Tag Archives: india

Expat Blog Awards….

This is kind of exciting.

I’ve been nominated for the Expat Blog Awards for my writing about living in India.

If you have a second, please vote for me by leaving a comment here…
http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/466/a-reason-to-write

Thanks!

Force to Fly 2………

You may (not) remember that I told you one of my essays about living in India was going to be published in an anthology called Forced to Fly 2. Jo Parfitt is the editor and she asked for submissions.

I read through some of my blog posts and submitted one about the time I went to the Post Office in Delhi all.by.my.lonesome. (Which doesn’t really sound very brave, but it felt very brave.) Then I stood on my keyboard with my hands in the air and screamed, “Pick mine, pick mine. Oh. Oh. Oh. Please pick mine.” And then Jo did just that!

This is very exciting for me because this is the first time my writing will be published in an actual book – well, minus the literary magazine in high school. But that doesn’t seem to count as much as this does. This is very exciting.

The book contains humorous accounts of living abroad and will launch on Oct. 5th – don’t worry, you’ll hear (lots) more about it then. And it will be available on Amazon. Yahoo. Amazon will be selling something I wrote – seriously?

But Jo sent out the cover design. So, I thought I would share it with you!

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. 😎

Twisted Sister………

This morning when I was getting dressed, I was really missing India.

Yep, you read that right. I miss living in India this morning.

I have this bra that drives me nuts. The strap is twisted and I cannot get it straightened out.

Are you really confused now? Are you wondering why that would make me miss India?

Well, if I was still in India one of these things would happen….

The lady who did my laundry (yes, I miss that too) would notice the strap before I did and she would know a professional bra strap fixer who would fix it for about fifty cents.

My laundress would spend about 25 minutes explaining to me that she did not twist the strap. In fact, she has absolutely no idea how the strap got twisted. Maybe the housekeeper did it. But it’s okay because she knows somebody. A professional bra strap fixer.

If that professional could not fix it, she would know another professional bra strap replacer who specialized in just replacing straps. The old strap would be replaced with a new strap that is a little off color but it would be good enough. And that old strap would be turned into a shoelace by a professional “turning bra straps into shoe laces” specialist.

If those two tacts failed miserably, then I would simply abandon the perfectly-good-except-for-the-strap bra in the trash. And the lady who did my laundry would take it home and love it like no bra has been loved before. It would likely become a family heirloom and get passed down through generations.

There’d be no wasting and everyone would be happy and three people would have gotten paid something for their efforts.

On Track…………….

Many of the differences of living in India hit you hard and fast. But some of them emerge slowly over time and creep into your everyday life.

One such change was the availability of sports teams for my kids. Now I promise this is not a post about how my kids are rock stars and how they were cheated by not having adequate sports opportunities in India. It is not an “if only” post. India us taught a lot of things including how to adjust. And in many, many ways stepping back was a tremendous gift.

Before we left the U.S., my kids played soccer year round and swam year round. In between they played basketball. They were busy every day, every night, and every weekend. That came to a screeching halt with the plane when we landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. Sports seasons are only eight weeks long at best and we missed the swimming season totally and got on the wait list for soccer. But, you guessed it, we never got called to teams.

The first real season my son could participate in was track. Eager to get moving again, Bear signed right up. He had done a tiny bit of track in the U.S. – maybe three or four practices and one mini meet – but he was by no means accomplished.

One of the things that makes me the most proud of my kids is not when they succeed but how they handle new challenges. They are not intimidated by trying new things and they are not intimidated by not being the best at something. It is really awesome to watch.  If you are someone who is mainly concerned with your child winning, step back and watch how they lose or what they won’t try because they are afraid of losing. It really is a more important skill. To be graceful in defeat. I would argue it will get you much further in life than always winning.

But I digress.

Bear went to practices and got better and worked really, really hard. It was not easy and he didn’t particularly enjoy all of it. But he never gave up. He showed up everyday in the 100 plus degree heat and he ran and jumped and threw the discus. He was way out of his comfort zones.

The team was narrowed down to seven athletes. And would once more be narrowed to the final five official members of the team with an alternate. Bear was one of the seven.

He continued to go to practices and gave it all he had. When the final five were chosen, Bear was number six. And he was justifiably disappointed. He had done his best and it was not enough to compete. He was not used to that at all.

That night there was a party for the 6th graders at one of the kid’s houses. I was thrilled that he wanted to go because he was already starting to separate from his disappointment.

But this was a new experience for me. I did not know the parents who were hosting the party or the kids or the neighborhood or what to expect.

I told Bear he could go but that I would take him and I had to meet the parents to know that adults would be home. This wasn’t his day at all. Not only did he not make the final team, now his mother had to accompany him to a middle school party in the land of everyone else is driven by their drivers and dropped off. It turns out that out of 100 kids in 6th grade, only two parents went in to make sure parents were there. It was truly a whole new world for me.

Poor Bear.

But he knows me well and did not fight it.

What a gift that ride to the party was.

Because I was not driving, I had the chance to talk to Bear without any distractions. We both sat in the back seat in the dark and talked. Even the dark was a gift because he did not have to really look at me, just listen and periodically mumble, “I know Mom”.

I told him how proud I was of him for trying something new and that I was amazed by how he handled this whole move to India. I bored him with my thoughts on how he should still be so proud of himself because it is the journey that counts and that I completely understood why he was disappointed. I even said that he had a right to be disappointed but that he had to understand that the coach was picking the best team he could. It wasn’t personal. And it did not mean he didn’t do an amazing job.

Then we heard…tap…tap….tap.

We both knew what it was. It had already become a too familiar sound. Someone was knocking on our window to ask for food or money. We were becoming a little immune to it, sadly. Immune is not the right word – maybe we were allowing ourselves some distance from it.

This is one of the hardest things to admit about poverty. When you are living in the middle of it everyday, you allow yourself to ignore it. You feel helpless and there are times when you will actually be irritated by the fact that someone is struggling. At times, you will become dismissive and even rude to a person who is starving and homeless. Even a young child.

Gulp. You will actually resent that someone needs help. And you resent it not because you don’t care but because you feel so overwhelmed by it. That is the hard reality of living comfortably in a poor country. You cannot pretend real poverty does not exist because you slide through it every single day but you have absolutely no impact on it. Helping doesn’t change it and ignoring it makes you sick to your stomach.

We both turned to the window and could not see anyone there.

Bear looked down to find a man on a small, wheeled wooden box. He had no legs. He was unnaturally thin and dirty and had an empty look in his eyes. He had to brush his hands along the hot asphalt to move himself forward.

This is another thing that is incomprehensible. Even when someone who is living it is tapping on your window. You have to make a quick decision. Ignore it or help. I am not proud of how many times I chose “ignore”.

People who are really poor with absolutely nothing are willing to maim themselves because it makes them more competitive in the begging world. The more pathetic you seem, the more help you are likely to get.

We do not know if this man hurt himself or if he had an accident or if he was just born this way. But sometimes people really believe that their best option is to become as desperate-looking as possible and will damage their bodies to achieve that.

That is about as hopeless as it gets.

Bear and I looked down at the man and looked at each other and I simply said, “how much would that man love to be an alternate on the American Embassy School track team?”

That quickly became one of the many lessons we learned.

 

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?

What I am missing…………

Living in India had huge highs and lows.

Meeting the President would have been a big fat tick on the upside. He’s in Delhi right now. And guess who is not. 🙁

Yep, b.u.m.m.e.r.

 

P.S. Thanks Kushal for the photo – that’s her with her eyes closed. 😉

Why this squirrel is glad we moved back from India………

One of my biggest challenges since returning to the U.S has been what to do with our food waste. It really never bothered me to throw food away before we moved to India. Now, I cannot stand it. So, as I have probably mentioned before, I have at least figured out a way to not waste our left over breads….

It really makes me happy to see these guys eat our stale biscuits and crackers. I did find out, however, they are not big fans of cheese balls. Hey, I never claimed they were smart. And ants apparently love cheese balls and because they are just puffs of air filled with cheese deliciousness and ants can carry 50 times their own body weight – they got a workout with the bonus of dinner at the end.

I know feeding the squirrels does not solve all of my food waste issues – but at least it’s a start. I am considering a compost pile. We’ll see how ambitious I get.

But in the meantime, I am going to keep feeding these guys…

Have a great weekend!

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!