Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Big Pot Hunt

For about three months, I've had this craft in mind that I would do with William's class. Greg's mom brought supplies on her last visit to India, and everything seemed in order. I had thought I would have William's class over to the house for a party, but things got a little crazy for that. So, I talked with his teacher, modified the craft to fit the Waldorf philosophy, and today am going to his school to paint pots with the kids. Each kid will bring home a pot and a little pack of seeds.

At first I needed 15 pots - just for William's class. But then Geeta Teacher decided it would be fun for her class, too -- so the pot requirement doubled to 30. Even with the 16 hour notice, I wasn't fazed. Last minute changes are the norm here, and since I was already sending Krishna out to buy 15 pots, why not 30?

Except apparently someone conducted a raid on pots in HYD over the last week. Krishna gave me updates throughout the day - he followed leads from Shilparamam in the west to Osmania University in the east -- but no pots of the size and type I had requested. Apparently, according to the pot wholesalers, people these days are preferring glazed pots or plastic pots to match more Western furnishings. Simple ceramic pots are considered passe and don't sell well. And someone came through two days ago purchasing 50 small ceramic pots from three different wholesalers, completely wiping out the small ceramic pot inventory in the city.

You think I'm joking, but I'm not!

One guy said he could custom make the pots I was looking for, but it would take a week. Umm... in a week I'll be in America! By 8PM last night, we still had no pots, and I needed to get a pedicure (I mean, really, I couldn't show up at IAH with bad toenail polish!). A plan was developed: Krishna would go out to get the best samples he could find and bring them to the spa. Then Krishna would go purchase the pots and seeds, and my friend would drive me home post-pedicure.

At 9:30 PM, I arrived back home, followed closely by Krishna with 30 small clay pots in the Xylo. Mission accomplished. And my driver thinks I'm nuts that his last act for me was to drive all over the city searching for pots!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Four Days Left

It's official. All 2479.4kg (about 5500 lbs) of boxes (including packing material) are downstairs, being loaded into crates. William and Greg are observing. Our friend Shae came over to supervise packing and loading of the piano, which seems to be going OK. It's 5PM on the second day, so time-wise, the movers did a good job. Quality-wise will not be assessed until we arrive in Manila, of course.

Our house is depressing, but at least we only have four days left in it. I'm glad we rescheduled the pack out after our departure day was delayed; spending 2.5 weeks in an empty house would be depressing. Now that the house is packed up, there's no avoiding the fact that we're moving and having to say good bye. Moving to a new place doesn't stress me out; leaving the current place does. It's exactly how I felt when I left DC, too.

Our friends Guru and Sowmya sent over dinner these last two days, limiting necessity of take away when the kitchen is closed. Two lessons I've learned that I'll take to the next post, to help out my yet-to-be-met friends: (1) offer to let any pets or children spend the pack out days at my house and (2) send over simple home cooked meals. Eating good food and knowing dog & children are happily playing ameliorate packing stress.

The plan is to go to work these next two days. Friday, I'm doing a craft project with William's class (I think - I thought I had confirmed details with his teacher, but I have to call her tonight to double check). Saturday we have our good bye brunch, hopefully good naps for the boys in the afternoon, and then to the airport in the late evening.

Then for the real question: do we rename the blog?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Doggie is the New Lamby Baby

During the BIG SORT we had to attack toys and stuffed animals. William isn't attached to much, except Lamby Baby (which has been a necessity since his bout of intussusception at age 13 months) and recently Nandita (aka Curious George who became William's baby when Patrick was born). Other stuffed animals come and go, but those two are staples. We dutifully put them both in the "off limits" room, knowing full well the wrath which would descend on our house if either - especially Lamby Baby - were packed in boxes. I don't even want to think about that possibility!

Patch, though, hasn't shown much attachment to anything in particular except his big brother. In his crib he's always had this one small pillow (which has fuzzy soft animal appliquéd on the cover) and a stuffed sleeping dog (from my friend John, I believe purchased at Harrod's, if I remember correctly!). We didn't really know if we should keep the pillow and dog out, since space in carry on and checked luggage is at a premium, but decided to keep the dog. After all, even if not critical, something familiar from home would be nice, right?

Good thing we did! I put Patch to bed tonight and he screamed like crazy. Though this is par for the course for the big one, I was shocked - Patch just dives into bed and is out like a light. I walked downstairs and spotted Doggie on the sofa ... and thought, maybe that's what Patch wants. A quick run upstairs, a toss of the dog into the portacrib, and - like magic - small one was asleep.

Now I just have to figure out how to order a back up dog - just in case!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A lull in the madness

The BIG SORT is finished, and the packing has started. Having heard horror stories from our coworkers, we had very low expectations from the moving crew. Either we were assigned a better company, or the company sent their best crew, but whatever the reason - KNOCK ON WOOD - so far everything is going smoothly.

Air shipment, check. Extra poundage available to add in some dog food and a bike with training wheels for William for Manila (his "moving to a new home" present - and then Patch can have the tricycle).

Storage to Belgium, check. In all likelihood our flat in Manila will be about 1/2 the size of our HYD home, so the few pieces of personal furniture we brought here will be packed away for storage. As are our humidifiers -- word on the street is that those will be completely useless in Manila.

Now on to the rest of the house after lunch. Namely, clothes, linens, frames, china, crystal, and kitchen stuff. Also known as the time when when Pam will bite her nails to bits, hoping her fourth generation china and retired crystal pattern make it in one piece. Some people think I'm crazy for bringing this stuff everywhere, but it seeing it in my house makes me happy - everyone is allowed some level of irrationality, yes?

Though I'm not a big fan of State's furniture choices, I am a big fan of not having to move furniture. Packing a house goes so much more quickly without all the big pieces to wrap.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What I Really Need Right Now

is a grande latte. Where is my father to make a Starbuck's run when I need him?

My taskmaster has come back from walking the dog. I guess that means the lunch break is over and we have to go back to packing. Hope the boys are having fun at Sarwari's house.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Obviously, this is a strange Christmas for us. We had been hoping to be with our family in the US, but such was not to be. Our house is all turned upside down for the movers coming on the 27th. Baking any type of Christmas cookies at all was completely out of the question. We could only find Christmas eve services at 7Pm or later, which just won't work with young boys' sleep schedules - and good sleep is imperative at this moment. I didn't want to cook a feast (and get everything dirty before the movers come), so Sarwari made chicken korma - just screams traditional Christmas Eve dinner, right???

But little things make it still OK. Not having the energy for a full hotel Christmas brunch, we'll just go over to a friend's house for a simple meal together tomorrow. We've intentionally kept the BIG SORT contained in two bedrooms downstairs so that the area around our tree looks normal. If we can't make it to 8AM Christmas Mass tomorrow, we'll just read Luke 2:1-20 ourselves.

I picked William up at school today and teared up when I saw the nativity scene the teachers had arranged - simple, with wooden and cloth figures, just like all the toys at his school. Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, Wise men and some sheep on the first step. A choir of angels on the second step, and a two foot Indian-style Christmas tree on the third. The perfect simple scene for our simple Christmas. I just wish I had brought my camera to capture the essence and spirit of our Christmas this year to share with you.

William's thoughts on moving

To continue the previous thread ... two recent conversations with William on moving:

Me: "William, we need to pick out which toys will go on the airplane and which ones will go on the boat to Manila."
William: "I only need one box. The other children coming to this house will need some toys so I will leave them here. I just need my dump truck and other trucks and trains and men." (meaning, little Duplo people he makes ride in various vehicles)
Me: "What about Patrick?"
William (pause, thinks, then says): "OK, two boxes only then."

We had some good friends over a few days ago to say good bye as they were leaving before Christmas and wouldn't be back in HYD until Jan 3. At some point in the evening, Wm went upstairs ... and it got to be pretty quiet, which as all parents of three year olds know can be a sign of trouble! Our friends left, and we went upstairs to see what was going on. We saw one of our 5x7 carpets from the TV room rolled up and lying near the stairs.

Greg: "William, what's this carpet doing?"
Wm: "I rolled it, Dada."
Greg: "Yes, I see that. Why?"
Wm: "I want to take it to Manila so I have to roll it so the packer guys can take it."

The next day, we were home for the BIG SORT (ie, purging and rearranging). Wm asked help with rolling up almost all of the carpets, which are now piled up right near the door so the packer guys will see them.

Monday, December 13, 2010

William's thoughts

Babies are cute - but kids are more fun. It is amusing to watch Patch this week figure out that walking backwards into a wall kind of hurts (he repeated this new trick several times, but I think he understands now). It's more fun, though, having real conversations with William.

Some recent favorite comments:

"Sarwari, when I get big and am a pilot, I will fly back to India and pick up you and Shabu and take you to America with me." (this was about two weeks ago)

"Mama, when I am so big - bigger than you - then I will live on my own house on Road 14. And I will take Patrick with me because he's my friend and you're only the Mama."

"Mama, you are not my friend because you have to put me in time out sometimes. Friends don't put friends in time out." (I pointed out to him that if he didn't bonk Patch on the head, I wouldn't need to put him in timeout so often.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sarwari's House

Faithful readers know we've been to Sarwari's mother's house a number of times in our time here; often enough that we actually know how to walk ourselves through the twisty turny alleys. Today, though, we had lunch at Sarwari's own house. As always, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I came away very relieved to see how nicely she and her children live. I knew nothing of the details below until three weeks ago when she invited us over.

About 15 years ago, Sarwari and her husband (who was still working then; before he became pretty much the deadbeat he is today) saved up Rs 15,000 to buy a small plot of land. They built a temporary "choppiri" house on it - corrugated metal and concrete, to provide some shelter from the elements, but not fantastic. About two years ago, just before she started working for us, she took out a loan from her brother-in-law to build a permanent concrete house, in a similar fashion to her mother's house: she and her family live ground floor, and the first and second floor have rooms for rent.

The construction languished for a bit because her husband's father's brother had a big surgery which all the families had to contribute to to pay for. Eventually with that paid off, she could again give some working capital to her brother in law, who in turn could finish construction. All in all, her brother in law financed seven lakh rupees (about $15K). They moved in six months ago, and her living area is probably about 2/3 the size of our condo in DC.

The brother-in-law takes about Rs 10,000 each month in rent from the rooms on the first and second floor. Plus, every now and then when Sarwari saves up a chunk of money, then she pays that to him, too. In some unspecified amount of time, when the basic loan plus interest is paid off, then Sarwari will be able to collect the rent herself, which will provide much needed financial security for her old age when she can no long work as hard as she does today.

Individual stories like this give me hope for India. The newspapers every day are filled with stories of someone cheating someone - or government employees siphoning off petrol from government cars and selling it for their own profit - or other waste and mistreatment of some sort. I get so discouraged because, as Greg commented, the general public hasn't yet seemed to have figured out the "prisoner's dilemma:" sometimes one can be better off in the long run by sacrificing in the short run.

Sarwari was dealt difficult cards. Her arranged marriage didn't turn out well, and her uncles all pressured her to divorce. She didn't feel that she could, though, since she had five younger sisters who all needed to be married - and there was no guarantee that a second husband would be any different from the first. Not to mention the problem of what to do with her children. So, she made the best of it, slowly taught herself English, worked hard, and today has her own house she can be proud of. Just imagine what could happen in India if everyone worked so hard and honestly - this country would be even more of a force to reckon with than it is today.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Only just barely above half

Last year was fantastic with 89 posts ... and this year a measly 49 (this will be #50). I've been trying to decide if it's because having Patch around has made life a little more hectic or if it's because the crazy things in India aren't nearly as shocking the second year. Probably the later, is my current feeling, since Patch is such a laid back toddler (unless he's hungry). The three weeks with my arm in a cast didn't help much, either.

Generally these days we're sticking close to home. Especially after last weekend's near fatal almost-accident, we just don't want any bad surprises this close to leaving. After all, our two years have been quite enjoyable, so why tempt fate and spoil the last few weeks?

We did have a small adventure yesterday. I've been wanting to check out this shop for some time: but haven't managed to make it over yet. We planned to stop by after work on Wednesday, but an unseasonable rain meant Krishna had to stay at music class to take Wm and Sarwari home in the car. It wasn't raining by the office, so we decided to catch an auto to the store and have Krishna meet us there after dropping Wm home.

Having been here so long - and being able to speak Telugu - one thing we absolutely refuse to do is overpay for an auto. The distance was not far, so I was willing to pay max Rs 20 for what should be within the base Rs 12 fare. No one would give us a ride for under Rs 50, so we ended up walking on principle.

Then I couldn't quite remember the lane it was located on. We turned down one, and when we didn't see it, asked at a shop (in Telugu). The shop owner said "yes, I know daaram" and pulled out a box of thread, asking which color we wanted -- daaram means "thread". We all had a chuckle when I clarified it was the name of the shop I was looking for. Walking back to the main road, I stopped at another small shop for one of my favorite treats here - hot chips. I.e., freshly friend potato chips. Super YUM!

Still laughing at the Telugu double entendre and looking forward to eating my hot chips, I was suddenly moved to near tears. A little white street puppy we had seen nursing at its mother 15 minutes ago was whimpering awkwardly in the middle of the street, having been hit by some vehicle in the intervening time period. It's little black puppy sibling was on the side of the road making sad puppy crying sounds. I was surprised at how sad this made me - I hardly ever have any reaction to the street dogs and pretty much ignore them. But something about having seen it nursing just a short time before really got me.

Not having found the store, we went back to the main street and turned down the next lane which was deserted except for a few security guards. We asked them about the shop, and they immediately pointed to the building we were standing in front of (which had no sign board at all!) - and explained it was closed on Wednesdays. Oh well. The purpose of the trip was unsuccessful, but we did get a fun reminder of all the activity on small back streets we rarely see in the posh part of the city.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Happy Farewell to You!

William's best friend in our apartment complex had a surprise farewell party for him yesterday with all of the "regular kids" who go down into the courtyard each evening. I was actually quite touched by our neighbor's thoughtfulness.

Our neighbor's daughter, like many Indians, has two birthdays. One is the day she was actually born on (Dec 6) and the other is the "auspicious day" they record for her birthday for school and government records. This is so strange to an American (can you imagine an American mother telling the hospital to record the birth on a different day for the child's fortune?), but having dealt with enough visas and passports over the last two years, I'm quite familiar with the concept.

Our neighbor has designated Dec 6 as her daughter's "Care and Share" day where they do something kind for somewhere else. Last year we went to their house and they invited a young disabled child whom they are sponsoring for school over for dinner. This year I assumed it would be the same, but imagine my surprise when they brought in a cake which said "Farewell William and Patrick" and the kids broke into "Happy Farewell to You!" (sung to the Happy Birthday tune).

I still don't think William quite understands that when we leave we won't ever be coming back, but it was nice to have a happy gathering with all his friends in our building to send him off. All the more so because it was such a surprise.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

aggression, stupidity, and near-homicidal experiences

Three things today reminded me that I'm not at home. (Well, more than three, but these three stand out.) They all happened on the way to William's school's bazaar, so I was a bit shaken up by the time we got there. Luckily the fresh grape juice calmed my nerves. (Have you ever had fresh grape juice? Really fresh, not from a jar/bottle/can/box? One of my new favorites.)

Anyway, here they are:

1. We were sitting in line at the gas station (or "petrol bunk" for some of you). The car in front was just finishing. Fuel cap on, fuel door closed, car in gear, and VROOM, here comes a car directly off the street, full speed, making a beeline for the pump. Having waited patiently for the car in front to finish, I did not take too kindly to this. Luckily, despite the astonishing aggressiveness on display, I was close enough to the car that had just finished that the jerk still didn't get to the pump before me. Instead, they looped around to the next one, where they had to wait (horrors!) a full three minutes for that car to finish. I wasn't surprised by the dirty looks I got from the male driver, but I was a bit taken aback by the evil eye his wife gave. I'm not sure I've seen that cruel a look from under a hijab before.

3. This is actually the last one, but I'm saving one for last. As we drove down the highway (at all of 40 mph, since it was an Indian car on an Indian highway after all), we passed a group of fools on motorbikes, the most foolish of whom was standing on the seat. At about 30 mph. On the highway. No helmet. He made it down safely that time, but one would have a hard time summoning too many tears for a Darwin Award candidate like that guy. Of course, his stupidity was no more egregious than the woman we had just seen in incident number...

2. On the same highway, only moments below Prakash Knievel pulled his little stunt, we were cruising along with nary a car in sight, at the Xylo's maximum comfortable speed of about 40 mph. I saw a couple hundred yards ahead of us in the lane just to our right a single person walking in the road (the highway, in case I didn't mention it) towards our lane, clearly not looking at the oncoming traffic. As drivers in this country are wont to do, I honked my horn. At this point, any rational person's thought process would lead them down a path ending with, "whoa, that onrushing car is a whole heck of a lot bigger than I am, and it's going darn fast. If it hit me, I'd probably get splattered into about a billion (100 crore) pieces all over this here road. I'd better just stand where I am so that car can just go right by me and I can be on my merry way." Note the inclusion of the word "rational". Instead, this apparently being an irrational person, she decided to RUN TOWARDS MY LANE, directly into the path of my speeding vehicle. Fortunately for her, us, and the RSO (who would have been the unhappy recipient of the first phone call), I was able to slam on my brakes and swerve just enough to miss her. I'm quite happy to have left a set of skid marks on the road rather than a bloody mess.

I'll save the analysis of this nerve-racking half hour for some other time, most likely not to take place in written form.

Your almost-homicidal correspondent,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

It's all about dirt

Once again, William has come to a turning point with his paci. Funny how he has twice managed to do this -- bite through his supposed "last paci" the day before we go on a trip (last time it was the night before we left on the fated Orissa trip, and now tomorrow we're leaving for Bangalore & Mysore). We tried to encourage him to leave it outside his room for the Paci Fairy to come ... but he wasn't having much of that idea.

Then I spotted his shovel and had an idea -- why didn't he dig a hole for his paci in the garden? He thought that sounded pretty fun, so we went out and planted the dead paci. He seemed pretty happy with that plan, and it had the added benefit that 30 minutes later, when we were reading stories and he asked for his paci again, I could truthfully say it was full of dirt and unable to be cleaned.

It was a bit of a long bed time routine, because of lack of paci. I had to tell many stories about a boy named Mailliw and his best friend Ayam (I couldn't figure out how Itahdnura would be pronounced, but now that I'm looking at it, I think I can add a new character) who live in the country of Aidni and take all kinds of adventures, which usually involve some swimming and some digging in the sand. Amazingly, we haven't had any tears - yet! We'll see how the night goes.

Oh - and I better find some of those presents we hid for when he does something very good! (assuming he makes it through the night without stealing Patch's paci)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two times in one day!

Poor Patrick. He has to say good bye two times in one day. Each morning, he starts to get upset as I get together my bag, put my shoes on and pick up my tea flask. Sarwari used to bring him to the door to wave bye bye, but these days he gets so sad its better for her to distract him as we slip out. When I get home from work at first he's o happy, but then he sees Sarwari pick up her purse and put her black shawl over her shoulders (she doesn't wear burqua or headscarf, but says she still thinks she should wear something), and he starts crying again. It's tough when you have to say good bye both morning and evening!

Speaking of Patch, I'll be interested to see what happens with him when we're in the US and he hears English exclusively all day long. At this age, William definitely communicated with words (even if they were only inteligible to me, Greg and Dr Aunt Beth). Patrick gestures, can shake his head no, and claps when he's finished eating ("All Done!"), so he obviously understands ... but no words. Speach delay is pretty normal for kids who hear two languages (Hindi and English, in his case) - so when the Hindi completely disappears from his life, I'm curious how quickly he'll start talking. Or, who knows, maybe he'll be one of those kids who doesn't say a word, and then suddenly at two speaks in perfectly gramatically correct sentences.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Just before we leave

Greg's been trying to get William to learn some Hindi. It's harder than you would think, because Sarwari is very proud that she has taught herself English. Which means she doesn't really want to speak Hindi with William, despite our encouragements.

Tonight, I was playing with William (who, amazingly, said he wanted to play instead of watch Thomas. I was happy for the interaction, but slightly missing my usual 30 minutes of email time) and we were lining up his cars and trucks for various purposes such as going through gates, checking the signals, parking, etc.

Out of no where, he busted out some Hindi. I have no idea what he said. Our conversation followed as thus:
Pam: "William, I only speak Telugu, remember? No Hindi."
William: "But Mama, the drivers are speaking to each other."
Pam: "What did they say?"
William: "They only speak Hindi. You can't understand."

So, who knows what he was actually saying in Hindi ... I certainly don't. He has, apparently, picked up enough to make pretend driver conversation. Not to mention the cultural context of drivers speaking to each other without any need for me to understand.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Traveling with kids

As I'm packing for a weekend trip, I realized we're starting - slowly - to move into the easier part of traveling with children. It's all a function of feeding and sleeping, regardless of age. My ranking on age vs. ease of travel is:

1. 0 - 4 months is the absolutely easiest, if the child is exclusively breastfed. Babies this small sleep anywhere at any time. They're completely clueless to where you are - and really don't care as long as you can take 20 minutes to sit and feed them or hug them close in a baby carrier for sleeping.

2. 2.5+ years comes next. For us, at least, after William was this big, his naps became very predictable. Food isn't an issue (assuming no allergies!) as the kid can eat all table food. So, just make sure to be at the hotel from 1 - 3:30, and all is good to go.

3. 1 - 2.5 years. Food is mostly not a problem (baby has graduated to table food and milk and juice). Nap time can be tricky because sometimes the toddlers like two naps (terrible for sightseeing!) and sometimes one - and sometimes none and they're cranky all day. But, if you're able to navigate the nap time issues, because the toddler is usually walking, it's easy for him to burn off that endless child-energy.

4. 4 months - 1 year. This is the absolute hardest time, in my opinion. The baby is wanting to crawl (yes, I know, 4 months is not a normal crawling age ... but this is what I was dealt with both boys), but floors when traveling are often less than clean - even if you're not in India. Food can be difficult since you have to pack baby food, figure out where to buy it, or constantly ask if a restaurant can puree things (though I've read of some beach resorts which are starting to stock it!). Plus, the baby is only just being introduced to foods (and traveling is not a time you want to discover a food allergy), so food options are limited.

The good news is, Patrick is out of Phase 4. We did pack some rice cereal, remaining baby food tubs, and a little formula - but mostly for comfort than necessity. He's walking (and looks so cute in William's old Crocs!), so our concerns about cleanliness are lessening. He's usually at one nap, and unlike William goes to sleep easily, so Phase 3 should be simpler with him than William.

I'm not 100% sure yet ... but it seems to me after eight years old traveling with the boys will seem like a piece of cake. At least, that's how old Beth was when I moved to Japan -- and I remember the two of us being pretty self sufficient on the planes. Hopefully William and Patch will take after us!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

That Crazy American Mother

I have a reputation. I am "that crazy American mother." My reputation in our apartment block was sealed tonight when the daughter of my underneath neighbor came up to visit. I invited her in, but she was scared of Bagwelle so we had to stand on the porch and chat.

After the necessary pleasantries, she confessed why she came to visit: her 3.5 month old son wasn't drinking a bottle and she was feeling like she was under house arrest (her mother in law didn't like her nursing in public). Her mother in law and her mother had run out of suggestions of how to encourage the baby to take a bottle so she could get out a bit (and regain her sanity). Then, her mother had a good idea: why don't you go upstairs and talk to that crazy American mother? Maybe she'll have some crazy American ideas that will work!

My reputation has been growing the two years we've been living here. First, I hardly gained any weight (by local standards) during pregnancy. I kept on working up until the day before Patrick was born. I ran around and played with William in the courtyard while pregnant! I even drove the car myself while (a) I was pregnant and (b) Greg was out of town. Can you imagine?

Then the craziness didn't stop after Patrick was born. I took Patrick downstairs when he was only two weeks old. I started my yoga practice again only two months after giving birth. I went back to work when Patrick was only three months old, and left him with Sarwari - not with my mother or mother in law! I went to Uzbekistan when Patrick was only 10 months, leaving Greg alone with two boys - the horrors! I took away Patrick's bottles at his one year birthday. Though Sarwari feeds Patrick some baby food, I also encourage him to eat pasta and bread and Cherrios by himself. What sort of cruel mother makes her baby self-feed?

And let's not even get started on what crazy ideas this American mother has when it comes to William. No biscuits or chocolates until after 5PM. He has to come home when I say it's time, even if it means I pick him up kicking and screaming. I let him walk the dog. I let him talk to the security guards and watch the cricket games the "tent people" play in the street. The list could go on.

Tonight when our neighbor came up for some of my crazy advice, she also became party to our biggest secret - Greg actually helps out with the kids! She saw him feeding Patrick his dinner after she finally found enough courage to come in (or perhaps curiosity to see our crazy American house). Greg reads bedtime stories to the boys and plays with them - and then picks up their toys. Not only is there a crazy American mother, but there's a crazy American father living upstairs - and, to top it off, she found out tonight we had a love marriage! Good thing I didn't tell her that Greg had to change all of Patrick's diapers the three weeks my arm was in a cast. That might just have been too much.

Despite these mind boggling ideas, I think I dispensed some sound advice to this poor new mother. I sympathized that her Indian moires would not allow her to nurse in public (though I told her I still did in HYD - but I'm a crazy American, after all). I gave her three of Patrick's old bottles with different nipples, and told her that some babies are sensitive to different types. I suggested she go to two different baby stores which sell import formula and get small samples - maybe her son doesn't like the taste of the Nestle formula here.

After she left, Greg and I wondered - what will our apartment complex do after we leave? Who will they turn to when the suggestions of both the mother and mother in law don't work? I suppose there's always the internet...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Return of the War Zone

We wrote about it last year ... and again I must reiterate that Deepawali (Diwali in the north) is my least favorite of the Indian holidays. My dislike has nothing at all to do with the background behind the religious celebration and everything to do with noise and trash.

I hate to be a killjoy ... BUT ... the extra loud firecrackers which drive poor Bagwelle under the sofa, keep William from going to bed (not to mention hurt my ears if I'm outside too close), and leave debris all over the street in front of my building do absolutely nothing to endear the celebration to me. It starts building up and up to the final day - this Friday - when I'll once again get a sense of what it must sound like in a war zone.

Two insightful comments I heard in connection with Deepawali today:

1. From my yoga teacher: "I hope it starts raining at about 10PM on Friday. That way everyone can still have their fun and we can all go to sleep in peace."

2. From my coworker: "Whose bright idea was it to have Obama visit a city which has had two major bomb attacks in the recent past [Mumbai] on a night when everyone and his brother will be setting off firecrackers that sound like bombs?"

Moving logistics started

We don't know when we're moving yet, but we do at least know that it will be cold when we're in the US. Given that it will be in the 70s in HYD, and about the same in Manila (if not warmer), this poses some interesting logistical issues for us.

Actually, for me and Greg, the logistics are pretty straight forward. We get to take two suitcases each as checked bags. So, one suitcase with our tropical clothes (both work and casual) and one suitcase with our winter clothes (again, for work and casual). For Patch, it won't be too difficult either because he'll be just about the size William was just before we moved to India. Patch is a bit bigger ... so we'll have to stuff his leg rolls into the pants, but for two months he can make do.

William's clothing situation, however, poses the biggest logistical obstacle. We have no winter clothes in 3T size. Nor do I really care to purchase a wardrobe for two months. What to do? Here's where I'm super thankful for family - and specifically for a cousin who has a son about a year older than William! 3T and 4T fleece? No problem. 12 long sleeve shorts and pants? Again, not an issue. A box has been packed up and will be delivered to my older sister's house in MD over Thanksgiving. Even shipping isn't a problem!

Once again, I feel like I'm at the end of a Sesame Street episode: "this program was brought to you by the letter F." Meaning, this job really wouldn't be possible if we didn't have the support of our family and friends back home. Or, it would be possible, but it certainly would be much more difficult without them (you!).

Friday, October 22, 2010

Slowly making progress

You know what the boys are up to, so now an update on my other project - making sure Sarwari's children receive a good education.

The first quarter's exams were held just before Dasara (about three weeks ago) and exam results were given back at the parent teacher meeting this morning. First, I had to explain to Sarwari that it was OK for her to be late to work this morning (Saturday) so that she could go to the parent-teacher meeting. That was half the battle! Believe it or not, Greg and I can function by ourselves with two boys on a Saturday morning.

The teacher reported that Naheeda was making good progress. She passed her exams with a 103 / 200. Sarwari and Nazeema (the elder daughter) were so proud of her for passing. I know from a US perspective, the "F" grade and only just barely scraping by three points above the passing mark seems unacceptable. Indeed, if William came home with a 103/200 in fifth grade, Greg and I would probably be livid.

But this is a different case. When she took the admissions test for this school, the school wanted to place her in third grade. For developmental reasons (and with personal persuasion on my part), the principal agreed to allow her into fifth grade. When she started, her reading ability was very limited - what I would classify as first grade level at a US school. Naheeda and Sarwari have been sticking to the bargain, though. She goes for tutoring every evening for two hours with a teacher from her new school who lives in their neighborhood. She comes to our house each Saturday to review all her lessons with me. (I try to make the lessons fun - showing her pictures on the computer of things they read about, taking out a globe to point out the countries discussed in social studies class, using beans and toys (aka manipulatives) to illustrate math concepts.)

I told Sarwari from the beginning my goal was to make sure Naheeda passed fifth grade. Just passing. And then from sixth grade on, as she solidifies her foundation in math and English, she should focus on improving grades. The teacher told Sarwari today that Naheeda is not the best student by any means, but she was very happy with the progress Naheeda is making. At this point, that's fantastic news.

Armand, Sarwari's three year old son, is like a sponge - directly illustrating the importance of good early childhood education. A child who one year ago was screeching and barely speaking in Hindi (let alone English), just pointed to Bagwelle and said, "dog." Sarwari then asked (in English), what color Bagwelle is and he replied, "black." She (Sarwari) was beaming to be able to show me the results of the education.

I'm so relieved this has turned out well. Greg and I were very nervous we might be demanding too much, especially given Naheeda's educational background. The last thing we wanted was for her to fail and lose all confidence. Thankfully, everyone has stuck to her part of the agreement (me, Naheeda, Nazima and Sarwari), and we all received happy news today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boys' update

The periodic update on the boys - well, mostly on Patch, since he's the one who's changing the most.

I think I'll be disappearing Patrick's bottles this weekend. Every time William has a cup or a sippy cup, Patch grabs at it and is totally engrossed by trying to drink out of it. While he's interested, I might as well make the transition, I think. Sarwari will be slightly upset with me, because it's easier for her to make sure he drinks his formula if he uses a bottle. Too bad, though! All babies must grow up, and on the mobility scale, Patch graduated from baby to toddler some months ago. High time, I say, that his eating and drinking skills do, too.

Patch easily climbs up stairs and is now getting frustrated using his hands and trying to walk up stairs. This later attempt is not welcomed! He is now trying to climb up everything - our bed, the sofa, William's toddler bed, dining room chairs, the kitchen cabinet, William's tricycle. I think you get the idea. Needless to say, he still requires constant supervision!

As much progress as he's making on the gross motor skill front, he's not very interested in learning words. Probably it's because he hears mostly Hindi during the day and not too much English from us. Since he can play well (e.g., kick a ball or put small objects into a bucket), I'm not worried - it's just different from William.

Speaking of comparison between the two boys, William continues to be a skinny minnie and Patch a chunko. William is only just in 3T clothes, while Patrick has outgrown almost all of his 12 month clothes and is wearing 18 month size. William still has some 18 month size shorts in his drawer! I didn't actually think that they would be wearing the same clothes at the same time so soon, but at this point, it's highly conceivable.

William is starting to get aware of the fact that we're leaving. He asks questions like "Who will watch me if I want to stay home while you go to the shops?" or "What will I eat for snack at school in America if there are no idlis?" We're trying to keep it very matter of fact so that moving isn't scary or sad - but I still imagine the next six months will be a little difficult with leaving here, having a transition period in the US, and then getting settled in Manila.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saraswati pooja

One thing we haven't explored much during our time here is religion. We haven't found any church service here that we're comfortable with, and without the weekly structured Christian teaching William and Patrick would get through a Sunday school program, I don't want to confuse them too much by participating in other religion's worship practices. Even though I definitely want to encourage learning about other religions and being open and tolerate, I just haven't decided for myself yet how comfortable I am with participating in other worships. I'm sure this will definitely continue to develop as we continue to live abroad.

This is why - 20 months later - William only just participated in his first pooja - a Saraswati pooja. Saraswathi is the Hindu goddess of learning (among other things). Today was her festival day as part of the Dussera (Navaratri) festival period. (Wikipedia it - I'm not going to attempt to describe what I only have a very basic understand of!). Our neighbor thus had a big pooja celebration for their daughter, who is William's age (and probably his best friend here).

A priest came to the house, and, in addition to the chanting and blessings, asked the little girl to draw the first letter of the Telugu alphabet in a plate of rice. This marked the official start of her official learning process, and will hopefully bring her good fortune for her continued studies. At least, this is what I understand from the various explanations I've been given.

We were at work, but Sarwari brought William over for the ceremony. Apparently, after about 4 minutes, the daughter was very upset and asked William to come sit next to her while the priest continued the blessings. Our neighbor was hesitant, because she didn't know how Greg and I felt about this, but while she and Sarwari were debating, William just went and plopped down next to his friend and the priest continued. Not wanting to make a double scene with both kids getting upset, they decided to allow the ceremony to continue (which is fine - had I been there, I would have agreed). The priest was only giving the blessings to the daughter, but then she asked the priest to bless William, too ... which he did.

Now I just have to wait for the videographer to bring over the tape so I can see what happened. William tried to give us an explanation when we got home - he was very animated and talked about mixing yellow and white flowers and coconuts and getting "red color" on his forehead, but I'm curious to see for myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First post in ages

I'm feeling contemplative today, but I'm not exactly sure what I'm contemplating. And I suspect that I may start this post several times before writing something that's diplomatically-acceptable. Sorry, Kiwis and Aussies, I'll leave the diplomatic rows to you. So we'll see what kind of stream-of-consciousness rambling comes out.

The first interesting thing about today was the sad revelation that yet another American restaurant has begun its descent into normalcy. After a strong start featuring fries indistinguishable from the American outlets' and burgers with decent beef (a rarity in the land of the holy cow), Chili's seems to have lost its American management and its ability to stand out. Today's fries tasted like they came straight out of a freezer bag, sans crispiness and seasoning. The tortilla chips, still passable, had a hint of staleness. And I'll never understand, when the menu clearly lists each ingredient in the burger, right down to the last pickle, how renegade mayonnaise manages to slather its way onto the bun. Anyway, maybe it's still worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood and having a hankering for a giant pile of more-or-less-American-style fried goodness, but the Chili's honeymoon is over.

We've met a bunch of new people here over the past few weeks, several of them well worth knowing better. But we've also come to that time in our tour when we start to ask ourselves whether it's really worth the effort to get to know new people. That's not to disparage the people - there are always more interesting people out there, and you never know who's going to become a lifelong friend. But is there time? We're quickly counting down the weeks here (around 10 now), and it's awfully tempting to sit around the house and read a book or watch tv or play with the boys (we should do the latter anyway, of course) instead of being social. But that's not why we're here, really, and even after 170 interviews like I had on Friday, there's always more to be done, more connections to make, more events to attend, more opportunities to be out in the community.

What I think we're really hoping is that when we get to Manila, and as the boys get bigger, more and more of that socialization for us will be through them. It's a tough spot for us here demographically. The people we know who have kids are mostly several years older than us and, more importantly, live far enough away that it's prohibitive for a kid-friendly weekday event. And Pam and I are just not at the point where we're going to hit up the neighborhood pub for a pint on a Tuesday night. But if we're at a place with some other young parents of young kids a bit closer to home, I hope some of this will take care of itself.

Ok, that's all for now. I'll try not to go so long before the next one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Memsahib means business

I intentionally caused a stir today.

For three months, we've been unable to use three of four showers, all of which are on the "courtyard" side of our house. Only the single shower on the "road" side of the house (which has a completely separate pressure pump and supply tank) has been working. We've not suffered that much, since only two of us take showers. But, with two guests coming Thursday, I really wanted to get this problem fixed.

I couldn't really understand what the problem was and felt as if I was only getting half the story from everyone I talked to - whether at work or in my building's maintenance staff. So today I decided to get to the bottom of it - or rather, the top of it. Since I don't speak Hindi, and my building's maintenance staff doesn't speak Telugu, I asked Sarwari to call down to the security guards to ask them to meet me on the roof.

Up four of us went (and then Greg and William joined, since William doesn't ever miss a chance to see how the different machines on the roof work). Between me half understanding what the guards were saying in Hindi, and Sarwari half translating, I finally figured out the problem had to do with the location of the water pump -- it was too high vis-a-vis the water tank. Armed with this knowledge, it was time to call up the building's maintenance manager.

As I peeked over the side of the building to make sure the manager was coming, I noticed lots of people were watching from various porches. Servants from four different apartments were (unsuccessfully) trying to inconspicuously see what in the world *I* was doing on the roof. Only laundry washers and maintenance people are supposed to go up there!

Another thirty minutes later of back and forth in half Hindi, half English, the building manager finally agreed to move the pump. I have no idea why it took three months for this to be worked out, but I think that by going to the top of the roof, it was pretty apparent to the entire apartment complex that I wasn't going to leave until something was figured out.

We'll see in tomorrow morning's shower if the problem really is fixed.

(PS - William had a great time watching the elevator gears go round and round.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Knowing the time

It doesn't always happen this way, but right now we have a great outside reminder between the Catholic church to the east and the mosque to the west of us. Church bells ringing each morning around 6:30 mean we're late walking Bagwelle (if we're not already outside). Prayer call at about 6PM means it's time to stop playing in the courtyard and go upstairs for dinner. The last call just after 8PM means it's past bedtime.

It's great having these outside cues for a three year old who can't tell time and for me, whose favorite Skaagen watch broke. It also reminds me of Tokyo when loud speakers in many areas play a certain song at 5:30 - I always called it the "children, time to go home" song.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why we get 25% differential

Generally our life here is pretty comfortable. From the outside, so much so that many people question why we get "hardship" pay - and especially why the pay is as high as 25%. I can't claim to know how all the calculations work, but this afternoon was one reminder as to why we do get the pay bump.

(1) We got our TB test done - finally. Our consulate doesn't have a med unit, so every three months or so, a doctor or NP visits us from Delhi bringing FDA-approved vaccines, flu shots, etc etc. To keep our medical clearance current, we're supposed to take a TB test before Manila. Easier said than done! A minimum of 48 hours is required to read the test. Though we've been asking for the test since April, it's only just now that the visiting nurse is staying in HYD long enough to read the results. (Don't ask me why MED didn't want us to go to a local doctor for a test. I offered, but they really wanted one of the Delhi personnel to do it). Now keep your fingers crossed we don't test positive...

(2) We stopped on the way home for diesel. Shouldn't be that big a deal, right? We're not exactly sure why, but today it involved lots and lots of hassle from the diesel pump people. In the end, Greg had to get out of the car (unheard of here) and almost pull the additional Rs 40 change from the attendant. This is pretty unusual, but it still was annoying.

(3) Lunch. We thought about trying a new restaurant, but couldn't figure out how to get our car into the correct shopping area. We drove around for some time, but kept on coming up against closed gates or walls. So then we moved on to restaurant #2, which was randomly closed for lunch today. Tired and frustrated, we decided to give up trying new places and went to a tried and true place (and thankfully were not disappointed!).

(4) Grocery shopping. Since lunch places #1 and #2 were a failure, and I didn't feel like driving back to my preferred grocery store (SPAR, a German brand), I decided we'd just pay the slightly inflated prices at the close by fancy grocery store (Ruci). After all, I could stop at the cafe for a coffee at the end and Greg could get some gelatto, making up for all the frustration earlier in the day :) At least, that was our idea. Except even though I had a really basic "must by" list (tea, sugar, ketchup, cooking oil, and floor cleaner) - none of the brands I wanted were in stock. And these are all normal brands - not fancy import brands which (with reason) are only in stock when a shipment comes. I left the store in frustration without buying anything.

In short - though we did succeed in getting the TB test done and eventually filling our car's gas tank and our own bellies, I arrived back home less than satisfied with the excursion. Only to see the kid at a house at the end of our block squatting to go poo poo outside his house next to the road. Geesh! Good thing HYD has so many other wonderful things to compensate ...

Saturday, September 25, 2010


William informed me last night that he does not want to go to Manila or to America. He said, "I'm Indian and I need to stay in Hyderabad."

Unfortunately, he has no say in the matter. But, I do feel fortunate that he adjusted so well to being here ... and hope that he can enjoy our next post as much as he did here.

Where did September go?

This is about the third time I've asked myself this question. How is it already September 26? How is it possible that Patch will be 11 months old in only three days? And why have I been neglecting my faithful readers back home with only a single blog post this entire month?

I had a great trip to Tashkent. I heard some people say there that they don't work at the end of the world, but they can see it from Tashkent. I owe a travelogue post on that trip. Then, when I came back, it hit in full force that we were going to be moving at the end of the year and I really needed to make preliminary preparations. Instead of tackling that problem, however, I basically decided to ignore the computer and the moving work ... and finished up Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy.

Now, with the books done, I spent the morning updating my hair color (good bye grey hairs) and am ready to face the fact that we do only have three months left in HYD, sadly. A mere 12 weekends remaining :( The challenge as I see it is how to complete all the necessary chores relating to moving while still remaining engaged and "living in the present." Oh - and not let my blog fall totally by the way-side, either!

Friday, September 3, 2010

A running list

I'm sure many parents in our line of work have a running list with the title, "You know your kid is a foreign service kid when ..." William has picked up a lot about Indian culture (including the accent and head bobble) - but to me that's more along the lines of just being in tune with the culture he's in. I can see from friend's facebook posts that other three year olds say equally amusing things and articulate similar observant facts about where ever they are.

But tonight, it was a little different than just cultural observance. For those who don't know, someone is "on call" from the consulate 24 hours a day for American citizen emergencies. Good to know your tax payer dollars are at work, right? Yes, if you get arrested - or die in your hotel room - or get stranded at the airport - hopefully you can get a call through to the "duty officer." Thus, the "on call" officer has to carry around the "duty phone" for a week. We rotate amongst the staff and, in a consulate of our size, this means being on duty about once every three months. Meaning, once ever six weeks or so, either Greg or I are the duty officer.

We've explained to William about the "Emergency Phone." It's not a toy and he has to be very quiet if a call comes.

Tonight, I was walking upstairs with the duty phone. William brought up a small toy cell phone, too, and looked at me and said, "Mama, this is my emergency phone in case anyone at school has a problem. They can call me and I will help fix it. I need to take it to bed with me."

Entry #1 on "you know you're an FS kid when ... you pretend to have a duty phone"

Saturday, August 28, 2010

There's no hope

Mostly, we're pretty comfortably settled in our life here. We have a good system worked out with our household help, we really like William's school, we're all generally healthy, we've developed a great network of friends both in and out of the office, know our way around the city to our usual haunts and still have fun exploring areas we don't know as well.

But, every now and then, something happens which reminds us that (a) we are still living in a foreign country and (b) somethings about India will probably be beyond our comprehension no matter how many books we read, how many questions we ask and how hard we try to observe and make sense of things on our own.

Last week, we were driving home and came to a busy T-intersection. The intersection itself I find interesting because one corner houses an upscale movie theater and TGI Fridays (representing "new" Hyderabad), another corner has the headquarters for the TDP (a major State-level political party, representing the "established" Hyderabad), and the top of the T intersection has the entrance to Hyderabad's version of Central Park (emphasizing natural landscaping inside the party ... a rapidly disappearing "natural" Hyderabad).

As we were waiting at a red light (that in itself of note), a man - who appeared to be perfectly capable of walking - was crawling on all fours across this intersection with a mob of about 15 young men around him and behind him all chanting ("raising slogans," as the phrase is here). We couldn't understand the slogans and they had no written signboards, so we have absolutely no idea why this man was crawling on all fours in the middle of the city.

Was he protesting for or against a separate Telengana state? Was he going toward the TDP headquarters for some reason? Had he taken a vow to complete a walk of a certain length on all fours if he passed his university exams? Who knows? Greg and I just stared at the guy and turned to each other and shrugged. This kind of site is not that common, but yet happens often enough that it's not uncommon, either. And, I don't think I'll ever quite be able to understand why this guy was crawling.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What's going on?

Just a quick status update. I've been out of commission because of the broken arm, but the splint came off yesterday, so I'm back to typing!

Patch is moving in full swing. He likes to take a few steps, and then will fall down and zoom off crawling to where he needs to go. He has figured out how to use one of those party horns (the kind where you blow and the paper unrolls) and will start laughing at himself when he plays with it. His other new "trick" is being able to make cars "go." Basically, anything William shows him, he learns pretty quickly. It's either that or risk being left behind!

William mostly loves having Patch around. First thing in the morning, William comes into our room to give Patch a hug. Then we usually have a small melt down as we remind William for the millionth time that he cannot carry his "small brother" down the steps. Favorite games to "play to each other" (not sure why William always says "play to" instead of "play with") are: tackle, cars, peek-a-boo, and tump over.

Patrick will, on occasion, get a strong enough push from William that he tumps over and bonks his head, so we're really trying to stop this since we have hard marble floors! Thankfully, William is doing this less and less often ... but it still does happen :( And probably will as long as Patrick continues to want to do everything William does. Of course, with Patrick (at 9.5 months) weighing in at close to 20 lbs and William (at 3 yrs, 2 months) at 27 lbs, I'm expecting the small brother will outweigh the big brother in the foreseeable future.

I'm going to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for work in a few weeks. Hopefully an interesting blog post or two will come out of that!

Our household staff is starting to get nervous about us leaving in four months. I keep on trying to calm them down, pointing out that with all the summer transitions which happened at work (and we had a lot!), all staff members found new jobs with incoming families, but I think they don't believe me just yet. It's hard for them, since their livelihood depends on us. Working for foreigners brings bigger pay, it's true, but also more instability with postings only two or three years.

As for us, we're starting to think about Manila, but mostly trying to enjoy being in the present and being here. It's a difficult balance to strike since we have to answer emails about housing preference there and start making travel arrangements ... but at the same time, still have full time jobs here! And friends here!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sorry, Power is Out!

Greg and I had to hand it to our neighbor today. Usually she's asking us about American parenting techniques - we're a lot stricter with expecting good behavior of even a three year old. But, today, we took a trick from her book.

Our neighbor's daughter is about 6 months younger than William. Now that she's 2.5 and William 3 years old, they are great playmates. They play most evenings from about 5 to 6:30 or so. Today, we came home and the two of them were in the process of heading over to our neighbor's house.

Willliam and the little girl (and her nanny) were back in about 5 minutes. William was saying something about wanting to watch cartoons. He was talking so fast (in his maximum Indian lilt) we were having a difficult time understanding him. Finally Sarwari asked our neighbor's nanny what was going on. She replied that "madam said the power was out in our house."

Apparently, William promptly told our neighbor that the AC was on in our house, so he came back because we had power and he could try and watch cartoons at our house (TV is not allowed at our house until 20 minutes before bed time).

Greg and I took the hint, though, and turned off the power for the TV at the wall switch. William knows about wall switches for electricity, but somehow missed this sneaky attempt. So, when Greg announced, "sorry, power is also out here!" William just took our neighbor's daughter over to the play kitchen area and they started baking a birthday cake.

For once, we could use the spotty power supply to our advantage.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just keep trying...

... that's what I have to tell myself with William sometimes. Maybe it's the same with all kids his age, who knows? But we just keep trying.

When Patrick started crawling and now taking steps (i.e., requiring more attention from us, thus taking away attention from William), William started acting out, both at home and at school. So, we changed the routine up a bit. I fed Patrick earlier, so that Greg could put Patrick to bed; I now read William stories. William's also really been enjoying his twice weekly music class, so now he and I have "special time" for about 5 - 15 minutes each day (depending on his attention span) when we play the piano together while Greg takes Patrick. (side note: William's music school was selling two pianos; we purchased a used upright!) After about a month and a half, his behavior seems to have generally quieted down. At least, I haven't been receiving any phone calls from his teacher of late, and William's been playing with Patrick instead of screaming at him. Positive signs.

Just when we think things are going well, then we'll have a melt down night. Friends came over for a little chat before they went to dinner tonight. After being so happy to see them, William screamed for about 5 - 10 minutes for no apparent reason. He broke down again when we ate dinner (he's been taking to eating at 5:30 before we get home, when Sarwari is cooking, and then he just has peanut butter or fruit with us at 7). And after a nice, calm regular bedtime routine (part of a Thomas DVD followed by reading "E" and "F" in the kid's dictionary), he went berserk for about 10 minutes before - just now - falling asleep exhausted.

Our friends left amazed and half wishing that they could feel so passionate about something - anything - as William was about whatever had upset him (I think Greg put the paci in his pocket instead of leaving it on the table). "Passionate" is certainly one word. "Obstinate" and "manic" also come to mind.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hospital politics the same no matter which country

Unfortunately, I had to go to the emergency room last night. I slipped on a paving stone outside a coffee shop while carrying William. I broke his fall with my elbow - it hurt, but wasn't excruciating, so I didn't go to the ER right away. After four hours, though, I tried to pick up Patrick and couldn't. Greg (correctly) pointed out that medical care here is (relatively) inexpensive, so I should just go get an X-ray to rule out anything serious.

I went and had an xray (during which the staff thought I was nuts for insisting on wearing the lead apron, but we'll put that aside). The attending ER physician couldn't see anything, but my regular doctor had advised me over the phone not to leave without asking the on call orthopedist to check the X-ray. That dr (fairly junior guy, it was Saturday evening after all), thought he saw a hairline fracture. He called my regular doctor, who then in turn called the head of the orthopedic department of the hospital.

The on-call orthopedist recommended a split and follow on CT scan Monday morning after swelling was down - and just ibuprofen for pain since it only really hurt when I twisted my arm. The head of the department (who talked with me and my regular doctor on the phone) concurred. With everyone in agreement with what sounded like a reasonable treatment plan to me, I agreed. We were good to go.

But then things got complicated. Someone called the director of the hospital to inform him I was in the ER ... not sure if it was my regular doctor or someone in the ER (I had given my business card so they would spell my name correctly). Then, the director of the hospital called the head of the orthopedics department to tell him he had to come in personally to treat me. The department head pointed out with the rain and traffic, that would delay me by one to one and a half hours. But the head of the hospital said if the department head didn't go in person, he would go. Needless to say, the head of the department got in his car to come, and the junior on call orthopedist wouldn't do my splint until his boss came to triple check the X-ray.

One and a half hours later, hospital politics were smoothed over and I had my splint. Everyone is pretty sure it's just one fracture; I'll have the CT scan on Monday morning to confirm (with the department head). Turns out, there's big competition between two hospitals here for serving the ex pat community, and my trip to the ER got caught up in the middle. After all, if I have a good experience, then this hospital will stay on the list we hand out to Americans in distress (by law, we can't provide recommendations, but we do maintain a list of places to give to people if they are in trouble).

The funny part is, I hear treating political big wigs in DC ERs is the same - department heads called in and heads of hospitals kept abreast of treatment. This time, though, I probably would have gotten out of the ER faster had I kept my job out of the picture!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Cultural learning continues.

William's teacher sent home a note asking that all children wear "a vest and underwear." I was a little confused by this and had to call her for clarification. Underpants are not 100% given here, so I could understand that some kids might be wearing shorts without underpants (but William always wears underpants ... it being pretty normal in America to do so).

But what about this "vest" request? The school office sells school t-shirts (red, orange and yellow are OK for his grade), and I know he's supposed to wear any color short or long pants and sandals. But a vest?

Turns out "vest" means undershirt, sleeveless (aka "wifebeater") style. It should be: "touching their chest is preferable to help them feel secure and lead to fewer illnesses." William has lately been wanting to wear two t-shirts to school (looks funny, but I've humored) - maybe it's because all his little friends had vests on and he was feeling insecure without one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

We've come a long way, baby.

Tonight, I was distinctly reminded of one of my first posts.

Regular readers will be reminded of a time about a year ago, when I was all excited to make banana bread, only to be totally grossed out by bugs in my flour. I ended up throwing away the entire canister of flour (and skipping the banana bread baking).

Some friends wrote and recommended keeping flour in the freezer, which has prevented a repeat. I actually now keep all kinds of the various flours Sarwari uses in the freezer for this reason (wheat flour, chick pea flour and corn flour, in addition to white flour).

Tonight, Greg dumped a bag of pasta into the pot of boiling water and called me over - black things were floating on top of the water. After some inspection, we decided they were bugs. But, this time, we continued boiling the pasta, skimming off the now dead bugs, and then thoroughly rinsed the pasta. Added sauce. Ate dinner.

And laughed about how much our attitude has changed in a year.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travelogue: Orissa

Lesson #1: Things are not always what they seem.

We’ve had pretty good luck staying in five-star accommodations off the beaten path – in Ooty, in Gwalior, in Khajuraho. We’ve found good quality rooms, with eager to please staff, at reasonable prices ($120/night vs. $300/night for something almost similar in a big city). Thus, we didn’t really hesitate to book two nights in Puri, Orissa at a 5 star hotel, on a beach, with nice big rooms and a pool.

I think we pushed our luck in India a bit too far. We arrived at the hotel (after a two hour drive from the airport) to find its pool “under renovation.” Hotel staff said the renovation just started two days ago, but by the size of the bare hole in the ground, either they were concealing the truth to make us feel better or they found the most efficient workers in all of India. Needless to say, we did not stay at the hotel, and the only other option in town was passable, but not what we envisioned. We only stayed one night, and it threw the rest of the planned vacation off.

Lesson #2: Babies are not happy with sustained loud noises.

We decided to take a boat ride out to see some fresh water dolphins on Chilika Lake. We thought the drive through the villages would be interesting; it was – especially for Tracy who had not really seen rural India. We enjoyed seeing pictures of the “googly-eyed” (my irreverent description) tripartite Orrian gods painted on houses. But the boat ride from the side of the lake to where the dolphins were that day was over an hour each way.

Patrick was fine on the way out, but after an hour of a really loud diesel motor, he had had enough. Face it, he’d been in a car for two hours and then a noisy boat for more than an hour, at an age where he really wants to crawl around. It was more than he could handle and he screamed the entire way back until he exhausted himself about five minutes from shore. Luckily, the lull of the car (and the lure of the breast) coaxed him back to sleep for the ride to our new hotel.

Lesson #3: A good hotel is worth every rupee.

After checking into a great hotel (what we had expected the first one to be) – where everything was clean, where the swimming pool was refreshing, where the rooms were spacious, where the restaurant options were tasty and numerous – we felt recharged and optimistic about the next day (Monday), despite the disappointments of the previous day and a half.

Lesson #4: States with significant Maoist influence take a bandh call seriously.

Bandhs (strikes) in HYD are hit or miss – it’s a big enough city with enough economic activity, that I think an all day bandh is just not feasible unless something completely outrageous is being protested. In this case, many agree that the government should not subsidize petrol or even cooking gas, given all the other ways money could be spent – such as primary education or clean drinking water. Thus, we didn’t really take the vague calls we heard about a “Bharat Bundh” (i.e., all-India strike) protesting the petrol and gas price hike seriously. Ooops.

Our hotel absolutely refused to provide any form of transportation during the bandh – even rental bicycles! (No, we didn’t understand that one.) The hotel also tried to keep restaurants closed and force everyone to use room service … but we went to the “guest-only” restaurant anyway and the chef was more than happy to have some Americans to try out his skills on. That aside, we felt like prisoners, which I guess is the purpose of a bandh. Thank goodness we had an evening flight – or we would have had to walk to the airport, I think.

Lesson #5: Even a seemingly disaster of a vacation can look half-way decent in hind sight.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Even with everything that went wrong – and so much did – I can still find enough hidden positives that eventually I will look on this attempt of a vacation and laugh. For instance, Tracy got to taste the frustrations we face living here, from hotel resorts without pools (did I mention we only booked the hotel only three days before? And the staff made no mention of there being no pool?) to complete city shut downs. As I said, we all got an interesting view of rural India we rarely see in HYD. We took one evening walk along the beach in Puri, enjoying a flat and functioning sidewalk with a nice sea breeze (and no smell except salt water). The Orrian food was actually quite tasty and different from Hyderbadi/Andhran food (way less spice, more mustard, some interesting lentil preparations and overall quite tasty). The boys pretty much behaved themselves and sleeping all in one room was not the disaster we feared.

In short, our three days in Orissa (four for Greg and Tracy, who stayed an extra day to visit Konark to see the 12th century Sun Temple to which we could not travel on Monday because of the bandh) was nothing what we expected. Every frustration we ever have encountered in India seemed to surface in a matter of 72 hours. But the optimist in me is thankfully able to look beyond those things which went wrong – and I’m pretty sure in a year or two, I’ll be able to classify this trip as an “interesting experience” and not “disaster” (as I was apt to describe it today to coworkers).

Friday, June 25, 2010


One thing to which I just cannot adjust here is the timing of things - of dinner and of store openings, in particular.

For instance, this morning, by 10AM I'm ready to go to the grocery store. After Patch was born, it's no longer feasible to stop at SPAR (my favorite) on the way home from the office (because of his feeding timings), so that leaves weekend mornings. But this store - like so many others - does not open until 11. I end up feeling like I have a dead hour when I'm ready to go, but no one is ready to have me. Hey, at least today it means I'll write this post!

Meal "timings" are another issue. From my travels, I know Americans eat comparatively early, with lunch starting around 11:30 or 12 and dinner at 5:30 or 6 not uncommon. But try finding any lunch spot here open before 12:30 or dinner before 7:30 and you'll be searching a long time. Even if a place does start that early, usually the wait and kitchen staff aren't really ready until 1PM or 8PM.

A colleague from work's last day in HYD was yesterday. Local staff asked him if he would consider a tour in India again. His reply? "Start serving dinner for official functions at 6:30 instead of 9, and I'll consider it." Appears I'm not the only one who prefers the earlier American style timings.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wedding events are over

The wedding events are over. I bet you thought they ended with the wedding reception a month ago! You would be wrong. As far as I can tell, there are seven main dinners associated with the wedding. First, on the eve of the marriage, was the turmeric paste party. Next day, the marriage. Then a day of rest. Then the marriage dinner. Then, for the next four Fridays, the families shared dinner together.

The Friday dinner rules seemed very flexible - the families just agreed who would host, and the hosting family decided how many people to invite. In Sarwari's brother's case, her parents hosted three and the bride's family hosted one. This mostly seems because the groom's family has the right of first refusal. Since the bride's family lives about an hour drive away, and cars are not prevalent here, Sarwari's mom did not want to have to hire a car to drive so far for dinner. So, she went once out of respect, but made the in laws come over the other three times. At least, that's what I think I understood!

I'm totally going out on a limb here, but were I to venture a guess, I think the Friday dinners stem from the fact that the bride and groom have often never met prior to their engagement, if they even met then. So, the dinners are a way for each family to check on the other. Coming from a family of three girls, I have a lot of sympathy for the bride's family - they really have "lost" a child.

I had been told that the daughter is no longer considered a child of her parents after the wedding. It hit home last night when Sarwari said we should call the bride, "Ayesha." I was pretty sure that name was not on the wedding card, as I would have remembered her name. Apparently, her name given by her own parents was too long and cumbersome so Sarwari's parents talked and decided to call her Ayesha. Now, in the family, she is known as Ayesha. I asked Shabu what the old name was, but Shabu couldn't even remember as she had been calling her Ayesha for the last month!

No offense to my mother-in-law, but no way was she going to rename me after my marriage! I didn't even change my last name.

Last night was the final dinner. It was pretty festive, but low key, dinner at Sarwari's mom's house. Ayesha was decked out in a pretty blue and brown sari with silver trim. Some distant relatives who work in Saudi who couldn't come for the wedding even scheduled their annual trip home around this dinner, adding to the party atmosphere.

After this dinner, Ayesha went home to her parents house for a few days, and then she will return to her new family's home for the majority of the time. When she has her first baby (God willing, as they say here), she'll spend the last part of her pregnancy and the first three months post partum with her parents. Otherwise, she generally won't visit her own parents without asking permission of her in laws (who are now considered her own parents).

Sarwari's parents are very kind to share these cultural events with us - and we returned the favor by leaving around 8:30 (William and Patrick need to get to bed) so as not to overstay our welcome :) I've enjoyed learning about it all, but I think Greg is glad for the events to be over. Having William and Patrick out late is somewhat stressful, as we've pretty much acclimated them to going to sleep at 8:30 and 7:30 respectfully. Not to mention it's World Cup season ...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rain! Again!

Last year about this time I posted how I was surprised that the first rains brought an immediate drop in temperature. Amazingly, the same thing has happened this year. Funny how that works. Funny, too, how highs in the low 90s feel comfortable - I'm thinking the 73 outside right now (9PM) is out right indulgent.

Temperature aside, HYD has a funny rain culture. The background: Being in the middle of the peninsula, on a plateau, our monsoon season doesn't compare with the costs. We don't get days on end of deluge and flooding like Mumbai. We don't have 100% humidity even when it's not raining like Chennai. We get the tail ends of both of India's monsoons (north east and south west), making our rainy season (hopefully for the farmers) last from June through September or October. But rains come in bursts like summer thunderstorms in Texas.

I was driving myself home from yoga tonight (double hooray - I've restarted yoga *and* was driving myself during rush hour) when the rain started. With the first drizzle, no change was noticeable. Scooters still clogged the streets, people still walked about. While I saw many ladies carrying umbrellas during the hot months for shade, I didn't see a single person pop and umbrella in the drizzle. My guess is because (a) saris seem to dry pretty quickly unlike jeans and (b) if the drizzle progresses to a downpour, an umbrella is useless except for the neck and head.

Then, the downpour happened. Immediately, scooters pulled to any cover the driver could find. All the pedestrians rushed under any overhang available - a coconut tree, a driveway overhang, a tarp above a chai wallah (tea man). And everyone just waited. Only cars continued, and as I drove home I realized I could see the difference in the pace of life here. A giant pause.

I can't imagine anything causing Washington DC to just pause for 30 minutes. The snowpacolpse seemed to *stop* the city for three days. Regan's funeral or a World Bank convention clogged certain parts of the city. A catastrophe like 9-11 doesn't compare at all. But the evening downpour was just a pause. Twenty or thirty minutes later, all the hundreds of people gathered together trying (probably unsuccessfully) to stay dry would continue on their merry way and the city would spring to life again. Probably not in fast forward, though, to make up for lost time. Just in regular play speed, after a brief pause.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A new level of ridiculous

Believe it or not, 7.5 months later, Patrick *still* does not have a valid visa. Yes, you read correctly. The child of a visa officer cannot manage to get a visa for her own son. The irony rings in so many directions.

I've already written about Birth and Death and the four attempts it took to get his birth certificate. Getting his tourist passport, after we had the proper birth certificate, was no problem thanks to my very efficient coworkers. So, at least I can be thankful that he is a documented American citizen. Now, the final step has been just as challenging as the first step - and this time, my own government is as much at fault as the host government.

Here's the situation in a nutshell. Patrick did have a visa issued in January. But, post-visa issuance, we noticed his passport (which was issued by the State Dept, not the consulate) said he was born in .... Indiana. Yes, Indiana, not India. oops. Naturally, we sent that back for correction. The second passport came with another mistake. The third passport which finally came mid-May, was correct in all respects. Paperwork was sent up to Delhi. Now the Indian government wants to physically cancel the first visa it issued in the first passport.

But here's the catch: the first passport was destroyed. Yes, I looked up my own son's passport files myself (at 7.5 months, he already has four entries!) and in big red capital letters it says: DESTROYED

I'm hoping someone takes pity on me at this point and accepts one of the various work around I've proposed. All I want is for this ordeal to be over. Hopefully Patrick will have a visa before we leave the country for good in December ... otherwise the airport authorities won't let him out. Not to mention my own visa expires 01 Jan 2011!

Saturday, May 29, 2010


It's hot. Today, the heatwave is lower - the projected high is only 103 - but two weeks ago the daily high was about 115. Ouch!!!

How, might you ask, do kids entertain themselves on summer break when it's too hot to go swimming? William and our neighbor's daughter (same age) have come up with a great plan: they "cycle" at each other's house. Their tricycles have never left the houses and are, in effect, indoor cycles. Marble floors and a long hallway are great for this -- something which would definitely not be allowed in our house were we in the US. But, were we in the US, William would be able to cycle down to the neighborhood playground and spend a few happy hours without melting.

Different approaches for different climates.

Note 1: Indian school summer break is from mid-March to mid-June. Hopefully the rains will come the first week of June (this week!) and it will cool down for the start of school on June 10th. Last year, the rains, small though they were, brought about a 10 - 15 degree immediate drop in temperature.

Note 2: William learned through multiple time outs that the cycles are not to touch the furniture. The result is that he is now quite skilled in his geometric visualization when it comes to maneuvering through tight spaces.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Reception

Our reception experience for the wedding went a little (well, a lot!) more smoothly than the wedding. Mostly because Sarwari's family was in charge of the reception (the bride's family ran the wedding), and she knows Americans have to eat "early."

Funny part of the evening: I told her Tuesday morning that William was really tired from so many late nights and very cranky. So, Marisa had volunteered to come over to watch him so I could enjoy the reception. Sarwari was quite disappointed by this ... and went about fixing it her own way. Usually, I have her wake William up at 4PM so he goes to sleep by 8:30. She let him sleep until 5:30! With that long a nap, I wasn't about to leave him with Marisa ... so come to the reception he did.

She had apparently instructed her uncle - who was in charge of the caterers - to have everything ready at 6:30. That way, the caterer would actually be ready for us by the time we showed up at 8. It worked! We had intended to arrive about 8:15, but I had forgotten how terrible traffic in the city is between 8 and 9PM (that being prime put-William-to-sleep-time, so we either are out before or after that). We didn't arrive until 8:45.

Once again, we were the only ones there! Except this time we were more - me, William, Patrick, a different coworker, her husband, two girls, and sister-in-law, and another close friend here who is over frequently and thus knows Sarwari well. True to her promise, dinner was ready for us! Sarwari's dad (who was there :) ) at first started showing us to the ladies dining area, but noticing my coworker's husband, redirected us to the "gents" side. Muslim ladies might (would!) mind if an unknown gent was in their midst as it would require doning their burquas. But, we American women have no such compunction ... so it was OK for us to eat on the gents side.

The dinner was spectacular, as we had been told it would. Haleem (a lamb-based dish), a soup with oregano bread (!) for dipping, a chicken curry, some spicey sauce and some yogurt sauce, two rice dishes (fried rice and biriyani), and two sweets (kubhani ka meetha - stewed apricots - and paisam - a sweetened condensed milk based dessert). We actually didn't get any biriyani because we were too stuffed and told them not to bother - but don't tell Sarwari that!

At about 9:45, the bride and groom and all the family showed up. We stuck around for some pictures and to admire the beautiful saris and then left about 10:15 with the kids being totally exhausted. With a full belly, we had no trouble waiting so late for the party to arrive. Sarwari reports that everyone stayed until about 2 or 3 in the morning.

Monday, May 24, 2010

First Muslim Wedding

We -- that is to say, Patrick and I -- went to our first Muslim wedding last night. Sarwary's brother's wedding. The short version? Nothing happens at a Muslim wedding! I even talked to my Muslim coworker today, and she confirmed my observation was correct. Nothing happens.

So, what did happen? First, the invitation said 7PM. Now, I've lived in India long enough to know that doesn't mean 7PM. We -- Greg, William, Patrick, a coworker (Marisa) and I -- arrived at 7:45, which we thought would be on the early side, but with the two kids, we figured we'd stay an hour and a half and then go.

Except no one was at the function hall when we arrived. Not a single sole except for a security guard who, of course, thought we were at the wrong place because white people don't go to function halls - and certainly not outside no-AC function halls in the height of summer. They go to weddings at hotels with generators. He let us stay, though, when we produced the invitation.

So, we hung out in the grassy area in front of the hall, waiting. And Waiting. And Waiting some more. Around 8:30, four more people came. At 9PM, just as we were about to leave, Sarwary calls to say - please don't leave! We're coming!

The groom's family caravan arrived at 9:20. Apparently, when the band came to the house, all the people in the neighborhood were having so much fun dancing, they just stayed. And because everyone either comes from the girl's house (where there was also a band) or the boy's house, it's no big deal because you're at the party from before the time of the invitation. Except if you're a clueless Westerner who thinks the function starts at the function hall. Oh well.

At 9:20, after some back and forth, the compromise was that Greg, William and Marisa would go home in an auto, and Patrick and I would stay for the ceremony (the ceremony where nothing happens -- everything already appeared to have happened with the dancing at the house beforehand!). Sarwary was not really happy about this, but Greg had to leave the house at 4 for his flight to Delhi, Marisa had been at work all day, and William was just spent. Those of you who know William well know that missing nap or bedtime is generally a disaster for him. Especially when he's hot, sweaty and wearing a cute (but slightly scratchy) Indian embroidered jacket.

Patrick and I went into the function hall. Men and women sit separately. The groom processed to his side, the bride to her side. And then the bride just sat on the dais. And sat. And sat some more. The only thing that happened was that the photographer came, the videoographer came, and various other women at various points would go up and sit on the dais with her and talk with her. But that was all.

Eventually, around 10:30, Sarwary motioned me to come have dinner. I ate before everyone else because this spared Sarwary from having to figure out who I would sit with, as sharing a table is something that equals do -- and, to be brutally honest, we're not equal here. That's one cultural phenomenon I'm not going to be able to change in two years.

After I finished, Sarwary sneaked into the kitchen to pack up some food to bring home to Greg for him to take to Delhi for lunch! She put it into the diaper bag so no other guests saw! In Indian eyes, leaving without eating is a huge faux pas. We all know this, but sometimes it just can't be avoided. So, this was Sarwary's means of "saving face," to use an East Asian phrase.

I just couldn't believe that all the wedding was was a bride and a groom sitting in two different rooms doing nothing. Actually, eventually, something would happen. Eventually, the religious guy would finish doing something on the men's side. Then, four people would come to the bride and ask her if she wants to marry the groom. Presumably, she says yes since it's been arranged. Then they put a necklace with black and gold beads on her and the marriage is complete. That's it!

After I ate and then found out nothing really happens, Patrick and I left at 11. Sarwary said the party went until 4. Too bad for her she works for me and had to be at work today!

(more to come on the family wedding drama and the reception, which happens tomorrow night)