Monday, December 31, 2007

Vacation Observations

Being back in the US for a few weeks is interesting. I see things differently.

First of all, Wal-mart is totally and completely forgiven for being an evil empire. I know I know, they put people out of business and they are terrible to their employees and their customer service skills leave something to be desired, but have you seen how clean and organized it is in there? There is so much space in there and there are soooo many products to choose from and I can actually return something if I don't like it. No haggling, no emotional blackmail just a shelf full of stuff and price stickers. Beeeea-utiful.

Disney is also forgiven for being an evil empire despite the fact that a large chunk of our vacation money now sits in the Disney wallet. We spent 3 days at Disneyland and not one person asked to take pictures with our kids. You may be mentally pointing out to me that we were Americans in America, so who would want our picture, right? Well nobody was asking any nationality for their pictures. There is something to be said for being in a place where people are largely self absorbed. I also noticed that the lines were orderly and every one stood in them politely (lines generally don't exist in India).

Next on the list, traffic. I just love how people drive in one lane at a time. They use their blinkers a lot more than they use their horns and by and large there are no cattle on the big roads. And guess what people do at the red lights? They stop! It is so cool! I am aware that there are those who break all of the rules, but honestly, it is so much better.

Have I mentioned how lovely America smells? Even LA seemed like clean fresh air to us. Scary, huh?

Of course not all the observations are favorable. America could stand to lose some weight. There are the really fat (I am one of those) and then there are the people that I used to consider thin. Even they could stand to lose 20 pounds. Don't get me wrong, I don't want everyone to be as skinny as your average Indian, but I am surprised at how "well padded" most Americans are. I now believe all the statistics I used to roll my eyes at about how many Americans are overweight.

I remember now why we were always flat broke. Everything is so expensive here! Honestly, I am afraid for when we return in 2010. I forgot just how much it costs to feed 9 people in the US. Two income families have very little to do with equality and a lot more to do with necessity.

I am most surprised by how little I am enjoying the food that I have been looking forward to. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my first Quarter-Pounder with Cheese an awful lot, but I grew tired of it all very quickly. The one exception has been the root beer. I love root beer. I have been drinking so much root beer I am going to have brown eyes soon. I probably smell like root beer. That stain on my shirt? Root beer. Why, oh why, doesn't India have root beer. They have satellite TV, surely they could work out root beer!

Being here has made me ask myself two interesting questions: 1. How on Earth am I going to make it two more years? 2. Is it time to go home to Noida yet? Vacation is wearing me out!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Half Way Around The World In 80 Hours

Despite 2 weeks of planning, I was still packing three hours before we were supposed to leave for the airport. I think someone should invent disposable clothes for your family to wear while you do vacation laundry. Seriously, how are you supposed to wash and pack your family's clothes when they insist on wearing them? Then there is the constant debate over what gets packed and what gets left behind. No you may not bring 5 stuffed animals. Yes you must pack clean underwear. No we are not packing your remote control car. Yes you can bring a book, no not all 7 Harry Potter books. No electric guitars. What do you mean your dad already said yes? If your dad said yes, then why are you asking me? Are you toying with me? I could snap at any moment you know...

Finally we were packed and we even had time for one hour of sleep before it was time to go. At 2am we piled in to 2 vans and hit the road. By 3:15 we were in line waiting to have our luggage x-rayed. Behind us was probably the drunkest man I have ever seen. He was weepy and kept apologising for something. I was thinking, Is he apologising because he is going to kill us all and his conscience is bothering him? I was saying, "Don't be nervous, he is just sad about leaving his family. I am sure he is a nice man who is just sad." Thinking, Please don't kill us! Here is where I would like to thank the wise and watchful people at British Airways for not letting that man fly. Although he would have had plenty of time to sober up.

After waiting a couple of hours it was time to board the plane. I was very excited that we were only about 20 minutes late. We got all 9 of us in our seats and all of our carry on luggage stowed in an overhead compartment or under the seat in front of us and waited for take off. And waited...and waited...getting a picture here? We sat on the runway for four and a half hours! Not a good beginning. Luckily we were able to make up an hour and a half in the air, unfortunately, we still missed our connecting flight to Phoenix by about an hour and a half. Here is where I would like to ask British Airways why they choose to fill a plane with passengers and then begin the repairs that are necessary in order for the plane to fly.

After many wrong turns we managed to find our way through Heathrow Airport and make it to the hotel that we were put in for our unexpected stay in London. The next morning we went back to the airport, back through security (where 3 of my daughters set off the metal detectors and had to be searched for the 3rd time) and back on to the plane. 9 hours later we finally landed in Phoenix and even found our luggage waiting for us. Yeah! Then we had to go through customs. Boo! They asked us if we had any seeds or plants and we told the truth. Sometimes it is annoying being an honest person. I had planned just which seeds to bring back for a family member's garden and felt like crying as I watched the customs guy toss them into a box as he explained that the law had recently changed and that I had to get a certificate from the Embassy in Delhi in order to bring the seeds into the country. Sure the law changed, he just wanted my seeds. I bet he is laughing it up right now as he plants his red carrots and his musk melons. Hmph! I am on to him!

Before you feel too bad for me, one step into the clean, orderly spacious neighborhood Super Wal-Mart made the whole ordeal fade away. "Oh-oh say, can you see..."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dinner & A Movie

The makings for my favorite date night.

Everyone in our family is looking forward to different foods when we are back in the US for our vacation. But I was thinking, why not throw in some movies and make it complete? I mean dinner by itself is just Wednesday night, but dinner and a movie is a party, right? Don't get me wrong, we have enjoyed watching some Bollywood films. But I am so excited to see American films again, I can hardly stand it. The problem is, I have no idea what movies I have missed.

So, you tell me what I should see. What DVDs have come out since January that I need to rent? What movies shall I make Mr. Smith take me to see in the theater? What DVDs should I buy? My only requests are these: Nothing racier than PG-13 and they must have a happy ending. And none of this "they're not together anymore, but they are better off and stronger" crap! I want Happy Endings! I know this is shallow, and I am sure that I will miss seeing some great films, but I only have three weeks. Here is a general guideline:

Loved The Notebook - Hated Titanic
Loved Somewhere In Time (I know, I'm old) - Hated Titanic
Loved Notting Hill - Hated The Break Up
Loved The Wedding Singer - Hated Little Nicky
Loved Ever After - Hated Never Been Kissed
Loved Tommy Boy - Hated Hated Hated Napoleon Dynamite

In general I also like feel good sports movies and pretty much anything with Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) in it. Please don't mock me. Have you seen him?

Oh yeah, since I do have a husband and some kids you can also include movies that they might like. I want lots of suggestions, so if you read this post, you had better leave a comment with a recommendation! (You can stay anonymous if you must. Big chicken.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Short, Sweet and Superstitious

***************Mr. Smith is normally a hard working, level headed man who is blessed with a good sense of humor. Once in a while though, his superstitious side crops up. For the first several years of our marriage Mr. Smith was convinced that the birthmark on the inside of his right knee was in the shape of Africa. He liked this thought because he served his mission in South Africa. In the last few years, however, he has decided that it is actually shaped like India. This really tickles his fancy (for obvious reasons) and is often brought up in conversation. I must admit that the resemblance to India is definitely stronger than Africa. It does become a little annoying though, when I feel like complaining about India or being homesick and Mr. Smith smugly points to his knee as if to say (use big ominous voice) "Do not argue with The Birthmark!" But, generally speaking, it is cute and endearing. Since nothing interesting happened this week I thought I would share this with you.
P.S. In the interest of preserving my current state of marital bliss I would like to point out that the adjective "Short" in the title of this post should be applied to the length of this post and not to Mr. Smith who is 6 feet tall. Clearly nobody would ever refer to him as short, although sweet and superstitious are certainly applicable. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One more pushkar picture

I received this picture of the festival crowd and had to post it - notice Mrs Smith jammed in there... (photo courtesy of Praveen Beesa - Melissa Tours and Travels - The crowds were truly insane and exhausting, but it was the experience of a lifetime.

Mr Smith

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pushkar or Bust!

Our first Indian vacation started out like any other, with my alarm getting me up 2 hours after I went to bed. I then ran around like a mad woman trying to do the 137 little things that I left for myself to do right before we left. Luckily, Mr. Smith is a champion PB&J maker and so we were only 20 minutes late leaving, which is a family best.

10 hours, 9PB&J's, 2 boxes of cookies, 1 pit stop and 1 episode of car sickness later we arrived at the Royal Desert Camp. At this point I am bound by marital contract to inform you that Mr. Smith was correct when he told our driver that the camp was to the right. The arrow on the sign, the Indians in town, our usually trusty driver and I were all very, very wrong when we all said that we should go left. We all owe Mr. Smith an apology for ever doubting him. He is great. Now let's move on.

I have to admit that the camp was an impressive sight. All of the desert shrubbery had been removed and tons of soft sand had been trucked in and spread around. I can't even imagine how much sand this would require. The common area consisted of 3 restaurants, 3 registration offices, 1 gift shop and a large open area for the nightly entertainment. All of this, set up in tents! Then came the guest tents. We estimated that there were just over 350 tents set up for guests. But these were not just regular tents my friend. Oh no. These had electricity and plumbing. My daughter, Book Lover, called them Hotents. No, there were no ho's in sight (shame on you!) but because they were tents that look like hotel rooms, get it? Hotents.

The first night we were entertained by a dancer/contortionist, a fire eater and a puppet show. It was a good way to end a day of travel. The next day was our day at the festival, and what a day it was. The festival was in town so we took a camel drawn cart in from the camp. That was as close as most of my family came to riding a camel. When it came down to it, only Mr. Smith, Number One Son and Star On Stage were brave enough to try. The rest of us enjoyed the cart.

The festival itself was intense. The crowd was overwhelming and aggressive, everything was for sale and every price was negotiable. As soon as we stepped off the cart we were rushed by a small crowd of vendors eager to be the first ones to dip into our vacation money. Two particularly tricky girls engaged two of my kids, Book Lover and Dennis The Menace, in a harmless conversation while shaking their hands. Before we had regrouped these two girls had flipped their grip and decorated my kid's palms with henna, then informed me that I now owed them Rs. 500 each. Uh...I don't think so. After arguing I agreed to give each of them Rs.50 just to get them to leave. Wrong choice. The sight of me pulling out my purse sent every vendor in a 50 ft. radius into a feeding frenzy. At this point I grabbed my kid's hands and started plowing through the crowd yelling, "No thank you, no thank you, no! One of the women followed us while yelling that I had not paid her, that I had given the money to the wrong person. Such a huge lie. I couldn't believe that this woman was looking right at me saying something that we both knew was a complete and total lie! Unfortunately taking a stand was in direct conflict with the "flight" instinct that had taken control, so I threw a second Rs. 50 at her and ran. Luckily the cavalry (in the form of Mr. Smith) arrived at that point and we were rescued. The rest of the morning was spent wondering through the crowds and just looking at everything. By the time 1 o'clock rolled around we were exhausted so we headed back to camp. Our final tally was: one strangers hand in Book Lover's pocket, 2 empty plastic bags stolen from a pocket in my backpack (ha ha!), Rs. 100 swiped from Number One Son's pocket and a crazy fun morning.

The rest of the day was spent playing in the sand and watching puppet shows put on by my kids. All in all a good vacation. Short and sweet. As usual Mr. Smith took some amazing pictures, I am just going to pick a few and post them without explanation. You might notice that there are none of the day spent in town. Sorry, but there was no way we were stopping to pull out a camera in that place!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Someone To Watch Over Me

I have been wanting to talk about guards for a long time. They are a unique breed here in India. Most businesses have one. They open the door for you, they might glare at you, check your bag, or even ask you to leave something with them (a shopping bag or camera, for instance) just to remind you that they are a guard. Some of them have guns. Nothing too threatening. In fact, most of them look like left over riffles from WWI or WWII and I find it hard to believe that anyone actually pays for bullets. The upscale houses all have one or two guards. I think their main function is to visit with the other guards and drivers in the neighborhood. If you drive down any residential street you will see groups of men by the roadside, visiting in what is obviously their usual place.

I have been putting off posting about guards because I wanted to include a picture one of ours fast asleep. I find them like this once in a while. When I am without my camera I can answer the bell at the gate, go get the key, open the gate, hold a conversation, re-lock the gate and go back inside without ever disturbing them, but alas, when I have my camera in hand they seem to wake up instantly.

When I was informed that we would have guards I balked. Honestly, who were we that we needed to be guarded? Then I read the newspaper. It seems that kidnapping for ransom is fairly common here. Since we are thought of as "rich Americans" (so not true that it is actually funny) the company thought we might become targets. Usually the ransom is paid and the children are returned safely. Unfortunately, right before we arrived there were a few cases in our city where the children were killed before the ransom note was even delivered. Suddenly the thought of guards made perfect sense. I've secretly always wanted a guard anyway, who wouldn't?

As usual things were a little bumpy at first. We started with a day guard named Opdais and a night guard named Mohinder. One day we realized that Opdais had been working for 36 hours straight (we were told Mohinder was ill) and gave him Rs. 500 ($12.50) for his trouble. Soon this started happening quite often and we found out that Opdais was sending the night guard away when he showed up, telling him that we had requested that Opdais stay because we liked him so well. This lead to arguments between Opdais and Mohinder. And the best part? Mohinder's name was actually Partak! We had all been calling him by the wrong name for about two months! Mohinder/Partak eventually quit. I wonder why. Eventually Opdais butted heads with our cook and housekeeper. Not smart. When forced to choose between the couple who feed us and clean our house and the kid who answers the gate, care to guess who we picked? Adios Opdais! (Oops, I forgot I'm living in India.) अलविदा Opdais!

Since then we have cycled through a few more guards and we have finally landed on two that we call keepers. They are (left to right) Pushpindar and Kaushel Kumar. They are brothers and get along very well. They work long, boring hours and only have a day off when one agrees to cover for the other and works a 36 hour shift, (the security company's policy, not ours) which they do for each other once a week. They help us keep our children safe and we are very grateful to them. Even when we catch them snoozing.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Holidays, House Cleaning and Weddings, Oh My!

Happy Diwali!

Friday was Diwali. I was planning to tell you about the meaning of this Holiday (you know, show how smart I am) but the truth is there are so many meanings that it would take too long. Since I would just be plagiarizing Wikipedia anyway, you can read the article yourself. Here is the link. It bears a strong resemblance to Christmas in that people put lights on their houses and give gifts. The most noticeable difference to the casual observer is all the fireworks. Fireworks are legal and cheap here. As soon as it got dark, the light show started. We spent a good deal of the evening on our terrace. People up and down our street and all over the city were sending up some amazing fireworks. What it lacked in organization and music it made up for in longevity. It was cool. Dangerous, but cool.

House Cleaning

Well, I am about half way through the laundry and about two-thirds of the way through with all the cupboards and drawers. Do not worry, I will persist. We have a house guest for a couple of days. This means that my cleaning will have to be done on the sly and with much less task mastering (bossing my kids around), but I will finish!


Last night (Sunday) we went to a Hindu wedding. They are beautiful and fun. My goal is to stay long enough at one to actually see the wedding ceremony. This time we made it to around midnight. While Mr. Smith made the rounds (he is the social butterfly, I am more like a social lady bug) I parked myself at a table near the dance floor and watched. I love people watching. All of the brides friends (who work together in a very stressful industry) cut loose when the music started. I have to tell you, Indian women can dance! There is something about the way they move that so amazing. Even the preteens that claimed a corner of the floor were already working on that special hip twitch that is so fascinating. There is nothing that would make a person blush about the way they dance, but there was a line of men standing off to the side watching every move. It has been a few years since I have been to a club in the US, but I think we could learn a few things from the women here. We forgot our camera so we have no pictures of the bride and groom which is a shame because Annie (the bride) was gorgeous! I do have one picture of Mr. Smith in a Sherwani. Handsome, don't you think? Anyway, I think that I will end this post by wishing a long and happy marriage to Annie and Vishal who will soon be living in wedded bliss in the US. Good luck!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My Disclaimer

It has come to my attention that several people from my husband's company (not the one he owns, because that one doesn't exist, but the one that employs him which has existed for more than 230 years) have started to read this blog. (Hi Aaron!) For this reason I would like to issue the following disclaimer.

Mrs. Smith and the Smith children are not as silly, stupid, wimpy, whiny, clumsy, careless, inept or unintelligent as the stories on this blog make it seem. We are witty, well mannered, urbane and graceful. Just the kind of people you would want to represent your company in a foreign country. These stories are meant to entertain our family and friends in the US and in no way reflect our actual life. We are way cooler than the people in these stories. I swear!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Maid in India

Did you know that having a maid does not solve all of your housekeeping problems? Nine months ago I would have slapped anyone that would dare to utter such a ridiculous phrase in my presence, but alas, it is true. Having a maid does not make up for the fact that I am a terrible housekeeper!

I was raised in a clean house and when I was first married I managed to keep a cleanish house. With each new child my housekeeping abilities seemed to get worse and worse. Finally, with my last pregnancy (twins) I gave up the pretense all together. I just gave up. Now some would defend me by saying that my kids were to blame, but I think we all know this is not the case. Don't we all know someone with lots of kids whose house still looks nice almost all the time? I have a dear friend that I will call Sarah. I will call her that because that is her name. Sarah and I are at opposite ends of the housekeeping spectrum. On two separate occasions I was forced to call Sarah before 7 am. The first time she was outside weeding her back lawn. The second time she was mopping the kitchen floor. No joke. Before 7am on a school day! I refrained from telling dear, sweet Sarah that she didn't need to weed the back lawn because nobody would see it but her family. I had a harder time stopping myself from telling her it was pointless to mop her kitchen floor before breakfast because someone would spill milk on it, but I managed to hold my tongue. Sarah is the proof that my kids are not totally to blame.

They aren't totally innocent either. In the US, I could always tell when the school (or conscientious cartoon) had talked about recycling because my kids would screech in horror if I tried to throw away a milk jug. Didn't I know that the jug could be turned into a fun toy or an art project? Yes I did, but I really wanted to throw it away. I would try to explain that I was putting it in the recycle bin and that was just as good. No sale. They would not buy it. Even on normal days my kids had a hard time deciding what to keep and what to let go. To be fair, they came by this pack rat tendency honestly. They inherited it. I won't say who they inherited it from because my mother-in-law reads my blog and I wouldn't want to offend her (hint, hint).

I will say that nine months ago we arrived with suitcases full of clothes and very few possessions. Now we have every cupboard and drawer full of, well...crap! Where did all this stuff come from? And the closets are worse. Empty hangers on the rod while on the floor of the closet is a system of piles (understood only by the creator of the system) keeping clean and dirty clothes separate. As long as all drawers, cupboards and closets are closed, our house is picture perfect. I keep waiting for the day that I open a closet and am covered by an avalanche of stuff followed up by the inevitable bowling ball on the head.

As I was raised to continually set goals, then pretend to strive to reach them, I am going to set a goal for myself. Right here in public where lots of people will read about it and expect an accounting from me next week. This week I will do all the laundry (not just the bare essentials), and I will clean out every drawer, cupboard and closet in the house! Wish me luck, I am going in!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Boo! Humbug!

I must begin this post with an apology, I am sorry to my family,who has heard this all before. My family has heard my rantings and ravings on Halloween and has born it with love and patience. I would also like to state at the beginning of this post that the following paragraphs contain my personal opinions on Halloween and in no way reflect the beliefs or feelings of the rest of my family or blogger.

I hate Halloween! This is a bone deep hatred. You might assume that this is some kind of theological problem. That perhaps I object to this day because it seems to be celebration of all things evil. No! This is a purely selfish hatred. I hate what Halloween requires of me.

I have not always hated Halloween. As a kid I thought it was great. My neighborhood was a good place for Halloween. It was well established, we knew everyone, and the Coleman's house could always be counted on to scare the kids thoroughly. No my hatred for Halloween didn't begin until somewhere around child number three. By the last week of October we couldn't afford candy, not to mention costumes. For a few years we were able to get away with things like Cowboys or Football Players, costumes we could pull together with things we already had. But eventually we had to go to Wal-Mart and choose from the poor quality, over priced selection offered every year in every large chain across the nation.

This is where somebody usually says, "Why don't you make their costumes?" I'll tell you why, smarty pants,because I have no talent for sewing or costume making of any kind. None. Plus, I have never talked to a single person who doesn't end up spending more on home made costumes than on store bought ones. You know it is true. But one year, out of motherly guilt, I gave into the pressure and sewed ghost costumes for three of my children. We had absolutely zero money for costumes that year, so I told my kids to think of things they could do with what we had at home. For three of them I actually cut up old bed sheets and tried to sew ghost costumes. Do you know what else people used to make out of bed sheets? Here is a we were walking into the Halloween party Mr. Smith asks, "Where are their burning crosses?" How nice of him to pick that moment to point out to me that I was sending my kids to an elementary school party dressed as bigots. Luckily the hats stayed on for about two minutes, then were promptly handed off to me for the remainder of the evening. In my defense, I had five kids, I was seven months pregnant with twins, and although I wouldn't know it for about another month, I was in severe heart failure. Looking back, I think it was a miracle that everyone made it out the door with pants on. I am 97% percent sure we all had pants on.

Next comes the candy portion of the event. Trick-or-Treating just isn't what it used to be. Four out of five houses are dark so you have to walk forever to get a decent haul. Plus, now you feel guilty if you let your children accept candy from someone you don't know really well. But as inconvenient and annoying as I find Trick-or-Treating, it is nothing compared to the week that follows. Those who plow through their candy in two days are sick, then later, angry that their siblings won't share. The ones who stretch out their candy seem to enjoy torturing the others with the fact that they still have candy. Then there is the candy itself. Wrappers and half eaten candy in every corner of the house. By the second week of November I feel violent tendencies fighting to be free every time I step on a piece of wet, sticky candy.

This is one of the days that I am completely content to live in India. This year we are celebrating Halloween with candy I provide. Costumes are optional and are to be created by the wearer of said costume. One scary, yet child friendly movie will be provided for the evening's entertainment and bedtime is extended to midnight. Not bad.

Happy Halloween to all, and to all a frightening night!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Forget Kilts, What Do They Wear Under Their Saree?

The inaugural post on this blog includes a rather unfortunate picture of me in a saree at my first Hindu wedding. There is a story that goes along with that saree that I have not shared with anyone. Not Anyone. After reading a few of my posts (particularly the one where I was accosted by a masseuse, or the one where my pants fell down) you might wonder, "What on earth could be too embarrassing for this girl to write about?" Well, quit being so impatient and I will tell you.
One of the women that my husband worked with was getting married. I was very nervous about this wedding for a number of reasons. 1. We were still new to India and I had no idea what to expect or what was expected of me. 2. It was my first unofficial Indian corporate shindig. 3. Mr. Smith bought me a saree to wear. Men have a thing about sarees. Sadly, I am fat and would never go into public with my midriff showing (you're welcome), but just try to explain that to the tailor who in his whole life has never heard anything so silly as a saree where the stomach is covered. 4. I had no idea how to put on a saree and the woman who could help me was a very new employee. Asking someone you hardly know and who hardly knows English to help you get dressed is a hard conversation to have. Plus, I really prefer clothes that I can put on all by myself. Having someone dress me is a little too 1800's for my taste. But I was determined to be a good sport and so I asked Camla to come upstairs in 20 minutes and help me put on my saree.

Ever wondered how a saree stays on? I figured it was some ancient Indian folding technique passed down from mother to daughter. Maybe a few safety pins thrown in for good measure. No, there is a secret that nobody tells you. Not the people who sell you the saree, not the tailor who makes the blouse to go with it, not even your American friends who are supposed to be smarter than you. They wear a petticoat! They tuck the saree into the drawstring waistband of the petticoat! My only contact with a petticoat up to this point in my life was "Petticoat Junction", an old show that I used to watch the reruns of as a kid. I could sing the theme song for you, but that's not really pertinent.

Twenty minutes passed and Camla came upstairs to help me make a dress out of a huge piece of fabric and I was waiting for her in my blouse and my underwear. That's right. Poor Camla, she was so embarrassed and just didn't know how to explain to me that I was missing a vital part of the whole saree ensemble. Finally she flipped up the end of her own saree to show me her petticoat. I was mortified. Eventually we found something that would work for the night and off I went. "Why is she telling us this?" you might ask. You are just full of questions today! This week Mr. Smith received another invitation to another wedding. This time my saree will be green, as will my brand new petticoat.

Monday, October 22, 2007

My Very First Movie Review

Lately Mr. Smith and I watched an Indian film called "Guru". This film was released early this year and was a big hit. The fact that it stars Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai had a lot to do with the success, I am sure. They are India's version of Bruce and Demi or Brad and Jennifer, except that they are still together. We were very excited to see this film because we had heard such good things about it.

It starts out well. A young ambitious man, Gurukant Desai, works hard, looks for opportunities and begins to succeed. When he tries to break into the world of big business he finds that corruption has closed all the doors for the average man. Through determination and his wits he is able to break through. Unfortunately, to increase his success he eventually becomes just as corrupt as the men he fought at the beginning. Bribes, false financial documents and all kinds of illegal business practices become his new way of life.

Finally he is brought up on charges and I thought, "Aha! Here is where he regrets what he has become and returns to his honest ways." No such luck. Instead he is portrayed, once again, being unfairly targeted by the establishment. He even compares himself to "another man that was called a criminal" Mahatma Gandhi. That's right. Wouldn't all those former CEO's in the US who served time for many of these same crimes be glad to know that they are actually heroic figures? That they were only practicing that long celebrated tradition of Civil Disobedience?

Don't get me wrong, I know not all movies portray actual good guys as "the good guys". I love a good heist film. I like revenge films. I even like it when a hero is shown to be a flawed human being, as long as what he/she did to become a hero was actually heroic. But this film starts out like It's a Wonderful Life, and ends with George Bailey beating Mr. Potter by becoming Mr. Potter. Not exactly the triumphant, feel good ending it's presented as.

The artistic quailties of the film are good and the characters are interesting, unfortunately the disappointing story line ruins it for me. I guess the film in my first film review gets one out of five stars.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Snips and Snails...

One of the things that makes living in India difficult is that it seems everything is different. Absolutely everything. Sometimes, in the morning, the thought of having to do everything in a slightly different way is overwhelming. Of course there are some things that are different and good. We love Limca. It is a lime soda (forget that tag-along lemon) that we all like. We will actually miss it when we go home. And some of the differences,while slightly disturbing, are just entertaining.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago we went to the mall as a family. This almost never happens because a visit to the mall with seven kids is generally more "fun" than I am up for. Nevertheless, there we were. Before heading home we stopped into the toy store. We gave the kids a limit and let them each pick something small. One of daughters (who has asked to remain nameless) picked out a baby doll. This doll appeared to be the run of the mill, super cheap, take in the tub kind of doll, and believe it or not, I thought it was just that.

I know. Your thinking "Silly, sweet, slow learning, slack witted girl. Don't you read your own blog? Nothing is ever what you expect!" That day we learned some interesting facts about baby doll's in India. They are boys and they are anatomically correct...ish. Enjoy the picture!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Water Water Everywhere!

Those of you who have read my blog for a while might have noticed that water is a continual issue here. For one reason or another, I have a water related problem almost everyday. Here are a few of them from the last 8 months.

4 year olds don't get that they can't drink tap water
4 year olds don't get that they can't use tap water to brush teeth
4 year olds are afraid of the bath water (Can you blame them?)
Tanks aren't filling from city
Illegal well water is no longer fit for use
Pump won't work
Faucets won't work because the screens are full of sediment
Gross water making laundry look dirtier than before I washed it
Heavy rain making sewage back up in downstairs bathrooms
Rain is coming in the house, forming a waterfall down the stairs
Dennis The Menace turned on the actual waterfall (yes we have one in the house)
Dennis The Menace broke the waterfall (solved previous problem nicely)
Water from construction next door making one whole wall of house wet, inside
Paint peeling off wet wall
Mold growing in corner of wet wall
Puddle on roof next door breeding mosquitoes
"Filtered" drinking water has sand and dead bug in it
Out of bottled water

And finally, the most recent...too much bottled water!

My kids have a habit of opening a bottle of water, taking a few sips, then abandoning it as undrinkable. Their defense of this practice is that while they weren't looking, somebody might have taken a drink. The somebody they are referring to is the previously mentioned 4 year old, Dennis The Menace. As well as being a bit of a rascal, Dennis seems to always have an abundance of saliva in the general area of his face. So, nobody drinks after him. Nobody. Over a period of a couple of weeks I noticed that the partially empty water bottles were piling up. One day I decided that it was getting a little embarrassing, so after Uday and Camla left the house, I recruited all of my kids to gather the abandoned bottles. I was stunned. Then I ran for my camera so that you could enjoy the craziness.

Anybody want to count them? I keep losing my place. There were also four or five unopened bottles that were returned to the fridge. Needless to say, we tightened up water bottle security. We still waste some water bottles, but not as many. Luckily, bottled water is relatively cheap here. Now I'm thirsty, but I promise to finish off the bottle!
Notice the unopened box of water just waiting for us?
I wonder what the raddiwallah thought.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Tell Me How You Really Feel

First, as it is a holiday here in India, I must take a minute to say, "Happy Birthday Gandhi-Ji!"

Now, on with the show. Recently Mr. Smith has decided to grow a beard. This is something that he does about once a year. It starts out as a full beard, then it is whittled down to a sort of "follow the jawline" kind of beard, then it becomes a goatee. At this point it usually goes away. Once in a while it becomes a mustache or soul patch for a day before disappearing altogether. The reason I bring up Mr. Smith's facial hair is that it started a conversation he and I had about how blunt people are here. His beard has received mixed reviews. As usual, the negative responses are the most entertaining.

Every morning Mr. Smith walks past a desk with a guard or two behind it on his way up to his office. They usually salute sharply and leave it at that. The beard, however, was too much for one guard to let go without a comment. "Why do you grow this? It is for the uncivilized." This is an interesting opinion in a country where facial hair is often tied to religious traditions, and where most men at least grow a mustache.

I wish I could say this was the first such incident. Oh no. Our size often produces those warm and fuzzy comments that make you feel extra confident throughout your day. Here are a few of my favorite: "We have yoga in the park every morning, if you joined us you would not be so fat." "As a Doctor I will tell you that you must walk every morning. I do everyday and you can see I am very slim." "You are a very big man, but you move so well. Where do you get so much energy?" "Have you ever considered reducing?" Why, no! I have never considered 'reducing' before, thank goodness you mentioned it. You have changed my life forever! How I long for the days in the states where people just looked pointedly at the ice cream in my shopping cart.

One day I was invited to a neighbors house for tea. While I drank my warm, unpasteurized, unhomogenized, whole milk, I was informed that only uneducated people have more than one or two children, the school we had chosen for our daughters was sub-par, our generator was too noisy and polluting, and the furniture that had been provided for us was cheap and tacky. Oddly, we have not become bosom buddies.

Even at our favorite restaurant we are not safe. There is a Chinese restaurant here that we love. Mr. Smith and I generally go there for our date night. It always starts well, they bring us menus. We peruse the menu and choose what we would like to try. Then the waiter comes with a pad in hand as if he is going to take our order. He listens politely and sometimes even writes things down. At this point, he informs us why our order is wrong and what he will order instead. Someday I am going to ask why they bother giving us menus.

I can only hope that this habit of brutal honesty has not rubbed off on my children, as if kids aren't embarrassingly honest enough. This could make for some awkward moments when we return to the US.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Raddiwallah

One of the first things I learned about how a household is run in India is that the garbage collector comes every morning around 10am. This seemed straight forward and convenient.
I was so naive back then. My first surprise was that the garbage collector does not drive a truck. Don't get me wrong, I didn't expect the barrel lifting mammoths that I see in the US, but I did a expect a motorized vehicle. Instead I saw a very skinny man, riding a very old bicycle, with a very big bag of garbage on the back. Seriously, how does that thing stay on? My elementary school book bag often threw me off balance, that garbage bag is way beyond my skill level. Even with the third wheel, one good corner would finish me off.

But I think we must go back a step or two. Uday takes our dust bin outside around 9:00 or 9:30 every morning. On a couple of occasions I have noticed that he will pluck something out and hand it to Camla who will go set it out back, to be taken upstairs with them later. Then, while the dust bin waits outside for the garbage collector, the guard has a look. He will often set aside 2 liter pop bottles, bags in good condition, or any kind of electronic component. We once had a guard who picked out a few scratched CD's and decorated his bicycle. Then comes the garbage man. Here he is called a raddiwallah, or garbage vendor. He presorts the garbage at his cart, then he takes the garbage from the neighborhood to a shack on the corner where he and several other men (members of his family I believe) sort it into larger piles. The piles seem to go something like this: recyclables, things that can be salvaged, things that can be burned, things that can be fed to dogs and the rest. Since we only pay him $1 a month for picking up our garbage, I assume the rest of his money comes from selling the recyclable and salvageable things.

I have to admit that this has made me paranoid about what I throw out. For the next week, every time you are about to drop something in the garbage, think about how you would feel if the people in your neighborhood were going to see it and know where it came from. The letters and papers that I should have been shredding for years are finally getting shredded. Receipts for embarrassing amounts of money (anything over Rs. 1000, or $25) are destroyed. When I throw out food that we didn't eat before it went bad I wonder what they will think of us. When I am getting rid of old t-shirts that have too many stains, I put them in plastic bags so they won't get gross. Did I need any more guilt or neurosis in my life? Not really.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Think Pink

I recognize that this is my third post in one week. It is not my fault, until tomorrow when Mr. Smith returns, I have more down time than I am used to. Besides, after my last post I thought you all deserved a laugh.

Several times a week, before Uday says goodnight, he calls me into the kitchen to show me what he is leaving us for dessert. 90% of the time it is very good. But I have learned that Uday is the kind of cook that does not use recipes. Each time he makes rolls, or cakes or what ever, it tastes just a little different than the last time. One thing I really wish that he would get a recipe for is pudding. It is almost never good. I don't think he "gets" pudding. I think pudding must not translate into the Indian psyche. To be fair, I am sure that if I took milk, curdled it, squeezed it into a ball, deep fried it and then served it with really thick syrup it would not be good either. But we are not talking about me.

Two nights ago Uday showed me a bowl of very pink pudding. I knew instantly that Her Majesty would love it to pieces. I was equally sure that after her one bowl, the rest would go down the drain. But, after Uday had left, I called the kids in to ask them if they wanted any dessert.

"It looks like Pepto Bismol."

"No," I assured them, "it's pretty and it smells yummy."

"Do you think he used Pepto Bismol?"

"No, of course not. Come on lets give it a try." Not willing to commit to whole bowls of pudding just yet, we all grabbed spoons and tried it. Uh....yeah, it was Pepto Bismol Pudding. I quickly checked the bottle of Pepto Bismol on the counter and was not so surprised to see that it's contents were visibly reduced.

I really can't blame Uday for this mistake. Unlike all the other medicine, which is kept in a cupboard in my bedroom, the Pepto Bismol has been on the kitchen counter for three or four weeks. Two of our children have tender tummies and I find it easier to keep it within reach. It is not hard to believe that after watching it's contents disappear slowly over several weeks, Uday decided that it was something we enjoyed. Surprisingly, not so much in pudding form. I still shudder just looking at the picture. Needless to say the Pepto Bismol has been put back into the medicine cupboard.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Seven and a half months into our relocation, I would have to say that I have been very lucky as far as being homesick goes. I communicate with my family through various computer-aided avenues (this being one of them) on a regular basis, the people I would miss the most are here with me, and finally, our situation here allows me to hide from "cultural experiences" on days when I feel like India is too much to deal with. So far, so good.

But being in India while Mr. Smith is in the US was never part of the deal.

On a normal day Mr. Smith wakes up, gets ready for work, wakes me up to tell me goodbye, then leaves. Twelve to fourteen hours later he comes home, eats his reheated dinner, begins one of several conference calls then falls asleep after sitting on the couch with me for twenty minutes. Honestly I didn't think I would miss him too terribly much if he went to the states for ten days. Silly, silly girl. I missed him so much. Then I started thinking about where he was and what he was doing and I started to miss Arizona and all of the people there.

News from home hasn't helped. It's back to school time. I love back to school time. I love buying new pencils, folders, notebooks and endless boxes of tissue. And crayons. I love crayons. But this school year was going to be special. I have been looking forward to this school year for a long time, 16 years to be exact. If I lived in the states I would have four child free hours everyday. The possibilities make me giddy with girlish glee. My four year old twins are old enough to qualify for the public school preschool offered in our neighborhood. Every morning at 7:30 am a bus would pick them up and not bring them back until 11:45 or so. However, since we are in India, I am instead homeschooling all seven children.

I was already feeling sorry for myself when I made the terrible mistake of surfing the Internet. This is not a skill I have naturally. Normally I get on the computer, check two or three things, then get off. But I needed something to distract me and I was hoping the Internet would have it. Instead I saw a pop-up add for the new fall line up. I love the new fall line up. I love season premieres of the shows I watched last season. I love seeing the pilot episodes of all the new shows and guessing which ones would be canceled (easy, the ones I like) and which ones would be huge hits. I love it all. And I'm missing it all.

Don't worry too much. Mr. Smith will be home in three days and I can live without TV. The school thing is a little harder to get over, but I will get over it, and now that I have whined and complained, I feel better. Thanks for the free therapy!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Middle Name Game

I'm it. Laural over at Pound for Pound tagged me with this middle name game. My middle name is Jo.

Here are the rules: 1. You have to post these rules before you give the facts. 2. Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name in a blog post. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had. 3. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

J is for Jocular. Not only do I like to make others laugh, but I also love it when others make me laugh. Women are instantly nicer and men are suddenly more handsome if they can make me laugh. Smart humor is better, but really anything will do. While I was engaged to Mr. Smith, my mother told me that she knew he was the one for me because I laughed at his jokes more than I laughed at my own. Ahhh, true love.

O is for....hmmmmm. My kids would say Oppressive, my husband would say Obstinate, I would say Obliging. They are probably all true, does that make me an Oddity?

This is the part I hate. Now I am supposed to tag two other bloggers. Sadly I know relatively few, and many of them have already been tagged with this one. I will tag Beth at Hunnydu this...Hunnydu that... because she doesn't mind talking about herself and she doesn't mind telling me "No". (Plus she loves me too much to stay mad.) I will also tag Rachel at Three Day Blog because she seems like a forgiving person and if she isn't, well she lives really, really far away.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Word Verification

The next time you want to post a comment on this blog you will notice a new step. I am sorry if it makes it more difficult for any of you. This is my way of avoiding blog spam that I have started to receive.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Great Big Killer Blue Line (as opposed to the thin one that protects us)

Earlier this week in Delhi a teenage boy, who was on his way to buy fruit for his mom, was hit and killed by a bus when it decided to make a speedy (and illegal) U-turn. That alone makes it a tragedy. The fact that this is the 79th person killed by a Blueline bus in Delhi this year, makes it a travesty. I believe this is how the system works. A business man buys a permit for a bus route. He is then completely responsible for maintaining the buses and hiring the drivers, and has little or no supervision from the government. Often the buses are driven by men with no licenses, usually relatives of the permit holder, who know that the more passengers their bus can carry in a day, the more money they make. The result of this is a city full of over crowded, speeding buses hurling through the streets trying to squeeze in as many people and routes as possible before 10pm. They make NYC taxi drivers look like sissies. At one point when the Blueline had a particularly bad week and the public outcry was too loud to ignore, the city stopped all the privately run buses, vowing to fix the system. Unfortunately the next morning when those who were crying out tried to get to work, fixing the system lost it's public support. If you want to know more about this story in general, type "Delhi Blueline bus deaths" into your favorite search engine. It is not pleasant reading.

This became a much more personal story to me a couple of days ago when Number One Son told me that he and Star On Stage had a very near miss with a Blueline while they were in a bicycle rickshaw (like the one on the left). Like the teenager above, they were out running an errand for their mother. Apparently it was close enough to scare even the rickshaw driver. Now THAT scares me. The only thing crazier than bus drivers are rickshaw drivers, they're just less deadly. Luckily for us, most of our traveling is done in a minivan that is driven by the only man in India who follows all of the traffic laws. I am sure this is for our benefit. I have no doubt whatsoever that after he drops us off at home he drives through the city without stopping for a single red light and on whatever side of the street offers the most room. I am not sure, however, that even our sturdy minivan and dependable driver is enough to keep us safe. I recently read the following: "Where is the safest place to be when there is a Blueline bus on the road?......Riding inside of it."

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Mr. Smith Takes Another Turn

To say that living in India is an adventure is overstating it on most days. There are days filled with it, don't get me wrong. Days like when the transformer caught on fire (the electrical one that affects the power supply to our neighborhood, not the autobot/decepticon kind - they usually repair themselves), or when Mrs. Smith tried to have a heart attack and leave me a widower with seven children - admittedly not the most marketable of men even in the best of times - something we are still working through and I keep reminding her about as my husbandly duty. But most days are humdrum days where I go to the office and come home to a room full of people watching TV or fighting over who gets to be next on the computer. One person that never fails to bring a tad more adventure to the house is our landlord. I believe Mrs Smith has made mention of him previously, so I will offer a brief recap for those who might not have read that part - came into the house uninvited with his wife and said "hello?" as we were gathered at the dinner table; came into the house uninvited with his son and two friends to inspect the termite damage; came in uninvited to inspect the termite damage and forced his way into the bedroom while two of our daughters were bathing in that room's bathroom and then tried to go into the bathroom; brought multiple people into the house to show it to them - prospective investors, and still uninvited - completely unannounced. I'll leave it at that. After 5 months of constant intrusion and badgering, he has finally stopped coming in (we renegotiated the contract to give him more money and stipulated 24 hours notice before coming to the house). Until yesterday...

In all fairness, he didn't actually come into the house. In truth I wasn't even present as I was entertaining a colleague from Hong Kong at Bukhara (an Indian restaurant in Delhi that is number 37 on the current list of the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants - I tried to find a website for them but only found a copycat restaurant in Cape Town and lots of reviews, so google them and check out the reviews - they are amazing) so the story all comes from Mrs Smith, who dealt with it amazingly well.

He came to the gate and wanted to see that the lights were all working on the outside of the house. Why, I am not sure, but I imagine he wanted to be able to see the house lit up and have others see it as well. That should be good for our $325 dollar monthly electric bill (some things are cheaper here, but not housing or electricity - or electronics, or dinner at Bukhara for that matter). Anyway, he then proceeded to come to the side door of the house and spoke to the cook, demanding the oven. Yes, that's right. He wanted to take the oven. So Uday came to Mrs Smith and told her that he wanted the oven (thinking he wanted the oven that we bought, Mrs Smith AND the cook both became rather indignant about that and said no) but then he made clear that it was the microwave oven he wanted. Um... still no. We use that. Then he said that if we were going to use it we needed to pay him rent for it. Last I checked, the $3000 plus dollars he gets in rent included the microwave. Which reminds me of a story.

In 1992 when Mrs. Smith and I were attending BrighamYoung University (rise and shout...) we lived in a cute little 2 bedroom apartment in Provo, Utah. It was on the third floor of a small apartment complex that was filled almost entirely with married students. It was a great little apartment. It really was. We had so much fun gathering at the railing in front of the apartment and talking with the other couples in the complex on warm summer evenings. It was a pleasant place to live and we remember it fondly. It even had a dishwasher in it. We were not allowed to use the dishwasher, however, because we were not willing to pay the landlord the extra money he asked for after he installed it. We were paying $350 a month, and when he installed the dishwasher he wanted an extra $25 a month (maybe $50 - Mrs Smith will know). They taped it shut with security tape and checked it regularly to make sure it wasn't compromised. I should have known then that people are ridiculously stupid. Really. We are. All of us. Remember when we elected Dubya the first time? When we almost elected Al Gore instead? Case in point...

So our current landlord is at the side door demanding the oven, and the cook is telling him no. Frustrated by the refusal of the microwave by the mighty Uday Singh, he then demands the hotplate that was in the house when we moved in. It was set aside when we bought the oven (the range with the oven and the stovetop, not the microwave) and hasn't been used for months, so the cook pulls that down and gives it to the landlord who takes the hotplate and leaves, presumably to cook something but I don't really know because he didn't take the cylinder of propane (the propane sits inside the house next to the oven connected loosely by a rubber hose without a clamp - but that is another blog entry) so maybe he was going to steal someone else's propane. About this time, Mrs Smith decides to check the house register to see if the hotplate was provided by the landlord. This register lists everything in the house and who provided it, some by the landlord and some by the company. Lo and behold, the landlord stole the company's hotplate.

Needless to say we may be looking for a new home. Then again, there are never any guarantees that the landlord there will be any better. After all, remember the whole people are stupid thing. Need more evidence? We elected Dubya again last time and we're looking at Hillary for next time. Maybe we should just elect our landlord (who actually happens to be a local politician). His slogan could be "put your hotplates in a lockbox," or "the ever present president," or maybe "vote for me or I'll steal your hotplate". How about "I invented the internet and environmentalism"? I think that one's taken though...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Common Sense Is Not So Common

Something that Mr. Smith and I have noticed is that while a lot of the people in India are highly educated, things that are common sense seem to escape them as a whole. This is something that has provided some entertainment and much frustration during our stay. For instance, we bought a battery back up for our computer this week. Basically you plug all the parts of your computer into the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) and then plug the UPS into the wall. Now when the power goes out, our computer won't shut down while the generator kicks in. Pretty smart huh? Unfortunately all the outlets into the UPS are too close together, the result is that you can only actually use every other outlet. Grrr. While we are on the subject of outlets and such, there seems to be only a basic guideline as to the size of the prongs on your plugs. Some plugs fit well, some are too snug, some are so loose they fall out. These are not old and new things. These are all electronics that have been recently purchased.

Here is another strange practice; when you go shopping in a department store, as you choose things to purchase, they don't actually let you take them. They give you a slip, you go and pay, then you come back with your receipt to pick up your purchases. I understand that this is to safeguard against shoplifting, but come on! Yesterday we were shopping for our daughter's 12th birthday and had to make several stops on several different floors after we had shopped and paid, to pick up her gifts. It is really annoying.

As usual there is a reason for the subject of this post. Last week our cook pointed out that there was no vent in the kitchen. He was hoping that we could arrange to have one put in. What Uday didn't know is that there is a vent in the kitchen. Kind of. There is a fan and there is a pipe from the fan to the window... a window that does not open. With bars on the inside that also do not open. So the pipe ends about four inches short of the bars and glass. Not a very effective set up if you want to actually get the hot air and smoke out of the kitchen. "Not to worry!" said we. "Surely the office will send someone to fix this silly set up if we point it out." And they did. Work men came, they looked, they discussed, they measured, they cut a hole in the glass and they left. Now the system works like this: Fan, pipe, four inches of open space, metal bars, one inch of open space, 5 x 5 inch square hole in the glass, the great outdoors. Not only is this a completely ridiculous way to solve the problem, but it is also a fabulous entrance for the gazillion mosquitoes that are outside. And right during Dengue season too. Sweet! Now our kitchen is still hot and smokey and Skater Girl looks like she has polka dots. Even on her forehead. I don't know what it is about this girl that the bugs love so much, but we are all safe while she is in the room.

Tomorrow round two of the great kitchen vent adventure will begin. Perhaps this time they will put in a screen to keep all the bugs out. Of course they will have to cut a hole in it, in case some of the hot air and smoke wants to show itself out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

To Tip, Or Not To Tip, That Is The Question

When we first arrived in India we were beholden to the restaurants that delivered for our survival. At that point we continued the American practice of tipping between 15-20%. We were informed by a good friend that even 10% is considered generous. Since then Uday has come into our lives, now we order out about once a week. So, for the last 7 months when our food is delivered we have tipped 10%. Sometimes the delivery boy looks very surprised, usually they look happy, once in a while they look guilty.

A few weeks ago when our McDonalds arrived, a manager had come along for the ride. He politely explained that tipping is not encouraged. Apparently there were fights at the restaurant over who got to deliver the food every time a call came in from our address. "Please!" he said, "you must stop tipping, it is causing me many big problems." I apologised to him and to the delivery boy who would not be getting his tip and slunk back into my house. Since then I have stopped tipping the McDonald's delivery boys.

Yesterday I went to the Indian version of a supermarket. Every time I go I buy about 10 bags full of stuff. Some poor kid grabs all 10 bags and goes out into the street and finds my car. It is not an easy street to navigate because it is always packed with traffic and there are no sidewalks. I usually give this brave soul Rs. 100, or $2.50. Lately I have noticed that when my shopping cart is almost full, the grocery baggers start jockeying for position to get me into their lane. I really didn't think it was a big deal. But once again I was approached by the manager. This one was neither so nervous, nor so polite. "You must stop giving the boys money!" No explanation, just the order. Perhaps this was all his English would allow, but I doubt it. Either way, when we made it to the car I didn't tip the young man who had carried out all of the groceries.

Today, however, I am wondering if I did the right thing. It is my natural inclination to follow the rules, but if $2.50 is enough to make a measurable difference in the week of these boys, should I stop giving it to them just to avoid inconveniencing the managers? I honestly don't know. So I am asking you, what do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Jaya He!

Last week India celebrated 60 years of independence from Great Britain. I knew that I had to have a post on this subject, but I was stumped. I started many times and from many different angles, usually critical. It is not hard to find fault with India. Drive through Delhi on any given day and you can easily see many of the problems through your window. But I wasn't able to finish any of these posts and feel good about it. After all India has gained its independence at a very different time in world history from my own country and it really wouldn't be fair to compare them. Not to mention the fact that the India has been independent for 60 years, not 231 and I am biased, no country can compare to my own.

So, I have instead decided to congratulate India on her Independence. (I am sure she is relieved.) Learning to govern yourself with such a huge population, crushing poverty, religious and linguistic diversity, and uneasy neighbors, all under the scrutiny of the "Global Village" cannot be easy. And yet it seems that India will succeed where so many others have floundered. And so I will instead add my voice to the 1.1 billion Indians chanting "Jaya He!" or in my own language"Victory To Thee!"

Saturday, August 11, 2007

ER - India Style!

For those of you who don't know me well I must preface this post with a little information. In 2002 while I was pregnant with twins, I developed a couple of fairly serious heart problems. As a result I take a lot of medication and have a low energy level, not that I was ever considered hyper active. I am generally a decent heart patient, not great, but not the worst. However, since we moved to India I have been a textbook rebellious heart patient. I haven't been taking medication or seeing a cardiologist. So, on Tuesday when I was taking clothes out of the dryer and had some pretty severe chest pains, I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was.

In the interest of getting to the important part I will summarize the next two hours. I took a dose of medication for the first time in a long time (dumb), I took a low dose aspirin (smart), I laid down and hoped it would go away by its self (dumb), I called my husband for a ride to the hospital (smart) and I decided that if I was going to the hospital I had better shower (dumb). Despite the New Delhi rush hour traffic, and my own stupidity, I made it to the hospital alive.

One of the interesting things about Indian medicine is that your medical records really are yours. You take them home with you. They leave them next to you while you are in the hospital and no one blinks if you pick them up and flip through them. So during the down time that comes in every trip to the hospital, Mr. Smith and I amused ourselves by looking at what the staff had written about me. It was all pretty normal until we got to a line that said "State of Mind of Patient: Psychotic Violent Combative" and the nurse had circled "Combative". Combative?! Me?! I am so not combative. The worst you could call me is stubborn, or even passive aggressive. Honestly though, that is only to my husband. To everyone else I am nice to the point of being a pushover. Luckily this gave me something besides the current situation to obsess about. Since I am all about ignoring a problem until it goes away, that worked for me. So here are the three possible explanations that I came up with for my being erroneously labeled combative.

1. My Fault. Upon arriving at the hospital the diuretic (a medication that helps my body get rid of the fluid my heart can no longer pump off) I took kicked in and I suddenly had to go to the bathroom very badly. Now, everyone knows about the paperwork that must be filled out when you check into a hospital, and normally I have no problem answering all the questions about myself, my parents, my habits, my religion, my choice of shampoo, whatever. But, have I mentioned that I had to go? So as the sweet nurse, then the doctor, then some guy with a stethoscope, all took their turn asking me seven hundred and thirteen questions in broken English, I might have mentioned a couple of times that I really had to go. All right it was more than a couple of times and I eventually became a bit insistent, extremely polite, but insistent. Truly, I was only looking out for them. Did they want to change the sheets and mop the floor? I don't think so. Finally the paperwork was complete and a wheelchair was found and I was wheeled to the bathroom about 50 feet away. After that, I didn't ask. I just got up and walked to the bathroom. Perhaps my initial insistence, or the fact that I wouldn't wait for the wheelchair after that, came across as combative.

2. Mr. Smith's Fault. Mr. Smith is on the large side. He is tall and wide and has the ability to look a little scary and when someone he loves is in danger he becomes all business. On my second trip to the bathroom (and all subsequent trips) he walked beside me and stood outside the door with his arms folded over his chest and a scowl on his face. People in the ER waiting room must have wondered who I was that I needed a bodyguard just to go to the bathroom. Then he got in a little tiff with a guy at the desk. First, the guy showed him a list of room types that he could choose from for me. Suite, deluxe private, private, shared, etc. Mr. Smith chose one, only to have the guy inform him that only shared were available. To his credit, Mr. Smith made no comment at this point. Then the guy told him that there were no beds ready at all, and that it would take "some time" to get one for me. Mr. Smith asked if "some time" meant that they were preparing one and it would be half an hour, or if it meant that we had to wait for someone to checkout in the morning or die to get a bed. The guy said that it was best if he didn't commit to a time frame, in case he was wrong. This is where the tiff came in. There was no yelling and no cursing, which in my book means that Mr. Smith behaved himself, but nobody at the desk was under the impression that he was pleased. Finally the nurse took pity on Mr. Smith and told us that it would be morning at the earliest, at which point I sent him home.

3. The Nurse's Fault. This one is my favorite for obvious reasons. I think her lack of English skills played a part in this. Perhaps she thought that this line had to be filled in, so she chose one at random, or, if she knew what the words meant, picked the lessor of three evils. I like this explanation the best and choose to believe it. It fits in nicely with the image I have of myself.

As for everything else, I am home and doing just fine. I have been scared straight and promise to follow all the rules in the heart patient handbook.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Silly Signs

One of the entertaining things about living in a foreign country is some of the signs that we see. English, although known by most educated people here, is still a foreign language which leads to some funny mistakes. I also think the British influence causes problems. Recently a new mall opened up nearby with underground parking. As you pass the security check there is a sign like this...

This has been a favorite of my kids and is always the cause of stifled giggles. We tried to get an actual picture, but alas, no luck. I noticed this week that they had written " CAR^ " in front of the word Dicky. This of course made me wonder what exactly some poor confused mall goer had opened.

Now there is a new favorite. Today is Friendship Day, so for the last week or so there have been several billboards around Delhi advertising it like this...

I'm not sure if this is supposed to represent mending an old friendship, or if "The Bird" means something different here than it does in the US, or if someone just really misunderstood what this gesture means. Either way, being flipped off by a 20 foot rainbow covered hand is down right funny in my book.

I know this is a short post, but I think I will start posting more examples of the language mess ups and culture confusion that we see. We always get a good laugh out of them.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

10 Things I Love About Living In India

Here they are, as promised. Believe it or not this list was easier to come up with! I have tried to include pictures where I can. Once again, in no particular order....

1. Our Employees - I am really uncomfortable with this issue. I have huge guilt issues. I hate that people refer to them as servants, I hate that they live in the servants quarters. I hate the whole thing. But I absolutely love these people. I seriously would not live here without them.

Uday cooks wonderful dinners and yummy treats. Every day with no effort on my part a fabulous dinner appears on our table at 6:30 pm and by 7:30pm it is cleaned up. If that means that sometimes we pretend to like something we don't, so what! If I occasionally have to send jello with fruit in it down the drain when no one is around, who cares!

Camla keeps our house spic and span. It is true that every morning we get up and straighten up the house and make the beds, but she does the rest. I have not cleaned a toilet in six months. "How is that different from when you lived in the US?" some of you may be asking. I'll tell you, now my bathroom is clean instead of scary! But that is not all she does. She seems to actually like my children. She helps them and plays with them, and after our Hindi lessons she asks them what their names are in Hindi. She is a very sweet person.

Kirpa Shankar is the man! I spell his name a different way every time I mention him, but we love him all the same. He tells us what is going on when we miss something. He knows where everything is, and if he doesn't know, he finds it anyway. He follows the traffic laws when no one else does. He keeps his eye on us when we are in public. I honestly believe he would help us if we were in danger. He is truly a good man.

2. Salwar Kameez - I love these outfits. I actually had Mr. Smith take a picture of me in mine, but I couldn't bring myself to post it. But, can you see why I would love them? You can buy them off the rack (if you are the size of the average Indian woman) or you can have them made. Now I can always to find 3/4 length sleeves! To me these are better than Saris. You might think they would be too hot, but for some reason they really aren't.

3. Fruit And Vegetable Market - The fruit here is so yummy and sweet. Some of it is new and some is familiar, but it is all good. Everyday there is fruit for sale at roadside markets, but Thursday is the big one. A main road near our house fills up with carts and stalls and tables brimming with every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable. Don't even try to drive down this road in a normal amount of time because there are just too many people, some people just stop and buy things through their car window. I don't know where the market in this picture is, but it was as close as I could get to ours. Some Thursday I'll be brave and send Mr. Smith out to take a picture of ours.

4. American Women - The women that I have met here are so cool. I am truly a home body. I consider the women in my family my friends, and if left to my own devices, they would be the only friends I ever had. Luckily these women are outgoing and have pulled me into their circle. I will be grateful to them forever for the kindness and camaraderie they have shown me. I only have a picture of one of them (the unofficial ring leader) but there are about 6 all together.

5. New Sights To See - I love that there are such cool things to see in India. Some of them we see everyday, like the Lotus Temple. Some we have to make an effort to see, like the Taj Mahal. But I must say, it is worth the effort, and never in my life did I ever think I would see the Taj Mahal!

6. Trees In The Road - I do not even pretend to understand the logic. Can someone explain to me what makes a person decide to simply leave the tree in the road? Not curve the road around the tree. Not remove the tree from the path of the road. Just lay the road and leave the tree. Please don't think this is a rare thing, we had 3 or 4 to choose from in our suburb alone. I don't understand it, but I love it. It gives me a chuckle every time we swerve around one.

7. Store 18 - Store 18 is like a super market without the produce. The reason that I love it is because they import things from the US. I can buy fruit roll ups and peanut butter there. Lately they have had Pringles and Doritos. Once they even had M&M's. They were stale and gross, but it was exciting anyway.

8. Learning Hindi - Seriously, when would I have ever learned Hindi? We just started, but already the kids and I are enjoying it. My goal is to be able to understand what people are saying about me in public places. I know they are talking about me. They all are.

9. Ice Cream - There is a company here called Mother's Dairy. Luckily they have a store right around the block from us. They have the best ice cream ever. If I could think of a way to transport a gallon of their Vanilla home for my dad, that is the gift I would bring him from India. I just noticed that 4 of my 10 items deal with food in some way. Do you think I have issues with comfort food? Hmmm.

10. My Computer - I love Skype and gmail and Blogger and and all the ways this computer helps me keep in touch with the people I love. The fact that I can live in India and not feel lonely is a miracle too me.