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)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cultural copying

This is not very deep or developed, but a funny story about how an almost-three-year-old sees the world.

Sarwari and Shabu are Muslim. Sarwari wears a black scarf loosely drapped around her shoulders (sometimes head, depending where she's going) when she's out. Shabu wears full burqua, with only eyes / hands / feet showing. Sarawri's eldest daugther, Nazima, does the same. Sarwari said she used to when she was young, but now that she's had three kids, she doesn't think any man would look at her in a manner to require a burqua, so she got rid of the hot thing.

I found a strawberry hat my aunt knit and got it out for play. After a bit, William pulled the front down to his chin. When I asked what was up, he said he was going out "like Shabu does." I asked about his clothes, and he ran over to get a throw blanket to wrap around him. Gender difference aside, it reinforces the point that even at such young ages, kids pick up on cultural differences - and just accept what they see as normal, not different or strange.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Leaving things better than we found them

Any former Girl Scouts out there will be familiar with the motto of leaving something better than how you found it. I've found the motto useful not only for cleaning up, per se, but also when approaching my daily life. Though we still have a full eight months in India, we started asking how could we leave this place better than how we found it?

The opportunities to help people here are endless. As you can imagine, in a developing country with 1.3 billion people, so many are in need of so much. I actually find evaluating charities and social work groups quite overwhelming in the US. Factor in different culture, a much higher level of need, and less transparency -- well, we found it paralyzing.

In the end, we've decided to make a direct contribution to something where we can see the influence directly. After thinking about it for some time, we've decided to sponsor Sarwari's younger two kids for school. In our neighborhood is a good Catholic school that seems to be the choice of most parents of her social class who can afford it - and her older daughter, Nazeema, went there until there were multiple tuitions to pay and it became slightly out of their financial reach.

Armand (her son) has been accepted to nursery class. Naheeda is scheduled to take a placement exam on June 2 to see if she will go to 5th or 6th grade (she finished 5th grade at her other school, but her passing average was a C). I can tell Sarwari is taking this seriously -- Naheeda is being tutored one hour each day during summer vacation so she can pass the 5th grade exam. It's a good sign for the future.

The only remaining obstacle is to set up an accountability regime for after we leave. I'm hoping I can convince the school to send report cards and also accept funds by wire transfer. One step at a time.