat Nazar.  He really isn't that heavy but we needed a way to distinguish between the 2 men with the same name.

Fat Nazar is a jewel.  Just about anything you might need done, he can help you find it or do it.  Need a doctor; he's your man.  Need propane; he will take you to the right place.  Want to take a tour; he knows who to call.  Need boat washed, polished or waxed; he doesn't really do much of that -- but his son Nazam does great work at bargain labor rates.  If Nazam is busy then Nazar will find someone else to do the job on your timetable.  All of us who were hijacked by Skinny Nazar soon switched allegiances to Fat Nazar.  He is our go-to man for India.

Nazar  invited all the cruisers in the marina to his home for the mid-day meal on Monday this week.  At least, he invited all the cruisers who were here last Friday to come to his home for a meal on Monday.  People from 2 boats were still out touring northern India and returned over the weekend, so they missed out on the invitation for a home-cooked traditional Indian meal.

Shortly before 13:00 on Monday afternoon Nazar started rounding up all of us and directing us to his small boat.  His home is over on the island of Fort Kochi and he was providing the transportation.  Crews from VAGABOND, ESTRELLITA, ESPER and BeBe climbed into the small boat.  We were all a tiny bit concerned about exceeding the prudent passenger weight limit for Nazar's small boat with 9 people aboard; but he drove slowly and we made the trip just fine.  In fact, on the way back we stopped and picked up 3 more people on S/V ESPRIT to give them a ride back to their boat in the quarantine anchorage.

Nazar lives in a typical local home.  There is a dark, close opening from the street that leads into a large open rectangular courtyard of sorts.  The close dark opening creates an almost constant breeze from the sun-heated stone streets and buildings on all sides.  Homes open to the courtyard on 3 sides, but not from the street side; that side was just blank walls that were the rear walls for the small businesses fronting the street.  Everything is tightly spaced together and the streets are very narrow, as one might expect from a place built hundreds of years ago.  Of course, all buildings are constructed from stone or concrete.   Inside the courtyard residents had built small wooden structures and cages that housed chickens and birds and whatever they did not want inside their homes.  Cats were everywhere.  The cats here are a very small variety.  Nazar was shocked to see the size of some of the cats on some cruising boats.  The local cats weight maybe 3-4 pounds.  Some of these cruising cats weigh in at 17 pounds.

Nazar and his family live in a modest home.  A British cruising couple helped them buy this home several years ago.  This British couple also paid for medical treatment for Nazar at one time.  He refers to them as his God Parents.  Nazar is a Christian and like to talk with western cruisers about 'Sweet Jesus' as he calls Him.  His son, Nizam, is a Muslim.  We were surprised to see an inter-faith family of these particular 2 religions, but the vast majority of Indians accept all faiths.  India must be the heart of spirituality because I think every religion in the world is represented here.  Here in the state of Kerala there appears to be harmony among the various believers, except for foreign influence that does appear to be a growing problem if one reads the local English-version newspapers.  It is reported that "foreign made videos" are illegally imported and show things (whether true or untrue) that cause dissension and ill-will with one of the religions.  I'll let our readers decipher for themselves which religion is trying to cause the problems and wants to take over everyone.  (Correction:  Found out just before we left the marina that Nazar is also a Muslim.  He has picture of Christ in his home and talks about Jesus freely; maybe in honor of his Christian God Parents.  There is no discernible bias against Christians here.)

Nazar's family (most likely his wife or daughters) had prepared several large bowls of chicken briyani -- my favorite Indian dish, although I also do love mushroom masala.  This briyani was much, much less spicy that I am accustomed to in restaurants.  They probably went really light on the spices since they were serving westerners.  The briyani included raisins, which is also a departure from what most restaurants serve.  It was very good.  It was served with a tamarind sweet sauce and red onions marinated in some white liquid and seasoned with tiny slices of a very hot pepper.  I really liked this but could not understand what they called it.

Since they were feeding westerners, they served the briyani on plates and provided forks or spoons.  Normally, this rice dish would be eaten off banana leaves with one's fingers.  That is the typical way of eating here.  Which brings to mind the unusual way the Indians have of drinking liquids.  Most people never let the glass or bottle touch their lips.  They tilt their heads back and literally pour the liquid into their mouths and down their throats.  I would gag if I tried that, but they are quite comfortable drinking in that manner.  And that is more hygienic and leaves the glass or bottle edge clean in case someone else wants to share the drink.

After the meal Nazar brought out his photo albums of his family and some of the cruisers he has met over the years.  Please realize that very few cruisers traditionally stop in Cochin, so his photos as very special to him.   Bill & Amy on ESTRELLITA had been to Nazar's home previously, so they knew that his photo albums were getting a bit tired and worn.  They had brought a large new photo album as a host/hostess gift -- intended as a gift from all of us.  We also had brought a small bag of assorted gifts.

Nazar's youngest son is 8-years-old.  His name is Nazir.  Probably there is some cultural connection between the names:  father Nazar, eldest son Nizam, and youngest son Nazir.  Unfortunately, Nazar's English is not that good and there was no way to get an explanation of how the names of the males in the family are decided upon.  The language spoken here is called Malayalayam.  I can't even say that.  Just too many syllables for my tongue to handle together.  Our grab bag of goodies contained a DVD for the family and a DVD for the child, plus numerous American snack foods -- Cha-Chos (Doritos), Oreos, vanilla cream-filled cookies, lemon cream-filled cookies, peanut butter-filled crackers and cheese filled crackers, plus a large bag of Hershey's Kisses.  All were a hit both with little Nazir and big brother Nizam.  Nizam especially liked the Cha-Chos.  The next day when Nizam was waxing our boat I gave him a taste of plain nachos made from Cha-Chos and jalapenos and cheddar cheese.  All 3 food items were new to him.  He really liked the nachos, especially the jalapenos.  That was a new "chili" to him and he savored the taste.  BTW, other American foods that we have introduced to locals have been banana bread and devil's food cake with fudge icing and toasted pecans.  All have been big hits with everyone who has tasted our strange foods.

As we were walking back out of the courtyard we paused to look at some baby chicks in a cage on the ground.  All the tiny chicks were painted -- bright pink, bright green, bright yellow and a dull odd color.  Due to the language barrier, we were unable to understand why these chicks had been painted.  Or, at least they looked painted to us; I cannot imagine the feathers on any chickens naturally being this color.

As we were trooping back to the dock area I snapped this photo of a few women walking down the street.  This shows how narrow the streets are.  And the other photo shows the interior of a "supermarket" in Fort Kochi.  Not much for us to buy in this store.  I never, never buy anything in the open burlap bags; and that is how most things like rice and spices are sold locally.  I am afraid of bringing insects onto the boat, so we skip buying in these type stores.

Nazar dropped us back at the marina.  It was very generous of him to invite all of us to his home and to share a meal with us.

Nizam has been cleaning and polishing our boat for several days.  His labor rate is only about $11 USD per day and he is a good worker.  We don't really need all this done since the boat will get filthy again during transport up the Red Sea with desert sands constantly blowing, but this provides income to a hard-working local young man. 

As I said earlier, Nizam is a Muslim.  He got to know the crew of QUEST quite well when they were docked in this marina with the Blue Water Rally boats last month. The morning we all learned of the murders of the QUEST crew at the hands of the Somali pirates, Nazam was visibly shaken by the news.
 He said, "America does bad things.  America did a bad thing now.  American should not have taken any Somali pirates back to the American ships.  The Americans should have killed them all right then.  No take back to trial.  Kill them all right then.  America did a bad thing to let these pirates live.  They are bad men."

So, okay, all you folks who went on and on about the QUEST carrying Bibles.  This is a Muslim talking and he thought Scott and Jean were wonderful good people and had no problem with their religion or the fact that they had Bibles on their boat.  

Explanation of why Skinny Nazar loaning us a SIM card was so convenient.   It provided us with communication capability until we could figure out transportation and place to buy our own.  Many countries are now making it more difficult to purchase SIM cards both for cell phones and for 3G data modems.  After the terrorists attacked Mumbai and the Indian authorities learned of all their communications on locally purchased SIM cards, more stringent laws were enacted.  In order to purchase a SIM card one must not only show your original passport but must also provide the store with a copy of your passport, a copy of your visa page and entry stamp, AND a passport photo.   We have been told that France has even more stringent laws and that it is next to impossible to purchase a SIM card there without 3 months of local utility bills in your name, as well as providing passports, etc.  I cannot fault these countries for their efforts to thwart terrorism, but it a small hassle for cruising folks.

This extra paperwork required in India is not a problem for us because, like most cruising boats, we have a scanner/printer on board.  We get passport photos taken at least once a year (usually during our home visit to Houston since it is easier when you speak the local language).  We then scan the newest passport photo or visa photo.  We carry photo printing paper on board BeBe.  So it is very easy for us to print as many visa photos or passport photos as needed.   If you are planning to start cruising, consider a scanner/printer to be a necessity these days.  And bring plenty of printer cartridges, at least enough to last until your next trip home to purchase more.  We vacuum seal the printer cartridges to prevent deterioration in the salt air, and they last several years.

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