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roaming the world and enjoying the scenery...

Oktoberfest

(No, that’s not a picture of Oktoberfest)

In the past week, after our return from Goa, things have been moving at a lightning pace.

At school, we’re getting ready for the week without walls trips coming up next Monday, organizing community service projects with local NGOs, preparing for a family fun day in December, getting Mathcounts up and running, and writing report cards (due tomorrow).

At home, our single female platy (fish) had babies, so now there are orange fry to go with the black (mollies) and clear (guppies) ones in the tank. There was another festival this past week in town – that is where the picture is from. If you want to read more about it, check out the blog of a teacher that we knew in Belgrade who moved to Chennai, India this year…

But the real theme of the weekend was Oktoberfest. Saturday night was our big shindig – check out the online invitation. We partied and drank and talked and did the chicken dance until the wee hours. Some things that were new that went well this year: India sauerkraut is great and the homemade pretzels were a hit! And something that I wanted to get but could not find in Mumbai (to get over the summer for next year?) – kazoos for kazooing along with the oom-pah-pah music!

And that’s all I’m going to say about that. After all – what happens at Oktoberfest stays at Oktoberfest!! Plus we didn’t bring our camera up, so we’ll have to see what incriminating photos our party guests took.

Today it was all about a week without walls meeting and rooftop birthday party. It is great to see parents hanging out, with all the kids running around, drinking beer left over from the night before. Great times!

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!

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 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!!

The holidays are here

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

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

A large elephant getting ready to greet the god Ganesh

A large elephant getting ready to greet the god Ganesh

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

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

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

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!

Last day of school!

Alea and Breck on the last day of school

Here are the kids – all ready for their final classes before summer break! They have a half day today, and tomorrow Alea gets a birthday present: no school!

She got the first part of her ‘presents’ yesterday, as we welcomed the first big rainstorm of the season. The kids had just gone to bed when the lightning flashed and the thunder roared; we all ran to the windows to watch the sheets of rain pour down. How exciting!!

In any case, you can also visit the School Pictures page to see all the first and last day pictures we’ve taken over the years. Have a great summer!!

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:

Alea’s 5th grade exhibition

Singing the welcome songThis week was the fifth graders’ PYP exhibition, a culminating project incorporating all sorts of learning that took place over their elementary school years. The class focuses on a student selected topic for the last 8 weeks of the school year and then presents what they learned to parents, teachers, and peers. This year’s theme was “With Every Child’s Rights Come Responsibilities.” Because child rights are such a pertinent topic to everyone living in India, the students found that they had a unique opportunity to explore many different facets of the subject.

Alea's group

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To keep things at a manageable level, the kids split up into 8 different groups: Abuse, Basic Needs, Education, Fun, Gender, Healthcare, Labor, and Protection. Alea chose Labor (or Labour as it was spelled here), and so her group’s presentation looked at the lives of children through the prism of them having to work. After the entire grade sang an introductory song, accompanying themselves with drums and guitars, they split up into separate rooms to spend time ‘teaching’ the parents and other visitors about their topics.

Breck wheeling the bricks arounThe main part of the presentation was a ‘newscast’ with Alea and another group member reading the latest news on child labor from several regions in India, followed by an “interview” with 2 ex-child laborers (also group members playing a role), and finishing with a puppet show detailing life as a child slave. After the movie, we were invited to explore the information that the kids had collected and detailed in poster form hanging around the room. There was also a labor simulation of work at a brick making factory, where Breck, and others,  saw how hard it was to load and haul a wheelbarrow across the room.

Of course, her group’s was the best out of all of them (!!), but the other rooms were all interesting and very well done. Breck was a great learner through the different presentations, and even got to participate in some of the games and activities. The highlight of the evening – outside of Alea’s group – was when he took part in the Healthcare game. He was competing against a teacher, and he had some tough questions to answer. We were very proud of his response to, “How do you help someone who is dehydrated?”. He said, “Drink lots of water and electrons” which was close enough to water and electrolytes for us.

But the real moment of parental pride came when he had to “Describe the symptoms of malnourishment.” He stood still for a moment, and then his face brightened and he gave his answer: “When someone is lying on the ground, with their eyes closed, and they’re not breathing!”

Does my son know the symptoms of acute malnourishment, or what?!!

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

Morning clouds in Mumbai

Clouds over the Arabian SeaThe sun has been coming up earlier and earlier these days, as we move out of winter (or what passed as winter here) into summer. This morning, however, it actually seemed darker than it had in days past. Looking out the window, we figured out what it was – there were CLOUDS in the sky!!

Now, this might not seem like such a big deal, but there have basically been none since last September or October. Of course, I’m not counting clouds of vehicle exhaust, or clouds of smoke from burning garbage, or clouds of industrial pollution, or clouds of ravens feasting on refuse – I’m talking about fluffy white possibly-precipitation-loaded atmospheric phenomena. They mean the monsoons are on the way. While I’m not necessarily a huge fan of constant downpour and flooding streets, the rains are welcomed in the part of the world as a rejuvenating shot in the arm and much needed dust-settler.

And since we’ll be out of India for much of the rain time, I guess that makes the prospect easier to take. So stir up the cirrostratus and let the cumulus accumulate!

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.)

1 fish, 2 falcons, and 3 puppies

Who says Mumbai has no wildlife? In addition to the rats we’ve seen running along the sidewalks (for which there are official city jobs dedicated to killing them) and the raven/crows that eat everything the rats miss, Bombay is home to tons of different kinds of animals. Our experiences this weekend centered around 3 specific types.

On Saturday morning, I had volleyball practice and a school meeting, so Susan was at home with the kids and decided to go swimming. There really is no way to describe the fish experience any better than in Susan’s own (edited) words:

At 1:30 today, the kids and I went to the Kiara pool after notifying the guards in the morning that we would be using it. The pool was in miserable shape: debris floating on the top, leaves littering the bottom, and refuse I don’t care to identify swirling in the depths. The kids immediately jumped in and began to clear the pool. Leaves and sticks and bugs accumulated in a pile as they pulled things up from below. A scream shattered our industry as Breck dragged up a dead, decayed fish. He flung it to the side and scrambled out of the pool. I hauled Alea out and went over to the guard ( who had been enjoying watching our labor for the past ten minutes) and wanted to know how a dead fish could have landed in the pool. He raised his hand to the sky and said, “It’s the trees.”

Breck and the puppiesNot a great way to greet the weekend.

Sunday morning dawned as perhaps a better day, but then two mating falcons began screeching at each other in the tree branch right outside our window. Normally I like watching and listening to these large birds of prey, but not at 5:30 on a Sunday morning!

And finally, that afternoon, we were ‘invited’ to adopt some neighborhood puppies. We have a tiny apartment, and I don’t want a dog ripping our stuff apart, and Susan is very responsible about wanting to care for an animal, so the NO answer was easy to give. But Breck still had a ball rolling around with three of the 5 that are available, even though he got a little nip from them.

So there are our animal stories from this weekend – which was definitely a “2 rather than 3” sort of weekend for us. Only 35 more days of school until summer!

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!

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!

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.

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!!

Indian Dance

We get these little tastes of Indian culture from time to time here at the school, and today was one of those special occasions. There has been talk of a ‘famous Indian dancer’ coming to perform at ASB – her name is Malavika Sarukkai and she is lauded as one of the best of the best classical Indian dancers. There was even a performance last night: Sunday evening is a really tough time to make anything happen with a family (even ignoring the hellacious traffic here), so we gave it a pass. Luckily enough, she was scheduled to come during the school day.

We had a special schedule all day long to accommodate her performance during the last hour of school. Now, anyone who knows anything about kids is probably thinking, “What the heck is that school thinking, screwing up the whole day’s schedule and putting the kids on edge so they can sit and watch a lady dance during the last hour of school? What a recipe for disaster!” I’ll have to admit, I was thinking much the same thing, especially given how squirrelly the kids were all day long. But boy, was I wrong.

Malavika DancingMalavika came out and introduced the performance by invoking a prayer to Ganesh (whose blessings are supposed to clear all obstacles out of your way for a successful undertaking). Then, instead of dancing, she actually led the kids through a rundown of the instruments that were playing, giving each musician a brief solo, and then showed some of the basics of the dance moves. When she finally got around to dancing, the kids were raptly watching to see the foot movements and hand motions that she had described.

After every few minutes, she’d take a breather (literally) and come back to the microphone to describe her art some more. To finish the performance, she asked the audience to suggest a line of poetry that she could interpret. The first thing that leapt to my mind concerned a man from Nantuckett, but I remained discreetly silent. The stanza that made it up to her was “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took the one less traveled.” I mean, it was really darn close – I sure didn’t know that it was in a yellow wood (what kind of trees are yellow, anyways?).

She proceeded to dance her way down a road not taken, coming into contact with bees and rain and flowers and animals – signified by her hands. And the kids knew exactly what she meant! She showed them sights of her working in the garden, meeting a god – all your pretty typical afternoon goings on down the back roads of India. All in all, it was a spectacular performance and a super way to round out a crazy day.

Photo Shoot

Breck’s photo shootSo Breck had an interesting experience this weekend. He and Dave went to a hole-in-the-wall studio where he had an afternoon acting like a model for a clothes catalog! Apparently this is something that the expat kids get to do from time to time, as white skin is still sort of a novelty here (and desireable in advertisements). He got to wear makeup, eat Dominoes pizza, and look like he was incredibly bored all afternoon while the camera whirred.

It was pretty funny, because by the end of the day he really was yawning – trying so hard not to show it – but pretty wiped out. He got to try on all sorts of cool clothes, got a couple of pendants (dragons, nonetheless!), and some cool cash. An interesting experience – if we ever find the exact catalog he’s in we’ll pass that on…

Job search

No, not by us, but for us. Our driver quit right before winter break – supposedly since he wanted to go back to his hometown and be with his family. But since he is now working for a company in the area and still hanging around our apartment every day, we’ve started to doubt the veracity of that story.

In any case, we are looking for a new driver. We’ve been put in touch with a number of prospective employees and have interviewed several, but we received our first actual resume yesterday. It was obviously typed up on an old typewriter, as there are numerous strikeouts and ‘retypes,’ and I wonder if he did it himself or went to one of the many old men around town who make a living by typing up official forms for people.

I’m sorry, I forgot that what we received was not a resume. Apparently the politically correct term these days is “Bio-data.” So have a look at a typical Indian bio-data for someone wanted to get hired as a driver. While I’ve removed the name and other identifying info, remember that this is what someone gave to us in anticipation that it would help secure a job:

  • Name:
  • Address:
  • Date of birth:
  • Contact number:
  • Nationality:
    • Indian.
  • Gender:
    • Male.
  • Marital Status:
    • Married.
  • Educational Qualification:
    • 10th Failed.
  • Experience:
    • Worked for B.M.C. as a peon for two years.
    • Worked for Bharat gas service as delivery boy for 2 1/2 years.
  • Languages known:
    • Hindi.
    • Marathi.
  • Hobbies:
    • Playing cricket.
    • Watching movies.

Wild Winter Weather

Mumbai has been experiencing its coldest winter ever this summer: yup, temperatures have dipped below 50  Fahrenheit (the newspapers have said 9.7 Celsius). The city has gone absolutely berserk. We see people wearing ski masks, gloves, scarves, earmuffs, and fleece jackets.

If you have to sleep out on the streets, I suppose I can imagine there being a slight nip in the air (but remember, that is the absolute low during the day or night) but I have a tough time imagining all that being necessary during the day!

It cracks us up, though, because we are still walking around with shorts on (and keeping our windows open because it is so pleasant) while we hear nothing but all the complaining about how terrible the weather is!

All we can say is –  I hope it stays lousy! The longer we can put off the 90 degrees and 90% humidity, the better with me. I wore one of my Goa shirts to school today and loved it. Barbecues on the roof are pleasant, the breezes are great in the apartment, and life is extremely tolerable now. I hope ‘winter’ sticks around for a long time!

MathCounts

ASB Mathcounts Green TeamWe held ASB’s first ever Mathcounts competition this weekend, and I think things went off pretty well. We’ve had up to 16 kids coming for practices, but with other events (including an Iron Maiden concert here in Bombay – talk about a phrase I never imagined ever writing in my life!) we had 8 show up for the meet. That works out perfectly, though, as the team events involve 4 kids on each team, so we had 2 groups to go head to head.When the individual events finished on Friday, we had one person who was clearly ahead of the pack, but then a big logjam behind him. Our team competition on Saturday was very close, and our individual “Countdown Round” was a huge success, with several upsets and people changing final placement.

ASB Gold TeamI think the parents enjoyed the day as much as the kids, and the pizza afterwards didn’t hurt. We had really sweet looking trophies made, and hopefully the ‘buzz’ generated by the event will help get even more participation in ‘doing math’ as we go forward. All in all, a great end to our activity and a great start to the weekend.

Happy New Year!

The Stutz family in front of the Taj Mahal!!We’re back from our “Golden Triangle” trip – safe and sound, battle scarred and road weary. Our trip was, in different turns (and often within minutes of each other) beautiful, dirty, frustrating, rewarding, restful, and stressful. We saw wonders of the world and soul wrenching poverty, experienced overwhelming environmental degradation back to back with fantastic wildlife conservation, and came away with a new appreciation for all that we have.

In fact, one of the most poignant moments was upon our return to Mumbai – as we were driving through the street, both Dave and Susan looked at each other and remarked at how clean and orderly Mumbai seemed!! After all our ‘comments’ about the quality of life here, seeing what things are like out in the sticks brought a new round of culture shock home to us.

In any case, we’re back and will begin putting together pictures and stories from the trip, but this will be a very time-intensive project (as you can imagine). Patience, and we’ll get these posted. In the meantime, Susan is taking off for a week in Jakarta, Indonesia to get some teacher training, so don’t expect to hear much from her!

Merry Christmas!

Alea and Breck on Christmas eve!Imagine being able to play in your outdoor pool on Christmas Eve!! That’s what we did tonight, as the parents grilled chicken, the kids ‘painted’ each other and chased the crows away, and we all sat on the patio furniture watching the sun go down and the bats come up while we got ready for Santa to swing by.

We are celebrating Christmas on the 23rd this year because of our upcoming trip to Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan. Santa even sent us a text message one morning on our way into school confirming that he would be making a special trip to our apartment:

All ok 4 xmas on 23 dec. will make special kiara delivery to b and a. regards, kk

You should’ve seen Breck’s eyes light up when Dave’s phone beeped with that message! He was pretty excited, and texted Santa right back:

Thaks 4 coming 2 kiara on the 23. 2 thank u by leving out cookies and milk (mayb my dad will leave out som beer). Yours truly Breck

As always, we anticipate that the arctic wanderer will treat us pretty well, with early reports confirming lots of legos for Breck, woven baskets for mom, a rock tumbler for Alea, and (yet another) Cubbies hat for dad.

We’ve started a Christmas 2007 page with a few pictures from before and after the great present opening fest. We take off for our trip on Monday, and don’t anticipate being able to update the blog at all when on the road. If we are lucky, we might pop online and zap out an email or two, but the blog and webpage will probably be dormant until around the 8th of January or so.

Since that is the case, we’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone the holidayest of holiday seasons. Enjoy the snow if you are in the cold, lounge in the sun if you are in the heat, and make the most of each day that you’ve got. Adios until the new year!!

Parties and Pictures

Eid dinner!Tonight is the “big” Eid – the end of the pilgimage to Mecca. That means huge parties where animals are slaughtered – great fun for the whole family. We’ve seen people leading their goats all around town getting them ready for the feasting that will be going on. As I write this, a band is downstairs getting all warmed up, as our basement neighbors – the Khans – are hosting a party, complete with lights and all.

Of course, all us heathens will probably be up on the roof drinking beer, still recovering from the white elephant party last night. Susan got a fancy heavy crystal wedding picture frame and Dave got a metal candle holder plus Indian disco cd. Our best gifts, however, were some that were mysteriously left behind at our house by those who had won them – including various cakes, a wooden rooster, and some “Kama Sutra Body Spray” – yummy!!!

While there are no pictures from those festivities, we do have some new ‘catch up’ pages being posted: school pictures of the kids and parents, some shots from life around the apartment, and another “View of Life in India” page.