Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas shopping

Greg and I found a half-decent looking artificial tree at the newest "hypermarket" in Hyderabad. It was pricey, but, well, it was either that or decorating our "Budda bamboo" tree. We decided with Greg's family in town for the holidays, we better not make it too different of a Christmas. After all, I have yet to find a church with a Christmas Eve service (most are Christmas morning), and it is 80 degrees during the day. Couple that with stores not having all the decorations or Christmas music blaring and, well, it doesn't really "feel" like Christmas. Hence the artificial tree.

I was unfolding it this morning and realized my lights are all 110V. The options were to (a) figure out how to move the tree close to the transformer or (b) see if local stores had Christmas tree lights. A coworker told me to go to Begum Bazaar -- an area of town where people sell wholesale and retail -- that if it weren't available there, it wouldn't be available in Hyderabad. After Greg's sister got settled and had lunch, we adventured out.

The Bazaar is what one might imagine third world shopping districts as: lots of small lanes with lots of small shops and shops selling the same thing all clustered together. Our car could barely make its way through the narrow streets clogged with merchandise flowing out of the shops, people, autos, bicylces, cycle-rickshaws (!), and the occasional stray animal of various sorts. Given that my office and home are in posh parts of town, I rarely have this kind of shopping experience.

First, we had to figure out which lane the Christmas stuff was on. My driver was hesitant, but I asked him to just venture in and ask around. After driving first through the plastic bucket lane and then past the tricylce/bicycle lane, he stopped at a ribbon store (so many options for trimming a sari!) to ask. They pointed us further down the street we were on and told us to turn left "at the stars." We weren't exactly sure what that meant, but we went with the flow. (note: sadly, mostly Hindi/Urdu was spoken in this area ... only about half the people spoke Telugu, so I needed my driver's help!)

After passing by more ribbon stores and some garden pot stores, we saw some Christmas garland hanging from a store and - sure enough - there were large paper stars hung on wires across the lane. We looked down the lane and saw three or four stores with Christmas stuff and decided we were in the right place. Tracy, Patrick and I hopped out while Krishna drove off to see if he could find some place large enough to pull the Xylo off the side of the road.

Our purchases: garland for the front porch and ornaments to decorate it; a large gold paper star to put over our front light bulb (note: 10 Rs and a call by Sarwary to the building electrician dropped the light bulb one foot so the star cover could be put over the bulb); ribbon to decorate the recently sewn Christmas stockings; and - hooray! - Christmas tree lights!

Pickings were slim and not "export quality" per se, but it was fun to comb through tiny stores to see what was available. We passed on the styrofoam Christmas cut outs, the 10 year old Santa suit, and the really gaudy garland and decorations. It might have been fun to have a "tacky Christmas," but as already mentioned, we had decided to try and be somewhat traditional this year.

Since Patrick was still asleep in the sling, we poked around the lane a little bit and found a bonus store: one selling tin baking items. It had all kinds of cake pans and molds; many reminded me of the old jello molds in my grandma's kitchen. I was tempted to buy a snowman or santa, but opted instead for an airplane for William's birthday next year. Then, we noticed they had a few cookie cutters out ... the guy poked around a bit for us, and finally found a Christmas-themed set. So, I now have a snowman, Christmas tree, candy cane, and holly leaf - all of which I realized I lacked when I baked sugar cookies on Monday. Score!

On the way home, we drove past a tea stall and I asked Krishna why only men were ever in the tea houses. He said it was because they were Irani tea houses (as if that explained everything?). Tracy and I were still perplexed, so I asked if women can't drink Irani tea. He said they could, but only in their cars or auto - not in the tea house. As you can expect, we then asked him to go get us two teas! It was sweet and milky and accompanied by Osmania biscuits, a famous local sugar-shortbread cookie. Quite a tasty treat (especially for Rs. 16 for the two of us) after a busy shopping experience.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hathi meera sathi!

I don't know many phrases in Hindi. Those that I do know tend to be limited to the same ten questions commonly asked at work. Though I could probably conduct the interview questions in Hindi by this point, I still don't understand the answers - so I'll stick to Telugu.

William, however, is starting to pick up quite a bit of Hindi because (a) Greg has been telling Sarwary and Shabana he really does want them to speak Hinid with him (they didn't believe him at first) and (b) his new school is much more multi-lingual (English, Telugu and Hindi).

Over the weekend, a friend brought a pillow with an elephant on it for Patrick. It has various words for elephant printed on it, and she taught William the phrase "hathi meera sathi" (the elephant is my friend). Visitors and webcam chatters have told us William has an Indian accent when speaking English. I have no idea how his Hindi accent is, but I can't help but smile every time I hear him say "hathi meera sathi;" he adds a little sing-song to make it poem-like. This is one Hindi phrase I'll always remember!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cloth Diapers

We're using cloth diapers with Patrick. Technology on this front has progressed a lot in 22 years since my youngest sister wore them; just google "BumGenius 3.0" and you can see for yourself. It's as simple as putting on Pampers, thanks to velcro. Spraying the solids off the diaper takes a little extra effort, but thankfully all our toilets here have a little sprayer next to them.

My initial impetus to use cloth diapers was that I didn't want to have to remember to continually order diapers online - the local brands aren't very good and the import Pampers and Huggies are super expensive. So, cloth seemed an easy alternative, especially since we have Sarwary and Shabu to help with the washing! I did the math (no surprise) and figure the break-even point was between 6 and 9 months, depending how many vacations we took where we would use disposables. Given that William wasn't potty trained until after two years, a financial incentive also presented itself.

This week, the main benefit of using cloth dawned on me. Our garbage removal service at the apartment building has, for some reason unknown to me or anyone I've asked, stopped. Thus, all the household help now must take the garbage out. And, with lack of municipal garbage collection service, all the trash is now flung over the fence of the empty plot at the end of our block. I'm now quite happy we have cloth, because otherwise every time I turned onto our lane, I'd have to think of all the rotting poopy diapers of Patrick's. Super gross.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Birth + Death

No, no deaths to report. "Birth + Death" is what was scrawled across the top of the office where I had to apply for Patrick's local birth certificate. "Office" is a very generous term for the Ward 4A Circle 8 birth and death registration location. What this place actually consisted of is two pieces of plywood cordoning off a section of a run down stairwell. Inside the "office" is a rickety table, two rickety chairs, piles of papers, and two city employees. No phones, no computers, no nothing that looks official. Outside the "office" are five plastic chairs and an old desk with an oil cloth covering that looks like it was affixed in 1936.

How would one know this is the appropriate place to register your newborn (or your dead relative)? Well, a kindergardener kindly took some red paint and scrawled "BIRTH + DEATH" across the top of the plywood entrance. Really, I kid you not. Check back soon for pictures. Oh, yeah, I forgot the two other signs. The first is (in Telugu, though the people in the office mostly speak Hindi since it's the Muslim area of town) a 15 year old city government sponsored poster touting the benefits of a birth certificate (not everyone has one here). The second is an A4 size printed piece of paper with the words: "Timings: 10:30 - 2" and a list of the four hospitals which this particular ward office services.

Stay tuned for the next post of our actual experience at Birth + Death. It's too much to combine.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

William wants to help

William seems to be adjusting just fine to having a little brother around. Two examples:

1. He came into my room one morning when I was pumping some milk for freezer storage ... and when I was done he picked up the pump, turned it back on, put it on his belly button, and said he was going to make some milk for Patrick, too. Umm... yeah. I tried to explain that only mamas can make milk ... but he wouldn't be dissuaded. So, we sat there for a few minutes until William said his (pretend) milk bag was full and ready to be put into the freezer, too. At least he loves his brother, even if he doesn't quite have the biology down yet.

2. He had a playdate today with a coworker's daughter. She recently got a small doll, because her mother is pregnant and they want her to get used to talking about having a baby around (hmmm- that would have been a good idea, had I thought about it!). At one point, when she put the doll down, William picked it up along with one of Patrick's burp cloths. He put the cloth on his shoulder, rested the baby on top of the cloth, and started walking around slowly patting the doll's back. Maybe we still should get William a doll so that way he's not so adamant about wanting to hold the *real* baby!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Successful Thanksgiving!

As you know from your diligent reading of this blog, we never know what we'll end up with here. It was therefore with much trepidation that I ordered a turkey and invited seven people over for dinner. My back up plan if the turkey was a disaster? Sending the driver out for multiple rotisserie chickens. Thankfully, we didn't have to resort to such drastic measures!

A few weeks ago, the import grocery store had a sign up to order turkeys for the holidays. Somehow time got away from me (that pesky baby!) and I didn't manage to get myself there until the Friday before Thanksgiving. The meat counter guy said he'd call me on Monday when our turkey came in. Monday came and went with no phone call ... so Tuesday evening I went to the store. The guy looked confused, but after some running around, eventually pulled out a 6.5kg (14 lbs) bird from a deep freezer. I still think I may have taken home someone else's bird!

Turkey in hand, I thought I was home-free. Wednesday, I set out to bake four pies - a simple procedure for someone accustomed to baking at least nine! Unfortunately, after being on for four hours, my little "Barbie" oven (as a coworker affectionately calls it, since it's only slightly larger than a toy oven she played with as a kid) started making funny noises. The pies were finished, but the first batch of yeast rolls failed.

Thankfully, my neighbor (coworker) was not using his oven for Thanksgiving, so Thursday morning we sent the turkey over there, with my mom running over to his apartment every 15 minutes or so to baste. His Barbie oven worked wonderfully, though the temperature was so uneven, the turkey was done an hour faster than expected!

Friends showed up, dishes were warmed (my oven could handle that task), and a delicious dinner was had. Except for the minor oven drawback, everything went very smoothly - quite unbelievable, actually! It was almost like we weren't even in India (until we were very thankful for Sarwary and Shabana staying late to help with the dishes!).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

God is Great!

Sarwary is continually telling me this for things big and small. She is happy to work for a family that lives so close to her house: God is Great. William is happy at his new school: God is Great. Patrick is born a boy and healthy: God is Great.

This morning, though, she had true reason to tell me. Her husband had been missing since Saturday afternoon. From what I gather from the story, he drank some bad home-brewed liquor and it made him a little crazy. Saturday afternoon he left the house at 2, and when she got home at 3, no one knew where he was ... and for five days there was no sign of him. Some husbands come and go (especially when liquor is involved), but her's never had. She admitted he would go out drinking, but said he always returned by 9 the next morning for work (he would wait to come home until after she left for work to avoid the inevitable scolding from her).

For as wonderful as Sarwary is for our family, I have found it difficult this last year to hear about her husband. She never brought it up, since that's not appropriate in the employer-employee relationship ... but out of curiosity, I asked once what her husband was doing - and got her honest answer. Were we in the US, where a single woman with a good paying job wouldn't need a dead weight husband, her life would be so different. But, we're not in the US. We're in India. And she's not part of the upper class where some cultural norms are starting to erode.

Thus, a missing husband to her is life-changing, and not in a good way. Even if her husband was half drunk all the time, at least he was home -- that was enough to keep people in the neighborhood from talking about her and her children and enough to keep people with bad intentions away from her house.

For instance, on Day Four of the missing husband, Sarwary had to go to my office to complete her security interview. Naturally, she wore one of her best saris. She was near tears when she arrived in the morning because someone in the neighborhood said something to the effect of: "your husband has only been gone four days and you're already dressing up." Say nothing of the fact that after work she would spend a few hours (and her hard earned money) getting a friend or an auto driver to take her around to different neighborhoods to look for him.

Greg and I, honestly, feared the worst, especially because of the possibility of her being left in limbo since you can't be a widow if a dead husband never surfaces. After all, what good can come of a person who was half crazy being missing for so long? It is so easy to overlook the people on the side of the road - between poverty, mental illness, people who don't want to be found, etc, finding one person amongst the many really is like finding a needle in a haystack. But through all this, Sarwary kept telling me, "God is Great," and her husband would come home. Her faith in these two simple tenets seemed so simple - and also like she would be set up for disappointment. If he didn't come home, what would she do?

The story, from the blog title, has a (relatively) happy ending. Yesterday I told her to go home early to start her search - she was hesitant (not wanting to lose her job), but I reassured her it was more important at this point for her to take care of her own family. As she was leaving, her brother in law who works in Saudi called; she took this as a good omen and set off with determination.

I could tell from the moment she stepped in our house this morning that her prayers had come true and that her God was still Great. She found him in a town about 20 KM (12 miles) from her house; how he got there is a mystery, since he left with no money. He was covered in mosquito bites and wearing a different shirt. It sounds like a friend who lives that direction had helped spread the word he was missing, and some tile-cutter told her husband to stay put in front of his workshop until Sarwary could come out to check if this bedraggled man was the missing one.

Her husband will stay with his mother for a week to recover - and I told her to take him to a doctor to make sure he doesn't have any of the various mosquito-borne illnesses. Tellingly, people in her neighborhood who had started to gossip about her, last night came to her house to offer their thanks that her prayers had been answered; her position in society was restored. God is Great.

What am I doing these days?

No posts on the blog, so you must think I'm really busy. Busy is relative. Patrick is doing well on the sleeping front - if I wake him up to feed him before we go to sleep around 9:30 or 10, then he'll usually wake up twice between then and 6AM. Usually, in this instance, means that's what he's been doing for the last week. And, he's only three weeks old, so all is subject to change!

During the day, I might cook with Sarwary (we've made some spinach soup and tried falafel from scratch which means from dried chickpeas and beans), I might go for coffee (I've expanded my knowledge of HYD coffee shops!), or I might just read -- all activities interspersed with feeding Patrick. I pick up William from school, eat lunch, and take a nap with Patrick and William (thankfully their afternoon naps are currently concurrent!). We all wake up and play for a bit (my mom playing with William, me feeding Patrick - notice any trends here?), then Greg comes home from work and we eat dinner. Another hour of play time, then William goes to bed ... then an hour of adult conversation, some reading, and we go to bed!

In short, not much different happens day to day, and the rhythm depends on how Patrick feeds and sleeps. William is generally in a good mood and "plays" well with Patrick about 90% of the time -- about the best we can ask for! Hopefully soon I'll have some deep thoughts to share, but for now you'll have to see if Greg can come up with any cultural insights or pithy posts for your enjoyment.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Though each child is of course unique, it's hard to resist comparing them, especially when Patrick is such an unknown entity at this point. Face it, babies don't have much of a personality when they're less than two weeks old. We like to think of it as the "blob" phase, where all they do is eat and sleep, with occasional periods of alertness. So, here are some observations of what we remember of William at this age and how Patrick is shaping up.

1. Patrick is not a ghost baby. This is a good thing! William was so fair, we constantly worried about him getting sunburned, which was stressful because the pediatrician said not to use sunscreen until he was 6 months old. Patrick's skin tone is darker than mine, so hopefully he'll take after Greg and tan rather than burn immediately.

2. Patrick spits up. A lot. Burp cloths were a nice accessory for William; we could use the same one for days on end "just in case." I think we go through about 3 or 4 a day with Patrick. But, no worries, it's just regular baby spit up. No one is concerned about digestion issues.

3. Patrick has really long fingers and toes. If he were a girl, he'd be all set for ballet since his second toe is longer than his big toe (good for pointe shoes!). He's not a girl, though, so perhaps he'll like playing the piano ... put those long fingers to a good use! William just seemed to have normal length digits.

4. Like William, Patrick naps better on his tummy - preferably when his tummy is on my tummy. He doesn't like being on his back unless he's at a 10+ degree angle - otherwise he seems to spit up more (which, obviously, wakes him up and makes him mad!). Case in point: he just woke up as I was typing this (I had put him in his baby basket on his back), cried until I picked him up, proceeded to spit up, and then went back to sleep on my shoulder.

5. Patrick has less hair, and it looks blonde-ish now. I was always surprised how much hair William had and that it never fell out. Patrick looks a little bit more like the baby pictures of me and my sisters - just a little fuzz on top! Only time will tell if he will be a chunky baby (like me, Beth and Nancy) or a skinny baby (like Greg and William).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Important education for William

Greg seems slightly concerned that William is lacking education on a key front: US sports. He (Greg) repeatedly reminds me that when he was William's age, he already knew the helmets for the pro-football teams. I tried convincing Greg that William knows other useful things (like being able to distinguish the sound of the water truck engine from an auto truck engine, thereby being able to determine if it is worth it to run to the window to watch - he likes the water truck because it stops outside our building, but auto trucks generally motor by too quickly for him to get to the window in time), but Greg didn't buy my argument.

As a result, we spent time with William this morning on two important tasks:

1. Reading the sports page of our local paper. This means William will learn the key cricket players since, of the three pages in the sports section, fully two are devoted to cricket. We'll see how long it takes for William to recognize the faces of the Master Blaster (aka Sachin Tendulkar) and MS Dhoni, India's top two players. Or how long it takes him to identify the uniforms of the various national teams (today we talked about India, Pakistan and Australia).

2. Even more important, learning how to make the "hook 'em horns" sign with his hand. William only recently has had enough small motor control to hold up more than his thumb or first finger. Holding up the first and pinky finger simultaneously was quite a challenge, but after about 20 minutes he was almost there. I think he should have it perfected by the time Nana and Grandpa Bob visit in December - Gmo and Grandpa Tod will have to help him practice when they visit.


You may not know what Bee-bo means or maybe you've forgotten
It's just the tiny hippo way of saying ... BELLY BUTTON!
(from Sandra Boyton's Belly Button Book)

Patrick's belly button made its appearance today. I'm pretty happy - it was kind of getting stinky. I don't remember William's umbilical stump being that smelly just before falling off, but perhaps that was an inconsequential detail with everything else going on when we had our first 8-day-old-baby.

Sarwary asked what we did with the stump -- I said we just put it in the trash. After all, it's kind of gross! With William, I considered putting it in a baggie and putting it in his baby box, but Greg promptly vetoed that idea as disgusting. After all, who wants to look at an umbilical stump one or thirty years later?

Sarwary told me two things that some Indians do. I have no idea how wide-spread these practices are - if it's just amongst her small community or a wider cultural phenomenon. After all, umbilical stumps aren't exactly a common topic of conversation.

1. Rather than throw it in the trash, the preferred method of disposal is to find a mouse-hole and put it in there. I'm not sure why it's better for a mouse to presumably eat the stump than have it burnt in the trash, and neither is Sarwary ... but, nonetheless, she says that's what they did for her three kids.

2. Sometimes, a woman who is having trouble conceiving will swallow the stump (umm... yeah... didn't really want to know that!). Sarwary was very careful to explain that the woman won't chew it - you have to swallow it whole and to facilitate this it's best to dip it in honey first. Thankfully, I don't seem to have any trouble having children, so this course of action was deemed not necessary for me.

Also, umbilical-stump-related, Sarwary has said I can now eat peanuts. I didn't tell her I already had a peanut butter sandwich when Patrick was two days old before she told me I wasn't supposed to eat peanuts! She was so serious about this that when she made idli (rice cakes) the other day, she made coconut chutney for me and peanut chutney for Greg and William (Greg prefers the peanut over coconut).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Last prego update: postpartum wrap up

Though the monthly checkups were (relatively) familiar and the birth itself was quite similar to my US experience, the postpartum stay deserves its own post. By nature of being who we are, we had no qualms telling people "no" or asking questions when things seemed a little strange, so we didn't have a negative experience by any means. We just had to keep on our toes for "different" things.

The first difference was actually in the delivery room, where we learned that each item used would be charged to our bill. Thus, nurses are hesitant to change things (like the cover on the delivery bed) unless you ask. For us, Rs 60 ($1.50) for a second or third cover isn't a big deal, but I could see how little charges would add up for some families. Thus, first task on hand was to explain to the nurses that we understood the charging system and they didn't have to ask twice if we were "sure" we wanted something -- at one point, this even included our midwife telling a nurse to put gloves on *both* hands!

We also later learned that the assisting nurses told the midwife they thought something was wrong with the baby at first, because Patrick had so little hair. I also held him for a comparatively long time right after birth, which made them also think something might be wrong since it seemed like I didn't want to let go of him. Thankfully, the midwife explained that many babies don't have any hair for months - and that many mothers like holding the baby right after birth as a reward for hard work.

The real differences came, though, once we got out of the delivery room and into the recovery room. Apparently, most Indian women delivering on the deluxe floor do very little for themselves postpartum. And, by very little, I mean next to nothing. As in, I went to go to the bathroom, and the "daya" (below a nurse) started following me. I had to explain that, really, I could walk to the toilet and handle my business myself. A few hours later, the daya heard the shower running and came rushing in the room -- Greg said it took him quite some effort to explain to her that I was OK, that I would call if I needed help, and that she really shouldn't go and try to help me shower.

(aside: the dayas also didn't speak much English or Telugu - Hindi almost exclusively - so all this is taking place with the very few words we had in common and lots of hand gestures)

The nursing staff was shocked to come into my room at one point and see me breastfeeding by myself. I'm really confused - still - about why this was so shocking, but according to our midwife, many women after delivery just sort of lie in bed and let a mother or mother in law or daya place the baby to the breast and hold it there while feeding. A few have even brought wet nurses to the hospital.

I was surprised later on when the (male) OB doing rounds was coming to check on me, and then postponed his check up because I was breastfeeding. We could never figure out if it was because he didn't want to intrude on "bonding" or if it was because it was considered improper for a man to be present. I'm hoping the former, but I can't quite rule out the later. When he came back, he only asked questions (no exam), so it wasn't as if I needed to move my body which would have disturbed a nursing baby.

In general, most people entering the room didn't say who they were or why they were there - which is more than slightly disconcerting when a nurse just enters and states: "Give me your baby." Needless to say, my reply was: "No. Please tell me who you are, why you need my baby, where you are taking him, and what you plan to do." It turned out to be harmless (getting his heal prick test done), but something like that would never happen in the US! Or, at least, it would be very uncommon. It was also difficult to handle because we never quite knew at first why a person was there - for Patrick? for me? for a routine thing? because they were concerned about something? Again, we got used to stopping the person mid-track and asking name and purpose.

When William was circumcised, the OB took him out of the room for about 15 min and then promptly brought him back in to nurse and calm him down. For Patrick, they brought in the NICU surgeon, used the "operating theatre", and wanted to keep him in the NICU observation unit for two hours. I got a few funny looks when I walked down to the NICU after 30 minutes to nurse him (what was I doing walking? why no wheel chair? why did I want to nurse him after that and not just let someone else take care of him?) - but as this was about 24 hours post-birth, I think the whole hospital staff must have decided that the crazy American mother just liked to do things her own way, so (thankfully) no one denied me entry to the NICU.

I haven't spent much time in NICUs (thankfully) but when we did take the tour of the one at Georgetown, I remember a few comfy chairs for mothers to nurse (or express milk while looking at their babies) and generally room for parents. Here, I was shown to a small side room with a plastic chair for nursing - and I didn't see any parents sitting around.

The food, needless to say, was Indian - and spicy! I actually liked it better than the bland hospital food I had with William. I never ate enough rice to please the nurses - but lunch and dinner each came with two to three cups of rice - very different from my regular diet. As it is expected that a patient will have an attendant with her at all times, two meals always came - which Greg was very thankful for. We had brought some food for him, but with no microwave, the prospect of cold leftovers wasn't too appetizing.

I'm sure I'll think of a few more and add to this later, but that's it for now - it's 9PM, William's asleep, Patrick's been asleep for about an hour, too -- which means I better go to sleep (or, rather, start my sleep installments...)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Next to last prego update: the birth

As those following in email and facebook know, Patrick Wyand Pontius Rankin finally made his appearance. It wasn't quite as smooth and easy as William, but all things considered went very well.

My water broke Tuesday around noon, but labor hadn't fully started. My doctor decided to give the baby 24 hours to come naturally before trying to induce labor (also standard practice in the US, since risk of infection increases after the water breaks). One day later, still no significant change in labor pains, so we checked into the hospital, not really knowing quite what might happen.

To make this G-rated, I'll keep the details to a minimum; if you'd like to know the full labor/delivery story, just send me an email :)

They decided to use a tablet (rather than IV) to try and induce labor because I wasn't very far along yet, and the IV drip could make things go too fast. The doctor and midwife both thought one dose of the tablet would be enough, but said we could try it for another 24 hours before having to consider other options. Well, three doses and 12 hours later, finally contractions started. Greg and I think those were about the 12 most boring hours we've spent: thinking something is going to happen, only to be told a few hours later no progress had been made. We watched some pretty terrible movies on TV, Oh Brother Where Art Thou? on DVD, and some India-Australia one day test match cricket.

Since contractions started happening every 2 minutes (around midnight), we then decided to not do any more inducement procedures and just see how things played out. I was feeling about how I felt when I woke up with labor pains with William, so my mood changed to be a bit more upbeat -- thinking that if things were to progress as they did with William, we might actually have a baby by 9AM!

Around 4:30AM, our midwife consulted the on call doctor, and they offered to fully open the bag of waters to see if that helped (the leak had just been small). Being game for anything that might speed up the process, we opted for it. About 20 minutes after that was done, I felt like it was time to push, but I was confused because it was so soon. But, the midwife checked things out and said to go for it. Things seem to go much more quickly with the second baby - she barely had time to get gloves on or lay down the sterile sheets on the bed! Three pushes later, out came the baby! 16 hours after the first tablet, but only 5 hours after labor really started.

The birth process was very similar to what we had in the States, but I suspect that's because my doctor told the staff the American midwife was calling the shots. We consider ourselves quite lucky to have ended up in HYD at the same time as the midwife (who is also a personal friend and independently practicing at the same maternity hospital I chose). Also, we're grateful to have a doctor open to giving the midwife full range and to discussing with us how we wanted things to go. Not all doctors here would give patients or a midwife such freedom.

In short, our local pregnancy to delivery experience was about as positive as it could have been. When inducement became necessary, we were a bit nervous, but the cautious approach taken by the doctor (who, thankfully, agreed that C-sections are only a course of last resort) and the support of the midwife carried through to a healthy baby! I'll post about the post-partum experience later, which adds a bit more local color.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Patience is not my best virtue

As a result, I'm a little antsy at the moment, since there's not much to do except wait!

We walked to/from dinner last night (about 15 minutes each way) in an effort to encourage Floyd to come. I've been pretty active in playing with William today, too. Unfortunately, insiders tend to have a mind of their own. My doctor still says she thinks I'll deliver before the actual due date, which would mean this week. Let's hope she's right!

Our car broke down Friday night (the starter broke). Perfect timing! Thankfully, two coworkers live in our same apartment building, and they worked out a schedule between them so that we have a car available if necessary. We're quite thankful to have such a supportive work cohort!

Monday, October 19, 2009

For those of you following at home...

... silence on the blog has not indicated that anything exciting has happened. Floyd is still nicely ensconced as an insider. Last week William said, "The baby is coming Thursday night." Sadly, Thursday came and went and no baby.

Then, on Sunday he announced to Abby and Nathan, "My brother is coming on Tuesday." We'll see what tomorrow brings. I suppose at some point his prediction will be correct, but at the moment, it's just a waiting game. Everyone at the office is having fun waiting to see if I'll come in or not each morning - so it's not just we who are waiting!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I was kind of excited about Diwali (or Deepawali, depending on what part of India you're in). It seemed like such a happy holiday - festival of lights, celebrating, reveling, etc etc. Then the day arrived, and it would be an understatement to say we were all a bit shocked.

I think the main problem is that we all (me, Pam, and our visitors Abby and Nathan) forgot that we're in India, where nothing is done in moderation. Poverty? Wealth? Laziness? Hard work? Beauty? Ugliness? All here, all in extremes. And Diwali is no different.

I've been through a couple of Independence Days, and a few New Year's Eves, including one firecracker-filled New Year's Eve in Vienna. But I've never seen anything like last night. The fireworks, in some cases, explode right over the city as big as any American July 4th show. Yet, as I learned when I foolishly asked some local co-workers whether there was some kind of public or municipal display, this is very much a DIY holiday. People travel to the outskirts of the city and return with, I can only assume, a full trunkload of sparklers, crackers, bottle rockets, and whatever else they can find. The noise was literally constant from dusk at around 5pm until midnight, with odd explosions (the tails of the bell curve) before and after that. Some were so loud it felt like there was an impact. In actuality, that's just what it feels like when the blasts are 50 feet from the apartment. Loud.

William, of course, thoroughly enjoyed himself most of the time, though some of the firecrackers were too big for him, too. At the opposite end, Bagwelle cowered under various tables shivering in fear. I think she's fine now, and I suspect no lasting damage was done, but we'll see. Word is it starts again at dusk tonight.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

And now a William update

Don't worry, even with the impending birth, the first child has not been forgotten. He still gets as much attention as ever, even if I do have to say "no" when he wants me to chase him or constantly get up and down (luckily, Greg still obliges). He is chatting up a storm, in full sentences none the less. Hopefully, Floyd will take note and learn to speak quickly!

We are in the process of changing William's pre-school. His first one wasn't bad, we just weren't entirely satisfied. The sort of thing where a lot of little issues eventually add up to the point that we decided to look for a new place. This is William's trial week for his new school. Today, he went with Greg for an hour; tomorrow, he'll stay with Sarwary for the full three hours, and then on Friday he'll go by himself for three hours.

The new school also has its pluses and minuses. What we really like is its humanistic philosophy. This isn't something we would worry about so much if we were in the States, where we generally share a similar set of values with the populace at large. In India, though, class is still such a major issue; we weren't so wild about William learning to distinguish between the "upper" and "lower" people, which we could tell was starting to happen. Kids definitely learn by imitation, and even at age two William was picking up from those around him that one uses different respect levels to the classroom teacher vs. the ayama (i.e., classroom helper). At the new school, the distinction between teacher and aide is much less apparent. The aide is more of a trained teacher aide.

Plus, kids are expected to help out around the classroom - put away toys, help set the table for snack, etc. Again, something that would probably be pretty normal in a US preschool, but here, the ayamas do all that for the kids ... so as a result, a common phrase of late from William was: "no, *you* do that, Mama" even though he was perfectly capable of doing the task at hand himself. He was developing a borderline sense of entitlement.

On the flip side, the new school believes that since they're teaching the little kids how to be good people, how to be inquisitive, and how to fit in with the environment, they don't have space to introduce letters or numbers until after age four. He'll still color, sing songs, play in a sandbox, learn about fruit and trees and insects, etc ... but the "traditional" 3Rs won't be taught.

He's also in a mixed age class: 15 kids from 2.5 to 4 yrs old. I'm hoping this will be a positive experience for him and not frustrating (since he is the youngest). That's part of the reason why this is a trial week.

All things weighed out, if the trial week goes OK, we've decided that - for a two year old - being an environment where he can learn respect and responsibility by example is more important than learning his alphabet or numbers. After all, we can always teach him letters and numbers at home (and do already!), but it's much harder to control the personality influences when we're not home. So, having him in an environment more in tune with our values (even if this place is a little more "natural" than we are) wins out at this point.

Neither of us ever thought we'd be making these kind of educational decisions so early - William's only two! Being overseas definitely causes one to think more about which ideas or values are important to retain from the "home" culture. Figuring out how to model and instill those same values in William (when sometimes we feel like we're the only ones who hold those ideas!) can be quite a challenge.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Possible boy's names

Though by no means is this the final list of possibilities, this is just the closest we've come to agreeing on something. All names, of course, followed by Pontius Rankin.

The chosen girl's name is: Kathryn Neale

Possibilities for a boy:
Christopher Garrett
Ian McGaughey
Patrick Wyand
Philip Bredehoft
Samuel McGaughey
Samuel Bredehoft
Nathan Wilkinson

We made a list of first and middle names we liked and tried to see what would fit well together. Though we've considered having an ethnic middle name reflecting Floyd's place of birth (one good suggestion: Aurungzeb ... he could go by "Zeb" if he didn't like his first name!), that was a little too strange for Greg and didn't really match with William Carson.

I guess we're a little boring (conservative? traditional?) when it comes to names.

Addendum: 10 yr average of popularity of first names according to SSA website.
Christopher - 8
Nathan, Samuel - 25
Ian - 72
Patrick - 98
Philip - 310
Also, Christopher and William have been the top 3 names in DC (and top 5 in MD/VA) for the last three years. Strange, no?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Breast Cancer Walk

With about 300 other people, I went on a 2K breast cancer awareness walk this morning. I enjoyed it because I had often participated in the 5K Race for the Cure in DC, so continuing something similar in India had a reassuring feel to it.

I'm not sure what the point was, though, aside from inviting local press and hoping that coverage increases awareness. No registration fee, no raising money, nothing except people walking a mere 2K (no running option either).

Honestly, were I to pick a medical problem here worthy of an organized money-raising walk, I would choose diabetes. The number of people with Type II diabetes is staggering; one newspaper article I read estimated that 1/3 of the young techies / call center-ites in HYD have Type II. With these people in the 25-35 age range, that will be a huge public health problem as they continue to age. Plus, this demographic works at night (to match the US schedule) and lives in "hostels" - neither of which are conducive to eating well or exercising.

Overweight and obese people are also prevalent amongst the middle class. I've been told this is a common phenomenon in countries with significant poor populations - people are so proud of themselves that they can provide well for their family, they eat all the fattening foods not understanding the subsequent health implications. I understand the logic, but when it translates into diabetes and heart disease on a wide scale, I think the need for public education campaign is high.

An anecdote on our small scale. When Shabu (Sarwary's sister) started working for us, too, she asked why we had chapatti (tortilla-like bread made with just wheat flour and water) rather than puri (deep fried bread). Sarwary explained that Western people think too much oil is unhealthy, which is also why she uses less oil in the kitchen. Shabu thought this over for a bit and then said, "but they can afford the oil!"

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Baby's ready, are we?

Starting this month, I visit my doctor every week, just to check everything is going OK. Just like the US, I find the appointments a little tedious - it takes twice as long to drive to the hospital, wait for my appointment and drive back as the time I actually spend in with the doctor. The doctor just feels my belly, checks the fetal heart rate, asks if we have any questions, and sends us on our way.

And, like last pregnancy, I'm a pretty boring patient (knock on wood!!).

The doctor sort of surprised us today, though, by saying at the end, "Well, perhaps I'll see you before your appointment next week!" She explained that it was in a good position to be born, so she was happy to deliver it soon.

We're not convinced the baby is coming next week - it would be four weeks early - but I suppose we better, at least, pack a bag to take with us just in case!

PS - we're going on a breast cancer walk tomorrow, so hopefully I'll have time to post something non-pregnancy related.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Baby monitor drama

Most things are going pretty smoothly for baby preparations. Crib assembled (much to Sarwary's and Shabu's delight!), layette shipment successfully packed up from Greg's mom's house (diapers, back up formula, second high chair, etc etc on the way without having to break the bank by buying locally), baby clothes down from the closet and washed, meeting set up with the midwife to go over differences between usual US and usual Indian delivery practices set up for Tuesday afternoon. You get the picture.

Today we went hunting for a baby monitor. This was never necessary in DC, given that we only had three rooms. But, here, with two floors and nearly 4000 sq ft, I'd like to have one. I had seen one or two models in stores, so I figured we'd just purchase locally given electricity differences.

First shock came when we checked out a model and it was $120 for a bare bones monitor, the type that would cost maybe $40 max in the US. But, OK, we realize most people here don't have homes big enough to warrant monitors and local parenting practices don’t really smile upon leaving a baby more than 15 feet away, anyway. So, obviously, a monitor is a luxury good and (looking at the boxes) appears to be imported from China.

Second surprise came when the store offered to test the monitor before we purchased it. Why would they do that? We were kind of confused ... until they actually did the test and the monitor didn't work. Needless to say, we didn't buy the monitor, and after standing around for 20 minutes for the test to take place, I didn't really have the patience (or stamina) for the sales people to go through and try to find a model that worked.

Luckily, we have two outstanding options. I found a store in Fairfax, VA that sells 220V appliances and thinks they have monitors – they’re checking their warehouse on Monday and getting back to me. Of course, we can also always use a transformer with a US monitor, but I get nervous with so many things plugged in since electricity is very unreliable here – so I’d rather just have a 220V monitor.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Baby coming, too!

William is a pretty talkative and observant kid, and hence usually I take for granted the fact that he generally seems to understand what's going on around him. Sometimes I wonder where he learns things (like telling me the other day we had to watch out for a big cockroach? I don't think I've ever had the occasion to use the word "cockroach" in front of him). Sometimes, it's true, I wish he would learn a little faster not to interrupt an ongoing conversation with what is on his mind.

Yesterday, I was explaining the visiting schedule to Sarwary. With Abby/Nathan, my parents, Greg's parents and sister, and then Beth all visiting over the next four months, I figured Sarwary better know what she's in for! Probably to make sure she understood herself, she turned to William to repeat the visitor list: first mama's friends, then grandma and grandpa, then the othther grandma and grandpa, and then Aunt Beth. William looks at her and immediately said, "And Baby coming, too!"

I've written multiple times about how we keep on talking about the baby coming with William, but how I'm not sure he really understands. I guess the answer is he does understand.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Prego update - staying in India

On Monday evening, we had the last "scan" (ie, ultrasound or sonogram) to check up on what was going on with Floyd. Sept 15th is the last day I can easily fly without a dr note, so we wanted to double check that we had no known reason to return to the US. The good news is (for us!) that everything is going well. All measurements appear normal, all body parts visible, etc etc. Though perhaps some in the US will be sad not to have the opportunity for me to visit (and to see the newborn), I think all will agree that it's better not to have found anything wrong!

So, stay put I will. The next appointment is in 3.5 weeks, and then after that I'll go every week for a check up. The date is getting closer! And still no boy's name selected.

We just started asking about all the newborn pre-screening tests done in HYD, now that we've decided we're staying. I'm not 100% sure what's available, but Dr Beth did some research and found a lab that will do all the regular US-screening work for $199 ( if you're interested). They send a complete kit and instructions - it all seems quite simple, actually. I'm thinking we might just do this in addition to whatever screening is done at my hospital, simply because it will be easier for US doctors to read US lab results - and a doctor won't get confused when we bring Floyd back to the US around age 1 for its check up there.

This type of service makes me think (a) how small the world really is today and (b) how different life in my line of work must be compared with 20+ years ago.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Taste of Japan

We had to plan a small outing today to a place with clean toilets. In the almost complete effort to potty train William, we decided he was ready to be out of the house for more than the 30 minutes when we walk Bagwelle or play in the courtyard in the evenings. We racked our brains about places we know with clean toilets and decided a trip to the import grocery store followed by lunch at a food court in a posh movie theater complex would fit the bill.

First, before you get nervous, the potty-training part of the experiment was a success. We were out for two hours, no accidents, clean toilet facilities availed of twice, and only one fit thrown at the very end when it was nearing nap time. Good job, William!

Two points, however, stand out as even more exciting and satisfying ... if you can imagine that. First, the import grocery store had large quantities of Dr Pepper. This means that Karen (Greg's mom) does not have to import her own when she comes in December. We bought a 24-day supply, since one never knows what treasures might show up at the import grocery store when. Good news for Karen!

Second, we sampled "Ebisu" for lunch at the food court, specializing in okonomiyaki and yakisoba, two of my favorite Japanese foods. The yakisoba was fantastic, and the okonomiyaki pretty good, considering we're in Hyderabad with no Japanese restaurants. It helped that the stall imports the proper sauce from Japan (Otafuku, I think it's called; the one with the smiling lady face), imparting an authentic flavor. The prices were Japan-style, too, to round out the experience :) I balked when I realized my okonomiyaki cost just as much as my upscale Indian buffet lunch yesterday, but then I decided to think about the price in yen and not rupees.

Friday, September 4, 2009


It's the little things that catch me off guard here. I expected differences in traffic, in food, in English communication, in cleanliness ... but I didn't think I'd have problems with sheets! As I think about it more, it doesn't surprise me, but my present predicament still caught me off guard.

Here's the situation: some how, last night, in all my squirming trying to find a comfortable position for sleep (it's getting more difficult to do), I ripped a hole in my bottom sheet. I suspect there must have been a small hole in the sheet in which my toe got caught. But, I'm not really sure. All I know is that I heard a ripping noise and my fitted sheet was torn.

This morning, I went to the dresser which has all the linens, only to discover I had no more fitted sheets left except the set for the guest room. And the "welcome" sheets provided by work for us to use when we first arrive and then leave are only flat sheets (no elastic) that fit awkwardly on US-sized beds, especially with a squirmy pregnant woman. And, even if fitted queen sheets were available here, all stores are closed in mourning of the Chief Minister's sudden death in a helicopter crash.

I thought I had brought more than two sets of queen sheets, but apparently I hadn't. It's not really something I ever thought about in DC, what with 2 BB&Bs and numerous other linen stores readily accessible seven days a week. Regardless, here I am, thankful that we don't have a house guest right now. And thankful that we have pouch mail so I can get a good supply of sheets in 3 - 4 weeks!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Throwing elephants in the water

Today is the final and most important day of Ganesh Chaturthi, which means it's a little crazy around here. The city is filled with roving bands of revelers accompanying their family or neighborhood idol of Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. Most of the groups have drums and dancing. I saw one tonight that had a group of guys twirling themselves as they twirled their swords and six-foot metal poles with the rhythm of the drums. I kept my distance from those guys.

But the real highlight was going with the Consulate contingent to Chowpatty beach. The Ganesh idols are all eventually immersed in water of some sort (don't ask me why), and the main place in Bombay is Chowpatty, the beach right in the middle of the city. The throngs there on this day are said to number in the millions. As snooty diplomats, of course, we were not among the multitudes, but were on the VIP viewing platform with other diplomats and unidentified Indians. We felt rather like the the royals in Gladiator or some other movie where they're up away from the crowd, reviewing the procession, watching and waving. Anyway, some of the Ganeshes are pretty impressive, up to 20 feet tall and with big accompanying crowds.

We stayed for about an hour and half before deciding that the Ganeshes all pretty much look the same, and that we had gotten the idea. But the festival goes through the night, and as I type I can hear booming music, drums, and fireworks. Wild stuff.

Monday, August 31, 2009


One of the more unpleasant things about traveling in India is undoubtedly the hawkers. This is an especially irritating scourge because they're most prevalent at the most popular tourist sites, so in order to see the most beautiful, interesting, and historic places in India, one is forced to run a gauntlet of seedy people reciting a constant stream of "Hello" "Your name?" "You from?" "Very good price, look here", etc. Not the best way to leave a good impression. I've even thought of writing to the tourism ministry (department, whatever it is) about how detrimental this is to the foreign tourist business in the country. I've lived here for 8 months, and this weekend was almost all I could take of people trying to sell me picture books, tiny glass Ganeshes, stones, and any other item of marginal value that they can get their hands on.

Fortunately, some of the places are worthwhile enough that one can put up with the nonsense. I hit two of the better-known ones this weekend, and had a surprise thrown in. First was Ajanta, then Ellora, and then the fort of Daulatabad. Ajanta and Ellora are two sets of caves filled with ancient paintings and rock carvings. I expected them to be worthy of their reputation, and they did not disappoint. Contrary to popular opinion, I think I liked Ajanta a bit more, partly because of the more interesting setting around the outside of a bend of a river, but also because there were significantly fewer hucksters trying to sell me things. But the real surprise was the Daulatabad fort, which turned out to be interesting, historic, and prettier than I expected. I had actually never heard of it until Friday, but some people at work recommended that I stop there on the way to or from Ellora. So I did, and I hired a guide (one thing India tourism does well - the official guides are generally quite good), and got two hours of stories and explanation as we went through the trap doors, holes for boiling oil, curving pitch black tunnels, etc. All in all, worth the visit. (A good thing, because I've been wanting to go to those places since the first trip to Bombay five years ago.)

Pictures to come soon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Air raid?

I woke up early Sunday morning around 4:45AM thinking there must be an air raid or a natural disaster or something terrible happening as a whirring alarm-like noise was echoing outside. I had no idea what it could be. Monday morning, about the same time, I was awakened again.

Monday night, I was invited to an Iftar dinner (breaking the fast in Ramzan, aka Ramadan) hosted by the only Muslim employee in our section. Around 6:45, I heard the siren again -- and turned to a coworker asking what it was. He said it's the sign that the sun has set and the fast may be broken.

Suddenly it all became clear. Sunday was the first day of Ramzan in HYD. Sunday the siren started - and since then, I've also heard it faintly at night at our house, though with the din of other noises it's not as noticeable as at 4:45AM. Now that I know why I'm hearing it, I can roll over and rest another hour and a half before I have to wake up. Thankfully, it doesn't seem to bother William one bit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sari shopping, five years later

When Pam and I were in Bombay five years ago, one of the major tasks for the week was to go shopping for proper Indian attire for the wedding. I obviously have memories of this, but it's not something I think about in any detail too often. Yesterday, however, in the shuttle on the way back from work, we drove by one of the sari shops that we went to back then. I remember this one in particular because it's where we learned about the Indian style of shopping, in which the customer (in this case, one of the other wedding guests) says a curt "no" to any good that he/she doesn't like. There's no real concern about politeness, but it works - if you do it properly in a decent shop, the shopkeeper will quickly figure out which colors and patterns you're looking for. Anyway, would have been a deja vu moment if I didn't actually remember having been there. But it was pretty weird nonetheless.

The Upper West Side of Bombay

Bombay is a big city. I say that not to state the obvious - actually just the opposite. Bombay is also an Indian city, but it feels in many ways more like a big city with Indian twists than it does like other Indian cities.

I'm here for two weeks (three days gone so far) for work, and I should point out that I'm staying in Bandra, which is apparantly the poshest part of town these days. Still, in a lot of ways it feels less like Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, than it does like the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For example...

Hyderabad's streets, even the nice ones, are packed with motorcycles, scooters, cows, etc. Here it's mostly cars.

People here mostly dress in Western clothing. I should say women, actually, because men throughout the country, as far as I've seen at least, seem to all dress about the same. But there are far fewer saris and salwars on the street here than in Hyderabad.

Upscale boutiques and coffee shops are far more common than in Hyderabad.

There's a sense of order to the streets. This is just Bandra, I think, but in this area the streets are mostly laid out in a grid.

People come from so many different places that there's lots of English spoken in Bombay.

That's enough for now. Time to go out for another walk. I have only a vague idea of where I'm going, but I'm sure there will be something interesting.


There's some catchup to do on this blog for me, and I'm afraid some of it will just be missed. But I can at least write something, so I'll start with two weeks ago, when I took a trip (I thought) to Bangalore.

Muru, a fellow ex-Appianite, has returned from the States to his native Bangalore, where he's in the process of trying to start his own IT consulting company. Another ex-Appianite, Phil, who's in his summer break at Chicago GSB, is in India for the summer to lend a hand. This is all the excuse I need to hop on a plane, fly an hour south, and see what would happen in 48 hours.

I honestly had no idea what we were doing there, even whether we'd stay in town or leave for the weekend. I figured I'd let the local decide, and with so little time I correctly assumed that regardless, I wouldn't be bored. At any rate, Muru and Phil looked at what was within reach, what they had already seen, and decided that a place called Coorg would be the best bet. We literally decided what to do less than 12 hours before the trip, and that turned out to be just enough time to book all we needed. My only complaint is that the trip took 7 hours from Bangalore, but we had plenty of time to chat, had some excellent food on the road, and saw some terrific scenery when we got close to Coorg.

To give a bit of background on Coorg, it's actually a region, not a city. The region is what's called a hill station, somewhat like Coonoor, where I went with Pam and William in April. While Coonoor is known for tea, Coorg is better known as a coffee growing area. But the real attractions are the hills and the cool air, and they did not disappoint.

We first stopped for some relatively low-impact whitewater rafting, including an icy jump into the river (whose name I do not know), and then went to the coffee plantation where we were staying to dry off. It was a rather rustic place, with the sheets and towels clean but certainly not luxurious. But it was all we needed, and even the dinner conversation turned out to be enlightening. The other four guests were call center workers from Bangalore, youngish professionals about our age. Mainly it was interesting to hear people really talk about that sort of work when they didn't know (as these four didn't) that I spend my days interviewing people like them for visas. The night took an unpleasant turn only when I put my arm on the table and spotted a hungry leech, maybe an inch long, digging in to the inside of my forearm. A quick pass of Muru's cigarette encouraged it to let go, and I was left without so much as a mark. That's when I decided it was time to go to bed.

A creek/stream goes right through the center of the plantation, and the next morning we took a walk in it, literally. The forest on the sides was a bit thick and leechy for hiking, but the stream itself was cool and crystal clear, and the water was generally a perfect ankle depth. No wildlife was sighted, just some leeches which were quickly removed with help of a bag of salt - they shrivel away from it like slugs - but we really had the feeling that we were hours away from civilization.

That feeling was confirmed the next day, when we returned to Bangalore and were reminded that we were in fact hours, many hours, from the city. I went straight back to the airport. It was a quick trip, but a lot of fun somehow. Thanks to Muru for the last-minute arrangements!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Maybe it's William's choice

Greg and I were talking this afternoon about what to name Floyd, should it turn out to be a boy. A girl's name we agreed on before William was born, and we've decided not to re-open that can of worms: Kathryn Neale Pontius Rankin. But, nothing is jumping out for boy's names.

We both read through a name book, made our separate lists, and compared. Five or six names were in common, which I guess is a good starting point. None, however, really jumped off the page for either of us.

William during this time was putzing around with his blocks, making towers. His appetitite for "alone" play ended, he came over and said "come, mama, come dada, play." As we were going over to play with him (he drops a stuffed animal from upstairs, he comes down stairs, has Greg throw it upstairs, repeat), we asked William what the baby's name should be if he has a brother. Very clearly, he said, "Nathan." Hmm....

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prego update, IV

This has nothing to do with strange experiences in India. Just an update for those of you following along at home :)

Everything is, as hoped, going normally. I got my Rhogam shot with only minor trouble, so preventative measures for me being Rh- and Greg being Rh+ are covered. The next - and likely last - sonogram is scheduled for Labor Day weekend. I'm not sure how appointments will work after 32 weeks gestation. In the US, I'd start going every other week, but my doctor here takes a much more hands off approach if everything is going OK (which it is).

We received a baby present today (thanks, Doebbler!), and I had to explain to William that he couldn't open it until Floyd was on the outside. He kept lifting up my shirt to pat my belly and say "baby inside now. baby not born." I'm still not convinced that he really understands, but he is a good parrot at repeating my explanations, so perhaps with enough repetition the actual meaning will sink in.

The month of travelling and eating out a lot was not very good for my weight gain, so I'm trying to keep my gain now to 0.5 lbs / week for the rest of the pregnancy. If I can succeed (big if!), then I'll have gained the same amount as I did with William. I'm not too stressed out about it (don't worry, I won't starve myself or hurt Floyd - I still made an ice-milk shake after dinner tonight :) ), but I also don't want to get too big since I'm already feeling unweildy and there are still 11 weeks to go!

I've started to order things online to be shipped here - so keep your fingers crossed the HR department at work actually authorizes the "layette shipment" soon so that it all arrives before the baby does! Thankfully, a shopping frenzy isn't required - but we will be making the switch to cloth diapers (check out BumGenius) due to cost of disposables here, will need a second high chair (William won't be giving his up), and also would like a few other odds and ends (e.g., formula in case pumping can't keep up).

The real debate is if we should get a cradle / bassinet type thing made here. William didn't like his crib until he was much older, and Greg is dead set on Floyd not sleeping in our bed.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Paaa - perrr

This is the call we hear every weekend morning: "paaaa-peeerrr." Curious, we'd go to our kitchen window and look out, but all we'd see is a guy on a bicycle calling, "paaa-peerrr." Finally, after we started ordering a daily delivery of newspaper, Sarwary clued us in.

Apparently, this guy is calling, "paper." And what he does is go house to house collecting mostly newspaper - but also some other kinds of paper - for recycling. William enjoys the "Paper Man" immensely. He hears the call from a few blocks away and runs into the kitchen asking for someone to put him on the counter so he can "see Paper Man."

Here's how it works at our house: once we have a sufficient stack of old newspapers, Sarwary tells the security guards. Then, when the Paper Man comes by on his bicycle, the security guards send him up to our apartment. He brings up an old fashioned scale (think: weight on one plate, another plate for the papers) with a 1kg weight. Negotiations start - each kg is weighed out (Sarwary makes sure he doesn't put too much on and under compensate us). If the remaining paper doesn't come to a kg, they negotiate further - and once Sarwary kept the partial kg of paper for the next visit because she didn't think he was being fair. From what I can tell, cardboard boxes and white paper are also accepted by the Paper Man.

Compensation ranges from 3 - 5 Rs/kg. Between our newspaper and the occasional cardboard box, we probably get about 25 Rs/month. Not a lot (about what we spend on vegetables for one dinner), but newspaper delivery is only about 90 Rs/month, so paper is obviously pretty cheap. And, given the amount of garbage lying around in different parts of the city, I'm happy to see some of my waste be reused!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This is my cycle

Somtime in the month I was gone, William truely discovered the meaning of "my" and "mine." It was inevitable. Now we have many discussions about who can call what "mine." He doesn't really understand "yours," but then again, he doesn't really understand "you" as opposed to "me," so I suppose that makes sense.

This evening, William spent an hour outside peddling on his trike while Greg was at yoga class - using the peddles was another new-found accomplishment while I was in Calcutta. He didn't want to be in the apartment courtyard, because the elementary school aged girls where there. They like to pick him up, pinch his cheeks, call him "sooo cute," and generally annoy him. So, after about 5 minutes, William said, "See Babu." (Babu means "boy" in Telugu, and that is what everyone calls the complex security guards at the gate.) Peddle out to the gate we went!

All the different security guards on our block seem to know William. Given the red hair and that he goes outside at least three times a day walking Bagwelle, I suppose that's not too surprising. So, as we peddled around, William called out, "Hi Babu! This is my cycle." One of them in particular was having fun with him and said back, "no - my cycle," which of course made William say in a very stern voice, "NO! *MY* cycle!" He'd peddle away, then come back, and then repeat the exchange.

Then the security guard started trying to get William to say it in Telugu ("Idi naa cycle" or "Ii cycle naaku"). William didn't really pick it up, but the guard kept on trying for a good 30 minutes until Greg came home ("That is MY car") and we went upstairs for dinner.

I've found it interesting how the dynamics of the apartment complex become like a mini village. All the guards look after the kids, all the kids play in the courtyard and just run into each other's houses, all the parents know what the other parents are up to. The only way to have a secret, I think, would be to not hire any help and to not talk to anyone ever.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

India prego chronicles - part III (?)

I might be on part IV or V, it's hard to keep track. In any case, here's the latest and greatest on the developing insider...

1. Travelling was no good for weight gain - I ate out too much and probably also ate too much when out! I ended up gaining 4Kg this month (only 2Kg recommended per month), in spite of having Delhi belly and lingering effects for some time. So, my punishment is that I have to get my blood pressure taken each week (I did some research - I think this is an easier way of checking for some complications rather than doing extra blood work or urine screening). If this next month I stick to 2kg and continue to have consistently low blood pressure, then I'll be off the hook.

When pregnant with William, I was walking all the time, swiming for 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week, and doing yoga. Hence, I had to focus more on gaining weight - and I really enjoyed eating extra avocado on a BLT or (sometimes and!) a scoop of ice cream each night. Sadly, my current sendentary desk job does not appear to permit such indulgences for this second pregnancy.

2. I now feel like a display when out and about. Pregnant Indian women wear saris or loose salwar kameez, both of which do a pretty good job at hiding pregnant bellies. And, from what I gather in conversation, those that are of a certain class (i.e., upper, where we fit in this stratified society) certainly don't work (especially the last trimester) and never go anywhere alone. Thus, according to local custom, I'm certifiably crazy.

My US prego clothes show an obvious belly, and I have no qualms about going anywhere. I don't have any problems putting in a full day at work. Basically, except for a protruding mid-section which is just starting to make me waddle a bit and occasionally makes me have to angle through a tight space, I am living my regular life. Sarwary was quite upset when I told her I tried driving this morning! Pregnant women should never drive! Horrors!

Between all these things, I end up drawing quite a lot of attention - but can't help and wonder (hope?) that perhaps I'll change someone's conception about what a pregnant woman can and can't do.

3. We found out the cost difference between the "regular" and the "super deluxe" delivery options at the maternity hospital. The "regular" delivery option means: labor in a ward, separated by curtains from other women, followed by delivery in a different place, and then two nights in a double- or triple-room. Price? Rs. 10,000 (i.e., $200).

The "deluxe" option has a privatae LDR room (ie, stay in the same room from arrival until after the baby is born), and a private room for the next two days. The "super deluxe" package has the same LDR room as the deluxe option, but includes a post-partum suite, with a second room that has a table, four chairs, and a second bed. Price for the super deluxe? Rs. 65,000 ($1,300). We didn't ask the deluxe price, because at that price-level, we can just go for the super-deluxe and have extra room for William to play when he visits.

Back home!

I'm back in HYD for good, now - no more travelling until a certain insider becomes an outsider.

Saturday morning I spent about an hour with Sarwary catching up on everything house- and William-related that happened while I was gone, which she said Greg handled pretty well but it seemed there were a few things she saved to tell me. Most was pretty mundane (a new sink leak, a new plug adapter needed for the iron, etc), but one story stood out.

William suffered from a bit of indigestion, but was still happy and eating and drinking, so no one was too worried - except, perhaps, his little bum from the frequent diaper changes. Over the phone, the doctor said as long as his appetite was fine, there was no need to bring him in; all we had to do was wait it out. Sarwary, apparently, did not think this was appropriate, so the next day, she brought in some red chillies and salt. What for? To circle round his head and throw a little salt over his shoulder to ward off the evil spirits. Of course the next day William had no runny poops, and his next BM two days later (and every day since) was normal.

I looked skeptically at Sarwary when she told me this, but she just looked at me and said, "Madam, Western people not understanding. You are in India so we have to do it India way." She reassured me she would never feed William anything without asking, so I figure a little chili pepper superstition can't hurt anything. I'm just waiting to see if she's going to tie anything to the side of Floyd's crib!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Total Eclipse

I've always wanted to see a total eclipse - so what luck, I thought, that Kolkata would experience a 90% eclipse while I happened to be here! I heard about two gathering places in the city to watch it - at the Birla Planetarium and at Science City. I considered going, but in the end decided to try and watch from the courtyard by my temporary apartment.

Unfortunately, this eclipse happened during the monsoon, which means lots of potential cloud cover. Though the paper today had great pictures from viewing in the town of Varanasi, where heavy rains the night before cleared out the clouds by morning, Kolkata was not so lucky. Some parts of the city experienced a three minute break in the clouds right near the peak, but unfortunately my viewing spot was not so blessed. And, because it occurred around at 6:30 in the morning with faint morning light, I could only just perceive the sky darkening. Noise provided the most obvious sign of the eclipse to me - all the birds and dogs made a ruckus right at the peak time. Strange, but people say animals have a stronger internal sense for some things, right?

My quest to see an eclipse will thus continue. I doubt I'll be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time again, but with this job, who knows?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happy Bandh Day!

What is a "bandh," you ask? It's a strike and it's something very dear to Kolkata's identity. Having a communist state government for the last 27 years (that's what I've been told, fact not verified), strikes are common -- but of late, the strikes have been rather pitiful, locals report. Today's however, was a full-fledged bandh as not seen in the last six or seven years.

I'm still a little unclear as to what brought about the bandh, which, actually, was called for by the opposition Congress party in an attempt to show the ruling Congress party how much power it actually holds, even though it's in the opposition. It started last night with the burning of six city buses. Today, all shops were ordered closed and people not to report to work. If you went to work, a distinct possibility existed that you would be harassed and/or your car commandeered by hooligans. The street cars were running, and some daring taxis were also operating (and charging double the fare for the "risk").

The only businesses that seemed exempt to the bandh were hotels. Thus, the restaurants at hotels were packed with people (such as myself) who had no where else to eat lunch - or nothing else to do since everything was closed.

My office, of course, was open. And 120 of 140 visa applicants showed up - which, according to local staff, means the bandh was only marginally successful. A truly successful bandh has a no-show rate in the 50% range. I wonder if the local news reports on such a statistic :)

Thankfully, this was only a 12-hour bandh, from 6AM to 6PM. In Indian time, this really means from 10AM to 4PM. As I walked out of the office around 4PM just to see what was going on, a few daring street vendors were definitely setting up shop again, hoping to catch a captive audience bored from a day at home. And, thankfully, Greg's plane isn't landing until late this evening by which time all remaining vestiges of the bandh will be over. The airport didn't shut down during this bandh, but it has in the past.

All this has me and the other American staff wondering - who really gains from the bandh? It's not the people, I don't think. All the small shopkeepers lose a day's business (or face a real threat of vandalism) -- only the large companies with extensive security can afford to stay open. It's not the taxi drivers. It's not the tax payers, because the government has to replace all the damaged property. So, the concept of a bandh doesn't seem logical to me - but, in fairness, no one has ever mistaken me for a communist.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kolkata: first impressions

I've been in Kolkata three days now and, despite its reputation for being the dirtiest of the Indian "metros" (ie, large cities), I'm really enjoying it. The city has a wonderful character about it that I didn't find in Delhi and don't feel in Hyderabad. This could be because my time in Delhi is usually limited to the "diplomatic enclave" where there's not much except for embassies. And in HYD, we usually stick to the new parts of the city and have no need to visit the Old City unless we are showing people around. The great part about Kolkata is, the diplomatic / posh / old parts are still one - so I can stay in the Oberoi, have a 10 minute taxi ride to work, and still feel the character of the city.

The British moved their capital up river from their first encampment and pretty much built the city up. As a result, the downtown area has recognizable blocks with roads that run perpendicular to each other - quite a rarity in India and very helpful for a visitor. The consulate, likely much to the chagrin of the security nazis, is right in the the thick of things. I think it's great because I can walk to places for lunch! What a novel concept! In fact, if it weren't the rainy season (and hence the messy sidewalks), I would enjoy a 20-30 minute walk from the hotel to the consulate - the sidewalks are actually that manageable.

It's no European city by any stretch of the imagination, however, despite the walkable nature and the high-culture character. For instance, just around the block from the consulate, trash pickers have commandeered a segment of the sidewalk for sorting trash (recycling, India-style). It stinks. And looks disgusting. Especially since many Indian men seem to have small bladders and seem to have designated a corner of this trash heap a public toilet. I was waiting at a red light (thankfully in an AC car with the windows closed) and noticed five men stop to relieve themselves in that short period of time -- and many more walking by with handkerchiefs over their noses.

For me, though, accustomed at this point to being in a city in a developing country, the vibrancy of the city is quite appealing. Friendly people, many of whom have a very creative streak whether music, sports or literature, abound. I'm looking forward to the next two and a half weeks, and hope Greg isn't too jealous!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I have no idea what "BASHAN!" means - and neither does Greg. Of course, William was saying it, so it could mean anything. Or, it could be William's pronunciation of a real word - not just one of his made up words. But, I'm not really sure what "Bashan!" would resemble.

He was saying it with such conviction, and with such determination and in such a methodical manner, it must mean something. Saturday morning, we decided to brave the Delhi heat (it was 98F by noon and very humid) and attempt some sightseeing. First stop, Qutub Minar (highly recommended), second stop Lotus Temple (a modern Baha'i temple, not kid-friendly at all), third stop Humayun's Tomb. Here, William said, "BASHAN!"

The tomb is similar to the tombs in Agra - in fact, though Humayun's tomb is one of Delhi's top sites, if you're going to or have been to Agra, we actually think it's repetitive and not worth the visit. The main tomb (Humayun) is in the center. At each corner of the building are small rooms, each with one to three tombs in them. Each of these corner rooms had small alcoves with stone-carved lattice protrusions to let the air flow. We didn't take a guide, and I'm not really familiar with 16th century Indo-Muslim architecture, so please excuse the lack of technical terms :)

In any case, we entered the first corner room, and William started running into each alcove, all the way up to the stone-lattice-wall, looked outside and shouted, "BASHAN!" Then he proceeded to the next lattice alcove and repeated. The third alcove didn't have the lattice work, so he skipped it and went straight to the fourth (with lattice) and shouted again. It was very curious - especially because I still don't know what "BASHAN!" means or what prompted this.

We left that corner room, walked into the next one, and he did the same thing - shouting "BASHAN!" in only the alcoves that had lattice walls looking outside. When we walked into the third corner room, he said, "Come here, Mama!" and beckoned me over to the first lattice alcove. I walked over and he said, "Say, 'BASHAN!,' Mama!" Obviously, I had no choice. I then had to follow him to each alcove (again, only the lattice work ones) and say, "BASHAN!" myself. (The fourth corner room was under construction, so I didn't have to repeat again).

He's only 25 months, but given that "self" has become a favorite word (as in, "do it myself - go away") and that every now and then he comes up with very systematic and logical "games," I can't help but be impressed with how someone so tiny can act so old. Good thing there's another baby coming - William certainly doesn't count as a "baby" anymore!

Just FYI, Sunday morning we opted to skip the sightseeing and just played at the Embassy play ground. William had a blast climbing and sliding and driving the bus, despite the muggy heat. In fact, he had so much fun, he decided to keep playing and skip swimming - and he *loves* swimming.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Have pity on Greg

Every now and then I experience a vestige of my past consultant life. These rare moments catch me by surprise- after all, I left Dean in 2005, and grad school and Telugu training were a world apart. As I sit in the airport, waiting for a flight to Delhi, chatting with a fellow traveller at the coffee shop while we figure out how to get the free wi-fi access working, it strikes me how business travelers the world around - whether in DC, Newark or Hyderabad - make the same small talk.

I'm off to New Delhi for one week followed by three weeks in Calcutta, filling some staffing gaps over the summer holidays in those consular sections. Have pity on Greg as he manages the morning and evening routines by himself.

Rest assured, medical care is OK here

We've come to the conclusion that, as long as nothing too serious is wrong with you, India is not a bad place to be sick -- if you have the money to pay for the best treatment. And, by US standards at least, that isn't really a lot of money. E.g., my "deluxe" prenatal checkups are Rs 500 ($10) per visit with no insurance. Last night's trip to the children's ER was Rs 320 ($7).

Before you get concerned, William didn't really have an emergency. He'd had diarrhea all day and then developed goopy eyes. He was uncomfortable enough that we decided to see the doctor on the way home from our July 4th potluck. As suspected (and also backed up by a call to Dr Aunt Beth), the two symptoms were totally unrelated. But, 20 minutes later we walked out of one of the top to children's ERs in the country (according to the medical officer in Delhi) with conjunctivitis confirmed and antibiotic eye drops (which cost a whopping Rs 12 - yes, medicine for less than $0.50).

We're keeping our fingers crossed we won't have to test the advanced medical care, but for day-to-day stuff, we've been satisfied with the care - and the cost.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Floyd update

This morning we (me, Greg, William, Sarwary) all went for a well-baby sonogram check. Floyd is doing great! Brain, heart, kidneys, arms, legs, fingers, toes, spine were all visible. I thought they would give us a picture to take home at the end, but some how that didn't happen :( Since everything is normal (and thus boring, from a medical perspective, which is always good), I don't have much else to report except:

  1. William pointed at the picture and said "MY BABY!" Well, maybe not exactly ... but I suppose it's a good thing if he already likes the baby.

  2. At the end, Floyd put its two hands together in front of its face and the doctor said, "Look, its telling you 'Namaste!' " That definitely ranks up there in the cultural pregnancy experience.

  3. Greg and I weren't looking, but apparently Sarwary was ... she's convinced it is a boy, but of course the doctor won't say and we can't ask. We'll see if she's right in four months.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A shower - finally.

I try not to complain too much about being in a developing country - I did know what I was getting into, after all. And, in general, life in HYD isn't that bad. Sure the power can be out for 4+ hours a day and not all food is available, but we've adjusted our daily routines to be pretty comfortable.

I was almost to my wit's end, yesterday, though, after the fourth day with only a trickle of water from the shower. After three days of not being able to wash my hair, yesterday I decided to attempt washing it with a cup. After all, that's how I wash William's hair! Except, during the process I realized three crucial differences: William's hair is about an inch long, he has someone else to pour the water over his head, and a key component is a plastic cup (not ceramic). The attempt ended in disaster with the cup broken on the floor, soap still in my hair, and me walking, half-dripping, to the kitchen sink to try and use the little water in the extendable faucet to finish the rinse. I didn't even try conditioner :)

This morning, I was overjoyed to see an ever-increasing puddle outside our building's water pump by guard shack. My actual first thought was, "What a waste of water! It's such a scarce resource here!" Then, I quickly came to my senses: "Water! I can have a real shower after I walk Bagwelle!"

Here, I turn off the shower water while shampooing/conditioning and shaving. This morning, I just enjoyed a full 15 minutes of streaming hot water, only feeling slightly guilty.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cooking experiments

I had two successful cooking experiments this evening, one out of necessity and one out of fun.

1. Poached murrel fish steaks in cilantro. I asked our driver to pick up some fresh murrel fillets for Sarwary to cook for dinner, knowing I wouldn't have time to shop and that the fish here is really only good day of. (yes, I do recognize how spoiled that sentence sounds.) Having never purchased fish, he was a little confused by the "fillet" concept and came home with mini-center cut steaks. Sarwary had no idea what to do with them ... so off to multiple recipe books I went for research.

Turns out, it's actually quite easy to poach fish steaks. All you need is a broth (well, I used water not having broth or wine on hand) and some spices (I used cilantro - readily available - a chili pepper, black pepper, garlic, some cumin seeds). Boiled the spices in the liquid for 5 minutes, added the fish, simmered for about 10 minutes and voila! I made an abbreviated sauce with garlic mayonnaise, tomato and a little more cilantro thrown into our "grinder" (aka, mini blender). Not too shabby.

2. Green bean soup with chili. After dinner, we had left over steamed beans that I didn't feel like keeping as beans - they would just go bad before we'd eat them. I just made a simple veg soup (water, green beans, onion, garlic, salt - boil and puree, add milk) ... but it didn't taste quite right. It took a few more sips to realize what was missing - the chili pepper! I guess I've become accustomed to Indian food because after I added that, it was great.

Cooking here can be limiting (e.g., I tried a Thai beef curry on Sunday night and the beef was inedible. We'll be sticking with chicken and fish) - though many ingredients are common, some things I took for granted in the US aren't (case in point: vanilla extract that doesn't have a metalic flavor). Thus, it's always cheering when cooking experiments turn out positive.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A fun weekend in town

Sometimes we feel like getting out of HYD for the weekend, just to break the cycle - after all, aside from going out to restaurants, over to a friend's house, Sunday brunch at a hotel, or the occasional movie, there's not much variety in our weekend activities here. Not that it really bothers me, just that it can seem repetitive after coming from DC. Hence, this weekend I figured would be the same: we were going to reportedly the best Italian restaurant in town on Friday; to a friend's house Saturday afternoon for a dog birthday party, followed by a "representational event" on Saturday evening; and (depending on William's nap schedule) possibly brunch at a hotel for Father's Day. Not a bad weekend line up, but nothing too special either.

Even if brunch tomorrow doesn't work out, I won't complain - Friday's dinner turned out to be quite enjoyable. The bruschetta was excellent, and the gnocchi in a mushroom-pea cream sauce was pretty good, too, after a bit extra pepper ( The dessert options left something to be desired, alas, but chocolate mint gelato with hot fudge is never bad. I do like Indian food, but it was a treat (for a whopping $25 per person) to have something not Indian-fied at all.

Saturday's "representational event" (i.e., a social event at which someone from work must make an appearance) turned out fantastic. Rather than the usual celebrity (usually film star) speech or Tollywood dance number, the company asked a local drama circle (Dramatic Circle of Hyderabad) to perform an original adaptation of Farrukh Dhondy's short story, "Bollox." I'm not a theater connoisseur by any means, but I found myself laughing quite a bit and really enjoying the performance. Partly, I'm sure, because I haven't been to any live performance of a Western-type since I've been here (I have been to a kuchipudi dance recital), but also partly because the acting was great. The troupe is in the running to present the piece at the Edinburgh festival this year, and I'd definitely recommend it.

The short lesson of the weekend: if I make a little more effort to seek out the local events, perhaps weekends will seem less repetitive. Of course, now I just have to figure out how to find out what's going on...