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roaming the world and enjoying the scenery...

Dhobi Ghats redux

Looking down at the dhobi ghatsAs part of our “Day About Mumbai,” our second stop (after the flower market) was the Dhobi Ghat area. It is famous as the place to have laundry done, and we got an eyeful. Dave had been here before a few years back, but this was the first time for the whole family. From above, it looks crazy enough, but we shelled out the big bucks to go on a walking tour.

The purple dye matches his clothes! Drying shirts in the middle of green curtains for mosques Hand washing in chemical water
Men (for the most part) work all day washing, dyeing, and drying clothes out in the open, plunging themselves into water of dubious chemical composition. Almost everything is done by hand, although we did see some electric washers, hand operated dryers, and even a wood-fired heating tank!
Taking a break from duties Washing the whites Standing in that water all day long...
While it was still fairly early in the day (before 10), the heat was building, but these guys didn’t seem to take much notice. They kept about their labors, squeezing out what profit they could. According to the ‘guide’ we had, the individual stalls (and corresponding water) rent for 300 rupees per month (about $6) and are often kept in a family for generations
Keeping an eye on the tourists Arc of water among a rainbow of clothes!
All they are is a concrete enclosure with a slab for slapping and walls for hanging clothes on. Each piece of clothing has a special symbol written or sewn into it, to identify the delivery vehicle and proper owner – a great piece of organization for a crew that is probably primarily illiterate.
Clean clothes ready to hang up Finished product drying
And of course, the final product was usually hung up in colorful lines across the rooftops. We were shown which areas were for clothes getting ready for export, which were from the major hotels, and which were from smaller institutions. While we were there, business was slow but steady, and it was cool to walk through without it being too much of a hassle. The dhobi ghats are a Mumbai institution, and the stop gave us another idea of the goings on of the Maximum City.

(This page is replicated on our website if you prefer that sort of layout…)

Dadar Flower Market

We spent a massive Mumbai Saturday yesterday, rolling around some places in the city that we wanted to see before leaving. One of these was the flower market in Dadar. I’ve also posted pictures and descriptions on the webpage, so check out the first installment of, oh, 4 or 5 from the day. BTW, happy Easter!

Haircut

Didn’t think getting a haircut was a big deal? It is when you walk through an Indian neighborhood to get there. I’ve wanted to document the walk down to my hair cutting “saloon” for quite some time, and I finally got around to it last weekend.

I go to a local place – a step up from the sidewalk emporiums since it is actually housed in an old cargo container with electricity and everything!

Check out the pictures from the walk, just another glimpse at the sights from our life in Mumbai!

Indian perspectives on life in Mumbai

ManFromMatungaThe newspaper we subscribe to, the Times of India, is often an interesting way to get an insight into how Indians view their own country. On the way to our Himalayan trip a few weeks ago, I stumbled across an opinion piece by a man named Bhavin Jankharia in the TOI.

Since he is a regular contributor to the paper, and the article is an interesting read, and there are many other pieces that he’s written on his site, and he has a facebook group that you can check in on, and I felt like posting today, here is a link to the article: Hardship Allowance for Living in Mumbai? Really?

Free verse Friday – Oktoberfest ’09

Photo by Martin Reinsmoen

Photo by Martin Reinsmoen

With apologies to Nat King Cole and other singers of “O Tannenbaum”

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
It’s fast approaching this way
Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
A time for all to come play

Good times do always there abound:
Beer, schnitzel, brats, and oompah sounds

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
Come eat and drink on Saturday

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
I’ll have my little hat on
Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
I’ll wear fake lederhosen

Though German pictures all will show,
Alas, few women here have dirndls

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
Despite our clothes we’ll have fun.

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
This year we’ve got kazoos
Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
We’ll have the hookah too

On Kiara’s vast rooftop expanse
We’ll drink and do the chicken dance

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest
I hope we don’t get rained out

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?

It’s a trap!!

Driving home from school the other day, some fellow bus-riders and I were astounded to see a convertible Porsche 911 pulled up next to us. There are a number of fancy cars tooling around Bombay – I’ve seen Hummers, BMWs, Mercedes, Bentleys, and even a Porsche Cayenne – but a low-slung car is kind of a silly vehicle to take over the potholed roads here.

He took off like a jet when the light turned – kind of crazy considering the people, cows, cars, bikes, rickshaws, etc that lumber along the road. We figured that we’d seen the last of him.

As we headed on towards home, however, we passed through a super straightaway that is famous for being a speed trap. Policemen will set themselves up with a mounted radar gun, and then flag down cars that zoom along the one piece of road that is actually built for going fast.

Cop Stop

Now, the police used to do this in Serbia too, and I always wondered why people stopped. It isn’t like they have cars that will chase you down. At this area, though, the road continues to either a toll booth or a hairpin turn of 170 degrees, so all they do is have another set of cops at both places ready to nab jackrabbits. Plus the fines are only between 2 and 10 dollars!!

And, who did we see as we lumbered up to the hordes of police (and a tow truck)? That’s right – you can even see the Porsche being pulled over in the photo. Instant karma, baby!!

(Or, as Uncle Rob puts it, “How’s that karma suit ya?!”)

Bandra Fair

Breck and I went to the Bandra Fair last weekend (the yearly event that we visited as a family last year) for a little guy time together. I decided deliberately not to bring a camera, as I find that can become the focus (ha ha) of what I’m doing, and I wanted just to hang out with him.

We did bring a Flip video camera, though, a device a little larger than a mobile phone, and shot a bit of video. Not too much, but enough to give a taste of the event. Enjoy a quick look at the Bandra Fair!!

Lightning over Mumbai

Lightning over Mumbai 1Our TV is still on the fritz (and our building elevator and internet went out last night) from the continuing electrical storms in the area. We had some neighbors come up to watch the show in our apartment last night, and they talked me into trying to get some pictures.

Now, going up onto the roof of a building in the middle of an electrical storm is probably not a real smart idea, but we waited until things moved off a bit, and then jury-rigged a setup as we stood around in the water (smart) with the camera sitting on top of a metal table (smarter) elevated higher above an air duct (smartest). Setting the camera to take a 6 second picture, I pointed it out and tried my luck.

Lightning over Mumbai 2

Wow! Striking the Arabian Sea right outside our window...

I got quite a few pictures with no lightning at all (of course), and most of the first shots were way out of focus, but I did get a couple of ‘keepers.’ It is pretty interesting how much lighter the first scene is, just because of the number of bolts that hit during the exposure.

The photos have been cropped to be the correct size for a desktop wallpaper, so enjoy if you want. In any case, now you know why we’ve been having all these electrical problems!

Workin’ at the car wash

Mumbai has a bit of a pollution problem, it is true. There are some piles of refuse scattered here and there, people’s trash (and human waste) can be found everywhere, and the great outdoors is often used as a communal garbage pit.

But that’s not to say that folks don’t take pride of ownership. I think most want to keep their motor vehicles clean, and we see evidence of that on our way to school in the morning.

There is one spot where, during the monsoon season, the sewer overflows with regularity. And, every time it does, we pass a lineup of cars and rickshaws parked, their owners scrubbing them down. In the backed up sewer water. Words fail me at this point.

Mumbai car wash

The family and the elephant god

Ganesh and FamilyAs the Ganesh festival gets ready for its final evenings, I decided enough was enough. We’d been here three years, yet had not taken a family picture with Mumbai’s favorite Hindu god. After dinner, we went down to our local temple and – with the help of our famous neighbor – got our photo taken with one of the soon-to-be-immersed statues.

If you missed the album on Facebook, you can see it here: a couple of days’ worth of festival shots. I’m still debating whether to make an actual webpage out of them, so these will have to do for now…

Downtown visit and the Dhobi Ghats

Math group at the Gateway of IndiaWinding up the school year, one of my ‘chores’ is emptying everything off the computer. It is kind of like cleaning out the attic at times; you never know what you’ll come across.

In any case, as I was moving pictures and such over to my backup drive, I found some pictures that I had meant to post but had never gotten around to. No, not the Egypt trip. Those pictures are done, but we are having severe laggage in getting the travelogue part actually written. (the pictures and page navigation are here, but are still in a very disorganized and incomplete state).

These are actually from our Mathcounts competition back in Februray. As part of the weekend’s events, we took the participants downtown to see some sights and find some Mumbai math. It was a great afternoon, and we did get to take some fun pictures on the way down, so they are now posted as another view of our life here.

But the truly unique visit that we made that afternoon was to the Dhobi Ghats – the sprawling area of town where dirty clothes from all over the city are brought in to be slathered in soap and slapped against the concrete walls of hundreds of open-air laundry stalls. Quite the sight, and an iconic Mumbai landmark.

And while we’re on the topic of last-minute webpage updating and all, I just realized that – while the pages have been up for quite some time – I’d never made a blog blurb about adding them. So, in case you hadn’t noticed, the Alibag trip page is posted as well!

Be the best that you can be

Razor Sharp SignOr at least be 13th best!

We pass this local college every day coming home from school, and I just had to get a shot of this sign (BTW – billboards are called “hoardings” here, in case anyone ever asks you). They’d had the same ad last year, and I never took a picture, but it is back for another round, and I got my shot this time.

I suppose there is a very specific demographic to which this university is appealing – MBA students who want to attend a college in not just any part of Asia (it has to be South Asia) and have a school that is good but not too good.

I do wonder how they decided to advertise as the “13th best” as opposed to “One of the Best” or even “in the Top 15.” Of course, 13 doesn’t have the bad luck connotations as it does in the West, but that designator is still somewhat funny.

Oh well. Seeing this reminded me that I have a ton of pictures from this past year that have not yet been posted (yes, including the Egypt trip, but that is moving really slowly right now). These last few weeks are killer, what with end of the year hoopla, goodbye parties, report cards, packing, buying a house (surprise!!), etc, etc,etc. I’m not sure how much of anything I’ll get to, but I did put together another “Life in India” photo montage for the webpage, so enjoy the photos!

A rickshaw built for 8

A full rickshaw!On our way home yesterday from Alea’s band concert (see tomorrow’s post for a poem and picture combination!), our family of four took separate rickshaws. We figured we had too much stuff and we’d just be too crowded in one, so the girls took off and the boys followed behind them.

Now rickshaws are often full of things other than people: just the other day one was stuffed with dvd players. On other occasions we’ve seen goats, vegetables, even a toilet being transported in these things. At a light near the school, though, we saw a great example how a rickshaw is meant to be packed!

There were at least 8 people in it (counting the driver), and they thought it was quite amusing that we wanted to take a picture (luckily I had the camera from the band concert). One lady – the closest one, dressed in black – did duck her head out of the photo, but I still like the way you can see just about everyone looking at us.

Breck in a rickJust to keep things fair, I also took a picture of Breck’s face reflected in the side mirror as well!

And, when the traffic started moving, we waved goodbye and sped off to our apartment, about a half hour (and $1.40, including tip) away, where we celebrated the successful concert with an order of traditional Indian KFC.

Free verse Friday – the fish in Colaba song

(with apologies to Rupert Holmes)

I was tired of my old city
We’d been together too long
Like a worn out recording
Of a favorite song
So one day during prep time
I surfed the internet instead
And in the overseas section
There was this ad I read:

“If you like fish in Colaba
Getting caught in the rain
If you’re way into yoga
If you love crowded trains
If you’d like Bollywood at midnight
In the bars of Bandra
Then its Mumbai that you’ve looked for
Hop your nearest rickshaw.”

I didn’t think about the slum towns
I know that sounds kind of sad
But on Slumdog Millionaire
They didn’t seem all that bad
So I wrote to the agency
And sent in my resume
And though I’ll not get my hopes up
I thought that it really was ok:

“Yes I like fish in Colaba
And getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into boring food
I take my bhang lassis plain
I’ve got to hear the rockets every night
And bang the drums every day
Swatting cricket balls for sixes
Mumbai’s where I want to play.”

I could go on with the rest of the song, but I think I’ve used up my cheesiness quotient for the week. To get another look at life in Mumbai, check out the video below. This was made by Tony Pappa of Conceptually Speaking when he came to Mumbai to make a promotional movie for our school. It was posted on Facebook to rave reviews – Great stuff!

Dry Day revisited

Because of the elections going on right now, dry days have been declared for the entire country all week long. Luckily we read a newspaper article about the upcoming ‘dry week’ and were prepared.

In case you are looking for a dry day calendar for 2009, I received the following from a colleague. The first thing I noticed is that it totally misses the April 28 through 30 period, so I take no responsibility for any mistakes it might contain, but at least it is something to start with!!

Dry days calendar 2009

  • Jan 1, 26, 30
  • Mar 1, 22
  • May 1
  • July 1, 14
  • Aug 1, 15
  • Sept 1, 3, 14
  • Oct 1, 2, 8
  • Nov 1, 9
  • Dec 1, 25

Alea’s water fest

Alea at the water festivalThis past weekend was a sun-scorching water-splashing team-cheering fun time for Alea. She was asked to be on the school’s team for a interscholastic water sports competition (the criteria were being a strong swimmer and a good all around kid. Awesome!) that pitted kids from around the city against each other on pool play equipment.

Susan took her one day, and Dave the other, and all 3 of us came back with ruddy skin – good prep for the Egyptian desert right?! Alea’s only request was that we not ask her to pose for pictures, and I think we did alright on that account.

Even without having her pose, we got some interesting action shots from the events that give a good idea of what she was doing (and some of the interesting swim wear to be found here).

Enjoy!

Bombay Traffic: Road Rage

For the final installment of this 5-part series on traffic, we come to one of the uglier sides of driving in Mumbai. For the most part, drivers are pretty anger-free as they push and squeeze and inch their way through the crowded byways. However, watch out when the levee breaks and the emotions due spill over.

View from the school vanThe most aggressive driver on our school staff is fantastically fast at getting us around town, and he also shows the most emotion on the road. He has this “look” that he gives other drivers who don’t get out of his way (or in some other fashion stink up the road). The Look is like something moms (or school teachers) in the olden days would give to kids who were misbehaving – a full on glare stare that lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that you were wrong in whatever you were doing.

But he doesn’t swear or race or flip people off, and neither do most other drivers on the road. There seems to be a pretty grudging acceptance of the lousy traffic conditions by everyone.

Alas, when accidents do happen, the full on rage and anger suddenly snaps to the surface. One evening when I was coming home, a rickshaw scraped a fancy car at a crazy intersection, and the drivers hopped right out.

The amazing thing about the confrontation was the unhesitating manner it was played out: the rickshaw driver stood there while the driver of the car slapped him around. There was no fighting back, no self defense at all.

Bombay traffic jamThe only thing I can guess is that the rick driver accepted that – as a poorer, lower caste person – it was his responsibility to let the richer guy beat him up. There were no threatening bodyguards or anything like that to keep him from fighting back, just a passive acceptance of his ‘lot in life.’

That driver got off easy, however: there are daily reports of crowds ‘thrashing’ drivers who smash into other vehicles (or pedestrians). These gruesome incidents sometimes result in the death of the drivers.

Just last Sunday, Breck and I joined some other dads and sons at the school to play a little baseball. One family came in 10 minutes after us, asking if we’d seen the wreck at the corner: a dump truck had run over a motorcycle, completely crushing it (and presumably the rider).  The sons and dad were pretty shaken up, as this incident had apparently just happened, and they saw an angry mob chase down the dump truck driver, grab him, and start to beat on him with sticks and bricks.

I guess that with the perception of the police as being pretty corrupt and ineffective, the average man-on-the-street believes that the best way to obtain justice is to mete it out himself. In fact, the advice we’ve been given is to always leave the scene of an accident immediately – regardless of potential casualties – to avoid getting caught up in just such a mob scene. Adds quite the dash of somber reality to the prospect of getting around in our fair city…

Bombay Traffic: Emergency Services

The rationale behind the Traffic in Bombay series grows from a couple of events that have happened in the past 2 weeks. The first of these gets written up today as a warning of your chances should you be involved in a road accident.

Motorcycle FamilyTwo colleagues were on their way in early to the school, when they came across a group of men standing around a tipped-over motorcycle. Seems the guy driving the bike had lost control, almost run into them (they were pedestrians), and wiped out. Now, there is a motorcycle helmet law, but it is very selectively followed and enforced (although this seems to be improving), so the guy was not in good shape. The passers-by had already moved him – there goes any consideration of neck or spinal injury – but he seemed to be moving all right: the big problem was that he was vomiting blood.

The two women asked if an ambulance was coming, and the guys all shrugged. They certainly hadn’t called one, no one else in the area had, and they were just standing around to see if the guy was going to die. Over the protestations of her driver, one of the women had the guys pick up the injured man and put him in the back seat (which luckily have plastic all over because of the two young kids in the family), where he proceeded to continue bleeding and vomiting.

WHO Traffic StatsThe driver took him to a local hospital – I guess the term would be ‘indigent’ or ‘state’ hospital – where the poorer people can get emergency treatment. When they got there, nobody came out to help the guy into the building (no crashing doors and clattering stretchers like in all the TV shows), so the woman and her driver dragged him into a waiting room.

She was very concerned about his status, having been trained as a nurse, as she was worried that he was bleeding internally – but no one in the hospital had much of a sense of urgency about them. (There are stories every day about people dying because A) they can’t get to the hospital in time, B) they are turned away from the doors because they are too poor, and C) the care is not adequate when they finally do get admitted somewhere.)

We have all been given a contact number for an ambulance service in Bombay – dial 1298! – but having seen the state of the emergency services, knowing that ambulances do not rate any special deference on the roads, and witnessing the ‘anything goes’ rules of the Indian roads, it is no surprise that the Indian rate of death from traffic accidents is among the highest in the world.

Bombay Traffic: Rules of the Road Part 2

Here are the next Big Five Rules of the Road, following on the heels of Bigger is Better:

  • Use Your Horn – In Bombay (and pretty much everywhere we’ve been in India), the horn is used as an all-purpose driving device. It warns someone you are coming, it tells people to get out of the way, it signals annoyance /anger/irritation/ happiness, and it gives drivers something to do as they sit in motionless traffic.
  • Lanes Are Pretty, Decorative Lines – but certainly not anything to take seriously. We have never, ever seen traffic pay any attention whatsoever to lanes. Granted, it can be difficult at times, given the varying state of disrepair of various highways and byways – to encourage people to stay in a straight line, but that certainly does not explain everything. A two lane road invariably becomes at least two lanes each way, and forget about maintaining lane discipline downtown. In fact…
  • HawkersFill All Space – At any intersection (especially), vehicles will bunch up in a very predictable manner. The bigger trucks, buses, and cars will bunch to the front, creating at least an extra lane of traffic. Then the rickshaws will swarm in, cramming themselves between the larger autos. Then the motorcycles and scooters inch their way through everything, up to the front of the line, then the bicycles do the same. Only then will the beggars and hawkers start making their way through the crowds, selling their wares.
  • Things Behind You Don’t Count – Once the lines start moving (amid a cacophony of horns), drivers concentrate on things that are in front of them. Once a vehicle has pulled ahead of another, it is as if a switch has been flipped, and the dude behind you doesn’t count. Cutting left and right in front of other vehicles is not a ‘bad’ thing, as everyone does it and everyone knows that – while mirrors sure can be decorated prettily on the sides of a door, they don’t serve any practical function!
  • Karma Rules – Surprisingly enough, however, real aggressive driving is a rarity. Certainly it has to do with the fact that there is no room to do anything supremely aggressive, but I personally think that the Hindu mindset plays a role as well: well, there’s not much I can do about this, the other driver deserves a bigger car/a better position in traffic/a shorter commute, and what comes around will go around. This also comes into play with safety features, as we regularly see drivers with no helmets, long sari scarves flapping in the breeze, 4 (or more) kids balanced on a motorcycle, and big trucks with no doors. Ganesh or Sai Baba or Allah or Jesus (as a person’s personal religious belief dictates) will watch over me…

There’s no place like home

Ahh, to be back from vacation. I headed out today for a quick ATM run, and my 5-minute journey reminded me of some of the sights, smells, and sounds we’d missed out on for the past 3 weeks.

Walking out of the building, the odor of thousands of drying fish from the nearby fishing village hit me like a brick. I had just about adjusted to it when I rounded the first corner, and collided with the ‘monkey man.’ He walks up and down the streets with a drum in one hand and a monkey tethered to the other, hoping to have the monkey perform for people in return for a few rupees.

Taking leave of them, I stepped around a dead fish (dropped by a bird stealing it from the drying rack), avoided a dead rat, hopped over a pile of poop, detoured around many red puddles of betel nut spit, walked next to dripping chicken parts being offloaded from the trunk of a taxi, and passed a 4- or 5-year old boy in a darling outfit: a bright green t-shirt that read “At least you’re staring at my shirt and not my ENORMOUS ERECTION.”

My ATM was out of order, so I headed back home, past the broom salesmen plying his trade, the crows pecking at rotten bags of curry, a shopkeeper emptying an enormous pot of something or other into the street, 2 cats fighting, and the incense wafting in front of the neighborhood shrine to Sai Baba/Willie Nelson.

Entering the apartment gates, I had to duck to avoid the overflow of water from the storage tanks cascading from the rooftop, and since the elevator was out I had to walk up 7 flights of stairs. Ahh.

When’s our next vacation?

Udaipur and Hawaii

Two great tastes that taste great together, right?

Actually, they have nothing to do with each other, but both are bouncing around in my brain tonight.

Udaipur is bouncing around for a “good” reason, as I’ve finally finished our trip pages. We visited the city during our Diwali break at the end of October/beginning of November, and what with all sorts of craziness going on here I just have not been able to get the pages done. But – done they are – all eleven of them! I kind of skimped on cool shots from the last day, but Susan already thinks I have enough ‘pictures of India’ anyways, so I guess that’s no big deal.

Hawaii is bouncing around for a “silly” reason. All day long I have been unable to get the Christmas song Mele Kalikimaka out of my head. And all day long it has been echoing through my skull with the word “Hawaii” replaced by “Mumbai.” I finally asked one of the school drivers how to say “Merry Christmas” in Hindi (he didn’t know it in Marathi), and now, to exorcise this demon, I present the verse of the song (hum along in your best Bing Crosby voice):

Shuber Nadal is the thing to say,
On a bright Mumbaiian Christmas Day,
That’s the Hindi greeting that we send to you
From the land where rickshaws sway.
Here we know that Christmas will be hot and bright,
The sun to shine by day and all the fireworks at night,
Shuber Nadal is Mumbai’s way
To say “Merry Christmas to you.”

Please let the madness end!!

It is all over

But at the same time, things are just beginning. It was confirmed last night that two school parents were killed in the attacks downtown. They have three children in our school, one in Breck’s grade and another whom I’ve taught for both years that we’ve been here. We have an all-staff meeting tomorrow to discuss what structures are going to be put in place to help us help them, but the tears have already started flowing here.

We appreciate that we are truly blessed in that our immediate families and the students themselves are all safe; there are many people in Mumbai and around the world who are mourning their losses. At the same time, the deaths of two people who were so energetic, full of life, and all around pleasant people to be with – and who leave behind 3 parentless children – because of the innocuous decision to go out for dinner one night strikes at one’s heart and gut. There is an empty spot in our community, and it hurts.

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.

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!!