|Greetings from India!
Our pictures will give you a solid idea of the sensory onslaught we have experienced these past two weeks - WOW!
The beginning… Our flights were fine, though we almost missed the connecting flight in Houston. We flew over some pretty crazy territory to get here: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran… Nothing going on up in the air, but we sure thought about the turmoil down below. The Mumbai airport was well organized and everyone got luggage except for us. We didn’t expect it, anyway, as our flight to Houston was so close. All 16 bags arrived the next day and airport customs delivered them right to school, who in turn delivered them right to us.
Which brings me to the first ‘adjustment’ to life in India: Everyone else does the thing you are ‘supposed’ to do. Get the luggage? They deliver it. Out of water bottles? They deliver some. Need a dozen eggs or a cup of sugar? They deliver it. Run out of cold beer at your party? They deliver it. It is amazing. The fifth appendage here is the cell phone and they are used well. One call and the world is delivered to your doorstep. Dangerous convenience? The phrase ‘I need to go run a few errands’ does not exist here for us. And as Westerners who make a lot of money, we are expected to let others do the work so the delivery folks can earn an income.
We arrived at our new home at 1:30 in the morning. The kids were awake enough to pick out their bedrooms and unpack their backpacks and play for a bit. The whole place stunk of mold and mildew, but a de-humidifier was running full blast. Although the furniture still smells, everything else has been cleared out by A/C and the de-humidifier. We keep them running 24/7.
It is monsoon here and it pours everyday. We have been caught in a few downpours and it hurts when it beats on your skin. Umbrellas are ineffectual as they collapse under the weight of the deluge. When the rain starts, people just go into a building and sit and wait it out. Rumor has it this season lasts until mid-September. After that, it doesn’t rain again until next May. Indians here are very Zen about the whole thing: We welcome the rain as rain. We need the rain to fill the reservoirs so Mumbai can drink during the dry season. We welcome the rain. Ah, to be so accepting of all the short term inconveniences in recognition of the long term and greater good. The damp mold is everywhere – the rings of it and the stink of it and the slime of it. But no bugs! We had a worm crawl out of a plant we got, but that is the extent of the entomological scenery.
Our home is in the Kiara Apartments. It is 7 floors and we are on the 6th. Every floor but one is occupied by an ASB (American School Bombay) family. We have had a tremendous amount of support and guidance and help from all the returning teachers and families. The top floor is open and tiled, so we go up there to run around.
We overlook the Arabian Sea to the west, downtown Bombay to the south and vast development every other direction. We are fortunate to have an all-girls school right next door, so there is a large green area out our windows. Another pleasant adjustment: greenery! I was expecting huge Bombay to be devoid of trees and growth. Pressing humanity was all I thought would be here, with homeless people cutting down everything for fuel and/or building material. Not so! It is very lush and very green. We have what must be a runner up for Miss Tallest Palm Tree growing right out Alea’s window. There are lots of signs around town, too: Green Bombay, Healthy Bombay – Plant a Tree!! Signs forbidding illegal construction (slumming) adorn the trees and it seems that is enforced (at least in our area).
But there are slums and poverty. Not as bad I thought, though. We drove through the world’s largest slum our first day here – on our way downtown to register with the Indian Police (National Geographic did an article about it in May). Actually, we had driven through it and then someone said what it was. I was surprised because it wasn’t the image of slum I had: dead and starving bodies and rotting carrion etc. It was bad – don’t get me wrong – but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. There were naked kids (except for gold bracelets around the ankles or chili peppers around the waist) and young girls, clearly too young to be moms, hauling more naked kids around.
The piles of garbage were horrific; we saw a woman wash clothes on the stone floor of her house, ring them out and put them out to dry on mounds of garbage that were compressed and stable enough to serve as tables. But the kids have food. Rice and veggies and fruits and whatever they use that is like wheat are crazily inexpensive. That is some small solace to me as I look at the lifestyle they lead. And the (supposed) future they have.
The cost of living has been an unpleasant surprise. We were used to reasonable prices for food in Serbia, but the cost of goods in general was also realistic there: 50 cents for a plastic bowl, 20 bucks for a coffee pot, 5,000 bucks for a car. Staggering is about the only way to describe how expensive non-food stuff is here. A box of pancake mix is $7, small plastic bins run $2 each, the Black and Decker coffee pot we bought today was $60!!!! New teachers have been forking out $15 – 20K for cars!! I’ll pay that it in the US where the roads are decent and the car won’t mold over in three days, but not here! Everyone has a driver, too. No one – absolutely no one drives here him or herself. One guy got a motorcycle, but he only rides it in the early morning for fear of his life. The thing about driving is not that it is on the left – we got accustomed to that in Pakistan. It is the quantity of traffic. It is the most difficult past of life here for me. We spend hours sitting in traffic because there is just so much of it.
And it is odd – Bombay is a very late city. We thought such a hot climate would mean early mornings and late nights and mid day siesta. But this is not the case. They stay up super late and get up super late and run right through the hottest part of the day. So the van ride to school in the morning is about 15 minutes because there are few other vehicles on the roads at 7:00 am. However, the ride home at 4:10 takes almost an hour (with luck). You all know how terribly I handle traffic; I’d rather donate a kidney than sit in it. Dave finds it utterly amusing to find me captive here. It drives me crazy! My humidity frayed brillo pad hair stands straight up in outrage as we sit and go nowhere with a gazillion people honking in inertia. We’ve seen lots of police barricades – but no police – trying to control the traffic. It will be the most challenging part of living here, I can tell right away.
The school is under huge construction as it expands, so that has been fun to watch. Dave and I were lucky and had rooms that were done, so we have been able to set up. ¾ of the other teachers haven’t been able to – and new student orientation is tomorrow! Breck’s teacher will be Celine Kline, a Filipina/American whose husband works at the US consulate. Alea’s teacher will be Kevin Krems, an Anglo/American from Idaho. They seem like good people. Breck wanted a male teacher and Alea wanted a female, so that got all mixed up – but it will be a good year because we will make it so. 2 of the 3 4th grade teachers are men, so I will request that for Breck next year. My colleagues are wonderful. Kay is from Ohio and is the MS Principal’s wife. She has taught in Japan and Taiwan. Agnes Franklin is from the States, too, and has taught in Saudi, Indonesia, Malaysia and France. She is a Buddhist and does the Yoga meditating thing. She is very calm and peaceful with a quiet center; she will be good balance for me as I work my way through this first year.
The kids are doing well. They have connected with some others in the building, so that has made a huge difference. We have a small pool at the apartment, and a weight room, so we bounce around in there. They’ll meet some more friends when school starts. They say they aren’t quite ready, but I think that will change after tomorrow. They are slow to warm with the food – no surprise there – but we are working on it. All the grocery places and restaurants deliver, so that makes it easy.
We hired a housekeeper, Stella, who started last week. I think we must have a good luck housekeeper charm in the family, because she is as fabulous as Connie. She likes the kids and they are good with her, so that makes it easy for me. She does all the marketing and shopping, too, so that is a HUGE relief for me as I would truly lose my mind if I had to sit in a rickshaw in traffic at the end of the day to go shopping. There is a little deli place called Candies at the end of our road – they have great Indian and other take-out. I know – after only two weeks here – that it will become a very important part of our lives? There is a little market, too, for milk and juice and bread. And I can walk there – yeah!
We have spread pictures out randomly in this letter, but know Dave will get the others up on-line soon. Carla, we’ll have to let you know about a skype date. It will have to wait until we get internet at home. Jennifer, I am so glad I packed your green squash-em Tupperware. Stella makes perfect portion sizes of daal and other Indian food for Dave and keeps it in there; perfect! Mom, the kids have not had a chance to Webkinz because we still don’t have internet at home. We are doing all our emailing from school. We have submitted papers in triplicate for every service imaginable and they mysteriously disappear until a few days later - Voila! – with no notice some guy shows up at your door with cable, cell phone, TV, vent repair, etc… So when the internet guy shows up is anyone’s guess. Except the garbage service – that is a guy who lives in the basement of the apartment. Every family pays him 150 rupees a month ($3.75) and he picks up our garbage and recycling every day. We just set it right outside our door in the hallway. Bill, I hope you enjoy this missive. I thought about you as I was writing. We had a full 2 days of inservice on 6 traits writing: Guiding our students as they become effective, purposeful and enthusiastic writers. You would have appreciated it!
Much love to one and all. We miss you terribly. We have pictures of everyone up on the fridge, but we’d love the new one of all of us in the back yard if it could be mailed or scanned and emailed. Hugs and we’ll be in touch – Suz.
Alea’s turn: Hi! So far India is great. It’s really really hot and humid. Mom’s hair looks like cotton candy – only brown. The smells of India are really strange. You often smell fish and garbage everywhere. I don’t really like it. Neither does Mom. We just got some plants and I have two in my room. One tree is like a pine tree and the other is on my dresser. One tree that is out on the patio is a lime tree. I’ve never tried a lime. But maybe I will. Navy Macaws have been coming to the patio door out of my room. Yesterday Dad put bread and pomegranates out and the macaws ate it all.
Breck’s turn: Hi. I think India is great. It kinda looks like the book Grandma reads to us. It is called Brothers. It’s like Chinatown here because there are lots of people who have dark skin and shaggy houses. Today we went for a walk and I was really exhausted. But I found something to focus me up; it was a sewing machine. I was using it by pedaling the thing on the floor to make the needle go up and down. I wish you could come here.
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