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roaming the world and enjoying the scenery...

Happy Teachers’ Day

Today is Teachers’ Day in India, and we were all welcomed with flower garlands (mala in Hindi) and little boxes of sweets as we entered the school grounds. Alea took a fun picture of Dave and Susan before the school day started!

The date for the holiday is actually derived from the birthday of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the second president of India. When he was approached for permission to celebrate his the date as a holiday, he reportedly responded that he would be more privileged if it was remembered instead as Teachers’ Day.

It has been a fun day – as the thunder rolls and rain pours outside, we have been treated to some food and drinks by the PTA as well as the occasional gift from a student. A perfect end to the work week, going into a full weekend. Breck has a sleepover planned, Alea is going swimming with a friend, and we are all going to Elephanta Island on Sunday. Fun!

Ganesh is back in town

Ganesh idol around the corner from our home  

The idols are all over Mumbai again, as Lord Ganesha makes his yearly visit to homes everywhere. Our school librarian put together a great little summary of the Ganesh story and the symbolism of the holiday. It is the most popular holiday around town, so it is handy to know what all the excitement is about.

Our corner of the city is no different. Just outside our house are strings of holiday lights hanging down over the street, and they lead up to the pandal that houses the neighborhood Ganesh. I went out for a walk last night just to see everything at night, and it was pretty spectacular. I have more pictures posted on the webpage with a little description of what was going on, so you can pop on over to see them.

I’m going to try to talk the family into taking a walk with me some evening – although now it is thundering and raining, so it might not be tonight!!

Eff-rick-in’ crazy!

As the last two evenings have been “Curriculum Night” at the school, Susan and I have been busy hopping to and from the school, giving our presentations and then putting on our ‘parent hat’ to sit in on the kids’ teachers.

Tonight, I had to get the kids home from school, get them all homeworked, get some food in them, and make sure everything was ok before going back to school to see Breck’s class presentation. Then, because Susan was still doing her spiel for another hour, I got to rush back home and put them to bed.

This doesn’t really sound like the sort of stuff that exciting evenings are made of, until you remember that this is in India – and all that transportation is done in rickshaws. That is not usually such a big deal, but today was different. I took three (four, really, as you’ll see) trips, and each had interesting and unique aspects about them:

Rickshaw #1 – As the kids and I were coming home from school, our driver spat out a big red stream of betel juice as we waited for the light to turn, which prompted Alea to mutter, “Gross.” Then Breck saw a hijra – what is often called a “eunuch” here: a man dressed up as a woman – begging at a corner and we had quite the discussion about them.

Rickshaw #2 – When I headed out to go back to the school, I realized that our elevator had broken in the building: 7 flights down (and no excitement about the return back up!). When I caught the rickshaw, things seemed to be going well, up until the point that we hit another rickshaw going through an intersection. As it was the first “accident” I’d been in, it was an interesting mess. Neither vehicle seemed to suffer too much damage, and the drivers pulled over, yelled at each other for a few minutes, and then proceeded on their ways. I suppose we were in need of a blessing, which is why a cow stuck its head inside at the next stoplight and licked my hand! That is another “never before” event for me.

Rickshaw #3 – After the school presentation, where I sat in the 4th grade room with the school superintendent and his wife, the associate superintendent, my principal, and the high school principal’s husband (along with many other parents), I hopped back in another rick to get home. This ride started with us sitting behind a delivery truck that had 2 men sitting in the back eating their dinner, which was followed by us getting involved in a yelling match with a rider in another rickshaw. We got stuck in traffic, and inched our way up to where a passenger was yelling and gesticulating and slapping his driver. The other driver was almost in tears, and my guy started yelling across at the passenger, and pretty soon the three of them were at each others’ throats. Mind you, this conversation was all in Marathi, which I don’t understand at all, so I’m only guessing here that it had something to do with the driver not going the direction the passenger wanted and now he was mad about being stuck in traffic.

Luckily for me, we got out of that situation when the rickshaw I was in stalled, and the driver couldn’t get it going. He pushed it for a while, fiddled around in the back, and finally looked at me with a shrug. Then when I tried to be a nice guy and pay him – even though we’d gotten barely halfway home – he started yelling at me to pay double the meter (something that is just not done!). That was not a pleasant way to start my walk down the road!

Rickshaw #4 – After having a couple of ricks not take me (either because they didn’t want to go in the direction of our home or because they didn’t understand what I was saying!), one picked me up. He had a couple of incense sticks burning and was about as mellow as they come. He deftly steered around the traffic jams, and got us on the right course. We ended up having to take a little detour, however, when we came across a huge hole in the road with literally a gushing river of water in it. It seemed to be a broken water main, and there were guys down there in the mud trying to scoop out oozing black sewer stuff with what looked like oversized dinner plate.

And then I made it to Kiara – just in time to walk all those stairs. Ahh, there’s no place like home!

Back in Bombay

I realize that we’ve been here for a few days, and many family members have already received emails, but this is just the official blogosphere notice that we got in safe and sound. It was a bit of a strenuous trip – that big ole 747 was really a big old 747, and the kids had to make do with no in-flight entertainment (and the parents hadn’t packed any toys or goodies, since our original flight booking had been on Delta, which does have the screens). We made a stop in London as well, which no one had told us was happening until after take off from Chicago, so that was another unexpected twist.

But we got in on time, all our luggage showed up, the school driver was ready and waiting, and our apartment was all set up – so we were glad to be home. This week has been a combination of getting over jet lag, seeing old colleagues, meeting new coworkers, and getting ready for school. All very exciting!

But now it is time to watch the Olympic opening ceremony – whoo hoo!!

Slip sliding away

Things you never consider before living in a place that has monsoons: after 8 months or so with no precipitation, the rains have a curious – though utterly predictable – effect on the roads here. That first little bit of moisture ‘brings up’ all the accumulated engine oil, axle grease, tire bits, and other assorted petroleum-based product debris that has accumulated on the asphalt. This creates a super slick skating rink on the surface over which all vehicles must pass.

There was the tiniest trace of a mist in the air this morning, and it made coming in to school a mess. Luckily our van driver is great and knew what was coming (and paid attention to the people on the side of the road waving at him to slow down), but coming over a hill we saw a dump truck that had slid completely around, a bus that skidded and shuddered from side to side as it was breaking, and several people walking motorcycles with freshly-broken side mirrors on them. Another teacher actually saw a motorcycle take a digger while going around a corner, but we just witnessed the aftermath.

There had hardly been enough precipitation to even qualify as ‘moisture,’ but the effects were certainly noticeable. I wonder what else will be in store as the weather patterns start to change. The news headlines this weekend were that the monsoon has hit Kerala (news story here), and Goa is starting to shut down as the rains approach. It won’t be too long now; the big question is whether it will start to pour here before we leave or not…

Breck meditating on the Kiara roof

Regardless of the rain’s plans, Breck intends on using every ounce of sunlight before we take off. He spent the afternoon soaking in the rays (while soaking in a tub) on the Kiara rooftop. What a fun way to enjoy the weather!

Fifth view of life in Bombay

Typical goods-hauling truck in Mumbai trafficThrough our first year here, we’ve posted a number of pages centered around things that we see in our daily life. As the school year is almost over, and we will be in the US for most of the break, this is the last page of pictures from India that we plan on uploading until August. We might have a post or 2 of wrap up from the year, but enjoy these last shots from this fascinating country.

In case you have missed any of the earlier pages, here are our imaginatively-named webpages in this particular genre:

Veg versus non-veg

Domino's Veg and Non-Veg stickersIndia is a vegetarian’s heaven. Besides all the fresh fruits and veggies that are available in the markets, at roadside stands, and in neighborhood carts, the idea of vegetarianism permeates the culture. Religiously, it makes sense. Since India welcomes all sorts of different faiths, including those that won’t eat beef (Hinduism), those that won’t eat pork (Islam and Judaism), those that don’t believe in killing any creatures at all (Jainism), and those that don’t prohibit meat but still kinda sorta recommend against eating dead animals (Buddhism), the easiest way to avoid any misunderstandings is to stick to a vegetarian path.

As such, all food that is packaged in any way is marked as either being ‘vegetarian’ or ‘non vegetarian’ with little green or red dots. Menus in restaurants (if the place isn’t billed as “Pure Veg” to begin with) always differentiate between vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Even McDonald’s has a completely separate Veg menu (including such favorites as the McVeggie, McAloo Tikka, Paneer Salsa Wrap, and Veg McCurry Pan).

Of course, this also means that meat dishes can be few and far between – as well as expensive. We bought 3 pork chops the other day (frozen, not at a restaurant) that cost 600 rupees: fifteen dollars!!! We have since found out that there are alternate places for meat shopping, but still! Our mainstay has become the ole chicken breast, but we’ll splurge every so often for some mutton (which is sometimes lamb and sometimes goat) and beef (which is really water buffalo). I try to talk the rest of the family into seafood as well, but there are few takers in that regard.

One of the craziest things is that the plain pepperoni pizza – nothing fancy at all – is usually the most expensive item on the menu at pizza places (Domino’s and Pizza Hut included, in addition to the home-grown stores). Oh, and as far as the non-veg McDonald’s menu? Still no beef there, no matter what you’re willing to pay: you’ll have to settle for chicken, as in the Chicken Maharaja Mac!!

Pictures from Kerala

Kathakali dancer in Fort Kochi, KeralaFinally got the Kerala trip webpages all finished up and posted. The last big trip of the year always seems to get rushed in at the end of everything. With all the stuff going on lately – the end of school and getting ready for summer – they kept getting put off…

But now they’re on – just in time for Susan’s birthday (happy birthday, honey!!).

Honestly, with all the tragedy going on right now in this part of the world – from cyclones in Burma to earthquakes in China to bombs in India – it just feels good to be able to write about a pleasant vacation and include some happy pictures. So enjoy, and take a load off for a few minutes!

A Mumbai poem

We had a Kiara roof coffeehouse evening last Saturday night called CAF-ASB (pronounced Café – S – B). People shared food and showed off their talents in the arts: poetry recitation, singing, music, painting, etc. It was a beautiful evening accented by flickering candles, providing the perfect setting for such an artsy get together.

One of our fellow teachers here, Russell Bell, is a former actor and stand-up comic from the LA area (his blog about life in India is here). He had written a piece of ‘performance poetry’ about Mumbai that he shared with us, and it was so well done that I asked him if I could post it here. While it is much more entertaining “live,” the words and images contained in it still give a good introduction to life here. Of course, if you’ve been to India, some of these will make more sense to you, but in any case, enjoy “Mumbai” by Russell Bell:

Rickshaw
sida
Right jaao
Vos

Mera nam
Kaise ho
Tik hai
Ha

Is it Namaste or Namaskar
Donnavad or Shukria
Did he say yes or did he say no?
(head wobble)

Shilpa Shetty
Shah Ruh Kahn
Amitabh, he’s the Don
Sanjay Dutt, he carried a gun
Aishwarya’s hot!

Where do you walk when the sidewalk’s full?
Which goes first, bus or bull?
I stepped in something, that’s not cool

Mmmm Mumbai

Haj Ali, dhobi Ghat,
Juhu beach, god it’s hot
The big brick buildings seen at Fort
Were put there by the Raj

Chor Bazaar, Harry’s Place
Colaba Hawkers in your face
The British built India Gate
But a Parsi built the Taj

Chapatti
Roti
Murg masala
nan

Lassi
pani
durawalla
chai

Durga had ten arms,
Krishna loved his curd,
Ganesh’s Dad cut off his head,
At least that’s what I heard

Horn please, honk okay
You can almost taste the air today?
If traffic stops, just drive on the other side.

Where can I go to walk my goat?
Will I ever be able to wear my coat?
Something crunchy just went down my throat

Mmmm Mumbai

Cricket,
Wicket,
Sixer,
Over,
Run

I saw another three-legged dog lying in the sun.

The city, it’s chaotic,
A collection of colors and sounds,
It’s a concert of Life
That can be heard from all around
The instruments, the people,
Are divided by language, caste, and faith,
But the music, it’s all written
In one city – one place

Mumbai

Poverty

Children, shaved for lice, pooping in the streetOne of the toughest things for the kids to get used to is the poverty. Mumbai is an enormous city, and India is still a very poor country, and people from all over head to the big metropolis in the hopes of building a better life. Unfortunately for them, most end up in the sort of filth and squalor pictured here, where children with their heads shaved for lice squat in the street, surrounded by garbage, to relieve themselves. This was taken out our bus window one (typical) day heading home from school.

There are quite a lot of beggars throughout the city (duh), and they do seem to spot us fairly easily (duh) and head right over to us (duh). Breck has been having more of a difficult time dealing with them than Alea. There is one particular corner on the way home from school at which we get our windows knocked on quite often, and he dreads going to it. “I hope there are no beggars today” has become a refrain from him when we leave school. He asks us why they come asking for money, and I hope our pitiful explanations are adequate.

His class has been spending some time recently going into some of the roots of child labor and poverty, but this seems to upset him even more (there have been a couple of nights that he’s asked to sleep with us because of some of the things he has seen in class). It is such a pervasive fact of life here, wrapped up with so many ‘tinderbox’ issues ranging from alcohol to infanticide to abuse, that it is difficult to judge where to start and where to stop when trying to explain something that Alea and Breck see every day but have no context for understanding.

Breck has become more adept at using his ignoring skills when beggars approach him, but unfortunately this translates into him sometimes brusquely walking past other people who are genuinely interested in just saying ‘hi.’ It is interesting to remember that there are a lot of people in this country who have never spoken to a ‘white person,’ and many who have never seen on in real life. We don’t want him to ignore all Indians, but he is such a sensitive boy that it is a very fine line for us to walk in terms of helping him judge when to engage and when to ignore. This is such a ‘teachable moment’ for us while we live here; I just hope we are helping him understand things in a way that won’t haunt him for life.

(And just for some background information, we were told before coming – and have had it reinforced while here – that most of the street beggars are basically “pimped out” to local thugs who take the money they manage to earn. We’ve been encouraged to give food to them (but nothing that can be resold, because it will be and the money find its way into the boss’s pockets) and to contribute money to organizations that can better place it in the hands of those who are truly the needy.)

Onions in the ears and watermelons on the head

We are in a foreign land filled with mystery and wonder. There is much to learn here.

Take for example the fact that, according to our landlady, people who are working in the fields in the hot weather will put onions in their ears and wrap them into place, along with an extra piece on the top of the head, to help guard against heatstroke. Well who knew?? She went on to explain that, should this fail in preventing someone from fainting in the fields, the close-at-hand onions were ready to be used as a resuscitation device simply by squeezing a few drops into the passed out person’s nostrils. Double duty.

(Interestingly, when I asked my students about this, they had never heard of such a thing, but they did confirm that what Susan heard as “shock” for the name of the summer season was basically correct. It turns out that in Konkani, a language spoken in Goa, the phrase for hot weather is actually shaa ckho. Bypassing the obvious “shock and awe,” I call it “shock and achoo” myself).

But, on the bus ride in to school, I asked a teacher who is married to an Indian about this, and she said “Oh that’s nothing – the Parsis who moved to India from Iran used to wear hollowed-out watermelons on their heads to keep cool when working in the fields. Their community was quite famous for doing this; but of course their are no Parsis working as field hands any more, they own all the land now!”

When you think about people who have to wear onions wrapped in their turbans or watermelon rinds on their heads as the only way for them to survive in the heat as they go about their daily work, it makes our lives seem oh-so-easy!!

A Perfectly Poetic Potty

Now, the biggest religion in India is Hinduism. And people who practice that faith are Hindus. And the ‘unifying’ language of India is Hindi. So there really is nothing wrong with a company adopting a prefix that refers back to the glory of the region, right?

Hindware toilet

Well, I’m sorry, but I do have to chuckle every time I walk into a bathroom and get ready to use a Hindware brand toilet, especially considering what part of the body usually rests on it!!

News, Indian style

I love the news that runs in the papers here. Not necessarily because it is fun to read or ‘uplifting’ in any way, but because the headlines and stories serve as a constant reminder that Toto is no longer in Kansas. Just as a taste, here are a couple of snippets from recent articles (besides the perennial favorite How to convert urine into drinking water):

These gangsters knew around six languages, and spoke in all of them to mislead the investigation. When thrashing did not work, police decided to play quizmasters for several hours…. “When we asked them about their identification, they gave us a new name. We gave them a good beating, but in vain,” said GM Patel, inspector of the Gujurat University police station.

  • Compensation for family planning hiked – I was just impressed to find out that India pays people to have vasectomies. Get your male tubes tied and you earn 1,500 rupees – just under $40.
  • And two that show the other side of ‘family planning’ here in India: After Sixth Girl, Mother Kills Commits Suicide in Rajkot and and Humiliated, Mother Kills Daughters – a sad commentary on life in India, where women are still held (murdeously) responsible for the gender of their children.
  • The previous articles (which are not uncommon in the news) make one wonder about Foetus Slips Out of Moving Train, Safe about a baby who was born into the toilet of a train. Keep in mind that Indian train toilets open directly onto the track, so the kid fell under the train and was left in the middle of the tracks! Of course, the more cynical might note that it was a daughter and wonder just how ‘accidental’ the incident was…
  • Third Sex Gets Official Status – but some aspects of Indian life are remarkably forward thinking, including the recognition of the ‘otherly gendered’ as the PC term has it.
  • And of course, when all else fails, you can always Ask the Sexpert at the Mumbai Times!

Carry on bags in India

Cabin baggage…must all have name tags on them. We’ve found this out as we’ve traveled around the country, and it is kind of a fun little routine for us. When you check in, you have to fill out a name tag and put it on your bag. Then when you go through security (which involves a metal detector and a pat-down search – all done in a separate line and behind a curtained divider for the women), the guard stamps your tag. When you leave the waiting room for the bus to take you to the airplane stairs (jetways are unknown here), another guard checks to make sure you have a stamp. If not, back to security for you!

We actually had a fuss made over us the other day when Breck’s legos went through the x-ray machine. The guards seemed pretty concerned about them and inspected the whole pack pretty carefully. Susan is convinced that they just wanted to stop and play with them! This may not be too far from the truth, as the legos are certainly an attention-getter wherever we go.

In any case, the Festival of Nations page is now updated

Back from Kerala, to a horn-free Mumbai (almost)

The family in KeralaWe have returned from the sunny south of India, after 10 days of backwater boat rides and the four s’s – sun, sand, salt, and seafood!!

Our trip was a great success; 3 nights in Fort Cochin, a ride through the famed backwaters and an overnight in Alleppey, 8 hours on a ferry down the inland coast to (our one ratty hotel in) Kollum, 2 nights in bamboo huts at Varkala beach, and the final 3 nights at a place with a pool(!) in Kovalam with a flight out of Thiruvananthapuram (luckily also known by its old name of just Trivandrum!). Whew!

Of course, these names mean nothing now, but we just wanted y’all to know that we are back safe and sound. We’ll obviously be posting stories and pictures on the webpage and linking there from here.

In other news of the world, today was ‘no horn day‘ here in Mumbai, and it seemed to have a mixed result. We took 2 separate rickshaws home from the airport (since we’d bought so much stuff!!), and when we got in the apartment, Susan commented that she and Alea thought the ride was much quieter than usual. Breck and I replied that we had counted all the honks on the way home, and had totaled up 98 – which is admittedly fewer than expected. So success or failure? Who knows.

I'm number 1!I do know one success, however, that is set in stone: regardless of who wins the NCAA tournament today, I have – for the first time ever in my life – won my basketball pool. By one point!

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.

World Water Day

World Water DayTomorrow, March 22, is World Water Day, something that we have never seen or heard of before. In India, water is a very big issue for several reasons. There are millions and millions of people in this country who don’t have access to water, rural water projects are increasingly having trouble distributing water for industry, agriculture, and environmental projects (witness what has happened in Bharatpur), and the situation with global warming and the impact on water supplies is only expected to worsen. Unfortunately, there seem to be very few steps that can be taken at this point to head off further ‘drying’ here.

How to Convert Urine into Drinking WaterThe newspaper had a full page display titled “How to Convert Urine into Drinking Water,” complete with simple step by step instructions and pictures. I think it was meant as an object lesson in which direction things are going rather than as truly practical advice, but I could be wrong. In any case, a kind of disgusting way to bring a very real problem home. I guess you could say it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Ewww…

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.

Pi Day!

Of course we celebrated Pi Day this year at school and at home. Breck and Alea have been singing all the Pi Songs they can remember. For those of you who might have forgotten, March 14th – 3.14 – is Pi Day (get it?). And of course, as a middle school math teacher, I do all sorts of Pi stuff at school and it has kind of rubbed off on the kids. I let my students earn some extra credit by recording Pi songs or videos: here is a link to where I parked a few of the audio files as well as some I’d previously found on the net. We had our annual digit memorizing contest – this year our high scores were 95 and 83 – both were by 6th graders!

Breck’s Soccer TeamSaturday was a full day at school. Dave got up early to go in for middle school girls’ volleyball practice (no, he’s not playing on the team – he’s coachingthe team!). Breck’s indoor soccer season then wrapped up this weekend with a tournament that afternoon at the school. The kids played hard and stuffed themselves between games on all the food parents had brought for the pot luck dinner. Alea got to go swimming during some of the matches, as one of her friends was at school (also to watch her brother – who was on Breck’s team – play in the tournament). In the end, his team ended up with a 4th place trophy, lots of smiles all around, and some standing invitations for play dates.

We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing around the home with friends from Kiara as the temperatures start to soar. We plan on getting the pool opened up and going for a dip this afternoon. The ACs are running full time now, and we can only sweat and anticipate what April and May are going to be like!

New links added today:

Water water everywhere…

Morning bathroom breakSo in a country where the majority of people don’t have running water, most of them are used to squatting in an open field and ‘wiping’ with water. If they do have access to a toilet, it is usually a “Squatty” with two foot places and a hole in the middle with a bucket of water for playing Captain Kirk. Not too big a deal, but it took me a while to figure out why we kept seeing people walking around in the morning with water bottles in their hands.

Anyways, the problem comes when they use a “Sitty” toilet. By habit, they pass up using toilet paper and grab for the hose and a bucket or something of the sort that is usually next to the toilet. The problem is, since they usually don’t have a big porcelain bowl in the way, they are not very accurate in keeping water off the seat, wall, and floor when they spray. So whenever we use a toilet (say, in a school) that less-well-off people (say, custodians) use, we always have to contend with water everywhere. Said water is a pain – getting on clothes that are in contact with the ground – and often an unpleasant surprise – as the ‘ring’ is often damp. And because the rest of the bathroom setup is so fancy, it sometimes slips our minds to check before sitting, resulting in a wet bum and a stream of curses (I guess that’s why it is called “potty mouth”).

Anyways, another aspect of life in India!

ASB’s “Sail Away” Gala

Dave and Susan getting ready for the gala (picture by Alea)The highlight of the school’s social calendar is a huge gala dinner, dance, and PTA fundraising party. This year it was held at the Grand Hyatt hotel, and gave Dave and Susan a chance to dress up and spend a night out.

Of course, there were those who were far better dressed than Dave – tuxedos were not a rare sight at all (although the elementary school principal did look pretty resplendent in a maroon paisley patterned smoking jacket) – but none that looked better than Susan. The women came in a mix of formal gowns, slinky feathered slit-up-to-here dresses, and fancy silk and gold saris. All in all, a pretty high tone affair.

The dinner was fantastic – it was great to have meat meat meat after all India’s vegetarian fare: the lamb chops were by far Dave’s favorite, while Susan grooved on the schwarma. Some of the teachers and mothers had practiced a Bollywood dance routine that they showed off on the dance floor that was a definite highlight as well. While we didn’t score any of the the raffle picks or door prizes, we did win a silent auction for a silver necklace that Susan really liked, so now she has some new jewelry.

After whirling and twirling our way around the floor, we caught a rickshaw home – real classy, huh, in our formal outfits?! After we woke up and got the babysitter down to her home, we actually kicked back in the livingroom with a beer; it has been a long time since we’ve done that at 2:00 in the morning!

Aurangabad, Ellora, and Ajanta

ajanta4.jpg

The pictures and travelogue from our most recent weekend trip are now posted. Visit the city of Aurangabad, climb to the top of the Daulatabad Fort, marvel at the mini Taj Mahal at the Bibi ka Maqbara, hike the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves at Ellora (and scramble around gigantic elephant statues at the Kailasa temple there), and circle through the painted Buddhist caves at Ajanta. Great stuff…

It’s official – Mumbai is big, crowded, and dirty!

Well, I’m certainly glad someone got around to quantifying this. I was worried about just how we’d stack up against other places around the world. I’d already known that Mumbai was big – ranked 1st, 4th, 4th, or 5th in the world depending on your population definition – but not that we held claim to further honors in the pantheon of megacities.

Woman picking garbage with a dog in MumbaiForbes magazine (which utilized a Mercer 2007 Quality of Life Report), recently ranked Mumbai as the 7th dirtiest city in the world. Compared with New York City (friggin’ New York City?!!) which sits at a baseline 100, Bombay’s cleanliness index is at 38.2. Adding to (or causing?) the problem is the fact that Mumbai is the most densely populated city in the world.

Other Indian cities are listed as well, but Mumbai “wins” overall. This is really no surprise at all, as we see the junk in the air that we breathe and on the ground where we walk and in the water all around us.

It is sort of gratifying (in a really sick, backhanded way) to have an ‘authority’ say, “No, you’re not being oversensitive. It really IS that dirty where you live.” What a relief, huh?

NOTE – after originally posting this, I came across a Reader’s Digest article that confirms that Mumbai is also the least courteous city in the world. We ARE #1!!