Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dear Mother In Law, Don't Read This Post!

India is very proud of it's accomplishments. Just ask any educated person here in Delhi. The large cities are flourishing. New business is pouring in, the rupee is gaining on the dollar, real estate is booming, education is a priority and the arts are revered. Everyone is happy to tell you about the changes to the area as they prepare for the Common Wealth games in 2010. Not to mention the increased attention to athletics in the schools over the last several years to make sure India didn't put on a good show, only to be embarrassed in the games themselves. If you spend time talking to the affluent and educated in the city you get a picture of India that is diverse, beautiful and hopeful. The new money along with the history and traditions of India seem to give the upper class a feeling of superiority and a sense of getting the recognition that they have deserved for a long time.

The society that I find myself a part of is very based on appearances. Bragging is part of every introduction and most conversations. New cars sport ribbons on the hood for months. School programs are high pressure affairs and are practiced for months with an eye towards making the school look good. Everything is turned into an auspicious occasion with important and honored guests. But he truth is that this is still a third world country with a violent streak, and the longer I live here, the more I wonder how much longer they can fool themselves.

This is a recent example. In the US if a married man sent out invitations for his wedding to a second wife, he would be arrested and probably sued by at least one person. In India it went down like this: The groom, who had been separated from his first wife for many years, gladly excepted a proposed match, made by his aunt, to a beautiful 18 year old girl. An agreement was reached between the families and the wedding was planned. On the day of the wedding, right before the actual ceremony was about to take place (which I think I have mentioned is about 3 days into the whole affair and about 8 hours into that days events) several men in the party decide that having two wives is morally wrong. So they grab the groom and beat him brutally. Then they find the aunt who made the match and beat her for her part. I can only be grateful that it was a man taking a second spouse, because I can guarantee that if it was a woman, she would not have survived the affair.

Hindu beliefs teach that it is wrong to want to improve your station in life. This has held the caste system in place for many years. But how long will the lower classes allow the rich to get richer without demanding some of it for themselves? Not much longer. And in a country where violence, although preached against, is so much a part of the culture, I can't imagine that it will be a quiet or polite request for equality. Everyday there are stories of riots, or protests in the rural areas that went wrong. How long before this battle reaches the city?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Put Me In The Zoo!

The first of our Monday excursions is complete! I don't know if it was successful, but it is complete. We wanted to do something kid friendly before we hit the historical or more cultural sights. The girls picked the zoo. Oh yeah. The truth is, I have never liked the zoo, and with the exception of the time the orangutan threw poop at a date I had decided I didn't like, my memories of the zoo aren't fond ones.
It didn't start well, it was hot (duh) and the first several attractions were different types of....
Deer! Unfortunately, I spent a year and a half in southern Utah, driving white knuckled, while praying that no deer decided to leap in front of me. That was enough to take the "Bambi" polish off deer forever! Plus, there was the usual crowd we draw when we walk outside. When the kids and I would stop to wait for Mr. Smith (who took all the lovely pictures) the crowd generally stopped with us. Of course they also wanted pictures of our family and of the twins. I have to admit that I was working myself up into a real tizzy. But then I noticed two things. First I noticed the pure joy on Dennis The Menace's face as he imitated the bear. How he gleefully roared at the people around him and how they happily roared back. Then I noticed that my husband was taking picture of the animals, and also of the Indian children. What was I so uptight about? For the rest of the time I relaxed and tried to enjoy myself. Admittedly there wasn't much time left, but it was the best part. I decided to post a few of my favorite pictures. The last one is for JRM.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Temples, Temples, Temples!

Star On Stage has made a good friend in India. A while ago she came home from a long day at her friend's house and burst into sobs the second the door was safely shut behind her. She ran up to me and said, as quietly as her sobs would allow, " Something bad has happened! I have to tell you about it in your room right now!" As you can imagine the absolute worst case scenarios were running through my head. I walked calmly upstairs and was as loving and patient as I could be as she slowly managed to get the story out. It seems Star On Stage was at the park with her friend and her friend's nanny. Suddenly it was decided that they should show Star On Stage the local Hindu Temple. So off they went. Inside the temple she was overwhelmed by the many ornate statues, the smells of incense, the loud music, the prayers being sung, and someone marking her face and forehead with ash. Toward the end she was given some "food of the gods" and was told she must eat it. She slipped it in her pocket instead.

So far in her young life, church has consisted of song's, activities, and lessons all geared to children. No real rituals with the exception of the sacrament every Sunday and her own baptism 4 months ago. After this experience she was sure she had done something wrong, that she had somehow offended God by allowing them to put ash on her face and by not standing up and proclaiming the things she knew to be true in front of Ganesh! I chuckled and held her in my arms while she calmed down. I assured her that it was good to learn about other people's beliefs and that Heavenly Father would never be angry with her for that. I also told her that there were times and places to tell people about the things she believed, but that a Hindu temple wasn't that time or place. Then I remembered about the food of the God's in her pocket. We shared it while she told me about the temple and the bicycle rickshaw she got to ride home in. It was all very exciting, now that she knew her immortal soul was not in danger. In case you are wondering, food of the god's consists of little beads of sugar in the shape of rose blooms, and some kind of peanut.

Something else exciting has happened. We have new neighbors. I think that it is just a man and his wife, no children. But wait! That is not the exciting part. It seems that they holding a Pujah in their new home to bless it. We can go there to worship or to learn about Lord Krishna and what he has done for mankind. This morning was the first of, I believe eight days. About two hours of singing and praying over a PA system. I believe that this will happen every day, twice a day. Exciting! Add to that the construction at our other neighbors and my kids, and you have one sweet little piece of heaven on Earth. Visitors should know that my house is now B.Y.O.E.P. - Bring Your Own Ear Plugs!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Idle Hands & Butts

As you can see from this lovely picture that Skater Girl (6) took of Glamour Girl (10), summer boredom has set in hard in the Smith house. What on earth are you supposed to do with 7 kids for 6 weeks? Indian schools are very different and just a little strange, like everything else here. School started in April, then it ran for 6 weeks, and now they have a 6 week break during the hottest part of the summer. Apparently, between the heat, the power outages that the heat brings, and the travel to escape the heat, absenteeism is a big problem. So.... close the schools, problem solved!!! Well we are dealing with it in a few ways, First we are sending Number One Son (our teenager) to the US for a couple of months. Despite the loss of a babysitter, which is a terrible blow, I think we will all be happier without a bored and mopey 16 year old boy around. I know he'll be happier. Second, starting next Monday we are going to see the sights of Delhi. One each week. I think we will start with something kid friendly like the zoo or the aquarium and then move on to more cultural things like the Lotus Temple. Third, well there is no third, unless you count TV and Disney movies, which of course I don't. I mean, I use them, I just don't count it!

Luckily, we have creative children and marble floors. Just add water and you have yourself one heck of a slip-n-slide! This is how all the kids but our oldest spent Sunday evening and most of Monday afternoon! I have to admit that on Sunday I was oblivious to the water works and probably would have nixed it. This afternoon though, well, I'm not that great of a mom anyway so I said yes. Luckily, because we don't live in the US for now, I won't have to make my kids wear long pants for the next two weeks to cover the bruises left by all the fun! Here, if someone sees one of my kids with a leg full of bruises they'll just think, "Hmm, you'd think he/she would be better behaved!"

Well suitcases need packing and Mr. Smith's boss is coming for dinner so all the kids need a large dose of Benedryl.... Kidding! I would never drug my children! But they do all need baths. Does a slip-n-slide count as a bath? Not even in India? Fine!!!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mr. Smith Takes a Turn

I took this picture on my way to the office one morning. This wagon was attached to a tractor and it was packed with people - mostly children. This little girl was such a cutie, and she turned just as I was taking the picture so I missed her face. Because I was in my car, we sped off and they were left behind to go heaven-knows-where.

There are so many people here that it is truly difficult to comprehend. 1.1 billion. Soon India will overtake China as the world's most populous country (we thought that might happen when our family arrived and boosted the population...). With so many people in one place, there is a sense of anonymity. Well, for most people. For a 6-foot, 330 pound caucasian man, anonymity is just not a concept to be enjoyed in India. But once you push past the staring, the pointing, and even the occasional laughing, you discover that this truly is a wonderful place filled with warm and wonderful people.

One of our goals while here for the next three years is to travel around India and see what this country has to offer. But with such beautiful children around us (as shown in these photos), and so many amazing things to see, even that thought is overwhelming. I have been to Mumbai (Bombay) twice. I went again yesterday in another whirlwind visit for our business. That is a very different place from Delhi. I had two eunuchs - in this case men dressed in sarees as women - try to get to me in our car so they could extort some money. They were at an intersection waiting for cars to stop. Like I said, I don't exactly cut a concealable figure compared to those around me here, so they came at me fast and furious. Man, eunuchs get angry. You would think that guys with no - um, male "motivation" - wouldn't be so aggressive. But I think they were just dressed that way for the money. And no, I didn't check...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Good Days and Bad Days

Most days I would say that we are pretty settled here. There are still challenges, but we've come to expect them and we deal with them. Most days I would even be bold enough to say we are happy here. Today would not be one of those days.

Every school day I walk down the street and around the corner and wait for the school bus four times. When I step outside our gate I immediately become the focus of attention for about 3/4 of the people on the street. Since there are a billion people here, even in our little neighborhood that is usually between 50-150 people at all times. Staring is not considered rude in India and they do it openly. I am not the kind of person who likes attention and this was hard for me to get comfortable with, but I did. So this morning I took my three oldest girls to the bus and headed home. About 10 yards from my gate my ankle turned out and I dropped flat on my face in the middle of the street! I laid there for a minute, rolled over, and managed to get myself up. As I looked around I saw that 20 people had stopped what ever work they were doing and were now silently watching me brush myself off and limp to my gate.

As usual I managed to hold myself together until some one I love says something nice. This time is was Number One Son. It went something like this, I walk in the door and he says, "Mom! what happened?! Are you O.K.?" "Yah,... ha ha,.... I'm fine. I just fe.. fe.. waaaaaaahhhhhh!" I bawled for a few minutes, then I pulled myself together. Until I was reading the wheat flakes box over my cereal and saw the slogan, "Fit in a Fortnight". This made me chuckle, then giggle,then laugh, then laugh hysterically, then bawl again. At which point Mr. Smith turns to Number One Son and says, "Son, this is what is called a Mood Swing." Which just makes me laugh and then cry some more. I now realize that a full fledged break down is coming so I quickly get Skater Girl ready for school, have Number One Son take her to the bus and shut myself in my room for a good long cry followed by a good long nap.

Now I have successfully navigated the remaining two trips to the bus stop, and if asked I would say, "Yes, we enjoy it here. We are adjusting slowly but surely."

Monday, May 7, 2007

They're just jeans, right?

I am about to seriously date myself. I miss The Miller's Outpost! For those of you who aren't familiar with The Miller's Outpost it was a fabulous store dedicated primarily to jeans. Along the whole back wall were square cubby holes full of jeans. I think they were all from the 500 series from Levi's. Just pick your favorite number (Mr. Smith's were 501's, mine were 550's) then find your waist size and length and you are good to go! And my favorite part? They looked like new jeans! Don't get me wrong, they had the circle racks on the floor full of the designer brands, or stone washed, or ripped. It was the 80's after all. But the standard, nice, new looking jeans were always available.

This last week we have been looking for jeans for Number One Son. Unfortunately at 6'5" he is larger than the average 16 year old Asian. We can't find anything that fits this kid here. Most of his things are being replaced this summer in the US, but the jeans couldn't wait. Finally we found a Levi's store in Delhi. Ah, the promised land. I hoped.

I admit that it has been a while since I have been in a Levi's store, but this was depressing. All the jeans looked like they were already 5 years old, and from experience I know that the distressed jeans don't last long at all. And the prices? The cheapest, no frills, only slightly distressed Levi's started at $50! Forget Millers Outpost, I miss Wal-Mart!

Despite my complete annoyance at the jeans styles (when did boys start wearing girls pants?) we did find some jeans that fit Number One Son. So tonight I will count my blessings and repent for the things that I have been thinking about the fashion industry, well, for some of them anyway.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Whites & Brights

I know why women in India wear such bright colors....whites are too hard to clean here! Laundry has been a source of annoyance since we first arrived in India. The first few weeks we had no washer. We were assured that one was on the way (Indian Stretchable Time is a subject for another entry) but in the mean time we used a "Tide Bar". Who knew such a thing existed? It is what it sounds like, an over sized soap bar made of Tide. Fill up a bucket and scrub your clothes.....for nine people. We did finally get a washer, problem solved right? Obviously not or I wouldn't be writing. The first hitch was learning about the washer. A normal load takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Very inconvenient, but imagine how clean your clothes must get.....huh, not so much. Clothes that never ran, now ran and everything was looking dingy by the second wash.
About two months into our stay a wonderful man named Uday came to work for us. He has no front teeth and what seems to be a wrist and a thumb on his right arm, but he smiles constantly and knows everything you need to know to live in India. One of the first things he brought to our attention was that our water tanks needed cleaning. Water tanks? I learned we had three, one under ground and two on the roof. The water from the city only runs twice a day, so during that time you fill up your tanks. Good to know. Can you guess which bottle contains water from our tanks?

Eureka! The great dingy laundry mystery has been solved! So now our tanks are sparkling clean...ish, and our laundry is getting clean...ish. Hey, it's India, what do you expect? Besides white shirts are boring, I've always loved hot pink. And there is an upside. Tide for your washer that costs about $14 in the US runs about $1.50 here!