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Schoolpix through the years

We’ve had a tradition of taking a “first day of school” and “last day of school” picture of the kids through the years, and it has been really fun to watch them grow up. Here are the shots, taken in Serbia, the US, India, and Indonesia over the past 12 years:

 

Black and White photos

A friend of ours from Mumbai recently foisted one of those Facebook “challenges” on me the other day to post a black and white photo 5 days in a row.

Now, I do have to make a confession: I think black and white is kinda cheesy and a cop-out. Just let me explain.

  • First of all, who shoots in black and white? In the olden days, when there was only black and white film, that was one thing. But once there was color film – and especially since we now shoot digitally – why, oh why in the world would anyone choose to shoot in black and white? You can always change color to b/w in processing, but if you take a picture without the color information, you can’t get it back. So to my way of thinking, anyone who takes pictures in b/w is just being silly for whatever reason.
  • Secondly, I think it is a lot easier to mess around with a black and white picture, adjusting things here and there, than it is with color. You don’t have to worry about one hue being too garish or not seeing the one little stripe of really pretty pink: there are no colors! Just jack up the contrast or whatever, and voilà – you have a picture. So it seems a far lesser challenge to get a black and white photo ‘right.’
  • And that brings me to the third reason: ANY FREAKING PICTURE YOU PRINT IN BLACK AND WHITE AUTOMATICALLY LOOKS ARTSY!! It doesn’t have to be a good picture – just change it to black and white, blow it up real big, and hang it on the wall as a piece of Serious Art. I guarantee you people will walk up to it, hand on chin, and say “hmmmmm” like it is something by a Renaissance master.

OK – enough of that. Here are the pictures I posted with the story of each:

Eastern Montana grain elevators

Here’s a black and white shot of a sleepy little eastern Montana town, taken during my journey to our Helen cabin this past summer.

Cambodian boat repairer

We came across this old man repairing a boat in the Four Thousand Islands region of Cambodia last year. I thought the lighting was pretty cool.

Rain on upside-down leaf.

From yesterday’s rainstorm, here is black and white photo #3. We had a tree blow down in the back yard, and this is a shot of the water droplets on an overturned leaf.

Women washing in Mumbai.

This is a Thanksgiving-related post for black and white photo #4. In 2008, we lived in Mumbai, and Breck and I planned to use the holiday to explore the new elevated walking path running over some local slums down to the train station. When the news broke of the terrorist attacks downtown, however, all plans changed, and we stayed at home for the next few days.
We didn’t take our walk for more than another year, but during the last week of school in 2010, we finally did. This is a shot from above of some women washing clothes in the offspill from city water pipes.

Omani camel races

You seriously are missing out if you have never attended camel races in Oman. I’d even match them up against the Indonesian Pacu Jawi event.
We were way out in the middle of nowhere, and to see these animals thundering down the dry canal was something else. I love the way the one guy is holding onto his turban! We were the only non-Omanis there, and once again had a pretty special experience as a family.

3 Articles: India, Law, and Technology

I don’t usually get way into recommending online articles, but this week three very different pieces grabbed my attention. These have been hashed and discussed in various social media forums, but I found each of them powerful enough that I thought I’d re-point-them-out.

The first addressed something that we’ve definitely seen in our time here in India -the hugely growing power of the Indian middle class. At every single tourist destination that we’ve visited, there have been more Indian tourists than westerners. And while that really should not come as a surprise (after all, locals by rights should make up the majority of tourists everywhere in the world – they’ve got a shorter commute!), it certainly was not the case when we lived in Pakistan years and years ago. Then, anyone with money went to Europe for vacation, and anyone with no money didn’t travel at all.

The second article came to my attention via a Facebook “discussion” that a couple of people were having regarding the arrest of the IMF head on sexual assault charges. One noted that he was absolutely a real sleazeball (I’m paraphrasing here), and the other countered that anyone arrested should be considered innocent until proven guilty. It is interesting to look at how views on the treatment of the accused differs from continent to continent, and how what we might consider “normal” treatment might cause those from a different legal background to recoil in shock.

And the third hits square into the internet culture that seems to have taken over so many facets of our lives. It is a TED talk, an institution of which I was not aware until we started holding them last year at ASB, looking at electronic “gatekeepers,” the present-day effects, and the long-term implications. It is a ten-minute watch, but well worth it as a thought-provoker:

Return from Rajasthan

And we’re home again from another week in the hinterland. For our last big vacation in India, we revisited Jodhpur and Udaipur, while introducing ourselves to Jaisamler, the Jain temple at Ranakpur, and the huge fort at Kumbhalgarh.

During that time, India won the cricket world cup, an Indian activist started and ended his hunger strike, and the festival of Gangaur took place. Granted, we didn’t know too much about the hunger strike bit, but we sure had first hand knowledge of the cricket tournament and the festival!

We will – inshallah – get many pictures and travelogue bit added to the webpage, but I’ll just post a few here for the time being. There is a whole album on Facebook which anyone can access, so you can see a few more shots there.

Now it is time to settle in for the home stretch!

Bishnoi

A simple word meaning “29,” the Bishnoi are a tribe that lives in Rajasthan, scratching out a living from the desert (and often working as long haul truchdrivers).

We visited a household during our spring break trip last year, and the pictures (and travelogue) are now posted.

Enjoy!

Free verse Friday – Shaving in the Street

Just a look at a roadside barber shop today:

Men all have beards that grow each day
so they should shave them off, you see.
Since no water’s where most Indians stay
This barber looks out for you and me.

He sets up shop in the local streets
next to the tea and rickshaw stands
and using what he can find for seats
He goes to work with his two hands.

A bucket of water, lathered suds,
a brand new straight-edge blade
are all he needs to serve his buds
and ensure his income’s made.

A shave, hair cut, and head massage too
Check look in mirror hanging down.
Amazing what the locals can do
In this topsy-turvy town!

This isn’t the place that I go – I just took the picture from our school bus one day. Next time I go to get a haircut, though, I will bring that camera and document that adventure. Have a great weekend!

Happy Birthday, Breck!

Even though today was a day off from school (due to India’s biggest holiday – Republic Day), we were all awakened early in the morning. He claimed that he “wasn’t really trying to make too much noise,” but Breck was pretty impatient to get his birthday started!

We’d brought out some presents the night before, so he knew that there was (probably) some good stuff waiting..
He was totally excited about the new Star Wars Lego set that he got!
But the thing that got his (stomach) juices really flowing? Good old American junk food – that bag of chips costs 6 bucks, so it is a real once-a-year treat.

Heading downtown

No BullNew pictures on the webpage from our trip downtown last weekend to visit the Prince of Wales museum (I mean, of course, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya as it has been renamed).

We had a blast and saw some sights, but for me one of the most enduring images is the one that greeted us as we made our way towards Mumbai’s newest engineering miracle.

How far along in its journey from being an emergent third world country does a nation have to be to explicitly ban oxen pulled carts from the freeways?

Getting there is half the, ahem, fun

Susan after traveling in IndiaWe are back from our long weekend trip to the beach – sunburned and wind swept. It was one of those breaks that ended up being just a bit more stressful than planned, and thus probably subtracted from our overall relaxation quotient rather than adding to it.

In a nutshell, what we had decided to try as a ‘short, easy to do on a weekend from Mumbai’ getaway dissolved into a trek that involved an hour taxi ride, an hour ferry ride, a 45 minute bus ride, and a 2 hour rickshaw ride – not counting connections – both coming and going. Coupled with a number of “Indian moments,” then, the overall report on the adventure was not overly positive (Breck called for a vote on the way back of who wanted to never go back to Alibag, and it was 3-0 with one abstention).

Ahh, tears and curses and scoffs and scowls: that’s what a family vacation is all about.

But on the other hand, we certainly feel blessed enough to be able to take these vacations with each other. Obviously people got a glimpse into the rougher side of Mumbai life in Slumdog Millionaire, but our community got another sudden jolt of reality that hit even closer to home.

One of our students died last week as a result of a tumor. The disease revealed itself just last year and worked its way quickly through the young man’s brain, so we are all sobered by the capriciousness of life. Our hearts go out to his family – his dad and I coached Breck’s soccer team this fall, the same team that his younger brother was on. We can complain about our personal circumstances – but in the end we must consider ourselves lucky that we keep experiencing them.

Love is a battlefield

Pink Chaddi PosterAt least it is in India. Valentine’s day has become a major cultural flashpoint here, as modern holidays clash with ancient traditions. Decrying the Western notions of amorous love and displays of affection, Hindu nationalist groups have threatened to raze shops that sell Valentine’s day gifts and beat up couples holding hands today.

While it may seem like a pretty innocuous holiday about which to raise a fuss, tensions in the major cities have been running a bit higher than normal lately due to a recent event in southern India. A group of men beat up women who were in a pub, calling them un-Indian for engaging in behavior that was as deviant as having a drink in public and dancing with men.

As an example of some of the thought processes at play, here is part of an actual comment about a Valentine’s Day news piece (from the article linked below):

There is conspiracy plotted by jehadis and christian church and have openly asked men to lure hindu girls whenever they can and after marriage convert them to their religion and have as many children as possible to increase the head count. Valentine Day is just another invention by christian church agents to lure and trap hindu girls.

Tempers have flared on all sides, and V-Day (as it is referred to here) has become a central theme. Some groups want to ban it as an indicator of a moral slide brought on by the abandonment of traditional values, while others want to elevate it as an indicator of India’s emerging acceptance of and presence on the world stage. Because of all this, we awoke to a news paper declaring that all police vacations had been canceled and the city would be on high alert all weekend.

Of course, an event like this takes on a life of its own, and a self proclaimed “Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women” has declared war on groups that attack women. They have started a campaign to send pink panties to the headquarters of the Sri Ram Sene, the organization behind the pub violence. There has been enough success thus far to earn the attention of local papers (check out the comment wars on this one) as well as the New York Times, so it will be interesting to see if this manages to get the Hindu groups’ “panties in a bundle.”

STDs

One of the things I love about India is that STDs are very easy to get, and they only cost 2 rupees. At 50 rupees to the dollar, that is about 4 cents.

STDs

Of course, STD here means something very different that an STD in the States – Subscriber Trunk Dialing – they are public telephones scattered all over the country in little kiosks or shacks.

But still – kind of funny to see when we’re walking down the road!

Thanksgiving under siege

Today is the day that we are celebrating Thanksgiving in Mumbai. Before the events of the last two days, our schedule was such that the kids had a half day on Thursday and we were all off on Friday. Obviously many plans for the holiday have been scrapped (such as the full-blown Thanksgiving dinner – at $70 a plate – that was to take place at the Taj hotel). Teachers had several smaller events set up, including an all-apartment potluck here in Kiara that still took place, but pretty much anything that involves leaving one’s home has been called off.

Today’s news has been such a combination of pronouncements that are at odds with each other that there is no real way to know what is going on. We’ve heard alternately that first one, then the other hotel is cleared, and then see reports of new gunfights and explosions. As I write this in the early evening, we really don’t know the status of events, except that things are not cleared up.

One of the more ‘in your face’ reminders of what is going on are intermittent security warnings we receive via email from the US consulate. As the terrorist situation is still ongoing, what sometimes seem to be over-the-top paranoid pronouncements appear a little more grounded in reality. Excerpts from the alerts:

TERROR ATTACKS IN MUMBAI

Terrorists attacked two hotels, a railway station, restaurant, hospital, and other locations in Mumbai frequented by Westerners on November 26.  Over 100 persons are believed to have been killed, and hundreds injured.  Gunfire continues between terrorists and police at several locations in Mumbai.  Some of the casualties are foreigners, and Americans appear to have been among those specifically targeted.

Due to the fluid situation in Mumbai, Americans are urged to defer travel to Mumbai for at least the next 48-72 hours.  Those currently in Mumbai are asked to take shelter at their current location and contact family and friends. 

U.S. citizens should exercise caution and take prudent security measures, including maintaining a high level of vigilance, avoiding crowds and demonstrations, keeping a low profile, varying times and routes for all travel, and ensuring travel documents are current.

Americans are advised to monitor local news reports and consider the level of security present when visiting public places, including religious sites, or hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues.  If unattended packages are spotted, American citizens should immediately exit the area and report the packages to authorities.

We had a quiet morning, chatting a bit online and reading all the notes that family and friends have sent us. The outpouring of concern has been humbling, and on this day of thanks we are again reminded of just how blessed we are. While we are nervous about what’s going on, about the best that can be said is that we’re not scared. The kids are handling things well – happy to have an extra day off from school.

Our Thanksgiving celebration was doubly special, in that we were able to celebrate old and new friends with joy as well as somberly look at how recent events will continue to impact us for some time to come. We certainly ate well with flavors from all over the world: treats ranging from roasted chicken to candied yams to hot ‘n spicy burritos to fried bananas and cheese to ice cream on fig biscuits. Even though the ongoing situation did come up quite often, it was also fun to simply sit around and chat about things as silly as the multicolored poops that are currently descending from our fish (truly, that was a topic of conversation. Think I could just make something like that up?).

I just hope that news from the community is all pleasant when this is wrapped up: there are so many kids and families at our school who work at or are affiliated with the hotels affected, and word still is not back on everyone’s safety. In fact, the parents of one of the students I teach went out to dinner at the Oberoi hotel on Wednesday night and have not been heard from since.

Hug your families and count your blessings. Happy Thanksgiving from India.

A (safe and quiet) day at home

We’ve holed up today – among the residents of the apartments, there have been kid play sessions, board game marathons, movie screenings, bread baking-and-tasting exchanges, and swimming in the little pool outside. The news has been depressingly non-ending: over a hundred dead, with twice that number injured and an unknown number still being held.

Map of the event locations in Mumbai created by Uncle Rob

As I write this there are still hostages in two of the main hotels and a Jewish center. It looks like things will heat up after dark, and we can only hope that further bloodshed will be avoided. We’ve had several communications from the school, and there is apparently at least one school family that still is missing somebody in one of the hotels (the Taj, which we just visited at the start of this year).

I did make a quick trip out this morning to get some cash (it is payday for our maid, and I thought it prudent to get some extra money as well), and I was getting some ‘interesting’ looks from people. Maybe I was just being overly paranoid, but I felt like folks on the street were paying a little more attention to me than usual. Susan went out to get Diet Coke (her way of coping) this afternoon, and reported that lots of shops are closed and that she got looks as well. We are not under lockdown like the downtown area is, but you certainly know that things are not normal…

In any case, we are planning on staying home tonight, and all plans for the weekend – which included Breck and I walking a new skywalk that is in our neighborhood as well as a mini Formula 1 race along the seashore – are off. We’ll have a barbecue on the roof tonight, and swap stories with people, but things are looking pretty mellow. Oh well – I got all the grading done today that I had successfully procrastinated yesterday. Now I suppose I should do some more work on the webpage.

Thanks so much to all who sent us updates, prayers, thoughts, and wishes today. We have ‘felt the love’ and appreciate all the notes. We will continue to post info here – of course, the best adage in our situation is ‘no news is good news.’ We are safe, we are out of the strike zone (see the map above that Uncle Rob created for the family), and if boredom is our greatest threat this weekend then more power to us.

Happy Thanksgiving to all – and you can bet we’ll be mulling over our “What are you thankful for this year” choices this year.

We are ok

Good morning – it is early here, and we just got the proverbial 3am call from one of the school principals about today’s attacks in Mumbai. We are fine, the events took place downtown – far away from us. School is cancelled tomorrow (today); at this point all we know is what we can read in the news – thank goodness for the internet!

We’ll post more info when we know it…

Mangrove mania

As part of our school mission, ASB is in the process of developing relationships with various non-governmental agencies (NGOs) in Mumbai. There are certainly many areas where we have the opportunity to “enhance the lives of others” in this sprawling city, and in the middle school we’ve targeted three sectors for the different grade levels: 6th grade focuses on animal welfare, 7th grade on the environment, and 8th grade on education.

This past Friday was our first full day of working with the various groups, and both Dave and Alea had the chance to go ‘into the field’ to get some hands on experience. Alea’s group went to an animal shelter affiliated with the one we visited in Udaipur at the end of October (sigh – those pages are still not created or posted. Patience, patience) where they got a crash course in some of the issues and treatment options for city animals at risk. (Rumor has it that she also fell in love with a beautiful black kitten, which Susan will not let her bring home.)

Dave’s 7th grade class went to visit a patch of mangroves on the eastern side of the city. Mangroves are trees that grow in brackish water, where outflowing rivers and streams meet the sea and get ‘backflooded’ when the tides rise. Providing shelter for many types of sea and land life, protecting coastlines from erosion, and scrubbing a disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide out of the air, these important coastal features are threatened by development. Most of the original groves around Mumbai have been destroyed, and construction by both the fabulously wealthy (who want seaside views and golf courses) and the desperately poor (who want shantytown shelter in any place they can find it) continues to this day.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to working to halt the encroachment of population centers on the mangroves, and our school has partnered with the Mangrove Society of India, which works in Mumbai to explore the issue. With Rishi Aggarwaal as our guide and mentor, we headed to the mangrove sanctuary sponsored by Godrej, a manufacturing company that has set aside a huge swath of land outside their factories.

Lionfish with kids in the backgroundThe kids spent some time learning about the mangroves and their importance, seeing some of the different fish that make their home or spawn there (including the cool-looking but deadly lionfish), and going to a local school that runs a mangrove awareness program. It was quite an experience (despite getting devoured by mosquitoes!) that we look forward to building on when we return later in the year. We’ll probably get more engaged in “doing” things in the mangroves – this trip was more of a getting acquainted with the issues visit.

Of course, ask any of the kids for the highlight of the day, and getting into the mud would be your hands (or feet) down winner! The kids schlopped and schlepped through the thick goo, and anyone who did not have shoes that went over the ankle became a prime candidate for being a shoe-loser. Few things in life are more fun than a school day that includes playing in the mud!!

India’s reaction to Obama

As mentioned earlier, the mood around the school as the election returns came in was ecstatic, to say the least. Apparently this was not a localized feeling; because Breck is home sick this morning and I am staying with him (and he is still sleeping and I’m reading the paper) and I have a few quiet moments to do this, I present to you some quotes from the front page of the Times of India:

Headline: Dark Knight in White House

Subheadline: Rosa Parks had to sit for Martin Luther King to march. King had to march for Barack Obama to run. Obama had to run for our children to fly.

First paragraph: Millions of Americans woke up on Wednesday in joyous disbelief. Barack Obama won, but the real victor was America. The planet’s loved but often reviled nation upheld the noble ideals of its founding fathers on Tuesday by electing a mixed-race African-American as its 44th President, redeeming itself in the eyes of the world and its own people.

Last paragraphs (of another piece): Barack Obama’s victory is our victory, the triumph of the human race. This, we can tell ourselves rightly, is what we are capable of: a moment of unprejudiced perfection. All of us can share it, all of us can exult in it.

But only Americans own it; only Americans can actually understand it. They have lifted the son of slaves to the most powerful position on Earth.

Do you think this is possible in India?

Really? When were you last nice to your servant?

Another Goa-round

While not as extensively documented as our last visit to the beach state, our new Goa pages are now posted. In honor of the fact that today is an election day, we publish below a shocking photo of just the kind of crazy goings-on for which Goa is famous. As the lady on the right seems to be saying, “What in the world is happening here?!!”

No more horsing around

Aaahh. Back from a splendid week in Udaipur – a great city that seems to have missed out on a lot of ‘buzz’ at our school. We will certainly be talking about it with colleagues from now on, and a future trip could certainly be in the cards.

Despite the travel traumas inflicted by Indian Airlines (note to all – NEVER USE THEM!! We tried giving a second chance following the summer flight debacle, but two rescheduled flights later – rescheduled to different days, not just different times – our patience limit has been met), we had a very soul-rejuvenating and restful break. We spent a night in the city, two on a horse ranch, two at a country house, and one more in the city, and were just pleased as punch with the change in pace from Mumbai. It was quiet (aside from the Diwali fireworks) and low-key (aside from the Diwali lights) and uncrowded (aside from the Diwali tourists, many of whom were European): everything we wanted on a break.

The city itself is beautiful – set on a series of manmade lakes inside a ring of mountains. The locals have no problem reminding all who visit about how Udaipur is the setting for the James Bond movie Octopussy, and the fabulous palaces and royal residences make a great counter point to the pastel-colored houses. There is quite a bustling tourist trade here, but the shops and sellers were never overbearing; the atmosphere was exotic rather than annoying!

We will certainly add pictures and commentary to the webpage in the future (one of the missing pages mentioned in the previous post!), but for now this is just a notice that we are home safe and sound.

As for what we missed this past week – congratulations to the Phillies, Happy Halloween, and don’t forget to vote!!

Diwali celebrations

Our school held its observation/celebration of Diwali yesterday, and the entire campus was decorated in colors, flowers, and streamers. Our family was no exception, as we put on our finest Indian gear and posed around the rangoli that graced the cafeteria floor.

The holiday itself is not for another few weeks, but with the middle and high school basically emptying out next week for the week without walls trips and everyone leaving the next week for the Diwali break, we all got an early start on the holiday.

Shops around town are just starting to gear up – stringing lights, putting candles on sale, getting lanterns out for people to see – so for once I feel ‘ahead of the curve.’ We are headed to Udaipur for the the real holiday, so we’ll let everyone know how they celebrate it in Rajasthan!

But for now, zip on over to our regular webpage to see more images from the kids, the activities, and the sights of the day.

A four day weekend

Always a cause for celebration. We were so darn excited about the break – we packed ourselves off and headed to the beaches of Goa. It was a pretty funny sight at five o’clock in the morning in the airport: it seemed to us that 80% of the school’s population was doing the exact same thing as we were. Since local airlines, in their infinite wisdom, only schedule departures for Goa at 4 in the afternoon and 5 in the morning, we were all on the same flights together.

But Goa has quite a number of different areas and different beaches, and so we all split up and went our separate ways – with the Stutz family going back to Anjuna beach and the hotel we had so enjoyed before. We had told a couple who are new to Mumbai about the place we went last year, and they ended up staying there as well. Alea was a little worried about spending her vacation with her math teacher right next door, but we ended up having a lot of fun with them. We hung out with them for breakfasts, showed them around the beach a bit, ate dinner with them two nights, played in the water with the Mrs., and even had some laughs about the “Come look my shop” racket on the beach.

Alea actually had the roughest time out of all of us, though. In one morning, she forgot her glasses, bonked her chin and bit her tongue, got a fat lip from dad smacking her (accidentally!), and cut her foot open on some sharp rocks. She was a real trooper, however, and we all had some serious fun jumping into waves and body surfing. Breck had a super time petting all the cows and kittens he could find, and came up with some good beach-sitting humor (What kind of spice do the Eskimos like? Chilies!!).

We ran into some other teachers at a cafe Saturday afternoon, and they got a big kick out of all the bargaining I was doing for some shirts. In fact, I got an email from one of the guys this morning: There are 8 Goan woman standing outside waiting for you. They told security that they will sell you a shirt for 80 rs.” I told him that he can laugh all he wants, but now I have my “vacation shirts” for the next five years!!

We’ll certainly post up more pictures and descriptions when we get around to it. We have lots on the plate this week, as we get things ready for Oktoberfest this Saturday. We have one more normal week, then Alea and I take off for week without walls, and then we have another week off for Diwali break, during which we’ll head to Udaipur. Just to keep things all in perspective – that means the middle school has classes for exactly 9 days the entire month of October!

And yes, I know the Cubbies got swept. Just be quiet.

Nature in Matheran

Alea is getting ready for her first Week Without Walls trip, as the 6th graders gear up to visit Matheran. I went with them last year, but am accompanying the 7th grade to Durshet this time around, so she’ll be on her own (to mom’s chagrin).

When we were planning our school trip last year, a group of teachers went for a ‘recce’ (I guess that is short for ‘reconnoiter’) and we went as a family. We stayed at the hotel that the school uses, and got to spend the weekend exploring.

As I was cleaning out some papers today, I came across a ‘notebook entry’ that Breck had made on the way home from the trip (he wants everyone to know that he was in the car when he was writing it!). I figured that, in honor of Alea’s upcoming trip and in light of the fun times he described, I’d post his description of Nature in Matheran. You can certainly compare that with pictures from our trip and see how wonderfully accurate his writing is!

(what follows is the ‘translation’ of his note)

Nature in Matheran

Waterfalls, crabs, snakes, and iguana. In cliff clouds. Hike forest, monkeys on building. Lots of trees. Horses. Monkeys saw in woods.

Shaggy

No, not the Scooby Doo character, but rather the character of the post-monsoon growth. As the rains wind down, the city is pulling itself into the greenest hues of the entire year. Everywhere we look, grass is growing on fields that were dusty and rock-strewn last spring, the trees are full and hearty, and the plants look as strong as any we’d expect to see in a tropical zone.

But the moisture does have another side to it, as it encourages the growth of some not-so-desireable flora. We were warned to keep our closets open while we were gone, to prevent fungii from taking over our clothes. We did encounter a bit of mold on several items – we lost a pair of shoes, a bookbag,  and a wallet – but overall did ok. The most noticeable sign of the water’s effect around our home is actually on the outside of buildings all around us. There is an unavoidable black and green growth on many walls, giving the paint a mottled look – and causing much of it to bubble and warp off as well.

And that is where the title of this post originates. As we were coming home the other day, I was reminded of Breck’s description of Mumbai to his cousins over the summer: “Shaggy.” And with the long, hanging plant growth all over the ground and buildings, I can see his point. Shaggy – a great way to put it!

Dry Day

Ugh. Can you believe it? This is something that we’ve been dealing with since we arrived here, but have not gotten around to writing about – yet.

Talk about an inconvenient bureaucratic holdover, foisting moral decisions on an entire society. The different states in India, for whatever reason, have decided that certain days during the year should be “dry” – with no alcohol sales. The reasons for this decision are lost in obscurity, but the original logic can still be seen in the choices of the types of days set aside:

  • national holidays (alcohol prevents a proper patriotic mindset)
  • selected religious holidays (people should not drink themselves crazy in a religious fervor)
  • important peoples’ birthdays, such as Gandhi (out of respect for them)
  • official days of mourning (so the grievers don’t drink too much)
  • election days (so people don’t vote drunk)
  • vote counting days, 8 days after the elections (so people don’t count drunk)
  • other days as state officials see fit (just to keep us on our toes)

Of course, the big complaint among the masses is that having a dry day doesn’t really mean that people don’t drink, it just means that it is more difficult to buy alcohol on those days. So of course people still get drunk and drive (as the police found to their surprise), all the bootleggers (that’s still a term in use here) have a field day selling marked up booze, and most middle class people simply stock up in advance to get through the day.

Everyone seems to know when these dates are coming. Everyone, that is, except certain unnamed expats who, although they know about the generalities of the law, are not familiar with the specifics. It really is a bummer to not really know which days are dry and then get caught calling every wine and beer shop in the area to no avail. Luckily they have really cool neighbors who loaned them a few cold Fosters to tide them over through a wet and rainy stay-at-home afternoon!

If anyone knows where or how to get ahold of a calendar listing these dates (by month and number, NOT by the name of the holiday, like Anand Chaudash or Gandhi Jayanthi, which doesn’t help me at all), let me know. In India, as in the Boy Scouts, it is best to Be Prepared!

Elephanta Island and the Gateway of India

I write this on a soaking Sunday afternoon, as we hunker down under the onslaught of the monsoon. The rains should be finishing soon (in fact, they were done last year at this time), but today they are out in force. This evening is the final night in the Ganesh holiday, and I am curious as to how all the water will impact the immersion celebrations. Will the idols start ‘melting’ before they even reach the sea? We’ll have to find out later.

Thank goodness the scene was very different last Sunday. We had perfect weather for our trip to Elephanta Island: blue skies, a nice breeze, a little 10 minute downpour in the middle of the afternoon. I’m glad we didn’t go today!

The caves and associated sights (and events) provided us with a very pleasant day trip. We tried to get some shopping in as well, but came up short in that endeavor, as many places have been closing due to the Ganpati immersions. Oh well – next time! I did get down to Chor bazaar yesterday to pick up some stuff that will be delivered tomorrow, but that will have to wait for another post. For now, enjoy the pictures from Elephanta (and the Gateway of India).

Ganesh street parade

Since this is the time of year when the drums, firecrackers, pyrotechnics, and music all combine to give us a sleep-depriving evening cacophony, it is only fair to acknowledge that the visual feast rivals that of the aural treat.

For many of the 11 days between last Wednesday and next Sunday, worshippers of the Hindu god Ganesh march behind brightly lit and colorfully festooned idols, taking them to the seashore to immerse the statue and bid farewell to him after his yearly visit.

Our house, while not in any way on a main throroughfare for these trips – especially since we are far from downtown (where the really crazy action is) – does get a fair amout of noise from these processions during the course of the holiday. A small side street apparently acts as a shortcut of sorts, and the Ganesh devotees make their way through the very narrow walls at a snail’s pace.

The other evening, after an extended round of fireworks went off (just as we were putting the kids to bed, of course), I decided to grab the camera and head down. When I got to the street, the place was crazy crowded, with the masses swaying back and forth and chanting. I ran into one of my fellow Kiara residents there, and we were soon tapped on the shoulder by another couple who had come out.

The worshippers were very tolerant of us running around taking pictures (as many of them were also), but at the same time they had a very specific purpose for being out that evening and were not going to be distracted from it. We observed and followed the procession for several blocks, and then let it head off down the road, eventually to reach the beach.

More pictures and descriptions of all this activity are on our webpage. It also links over to other pages showing some of the street decorations as well as the Ganesh activities and rituals (including the immersion). Enjoy!