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!