Saturday, January 31, 2009

Movers have arrived and left!

To our surprise, we received our air freight shipment Friday night at 7PM (they told us at 5PM it was coming) and our November boat shipment on Saturday at 4PM (we had been originally told sometime the following week). Great news! Now we have all our own kitchen stuff, more toys for William, my china and crystal (not unpacked yet - keep your fingers crossed), and other things yet to be determined.

Surprisingly, I don't feel yet that we have anything totally useless. To be honest, we shipped all my maternity clothes and William's baby clothes and toys - and we have no use for those now, but we didn't want them to get lost in the storage facility the State Department uses. And we have 10 dining room chairs, so our folding chairs from IKEA don't seem very useful either, but maybe they'll be good on the patio? I also feel that limiting ourselves to only shipping eight book boxes was a large accomplishment!

William was most excited about his new tricycle. His GGPA (my grandfather) gave it to him for Christmas, and Greg assembled it tonight while William and I were at the evening kids play time in the courtyard of our apartment complex (it occurs roughly every evening from 6PM). We should have stayed a little longer to give Greg a little more time, because it was most upsetting for Master William to come back upstairs and not be able ride on the shiny red Radio Flyer immediately. Greg finished up the assembly in record time, and William was pushing it all around the house. He needs about another inch to reach the pedals, but luckily there's a push-pole for the parents, so we won't break our backs when he wants to sit on the seat and go.

Tonight I was really thankful for Sarwari, our nanny/maid/cook. After unpacking all last night and this morning, and then having the new shipment delivered this afternoon, it was great to just sit down to a tasty meal. Tonight's dinner was simple - chapatti (bread) and dal (lentils) with tomatoes, and a good fruit salad to finish it off. What a treat and change from ordering pizza like we did when we packed out of DC!

Now just one more shipment of boxes in late March/early April, and we'll be set.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Things are settling down

Amazingly, things are starting to come into place here in Hyderabad. It was a big weekend for feeling "settled": DSL at home was installed, a nanny was found, a pre-school program selected, a car mostly decided on. Now, we need to finalize the car and get a driver (a necessity here), and then our big "choores" will be done.

Oh yeah ... and we have to unpack once our shipments arrive. Two shipments (boat shipment sent in November 08 and air shipment sent January 09) should be arriving any day now. The last shipment isn't expected until late March or April. However, I expect there will be a lot of things in the shipment we decide we don't really need. Except for a lack of toys for William (he's getting really bored of the few we could put in the suitcase!) and a little more variety in my wardrobe, there's not much I "need." Pictures for the walls, decorative things to make it feel like home, William-sized chairs and table, etc. will be very welcome - but I still suspect some things shipped will end up being donated.

Greg is slightly mortified, but we have decided pretty much on a Toyota Innova as our car, a SUV-minivan type of deal. We decided we needed more seats than a sedan had, because often when a family goes somewhere the nanny also comes ... so if you do the math (driver, nanny, Pam, Greg, William) we're at 5 seats - and pretty crowded with William's car seat. We looked online at the Maruti Versa, which is less expensive, but kind of (well, really) ugly. And then the other options were all imported and out of our budget. While reviewing the different levels for the Innova, only one version (the highest) had anti-lock breaks and air bags. So that decision was easy. And while reviewing the colors, only one (silver) is kept on the lot and the others have to be special ordered. So that decision was also easy. Actually, in the end, we didn't have to make any decisions except for a bench seat vs. bucket seats in the second row (we went bench).

In addition to our house having extra beds, now our car will also have two extra seats. So really there's no excuse for you not to come visit!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

After a three week odyssey of hotels, movers, airplanes, temporary apartments, temporary assignments, vacations from temporary assignments, and countless other delays and detours, I have finally joined Pam, William, and Bagwelle in Hyderabad.  

Last post I said I'd write more about the last day in Varanasi.  I'm not sure there's much to say except about the burning ghats.  What's burning, you might ask?  Well, in the Hindu tradition, there's no burial.  So there's your answer.  And Varanasi, by virtue of being Shiva's city and being located on the Ganges, is considered the most auspicious place to be cremated.  As a result, the burning ghats are always going.  At the one we went to, they say the fire (think of it as the pilot light from which all the pyres are lit) has been burning continuously for more than 2,500 years.  There are different areas for low, middle, and high caste bodies.  And I must say, it's about the spookiest place I've ever been.  We went at night, probably around 9pm, and the sounds preceded the sights.  Imagine the orc drums from The Lord of the Rings - a fast, steady, martial beat, with lots of bells ringing with the drums.  Then the glow of the fires.  The massive piles of wood.  The building itself, black with centuries of soot.  And finally the pyres come into view.  It was a quiet place.  No crying, no wailing - in fact, while women may come, they usually choose not to because they think they will not be able to control themselves.  The only sound, besides the drums and bells, of course, was the crackling of the fires and the gentle lapping of the river on the shore.  Occasionally some dogs would howl in the distance.  The heat, of course, pervaded the whole area.  Oddly, the only sense that was not overwhelmed was smell.  Apparantly the oils used on the pyres do an excellent job covering what would otherwise undoubtedly be a rather unpleasant odor.  So that's the burning ghats.  Fascinating, spooky, somber place.  

I think that's all I have in me now.  More later.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Everybody Poops!

I've been thinking a lot about this children's book by Taro Gomi ( the last few days.


Because poop is the easiest way to tell if one has eaten something bad or not. Everytime Nancy or I change William's diaper - especially a solid poopy one - we're thankful that the food handling precautions we've taken have paid off. William's doctor in DC warned us before we left that he would get sick, but so far we've only had one day of questionable results. And after we changed to washing his sippy cups and pacifiers in bottled water, he's been great!

What precautions do we take? Everything is washed - not just fruits and veggies, but the outside of the milk and juice boxes, the outside of the meat containers, the bread packaging, etc - before being placed in the fridge or on a shelf. If a fruit or veg won't be pealed before eating, then it's soaked in a mild bleach solution for 20 minutes. All meats (which, granted, is only chicken and fish here) are cooked through. The trash is taken out every night. All countertops are wiped down at the end of the day with bleach. And now only bottled water is used to wash things that go in William's mouth (hot tap water seems to be OK for washing plates). We're trying to wash our hands before we even go in the kitchen - I'd put Nancy and me at about a 75% success rate so far on that.

I haven't had any exciting trips like Greg, but it has been interesting, needless to say, figuring out how to avoid Delhi Belly.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Back to Sanity

I have arrived back in Delhi.  It's nice to be back to some sense of normalcy.  Varanasi was fun, but three days was plenty.  More about the last day there later.  Now I need some recovery time.  

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On the River

I've now spent a little over two hours on the Ganges, and have even dipped my finger in it, albeit inadvertently. the first hour was yesterday at sunset, when they hold the daily aarthi. I'll confess that I'm not entirely certain of the meaning of the ceremony, but it is a Hindu ceremony involving, among other things, fire, water, incense, singing, chanting, drumming, priests... those are the important things, I suppose.

Today's hour was in the morning, just after the chanting from the ghats woke me up at 5:30am. this is not to be confused with 2am, 3am, or 4:30am, when i was awakened by the barking dogs and screeching monkeys outside my window. At any rate, the river is a very pleasant place to be at 6am, if you really must be anyplace but in bed. The smog (locals claim it's actually fog, but I don't believe them) clouds the water in an ethereal haze, and with the opposite bank several hundred yards distant to begin with, there is no chance of seeing it. Of course, even if you could see it, there would be nothing there. Varanasi is built high on the western bank, on top of what amounts to a levee, and the eastern bank is a wide, flat flood plain. The monsoon is months away, so it's dry now, but i can only imagine how huge the river must seem when it's really full. But back to this morning - there's nothing to see on the opposite bank, and the combination of fog and faint light means that even on the near bank, you can only see a few hundred yards in either direction, even though the ghats stretch for what must be a mile or two. add the quiet of a city that hasn't really woken up yet and the stillness of the smoothest water you'll ever see, and it's a peaceful experience matched only by the chaos of the rest of the city.

Shortly after sunrise the people appear. Some are bathing, cleansing their sins in the most holy water of Hinduism. For the rest of us, and apparantly for many Hindus, the water has become too filthy, even if it does come from the gods. If you're really curious what's in it, I'm sure a quick websearch would suffice - but honestly, you probably don't want to know. One friend who is here in our group was in Varanasi 30 years ago, and reports that the age of the bathers has increased significantly, while their number has decreased. Perhaps the ancient tradition is dying along with the rest of the life that the Ganges used to support.

The bank is also where many laundry-wallahs ply their trade, rinsing clothes in the river and beating the dirt out of them on the bank. And of course the ever-present punters offering to take anyone with fair skin out on a boat, and the kids selling postcards, most no more than seven or eight years old. A few cows, a few more goats, and lots of dogs. it's an intense place, and fascinating in a way I haven't experienced before, but in the end, I'm glad I'm only here for three days.

Arrival in Varanasi

Here I am, in the heart of Hinduism. This is quite clearly the poorest place I've been, in India or elsewhere. And it just teems with people. The ride from the airport to the hotel was rather terrifying. Moving at 80 kph in a large SUV among pedestrians,bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, cars, trucks, and of course cows -let's just say I was more comfortable buckling up and looking out the side window.
Then we reached the city itself, where the "streets" are too narrow for anything larger than a rickshaw, and some times are not even that big.
This is a wonderful view of the "real" India, but not one for the faint of heart. It is an intense place in every way. But now is time for the evening aarthi, so more to come later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I have arrived, and I have left

Maybe this post should be called "ap ki", because I'm actually in Delhi, not Hyderabad.  Today marked a milestone of sorts - the first visa issuance.  And honestly, after 29 other interviews, I don't even remember who the first person was.  Yes, they really do all blend together.  And while the decisions get easier after only a few interviews, there always seems to be something slightly different about each case.  But enough of that - I've got two more years of visa interviews.  What the heck am I doing in Delhi?  

Turns out that Hyderabad isn't open yet.  Pam (who stayed there with William and Nancy) can write more about what actually is going on there, but visa interviews will not be on her list.  So here I am, along with two other Hyderabad people, training and helping at the same time.  We're all staying at the Taj Palace for some reason.  White-gloved butler.  More service than you really want.  Flat-screen TV.  Sound system that seems to demand a dance party in the room.  Thanks, taxpayers!  

Otherwise, I haven't actually seen too much of Delhi yet.  Maybe it's just the Diplomatic Enclave where we're staying and working, but Delhi seems much greener and less crowded than I expected.  We did have one after-work outing on Monday, to a tea shop in the edge of Old Delhi.  It was a terrific little place, one of those holes in the wall that you'd never try unless someone recommended it to you.  But this wasn't just a place to get a cup of chai - in fact, I'm not even sure they sold chai.  This was a place where they really know their tea.  I picked up a couple different types, mostly for Pam, of course.  And I think I even remember the difference between green, oolong, and black.  Who knew that tea depends on terroir as much as wine?  

And then there's the weekend.  I was planning to go with some friends to Varanasi, which is, as much as anyplace, the heart of Hinduism.  It's not a place Pam is interested in, definitely not of interest to William, and far more convenient to Delhi than it is to Hyderabad, so it seems like the perfect trip to take now.  But the train is sold out.  So now I have a decision.  Take a different train?  Find a plane?  Stay here in Delhi?  Go to Hyderabad?  One other friend who isn't going to Varanasi suggested a one-night trip to Amritsar, where you can apparantly stay at the Golden Temple for free with the other pilgrims.  Sounds interesting, and again, I'm guessing not something that Pam would want to do.  So maybe I'll do that if Varanasi doesn't work.  Stay tuned.  

Monday, January 5, 2009

And we're off

We said we wouldn't post much until we arrived in India and, whether intentionally or not, we stuck to our guns. It's 10:30PM on Monday, January 5. In 24 hours our plane will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. What is the plan, many have been asking. Here it is:

We arrive in Amsterdam about 8AM, local time. We'll meet Pam's sister, Nancy there - she's coming in from Boston. We'll all fly to Delhi together, arriving 11:30PM on Wednesday.

Thursday, Greg and I have meetings at the embassy, and Nancy does as best she can with Bagwelle and William. Friday, we all fly to Hyderabad to check in at the consulate and finally see our new (huge!) apartment. Sunday night, Greg flies back to Delhi for on-the-job visa interview training. I'll be helping out around the soon-to-be-opened consulate in Hyderabad - and also interviewing nannies for William!

We're not sure when exactly Internet access will be set up, but we'll do our best to update this as fast as we can. :)