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...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On having a two year old

Some times (often?), William drives us crazy by testing the limits. E.g., he'll look at us with this devious and intent stare, and then take his cup of water - faster than a blink of an eye - and dump its entirety on the floor. Then, just after we've finished cleaning that up while he's in Time Out, he'll come out, stare at us again, and start trying to play with computer cords or some other forbidden play thing. And then he'll start throwing things and generally wreaking havoc. Invariably, multiple tantrums are involved and we struggle to keep our tempers under control. While we appreciate that he's learning to be independent, this "myself" attitude is challenging.

Thankfully, days like today come around just when we're feeling at our wits end. He behaved wonderfully at a friend's house for brunch, alternating between eating *three* (yes, you read that correctly) waffles and playing with his blocks. He laughed and smiled and talked with everyone while swimming in her roof deck pool. He took a good nap and followed that with sharing his tricycle with our neighbor's 18 month old daughter in the courtyard downstairs. He sat well at a restaurant, eating his wada (a salty lentil-based donut type thing) while Greg and I ate our thali plates (the day's special). He talked with me at the bookstore down the street while Greg searched for a book for a friend. All in all, about the most happy and successful day we've had in at least a month.

Now, if only we could figure out what causes (encourages?) this type of day and we could honestly say that the "terrible twos" don't apply to William. I always am an optimist!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gas Connections

Our driver has been living in our staff quarters for three months now, and he hasn't had any cooking gas. There are no gas pipes here (almost certainly a good thing) - all of it comes in cylinders similar to propane tanks. We have a "commercial" cylinder, which is outrageously large - I think we're still on our first one - but most people who don't work at the Consulate have "domestic" cylinders. For some reason that I still haven't figured out, it's rather difficult to get what's called a "connection" - a service to keep a house continuously supplied with full cylinders.

We started asking at work months ago about getting Ramakrishna a connection, and kept getting stonewalled. He couldn't get one because of the shortage, we couldn't get one because we already had one, etc etc. I finally asked how much money it would take to get him a connection, and one of the local staff at the office came up with the idea that we could get one in my name from the other company (there are two, apparantly). He spoke to the owner of the distributorship, provided a letter confirming that I work at the Consulate, and all seemed to be in order.

Then I get there with Ramakrishna, and we're told there can be no new connections because there's a shortage of regulators. I didn't believe this, especially when one of the staff couldn't even say when more regulators will arrive. I also assumed that if we came back in a few days, there would be some other problem preventing us from getting a connection. So after some arguing, I called up the owner of the distributorship, and within 5 minutes the paperwork was completed. We'd get two cylinders full of gas and one regulator for about $60.

Then I told them we also needed a stove. The clerk said "Full set?", and I foolishly replied affirmatively, figuring that, yes, we actually did need a full set. Only then did he start writing up the order, and only then did we see that the stove (part of the full set) cost over $40, and that a $5 apron was included in the set. Ramakrishna was pretty sure he could get a cheaper stove, and we certainly didn't need an apron, so we asked to have them taken off the bill. This also required managerial approval, even though the cashier had written the bill himself, and even though he didn't need his boss to sign anything. A nod was enough.

Gas here is a government business privately distributed, so I'm convinced that, like the government phone company, that's a large part of the headache. I'm also convinced that if yahoos like the ones at this gas company weren't so needlessly obstructionist, life here would be a lot smoother, more efficient, and, ultimately, of a higher quality. Why are they like that? I have no idea. I got my gas connection in the end, and it actually took more work for them than if they had said yes in the first place. So I remind myself to just come back to the point - I got my gas connection - and let the rest pass. Serenity now...

Visiting Sarwary's Nephew

Though Sarwary works 6 days / week for us, we usually like to give her one full weekend off per month. Until now, we’ve actually traveled at least one weekend / month and it’s worked out naturally. This month, however, with no trips planned, this weekend was designated as the weekend off. Sarwary and her sister, Shabana, decided that it would be a good day for us to go visit their new nephew, the now 24-day-old son of the youngest sister, Reshma. (Sarwary has a total of 5 sister and 2 brothers.)

Custom in India is for a woman to go home to her parents’ house for delivery. Reshma went home about two weeks before her due date, but then the baby took his time coming. Two and a half weeks after the due date, the doctor tried to induce labor, but when (after 24 hours) that still didn’t work, they had to do a C-section. Luckily, except for a little jaundice and an extended recovery in the hospital, the baby and mother are now fine. To give you a flavor of local attitudes, Sarwary’s quote when I asked about Reshma and the baby the day after delivery: “Madam, it is a boy. Everyone is happy and no problems.”

Reshma then stays with her parents for three months before returning to her husband’s family. Since the parents also live about a 10 minute walk from us, we went over to their house to meet the baby. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised to find a well kept middle class house. They built the house 3 years ago on land they had owned for some time – they live on the first floor and rent out apartments on the second and third floors.

We spent about an hour playing with the baby (about all the baby and William could take) and then had a tasty lunch of chicken korma and rice which Shabana prepared. As always, entirely too much food was prepared for only two of us. And, as we expected might happen, the whole family left the room while we were eating. I had brought some oatmeal butterscotch cookies (using the last of my chips brought from the US!), which were a hit J.

The other good news of the day is that William *loved* the baby. He wanted to hold it, give it pats, and lie down with it when it went to sleep. He was very gentle and didn’t fuss too much when I explained the baby was too delicate for him to hold himself. He only became a little jealous when I was carrying the baby and not him! I think this bodes well for November.

PS – I keep calling Reshma’s son “the baby” because, also not uncommon in India, the baby doesn’t have a name yet.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rainy season has begun!

The rainy season appears to have started and the summer season is over. So far, Greg likens it to Houston summers - the mornings are pleasent, it gets more and more humid and nasty as the day progresses, clouds over in the mid afternoon, and then rains in the late afternoon / early evening. We have no idea if this will continue to be the pattern, but right now it's great - especially after the rain is done. Last night we had a great cookout on a friend's balcony, with everyone thoroughly enjoyinig being outside after six weeks of brutally hot weather.

Two rainy seaons persist in India - the south-west (June-July) and the north-east (Aug-Sept). Hyderabad, being in the middle of the peninsula, reportedly gets both monsoon seasons, but neither with too much force.

Monsoon coming means mangos going, sadly for Greg. We can already tell since the price of mangos has started to rise (up to 30 Rs/kg from 25 last week). We do, however, have about 3 gallons of ziploc freezer bags stuffed with mangos in our freezer, so Greg will be able to enjoy mangos later. We're told a new fruit to look forward to is the custard-apple (so named because it tastes like apple custard, not because it's apple shape). I can't tell you much about it, not having ever seen one.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Water Tank Ledu. Idi maa illu!

I've finally found a place where Telugu is *really* useful outside of the interview window. I do use it to negotiate lower prices with autorickshaw drivers, to try to get a paper delivered to our house (still trying...), to communicate on the price of various fruits at the local stand, etc. But, no where has it come in as handy as on the phone.

For some reason, people have started calling our house the last month asking if this is the water tank. As in, the company that will refill a home's water tank (people have storage tanks on their roofs for when the city water doesn't run, which is a common occurence). The conversations usually go something like this:
Them: "Hello."
Me: "Hello"
T: "Hello."
Me: "Hello."
T: "Hello."
Me: "Hello."
(I'm not joking. Phone courtesy is to repeat "Hello" at least three times)
(Finally I get tired and say): "Cheppandi" (Tell me - this is also common reply to "Hello.")
Them: "Water tank kada?" (This is the water tank, right?)
Me: "Ledu. Idi water tank kaledu!" (No. This is not the water tank!)
Them: "Water tank ledu?" (This is not the water tank?)
Me: "Ledu. Idi maa illu. Maa sonta illu. Idi business kaledu." (no, this is my house. my own house, this is not a business)

Then, they hang up confused. Invariably the phone rings again one minute later. Usually the second time, the conversation is a little shorter, and involves a phrase: "wrong numbaru undi" (this is a wrong number).

I've asked at work for a new phone number, since we get these calls about 4x / week. In fact, those are the only calls we ever get on the home phone, unless I've misplaced my cell phone and Greg is trying to find me. In any case, at least I get to use my Telugu in a practical situation.