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roaming the world and enjoying the scenery...

The holidays are here

This week marks the beginning of the big party season in Mumbai. Ramadan begins tomorrow, so all the Muslims are gearing up for a month of daytime fasting and nighttime feasting. There is a large Islamic enclave clustered around a huge mosque somewhat near our house (on our route to school), so it will be pleasant to see the green and white flags festooning all the buildings in that quarter.

The really big draw, however, is the upcoming celebration of the Hindu god Ganesh. The Ganesha Chaturthi is one of Mumbai’s biggest holidays. He is considered in some ways the patron saint of the city, and many people and neighborhoods go out of their way to celebrate him. In a nutshell, he is invited into devotees’ houses to bestow blessings for a set period of time, and then – just as any honored guest eventually leaves – he is ushered out with great fanfare (carrying all the worshippers’ worries and cares) and immersed in water. As the idols were originally made of easily-distintegrateable mud, the entire process also echoed the birth-rebirth cycle.

A large elephant getting ready to greet the god Ganesh

A large elephant getting ready to greet the god Ganesh

This is easily the most colorfully fantastic of the holidays,as each neighborhood tries to outdo the other in the sheer size and spectacle of their pandal, or temporary temple, and idol that is prayed to, sung at, and eventually set out into the water. I’m sure that Mumbai’s proximity to the sea has a great deal to do with the popularity of the event here, and the city’s reputation for ‘living large’ is certainly well earned at this time. Going downtown just this past week, we caught a glimpse of some ginormous elephants guarding the doors of an elaborate shrine.

We had the chance last year to attend a family celebration last year, and are looking forward to seeing the city all swaddled in lights and elephants again!

(ps: the pictures from our latest trip to FRRO – the first webpage addition of our seond year in India – are now posted!)

Festival of Nations, Parade of Nations, and Spring Break

Stars and Stripes Stutz family!Today is the big Parade of Nations (PON), not to be confused with yesterday’s Festival of Nations (FON). As a huge international school, we make quite a big deal over celebrating the national diversity roaming our halls. Looking at the setup statistics for the events today, there are students from 51 different countries walking the halls here out of a population of around 660!

Every year, there are performances by different groups from different countries as well as a parade that everyone participates in. On this day, we all dress up in national costumes of colors – hence the Stars and Stripes Stutz family in the picture!

The performances were really great, and – while there wasn’t time to make them into descriptive webpages – you can see some of the pictures in this folder. The webpages will get worked on in a few weeks, since…

Our spring break starts this weekend, and so we are zipping right off after school. We are heading to southern India, an area called Kerala (care’-uh-luh), where we plan on doing some sightseeing, some backwater boat riding, and some beach bumming. We won’t be back until Monday night (school starts on Tuesday April 8), so don’t look for any sort of updates until well into that week. We’ll miss No Horn Day on the 7th, but I guess we can live with that!

Have a great week (and a super April Fools Day).

Easter in India, 2008

Indian Easter EggsObviously a bit different than in years past!

While some things are pretty consistent from year to year (like my NCAA brackets falling apart before the end of the second round), our holiday patterns are wonderfully varied. This year we got to experience a true mashup of cultures, as a big Hindu celebration coincided with the Easter festivities.

Check out what was going on yesterday in the previous post (Holy Holi, Batman!) and then zip on over to the webpage to see other pictures from the weekend. We were just all over the place (and with Susan being a bit under the weather as well).

After all this, time to sigh in relief. One more week  – a crazy week nonetheless with a big Festival of Nations celebration at the school – and then we are off to Kerala!!

Holy Holi, Batman!

Holi in MumbaiWhat a rookie mistake. You’d think that after 38 years of life and more than 6 months in Mumbai I would have learned my lesson.

I made the number one error that expats living in India simply cannot afford to make: I left the house without a camera. Inexcusable, especially given that I knew it was a holiday, and a holiday that would be colorful and peopleful and photographableful.

Let me explain, if not excuse.

Today is Holi, an Indian holiday that is pretty much right in line with Easter (which is tomorrow). It is not like Easter in terms of Jesus being crucified and then coming back to life, but rather in the sense that it is built on the idea of an agricultural theme: death and rebirth and all that. Holi celebrates the coming of the spring season and the ‘recoloring’ of the countryside as plants sprout and grow. To celebrate the occasion, Indians spend the morning spraying each other with colored water, throwing water balloons filled with paint, and generally turning friends, acquaintances, and strangers into walking tie-dyes.

We – being a bit worried about some of the stories we’d heard about unsafe dyes and dangerous chemicals – decided to forgo the celebrations (and actually spent the morning engaging in our own, Western, take on the idea of paint celebrating the spring – we colored Easter eggs!). But this afternoon, Breck had been invited to a birthday party, so he and I had to head out in a rickshaw to “The Club” located in a suburb north of us.

Now Breck (and Alea) have been really funny lately about Susan and me taking pictures, and that is the only possible rationalization for what I did. I had everything all set up – battery charged, card cleared, bag packed – and then, like a total fool, decided not to bring the camera along. I didn’t forget it, I just didn’t bring it.

Holi in MumbaiWe went out, and before we even got into a rick, I realized that I had made a mistake of colossal proportions. People were all over the place, simply covered head to foot in pink, blue, purple, yellow, green, silver: every color imaginable. As we made our way north, we passed motorcycles full of painted families, rickshaws jammed with smiling kids, the streets teeming with colorful Indians. They would smile and wave at Breck and me, just happy to be out and about with the fresh paint dripping everywhere. And I had gone out without a camera.

By the time we got to the club, I was literally sick to my stomach. Not only had we passed incredible sights along the way, but I knew that I was stuck at the birthday party all afternoon: everything would be over by the time we got home. Talk about a wasted opportunity – unbelievable. I called Susan and managed to convince her to go out and take some pictures. She wasn’t too excited about doing so and so only went out around the block near our house (which is not a hotbed of activity by any means). But she did get a few shots, and those are what you see here.

I am glad that she did go out, and of course she tries to soothe my self-anger with, “Oh well, you can always take pictures next year.” Unfortunately, next year Holi is on Wednesday, a work day, not Saturday. I am simply disgusted with myself for going so far against my better judgment and letting such an almost once in a lifetime opportunity slip away. If you are in India on Holi, do not under any circumstances go out without your camera. You will hate yourself in the morning.

Horn Not OK on April 7th in Mumbai

traffic1.jpgWith all the racket and traffic, the city fathers have decided that a day of quiet is just what the doctor ordered. April 7th is being orchestrated as No Horn Day in Mumbai. I’ll believe it when I see (hear) it. There is no way typical Indian drivers are going to lay off the horn – it is just too crazy to deal with cars, rickshaws, bikes, motorcycles, buses, trucks, horses, cows, dogs, pedestrians, beggars, sellers, sweepers, potholes, construction: all while driving on the wrong side of the road!!

For a sample of what the horns in India sound like, follow this link to listen. This is an .mp3 of a .wav file originally from the Free Sound Project.

Fireworks and kites

Firecrackers in DelhiEvery Indian holiday requires fireworks, and every god has a holiday, some of which stretch over several days. Since – not counting Jesus and Allah – there are about 300 gods in the Hindu pantheon, pretty much every day around here lends itself to an excuse to set off loud noisemakers or hire a drum band in the name of religion. (And whatever days are left over, chances are there’ll be a sporting event, political rally, or birthday party to pick up the slack.)

The fireworks that are available are pretty incredible – we’ve seen enormous displays going off from the streets and rooftops around us. There are multirocket packs that you can buy that set off exploding rockets for 20 minutes – just light and leave. The firecracker packs are huge, loud, and cheap. Of course, they’re not always very safe. There are news stories nearly every day about people (kids) hurt, blinded, and killed by them. 

Of course, I would never think of doing anything irresponsible with fireworks. But in case anyone asks, remember that the Rambo brand firecrackers go off instantaneously and will burn your hand badly unless you lay a lit incense stick across the fuse, run away, and wait for it to burn down to the firework fuse and set it off. In case you were wondering.

Kites for saleSpeaking of irresponsibility, Tuesday was the big kite flying day around the country. While not really as popular in Mumbai – since there are buildings and that sort of thing that block most of the open air space – in many of the smaller towns, the holiday of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan is a huge deal. It is a celebration of the day the sun supposedly begins to travel back north (I had always been taught that this day is December 22, the day after the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, but it is marked on January 14 here. Who knew that the laws of solar movement differed from country to country?).

People fly kites using strings coated with powdered glass and try to cut each others’ strings. If you read the book “The Kite Runner” you know what I’m talking about. Apparently numerous birds are injured or killed every year, both during the festival itself and in the weeks following it as the strings caught in trees or power lines continue to ensnarl them. Birds’ wings get cut open, their feet get sliced off, and they get wrapped up and bleed to death. Animal rights groups are not too excited about all this.

Even worse, Wednesday’s papers were full of articles about all the people who were killed due to the festival. The causes of death ranged from kite flyers who fell off their roofs, kids getting electrocuted retrieving kites from power lines, people chasing kites and getting smacked by cars, buses, or trains, and innocent bystanders driving down the road on motorcycles and having their throats slit by the sharpened string (actually, decapitated was the word used in several news stories).

Yee haw.

Happy Halloween!

Stutz family at Halloween 2007So here it is, one day after our Diwali shindig, and we had the big Halloween get together. (You can bet the kids are just going nuts at school with all the parties, candy, days off, and break coming up.) We had a trick or treating night at our apartment building, and all staff kids were invited to go up and down the stairs, knocking on all the doors and getting tons of candy. There were even ‘adult treats’ being cracked open in one of the apartments.

A few more pictures of the evening are posted here.

Breck and Alea did pretty well, and held their own in the trading sessions that followed. I was pretty excited to see that someone had even gotten ahold of Reese’s somehow, and so I made sure to ‘encourage’ them to trade for those!!

Susan the pirate picked up the same cold that Breck and Alea had, and so she stayed for a bit as the pirate greeting the kids, but then she did make her way around to give holiday greetings to all. She was not feeling any better this morning, but still decided to come in to school, but was not sure if she would make it all day. (I find it amusing that our driver has the day off on Thursdays, and that is the day of the week that everyone in our family has been the sickest!) Hopefully she’ll be feeling better by this weekend!