Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Let's Have and Interview"

(this is Chris's idea, we'll see where we wind up)

C: So, where'd you learn to spell?
M: Uum, nowere rilly. I muuved btween 2nd and 3nd grayd and Michegin is on a difurnt schedull than Westcomsin sew not sew much speling fohr me. Or cursive. Too bad I wuzn't hohmskuuled.

C: So what's the best part about living in India? For you?
M: I have met some wonderful people here - Stoltzfus-ians, Ahmeds, just to name a few families. I also love the food and I hate to be crass, but I like buying stuff for really cheap! And of course there are fantastically interesting places to see and things to do... like the ghats in Benares.

C: Not that big a deal that you get to spend more time with your husband?
M: Uhh, yea, that's good too. Actually, I've been thinking lately that our family is happier now, here, and more fully functional than we've been in a long time, maybe ever.

C: Maybe we should move to Afghanistan next!
M: Nope, sorry. Not such a cool place for us Hebes to hang out.

C: Do you think if I asked a particularly open ended question you could keep typing for the entire time it takes me to drive up around the corner to buy a Cad-B Thick Shake and bring it back?
M: Bring it on!

C: Do you think you could type for as long as it takes me to drink one myself?
M: Not if I kill you first. I need some Cad-B lovin'.

C: Bye!

C: (from the hallway) What are you going to do while I'm gone?
M: Write another post about poverty in India, of course.

Moving ON...

(Thank you everyone for not mocking my extreme fabulous smurf outift, or my bid for the MN high office. Also thank you all for not commenting on that post at all and thereby not giving Chris any positive reinforcement.)

Let's talk about poverty some more, shall we?

Yesterday I took the kids to the grocery store and we had a great auto-rickshaw driver on the way home. I was juggling too many bags of food and as he helped me he said, "Ahramse, Ahramse", which means roughly, "Easy does it", but literally is more like, "Do it comfortably". Aijaz used to say this all the time, especially when my kids were piling into the tiny Indica willy-nilly. So I laughed and said, "Dhanyahwad, Bhiaya" ("Thanks, Big Brother" the polite term for any random adult male). He then started in asking Caitlin and me all sorts of questions in basic Hindi and was delighted to find that we could tell him our names, where we were from and how long we're living in India, all in Hindi.

By that point we'd pretty much reached the end of my Hindi, but the rickshaw wallah spoke very good English so as we switched languages it seemed like my turn to ask him questions. We covered family and birthplace and then I started asking him about life as a rickshaw wallah. The information I got was not surprising, but disturbing none the less.

He works 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. Daily income is about 500 rupees, or about $10. He doesn't own the rickshaw he drives and has to pay the owner 150 rupees daily. So monthly he takes home about 10500 rupees or just over $200. That's before fuel and maintance costs, all of which are his responsibility. And yet this is enough income to allow him to be the sole earner for his family of four. His kids are 14 and 15, a girl and boy respectively and both still in school, which I think says a lot.

Our conversation moved on from the details of rickshaw driving and I learned that he is a Christian, from a Catholic family and the beneficiary of a Jesuit education. He eagerly told me when Good Friday and Easter will be and explained them to me in detail as well.

And with that we pulled up to the gate. I handed him 1000 rupees and he cried.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Real Reason Maggie Isn't In Any of the Pictures

She's embarassed to tell you that last week, Grampy brought some of the Genetic Modifiers along with him and they spliced in some Smurf and a little bit of Mushmouth from the Fat Albert Gang (Google them yourselves).

Also, she's too busy running for Governator of Minnesota.

Photos by Ben. Not this Ben (you're welcome, GG)

A Clever Title That Makes You Want To Read My Blogpoast

There are so many things about which I think, 'we should take a picture of that.' Perhaps this picture will make you agree, or quite possibly, glad that I don't usually have the camera to hand:
This, friends, is dishwashing paste. About this I have the following to say:
a. Dishwashing paste?
2. Does this remind anyone else of the stuff the Dental Technician uses to polish your teeth?
and lastly, I wonder if they also make 'dendrite' brand laundry detergentthere is a Quark brand of laundry detergent, and if I know the difference between axons and axions?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

PBS Movie about Indian Domestic Workers

There’s widespread resistance to acknowledging that our comfort is based on someone else’s hardship and on the perpetuation of that hardship. But it’s an opportunity for change: at the individual level as well as through legislation for better wages and benefits for domestic workers. -Nishtha Jain, filmmaker

PBS is showing a documentary, Lakshmi and Me, about a maid in Mumbai, made by one of her employers. The few clips on the website were startling and disturbing to us and we're hoping to see the whole thing somehow. If you're in the States, please check the website for local showings.

For me, the question of poverty and how to make a real difference for anybody here has been a big and recurring concern. The problem is huge and for better or worse the strategy we've settled on is to try to help those closest to us, our employees.

And yet I can't help but wonder if we're doing the right thing, or going about it in the right way. As often as not in Varanasi attempts we made to help were met with refusal from our employees or scorn from our Indian aquaintances.

I try to tell myself that by employing anyone I am helping, at least a little bit. And by treating the people who work for us with kindness and respect, and by paying them a generous salary I hope that we're making more than a small difference in their lives. But beyond the short time we have together I don't have much faith that our actions will have done much good, and in fact I worry that I'm causing more difficulties in the long run.

In Varanasi we were very open and friendly with the people who worked for us and in at least one case I fear that that treatment led to our maid losing one of her other jobs. She had become too "uppity" we were told, because of the way we "allowed" her to act in our home and in her relationship with us. In fact we did nothing more extravagant than what any of you would do with a guest or friend visiting your home - offer her something to eat and drink each day, invite her to sit at our table, and take some time getting to know her. We encouraged her to help herself to food when she was hungry (which as one daughter of 6 was likely often) and treated her as an equal. Yes, she washed our dishes and our floors, but I don't think we ever thought any less of her for doing so. And yet that all ammounted to a bad outcome for her, and the censure of us by some of our neighbors. I was told, by a very kindly Indian friend from outside of our neighborhood, "You don't understand how our culture works. You think you are doing a good think by treating the maid like this, but really you are hurting her. Who will hire her now when she expects to be treated as you treated her?"

So... the internal debate rages on. In Pune we have one employee, a woman named Suman who comes everyday to do the dishes and floor. She works for our landlord and a few other families in the building and in all honesty, I'm happy to have her with us. I know for certain that we pay her more than anyone else in the building, and for less work, but I just can't stomach paying any less. How can I pay someone less than $20/month to do things I positively hate and would put off as long as possible? I can't. How much would I want to be paid for washing someone else's dishes and floors every single stinkin' day? A helluva lot more than $20/month, that's for sure.

But, this isn't my country or my culture. How much change can I hope to create? Is it even appropriate to try? How much difference can I hope to make in the short 4 months that we'll know Suman? And at what cost to her, and us?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

He (was) BAAAAACK!

Everyone's favorite world traveller, Grampy, just spent roughly a week in Pune. (True to his globe trotting nature he had to leave in the middle and go up to Chandigar for a day to hang out with agriculturalists - what can you do?)

Highlights from his visits:

Visiting Ohel David Synagogue, (scroll down on the link), home to the Pune Bene Yisroel. The synagogue is reportedly the largest in Asia, outside of Israel. The building everyone is standing in front of below is the tomb of David Sassoon, a Mumbai businessman and Jewish leader of the last century.
This building is also part of the synagogue complex - perhaps once the mikvah, now, who knows?
The formation of the Pune Bharaht Scouts "Unlce" Fan Club. Third from the left is Niranyen, the Fan Club's undisputed leader who is now my shadow at scouts, asking me SO many questions and already pining for "Uncle". (Ben - not so thrilled to have to share his Grandpa.)

We hit the park, and the little shops outside a couple of times. Enjoyable, but mainly remarkable for the fact that I'm actually in a picture! And for the discovery of Cad(B) Thick Shakes. (A subject which merits its own post, I think...)
Eating donuts at "Jujubees" in honor of Grandpa George, fellow donut guru-grandpa!

Also ranking high on the "Fun Stuff We Did With Grampy" (but didn't photograph) was the trip to the Pune Zoo/Snake Park, eating LOTS of yummy food at fun places, and going to swimming lessons. (Grandpas can be counted on to spring for an autorickshaw - Moms can't.) Best of all was simply having lots of 'normal' hanging out time with Grampy - playing games, reading books and the like. So good to have him here - looking forward to the next visit in May!

Monday, March 23, 2009


1. Mrs. Champa drove the Scooty down to the pool area yesterday, out on the open road with all the other scooters.
2. I was racially profiled. Today I got pulled over, although that doesn't really describe it when I'm idling at a light with a few hundred other vehicles and the cop walks up and says 'Do you have a license?' which I do, and "Do you have a pollution standard pass?" Which I did, but not with me. Luckily, because I was willing to pay the fine directly to him, on the spot, I got a 90% discount. Read b/w the lines, yall
3. DHL reports that my stuff has reached New York. I may have an IDP by Friday.
4. Yesterday marked our 1/2 way point. 6 months in India. We're averaging like .8 posts a day so far, for those of you who think the blog is all that really matters.
5. Potentially goodish biggish news on the way, but I'm not jinxing anything yet, speshly cuz I gotta get back to work. (And if you know, clam up.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Top Ten India Transportation Facts

10.  If you were smart enough to pay $15 at the AAA for an International Driving Permit before you left America, pass go and the 2000 other applicants at the Pune Regional Transportation Office.  Your license is good in India.  Otherwise, you have to mail in and hope that DHL is on its game this week.  
9. In the meantime, all things traffic and Indian seem to be loosely construed, contingent, and interpretable.  So, no license = no problem.  I think.
8.  I have now travelled with B&C on board, and even once around the parking lot with Grampy B&C.  That was fun.  No Team Nag Champion Victory Lap Vehicle yet.
7.  In India, the TVS Scooty ES is a family vehicle.  For a family of five....
or six (random first multirider pic from the communal electric brain)
6. Because the law says no more than one rider in addition to the driver....
5. which by de facto application, doesn't include children...
4. or friends, relatives, or anyone under 300 kg or with a last name not ending with qz.
3.  Petrol costs Rs42/liter, which equals about $3 something a gallon, plus, since it really is the same 2-stroke engine as your lawnmower, but perhaps smaller at 50cc, I have to pour oil in the gas tank too.
2. Top speed: ~50km/h...downhill...with a tailwind...
1. Which makes my hair look like 

going mobile

We have reached another family milestone here in India - motor scooter ownership. Didn't think it'd ever happen, did you? Ah, but Pune has funny powers of persuasion. There will never be a substitute for Samser or Aijaz (or an Ambassador, for that matter!), but the scooter is filling a need, and quite capably at that.

Its also ton of fun, don't let my expression fool you.

Now if only I could work up the nerve to drive it out of our cul-de-sac.

Fresh Veggies, at long last

With a few glorious exceptions (Dr. Lowell's early birthday salad dinner!) I don't think we really ate any raw veggies at all in Varanasi. If it didn't have a very close to impermeable rind that we could remove, it got cooked (to death, oh, I mean, Bhoj Puri style) before we ate it. No grapes, no raw peppers, definitely no salad.

Only late in our stay in Varanasi did I get clued in to potassium permanganate. The link makes it look like some sort of scary pool cleaning compound (which it is), but it also great for sterilizing fruit and vegetables.

You can buy a big packet of it at most any drugstore in India. Then, in a non-reactive container (not aluminum) you dissolve 2 or 3 grains of the stuff in filtered water. The crystals themselves are dark purple, but they turn the water a delightful magenta. After washing the dirt of your veggies and prepping them, let them soak for about 15 minutes. Rinse of the potassium permanganate with filtered water and then dig in!

We have been gorging on grapes and sweet peppers, as well as spinach salad. Such a relief to finally have fresh produce in our diet again, and without fear of intestinal calamity. Hooray!

Joy and woe are woven fine, A clothing for the soul divine.

Lest I scare off my most loyal commentor, a bit of explanation. "Stupid ******* white man" and "Do you have any tobacco?" are key lines from Dead Man, the brilliant Jim Jarmusch film we watched last night during the final stages of lice annihilation. Exquisite, poetic, gory and hilarious - much like picking nits out of your loved ones' hair.

Also, Johnny Depp.

Sleep depravation, massive blood loss due to lice bites and overdoses of high-quality dark chocolate (McGovern, you still rock) may impair my blogging judgement. But never fear, I have not turned into a foul mouthed ne'er-do-well.

Allow me to redeem myself and close with the Blake poem most quoted in the film,

"Augeries of Innocence"

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house filled with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell through all its regions.
A dog starved at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipped and armed for fight
Does the rising sun affright.
Every wolf's and lion's howl
Raises from hell a human soul.
The wild deer wandering here and there
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misused breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher's knife.
The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won't believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever's fright.
He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be beloved by men.
He who the ox to wrath has moved
Shall never be by woman loved.
The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider's enmity.
He who torments the chafer's sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.
The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother's grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh.
He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar's dog and widow's cat,
Feed them, and thou wilt grow fat.
The gnat that sings his summer's song
Poison gets from Slander's tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of Envy's foot.
The poison of the honey-bee
Is the artist's jealousy.
The prince's robes and beggar's rags
Are toadstools on the miser's bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The babe is more than swaddling bands,
Throughout all these human lands;
Tools were made and born were hands,
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;
This is caught by females bright
And returned to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar
Are waves that beat on heaven's shore.
The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Writes Revenge! in realms of death.
The beggar's rags fluttering in air
Does to rags the heavens tear.
The soldier armed with sword and gun
Palsied strikes the summer's sun.
The poor man's farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric's shore.
One mite wrung from the labourer's hands
Shall buy and sell the miser's lands,
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole nation sell and buy.
He who mocks the infant's faith
Shall be mocked in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne'er get out.
He who respects the infant's faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child's toys and the old man's reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.
The questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.
The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar's laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to the armour's iron brace.
When gold and gems adorn the plough
To peaceful arts shall Envy bow.
A riddle or the cricket's cry
Is to doubt a fit reply.
The emmet's inch and eagle's mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you please.
If the sun and moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.
The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation's fate.
The harlot's cry from street to street
Shall weave old England's winding sheet.
The winner's shout, the loser's curse,
Dance before dead England's hearse.
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
We are led to believe a lie
When we see not through the eye
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.
God appears, and God is light
To those poor souls who dwell in night,
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Some are born to endless night

This was a day which started with lice. God willing and the creek don't rise, it ends without them.

12 hours, 2 pizzas, one Bharat Scouts meeting, two scooters rides, 4 movies (Swiss Family Robinson, Roman Mysteries - Season 1, Slapshot and Deadman), 3 showers, 2 loads of laundry and 3 newly made-up beds, I am declaring the lice remdiation project complete.

Stupid' white man.

Do you have any tobacco?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Chat with Your Mother

Nobody seems to be chomping at the bit for more info about the F-Word song I mentioned a few posts back, but I was never one to let the lack of an interested audience stop me from being meticulously thorough.

The song is properly called "A Chat with Your Mother" and is by none other than Madison's very own Lou and Peter Berryman. Here we have a hilarious rendition performed as part of a drag chorus retreat in Washington D.C. Enjoy!


Capitalizing on some of the best weather in India, Pune is home to many swimming pools. Tilak Tank, part of the Deccan Gymkhana recreational wonderland is just a few blocks down the street from our house so we've joined.
The pool was established sometime in the 1930s and was at that time just a huge hole in the ground, full of water. Today the complex includes an Olympic size lap pool, a smaller, shallower "beginners" pool and a "natural" pool fed by underground springs which is a lovely shade of green. Note the high wall immediately behind the water polo net. People jump off this wall. Often.

Everyone who joins the pool has to take a swimming test before being turned loose. If you fail you automatically are placed in "coaching". Ben isn't quite up to swimming a full 50m yet, so he's in coaching, which happens everyday, for an hour. There are 3 coaches and maybe 50 kids in coaching at any given time. A wide range of ages and ability levels but somehow everyone seems to be learning, or at the very least, not drowning. Its a far cry from the highly organized and intensively managed swimming lessons that Ben had back home, but he really seems to like his coach a lot and has made visible progress in the past week or so.

You'll note Caitlin's swim cap in the first picture. All females are required to wear them, as are males with longer hair. Women seem partial to extremely conservative swimming costumes - high neck tank suits with bike shorts underneath are popular, as are skirted numbers with the bike shorts. I bought myself a VERY conservative tank suit (swimsuit shopping in India - let your imagination soar!) but still haven't had the guts to wear it in public. A white lady's thighs may be more than the venerable institution of Tilak Tank can handle. Gotta find some bike shorts.

There are also regulations for men's attire, but I think I'll leave that for Chris to blog about...

When is a library not a library?

As homeschoolers, the library was practically our second home, back home. We were there many times a week and checked out mountains of books. We were on a first name basis with just about all of the librarians and clerks. We attended lots of librabry programs - the usual preschool story times but also knitting circles and chess club and duct tape days too. We loved the library and it seemed like the library was pretty darn fond of us too.

Fast forward through the dark empty months of no library at all whatsoever in Varanasi and we arrive in Pune, and find ourselves living quite close to a British Library. Sound the celestial trumpets, right?

Um, wrong. Now I'm ready to admit that I've got some cultural biases when it comes to libraries. I realize that I grew up with and was raising my children with the most popular branch library in one of the greatest public library systems in the US. My expectations are high. Probably too high I realized when I tried to use the British Library.

Full of hope we set out on a Monday afternoon to start our relationship with the British Library. But it was closed. On a Monday. Why? This is India... or, to quote my favorite brother in law, "Hey, what do you want from me? I wasn't born in this country."

Take two, next day. Library was open and a kindly man walked me through the application process. I paid just over $60 for the "classic family" membership which grants us the opportunity of checking out a whopping 10 items at a time. (Back home the membership was free and I think the limit was 100). Undaunted we hit the "Family Corner" and started looking for books.

Now I'm ready to work with a bit of disorganization in a library, especially the children's area. Books out of order tells me that people are picking them up and looking at them - reading them even. But in the British Library Family Corner there is absolutely no indication that the books have been put in any sort of order, ever. Any given shelf yields fiction and non-fiction, young adult novels thrown in with early readers. Reference books mixed up with books available for checkout. The only thing you're not likely to find in the Family Corner is a picture book.

The Family Corner occupies a small corner of the ground floor, the rest of which is given over to administrative offices and a large area filled with resources for people interested in pursuing higher education in England. The two upper floors house adult books, both fiction and non-fiction, but heavily weighted toward Brit Lit classics and business/personal self-help books.

Also upstairs is the computer area. 7 or so workstations available on a reserve basis, for library members. Patrons are limited to 1 hour per day, per card. Our first attempt to use the computers was met with so much resistance that we decided we might just rather stick to Mocha, or better yet, the happy DSL now available in my bedroom. Turns out that even if you do reserve a computer someone else will still be using it (without a reservation) and will be rather nasty when you ask them to please give you your turn. Also, we learned the hard way that if you start your hour of usage at any time other than the top of the hour, you will be short changed and booted off at the begining of the next clock hour. Lovely.

Finally, I figured the best way to ensure a happy association with the library was to get involved - give something back to what I hoped would be a much used resource for our family. So I offered to volunteer, both reshelving books in the Family Corner and hosting a Story Time every week or so. My offer was met with undisguised shock and perhaps even disgust. The librarian I spoke to laughed off my willingness to reshelve books and pooh-poohed my assessment that they were in great need of organization. And as to story time, she assured me no one would come at all unless I held it after exams. Which happen in June. When I'll be in Ladahk. I tried to explain that I didn't mind if attendance was low, and that I'd be willing to do my own publicity (fliers in the park? at the pool?) and that I would be long gone by the time exams happened. But that all seemed to fall on deaf ears. She gave me her card and then told me she'd be sure to call me if anything came up that they'd like me to do. Maybe I'm a bit wacky, but if I ran a library and someone turned up and offered to do the sorts of things I offered, I think I'd jump at the chance, especially since those things seem to be going quite undone as of now.

We cherish our 10 items and still really look forward to hitting the library as often as possible. But somehow, I'm just not feelin' the love... Sequoya, we miss you!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Channelling my Inner Amy

The best part of our time in Varanasi was getting to meet so many wonderful people.  Among them was Amy, a woman of remarkable talent, courage and quiet service.  Not only has she lived more or less non-stop in one of the most challenging cities on the planet for the last 8 years, she's raising 4 little kids, homeschooling, and supporting a man who's working hard, in the trenches.  In the midst of all that she has managed to create a home and family that was an oasis for us, in no small part thanks to the food that poured out of her kitchen.  (I am a food person and in my world, nothing says love like baked goods.)  She was such a comfort to me in Varanasi and now is a huge inspiration.   People, the woman rocks.  

Amy knew she was moving to India well in advance and decided that she'd figure out how to cook pretty much everything from scratch before they moved over here.  Bread, buffalo sausage, York Peppermint Patties, you name it, I bet Amy can do it.  

My transition to India was a bit more abrupt than Amy's and I have to admit that in the months before we moved I spent a heckuva lot of time whining about India instead of learning how to do what I'd have to do in order to cook here.  As a result, instead of consoling myself with familiar food and therapeutic baking I hired a cook and spent my first 4 months eating Manju's (delicious, love-filled) food and envying everyone I knew with an oven. 

Now that we're in Pune (and can deal with India a bit better), we are fending for ourselves on the food front and for the most part having a blast with it.  In the past three weeks I've baked bread, bagels, cookies, shortbread, 2 kinds of brownies, tried 2 crazy new dinner dishes and even made tortillas from scratch for the first time ever.  Chris knocked one out of the park tonight with Shahi Paneer made from left over corn salsa.  

On the agenda for tomorrow is challah for Shabbat, another batch of brownies and happy thoughts of Amy every time I open the oven door.  Wahoo!

Now if only I could figure out how to make cream cheese...

Friday, March 6, 2009


Photos by Caitlin.  (except one!)

Sangam, one of WAGGGS's 5 World Centers is located in North Pune.  We feel incredibly lucky to be living so close to such a great scouting resource and hope to make good use of it.  We made the journey out there just before Thinking Day.We met some lovely women there, including quite a few from England who were visiting for Thinking Day and to do volunteer work.  The grounds are a good respite from hot sunny dusty India and the (free!) pool a treat.  We'll be back!  

Next up - getting hooked up with a Bharat Guides troop.  (India's Girl Scouts).  The Guides and Scouts have a huge "Scouting Ground" quite close to our house, including a large building where troops gather for activities and meetings.  Most troops are affiliated with a school, but rumor has it that an appropriately aged "open" group meets at the scout ground Saturday evening.  Keep your finger crossed!  Caitlin has really missed her troop back home (Hi Troop 45ers!) and while working on badges independently has been fun, the camaraderie is a big part of scouting for her too. 

Coming soon, pictures and recollections of the Thinking Day ceremony held at the scout grounds.

Pune Chart Toppers

At home, with the kids:

and "The F-Word Song" from Rise Up Singing. (The YouTube search was scary - can anyone find a good link? The lyrics are awesome!)

And out in the world, nearly everywhere we go:

Also, lots of Bryan Adams. Pune truly is the place where all my favorite 80s trends went to die.  

Imagine the delight of shopping at Benneton or ESPRIT again, and rockin out to Summer of 69. Now if only the Swatch store would start carrying those fabulous bright plastic watches...

For Grandpa George

Bakery case at our grocery store...

...are you sure you're not coming to visit?


In Varanasi we had Open Hand and now, in Pune, Mocha.  While no coffee shop will ever replace our beloved Open Hand (Hi ChunWi, Karis, Mark and all the Uncles!  We miss you TONS.), my new favorite hangout deserves at least a little blog love. 

To begin with - excellent coffee, including lattes and imported coffee.  Food choices ranging from breakfast to panninis and wraps to poutaine.  And then there's dessert...  

... so many deep dark chocolate choices, and if you're lucky, they come with sticks.  (?!!?)

Inside it is all jewel tones and squishy couches and cushions.  
Outside it looks a bit like weathered Morocco (but I wouldn't really know) complete with hookahs.  (I'm holding the line against hookahs, no matter what the cool Pune kids say.  11am is NOT hookah time!)  

Free wi-fi clinches the deal. Now if only the waiters would get about 100% sweeter and take an interest in wrestling with Ben...

Mocha does hold the dubious honor of having the most vexing bathroom I've yet to find in India.  The ladies room has a Western toilet, but with no toilet seat.  Toilets are great, squat toilets I can deal with, but really, the hybrid thing just doesn't work for me.  I just want to pee, not have a mini quad workout!

Kamala Nehru Park

About a block from our house there is a huge, lovely park.  Complete with amenities like a retired fighter jet...
...a swan fountain...

...Thought of the Day Board (sorry, no picture, but the most recent though was, "What you are aware of you can control.  What you are not aware of controls you."  How d'ya like THEM apples?!)...

...and the coolest, most dangerous playground I have seen in a long time.  Check it out - not one bit of plastic and certainly none of that pansy foam-rubber ground cushioning.  Here in Pune we rock it old-school - straight up solid metal everything (slides too, which get SUPER hot in the south India heat and sun), hard-pack dirt covered with gravel (yea, the kind that gets ground into your knees when you fall), and big slabs of cement in strategic places.  

For instance, note the concrete land zone under the parallel bars...

...and under the swings.

Maybe the heat (38C today - 100.4F) is permanently warping me, but I think this is all awesome.  Even the benches are concrete.  

Aside from the playground the rest of the park is a delight in its own right.  There are big grassy fields (where people are allowed to sit and even play cricket!)  (Varanasi Vets, I know you know how rare this is...) and walking paths that wind through it all.  The park is usually packed with people of all ages - from nannies and parents with babies to senior citizens out for some exercise and socializing.  My kids usually manage to scrounge up a playmate or two most visits.  

Only downside is that the park is solidly on the Pune schedule - open from 6am-11am and 4pm-10pm - and we're still stubbornly clinging to our American schedule.  (Try as I might, I just can't deal with my kids staying up past 10.  Especially when the REFUSE to nap during the day.)

Nevertheless, we love the park.  Score another for team SLNC!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

O, Kolkata[

This is a mightily clever-titled post.

I am in Kolkata for the Fulbright conference, where there are papers on camel-breeding and Hoysala temples and protecting Nepali policemen from aerosol exposure.  Its actually pretty fun.  The conference is fairly all-consuming, plus they feed us 3 meals a day, so there's not much seeing the city.  I can tell you it's a long ol' ride from the airport, and that from here to the Barista is about five minutes, in which time I go from uber-schwanky hotel to people sleeping on the sidewalks almost immediately.  I think there's a Metro.

The one dynamic about the conference is that there are Student Researchers who are mostly just out of Yale, it seems, or some other undergrad program; there are the Hays Doctoral Research folks like myself, who are sort of 29-40ish, and then there are the 'Senior Researchers' who are all tenured, along with visiting lecturers and alums.  We divide up into stratae fairly quickly and mostly stay that way.  I've been hanging out with the Persianistas and the Old Iranian Philology guy, who says that if we count languages he's forgotten he knows 18.  I was humbled.  He's been at Harvard since he was 18, which probably accounts for something.

I also saw a really great paper on landmark Indian trees.

I am always a little surprised when anyone else finds my research interesting, and its not particularly well-suited for powerpoint presentations to general audiences, so I did a fairly long bit on saying thank you and explaining why I'm so happy to be a fulbrighter.  My grandfather was one, and for as long as I can remember my mom's been telling us about being in Denmark when she was little--or, rather, about being in hospital in jolly Olde Englund with scarlet fever.  I got Mom to send me some photos from her Fulbright, plus talked some about how helpful it is to have family along when it comes to the Fulbright mission of promoting mutual understanding.  Here's what I showed 'em, and a synopsis of what I said.

In academia we have a certain mercenary quality inasmuch as we have to take whatever funding we can get, and I am of course very grateful to have the money, but I'm particularly proud to be a Fulbrighter.  My grandfather was a professor,

 as was my grandmother (I sat next to a guy on the plane coming here whose sons both graded from Guilford College), and in 1953 they got a Fulbright to go to Denmark with my mother and her brothers.
My grandfather, first row in specs and bow tie, was on the faculty of a history department in some Danish university.

I also wanted to give my colleagues a chance to see the similarities and differences between a 1953 Denmark Fulbright and a 2009 India.  For instance, no Indian Fulbrighter comes on one of these:

On the other hand, there is no Fulbright without oxcarts:

And don't we all have at least one over-eager and slightly eccentric faculty member somewhere around?
And there was one more but I don't have it here, but I said the point was that it made an impression on my mother, and while my father and she never got a Fulbright, my mother did run an International Exchange program for social workers, and so I grew up with a series of Nepalis and Indians and Dutch and Cypriots and Japanese staying summers in my house.  And I got the basics of mutual understanding--that you are like me, but you are also not like me.  And now I have my Fulbright [and here's where I start to CRY in front of my COLLEAGUES, gorsh!] and my mom came to visit me, and here we all are:

Then I talked about Buddhist Confession and a necessary methodological shift in Buddhist Studies.  I know,
Not Interesting.
My colleagues thought it was though.