Category Archives: living in the united states

Unwritten part 2………………..

If you would like to read part 1, it is here.

We saw so much in India that we had never seen before. Some of it was absolutely amazing – the history, the people, and the beautiful children with charcoal lines painted around their dark eyes to keep evil from peering at them.

But a lot of what we saw sank in our gut like a meal riddled with hidden poison, so scrumptious in the consuming, so vile in the digesting and all of it leaving you sick for days. In some of the scarier moments, we saw a man beaten at the zoo, blind children begging in the middle of the night and the middle of the street, and children simply unattended. We saw a hoard of men lunging with lead pipes in hand toward the driver of a car sitting in line at a tool booth.

Once, when my friends came to visit, our car was stopped by a group of men on a dusty side road in the middle of truly nowhere. Our driver got out of the car and I feared for him and selfishly feared what would happen to us if something happened to him.

More than once, I saw a dead body strewn across the side of the road and completely ignored.

It’s hard to reconcile that. The very nonchalant way that someone can distract herself from a human being lying forgotten on the side of the road. Sometimes covered. Sometimes not. There are no reporters dreaming of headlines. No crowds of people gathering and gasping in disbelief. Mostly just people moving on – or moving around – busy with their own way, barely glancing over to see what happened other than to avoid the inconvenience of it all.

I always wondered who was at home waiting. Who did care that someone had stopped breathing through no fault of his own? What story would the family have to create with the absence of a caring witness?

Most of these memories simply dissipate into the haze. They fade and lose their sense of reality. In fact, unless you were armed with stacks of my own words right in front of me, it might be hard to convince even me that some of it truly happened. It couldn’t. It wouldn’t. But wait, maybe it did.

In most of those situations, I was eager to avoid danger and remove myself completely from acknowledging that anything dreadful was going on. Usually my kids were with me and I was trying to distract them so I would not have too much to explain later. I could busy myself with keeping them safe by keeping them unaware.

Words always failed me in those tenuous situations. I didn’t understand the “why” of what was happening any more than my children could and never found the strength to make sense of the different scenarios for my kids. So, if they could be preoccupied with counting people on a bus or looking for camels – so be it.

But there is always a moment when you can no longer pretend that you live in a world where suffering doesn’t fall like rain. There is always a memory you cannot escape or deny.

It happened to me right after a few of my friends and I decided to venture deep into Old Delhi. One of the best memories I have from my time in India was tainted and stained by one of the worst.

Many westerners are hesitant to travel into Old Delhi. But we were having none of that. Old Delhi is alive with all that India is about. It is a fascinating and wonderful corner that is best explored with open eyes, an adventurous spirit, and an old pair of shoes that can be thrown away later.

My friends and I donned colorful dupattas (scarves) and climbed the steps to the Jama Masjid mosque and removed our shoes and rang the bell at the Jain Temple letting the gods know we were there. We visited our favorite jeweler and his family and spoiled ourselves with shiny trinkets. We laughed that our new jewels were really for our kids and our grandkids and that we would just hold them in safe keeping until they were mature enough to have them.

We felt humbled by the seriousness of the students study and chants and prayers in the Fatepuri Mosque. We inhaled the dust and braved the stares of the male-dominated Spice Market, where we dined on delicious raw cashews and pistachios as we watched men bathe in buckets.

We enjoyed the Sikhs bowing in reverence as they entered their Gurdwara and admired their dedication to feed those who are hungry. We relished the fact that just up the street of Chandni Chowk was also the home to a Baptist Church and a Jain bird sanctuary. All of the world’s major religions had a presence on that street and we boasted how wonderful that was.

We moved on to the famed Karims restaurant and laughed as we asked for our sodas in cans and paper plates for our food, brave enough to eat the food but not brave enough to eat it off of their potentially uncleaned plates.

It was one of those days where everything clicked. We learned, we laughed, and we wore ourselves out. Our glow grew with every stop – the spirituality, the friendship, and the jewelry.

On the way to the car, we continued to marvel at the sights, sounds, and smells of Old Delhi. The alleys were alive with crazy electrical wires hanging from every single building serving as balance beams for the monkeys who danced across them over our heads. We did our own dance over unknown splats on the crackling walkway and tried to identify what each might be. Ultimately, we decided some mysteries were better left unsolved.

We kept pace with the men and animals pushing and pulling carts and women covered in veils. Children coming home from school and merchants delivering their wares. Spices that made us sneeze a little, then gag. Brides shopping for invitations. Incense burning right around the corner from the used auto parts shop rich with its own smells of rubber and grease.

Old Delhi was vibrant in a way that my neighborhood in the Unites States never could be.  And whenever I visited this part of Delhi, I always tempted time by staying for just one minute more. There was forever a window that had not been seen before or a corner that had not yet been turned.

As time dripped away, we realized we had better hurry and bustled to the car in a little bit of a panic that we might be late for school pickup. We got in the car and immediately started calling the different school offices to be sure they knew we were on the way – explaining that just this time, we would be just a smidge later than normal. “Traffic is horrible,” we said and winked at each other while holding our hands just right so that our new rings reflected the sun streaming in the window.

As I was putting my phone down and sinking into my seat, I looked around at the busyness on the street. It was chaotic and endless. It was hard to pick out a single scene and soak it in.

But then just over to my left, a man came into focus. There was no reason, really, that I should be drawn to him. He was defined in the same dusty, brown haze as the foggy air that surrounded him. He wore a simple and stale, used-to-be-white robe and was standing in the middle of the road. In between traffic and blinks, he could have easily disappeared. He looked drunk and obviously wanted something. Help.

But it was not immediately obvious just how truly desperate he was. You can unfortunately and intentionally become numb to the desperation in India a little too quickly. Even with the biggest most generous heart, the realization that you simply cannot help everyone graciously lends you an excuse to ignore someone who is clearly struggling.

My friends were still on their phones and I am pretty certain that they never even saw what happened next. I do not know how my driver could have possibly missed it but he showered me with the gift of never discussing it.

As traffic slowed, the man in the middle of the road slowly began lifting the skirt of his tattered robe.

At first, I only saw his bare and wrinkled feet. His toes seemed to be bent in half from holding on too tightly to the melting asphalt. Then he revealed his far too skinny ankles. Followed by his knotted and bent knees. His skin was ashen and taut, stretched tightly over bones that were very likely brittle and deteriorating. They were bones that had probably never tasted milk. Maybe they had never even had the chance to be strong enough to allow him to hold up his slight frame with pride and determination. With hope.

It took me a few seconds to fully comprehend what he was doing. To really understand. To allow myself to believe I wasn’t just imagining it. But not enough time to distract myself from it. To delve into conversation and disappear.

With his skirt fully lifted, I finally realized what he was doing. This man had taken straw-colored raffia, or maybe it was old rope, and tied it around one of his testicles. His testicle had swollen to nearly the size of a basketball. He would lift his robe to show the passerbys how profoundly he needed help. Their help.

How are you supposed to respond to that? How do you digest that? How do you explain it? What are you supposed to do?

How do you say, from an air conditioned car with a full belly and new rings on your fingers, that you are not going to stop?

We drove away but I can never forget his face. His destruction.

This time I think I was so stunned that I could not act. Even if I had thought to empty my purse at his feet, I could not have done it. I was frozen. I never even turned my head away. Our eyes met as we were rolling away and he just looked at me as if to say, “Yes, my dear, you are seeing exactly what you think you are seeing and what are you going to do with it?”

I sat in disbelief that I totally and completely ignored a man who had intentionally mangled part of himself beyond all recognition. His marketing plan was to be the most disfigured – the most in need. And even that was not working.

I still am not quite sure what I am supposed to do with his image. I am not sure how to handle this experience. What to do with it.

Who really cares what this man across an ocean did. How does it relate to life here and now? I am not really sure. But I know I don’t want to forget it. Well, that will be easy enough because I cannot forget him.

But what now?

Through the Glass…………….

As soon as we knew we were moving to India, we made plans to take our cats with us.

Unfortunately, our one cat is diabetic and it really didn’t make sense for her to be on a plane for over 24 hours without access to water. I wrote a very fun resume for her when we were trying to find a place for her to live. If you want a chuckle, you can read it here. A lovely family adopted her while we were gone and spoiled her rotten.

We decided it would be very helpful for the kids to have their other two beloved furry siblings with them – and, not for nothing, someone else was going to be cleaning out the litter and wiping up the inevitable furball throw-up. Yeah. In case it’s not painfully obvious why that was awesome, you can catch up here.

Our first attempt to get the cats to India was a colossal fail. I do not heart United Airlines and if you want to be mad at them too, you can read about that here.

Now that you are all caught up on the history, let’s get back to the story.

Eventually, the cats made it all the way across that big ocean. Alive and well and very confused – kind of like the rest of us.

They settled in quickly and were very well cared for.

But our staffs initial reaction to them was hysterical. They could not believe that we had cats as pets. I should explain that cats aren’t really kept as pets in India. There are tons of stray cats on the streets but it is very rare for someone to actually bring them into their home, feed them, care for them, and make them a part of the family. To love them.

I guess it’s hard to worry about stray animals too much when there are so many stray humans without food and shelter.

Someone also told me that Indians consider cats to be bad luck. I cannot verify that, but it might be true.

Cats are so rare as pets that India does not even have a manufacturer of cat food – at least not one that delivers Indian cat food to any of the pet stores in Delhi –  there may not be an Indian dog food manufacturer either because most dogs are simply given table scraps. The only cat food I could find was imported and ridiculously expensive.

Good thing we brought, not one but two, very large cats who really like to eat.

When we first moved to India and lived in an apartment, the cats very rarely saw the light of day. But then number one hubby found us a house and the cats had access to glass doors at ground level. (We did not feel comfortable letting them actually go outside because there were hawks in the area and tons of stray dogs and cats.) Our cats seemed happy enough to just look outside and they immediately discovered that they were not alone in the world. That other cats lived just beyond that glass horizon.

The difference between our American house cats and the Indian stray cats was nothing short of amazing.

Ours – big and fat and shiny – not a scratch on them. Loved and cuddled. Not afraid of humans in the least. Not particularly fond of every single human, but not one tinsy tiny bit afraid of them. No front claws.

The strays – little bitty – boney – ears ripped – dusty and dull fur with patches missing – never touched by humans hands and terrified of people.  Their faces looked more alien than feline – too wide at the eyes and too narrow at the lips. And their bones nearly poked through their fur. They would never survive without their claws.

They did love our patio though. Largely because it always had a bowl of fresh water and some very expensive cat food on it. The shade from the scorching sun didn’t hurt either. And it was enclosed by a gate, so the dogs could not get in. I wonder if they felt safer in it. But I believe they must have been curious about our cats too.

They would sit and watch each other through the glass.

Part of our morning routine as humans was to put food in the bowls for the cats outside and watch them slink in and get breakfast. It was always fun to see who came first and we worried when one of them didn’t show up for a few days. We noticed who had new scratches and delighted when kittens arrived one morning. We counted them and named them and wondered if we could catch even one and bring it inside.

The pet store that carried the cat food and the cat litter I liked best was not very close to our house. So, I would often send our driver to pick up several packages of each.

This means that the cook, housekeeper, guard, gardener, driver, and the man on the moon all knew just how much money I was spending on these ridiculous creatures that pooped and threw up in the house. And I am sure they compared that to their own salaries and calculated in their own minds what they could do with that kind of money. To us, it wasn’t a hardship – but to them it could have been all the difference in a nicer house or better schools for their kids.

I am not sure why I am stuck on the thought of all of this. How anorexic the stray cats looked compared to our literal fat cats. How the staff must have been fascinated and miffed by the resources we dedicated to them.

One day, our cook was finally able to say out loud what he must have been thinking for months….

Francis: Ma’am, why do you feed the outside cats such expensive food
Me: They look so hungry
Francis: They will eat your leftover rice
Me: I guess that never occurred to me. Let’s try it.
Francis: Duh.

We did try it. And those cats had grown too accustomed to the the tastiness of the meat flavored cat food. They merely picked at the rice.

Francis was not about to be outsmarted by a street cat. He started adding leftover gravy to the rice. They were happy once again.

One of the things that struck me was that those stray cats never got any fatter. They knew what “full” meant and never seemed to gorge themselves.

I guess that is what was hardest about helping others in India. It was easy to feel taken advantage of. To feel like generosity was expected. Those cats came and took only what they needed and left the rest for the next cat who might pass by.

But now that I am once again an ocean away from the struggles of so many, I am left to wonder why I didn’t do more. How I might better define the lines of graciousness that I was willing to tiptoe around but never fully cross over. I am not sure there is an answer but I am sure I will always question why those of us with too much (including myself) aren’t more generous to those with much too little.

The used-to-be me……

This whole blog started off as a way of journaling our move to India so we would capture – and never forget – the details of our adventure. I wanted to remember the monuments and the memories but had no real way of knowing that, while those were fun, they were insignificant in what we should remember from our experience. The memories came from traveling – but the lessons came from everyday life. The routine that never actually became routine.

We have been home for over a year now and I still have not written about everything. And I have (finally) accepted that I will never write about everything. You just cannot remember it all – and even if you could remember every detail – there is simply no way to explain it all. Partly because India hits everyone a little differently and partly because there are just not enough words.

Unfortunately, I drop little pieces of our India experiences like sand falling off my shoe.  Some of them are hard reminders and I eagerly (and unfortunately) toss them out like I would a rock cradled under my toe. Others just drift away all on their own. And this blog was supposed to be like a big broom and sweep up everything. It turns out there is not a blog or broom big enough for that task.

One by one, you barely miss a piece of sand – but together they can form a beach. It is not good to lose a beach of experience. It’s really not.

Alas.

But what is making me really frustrated and sad is that I changed in India and I am losing some of that. India taught me to be more patient and to have a bigger world perspective. To remember the reality of it all. And, damnit, I am letting myself get caught up in some of the nonsense again. My perspective is shrinking and re-framing.

In many ways, India brings non-Indians to their knees. It’s hard to live in an “all-about-me” bubble when you are constantly bombarded with people suffering and struggling and still surviving – and surviving happily. The people who have the most to legitimately complain about actually complain about nothing. I am not sure if they don’t complain because they don’t think it will do any good or if they just find it unnecessary. But complain they do not.

Please know that this is not an “India is so dirty, the people are so poor” story. If you are a big lover of India, please do not take this as insulting. But the reality is that there are people in India who survive on very little and it is hard to be selfish and self-absorbed when you are reminded of that every single time you step outside. Not everyone owns an ipod – or an outlet to plug it into.

Even when you are inside. It is inescapable.

When you have to give your cook and his wife water when they go home at night because they don’t have access to water, you suddenly remember to turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. You realize that what you absolutely take for granted as ever-flowing and abundant and even safe is non-existent for someone else – really, most everyone else. It puts you in your place a little bit.

And you have a lot less energy to worry about what other people are doing and what other people aren’t doing. You are busy getting through a day that is just exhausting to get through. And you are often even more busy getting your children through a day in a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense to them. You try to let them experience the reality of it, while protecting them from the reality of it.

I remember one day in India that we got in the car to go to school. The kids were fighting about who was going to sit where. My head almost spun off my neck. My tirade went something like this………..

Holy Hell. You are really going to sit in an air conditioned car with a full belly which is covered by clean clothes and with a head that slept on a pillow on a bed in a room that you do not have to share and drive by all of “this” and complain about anything. Seriously. What are we doing here? Have you really not learned anything? You ate breakfast made by someone else, put the leftovers on a side plate for Ravi to eat at lunch (he would literally eat the crusts they left on their plates), and left your dishes in a sink for someone else to wash. In fact, I should have stopped with “you ate breakfast“. Turn to the left, look out the window and turn to the right, look out that window and shut the hell up.

It was not one of my stellar mommy moments. But that morning had an impact on all of us. The kids didn’t complain (that morning or the next and maybe not even the next). And I wondered how we could walk and live and breathe in India and not lose more of our selfishness.

How could we drive by children without clothes or a roof over their heads or even morsels of food on a plate – dear God, who am I kidding? A plate. No, you are right, they didn’t own need plates – and complain about which comfy cozy seat our bigger than necessary arses were going to snuggle into so that the air conditioning could hit our faces just right.

For Pete’s sake, our driver rode his motor scooter in traffic and dust for an hour to come and clean our car and wait for us to be ready to go somewhere, anywhere  – at any time. He held the door for us and swept up our messes and ran our errands. And at night he took our leftovers to a home with no air conditioning whenever we declared ourselves done for the day. He just waited for us to decide when we were finished so that he could see his family at some point before they laid on a threadborne mattress all in the same room together and went to sleep. Just to wake up early to do it all again.

And we did learn those lessons and we do embrace letting go of some very unnecessary involvement in things. But sometimes I slip and those slips are coming more often. I am getting caught up in minutiae and it is making me nuts. I have an opinion about too many things.

Anyway, this little rant is almost over. Pinky swear.

The bottom line is that I am going to start praying harder for (and working harder toward) patience and perspective. And, yes, a winning lottery ticket would certainly be nice – but if perspective kicks in properly, I won’t push my luck. 😎

One year ago…..

One year ago today…..on the Friday before Memorial Day….we boarded a plane and left India…..to come home for good.

We left India in the middle of the night – simply because that’s what you do – but it felt a little bit like we were sneaking away.

On our drive to the airport, we saw a young blind girl selling balloons in the middle of the road. She was unattended and trying to make money for someone else. Someone who very likely did not have her best interests at heart. The night air was thick with smoke and smells that had never seen the inside of an air freshner. Our driver weaved the car through traffic and ran a few red lights and honked the horn…..probably just for ole time’s sake.

I sunk lower in my seat, held my breath, and thought “good riddens”.

We arrived home to crisp air and a sky so blue that it looked like God himself had just put down the paintbrush. Our friends and family filled our home with food and love. All of our favorites were in the house when we arrived – Diet Dr. Pepper, snacks, cereals, hamburger meat in the fridge, fresh fruit that didn’t have to be bleached. And then friends trickled in to say hi and welcome back. Soon our house was alive again. We ended up sitting around the breakfast table laughing and talking….the kids ran around outside…as if we never left.

I breathed in deeply and wondered momentarily why we had ever left this place called home. That just might have been the best night’s sleep I have ever gotten.

We jumped pretty quickly back into the mix – found soccer teams, rejoined swim teams, bought the required reading books for summer, registered for school, re-opened my stationery business, drove with the windows down and the radio on, reconnected with neighbors, gardened, shopped, and just enjoyed being home.

And yet, somehow, there isn’t a day that goes by though that I don’t think of India. And every step away from India truly brings the experience closer to my heart. We changed there. And we are different now. Not in monumental ways. Maybe I should say not in noticeable ways. But we step back now and ponder more. We certainly appreciate more than we ever did before. We are not in such a hurry as we used to be.

Repatriation (returning home) has been an interesting process. There are people who write entire blogs about it – I won’t do that do you, but I will explore it.

I went to India kicking and screaming and couldn’t get back home fast enough. That’s not to say I hated living there. If you have read this blog or have had the misfortune to sit next to me for any extended period of time, you know, I enjoyed our journey and I am extremely thankful for the experience. Much of it I do not miss. But on that smokey street in the middle of the night, I left a piece of me in India and picked up a piece of India to bring home.

How did you decide who to help……….

Talking to my youngest child is like having a conversation with a racketball – in the middle of an olympic match with gold medal implications. She comes at you from all different angles at one hundred and ten miles an hour. It’s really too bad that Johnny Cochran is no longer with us because she could have given him a run for his money.

The other day we are riding in the car – just me and her – on the way to swim practice. Her mind is racing about anything and everything and we have this conversation…

Angel: Mom, remember the other day when we were riding in the car and we saw that lady in the middle of the road?
Me: Yes.
Angel: Why was she there?
Me: She was asking for help.
Angel: Why was she doing it there?
Me: Don’t you want to give me your Christmas list? Seriously, now is a good time to ask for just about anything because I will promise the moon if we can talk about regular old 9-year-old stuff.

We saw this woman in Silver Spring, Maryland. She was begging in between cars at an exit ramp right off of 495 – one of the busiest roads in this area. She had a severe limp and was bundled up not so warmly on a pretty cold and very windy day. I asked the kids if they had any snacks. They didn’t. So we drove by carefully and quickly, leaving her standing still empty handed right in the middle of the road.

Apparently she made an impression.

Angel: How did you decide who to help?
Me: You mean that lady? We didn’t have any food to give her.
Angel: No, in India.
Me: It just depends, honey.
Angel: But sometimes you gave them money. And sometimes you gave them food. And sometimes nothing.
Me: (humming All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.) Any progress on that Christmas list sweetie?
Angel: No, really. Remember, there was the one guy you gave money to. The one on the corner on the way to school. And then you stopped giving him money. How did you decide who to help.

That conversation made me realize that I still have a lot to reconcile and digest about living in India.

My husband suggested the other day that maybe we should stop talking so much about it with other people. It always seems to creep into the conversation and he thinks maybe people are tired of hearing about it.

Maybe.

But it is part of who we are now. It will come up.

And I hope to spend the next few weeks reconciling the effect that seeing so much poverty had on me. Some of the posts will surely be tough to read – believe me they will be tougher to write. And I will write them comfy and cozy from my office knowing that it is harder to exist in poverty than write about it from a distance.

But I do hope that we can stick through it together. I hope that I can articulate with clarity and compassion what we experienced in a way that captures your attention. Because simply clicking away from these posts will not diminish the existence and impact of poverty.

This should be fun, right?

Boo To You………….

There is a spooky goblin in our neighborhood who is playing tricks with treats. He’s “booing” people left and right.

I had never heard of this little Halloween Boofest until we moved into our neighborhood and had kids old enough to play with other kids. But it is tons o’ fun.

It’s a delightful, frightful treat to hear your doorbell ring, followed by laughter, and then followed by the sound of really fast running feet. Yep, this might just be the only time it’s okay to ding dong ditch.

Then you find something like this on your doorstep….and you try to spy the goblin. They are quick little boogers though.

A “Boo” sign magically appears taped to your door – so others know that you have been “Boo’ed”.

Inside your basket of boo treats is this note…..

Happy Halloween!!

The air is cool, the season is fall
Soon Halloween will come to all
The Spooks are after things to do
A ghoulish one just visited you
BOO! Is your shield from the witching hour
Just hang it up and watch its power
On your front door is where it works
To ward off spooks and scary jerks
This cryptic note comes with a treat
Enjoy them both, they are yours to keep
The power comes when friends like you
Copy this and make it two
We’ll all have smiles upon our faces
No one knows who Boo’ed whose places
Just one short day to work your spell
Or a Zap might just strike your tail
Please join the fun and share the spirit
A great big BOO – come on let’s hear it!

Enjoy your treats!!

1) Place the BOO on your front door
2) Now you have 24 hours to copy this twice, gather two treats, and
secretly deliver them to a neighbor who does not have a BOO sign yet.

The kids love it and I have to say, it’s fun for parents too.

There are a few “rules” you should consider.

First, and most importantly, do not try to out “boo” your friends. Sure the recipient will enjoy the super duper boo basket – but then there’s pressure to out boo you. Then it’s no fun. Keep it simple. Remember in just a few days, everyone will have more candy than they know what to do with.

Then, try not to boo people twice – there will be someone who has not been boo’ed yet – and believe me, they are waiting for it.

Anyone can start booing. In fact, if your neighborhood has not yet begun the Boofest celebration – your boo-ological clock should be ticking. Time’s a wastin’.

Please don’t stress out about how cute your container is. The kids dump it all out and throw the container to the side. In fact, recycle and use the container you received!

And most importantly – don’t consider this a game just for kids. How much would adults with no kids in the house love to be boo’ed with a bottle of wine or some more grown up candy?

Happy Booing.

Wrong Question…………

When I start talking about having staff in India, I know some of you are thinking – oh jeez, here she goes again. But please bear with me because today I figured out the number one reason that having staff was bad for my family – or any family who is not going to have staff working in its home forever. You get a little too used to it. Our reality does not include a driver, a cook, a guard, a housekeeper, a gardener, and a laundress. Well, it does – but funny enough, they are all the same person – me. And the pay ain’t quite the same.

So, for those children who actually read this blog – both of you – are you listening? Here are some of the wrong conversations/situations to find yourselves in….

Scenario 1
Mom has done the laundry (including your smelly gym clothes and soccer socks) and has washed the all the breakfast dishes (after making you breakfast) and now has brownies in the oven (because she knows you love them – she even went to two stores to find the exact ones that you like – because God forbid you have your second favorite kind of brownie warm from the oven right when you walk in the door from school). She has just finished wiping off the counter and sweeping the floor. She turned off the news when you walked in the door (even though it was the story she had been waiting all day to hear) so she could listen (with focus) to how your day went. After you chat and have a yummy chocolately treat, Mom goes to sweep the floor again because there are now mysteriously brownie crumbs all over it.

It is here that the real potential for danger exists. If she then asks you to take out the trash or vacuum the basement or even lick the litter box clean – the exact wrong question is……do I have to? I will help you here because I know most of you are treading on new ground. The right answer is …..O!M!G! Mom, I would so love to do all of those things for you. And, by the by, you actually then have to do them (because sometimes it is more than the thought that counts) and then say ….. and Mom, did you get your hair cut because it looks marvelous. Do you see the difference?

Scenario 2:
You have decided that it is in your best interest to join a practice group that practices very early on Saturday mornings. This causes your mother – who sleeps through tornadoes – to have to get out of bed at 5:15A.M. on a Saturday morning. The roosters have not even learned to crow at this point and your mother is up and driving you to practice. And, yes, she is very proud of you for getting up and getting out the door – that is not the problem. Read on.

When you get back home, your very tired mother makes (okay, warms up) waffles because that is what you asked for (and no it does not matter if they are frozen v. homemade). She also makes eggs and biscuits because that is what your brother asked for. And she also makes bacon because apparently your sister would like that. You are distracted by the goings on of SpongeBob so I can understand why you don’t realize that was a lot to accomplish before 8:30am. But you push it a tad too far when you ask …… Mom, can you pour syrup in to a small bowl and bring it over here? Really?

Here’s the problem – at some point you are going to want to drive a car. If you cannot handle pouring syrup into a bowl (even a small bowl) all by your lonesome, I am pretty sure that operating heavy machinery is off the can-do list. The right answer is…….Mom, these are the most delicious waffles I have ever had. They don’t even need syrup. And by the way, did you get your hair cut because it looks amazing. Or maybe you lost weight. See how that is different?

Scenario 3
You love to ride your scooter. You have ridden it and fallen off of it a million and one times. So, your mom knows that you are one tough cookie even if you scream like a banchee. Sooooo, if you fall off said scooter the exact moment that your mom calls a friend to vent over another mom who is making her c.r.a.z.y. and she sees you fall, she might not panic and hang up immediately because she knows you are okay. And she knows that you had a 14-minute delay in crying. So, she really might not hang up the phone right away. No matter how big those crocodile tears are – because if you can stop and have a snack on the way to tell her how hurt you are, the reality of it is – you are probably going to be just fine. Operating heavy machinery may also not be in your future but you most likely don’t need to be rushed to Children’s Hospital. You might need therapy later – but right now, it’s all good.

Please forgive the parenting rant – but seriously. I don’t know how single parents do it – God love you!

Uh-Oh……

I just received this email from a reader – one I know through the blog-o-sphere and through a mutual friend – one who has been complimentary in the past and is (or at least was) a loyal reader. So I am sharing it with you just in case you have the same concerns.

Hi A Reason to Write
Hope you are well. Just read another post by you.

I hope I am not the only one saying this but I feel your posts have changed a bit lately ever since you have come back to the the States. I miss the humor in your posts and I feel that there is a tongue in cheek attitude in your posts. I know you have mentioned in your previous posts somewhere that you are not trying to demean or belittle life in India. But why do I always feel that you are doing just that? I may be wrong and want to give it the benefit of the doubt. India is India and US is US..there is no comparison, period! You called India a third world country once. India is no more a third world country! In one of your posts, not too long ago, one of the things was people leaving their kids alone on the streets…are these things not happening in the US? India is still a very young country as compared to the US and the progress it has made in this short time is remarkable. I do not think it is  fair to compare these two countries. We should compare apples to apples!

I shared my views with a few like minded people who read your blog on my request. It made me sad to read what was being projected to people who are not familiar with life in India and its rich culture.

Please know that I am not upset. I am just sharing my thoughts with you. Pinky swear! 🙂

Where to begin. Yikes. First of all, thanks for sharing your thoughts and ending with humor – at least I know you aren’t ready to form a picket line in front of my blog – just yet. 😉
Then I would add, that my blog should never be judged just on simply one post. No blog should be. As you say, India has a rich culture and history and I tout that often in my posts.

Then I would like to suggest that maybe, just maybe, this post warrants a re-read.
I will readily admit to being sarcastic. I am and it’s extremely likely that I will continue to be.

And this post is just that.

But it is in no way a criticism of India.

I have always contended that there is no right and wrong – simply differences. Shopping and cooking and driving in India and the U.S. are hardly similar in any way. I benefited from having staff in India because it saved me a lot of time. And I am grateful that there are so many conveniences in the U.S. that equally make my life easier but we might have taken it too far when we sell shredded cheese and premade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Do I use them? Sure – happily. Do I need them? I would argue no – not even for a second. I even said in my post that my American readers should continue reading just to be reminded of what we take for granted on a daily basis.

Basically what I will say is that this post is more about the excesses in America than any deficiencies I saw in India. I think it is ludicrous that we have 18 different ways to buy cheddar cheese – although I am grateful we do – it’s a tad bit excessive. I don’t ever argue that America is perfect – of course it isn’t. Neither is India broken. There are just things that do not make complete sense through my western eyes.  A continuous thread throughout all of my posts is all that I learned in India and how grateful I am for the experience for me and for my family. I did not love everything about India – but I loved most of it. We have been blessed beyond measure to see that the world is so different and that every place offers tremendous stories and experiences.

As far as India being a third world country. This is truly, truly a fascinating debate to me. Once before, someone adamantly argued that India is not a third world country. Certainly many people in India live well. There is no doubt about that. And there is a lot of opulence in India. However, the majority of India’s citizens don’t have real and guaranteed access to water, permanent shelter, education, and some level of health care. Throw in some pretty high infant mortality rates and you have got some development issues. But don’t just listen to my big fat opinion –

Wikipedia says this:
“The term ‘Third World’ arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. The term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world.”

Many people will say that India is a “developing” third world country. That’s probably more fair and I will start using that term from now on. And you make a good point. India’s government is still young – there is a lot of growing to do. But the elephant in the room is the waste and abuse that happens in the Indian government that often results in the unnecessary suffering of so many people. Again, is America perfect? Absolutely not. Of course not. We have our own wastes and abuses and not everyone is getting an equal share of the pot.

Part of what has been so hard for me in returning to America is leaving the images of India behind. I too often allow myself to forget that people are suffering – all over the world. How do I throw away bread crusts when children are starving (and yes, not just in India, in America too)? Now I put my crusts and stale bread out for the birds and squirrels. I know it won’t change a thing in the world but at least I am wasting less. That feels better.

I think Americans allow ourselves to be self-absorbed and protect ourselves from the reality of the sufferings of others – and, to be fair, I can point that same self-absorbed finger at Indians too. We all put on our jewelry and drive our gas hogs and live in our houses that are unnecessarily big and melt our shredded cheese and simply allow ourselves to ignore that, for the most part, even on a bad day, others have it much, much worse.

I struggle with how to become a more global citizen and how to have more of an impact in helping others – and that struggle is a direct result of my life in India. I can no longer pretend that life in Northern Virginia is the norm. It’s certainly great but it is not the experience of most of the world. I struggle with how to do something everyday to make someone else’s life better. I am failing miserably in that regard but I am trying.

And I am afraid this blog will continue to contain comparisons between life in India and life in America. It’s all I know and I am not willing to add another experience to my repertoire – at least not yet.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. I never want to offend anyone – but unfortunately, the minute you hit publish on the internet, you are very much in danger of doing just that. And remember that I am mostly talking to myself – the fact that anyone is coming along for the journey continues to amaze me. I am at least glad you felt comfortable in sharing your disagreement and disappointment with me and my words. That is one thing that India and America do have in common. Democracy is a beautiful thing.

Why you don’t need a cook or a driver in America……..

When I first told people I was moving to India, they all wanted to know – “does that mean you will have people working for you?” And they said it with lust in their eyes. As if it was all rainbows and unicorn farts burps. If you don’t know why that could possible be NOT the most fantastic thing that has ever happened to you – please read here first and then maybe here and maybe even here. This blog post might actually be more interesting to my readers who have never been in the U.S. but, trust me, if you are all too familiar with the ways of the West, you might just be amazed at what we are all taking for granted. Trust me on this one – it’s not always the same, same every where.

I have always admitted that having staff made my life in India (much) easier – it was just a pain to have people always around you and sometimes stealing from you and blah blah blah. In fact, for the last five weeks of our lives in India, I did all the cooking and 90 percent of the shopping. People marveled at how I was going to manage it. Why would it be so tough to manage without a cook? Well, most of the shopping is done in markets and there are very few convenience foods. There is no “one-stop” shopping.

Today I went to a grocery store and Walmart and I marveled at just how many things we do not have to do in America.

First of all, some stores in the United States are open 24 hours a day. That is right – they never close. Can I get a hallelujah? In India, most markets don’t open until much later in the morning. And have I bored you to tears yet by telling you how many different places you have to go to get everything on your list? Shopping, cleaning the food, preparing the food, and cooking the food really can be an all-day event. And the foods don’t have a lot of preservatives – which is all sorts of loverly – but it also means you have to go to the market more often. See how tedious it all becomes? I know, I know, there are bigger problems in the world – but I am just sayin – shopping, cooking, and cleaning in India – harder than in the U.S.

So, I am in my car – driving myself – listening to the radio – windows down and I am reminded that the definition of traffic is not universal. Here is what I saw

Now this is not a side road – it is a well traveled thoroughfare and this is at 8:30am. Not necessarily the height of rush hour – but not in the middle of the night either. And, no, everyone is not simply running late today because no one was really behind me either. And I know I should not have been taking a picture – but give me a break – I used the rearview mirror – I had my eyes on the road the whole time! Pinky swear!

So, I pull into the road in front of the shopping plaza and see this sign.

Yes, you see that correctly – A) there is a sign telling you what’s here (what a marvel of modern technology) and B) all of these mega stores are within walking distance of each other.

There is a Target next to a Walmart (basically the same thing) and a BJs with everything that Walmart and Target sell, only in larger quantities. There is a shoe warehouse next to a Payless shoe store and a Toy Store right next to Target and Walmart (which both have enough toys in them for a large country). If you are from India and know about Spencers or Big Bazaar – think of that magnified 8,000 times. Bigger, bigger and better, better.

I know it reveals just how fancy I am not – but if I had to pick only one store to go to for the rest of my life – it would be Walmart – okay, a super Walmart – but a Walmart nonetheless. I heart this store! And, for my Indian readers – do you notice what is missing? Parking attendants and drivers waiting by the front? Oh yeah, and the occasional armed guard. That is because – everywhere in the U.S. there are parking lots. In India, mostly only the malls have parking lots. Hence the real benefit of having a driver. Here – no problemo – parking galore…

See all those empty spaces – you just pick the one you want and zip in – no one has to push a car out of the way for you or drive around the block while you shop. The down side of that is – guess what – you are carrying your own groceries. Just consider it exercise.

And inside these markets is a whole different shopping experience.

There are carrots that are already peeled and cleaned for you. Yummy.

Need a veggie tray? Done.

Need a fruit salad? Done.

Want lettuce? You can get it cleaned and shredded – ready to eat.

Oh, I am sorry – did you need dressing with that?

What’s that? You don’t like bottled dressings? Okay – make your own – here is a starter kit.

Would you like some cheese with that? Shredded perhaps? Remember how our parents used to tell us that they had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways? I now lament with my children the olden days gone by when I had to shred my own cheese. And slice it too. And there sure as heck wasn’t any colby/cheddar on those grocery store racks. Oh, the hardships of childhood.

Oh, your child has tactile issues and prefers sliced cheese? No worries, we’ve got that…

Your mother-in-law prefers cubes – it doesn’t matter if she says that just to make you crazy – it’s all good, we’ve got that too…

And just in case no one is happy with the above choices, let’s throw in some cheese sticks.

And yes, you saw the labels correctly – those are all some form of cheddar cheese – but some like it shredded some like it not.

The cereal aisle can quickly earn you a seasons pass straight to the looney bin. Frosted or not. Fiber or not. Crunchberries or not. Sugar free or high octane. It’s amazing we ever get out of the store.

And even when our carts are full of things we can cook, we still have the option of not preparing our own food. Close your eyes on this first one if you are vegetarian.

We don’t even have to put cheese and crackers together ourselves. They even add a drink.

And if opening a box just seems too daunting at the end of the day – there’s this – we don’t even have to make a sandwich. It’s been done.

Those were frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The first time I saw them, I was outraged that we have become so lazy that we can’t even make our own sandwiches. Now, I own stock in the company. They are frozen so you do have to plan ahead and let them thaw out for a whole 15 minutes. Patience Grasshopper. Either that or tell your kids they are a popsicle  and cross dessert off the list as well.

Need a drink? Which one? Beer?

Wine?

I included this picture just to show you that Gallo wine really does not cost almost $30 a bottle. Remember that?

And to top it all off, you can even buy your apples already sliced.

You would think with us doing all of our own cooking, shopping, and driving that we would run out of time to do anything else. Not true. This woman still had time to decorate her car with silk flowers. Who says Americans don’t have their priorities in order?

To be very fair to this person, though, this car is a Honda and finding a Honda – your Honda – in the midst of a Walmart parking lot without the aid of a driver is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. She probably did this to make it easier to find her car and to ensure that other moms (or anyone else for that matter) wouldn’t go anywhere near it. She clearly does not have teenagers yet. They would never stand for this degree of lunacy.

So, that is why we don’t need drivers and cooks – we have parking lots and shredded cheese.

Housekeepers, on the other hand, are another story altogether. I cannot imagine a land or a time or a dream where they don’t make perfect sense. 😉

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not the  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.