Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Ray Of Hope

Great minds think alike. This saying must be true because just now as I was signing on to begin this post, I noticed that Mr. Smith had left a comment on my last post mentioning the very subject I plan to write about. Is he good or what?

The large white building in this picture is the dairy. See the little blue topped shack to the left? That is the house of the family on the corner that I mentioned in the last post. My purpose for showing this picture, though, is to let you see the vacant lot across the street. This is how it has looked for the last year. Every once in a while the garbage would pile up and have to be removed, but for the most part this is how it has looked. Don't think it was going to waste though, oh no. It was a very handy public bathroom for all of the construction workers next door. Recently, however, a woman in our neighborhood has decided that she could put it to better use. With the permission of the Indian equivalent of the Home Owners Association and the financial support of those in the neighborhood, she has taken over this piece of land to make a school. For now they are only meeting after school to help those who have nowhere to go after school or those who need help with their homework. After all, if your parents can't read, they aren't going to be much help on your homework. When the buildings are completed they will meet all day for those who aren't even in the free public schools.

As you can see, the buildings are humble. They are also very inexpensive, and fast and easy to erect. Apparently not fast enough though. As of this afternoon they have 46 children enrolled and are meeting in the park across the street until the buildings are done! I love this woman and what she is doing for the kids in our small corner of India. I am looking forward to helping in any way she sees fit. I also plan on involving the Smith kids, because seriously, can you think of a better learning experience for them?

P.S. On a totally unrelated topic, check out Merinda's comment about TP on "A Taste Of The Everyday". It's good to get a new perspective on these things.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Family On The Corner

In August of '06 Mr. Smith and I came to India, without our kids, to look around. We stayed in the company guest house, about 25 minutes from the office. The seven days of that first trip were busy from early morning to late in the night. By the time we headed back to the guest house at the end of each day I was exhausted and wanted to fall into bed. It was on this trip that I first noticed the family on the corner. A man and his wife and their three children. They lived in a semi permanent shack with three walls and a roof that was erected next to the neighborhood dairy market. I noticed them for two reasons. Number one, it was my first close look at real poverty and number two, when I saw them out the car window it meant we were almost home for the night.

In February of '07 we ended up moving into that same guest house for our three year stay. At that point I became more familiar with this family. We buy our bread from a guy who sets up his bread stand every morning right in front of their shack. With as many kids as we have, we go through a lot of bread, so I see them fairly regularly. I learned that they do not speak any English. I learned that the father supports his little family as a tailor. I have seen him sewing away on one of those foot operated sewing machines while his wife ironed the clothes with the an iron that heats up over a fire. Can you even imagining having a fire in your shack all summer so that you can iron? It is mind boggling. I have watched their littlest child grow from infant to toddler. At night I have seen them all sleeping in a row in their ten by ten foot space. I have often wondered what I could do to help this little family, but they were working and living the same way that a large part of the population here does and they usually seemed cheerful, so I stopped worrying.

Last week I heard that the two oldest daughters (grade school ages) were caught digging through some garbage in an area that was fenced off to keep kids out. When asked what they were doing, they replied that they were looking for pencils they could use in school. They attend a free public school and while the books and teachers are available at the school, any other supplies must be provided by the student's family. As I thought about how often I went to the stationary store and just how many pencils and erasers our family had used in the last year, I vowed to find away to give some school supplies to the family on the corner without offending the parents.

Apparently I waited a little too long. Yesterday Uday told me that for the last few days the father has been coming to our gate asking for financial help because his wife has died and he is struggling. Uday finally told me about it because he came four times in one day. Since that conversation I can not get that family out of my head. It seems a lifetime has passed since the days when I expected life to be fair, but this one is hard for me. Why am I living the way I am while the family on the corner has almost nothing, not even a mother?

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Taste Of The Everyday

When my rebellious/passive-aggressive nature doesn't get in my way, I try to listen to the good advice that is offered to me. This week I am going to listen to my internet friend, the Suburbancorrespondent. She mentioned that sometimes the everyday things are interesting. I am completely willing to test this theory. So this past week I roamed around my house and tried to think of all the things that are different enough to be semi-interesting.
First comes our temple. Every Indian home has one, whether it is a room of it's own, an alcove or a shelf. We considered many options for our temple, from the sacrilegious to the down right silly. One of our favorite ideas was a temple dedicated to my husbands employer. After all, they provide our current home and it is definitely how the bulk of Mr. Smith's time is spent. In the end, we were afraid some might not find our jokes funny, so we decided to fulfill one of Mr. Smith's long standing dreams by creating a library/reading corner instead. Mr. Smith is a bit of a bibliophile. He only brought two boxes of books to India (a major sacrifice), but he has already started to add to the collection. In fact the people at the three book stores we frequent all recognize us and always have new books to show us when we walk in. I am sure that we will out grow our little book nook before we go home, but for now it is a pleasant place to be.
Next in line are the Indian house cleaning basics. The broom type thing has it's ups and downs. The short handle means that the sweeper either has to bend way over or squat. The first gets tiring and the second is just not going to happen if it's me. On the other hand, it misses nothing and it reaches under, around and behind everything! The squeegee/mop is actually perfect for marble floors. When there is a water mess to clean, you just squeegee it all to the nearest drain or out the nearest door. Very handy. When actual mopping is needed, a wet cloth is wrapped around the squeegee and, viola! Une mop extraordinaire!
Third is the thing voted most likely to kill us all. We have a gas stove and oven. The best thing about it is the fact that we don't need electricity. No matter what the power supply is doing, dinner is on time. The worst part is the big tank of fuel in my kitchen. Can you say, "yikes"? Twice I have walked into my kitchen and smelled gas. Once was because of a leaky connection that was immediately replaced. The second time was a burner that had been turned on and not lit by a certain 5 year old boy. Now the gas supply is shut off at the tank when not in use and the 5 year old would not turn on a burner if you paid him. The red basket on top of the tank is our produce basket. I forgot to move it before I took the picture. Sorry.
Although I certainly wouldn't want to live without number four, I won't miss this particular style when I return to the US. Up in the corner of the kitchen and every bathroom is a little hot water heater. This means that about 20 minutes before you are going to need hot water, you have to turn on the heater. Plus, because of it's size, showering quickly is a must. Filling up a sink with hot water has to be done in stages and don't even think about filling a tub, it just isn't going to happen, which is a shame because we have a couple of beautiful tubs.
Although number five has a very high "eewww" factor, no discussion of Indian homes would be complete without it. The fact of the matter is that most homes in India are not stocked with toilet paper. If a public bathroom has it, it is probably passed out by the bathroom attendant to Caucasians or those who ask for it. What, you may ask, do they use in lieu of paper? (Pun totally intended, just by the way.) They use the little faucet, bucket and drain found to the side of every toilet, western or eastern style. Without going into too much detail, there is a reason that any social interaction and most eating is done with the right hand. Luckily for us, TP fits nicely into our budget, despite it's premium price.
Well, there you have it. Five things that seemed bizarre a year ago but that are now a part of our everyday life. Perhaps I could convince Mr. Smith to show some of the everyday things in the office. Perhaps not, busy season for the financial printing industry is upon us. Perhaps at the end of May.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Better Than Nothing (I Hope)

Just in case anyone noticed, I haven't posted much lately. Not only have I, and several members of my family, been sick (we are all on antibiotics now) but I have been suffering from something much, much worse. Blogger Block. The alliteration makes it sound cute, but believe me, it is a very serious condition! It isn't that I had no ideas, it's that I had a lot of little dumb ones. So in place of a quality post, I am going to post a few of the dumb ideas that I had. Lucky you!

First of all, you may have noticed that I have posted our first video! Ta Da! For those of you who wanted to see the mohawk that "number one son" sported for a week or so, here it is. The video is short but noisy, so turn down the volume. It's just airport noise, nothing important. The hair had a bed head look because we were in the middle of a very long layover between two very long flights, but, it is a good view of the whole thing. Ignore the aviators. Seriously, why do guys think girls are impressed by aviators?

The second idea was about India's new coins. India has started printing one and two Rupee coins with hands printed on them to show their worth. I can't decide if this is for the illiterate, or if, like everything else being done in India, it is in preparation for the Commonwealth Games that India is hosting in 2010. I didn't ever think about the fact that languages with a different alphabet than ours might also use a different number system. How eurocentric am I? Anyway, this was the best picture I could get, which is one of the reasons I didn't do a post about this.

Idea number three was concerning our neighbor's construction. About a month after we moved in our neighbor decided to tear down the existing house and build flats instead. Construction in India is a very different thing than I am used to seeing in the US. (Duh.) There are no electric or power tools of any kind. None. All ladders and scaffolding are made from bamboo poles. Some of the workers live on-site and it takes for ever. First came the demolition. They soaked every thing down with water to soften the the cement, then hammered and chiseled for months. I am not kidding. Unfortunately our wall is touching their wall, so our wall has been soaked down continually for almost a year. Doesn't that seem like a bad thing? When I mentioned this to the office they made sure that the neighbor was going to pay for repainting when the construction was done. It seems to me that there might be a larger issue here, but apparently not. The best part is the constant sound of hammering. It is much better now that they are constructing rather than demolishing, but what are we going to do when they are done? How will we know that we are home if we can't hear someone hammering on the other side of our wall? How will we sleep without the insomniac construction worker lulling us to sleep with the song of his hammer?

Last but not least (because let's face it the three previous ideas were pretty lame so how could this one possibly be "least") on February 1, 2008 we hit our one year mark. Theoretically we only have two more to go. I can totally do this two more times! I might even enjoy myself, but don't tell anyone, contentment is very unfunny and therefore very un-blog-worthy.

So, have you been dazzled by the video, pictures and link all in one post? No? Fine. Starting right now I am doing some serious brain storming to come up with something good for next week. Be ready to laugh and cry and learn something awesome.