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,