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...