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.