My Husband’s Kidney Stones

Nothing can make you more aware of how lucky you are than that moment when you know a loved one is going to be fine. Sitting outside intensive care at four in the morning, praying that my husband will be okay, I realised how much I have taken health for granted for too long now. 

It was three in the morning when I woke up and my husband was in complete agony, rolling around on the floor, unable to speak. I was completely petrified. My husband never complains when he is sick, so for him to be showing this much distress, I knew it was bad. We rushed him to a nearby hospital but it was closed, thankfully the second one was open. They took him to intensive care, gave him pain relief and said we had to just wait until the doctor came. 

Unable to stay with him, I waited outside with my mother-in-law and several other people who were sleeping deeply on makeshift beds, covered in hospital blankets. When I say outside, it was literally outside, a lean-to full of old hospital beds, shoes, sleeping people and mosquitoes.  The rain crept in from outside as the early morning monsoon raged. I spent the hours promising myself that I will be more grateful for health from now on, I bargained with my own thoughts, ‘I will do anything, just let him be okay’. 

As the mosquitoes feasted on my feet, the sky changed from violet to grey, the monsoon winds calmed, the rain stopped and birds started to sing their morning chorus. The doctor suspected kidney stones but we had to wait for sonography to confirm the diagnosis. We waited and waited and waited some more. I watched a rat the size of a small dog scuttle around, I stared at drops of dried blood forming perfect circles on the floor, my stomach was in knots.  A maid came by and started to sweep, as she crouched down and swept, she spat on the floor, pulled the blankets off of the sleeping visitors and started shouting at them in Marathi. I felt the sharp pain of despair, I just wanted to see my husband, I wanted the pain to stop, for him to be healthy and to take him away from this place.

I knew that kidney stones were the most probable cause, but this didn’t stop my mind from conjured up several worse diagnoses, torturing myself with my own imagination. After almost nine hours in the hospital, we could finally go for an ultrasound which confirmed it, kidney stones. I was so happy it was kidney stones (which would have seemed a strange reaction to anyone else), I scolded myself for imagining worse. 

Two stones still in his kidney, one on his way out and the doctor suspected he had already passed a fourth one. My poor husband, apparently passing kidney stones is more painful than childbirth and to have four of them… He has been so brave and I am so proud of him. After four days in hospital, he is now back at home.

I have learnt we should always try to be grateful for our health and the health of others. Gratitude itself helps us to stay healthy. Appreciate the positive to give less importance to the negative, focus on the blessings and not the inconveniences.

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Ghana: Staying in an Orphanage

When I was seventeen I had the opportunity to go to Ghana for two weeks, that short time changed my perspective on life. A spectrum of experiences from the joy of waking up and seeing the smiles of beautiful children to standing in silence in an underground dungeon which was once full of slaves confined to darkness, a place where you can still feel the despair and sorrow lingering. 

Staying in an Orphanage

I started my journey to Ghana alone but once I landed in Accra, the capital city, I met the girls I would be sharing this experience with. Some from America and others who were also from England, we laughed about things like ‘fanny packs’ and ‘bum bags’ and how our versions of English occasionally had very different meanings.

When we went to find an internet café to tell our parents we had arrived safely, we soon got the attention of a crowd of young boys, they all started shouting ‘will you marry me, what is your name?’. It tickled me that they would propose before asking our names. My first time out of Europe, Africa was exciting, alive and colourful. The air had a different thickness and everything was bright and colourful.

child play africa ghana oranges

Ghana

We then journeyed to rural Ghana, to the orphanage where we would be staying, we arrived at night and crept under our mosquito nets, wondering what tomorrow had in store for us. I stayed awake most of the night, worrying about the giant spiders I had heard so much about.

When we woke up we were ambushed by sixty or more smiling orphans, all of them were just as excited to see us as we were them. After meeting everyone and playing with the children, we all then took it in turns to shower outside in the small cubical next to the stone hut we were staying in.

Ghana kids

smily sister ghana

This was my first bucket shower. I had to collect water from the well and then methodically wash my body with it, and in that same bucket I washed my clothes. I struggled with the weight of the bucket full of water and noticing that I was wobbling and dropping most of the water on the ground, one of the young boys too it from my hand and swiftly popped it on his head and walked to the cubical with ease. I was ashamed at my weakness and touched by his kindness.

bucket shower Ghana

We spend our days playing with the children and fixing up the classrooms which the orphanage used to teach the orphans and other local children. The classrooms were simple and make of planks of wood, many of which had fallen off, so we hammered them back on and painted the place white. After this, we tried our hand at teaching the youngest children about hygiene.

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The son of the owner of the orphanage came to us one day and announced he wanted to marry an American lady with very small eyes. I had mixed feelings about him and his father, I once looked through one of the children’s school books to see what lessons they were being taught, on one page in the spidery handwriting on an eight year old it said ‘white people are good because they have money, people with money are good, I pray that [owner of the orphanage] will become very rich’.

I heard from other volunteers that any gifts to the children were often taken away and sold, and the children were made to pray at five in the morning, praying for the owner to become very rich and if they didn’t they were punished. To further tarnish my opinion of him, he also made his wife sleep outside on the floor whilst he slept comfortably in his bed. All this aside, he had taken these children in and they were fed, clothed and given an education, the owner was doing good work nevertheless. I tried to calm my sensibilities by concentrating on all the good he has done. 

beautiful Ghana girl big eyes

The children had been rescued from destitution and given a safe place to live, their beautiful smiles, laughter and kindness will always stay with me.

I will forever wonder whether the son got his American wife with very small eyes…

Next time: The Slave Castle

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Packing your life into one suitcase

Well, I couldn’t bring my collection of Vogue magazines or my stone Buddha to India. I had to distill the processions I had accumulated over twenty-four years down to a single suitcase. Here are several of the sentimental things I brought to India with me…

Postcard of my favourite painting from my favourite museum

I have so many happy memories of the Ashmolean museum in Oxford, I brought a postcard of my favourite painting in museum, a painting by Frederick Sandys.  The painting is called Gentle Spring, there is just something about it that I love. The woman is not traditionally attractive but strangely beautiful.

The first time I visited the Ashmolean I was about ten, it was on a school trip to see the exhibits from Ancient Egypt, I remember being fascinated by the dainty and delicate amulets, thousands of years old but still in beautiful condition, only inches away from my face pressed up against the glass. The deep blue of the lapis lazuli trinkets and smooth scarab beetles. After that, I visited this museum many times, each time finding something new to marvel at.

I use my Gentle Spring postcard as a bookmark, so I see it everyday.

Frederick Sandys Gentle Spring Postcard Oxform Ashmolean museum

Stereotypical souvenirs from my birth place

I spent a couple of hours roaming Bath in the days before boarding my one way flight to India, thinking about the past and the things I would miss about England. I bought some of Baths healing waters and a Christmas tree decoration with the Gorgon’s’ face on it (the Gorgon’s face was at the entrance on the ancient Roman temple to Athena, found in the center of modern-day Bath).

water bath city gorgon healing

My elephant family and romantic giraffes from Ghana

On my first trip abroad without my family, I travelled to Ghana to volunteer in an orphanage. The experience changed my life and I am reminded of the lessons I learnt in Africa by the little hand craved animals I brought back with me.

wooden elephants from ghana africa family

 

kissing giraffes ghana africa wooden romantic

My favourite perfume

Even though I am no longer a mademoiselle (an unmarried women in French), coco mademoiselle is my all time favourite scent. Smell is so powerful, it can bring back hundreds of feelings and memories in an instant. When I am feeling a little low, I put a little on my wrist and instantly feel a little better.

chanel perfume coco mademoiselle scent

My great-grandmother Japanese musical jewelry box

I couldn’t part with the beautiful music box, I was worried how it would travel but luckily it arrived in India still in one piece. Inside are a couple of my favourite pieces of jewelry. It is painted beautifully, inside and out, and the edges are laced with mother of pearl.

japanese music box jewelry ornate heirloom

Photographs

Last but not least, photographs. Photos of family, friends and events; sometimes they make me feel a little sad because I am so far away but usually they make me smile.

family photographs past memories love

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The Jungle Book: Our Tiger Safari

When my family were in India, we drove to the nearby Pench National Reserve (Nagpur) hoping we would be lucky enough to spot some wild tigers. We jumped into an open jeep, provided with (really cool) hats and drove into the jungle…

Tigers are one of the most iconic and beautiful creatures on Earth, but also one of the animals most at risk of extinction. India has more than half of the world’s tiger population but because of poaching, that figure is less than fifteen hundred. In the last century, the population of wild tigers has dropped by 97%. 

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Ready to go!

Pench jungle inspired Rudyard Kipling’s famous series of children’s books, the Jungle Book. Pench is still home to all the characters from the stories; sloth bears (Baloo), panthers (Bagheera),  pythons (Kaa), monkeys, wolves, vultures and of course, Royal Bengal tigers (Shere Khan). Walt Disney’s adaptation of the book was one of my favourite movies when I was a child, and to think I now live next to the scene of the Jungle Book, it is surreal.

It was a hot day, the beautiful jungle buzzed with the sounds of birds, monkeys and unknown animals, it was an adventure.

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We saw many beautiful peacocks

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Sambar deer

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Spotted deer

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Pench lake

To our surprise, there were so many villages in the jungle (known as ‘man village’ in the Jungle Book), as we were looking for tigers, people were walking around, living their lives, whilst wearing brightly coloured sarees.

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The sun started to dip down behind the trees, we would soon be making our way back. We enjoyed our safari but were all a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see any tigers and started to plan our next trip, next time my family came to India we would see some tigers.

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After hours of driving around, seeing some of the most beautiful wildlife, dusk fell and the air became electric. A storm started to brew, as we watched two male peacocks fighting over a disinterested female, large drops of rain started to fall (remember, we were in an open jeep). Purple lightning shot across the grey sky, smashing it into pieces. Our jeep creeped into a different type of jungle, leaving the silhouettes of tall thin trees behind and entering a forest of bamboo.

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A few minutes later, our guide became excited, a small flash of orange appeared, nestled into the thick bamboo.  A Royal Bengal tiger, it was difficult to see him but there he was, sitting there, looking out of the window of his bamboo house. As the warm rain started to fall harder, something magical happened.

The tiger rose up and took three big strides out of the bamboo thicket and into the open, he then stood and basked in the rain with his eyes closed and face held up to the open heavens. He stayed there for a couple of moments, enjoying the relief after the scorching day. So majestic and so beautiful. He then looked around and plotted back into the bamboo. It was a precious couple of moments that we were lucky to experience.

tiger rain

The beautiful tiger, unfortunately the camera decided to focus on the rain drops instead of the beautiful tiger

The next day, on the cover of the Times of India there was an article about a villager who had been eaten by a rogue Royal Bengal tiger, not far from where we had been.  That same day we were out in the middle of the jungle, meters away from one of these majestic but dangerous animals in an open top jeep. It made a shiver go down my spine.

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How to make your own sindoor (kumkum)

I wear sindoor everyday, I love it, but lately I have started to have concerns. What is in that scarlet power I wear on my head everyday? Well, it could be something really toxic in there. Synthetic dyes can cause hair loss, I have seen a couple of aunties with sindoor bald patches, and someone like me, who already has a high forehead, really doesn’t need that!

More worryingly, some commercial brands of sindoor contain lead oxide (a dangerous neurotoxin) and mercury sulphate (which can cause skin cancer). These things can not only be harmful for the women wearing the sindoor, if she falls pregnant, these chemicals can also harm her unborn child.

No, I am not pregnant, but it is something to think about. Whilst I know that there are trusted brands of sindoor avaliable, I thought it would be a lovely idea to start making my own. I have found several recipes but I have decided to make my own, with my own little touch, replacing water with fragrant rose water. 

Rose sindoor

You will need:

  • 1 part turmeric
  • 1 part calcium hydroxide (a white powder), also known as pickling lime or chuna, available in India and overseas.
  • Rose water (alternatively, you can just use water)
  • Rose petals (optional)

Mix the turmeric and calcium hydroxide together, then add the rose water until the colour changes from orange to brick red. As simple as that, your homemade sindoor is ready to apply! 

tumeric rose indian spices ingredients healthyhomemade sindoor home made non-toxic natural rose kumkum vermillion

The more calcium hydroxide you use, the deeper the red colour. I didn’t use too much of it because whilst it is non toxic when applied externally, it can cause skin irritation if it is too concentrated.

Once the paste dries it does return to orange, you can then mix it with a little more rose water (or water) and it will return to the natural red colour and will be ready to apply.

sindoor homemade bindi love hinduism smile kajal mangalsutra

I think it is a nice touch to store your rose sindoor with rose petals, ready for the next time.

sindoor rose silver love hinduism

Alfonso likes the smell of the roses…

baby pug flowers rose smell cute puppy adorable

If you don’t fancy making your own, you can buy Shahnaz Husain Shabride, a herbal sindoor containing herbs and flowers such as hibiscus, marigolds and sunflower.

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