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category archive listing Category Archives: Life in India

Christmas Concert


The Middle and High School bands and choirs held their Christmas Concert this evening, and we had kids playing twice tonight! Breck’s 6th grade band got things going with an especially rousing rendition of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th! See him in the back row on his trombone with the other low brass?

Alea demonstrated beautiful embrasure as her band rocked out to “Legends of the Ghost Dance.” OK, while not really a Christmasy song, it was still pretty cool, with all the thumping percussion and swinging saxophones!

Both kids have worked really hard this year and made huge growth as musicians. Maybe we’ll have to invest in instruments for the family this summer!


And what kind of concert would end without a Stutz wave to the audience? 

Christmas tree lighting ceremony

Tree lighting ceremony 2010Facing what is probably our last Christmas season in Mumbai, we took another step down that holiday road last night with what has become our favorite yearly community event. The elementary school choir sings at the local Grand Hyatt hotel, the tree’s lights are lit, Santa appears, and we all eat ’til we burst courtesy of the best buffet in town.

Although there is a little something disconcerting about celebrating winter and snow as we all stand around sweating in shorts, the evening still manages to convey the best of the season. Throw in the singing voices of a bunch of elementary school kids (and the shuffle-shuffle-shuffle of their parents jockeying for the best spot from which to get that perfect video/picture), and you have the makings of a fun evening.

Last night Susan was not feeling well, so Dad, Alea, and Breck made the Stutz family appearance, and boy did we have a great time! See the pictures and read the rest of the story over on the webpage!

Dharavi tour

Well, we finally got around to visiting one of the most infamous places in Mumbai: the slum called Dharavi. The shooting location for the early part of Slumdog Millionaire, Dharavi has been called the largest slum in Asia. The latest guesstimates are that over a million people live there, crowded into less than one square mile of land.

We went with a group called Reality Tours, and one of the rules that allows them to bring foreigners into the slums on a twice-daily basis is a “no camera” policy, so pictures from our particular tour don’t exist. There are, however, thousands of sites to get a glimpse of life in the slum – here’s a set on flickr.

Dharavi - CC licensed from http://www.flickr.com/photos/lecercle/3833278858/

A shot of Dharavi from Flickr

One of the first misconceptions was that “slum” is a derogatory term. When we hear that word, we think “Poor people living in terrible conditions.” Our guide explained that slum was actually a legal term that referred to an area where the government owns the land, but homeowners own the physical buildings situated on the land.

We followed the winding, narrow alleyways through residential shacks and industrial settings, watching the homegrown industries that bring in over $650 million to the area each year. The recycling process was shown to us in detail: people sorting through plastics that ‘ragpickers’ had brought from all over Mumbai, shredding them in homemade machines, washing and then drying the shredded pieces on rooftops, and finally melting them back into raw material ‘pellets’ for reuse – all pretty much done by hand. Susan commented on how she’d like her dad to be able to see the machines constructed to tear apart plastic, Alea noted how hot the workers were inside corrugated metal shacks, and Dave was astounded to see all this work going on with no shirts, shoes, gloves, helmets, or safety goggles (well not really surprised, but still amazed).

As we wandered through the area, we were constantly being smiled, waved, and spoken to by the young children of the slum. While this in and of itself is not really too unusual in India, it definitely is in Mumbai, and really should have been in an area that has an average of 2 tours per day coming through. To see the hope and happiness among what most of us would easily have termed squalor was amazing.

By the end of our walk, we had seen plastic recycling, block printing, leather being worked (from the skins of water buffaloes, goats, and sheep), hides salting in the sun, metal cans being washed in boiling water by hand, tortilla-like bread drying on open racks, and pottery works. It was an exhausting look through the very tip of the iceberg that is Dharavi -overwhelming yet uplifting at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing ‘noble’ about the conditions that the people there thrive in. But the very fact that they are able to do so certainly adds another facet of life in India to all that we’ve experienced here.

While we were not able to take pictures, there are certainly plenty of resources available to get a quick glimpse of life there. Check out Shadow City – A Look at Dharavi or simply take a look on Flickr. Alternatively, one of the teachers at our school is writing a book about Dharavi, and there is an excerpt from a chapter posted here.

The Christmas season is here

Putting the Christmas tree up for the last time in India!We made it past Halloween this year, but not quite into Thanksgiving. The music has been playing for about a week, and today all the decorations went up too. We did leave the Thanksgiving/fall banner on the door for next week’s feast, but we are all tricked out in our Santa Claus finest.

(that is the tree being assembled in the living room. We have a school function to take care of this afternoon and evening, but maybe I’ll add a night shot of the finished tree and lights)

And by the way, happy birthday, to my littlest sister!

Follow up – here’s the tree at night:

Here's the tree at night!

Just a couple of days in Mumbai

So in the two days, we’ve seen a cow with a 5th leg growing out of its back (on the way to work),  skyscrapers burning (on the way home from work), and goats being sacrificed (at home). None of these are related events, but the goats were part of Eid celebrations this year; the best follow up was our neighbor asking us if we wanted to join him for a barbecue of the very goats we’d petted the previous day!

I mean, really, we eat fresh meat all the time (including goat), so it should be no big deal. Still, to have played with them before they graced the table seems a little weird. But, as a co-worker said, “Just don’t give them names other than Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner!”

Bollywood Bigshots

Bollywoood/Hollywood glam coupleYeah, that’s us, baby. We got all dressed up for the PTA “Hollywood/Bollywood” dinner and dance last night, and Alea took this nice shot of us.

I actually went shopping yesterday and bought a glitzy Indian outfit so that I could look like the movie stars here – but it was really the accessories that made everything work. Throwing on the sunglasses and topping up with the Rajasthani wedding turban really brought out the haughty glamor.

The party itself was a blast – teachers and parents mingling and enjoying the evening with very little shop talk taking place. There were several dance performances, ranging from traditional Indian folk songs to Bollywood movie hits and hip hop mashups. After the open bar had a bit of business, the dance floor was filled up by members of the school community shaking their groove thangs.

And to top off the evening, the powers-that-be decided that I had the best Bollywood outfit, so now Susan and I get a dinner at the ritzy hotel just down the road from the school! Kind of a fun bonus to top off a great night.

Sun, sand, surf, and food poisoning

Sunset over Benaulim beach in Goa, IndiaYum, yum, yum. Isn’t that an appealing blog post title? The simple truth is that we got a lot more of the first three than expected because of the presence of the fourth – a mixed blessing some might call it.

So here’s the deal: Alea, Breck, and Dave were gone the whole week before our Diwali holiday on school trips. We were planning on turning right around on Friday afternoon and leaving on a trip to Hampi (a historical world heritage site in southern India). We were going to follow up that visit with a jaunt to Goa for a few days of relaxation.

Well that didn’t happen. On the second day of his trip, Breck ate something that made him violently ill, and by the time 15 other students and 4 teachers on the same trip were hit by the bug, the entire class canceled the event and came back to Mumbai early. Alea and I didn’t know anything about this until we got back from our weeks in the wilderness, so we found that Susan had managed to nurse him back to almost-health, but he was still not strong enough to travel safely.

So everything to Hampi got canceled, we made backup plans to spend the whole time in Goa, and when he was back on his feet we were off to the beach. We had a super relaxing time despite the rocky start, and we’re starting to post pictures. Check out the travelogue from the first few days on our webpage, and we’ll try to get the rest posted soon!

Diwali celebration

The Stutz's at Diwali 2010Last night we carved Halloween pumpkins, and today we are celebrating the festival of lights (no, not the same one Adam Sandler sang about. I already wrote about that a few years ago…).

We have a big Diwali assembly, and so everyone dresses up. Susan loved this particular shade of pink on an outfit she saw, and so asked our maid to have a sari sewn from fabric of that color. Costing literally five dollars, this is her first official sari, and boy does she look good in it!

Of course, wrapping something like that is an acquired skill, so we had to wait until we were at school and some of the ladies here could help her, but now she is all good to go!

Anyways, this is what we wear today, until we get changed for the Halloween party, and then tomorrow it is lederhosen for Oktoberfest, and on Monday we put on our hiking duds for Week Without Walls. Like I said, a busy few days!

Pumpkins and orange cookies

Orange Cookies - mmmm!We busted out the pumpkins tonight, and carved ’em all up to a soundtrack of Ghostbusters, Nightmare on Elm Street, the Time Warp, the Halo video game background music, the Devil Went Down to Georgia, and everything in between (we even fit in a little TLC along the way).

Kevin and Elizabeth joined us from downstairs, so we all munched on some orange cookies that Alea had made yesterday and crunched on some tasted pumpkin seeds which were roasted up as we worked. Zip on over to the webpage for some pictures of all the efforts!

Bombay Oktoberfest 2010 teaser trailer

Incredible India Irony

Lathi charge against women - who dared protest atrocities against women!

Straight out of the Times of India newspaper – police lay the smack down on women who are protesting against – wait for it – atrocities directed against women.

The sad thing is, this isn’t the first time for this to happen…

You can’t make this stuff up.

(Thanks, Eddie)

Court cases, riots, text messages, and beer

Today is an expected high court decision on the ownership of a piece of land sacred to both the Hindus and Muslims. Short version: the site is believed by Hindus to be the birthplace of Ram, a major god, but a Muslim mosque was built there in 1527. There have been court petitions filed since 1885 over the ownership, and riots there in 1992 resulted in the mosque being destroyed and more than 2,000 people being killed.

Because of the potential for riots and trouble when the decision on who owns the land is announced today at 3:30, we are actually getting out of school early so we can all hunker down and be safe. Since this is a 3-day weekend (due to Gandhi’s birthday October 2), it actually means we can get an early start to grilling on the rooftop!

But there is even more fallout from the event. Here’s a little email I received this morning from one of the airlines we’ve used here in India:

Dear Mr. Stutz,

Thank you for your continous patronage. This is to inform you that Government of India has issued a directive to all service providers to block SMS and MMS service in the country till 30th September 2010. Any messaging service for flight delay or cancellation, PNR details etc may remain blocked till 30th September 2010. We shall update you on the subject from time to time.

WOW! Talk about government control of things. Apparently they are so worried about the potential for violence, all text messaging in the country will be blocked for the day! Unbelievable – can you imagine the US government shutting down all SMS’s in the nation?

But even worse, in my opinion, is that the government went even further and declared the next 3 days dry days! Oh, the humanity!

Celebrate good times

The holiday season officially kicked off this weekend. The Muslims are celebrating Eid, the Hindus are beginning the Ganesh festival, the Christians start up the Mount Mary cathedral Bandra Fair tomorrow, and the Jews mark Rosh Hashanah. The crescent moon is eagerly sighted from the rooftops, plaster elephant gods are paraded through the streets, firecrackers echo between the buildings, and shofar horns are blown beneath the Gateway of India. All in all, a loud, crazy, riotous season has begun, and we’ll all be lucky to have a good night’s sleep any time in the next two weeks.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_ul-Fitr

Portable A/C coffin

That was the tagline on an “Undertaker/Ambulance/Hearse” van parked in front of a church. I’m not sure who needs air conditioning when they’re laying in a coffin, but I’m guessing it is because they’re headed to a really, really hot place…

Cool Cash

The Fonzie-inspired one rupee coin - AAAAAYYYY!!!Actually, I guess the name should really be something like “Classy Coins” or “Mumbai Money,” but I like cool cash, and that’s that.

Wasting time in the FRRO the other week, I noticed the ‘thumbs-up’ on the Indian one rupee coin. Susan mocked me for having not seen it before, but then she mocked me even more when I thought it was just indicative of the Fonz endorsing Indian money.

Her perception of the situation was that it was to help the illiterate know how much the coin was worth – the thumb indicating “1” (and if you’ve ever seen the movie Inglourious Basterds and remember the bar scene, you might recognize that starting a count with the thumb – and not the pointer finger – is actually the norm around the world).

While I can understand substituting a picture for words (where there are many illiterate people), I’m not sure I buy the idea that people don’t learn numbers. For some reason, that just doesn’t seem to make as much sense.

This is the V-for-Victory two rupee coin!But I guess I was wrong, because guess what the 2-rupee coin has on it?

Dahi Handi

Celebrating the zany youthhood of Krishna, teams travel the city today looking to make human pyramids and reach the ‘pot of curd’ hanging over major intersections. I caught a glimpse of some of the teams on the way home from volleyball practice – and got caught up in the traffic. I have become very zen-like in my acceptance of the road congestion. I just sigh (and smile if I have my camera:)).

When I got to the house, I got a call from Susan (who was at book club) telling me that a friend of ours wanted to take a look around but was not entirely comfortable going out alone. So with the spousal permission all taken care of, out I went and actually got to see a teal complete the human pyramid task.

Basically, groups of youths roam the city looking for these pots of smelly curds (usually dyed with food coloring) and try to stack each other up high enough to reach them. Every year there are plenty of accidents, as the pyramids tumble down, but every year the prizes (and the number of groups) increase. Take a look through the pictures and get a glimpse of yet another side of life in India…

Chasing the monsoon

We had our last trip ever to the FRRO (YAY!!!) last weekend, and a co-worker at school asked that we try to get some pictures of ‘people in the rain, with slickers and stuff.’ I snapped a few photos out the van window, but A) it wasn’t always raining, B) we were often moving, and C) it was too dark when we came back (since our visit took more than 3 hours!).

Regardless, here are a few pictures of folks enjoying the tail end of monsoon season in Mumabi:

Materials are daintiness

"Make a teaching fairyland"Breck got a cool model from a birthday party a few weeks ago – a cardboard stick-em-together military ship. We had a great father-son bonding afternoon, separating all the pieces and assembling them in the shape of the ship.

What made it even more exciting was the fact that there were no directions. We had to find 2 pieces that had matching numbers on them and then stick the pieces together. Of course, #1 was not the first bit to be assembled: oh no – the numbers had nothing at all to do with the order.

We did get things done, however, and it is now a part of his growing ‘modern military’ collection of toys. He has great battles between it, the Keralan backwater bamboo boat, the wooden tank from Bali, and the garage sale metal planes (ranging from WWII through modern jet fighters).

I suppose, however, that we really should feel happy not to have had any instructions. Judging from the text that appeared on the front of the box, I’m pretty sure written directions would have been more of a hindrance!

Ewwww…

There has to be an explanation for this: Boutique Cum Snack BarUm, I think will pass on the that after-work drink. I wonder how this place ends up stocking ’boutique’ flavors – special diets? On second thought, I’m not quite that interested in finding out.

This wasn’t quite when I had in mind when people were talking about the new place in town to wet their whistle. I must’ve missed the memo that explained all this…

Oh – that explains it.

Here is the reason that road repairs take forever, explained in a sign at the Chennai (India) airportReally, I had a big long blog explanation all typed up, and just deliberately deleted it.

There really is no need for anything other than this sign, as the picture says everything that needs to be said.

Now you know why road repairs – here in India, and probably everywhere else in the world – take forever to finish up.

You’re welcome.

No coconuts allowed

So we’re walking past a temple in Varanasi, and I guess security has everybody pretty uptight. In addition to barring non-Hindus from entering, there is a whole slew of banned items. Many of them make sense, but one doesn’t (at least to me).

Maybe coconuts are the antithesis of the holy cow: keep them out of the sacred precincts. I’m sure there is a (seemingly) logical explanation for banning them, but I find it strange that there is not a simple restriction on all hard-shelled fruit, instead of picking on the poor coconut.

How good is your school?

So I’m back from a long weekend in the extreme India city of Varanasi, and instead of concentrating on posting pictures and the travelogue from that fascinating city (and finishing up the still-undone pages from our Jodhpur trip), I’m posting a few funny pictures. I did put some shots up on Facebook, so if you are my friend you can see them here.

But the topic of today’s post is schooling in India. While visiting Varanasi, I noticed that there are several different ‘levels’ of schooling available. Let’s look at them, shall we (and please note that this entire post is firmly tongue in cheek).

At the top of the heap, the "persnolity" developing ApexAcademy

At the very top of the heap is the Apex school, of course. Notice the emphasis on “Persnolity” development; extremely handy to perfect.

At the second tier, the Bright school

The second tier of learning is for the Bright kids – they may not be at the very top of the heap, but they’ve got some things going for them.

Standard Public School

And if you set your sights just a little bit lower, you can attend the Standard Public School. The horizons might be closer, but, you know, it is…standard.

Make your child indifferent

And, down at the bottom, I love this particular school. They are so very proud of their slogan – it is repeated on many signs around town. So now you know where all the slouch-shouldered, sullen Indian kids get their education.

Indifferent children of the world, unite!!

Because it is your own fault if they are taken…

Make sure that your shoes are not stolen by someoneThere’s no law that says signs have to make sense. On a recent temple visit, I snapped a picture of this warning sign by the shoe storage area. (FYI, whenever you enter any kind of Hindu temple, Jain chapel, Islamic mosque – basically any house of worship that is not Christian – you take off your shoes and leave them outside. This is a sign of humility, as well as an effective way to keep some of the street filth from being tracked in – which is why we absolutely take our shoes off when entering our house. You don’t want to track ANY of that stuff in. Shudder.)

In any case, we do know that – while rare – shoe thievery from temples does happen. It happened to someone from our school (who shall remain nameless), who wore his brand new fancy dancy dress shoes (to a funeral, no less!) and ended up having to walk back to the car in his socks. He was especially ticked because he had just bought them recently, but had put off wearing them much so as not to scuff or mar them. I’ll bet the shoe thief was thankful for that!

In any case, we’ve never had such bad luck, but I do find the sign interestingly amusing. I wonder what sort of karma would apply to someone who stole a worshiper’s shoes – what would he be reincarnated as?

Mangroves, trash, and our fantastic daughter

Alea and Dave had another Community, Service, and Responsibility day at school today, and we again headed up to some local mangroves. We have sort of ‘adopted’ one stretch of lakeshore, and so we were curious what we would find after our cleanup in November.

Sadly, there was all sorts of new plastic strewn about, but most of the kids rolled up their sleeves and got right to work. We were joined by some guys from a group called Sprouts, a local NGO dedicated to attacking various environmental problems around Bombay while educating people about these issues. They were extraordinarily enthusiastic and a lot of fun to clean up garbage with!

The most incredible “teaching moment” came, however, at the tail end of all our efforts. We were wrapping up, discussing as a group the day’s events, in front of 35 dripping bags full of stinky plastic and garbage pulled from the lake, when a motorcycle roared up behind us. A man, woman, and little girl got off, walked around us, went to the lake, took out a plastic bag full of garbage, and dumped it in.

The kids were horrified and the adults were livid. The guys from Sprouts read the man the riot act, my cooperating teacher told him that apparently she loved his country more than he did, and the students simply looked on in shock. He mumbled something about ‘returning nature to nature,’ but when we pointed out that the plastic didn’t belong there at all, he sheepishly shrugged his shoulders and bobbled his head. But at least he did pick up his trash and put it in the nearby bin.

What a poignant reminder of just how big the job is here in India. People talk about ‘the white man’s burden,’ but in this case I really have a tough time understanding any other way to get the point across other than by throttling the population here and shouting, “Stopping throwing all this crap all over your own country!!”

Phew.

But on a more positive note, I do have to say that I am so incredibly proud of Alea. She was the single most hardest working person out there, getting all muddy and sweaty, leading by example, and really just making my heart swell with love and pride. Her efforts were commented on by her peers as well as the adults, and it was just a joy to see her out there, working so hard for the sheer pleasure of doing good.

So on the way home, I bought her a Baskin Robbins Oreo shake!!

Free Verse Friday – Ode to the varieties of Indian stomach ailments

I have been neglectful in Free Verse Friday lately, so in honor of this week’s Caf-ASB, here is my ode to various regional stomach ailments:

Here in Mumbai, we sometimes get food sick
From restaurant, kitchen, or picnic.
The belly distends
Kicks out waste from both ends
Accompanied by internal music.

This year’s not been really all too rough
We’ve only had one round of that stuff
But with watery stomachs
And quivery buttocks
I swear once is more than enough.

The first hint is often quite bitter
A bubbling that shouts out “Don’t fritter!
You’ve no time to wait
You’d better go straight
And plop yourself down on the… toilet!”

But one thing we’ve noticed in three years
Is a pattern that constantly reappears:
The BMs reflect
The vacations they’ve wrecked
Like a matched set of runny brown souvenirs.

Our first trip, in a hotel so smelly
Alea’s tummy got sick from some jelly
In India’s heart
Ruined trip from the start:
An authentic case of real Delhi Belly.

The second time, as you will soon see-a
Was based on the self same idea
Poor Breck took the throne
In our very own home:
Struck down by Mubaiarrhea.

Dave’s ill was not like his daughter’s
But still was a set of the trotters.
Eating Cochinese shrimp
On his trip, put a crimp:
He sailed down the Kerala Backwaters.

Our last trip involved the ole poop pots
When we went to see Indian hot spots
In the desert a-cruisin’
The ailment caught Susan
And she got the Jodhpur Camel Trots

We’ve suffered on hikes, boats, and car rides
Strange stuff coming out of our backsides:
From Goan Groanin’ sick
To Jaipur Diaper ick
To colossal Himalayan Mudslides.

Pondicherry Derri-airy, Bangalore Blasts
Hyderabad Hot Squirts, Taj Mahal Gas
The Rajasthan Runs
Of course, Mysore Bum
The Calcutta Quick Step and Amritsar Ass.

Now, don’t think our stories pure unkind
We’ve usually had a real good time.
We remember our trips
Not by what we take with
Butt rather, what we’ve left behind!