Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Eye Of The Beholder

I wonder what your first reaction was to seeing this symbol on my blog. When I first arrived in India I was shocked when I saw my first swastika. I could tell it was different than the one I had seen in movies and history books, the one that meant evil and hatred and danger, the one that marked everything it touched as repugnant. The angle was different (although I didn't realize that until Number One Son pointed it out), the black field was gone and the block-ish shape had been replaced with an artistic flair. I knew that if it graced homes and cars and store front signs that it had to mean something else here, in this land that was so new to me. Despite the fact that my logical brain picked up on all of these things, my stomach still turned every time I saw it. My eye would slide around it, as if not looking directly at it would make me feel better about it.

When we got the van that we would be driving for the next few years, some kind soul decorated it for us. In India, buying a new car is something to celebrate. You bring sweets to your friends and co-workers and you decorate your car. On the hood there was a beautiful red ribbon (sorry, no bow) and right there, front and center, was a bright red swastika. For weeks as we drove around the city I felt like ducking so that no one would see me in the swastika car.

This isn't something you can ignore for long in India. It is everywhere. Clothing, wrapping paper, even sidewalks. They come in all shapes and sizes and are made with all different mediums. They also often have four dots included with them, like the one below.

Even our neighbors house is decorated with them.

I decided to try to find out just what this particular geometric pattern represented in Indian culture and as usual found that there were several different opinions. The ones that came up the most were, a blessing of wealth, good luck and general well being. I think it is so interesting that one symbol could have such diametrically opposed meanings, depending on where you were raised.

I admit that after almost two years I have lost a lot of the old emotional reactions that I had, but I still don't choose keepsakes with swastikas on it and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Number One Son

Number One Son is nothing if not interesting. He is a crazy mix of intelligence and bad judgement, of kindness and narcissism, of maturity and rashness. He has provided Mr. Smith and I with countless stories and a number of sleepless nights. Two new stories cropped up just this week and so, of course, I have decided to use them for this week's post along with a couple others thrown in. I think all good bloggers should exploit their children for material, let them earn their keep.

Number One Son has a fascination with buttons and knobs. He cannot see a button and not push it to find out what it does. That is how he learns, he just jumps in and tries. One day, soon after we arrived in India, I heard a frightened sounding yelp from the direction of his room. I rushed towards his door only to meet him as he shot out and announced, "I have been violated by India!" It seems that while "sitting in the bathroom" he noticed that there was a faucet like knob on the wall next to him, but no corresponding faucet. So, being Number One Son, he reached out and gave it a good turn. The startled yelp came when the cold February water shot out of the bidet attachment that was controlled by the mystery knob on the wall and hit him where the sun doesn't generally shine, so to speak.

Number One Son is a bit of a compulsive shopper. Of course Mr. Smith and I would never allow such a character flaw in ourselves and so we are bewildered as to where he could have gotten such a loathsome habit. The $1,500 we spent on a set of Encyclopedias two months after we were married was an investment in our future. Well, it was. Upon Number One Son's return from his extended stay in the US this summer, we discovered that one of the things he had purchased during his days of freedom was a book, "Stuff White People Like" by Christian Lander. Not only was I annoyed that he had bought one more completely frivolous thing, but for some reason the title annoyed me. It turns out the joke was on me. A few weeks later Mr. Smith and I were discussing the fact that when we see other white people in public we want to run over and introduce ourselves and find out what brought them to India, but they seem to want to pretend they don't see us. We were debating various theories to explain this phenomenon when Number One Son jumped up and ran out of the room, only to return a minute later with the book. It seems section #71, Being the Only White Person Around says, "In most situations, white people are very comforted by seeing their own kind. However, when they are eating at a new ethnic restaurant or traveling to a foreign nation, nothing spoils their fun more than seeing another white person." Whew! I thought we had B.O.

Number One Son doesn't always think things through. This week's compulsive purchase was three black ski masks. You know the kind, two holes for eyes and one for your mouth. This is always a silly purchase in balmy New Delhi, but in light of last week's events and the fact that all of India is on high alert, it seems to me like a particularly dangerous one. "Gee mom, I can't understand why our driver was so nervous when I put the ski mask on while we were driving through traffic." Um, perhaps he was afraid you would both be dragged from the car and beaten to death? Just a thought.

Number One Son is...well he is who he is. A couple of days ago Mr. Smith and I left Number One Son in charge of his six siblings. While we were away, Number One Son decided to make himself some microwave popcorn to enjoy while he carried out his duties. As usual he placed the bag in the microwave and set it for an undetermined amount of time, then stood next to it, listening to the popping sound so as to catch it at the exact moment when the bag reached that delicate balance of mostly popped, but not yet burned. Unfortunately something distracted him and pulled him out of the kitchen. The popcorn was completely forgotten until almost thirteen minutes later when the smell of smoke caught his attention. Number One Son rushed back to the abandoned microwave and opened the door only to find his popcorn engulfed in flames. He ran through his fire fighting options and decided the situation was bad enough to warrant the use of the fire extinguisher, which fulfilled its destiny beautifully.

I thought all fire extinguishers were filled with foam, but it turns out that some are filled with yellow powder. I only regret that I was too stunned when I got home to think of taking a picture. Yellow powder covered every surface and every object in our kitchen. Here is my lame version. Lame as it is, it's pretty darn close.

Make no mistake, Number One Son is still number one in the line up and number one in our hearts. Well...he is at least in a seven way tie for number one.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conversational Confusion

This week has been a tragic one in India. I don't feel like I can ignore the situation without being disrespectful, however I also don't think I can do justice to the subject. Instead I will provide a link for those of you who may be interested in reading about it, but as for my small corner of the Internet, I will try to provide a little distracting comfort with the silly and the trivial.

In the past couple of weeks we have had several repairmen in our house. I am sure you have noticed that this is a recurring theme. Things here look real nice, but require a lot of upkeep. I am not sure why. In the past two weeks the following things have required repair or replacement:

Kitchen hot water heater
Upstairs hot water heater
Upstairs bathroom ceiling fan
Downstairs bathroom ceiling fan
Washing machine
Dryer door
Electric tea kettle
One wall outlet
Generator automatic on/off thingy-ma-jigger (sorry for the technical terms)
Oven door
Stove controls
The still ongoing stone replacement on the outside of the house

One of the things that always presents a problem when I am trying to facilitate the repair of anything is communication. I speak Englindi and they speak Hinglish. Each of us speaking just enough of the other's language to cause problems and confuse the situation even more. For instance, if I ask when they will return to complete the repair they always, always, always answer "kul." Now, "kul" translates as "tomorrow". It can also be translated as yesterday, but since I don't think they plan on using a time machine to repair my washing machine yesterday (which would be very convenient), I assume they mean tomorrow. Unfortunately, in reality it seems to mean, "Sometime in the near or distant future, or perhaps when you have called us several times but absolutely under no circumstances will I be back tomorrow." You can see why this would be confusing.

Next on the list of confusing customs is the question sentence. The question sentence is a sentence that disguises itself as a question. Imagine that you are in the 2nd grade and your teacher says, "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the...?" Her voice goes up on the word "the" just as 25 children's hands shoot into the air. The lucky chosen child answers, "plain!" However, in the question sentence the repairman might say, "The lock on your dryer needs to be...?" At this point he pauses just long enough to have my inner 2nd grader bouncing in her seat yelling out, "Repaired! Retooled! Reworked!...Re-purposed!" But before I can even draw a breath he says, "replaced." The other day I was listening to a lovely woman who was speaking completely in question sentences. It sounded something like this, "I was going to the? Market. I needed to buy? Bread. I couldn't walk to the market because because my knee was? Paining. The traffic was so bad, that I couldn't even get a? Rickshaw." It was exhausting. No matter how many times I told myself that she was not asking me to guess the last word of her sentences, my brain just kept trying.

The final and most famous Indian conversational wonder is the head bobble. Come on. You know the one. If you haven't seen it first hand, then you have seen it imitated. You've even tried it yourself. No? Not even in the bathroom mirror? Liar. In a typical conversation this can mean yes, no, maybe, of course, I'm listening, I have no idea and finally, what are you talking about you crazy American. The trick is figuring out which head bobble you are looking at. I have heard countless theories and systems that other Americans living in Delhi have come up with to differentiate between the many varieties, but eventually they all fail. You can spot the new arrivals to India because they actually try to get a translation. Mr. Smith spent his first three months in the office doing something like this:

  • Mr. Smith - This job is for a very important customer, it must be on time. Will it be finished on time?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - Is that a yes or a no?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - Wait, does that mean it will be on time?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - (Eye begins to twitch.)

See? Confusing, right? After a while you do begin to get the hang of it. Some foreigners have even incorporated the head bobble into their body language vocabulary. Not me though. I know when I'm in too deep.

At this point I should probably apologise for my spotty posting. Mr. Smith has been really nagging me about it lately. So, right know, in front of witnesses, I promise that I will post again...kul.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Big political news from the US!

This morning, like every other morning, Mr. Smith pulled apart the newspaper and sat down to enjoy his breakfast. I had a couple of minutes, so I sat next to him and started reading along with him. I wasn't committing to anything, just sort of scanning the back of the pages he was reading. Reading the paper here is always interesting. Sometimes it is the "English as a second language" grammar that catches my eye. Other days it is the world view that is so different from the one I get at home.

Today it was a reminder that the majority of the people here have a vastly different belief system than I do and therefor consider different things to be newsworthy. In the world news section of the Times of India today there was an article answering the pressing question "Who was Barack Obama in his past life?" For those inquiring minds out there that want to know, "...Barack Obama is the reincarnation of Lyman Trumbull, an Illinois Democratic senator and the principal author of the Thirteenth Amendment, which put an end to slavery in the US." If only this article had been published two years ago. Think of the time that would have been saved if the "He's not experienced enough" argument had been eliminated. He was an aide to President Lincoln for crying out loud! Can't get much more experience than that.

The man who made this announcement goes on to say "If we accept the case of Trumbull having reincarnated as Obama, it also sends out an important message that individuals can change race from one incarnation to another," Really? That's the important message? Since Hindu's believe you can change species from one incarnation to another, I don't see race as being such a big barrier.

The newspaper isn't the only time the local belief system trips me up. For example, math and science is a big deal in educational circles here. Medicine and computers are the fields that most people seem to "encourage" their children to consider. This might lead one to believe that science and logic are highly valued. One might then expect to see evidence of that in other areas of life. One would, as usual, be wrong. One is always wrong, isn't she? Because although math and science and medicine and computers are important, so are star charts. Especially when a marriage is being arranged. Star charts that aren't compatible (or whatever it is they are checking for) can be a deal breaker. The stars can also have an impact on what day the wedding is held. Some days are more auspicious than others, astrologically speaking. (Things being auspicious is very important.)

As usual though, while I confidently sit in judgement of the people and things around me, some part of my brain scans my own life for similar contradictions. Dang it! There they are. To me, my faith and religious beliefs are in complete harmony with science, maybe not every scientific theory, but science as a whole. I am sure, however, that there are those who would consider my beliefs to be outlandish, fanciful and down right baffling.

Knowing all this, why was I surprised that that Barack Obama's past lives were deemed newsworthy? I don't know, but I was. One of these days I will get everything figured out. When I do, I'll let you know.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Belcome to Bollywood

Remember when mrs smith used to write blog posts? Man, those were good times... Until she chooses to grace us with her presence further, I thought we could entertain ourselves with a little discussion about Bollywood and Bollywood music.

Movies and music are cultural necessities these days, or so it seems. But the cultural lines are blurred here in India (ok, probably everywhere, but we notice them here more easily because we are immersed in it). At first it seemed that everything was so different and separate from our American culture. Then we saw the influence of the west in clothing, business practices, restaurants (one can't cross the street without tripping over a McDonald's) and many other areas. One of those areas is the entertainment industry.

The largest movie industry in the world is based in Mumbai, India. Worldwide it is referred to as Bollywood, and Bollywood is larger than life. Here, the musical is alive and well. The romantic comedy is big as is the action film. The tragic love story is wildly popular as people live out their fantasies vicariously through their favorite film star. It is actually quite juxtaposed with cultural norms and realities. In Mumbai, the seat of Bollywood, last year a school banned any physical displays between boys and girls. In other words, no hugs or hand holding or anything else, for that matter. But on the silver screen anything can happen, and people attend movies here - rich and poor alike - to escape into that fantasy world.

One of the unique characteristics of Bollywood films and music is that the stars crossover all the time. In fact, in a music video from a film song you will not see the singer of the song, but the Bollywood actor from the film lip syncing and dancing to it. Sometimes the videos come straight from the films themselves. That happens at home too, but the previous way doesn't. I always feel bad for the singers who get heard but not seen, while the actors get seen and seen and seen... In any event, these things have enriched our lives here immeasurably.

Below is a collection of Bollywood music videos from various films. We have come to love the music, its passion and depth, and the fun nature of the sights and sounds, so I thought it would be fun to share some of it with you. Number One Son is quite an afficionado now, so he might be able to tell you more if you want to know. And try to ignore the contrast between the booty shaking, the outfits, and the lawsuit filed by some local people when Richard Gere kissed Shilpa Shetty on stage last year. Some things I just don't get... ENJOY!

First, a music video starring my favorite Bollywood actor - Akshay Kumar:

This next video snippet is from Singh is Kinng (yep - double "n") - a movie also starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif (they are an oft-paired bollywood duo). It is almost enough to get me to tie on a turban. :o)

This next song I actually sang at a company event. It was a lot of fun, and I sang it for the employees who attended, as well as some of my visiting company representatives. And yes, I sang it in Hindi. It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it has pigeonholed me a bit as I am now asked to sing it everytime the company in India gathers for any reason. So I am learning another song...:

The next video is from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, a popular movie that is filled with fun music, This song is currently very popular and may be my next hindi music performance:

This video is just fun to watch in any language. It has Akshay again, Ritesh Deshmukh (at least, I think that is who it is) and the guy that makes the grand entrance in the end is the current king of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan:

This last one is just fun, and because mrs smith looks cute doing the little hands together head bobble Kareena Kapoor does in the song:

mr smith

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rollin' On The River

Traffic in Delhi is very different from anything I ever saw in Arizona. I have been told that a former expat, who lived here until just over a year ago, once said that traffic in the US is like a production line in a factory while traffic in India is more like a river. Now, he was a pretty smart and eloquent guy, so I am sure it sounded a lot better when he said it, but the message is still true. It really doesn't matter where the lines are, whether or not there is a traffic light, or even if a small child is selling magazines in the middle of the road, everything just flows around it.

I have always loved people watching, and on the streets of Delhi there is always something to see. I have actually considered keeping a camera in the car to document some of the bizarre things we see everyday as we move about the city, but, just like Alice in Wonderland, although I give myself such very good advice, I very rarely follow it. Luckily, it seems that almost every electronic gadget has a camera in it, so we have caught a few good ones.

This first one is a video I stole from YouTube. It isn't here in Delhi, you can tell because if it was in Delhi there would be about a thousand more cars and several cows, but it is a good example of the free for all driving that is common here.

We were recently sideswiped by...

An ox cart! No lie.

This is a very common sight.
(See the leg from passenger number 4 poking out?
Don't even get me started on the whole side saddle thing!)

If you study very hard while you are here...

Perhaps you can land a job here!

Speaking of jobs, I don't see this one in my future.
(Of course with the market being the way it is, who knows?)

Despite the spelling being a little off, the thought of an automated mohel had
Mr. Smith crossing his legs.

Speaking of the spelling being off...

I hope you enjoyed our little show. Maybe I'll put that camera in the car after all.
P.S. I hope you like the special October pictures over on the left. Don't worry, I still hate Halloween.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Things That Go CRASH In The Night" or "What Did You Say?!" as told by Mrs. Smith

It was a dark and stormy night, the wind howled angrily as lightening flashed across the sky. Suddenly, Mr. and Mrs. Smith heard a loud rumble followed by several ear splitting crashes! Knowing from experience that this could only mean that large stone tiles had fallen off the side of the house, Mrs. Smith ran out into the violent storm yelling, "Where is the guard?! Find the guard!" You see, Mrs. Smith secretly feared that one day a stone tile would fall and crush the poor guard who often placed his chair up against the house. Luckily the guard had taken refuge from the storm in the utility room and was safe and sound. "Thank goodness!" said Mrs. Smith.

A few days later some very nice men came to replace the broken tiles. Some other men brought large pieces of stone to be cut into tiles and still others brought a large pile of dirt to help make a magic glue that would hold those silly stones on the wall.

"But wait," one man said, "even this magic glue made of dirt will not hold these large pieces of stone up. We need something stronger."

"Hmmm..." said the men who brought the dirt.
"Hmmm..." said the men who brought the stone.
"Hmmm..." said the men who came to replace the broken tiles.

Finally someone came up with a brilliant idea. "Let us drill a hole...

in every corner...

of every tile...

over the whole house.

Then, we can put a post in every hole in every corner of every tile over the whole house to make it a very strong house indeed!"

"Yes, let's!" cried the men who brought the dirt.
"Yes, let's!" cried the men who brought the stone.
"Yes, let's!" cried the men who came to replace the broken tiles.

So, that is what they did. They drilled, and they drilled, and they drilled... and they drilled. Soon, people in the neighborhood began to wonder why that nice American family up the street all looked so cranky and why they were all plugging their ears, but mostly the people wondered why they had all developed eye ticks. "Those funny Americans," all the people exclaimed, "they really are too amusing! What would we do without them to entertain us with their crazy antics?"

The moral of this story is two fold. First, when living in India one should always own a reliable pair of ear plugs, and second, American Sign Language is awfully useful.
The End. (What? You couldn't hear me over all the drilling?)
The End!
The E... Oh forget it!

In the mean time, Skater Girl wants to make sure everyone knows that tiles aren't the only things that have been falling out of place aroung the Smith household.
Skater Girl's current stats: 5 teeth lost, 1 grown back, 1 loose.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mrs. Smith's Wish List

I wish I didn't have to write this post. I knew several days ago that I was going to write it, but I put it off because it presented me with two problems: First, it deals in part with subjects that I have purposely avoided on this blog. Second, I find it difficult to write about the evil that men do.

I wish I was surprised. On Saturday evening a total of five bombs went off in three market places in Delhi. Markets that we like to visit, but luckily were nowhere near. More than 20 people were killed and many more injured. In the last year there have been bombings in several major cities around India, so it was only a matter of time before they hit Delhi. Actually, according to the local paper it has been going on for three years and it was in October of 2005, almost three years ago exactly, that Delhi had it's last large bombing. This latest one was claimed by the Indian Mujahideen who says the bombings were in retaliation for the oppression of Muslims in India.

Before we become too comfortable with our stereotypes, there is a group of militant Hindus that are causing just as much death and destruction in southern India. Everyday we read about beatings, stonings and church burnings. Those responsible say that their actions are in response to forced conversions of Hindus to Christianity. Obviously India is experiencing religious unrest on a large scale right now.

I wish my story ended there. It seems we are experiencing some religious unrest on a small scale in our neighborhood. My family belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church. For the first several months of our stay in India we attended church in Delhi. Eventually we were asked to hold meetings in our home. The hope was that having services outside of Delhi would make it easier for those who lived further out to attend. A few months ago we outgrew our living room and the church rented a building for us to meet in. I was excited about the new building because it was within walking distance of our home but not actually in our home. (The only thing harder than getting a bunch of kids up and ready for church is keeping your house spotless while you do it.) We knew that we might have some problems establishing a new Christian congregation in a country that is 80% Hindu, but we were still surprised when the problems started.

I wish violence was not a political tool. First it was our sign. Most Mormon buildings have a plaque on an outside wall identifying it as a church. Within 20 minutes of putting our plaque up, we received a call from our landlord saying that he was receiving complaints from the neighborhood watch group. We knew the sign fell well within the rules for signs in the neighborhood, but we also knew it was a fight we would not win, so we removed the plaque. Next came rumours about what our members and our missionaries were doing. The rumours were false, but I am sure they hit their mark before we were able to set the record straight.

Finally, last Sunday, as we were gathering, a woman approached the church and told those in front of our building that we had to stop holding meetings. According to her there were those that wished us harm. She claimed to have stopped two such people already. She assured us that if we tried to meet this coming week, the rocks would fly and she would be unable to stop them. After a little investigation into the situation, it appears that someone hopes to gain local political power by using the ousting of our small congregation as a rallying point.

I wish it wasn't true. Religion and violence seem to be linked, despite the fact that most religions preach against it. I wonder how much of it is justified and how much is caused by ignorance and misunderstandings. For example, I considered including three pictures at the top of this post. First, a picture of Ganesh, second, a picture of Jesus and third, a picture of Muhammad. As I looked for images I was surprised by how few pictures there were of Muhammad. The explanation I eventually found was this, Muslims don't have images of anything with a soul because it could lead to idolatry. If that is true, how many people might have I offended with my innocent banner?

I wish I didn't know. Now as I walk around the neighborhood I find myself wondering about the people I see. Would the boy who sells us bread throw a rock? Would the men who say hello to us in the park turn a blind eye? Would the women who smile and nod when we pass in the street come to defend my children? It hurts to think that the people with whom we have tried to become friendly, could turn to violence with a few emotionally charged phrases.

I wish I understood.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Gangrene Gang

When Glamour Girl told me on Monday evening that her stomach was hurting, I must admit, I thought it was a ploy to postpone going to bed. Perhaps she had noticed that the phantom backache she had been complaining about for the past two months wasn't bringing in the sympathy that it used to, but as the night moved on and the tears continued, I started to doubt the accuracy of my "baloney" divining rod. I was never very good at using it anyway.

One skill I have acquired in my 17 years of motherhood is the ability to check for rebound pain. I knew one day that one of my children was going to develop appendicitis, and when they did, I was going to be ready. So when I quickly pulled my hand off of Glamour Girl's abdomen and she cringed big time, I knew it was show time. Mr. Smith came home from work only to turn right around and take us to the Emergency Room.

Unfortunately the hospital was full (as was the ER) and the doctor that looked at her wasn't totally convinced. Two hours later we were headed home for the night. When Glamour Girl vomited in the parking lot, we probably should have turned around, but the doctors had assured us that there was no emergency, and we were all exhausted, so we went home.

The following morning we woke up early and sang Happy Birthday to Book Lover who was turning 13. We could tell that Glamour Girl hadn't improved, so we passed out the gifts, we oo'd and ahh'd over them, then we headed back to the hospital. This time we were more determined. When they informed us at 9:30am that there were no hospital beds available we stuck like glue. When gurney after gurney was lined up next to Glamour Girl's, we stuck. When they continued to run tests and the afternoon got hotter, we stuck. Finally, finally, after standing in the ever shrinking spot next to our daughter for seven and a half hours, we were informed that there was a bed for her and surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Even then the surgeon came around and told us he still wasn't convinced because her pain wasn't very severe and it seemed to be all over the place.

I knew better. I knew that Glamour Girl had inherited a trait from me. She wants to please the people around her. This means that when she is sick she masks the pain in front of the doctor so he doesn't think she's a baby, and her need to give the right answer makes her overthink her response when the doctor asks "Does it hurt here? How about over here?" So... I coached her. I felt a little guilty, but at no time did I tell her to misrepresent her pain. Mostly I just said, "When the doctor comes in to check on you tomorrow morning, if it hurts when he pushes on your tummy, say 'Ow! That hurts!' Now, let's practice."

I guess our little practice session worked because Wednesday morning Glamour Girl was wheeled into the Operating Theater (despite it's fancy name, we were not allowed to watch and no popcorn was served). Mr. Smith and I were ushered into a small, stuffy waiting room.

Let's fast forward a little, shall we?

The surgery ran long enough that Mr. Smith and I had time to imagine all kinds of terrible things, but it was successful and Glamour Girl came through like a champ and slept for the rest of the day. On Thursday morning the surgeon came around to check on his patient and to inform Mr. Smith that it had indeed been appendicitis. When Mr. Smith told me that the words Acute Gangrenous Appendicitis and Acute Pelvic Peritonitis had been used, I no longer felt guilty for coaching. Gangrene is never a word a mother wants to have associated with her children (even the naughty ones) unless they are referring to the Gangreen Gang from The Powerpuff Girls, which is spelled differently, but pronounced the same.

On Saturday evening Glamour Girl was finally released with plenty of medication to take home. We were all glad to have her home safe and sound. Oh, and guess what? The phantom backache I had been rolling my eyes at for two months? It's gone. It seems to have left along with the gangrenous appendix. Great... now I feel guilty again.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I Say Humor, They Say Humour!

Humor is important to me, very important. It always has been. The truth is, in school, I always had a crush on the funny ones. Not necessarily the class clown, but the quiet, intelligent ones that made me laugh. For instance, in 5th grade I had a long term substitute teacher named Ms. Bennet, who will always be my most hated teacher because she was the only one that ever found it necessary to tell me to shut up. She actually used those words. I was crushed and humiliated. Luckily for me Jason Williams was sitting next to me that day. Jason Williams had blond curly hair, blue eyes and an awesome digital watch with a calculator in it. Justin Timberlake, only manly. As Ms. Bennet turned around to write a math problem on the board Jason leaned over and whispered, "See how she crosses her sevens? That's how the Nazi's wrote their sevens. I knew she was evil!" I giggled, and loved Jason Williams for the rest of the year.

As a mother it is always fun to see my children developing a sense of humor. This week Number One Son has returned home to us and brought a lot of laughter with him. Yesterday he was trying to shove his very slender sister, Glamour Girl, off the couch. He grunted and groaned and made a big show of it, then collapsed, exhausted. This is the exchange that followed.

  • I can't move you, you're just too fat!

  • It's my super power.

  •'re super fat?

  • It's more useful than you think.

See? I love that!

One of the problems we face here is that very few people understand our jokes. Those of you who know Mr. Smith can imagine how this kills him. Two years ago when just the two of us were here for a "take a look and see what you think" trip we had a beautiful guide named Ambika taking us around. Now, Mr. Smith loves any audience, but the number of jokes he tells per minute increases in direct relation to the hotness of the women around him. With Ambika in the car for 7 days he was in fine form. Jokes left and right on any subject, I half expected to see him pull out a hat and cane and begin to tap dance. But the best part? Poor Ambika didn't get a single joke. Not one. On one of our final days in India, after one more joke had failed to hit it's mark, Mr. Smith and I were sitting quietly in the middle seat of the van while Ambika was discussing our next stop with the driver in the front. I leaned over and whispered, "It's just killing you isn't?" "What?" he replied, defensively. "The fact that there is a beautiful woman in this car who doesn't think you are funny. Personally, I'm loving every minute of it!"

To be fair, Mr. Smith is not the only one who has suffered. We Smith's tend to think of ourselves as fairly funny people and we find it disconcerting to live in a country where the majority of the people just don't get us. Number One Son was recently visiting Red Fort with Mr. and Mrs. Jones (our summer visitors) and a sweet, intelligent, young woman from around here named Leeza. Number One Son and Mr. Jones were lamenting the fact that, by and large, Indians did not understand sarcastic humor. Leeza took exception to this and defended her countrymen, and their sense of humor, admirably. Number One Son and Mr. Jones apologised and politely let the subject drop...for about 30 seconds, at which point Number One Son looked at the acres of red stone buildings around him and asked, "So why do they call this 'Red Fort' anyway?" Leeza, suspecting nothing, immediately answered, "Because the stones used to build the fort are red in color." Really?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Today Is Raksha Bandhan!

After we had been in here for a while we noticed that Indians celebrate a lot of holidays. I mean A Lot. So many that they all start to slide by in a blur that hardly catches your attention. Raksha Bandhan is not one of those holidays. Right from the start you can tell that this is an important day.

In a nutshell, today is the day that sisters honor and express their love for their brothers. If a woman is married and lives in a different town, she will often leave her husband's family's house and go back to her parent's house for the few days surrounding this holiday. (Personally I think this has a lot to do with the popularity of the holiday, but that's just me.) You can easily spot the brothers that have been honored by their sisters because they are wearing a Rakhi. Go ahead. You can ask. Remember, their are no dumb questions. (Mrs. Smith, what is a Rackhi?) I'm so glad you asked! According to - A Rakhi or Raksha is a sacred thread embellished with sister's love and affection for her brother. On the day of Raksha Bandhan sisters tie Rakhi on their brother's wrist and express their love for him. By accepting a Rakhi from a sister a brother gladly takes on the responsibility of protecting his sister. In Indian tradition the frail thread of Rakhi is considered stronger than iron chains as it binds brothers and sisters in an inseparable bond of love and trust. Nice, huh?

Last year on this day, during a normal conversation at the office, a young lady asked Mr. Smith how he was doing. "Oh Shashi," he said, "I am so sad today because I have no sisters." Immediately the young women told him to come over to her desk. When he arrived she pulled out a Rakhi and tied it around his wrist. "From now on, I will be your sister!" she declared, and thus, Mr. Smith gained a beautiful (you'll see what I mean in a minute) new sibling.

So today, being Raksha Bandhan again, Mr. Smith's sister, Shashi, invited the two of us to her parent's home to celebrate.

First She Blessed Him

Then She Decorated Him

Then She Fed Him

(just one bite, cuz, well, that could get awkward)

We had a wonderful time, although it made me miss my own two brothers a bit. They are both tall and handsome and provided me with lots of fun stories to tell about my childhood. Someone told me that one of my older sisters who was still single at the time (I won't tell which one) once said that none of the boys she met had turned out as well as her brothers. High praise indeed. On a whim a couple of weeks ago I actually bought them each a Rakhi, but I couldn't think of a reasonable way to get them to Arizona in time. So, for now, they will have to settle for a virtual Rakhi. I'll let them decide who's is who's. No fighting!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Good Grief!

I seem to be channeling Charlie Brown this week. You would too, in my position.

While in the US last month Mr. Smith and I were under a bit of pressure. Grandpa Smith hadn't decided whether or not he was going to "go into the light" and each day he seemed to lean a different direction. Grandma Smith was doing better, but still not great. I was on large amounts of pain killers and looked liked I had lost a fight with a car grill (which I had) and our kids were cranky because they were spending a lot of time babysitting each other and not much else. Then came The Letters. Dun dun duuuuuh!

Mr. Smith and I each received our own copy of a letter from our old friends at the Eye. Are. Ess., if you know what I mean. (Sorry for the code but there is no way Google is going to get me on that one!) It seems that our mid-April bill collector wanted to take a closer look at our numbers for the year 2006. Particularly the number of dependants.

What? Isn't seven kids the norm?

Oddly enough the same thing happened last year. We received a letter asking for the same information for 2005. We called the gentleman assigned to our case and explained to him that we couldn't make our scheduled appointment with him, and we certainly couldn't bring our kids and the documents to prove they had lived with us in 2005, because we were currently living in India and most of our documents would be living in a storage pod for two more years. We all had a good chuckle, he approved our 2005 return and the case was closed.

Until this year. Once again we crossed our fingers and called the woman assigned to our new case, hoping to have the same pleasant, yet short, conversation. No such luck. She was very understanding about our situation and agreed that we couldn't show up in person...however, she still wanted us to magically produce documents proving that our seven little deductions existed, were ours, had the Social Security Numbers we said they did, and had lived at the same address we did during 2006. Lovely.

(Excuse me for a moment while I compose myself and control the urge to rant and rave against a very powerful agency in very a public forum.)

So, this week we have spent hours upon hours searching, scanning, emailing and faxing every scrap of paper that has a child's name and a 2006 date on it and generally trying not to have a nervous breakdown. I think we may have pulled it off.

Until next year.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What We've Been Doing - Part Two

If you are joining us late and missed part one, scroll down and read that first. If you've already read it or just don't care, then let's get on with the stories.

Hanging Out In The US

This part of our trip was not so fun. Mostly we went through mail, paid bills and wondered what else we could do to help those in the hospital. We did get to see most of our family which was great. We both come from wonderful families, so seeing them is a treat. The kids were in cousin heaven.

Another bright spot came in the form of a check. We received a tax refund that we had been waiting for. It was deposited right away, but because they are mad with power, the bank put a hold on it. On the very day that the funds were released I had a small but painful accident. I was walking on a completely smooth sidewalk with no obstacles whatsoever in my way, yet this small task proved to be too much for me and I tripped myself. Sadly I happened to be a few feet in front of our parked rental car at the time. After a face plant into the grill of the car I fell onto the asphalt and laid there trying to breath, or speak, or something. Well, I thought I was trying to speak, but Mr. Smith informs me that as I laid there in the parking lot I was swearing like a sailor. This is strange for two reasons. First, I have no memory of that at all and second, I do not swear. Mr. Smith helped me to my feet and started making arrangements to take me to the emergency room. Trust me, I hurt bad enough that I probably should have gone, but instead I grabbed his arm and whispered, "I am not going to the ER! They are not getting that refund check!" Ahhh. Priorities.

A few hours later, when I was fully medicated and had ice on all of the swelling spots, I compared notes with Mr. Smith. Both of us had the same first thought when I fell, "Oh no! Three people for Mr. Smith to visit in the hospital!" I am happy to report, however, that although my face was lopsided and a strange color for the next two weeks, ibuprofen saw me through and no medical attention was needed.

Seeing London

After two weeks in Arizona it was time to head back. Mom and Dad Smith were still in the hospital, but they were both on the mend. Since we always fly through London, we decided to stop there for a few days and see the sights. Our days in London were a lot of fun. The first day was a little rough, though. We made the mistake of thinking we could navigate the underground with all of our luggage and our kids. So dumb. So very, very, dumb.

We made it onto the first train alright and rode for about twenty minutes without killing Dennis The Menace or loosing any bags. Then we went to transfer to our second train. We didn't realize that at this station, the stops were very fast. Our second train pulled in and half of us got on with our bags when the doors started to close. I put my leg through, thinking that the door would just bounce back open, but it just kept trying to close! I wedged my whole body into the door and started to yell for our daughters, Skater Girl and Star On Stage, to get in before the train pulled away. You should have seen the panicked chaos. Luckily, two men were on the platform and saw our struggle. They pulled the doors open and practically tossed the girls and their carry-ons onto the train! Relieved, we all settled in for another leg of our journey. Of course Dennis was a little more bold on this trip and was very excited about the fact that you could stand up and hold a pole while the train was moving. After another 20 minutes our stop was coming up. I grabbed all the kids and threw them off the train while Mr. Smith tossed all of the luggage out. As we were looking at the map to see which train was next, (we had two more to go) I was paged to the office. When you have only been in a country for two hours and they are already paging you, it can't be a good thing.

It turned out that I had left my purse on the last train. We had to take an extra train to go pick up my purse, at which point my kind and brilliant husband walked out of the tube station and hired two taxi's to take us the rest of the way to our hotel. Secure in the knowledge that all of my children were strapped into locked vehicles I leaned back, closed my eyes, and listened to the familiar sounds of Hindi being spoken as our taxi driver in London communicated over the radio with the cab company. What a small world.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What We've Been Doing - Part One

It's been a while. Sorry about that. Here is what we have been doing (hence, the first half of the title).

Making Friends

One Sunday, close to the beginning of June, we went to church and I noticed another American couple attending. Now, you would think that since there are only about 30 people each week in our little congregation I could have made my way over to introduce myself. Nope. Not me. I'm kind of a loser that way. Luckily for me Mr. Smith had fewer kids circling him and has better manners. He met the very nice, very young couple on the left and invited them to lunch...and to stay in our guest room for the next for the next 2 months. This is the part of the story where I started to panic. I silently listed all the things we would have to stop doing, and all of the things we would have to pretend we always did, while we had company. It was an embarrassingly long list. But I got over my hermit ways and created a guest room for Mr. and Mrs. Jones. (Smith and Jones, get it?) Boy am I ever glad I did! What a blessing they turned out to be. Mrs. Jones works everyday with the World Health Organization and in the mornings Mr. Jones is teaching English to children at a local village school.

Mr. Jones and Number One Son got along so well that they were soon roaming the city together during the week. On the weekends the Jones' invited him to roam around the country with them as well. I was so relieved that he finally got to see many of the things he has wanted to see and I didn't have to drag all the rest of the kids around the country. More than the travel services they provide, it has been a lot of fun having Mr. and Mrs. Jones around. Now we are nearing the end of their stay and we are all going to miss them.


Towards the middle of June, Mr. Smith's father back in the US became ill and had to go into the hospital. While he was in the hospital, Mr. Smith's mother had a bad fall (thankfully she has been put back together again) and also went to the hospital. As the Indians would say, "What to do?" Mr. Smith caught the first flight out. Over the next 10 days, while Mr. Smith and his brother were running back and forth between hospital rooms, I rescheduled our trip that was planned for September and encouraged Number One Son to pack his things as he was moving back the the states for good. Panic attack number 2 hit when I realized I was going to have to fly to the other side of the world with 7 kids. Breathe in...breathe

Armed with a well traveled 17 year old and lots of snack food in our carry-ons we set out. The first flight went well, mostly because we slept the whole way. Then came the real test, a seven hour lay over in Heathrow Airport. That's right. Seven hours, seven kids, and seven thousand witnesses to ensure that my kids would choose to do humiliating things that I would be powerless to stop. But what is this? Some beautifully ingenious person (I say person, but I feel certain it was a woman) decided to put play areas in the airport! I don't mean some lame mats thrown around with germ covered broken toys either, this was an actual play area. Dennis The Menace was in his element. He played hard for seven hours straight. At one point a Norwegian family joined us. As fate would have it they had a young boy that was equally as active. Dennis and his Norwegian counterpart had tons of fun with only one small hick-up. Our new young friend brought out a small, squishy, soccer ball and threw it into the ring the two of them were playing in. "Want to play football?" he asked, dreaming of David Beckham. "Yah!" Dennis answered, promptly picking up the ball and firing off a beautiful spiral way over the boys head. Then they just stared at each other. One wondering why his friend would throw the ball, the other wondering why his friend didn't try to catch it. That was the end of the "football" game.

This is running longer than I intended, so I think I will post the rest in a couple of days (hence, the second half of the title).

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Hope They Don't Come In Threes!

It has been an interesting couple of weeks here. Aside from almost moving home (don't even get me started) we had a couple of almost, maybe, sort of (if you squint and turn your head sideways) close calls.

Close Call #1 - First we will start with the Gujjars. The Gujjars are a class of people here in India that started out as mostly farmers. They are just high enough on the social scale that they do not qualify for the Indian version of affirmative action. This makes them very angry. Last year they protested close to my neighborhood and had a few incidents of pulling people out of their cars and beating them. When they protest out in the villages people usually die, here in Delhi they just get injured. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago they were, once again, protesting near me. They cut off my suburb from Delhi, which meant that Mr. Smith had to stay home that day. Too bad, so sad! So to celebrate my lucky day I decided to go out and pick up some KFC for lunch and take Dennis The Menace with me. While we were in the restaurant they rolled the security screen down over the store front about half way and all of the employees kept checking out the window. Finally it struck me. What the heck was I doing out getting chicken when there were protests going on?

Finally my chicken arrived and I could go, cuz let's face it, after paying for it there was no way I was going to leave my chicken there. Anyhoo, three KFC employees surround me and my son and we all ducked out of the store. My driver slipped out of the car, keeping his head low, and shooed me quickly into the car saying, "Hurry, please hurry!" We all got in and locked our doors, unfortunately we had to go right through the tail end of the march to get out. Slowly we inched forward, trying to not call attention to ourselves. Never once in the 16 months that we have been here have I been in the car without several pairs of eyes being on me and my family. People just stare, every single time. But, I am telling you, not a single pair of eyes turned towards our car as we slipped through the end of the group. They all parted and just kept looking forward, not a single person even glanced sideways! All the way home I couldn't believe what a dufus I was. Going out for chicken while a protest was going on?! Really?! I apologised to our driver for my extreme stupidity and sent him home for the day, knowing we were not leaving the house again. Luckily, he also made it home safely.

Close Call #2 - Mr. Smith decided to stop by the mall on his way home from work the other day. He wanted to pick up a couple of books at our favorite bookstore. While he was inside, our driver saw two girls rush the mall entrance and shove past the purse search and "wand once over" that everyone goes through to get into the mall. A few minutes later as Scott was exiting the mall he noticed that a whole wing of the ground floor was dark, filled with smoke, had water pouring from the ceiling and was blocked off by real security, as opposed to fake mall security! Crazy!

So now, as I have barricaded myself into the Smith compound, I am looking into the legalities of forming a militia. I mean really, what could go wrong with a compound and a personal militia? That always ends well right?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Visitors From Home

For the last little while we have been enjoying some visitors from home. Who finally braved a trip to the spot where the Middle East meets Asia, you ask? Lizards!

In Arizona lizards are everywhere. They come in all sizes and all colors. People even use images of lizards to decorate. Wear it around your neck, put it on your wall, whatever.
The fact is that I like lizards. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't hold one, pet one or call one George, but I don't kill them either. That's saying something, trust me. I'm slightly blood thirsty when it comes to critters in my house. One of my first fights with Mr. Smith began when we returned home from work one night to find a scorpion on our kitchen floor. I squealed and told Mr. Smith to defend me from the awful beast. He quickly grabbed a newspaper from the counter and proceeded to scoop up the scorpion and set it gently in the plants out front. I stood there agog. "Mr. Smith! You have to kill it or it might come back in!" I yelled. "Oh no," he replied, "there was no reason to kill him. He's out of our house now. You are safe and so is he." At this point I became the official Kritter Killer of the family. My philosophy is this, if they stay outside I will leave them in peace, but once they cross that threshold, they are as good as dead.

For some reason though, this does not hold true for lizards. If I see one on the wall I will generally watch it for a while and then leave it alone. Now, it's true that I have never seen a super large one. I suppose I might show a big one the door, but the little ones are welcome.

As one does with any guest, Mr. Smith has been snapping a few photos to document their stay with us.

The More The Merrier

So Nice Of Them To Help Out Around The House

This morning Mr. Smith commented that he thought it was strange that the thought of mice turned me into a crazed, violent lunatic, but that I was totally comfortable with lizards. Well, duh. One is gross and vile and the other is kind of cute and way cool. What does he know anyway? Scorpion hugger.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Everyday Miracle

In 2001 we moved to a tiny town in Southern Utah. It was just outside Zion National Park, which means the the scenery was beautiful, and the town was full of the kindest people a person could hope to meet. I, however, was miserable everyday of the year and a half that we lived there because we had mice. No amount of traps and cats could keep up with the mouse population in that house. I was never able to get used to it. One day when I found Mr. Smith looking at a job posting with his former (and now current) employer, I burst into tears at the thought that we could move out of the mouse house.

Fast forward to 2006. When we told our friends and family that we were moving to India, almost everyone mentioned rats. Apparently the two are permanently linked in the minds of Americans. After being here just over 15 months, I have to say, there might be a reason for that.

One day, a few weeks into our stay, I was on the phone with Mr. Smith and suddenly he dropped the phone and was making sounds of distress. Next I heard him saying, "Did you see what just ran through here? It was this big! Did you see it?" Mr. Smith explained to me that a large rat had run by his office door, but the truly disturbing part was that nobody cared. Evidently this was an everyday occurrence for the people in the office. That did not bode well for me.

Since then rat sightings have become a normal occurrence. In the cafeteria at work, near the food stands that line the markets, out on the street, they are everywhere. Yet I have not seen a single one. Not one. In my book, everyday that I don't see a rat is a miracle. Knowing that we have promised to stay at least three years, perhaps a Benevolent Being has blinded me to those particularly nasty things. The day I actually see one of them, we may have to begin contract renegotiations!

A few days ago I signed into my email and found that Mr. Smith had sent me a message. I opened it, eager to read what sweet, mushy note he had sent. Instead I found a picture of a little trophy left outside our gate that morning by our unofficially adopted stray dog.

I think Mr. Smith wears a size 12 shoe.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Voices I Hear

As a mother of seven I have become quite adept at tuning voices in or out at will. As a woman I have learned to follow several conversations at once. All of this has given me a skill, a super power if you will. I can hear the voices of people speaking a foreign language and know what they are saying (you can relax by the way, they are all talking bout me). My children will tell you a different story. They will say that I never hear anything, that I need my hearing checked. The truth is I'm usually just ignoring them. Can you blame me? There's a lot of them!

Living in New Delhi as an American who doesn't know a lick of Hindi would be frustrating for the average person. Luckily my super power allows me to understand what the people around me are saying. Of course, I pretend not to understand them in order to preserve my secret identity. Here are a few examples of what I hear when I am out and about.

The men selling me yogurt -
  • What is she wearing on her feet?
  • They're called Crocs, I hear they are very comfortable.
  • I don't care how comfortable they are, she looks like an idiot! Who leaves the house like that?
The men at the dry cleaner -
  • Awww shoot! I haven't even started this ladies clothes and she is here to pick them up!
  • Tell her there was some kind of Holiday and she will have to come back tomorrow.
  • Good one! No foreigner can keep track of our Holidays, there's too many of them.
The electricians "fixing" the short in my living room -
  • Dude, did you see that football game last night? Liverpool got the snot beat out of them.
  • No, I missed it. No TV.
  • Me neither, but I was fixing some guys A/C who was watching it, so I took my time.
  • I don't think you should be poking that screw driver into the wires like that, are you even an electrician?
  • No. You?
  • No. But it's way cooler in here.
Our driver to the person from whom he is getting directions -
  • Man, you've got to help me! Is there a short cut to this address? These kids are so noisy I think I'm developing a tick, and see that little one? He gets car sick. I'm telling you he's going to blow any second! Please! Nobody should have to listen to the song "Banana Phone" this many times!
The Ladies in the park -
  • Are all of those kids hers?
  • Doesn't she know what causes that?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nonsense, Smith Style

Those of you who know our family know that we have an ability to create and enjoy endless amounts of nonsense. We love nonsense. Don't knock it, nonsense appeals to us for for two big reasons. One, it's entertaining and two, it's usually free. Since we have been here rickshaws, both the auto and the bicycle versions, have been the focus of a lot of our silly jokes and crazy ideas. The following are a few of my favorites.

Pimp My Rickshaw: Much like the MTV show Pimp My Ride, Pimp My Rickshaw would surprise rickshaw drivers with tricked out versions of their old vehicles. Along with a few things that are cool and helpful would be a bunch of ridiculous things that would only manage to make the rickshaw less useful. Here is our first try. As you can see it started out extremely old and worn out. After a few days at Mumbai Auto (our garage of choice for custom jobs) it came out with a new super cool look.

True, it won't keep you dry in the rain and it won't shield you from the sun, but you will be the coolest driver on the road. If you get bored while waiting for a customer you no longer have to choose between napping and staring! You can watch a movie on one of your three fold down TV screens or play video games on the Wii system we hooked up in the trunk! (I hope the artist, Jitish Kallat, doesn't mind me using a picture of this piece.)

One Month: We would have called it 30 Days, but the very smart people at FX already thought of that for their show with Super Size Me documentary maker, Morgan Spurlock. In One Month our Number One Son would spend a month as a bicycle rickshaw driver and (here is the fun part) live off of what he makes!

Before you get upset with me and start telling me what a bad parent I am I would like to state that this was his idea. Plus, I promise not to let him starve to death. Other than that, I see this as a win win situation. First, he is out of the house for a month. Second, when he comes back he will be far more grateful to me for all the things I do for him. See? I win twice! That isn't what a win win situation is? Are you sure? Hmm.

The Price Is Right, For You: In this fun new game show, everyday we send out a first time American tourist to ride an auto rickshaw from New Friends Colony to the American Embassy. The viewers at home will text (standard text messaging rates apply) us the amount they think the passenger is going to be over charged. Then we all get to sit back and enjoy the looks of terror on the passenger's face as the auto makes it's way through Delhi. Finally, at the end of the show, when the price is announced by that day's unscrupulous driver, we will send all of the viewers who guessed correctly a toy rickshaw of their very own!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Of Flies And Fools

First, the flies. One of the hardest parts of living in India is that everything, everything is different than it is in the US. Sometimes during the first couple of months I would lay in bed in the morning and wish I could stay there because the thought of another day in a place where nothing was familiar seemed too daunting.

Within a few days of living here, we noticed that even the flies were different. Up till then all I knew about flies was that they vomited every time they landed. I had heard this in grade school and it had stuck with me. At this point I tell myself this is an urban myth, like the story about Ricky Schroeder dying when he washed his Pop Rocks down with a cola. I tell myself this because fooling myself is easier than running to a sink a scrubbing every time a fly lands on me.
Anyway, the flies in India are more sedate. They fly slower, they take off slower, they seem to do everything slower. At home when a pesky fly came around, one swish of my hand was enough to send the fly scurrying of for a couple of minutes of wild flight. Here, no such luck. When they land, they want to stay. "Go ahead and swish that hand around," they seem to say, "it's creating a refreshing breeze for me. I think I'll sit here and enjoy it." Sometimes you actually have to brush or flick them off. You know, make contact with the flies (it's an urban myth, it's an urban myth, it's an urban myth).

Then, last night I was reading the end of my latest novel, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. In a passage describing a memory of the main character's father who had just immigrated to the US, it said this, "...Baba started grumbling about American flies. He'd sit at the kitchen table with his flyswatter, watch the flies darting from wall to wall, buzzing here, buzzing there, harried and rushed. 'In this country, even flies are pressed for time,' he'd groan." I had to take a minute and laugh at how differently we all perceive things.

On to the fools. I seem to have jinxed myself. Perhaps after I wrote this post about our guards, I should have knocked on some wood. A few weeks ago our driver, Kirpa Shankar, arrived at the house early in the morning and found Pushpindar bathing behind the house. Kirpa Shankar pointed out that this was not a good place for a man to wash himself because the children or I might walk out or look out our window and see him. Pushpindar was offended by this rebuke and wanted to fight. Thankfully Kirpa Shankar was mature enough to avoid fighting. This morning when Kirpa Shankar arrived at the house, he once again found Pushpindar bathing. When he reminded Pushpindar that this was a bad place to wash, the guard became very angry and threatened to find Kirpa Shankar on his way home tonight and shoot him.

I had convinced myself that what I can only think to call the "macho mentality" was not present in our employees. This idea that any disagreement is considered an insult and that it can only be resolved by asserting one's manhood through violence. I know it is prevalent here. I read about it in the newspaper daily, but I just couldn't see it in this meek seemingly kind hearted boy.
Now we are faced with the task of letting both of our guards go. They are brothers remember? I can only hope that our new guards are better, as they may actually have something to guard us from.

So, who are the fools? Pushpindar, for macho-ing himself and his newly married brother out of their jobs, and me, for fooling myself into believing I knew him.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Letters About India, Part 3

We went to a wedding this weekend. It was the wedding of Mr. Smith's unofficially adopted sister, Shashi. This was the smallest wedding that we have been to so far, but easily the most fun. I think the difference was that we finally took our kids. They walked in and saw the dance floor and knew what they wanted to do all night. The only blight on the evening was an encounter with a bad mannered guest. It was this encounter that led to the following letter. If you are sick of the letters, just scroll passed it to see the pictures.

Dear Drunk Man At The Wedding,

Fondling women that don't want to be fondled is rude! I am surprised that your mother never taught you that. I am sorry that I didn't do a better job of teaching you myself last night. Unfortunately I am naturally over polite and afraid of making a scene. I have vowed to do a better job next time, should our paths cross again.

When you first approached me I thought you were one of the many people who like to test their English skills by holding a basic yet polite conversation. This is something I generally enjoy and I often, in turn, show off the few Hindi phrases I have mastered. But it soon became clear that this was not a casual chat. You asked me to dance, I smiled and said no. You asked again and I explained that I needed to stay with my children and that I don't dance, as a general rule. You started to coax, I became insistent. You began to grab for my hand to pull me away, I began to signal to my husband. Then you casually (in an innocent way) brushed my chest. On the third pass, which was more of a poke, I gathered my children and walked away.

You, of course, followed. Lucky for me Mr. Smith was now within my reach. I quickly asked him to remove you and he did, no questions asked. See why I love him? You should learn from him. He protects women rather than harassing them. He escorted you to the dance floor in a friendly yet firm manner, then explained that you needed to find a different partner, and fast.
In a twisted way, I am glad that we met. Most of the expat women here in Delhi have a story about being groped in some way, so I knew it was coming. Now that it has happened I can quit worrying. But you should be warned, I've thought it over and decided that the next time we meet I won't be so meek.

Mrs. Smith

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Letters About India, Part 2

Dear Men In India,

I was wondering, is it possible for you to go to the bathroom somewhere besides alongside the road? I realize that there is not an indoor bathroom available at all times, but there are buildings, trees, bushes and garbage cans. Pee behind one of them. Also, if people can "hold" number two all day just to use the bathrooms in their own homes, perhaps you could time it so that you at least waited until after dark? Maybe even just walk a little further from the street?

Not only does this practice of going where ever you happen to be totally gross out my daughters and I, but I have a 5 year old son that I have to take back to live in the US someday. If for some crazy reason he decides that it is O.K. to "cop a squat" any old place, it could prove quite embarrassing.

Let's not forget the cleanliness factor. Well there really is too much to get into here on this particular issue. Let's just say there is a very high "Ick Factor" for this practice and leave it at that.

As a last ditch effort, here is an idea I had. Perhaps you and some of your friends could work together and form human walls for each other. Think of it as a team building activity. Something, anything, please.


Mrs. Smith

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Letters About India

In the comments of Mr. Smith's last post, the subject of NaBloPoMo came up. NaBloPoMo stands for National Blog Posting Month. Basically every month crazy people like me sign up to write a blog post everyday. That is it. You can post almost anything, as long as you post at least once a day, everyday, for the month. I signed up for April. Since the theme for April is letters, I decided to write one letter a day. Some of them are about life in India. Just for fun I think I will post the ones that deal with India here as well. If you want to read the others, follow the link on the side bar. The following letter was my post for April 7th.

Dear Crazy Crazy Landlord,

I've had a lot of landlords over the last seventeen years, but you take the cake. I mean it. I've had professional landlords, inexperienced landlords, efficient landlords, unorganized landlords, pushover landlords, no nonsense landlords, generous landlords, even a mean, greedy, dishonest, SOB of a landlord (may he rest in peace); but you, Mr. Crazy Crazy Landlord, are my first lunatic.

Let's review shall we?

  • We've come home to find you watching TV in the frontroom.
  • You've shown up unannounced time and time again.
  • You've entered our house without so much as a knock on the door.
  • You've given several guided tours of our house.
  • You almost included my bathing daughter in one of your guided tours.
  • You sent a group of 20-something year old men wearing cannabis T-shirts to tour the house.
  • You demanded we give you our oven.
  • You demanded we give you your microwave.
  • You demanded we pay additional rent for your microwave when I refused to give it to you.
  • You demanded (and took) the company's stove top.
  • You come at odd hours to check the outside lights.
  • You grill our guards at length every time you visit, in a language you know we don't speak.

Sadly, all of these seem merely quirky when compared to this evening's events. Tonight you came, once again, to check on those all important outside lights. I imagine you were quit relieved to see them burning brightly...illuminating our security our gated our gated (and guarded) community. But one wonders, Mr. Crazy Crazy Landlord, with all of these lights and gates and guards, why did you feel it necessary to bring a heavy with a shoulder holster?

Get help,

Mrs. Smith

Saturday, April 5, 2008

mr smith takes yet another turn

As mrs smith is suffering from a case of "blogger's block" combined with a little "Delhi belly", I thought I would try my hand at posting on the blog. I know I am not nearly as entertaining as she is, nor as good lookin', but bear with me...

I took a couple of days off this week to rest and relax. My job is stressful at times (as some of you know all too well) and it has been nice to turn off the "crackberry" and just hang out with the family. As we are in India for an ever-decreasing amount of time, there is a lot of pressure to go places and see things. Now any of you who have any children, not necessarily seven, know that travelling with kids is not always relaxing. Heck, sitting in the house with the kids can be stressful enough. Recognizing that this is true for them and for me, and mrs smith being ever so wise (she knows I hate to just sit around and am miserable - creating misery for others too - when I have nothing to do), we decided to go ahead and see some of the local sites. India is rich in culture and history, and Delhi itself is also full of those same things. So, being the brave adventurers we are, we decided to go to one of India's cultural symbols... The National Rail Museum!

It was so much fun. We got to ride the "Joy Train" which is a little train that runs around the museum grounds. I didn't get to sit with my family on this ride as I had met a young man named Saurav who had decided to stick to us like glue. I bought him a ticket on the Joy Train and he proceeded to guide me to a car in which we could sit. I had number one son and "Dennis the Menace" with me, but Dennis decided he trusted mom more than dad (smart kid) and bolted to her car with number one son in tow. So my new friend Saurav and I toured the grounds in the train.

The great thing about this place is that the kids could climb on the trains and explore freely. They ran everywhere and wore themselves out climbing on engines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

We also toured inside the museum, where they had models of everything, maps of India's extensive rail system and even the skull of an elephant that had been killed in a rail accident. And yes, the train won...

All in all it was a great deal of fun for everyone. And for 48 rupees admission (just over a US dollar) you can't go wrong. Unfortunately, then we decided to go to Ruby Tuesday for lunch. That was substantially more expensive, which balanced out the rail museum nicely. Plus, I got to spend enough that I felt like we went somewhere, but without all the inconvenience of a road trip.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Holi Holidays Batman! It's been a long time!

I'm guessing I won't get my usual four posts in this month. Sorry about that. Now, for those of you that were kind enough to wander back and check out this page again, let's get down to business.


Last Saturday was Holi. If you want to know the Hows and Whys of the celebration, click here. Frankly I am just too lazy to explain it all. The lazy girl's version is this: Every business shuts down, everyone gets drunk (the traditional drink of the day is called Thandai , which is often made with marijuana) and throws colored powder, water and eggs at everyone else. Fun, huh? Last year we were all still wearing our "deer in the headlights" look, so we stayed home. This year we were slightly braver. We went to a Mormon Holi party. Hey! I said slightly. All of the fun, none of the liquid pot or eggs.

As we walked in the gate we were greeted with a dousing of water and some really loud drums. At this point our 5 yr old son decided he was all funned out and went inside our very understanding hosts' house to find the toys. The rest of us stayed out to play.

Welcome To The Party!

Dance To My Very Loud Drum, Dance I Say!

Is It Time To Go Home Yet?

Oddly, This Wasn't As Easy To Wash Out As I Would Have Hoped.

When our kids had had all the fun they could take, we headed home. Mr. Smith and I went out to cover every surface of the car with old sheets and towels before we let the kids get in, and were the victims of a drive by egging! Luckily the egg hit me in the...well, let's just say a well padded area, and bounced off of me, to break harmlessly on the street. Our car fared only slightly worse. It's my fault, really. I neglected to devise a way to affix an old bed sheet to the ceiling of the car and so there are a few colorful smudges to remind us of our day.

The next day (Easter Sunday) we all went to church looking a little bit like Easter eggs. The ends of my hair are still bright green. Mr. Smith says "it's hot". See why I married him? My girls say it looks like I got my hair tipped, which instantly makes me 5 to 10 points cooler in their book. At least until it finally washes out.

As I have complained about before, water only runs to the house twice a day. While it is running we fill our underground tank, then we pump it up to the rooftop tanks which supply the house with water for the rest of the day. Apparently our hosts have the same set up. By the time we left their house they were out of water. There are currently about 15 people living at their house. All weekend I was wondering how long they all had to wait for baths. Have I mentioned what wonderful, gracious, fun loving, good sports they are?