Tuesday, April 28, 2009

scooty goes empty


Yesterday the scooty sputtered and stopped at a stoplight.  Out of gas.  My internal meter of how much I have (since opening the tank and looking in only works so well) was thrown off by the days out of town and off the scooty.  Fortunately, when a scooter runs out of gas, you're supposed to lean it as far as you can to one side, and then right it again.  That produced enough to get me to the 'petrol pump' around the corner.  (Only 3 months til it's a gas station again! with 44 oz fountain drinks and ice...) On the way there I saw another motorist pushing his ride in that direction.  Happens all the time.

Fact: I have yet to purchase a full gallon of gasoline here.  I usually get Rs100 worth, which is like 2.1 liters = .6 gallons.  Always full service.   Imagine pulling up at the local Sunoco and saying 'could somebody come out and give me a dollar's worth of gas?'

Gratuitous cute picture to redeem this post:
We know who the hit-makers are.  This is us getting ready to face Pune traffic.  Stay tuned for more vehicular news and analysis.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

WTH traffic in india item #1

In India, if I drive with my headlight on during the day time, people will tell me.

However, I have never seen anyone say anything to anybody about driving with lights off at night.

The signal for 'fool, you have your lights on in the day time and are imperiling yourself and others' is also the sign of the octopus on a stick. Arm outstretched, with the plane of the palm facing downward but at a 45 degree angle from the ground. With fingers straight, join tips of fingers and thumb; open, close, repeat. If that American dope doesn't turn his lights off, shake head and keep walking.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Remember the big news?

I just walked in from 3 days in Varanasi. I didn't take a camera, but I did put my MacBook on a rock and take a picture of a bawdi / stepwell behind my hotel for Erinsson. Dig the photo quality:


This is an ancient water storage technique. If you need it 'splained for you, um...it's a hole that gets rained into with steps so you can get down to the water.

I also saw Aijaz, who is well, and our friend Dr. Lowell and all the folks at Open Hand. Same as it ever was. Also, high temperature in Varanasi yesterday was a reported 114 degrees. I don't know whose idea that was, but they should be given a stern talking to.

Lastly [on Benares--love how I'm making you sweat this, huh?] after the last two months in Pune, Varanasi seems even more run down and desperately poor, and there's just SO MUCH to be done. However--oh yeah, I went to get my Residential Permit transferred so that I can get a Pune Residential Permit and then register the Scooty. If India could put some of the Foreigner Registering effort into helping the poor or picking up trash I think everyone would benefit. So, yeah, I got that done with an absolute minimum of hassle. I thought it would take a hefty payoff and some groveling, but I got prompt service with a smile.

So, about that news...I still have to talk to the Dean, but otherwise it looks like I've got a one year Visiting Assistant Professorship at a very respectable school for 2009-10. Details forthcoming when its locked up. One assumes that in addition to the prestige and proximity to some of my relatives and friends (but distance from Madison and others, nutsnutsnuts), the job comes with benefits like continuing to be able to buy groceries through May 2010. Yay, food and pseudo-solvency. Thank you to everyone who offered encouragement, prayers, ideas, and especially to Caitlin and Ben for coming with me to make puja to Kasba Ganapati. Gogogo remover of obstacles ftw.

My beloved and wonderful wife, who really should get the one year VAP (very able pregnantiator) and who continues to believe in me and dissuade me from my plans to move into 1020 Richmont and go back to washing dishes at Marywood, is in Goa with the kids. Its 1:28a.m. here and there, so I haven't told her yet, but I will when she's likely to have woken up. She had a rough spot there a day or two ago when the heat was a bit much, but they're now in A/c and having a great time. There were reports of loud music and people with no shirts (bad) and of a certain little boy rolling around naked in a hammock (good) plus lots of seafood (good) and jellyfish on the beach (bad). Don't let me steal their thunder, illuminated trip report is no doubt forthcoming.

Back to dissertating...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Goa Drops to #3...

I used to think going to Goa was the best thing that was going to happen this month. Then my mom and brother surprised us by planning a trip to India. Goa dropped to second. And then tonight we attended the Bharaht Guides and Scouts "meet" in honor of the 90th anniversary of, um, something. (The program was entirely in Marathi...) Goa is now third.
video

Caitlin's unit (troop?) spend a solid month working on this routine. The music is up-to-the second Bollywood pop and the dance was choreographed by a pack of teenage girls. Costumes were rented (is this a great city or what?) and parents were amazed.

There were bunches of dances, a rather long, rather high rope ladder and a signal tower that was at least 2 stories tall. There were speeches, songs and awards given to honored guests. (The theme of the meet was leprosey treatment so we guessed that some of those feted had done good work, combatting leprosey.)

There was even a demonstration of fire-rescue techniques, in which pre-teen boys jumped off a second storey balcony into a blanket and then were carried off, slung over the shoulders of other pre-teen boys. Stay tuned for the video.

How will Goa ever measure up?

Goan... Goan... Gone!

(My husband rocks. If you haven't already, see the post below.)

http://www.gogoa.com/images/beaches2.jpg

In less than 24 hours the kids and I leave for Goa and Chris heads back to Varanasi. We're down to one laptop and somebody is going to have to write a dissertation one of these days, so I'm going to be computer free for the next week and a half. (Wahoo!)

I promise there will be tons of Goa pictures and stories up on ye olde blogge when we return, but until then, let me leave you with a few links to droll over and some pictures snatched from the worldwidewebinternets.

First stop: Villa Rivercat, Mandrem Beach - this will be our base in N. Goa for 5 days. From here we'll strike out to the hippie haven of Arombol, the flea market in Anjuna


(If you don't like trance music, you might want to mute this video. Goa has been home to a vibrant music scene for longer than I've been alive and many tourists come just for the parties... but not us!)

and hopefully also the birth center in Assagao. I'm trying hard to keep the agenda light and loose so there will be plenty of time to just kick back and enjoy this...

http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/0e/1c/5c/mandrem-beach.jpg

After our week on the beach we head down to Panjim, the capital of Goa. We'll spend 3 nights at Panjim Pousada, and spend our days wandering around the lanes of the old city, checking out colonial Portuguese architecture and cathedrals. (Did you know Goa was a Portuguese colony? And that it wasn't a part of India at all until 1961 and was only made a state in 1987?) The kids are also gung-ho to visit a spice farm and hang out with elephants.

From Panjim we're flying up to Delhi to serve as the welcoming committee for my mom and brother! Meema is re-establishing herself as an intrepid world traveller and we are beyond excited that she's breaking the 16 year international travel fast with a trip to see us.

So, a day or so in Delhi, living the good life and then we're back to Pune to show off our latest adopted hometown to the visitors.

Everyone wish Chris good luck and godspeed as he returns to Varanasi in an attempt to sort out some paper work. Reports from friends there say that elections in UP have been peaceful thus far, and we hope that continues. Chris will be in safe hands with Aijaz, so no need to worry.

Both beach pics are of Mandrem Beach, North Goa.

Friday, April 17, 2009

learning from Susan Boyle

I'm sure every talking head and public intellectual has taken a swing at this, but I'm on a pure positivity kick, and so here's what I think. It has nothing whatever to do with India directly, so you can ask for your money back if you want. Maybe there will be some non-germane gratuitous India pictures in the mix.

I think the reason everyone loves this is that we are all, on the inside, just a little bit, Susan Boyle. Hers is sort of the grown-up version of 'some day my real parents will come and take me back to their castle.' I know that I secretly believe that I am, perhaps in some way I don't know yet, secretly and deeply wonderful, and I think most other people do too. We hope that somehow, some day, some one will realize that. Better yet, maybe several thousand someones will realize it all at once. But we know that we probably don't have the courage to go find out if we've really got it in whatever it takes.

Lesson 1--you probably are wonderful.
Lesson 2--go find out, even if you're afraid.

Another thing that's really delightful, and really different, is the absolute anti-schadenfreude that is sweeping over millions of people. Are we not all just purely and unselfishly happy for this obviously deserving person? And doesn't that feel good? I've been reading a bunch of Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit stuff lately about three kinds of sins: those we commit, those we cause others to commit, and those in whose commission we rejoice. At the same time, there is a virtue and an exercise called rejoicing in the merit of others. (See my no doubt brilliant forthcoming dissertation, but don't hold your breath. The more I write of chapter two, the longer it looks like it's going to need to be.)

Lesson 3--Go be happy for someone else.

And if we combine lessons 1-3, go find out about someone else's wonderfulness, notice it, tell them, and be happy for them. Encourage its development.

Gratuitous picture of Indian traffic:
Which brings me to an entirely unrelated point. In the last three days I've lost the keys to the scooter and gotten a flat tire. Caitlin gets the VIP for knowing exactly where to find a locksmith (or nine, since Indian shopkeepers seem to like to be near others of their kind). Two nice young Muslim guys met me at the scooter, and then did the trick that TD did in Great Brain 4: put in a blank key, crank hard, notice where the marks are, file there. Check. Repeat if necessary. The entire operation took about 7 minutes and cost me Rs 400 including two new keys, which is like $8.02 now that the rupee is back under 50 to the dollar (sigh). The puncture (spelled pungk-char in Marathi/Hindi) revealed a tube with six holes and a tire with a serious gap--that is, after I pushed the scooter around most of the neighborhood and large parts of several adjacent ones looking for the 24 hour flat tire shop. Total cost for new (to me, not to the world) tire and tube: Rs 300 installed.

Next, who cares if its over 95 every day, mangoes are in season and are going Rs 30 per KG, that's per 2.2 pounds. And they are SWEET. Maggie is getting really good at filleting them.

Which brings me to my final point. I went to the gym again this morning--have to get there by 6:15 or its counterproductively packed. I stepped on the scale and was a bit perplexed by the results, especially after I got home and plugged 81.7 kgs into the Dashboard converter. 180lbs. That's the most I've ever weighed. I was around 165 in September in Madison. Those of you who remember the 99, 2001, and 2002 returns from India will recall the, um, drawn appearance of the Nag Champion after lengthy tenures in the spiritual motherland. Some of you may recall the Tibetan goat pills for liver malfunction. Back then I was going on $10/day when I was travelling, and under a dollar a day when I was standing still. I was also living mostly in monasteries, and trying to be as veg as I could. Now I have funding. I'm going to call this the Fulbright Fifteen. Of course, I wear it well.

Gratuitous picture of me in the back of a rickshaw holding Ben the electric blanket's head
up while he sleeps on my chest in stockstill rush hour traffic. Mrs. NC really nails this one for Art Photo Of The Week:

OK, one more. Ben and I were playing soccer today, and I was doing the Grandpa George 'Oh, you're too fast for me, I'm so old and tired' schtick. Ben said, 'You're not old,' and I said, 'Oh yeah, what about all this grey hair?'
'You don't have any grey hair!'
'I don't? Look at this.'
'Wow. That's a lot.' Starts heading with the ball towards the wall of the compound that we use for a goal. Over his shoulder, 'That's actually what we call white hair, Dad.'

Tomorrow my new tire and I are taking Caitlin to the last dance practice for Bharat Guides at 6 a.m. WTH, Bharat Guides? Day after tomorrow, we all leave at 7a.m. for the Mumbai airport--MCB to Goa, and myself back to Varanasi for a whirlwind attempt to sort out some paperwork.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Flat Out Wonderful

THIS has nothing to do with our life in India, but you really ought to watch. If you have the Bardolph Crying Gene, consider yourself warned - this is so wonderful I guarantee you'll cry.

You ask, I answer

A loyal fan inquired about the photo behind our blog title. It is of the roof/ceiling of the German Bakery in Koregaon Park, in Pune. K.Park is home to the Osho Ashram and also "ground zero of the Pune backpacker scene," according to Lonely Planet. It is as freaky and tourist and full of scammers as you would imagine, but it made for a fun lunch stop for me and Caitlin one day. I told her we were warming up for Goa...

While waiting for our food to come we entertained ourselves by taking pictures of the ceiling and the table (it was nearly as pretty as the roof, especially after we made little lakes in it). I think Caitlin is actually the photographer of the above shot.

Anybody else have a question? Feel free to leave 'em in the Comments - we aim to pleaes here at Chez Nag Champa and if we're not providing all the India Info you need, let us know!

The Real EhiRunner would never do something like name posts after obscure Grateful Dead songs


In Which the Contents of the Post Has Nothing To Do With Its Title
1.  C-rock, first sleepover, with the Indian Girl Scouts.  Slept on the floor, on what I think might have been a tarp, from 1:30a-6a.  Didn't think of us once.
2. First scooter accident.  Was going 2mph, other guy was stockstill.  Tried to brake without letting up on the gas.  Damage: one dirty look from 'guy.'  Countermanded by a smile from the girlfriend.
3. Go beyond Facebook to productive procrastination--omfg, how about the downloads section of the Apple website?  Personal video diary, 400 dictionaries in one, create and manage prescriptions and rehabilitative workout routines, guitar practice manager, etc etc etc.   And I'm not really wasting time because I'm only getting more productive.
Gratuitous India Picture:

Overstating the obvious caption: Contractors are the same everywhere.  Further overstating the obvious: this is pre 2009 Ms India Nag Champion's review of the construction site.  Finally overstating the obvious: people throughout the appliance installation industry are terrified of my wife, or should be.
4. Most intersections in India have no light or stop sign.  Diagrams from MSPaint of how this is handled forthcoming.
5.  I am the real EhiRunner.  Accept no substitutes.  Pay no attention to that EhiKnitter...
6. Drastic irony: I will be telling some people tonight all about my close reading and attention to detail.  I failed, however, to notice that MsNC was in fact logged in as herself to post, only logged in as me to make comments about sheep-herding and stuff like that.  Now I look doubly like a fool (overstating the obvious, now done).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Weather Report Suite

Folks have been asking about the weather here in fabulous Pune. For the most accurate description let me refer you to the classic Robin Williams moment (at about 4:44) in Good morning Vietnam.

It gets up to about 100F nearly every day now, but thankfully we have next to no humidity. Evenings allegedly drop down below 80, but we never really feel that. Our house seems to hold steady at about 85 which is actually pretty comfortable without humidity.

Our weather widget likes to report that conditions include "smoke". Honestly, it isn't smoky at our house, but I imagine it is elsewhere - this is India! Between the 2stroke engines in the auto-rickshaws, the legions of scooters and all the people who burn dung for cooking fires there is a lot of air pollution everywhere, but Pune is much better than Varanasi.

So, it is hot, dry and not too smoky. The kids and I were able to tolerate an hour of traipsing back and forth to 4 different banks this afternoon, between 2 and 3pm. No one got too hot or even too crabby. Summer in Wisconsin is often more unpleasant than this, and summer in the South always is!

Never the less, we spend a lot of time indoors, especially in the afternoon if we can manage it. I now understand why the parks and nearly everything else shuts down for the afternoon!

On a non-weather note, if you are of a mind to do such a thing, send some encouraging, brilliant, pa-tootie kickin' vibes Chris's way around 9am central time Tuesday, ok? We'd all be grateful!


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whip It Good

Folks have asked for more info about the Whip People, and I'd love to be able to give you a richly detailed discussion of the origins of their performance, costumes and child-rearing practices, along with an in-depth analysis of their income level and position in Indian society, but I can't. Here's the little that I do know:

Whip People walk around, all over town - tourist places and not, busy places and not. I see them most often on our back road, which is about a block long and dead-ends at our building.

Mama Whips play their weird drums that makes a loud metallic whirring, buzzing sound, but not a recognizable drumming sound. Papa Whips crack their whips VERY loudly. Up close the whips seem to be made of a really tightly braided coarse rope. Papa Whips and Little Boy Whips never wear shirts and always wear colorful pants with strips of different colored fabric tucked into the waste band. The pants often have bells sewn onto the cuffs. Mama Whips always have a baby on their hip, in a cloth sling, and often have a bundle of cloth on their head. Little Girl Whips are less commonly seen, but they play a drum too and usually wear a bright salwar kameez. The adults never seem to be much older than about 30 and the kids never look older than 10. (But take these as rough estimates - I've been proven to be a horrible judge of age.)

Unlike any other sort of beggar/street performer I've seen in India, Whip People don't stop playing/whipping in order to solicit donations. They usually don't even talk, but sometimes Mama Whips will utter a yell that sounds an awful lot like "Hi-YAH!". Papa Whips do pause between cracks of the whip in order not to injure anyone who is approaching with money.

No dancing, no singing, no animals, no deformities, no actual begging. The Whip People just seem to walk around with tremendous dignity cracking their whips and playing their drums.

They seem utterly wild to me - who on earth walks down busy city sidewalks cracking a 10ft whip??????!! What Indian woman carries her baby on her hip in a sling, head held VERY high, owning even the poshest sidewalk she walks down? And who are these kids who are very business-like about their work, but who never beg or indulge in theatrics? All of them are so out of character and out of place here, and yet, where else on earth could they exist? I love them completely. I am dead serious about wanting to do a detailed anthropological study of the Whip People.

Chris calls them professional annoyances.

A Ben Story

One of Ben's biggest fans asked for a new Ben story, to replace the upleasant swimming lesson image, so here goes.

Ben has a bike that he likes to ride around our compound. Really, calling it a compound is a bit misleading - its not like we have shotguns and spiked Kool-Aid stashed in here, ready to fend off an ATF raid, nor are we lolling about like Greek gods sipping gin and tonics under twinkle lights. Instead visualize a nice small apartment building, with a parking lot where the ground floor would be. Add enough pavement around the edges for the cars to manuver and you've about got it. The whole thing is walled in, about 5-8ft high, and with big gates that roll back to allow access from either street. The non-street sides are nicely shaded by other buildings and trees. In one corner there is a lovely little Hindu shrine, mostly devoted to Hanuman
but Ganesh hangs out there too, as does Sai Baba.

This afternoon Ben and I went out to ride bikes. (Ok, he rode, I sort of trailed after him and confused the security guard.) I wasn't really keeping up and as Ben rounded the last corner, I saw him stop in front of the shrine, put his hands together and do a little "Namaste" sort of head bow.

Next lap, same thing. And then again and again. I finally asked him why he stopped every lap and he said he was, "saying hello to Hanuman. For good luck. Like praying, Mom." I nodded and smiled and the boy kept circling and checking in with the big H everytime he passed.

Eventually Ben announced he was ready to stop. He finished off the lap and this time, instead of the little Namaste, he tossed off a jaunty wave as he passed Hanuman for the last time.

Note to the Highly Observant: Yes, that first picture includes some VERY colorful children. It was taken on Holi, an event which I have entirely neglected in ye olde blog. Stay tuned for a belated Holi post!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Whip It

In Pune we see far fewer beggars and touts than we did in Varanasi, which is a good thing. There is however, a certain sort of beggar/street performer in Pune that we never saw in good ol' UP - Whip People.

They always travel in nuclear family units and the mom always has a small baby on her hip, in a sling. Every family works the same way - Papa Whip is shirtless and walks around cracking his huge, extremely loud and scary whip. Mama Whip plays a strange sort of drum that mostly makes a metallic whirring noise. Baby Whip hangs out happily in the sling, and if there are any Kid Whips, they are supplied with either a mini whip or drum, according to their gender.

I love the Whip People. I would love to be able to properly talk to them and even go follow them around for a day, just to see what they do and what Whip Life is like. (I must've been a cultural anthropologist in a past life.) About once a week a Whip Family wanders down our back street and sometimes I go out and give them money.

Today we were out on the main drag, walking to the library when we spotted a Whip Family heading our way. As best I could I tried to make friends with Mama Whip, mostly concentrating on the wonderfulness of her baby.


We didn't share a language but we managed to swap names and introduce our children. Papa Whip seemed befuddled that I would want to talk to his wife for so long, and was so much more interested in his baby than his whip, but an unreasonably huge contribution to the Whip Fund seemed to placate him. The baby is Shatrugana, maybe 6 months old, and happy as can be, draped in a wet cloth in his sling.

Here's to redoubling my efforts to pick up at least a little more basic Marathi!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How to Bake in India

(or not, really, if it is Passover)

Necessity is the mother of invention, sure, but also of substitution. I have become a much more resourceful, creative baker in the past couple months, thanks to the dearth of familiar ingredients here in good ol' India. For the most part things have worked out just fine. And now I have found my ace in the hole:

JoyofBaking.com Ingredient Substitution list

My life just got exponentially better!

PS: GO TARHEELS!
(Addie, are your feet ok?)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Toilet Talk

Its the post you've all been waiting for! Time to scoop the poop about doing your business in India.

(I realize not everyone is as interested in this as I am, but for those of you who are coming to visit us, or to visit India in general, this may prove to be vital information. Despite my husband's best efforts and an illustrated packet from the Center for South Asia, I was still woefully unprepared for the toilet situation I encountered here.)

(Also, for those of you with more delicate, sophisticated sensibilities, be forewarned that I am going to be a bit flip, a lot frank and perhaps just plain gross. You may want to move on to another post, or another website.)

(Still with me? Then Nature calls and away we go!)

There are two types of toilet in India - Western and Squat. For the uninitiated, behold, a standard squat toilet:

http://www.geocities.com/azurelite/images/squatting_toilet.jpg

Western toilets here are pretty much the same as you'd see at home, but there are a few things to keep in mind as you approach one in India. First, there may not be toilet paper. Many folks use water and their left hand to clean up so you may notice a small plastic pitcher and water source (spigot or bucket) near the toilet instead of TP. Second, in public places Western toilets are often even filthier than Squats so you'd want to "hover" over the seat, making the Squat toilet ultimately the better choice. Last, some places have hybrid toilets:
http://www.pjchmiel.com/feat/india05/thumbs/th_188-8847_img.jpg
which allow users to choose either to sit or squat. If you want to sit, make sure the seat is down, and for squatting, the opposite. Should you find a clean, well-supplied Western toilet, by all means carry on. I'm going to trust you know how to handle that.

Squat toilets are where the real excitement begins. Depending on where you are in India they may be nearly universal of thankfully few and far between. But unless you're travelling first class all the way you are likely to run into at least a couple of situations in which using a Squat is your only option.

All Squats have a place to put your feet, on either side of some sort of hole. The toilet is often ceramic and either flush with the bathroom floor or else raised a bit. Some have a toilet tank attached so you push the handle and it clears whatever needs to be cleared. If there is no tank you must "flush" it yourself by pouring sufficent water down the toilet to clear what needs clearing.

Proper positioning is the key to sucessful Squat toilet use. You must crouch down all the way, getting your rear end as close as possible to your ankles and the ground. Ideally your heels will be flat on the floor. The lower the better - going low will keep your unmentionables and your shoes clean and dry, and will improve your aim. These gentlemen exemplify good squatting position - feet flat, rear end very near the ground:

Men squatting.  Wangfujing Ave.

On the other hand, homeboy below is going to be in trouble if he squats like this. Aim is all wrong (the shoes!) and this position is really hard on your knees, leg muscles and feet. Also very unstable and you don't want to have to reach out to steady yourself on the floor of an Indian bathroom.

http://www.ventureacademy.ca/graphics/squatting.jpg

Once in your squat it is a good idea to bunch up your pants, etc, around your ankles and hold them up and out, away from the action. With your heels flat on the floor try angling yourself forward a bit too - sticking your read end out. Now you're ready to get down to business.

(Don't be surprised if you have a bit of stage fright - this is a new skill you're attempting!)

Using toilet paper in a Squat is not recommended. The force of the flush (tank or bucket) will likely not be forceful enough to adequately clear the paper, nor will the pipes be big enough to accomodate it. And so instead you must learn the Left Hand Rinse. After you're all done, with your right hand, pour water from a pitcher (see above) down your very low back, at the base of your spine. It should flow down over the parts that need cleaning. Wipe said parts with your left hand. For bonus points and extra cleanliness, pour and wipe at the same time. Repeat as needed. (You'll be able to tell when you've gotten the job done.)

(Note to lefties: Your kind are scarce in the Lands of the Squat, and now you know why. I leave it to you to weigh the pros and cons of trying to do the Left Hand Rinse the other way around...)

Afterwards you'll be wet. (Hopefully just the business parts, but until you get the hang of the rinse, you may have some undesired splashing.) No idea what you can really do about that. Maybe just take comfort in the knowledge that lots of other people are probably also a bit drippy? India is usually hot - you'll dry soon enough.

Do I need to mention that handwashing is a must? And do you still think me neurotic for carrying hand sanitizer everywhere?

India vets allege that with just a little practice squatting becomes easy and even preferable. I'm not there yet and doubt I ever will be. I love my Western toilet, thank you very much. And yet we all quickly reached the point where we could do what had to be done, when it had to be.

Its funny - my kids always run home to use our Western toilet when playing at a friend's house who has a Squat, and vice versa. The Indian kids try their best not to have to use our freaky Western toilets!

If you are planning a trip to India (and you know you don't have the budge to avoid Squats at all times) you really should practice at home. For most Westerners squatting is uncomfortable because we never do it. Your muscles will need to stretch and strengthen in new ways. If you are a bit squeamish about the Left Hand Rinse please try to practice that in the comfort of your own clean, good-smelling American bathroom, at your own leisure. Its pretty rough to try to figure it out in the trenches.

Don't let all this scare you off. A squat here and there and a few drip-dries never killed anyone. And there are certainly enough Western toilets around (in most tourist places anyhow) that you'll almost always be able to find one when you need one. And if for some reason you must squat, just focus on the excellent quad toning.

(And don't forget the hand sanitizer!)

Cake!

Let me say first that I am not usually a cake mix kind of person. Not that there is anything wrong with cake mix - I happen to find cake mix cakes DELICIOUS. I just also happen to love to bake and so I usually make cakes from scratch. But the other day I spotted something delightful at the grocery store and couldn't resist...

(Caitlin was pretty excited too.)
Note the financial incentive for buying local:


And check out the directions:

This is cake mix that you can put into a pan, and then, after placing the pan into a pressure cooker, cook on the stove top. Sweet, huh? Too bad there is no cake pan small enough to fit in a pressure cooker, or pressure cooker big enough to accomdate a cake pan. Details, details...

Double bagged... for extra freshness?


The result was delish.


(Frosting was not included, but rather from the worldwidewebinternets. Extra-special decoration provided by your's truly. Presentation is everything.)

ooooont


There, now you've learned something for the day. "Oont" is the Hindi word for camel. Fitting, isn't it?

Pets? We don't need no stinkin' pets

We hang out with the world's freakiest looking cat and a dog who licks raw egg off the pavement...you don't mean to tell me that's not enough, do you?

Takin' it to a whole 'nother level


And you thought you were a millitant baby-wearin' mama!

Classic

(please click to enlarge!)


This, to me, is archetypal India. The action in the foreground is not on the side of the road, but on the actual road itself, blocking at least one lane of traffic. At left, a cool guy, wearing a handkerchief on his head, standing next to pathetic Polo knock-off suitcases. And beside that a cart selling every possible sort of plastic home maintenance implement. Rickshaw driving past behind the cart. And then beyond temples, trains and whack-job wiring going every which way. Never a dull moment.

He did get to go

video
Apparently if my 4 year old swears 3 times he will not be allowed to ride on the scooter. Twice however, and he's good to go.

Never mind about where he learned to say such things.

Its really not that different living here in India...

...tell me you don't have days like this.
video
(The video is too dark when uploaded, don't know why. But I'm sitting in front of Ben, putting his shoes on him, next to the front door. He's wearing his sunglasses and his hair is sticking straight up, looking really cool. Visualize...)

(And if you know how to get uploaded videos to look better, tell me!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hasketts in India, by the Numbers

Number of days on which we have experienced rain since arriving in India: less than 7
Number of pillows which we bought, or which were purchased on our behalf: 6
Number of pillows we brought with us from the US: 6
Number of whisks I have bought: 2
Number of mangoes on my kitchen counter: 6
Number of mango lassis I have consumed in India: 0
Average number of rickshaw rides taken by all Hasketts, per day, in Pune: 1
Average length of any rickshaw ride taken by any Haskett in Varanasi: 1 hour
Number of cycle rickshaw races the Hasketts have been involved in: 2
Victories won by me in a cycle rickshaw race: 0
Episodes of food poisoning sustained by the Hasketts in Varanasi: 5
Average length of time between intestinal illness in any Haskett in Varanasi: 2 weeks
Age of the Haskett least prone to intestinal distress: 10
Age of the Haskett most prone to intestinal distress: 33
Number of episodes of food poisoning or other intestinal distress in Pune: 0
Bowls of won-ton soup eaten by my children prior to coming to India: 0
Bowls of won-ton soup eaten by my chilren in the last 2 months: 6
Number of grandparent visits so far: 3 (WATCH THIS SPACE!!!)
Number of aunt/uncle visits so far: 1
Days until the kids and I leave for Goa: 17
Bags of chocolate chips in my kitchen: 4.5
Weight per bag of chocolate chips: 90g
Estimated number of pounds I have lost since coming to India (chocolate chips not withstanding!) : 15
Number of swimsuits purchased in India: 4

Pune by the Numbers

Highest temperature recorded in Pune: 43.3 C (109.4 F) (April 30, 1987)
Lowest: 1.7 C (35.06 F) (January 17, 1935)
Rank of Pune amongst Indian cities for per capita income: 1
Number of billionaires in Pune: 1 (Cyrus Poonawalla - how cool is it that his name literally translates as "Cyrus Pune-guy"?!)
Rank of Pune among the wealthiest cities in India: 6
Rank of Pune's population among Indian cities: 7
Rank of Pune among Indian cities for number of homes with PCs: 1
Average amount of gasoline used to fuel vehicles in Pune each day : 1,000,000L
Average amount of diesel: 1,500,000L
Number of new titles added to the Pune British Library during the last month: 254

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What is the DEAL?!

(Warning: This is going to be a venting post. I love India, really I do, but some days, like today, are just over the top. If you'd rather not read my whining and complaining, please come back in just a little bit and we promise to have a new, better post. 'Til then, I'm just too fed up to keep it in.)

Alrighty then, if you're still here, can't say you weren't warned!

First, the kids and I hit the library and did a few errands before lunch. We caught a rickshaw home and the driver clearly understood, and even repeated back to me my destination, saying (in letter-perfect English) "You want to go to Prabaht Road." So off we went. Things started so well when he turned onto the shortcut lane. But then he blew past the turn, even after I told him to turn. Suddenly he acted as if he didn't understand English at all, not even the word 'left' or my rather unmistakable waving to the left. We then had to go a LONG way out of our way, up past where Chris works. Meter was running the whole way.

Then, as we were driving along 2 young-ish guys passed us on a motorcycle. The one on the back (greased hair, uber-cool sunglasses, fake-English slogan t-shirt) shouted something at me and gestured at me as they drove past. I scowled back. They then slowed way up, allowing us to pass and then sped by, giving us the finger. WHY?

Finally got home and the fare was twice what it should've been if the driver hadn't purposefully taken us the long way. I'm not stingy or prone to arguing with rickshaw wallahs, but I was pissed. I paid him the fare and he glowered when I didn't tip. As if.

After lunch and a quiet afternoon we went to the pool for Ben's swimming lesson. The past few times I swam laps while he was in lessons, but that seemed to invite trouble. One day he up and left lessons half-way through. Another day his coach alledgedly told Caitlin that if Ben was late once more he would be kicked out of lessons. (We weren't late that day, nor have we been habitually late in the past. However, Ben's coach is often late to arrive, and then doesn't change and get in the water until at least 15 min into lessons...) So today I sat with the other moms and watched.

5 minutes before the scheduled end of lessons I saw Ben talking with his coach and then Ben got out of the pool. I asked him if he was done and he said yes, the coach said he could go. Ben sat with me for 5 more minutes and warmed up. As we were getting up to go his coach looked up and started shouting at Ben, telling him not to get out of the pool without telling him. FIVE MINUTES after he got out! He didn't notice my kid was missing for FIVE freakin' minutes. That's more than enough time for a kid to get into serious trouble in the pool...

I went down to talk to the coach and he again shouted at Ben for leaving early. I stopped him and said I expected him to know where my son was at all times - instead of not noticing he was missing for 5 minutes - and that Ben thought he had been told to go. Instead of responding to me he said to Ben, "This will not happen again. Tomorrow you will not do this." I was furious and on the verge of a full scale blow up so I just herded the kids to the locker room instead.

Finally, on the walk home I noticed at least 4 men turning around and staring at me as they drove past. I know this happened all the time in Varanasi, but it hasn't been that bad in Pune, ever. These weren't skeevie young guys either - they were affluent looking middle aged men who otherwise looked like upstanding citizens. Is it that freaky for a white woman to walk down the sidewalk with her kids?

Here's hoping this evening's excursion to Bahraht Guides and dinner goes more smoothly...

Edited to Add: Guides and dinner was indeed better, even though a rickshaw wallah yelled at me. But in his place, I'm sure I would've done the same thing if hadn't suffered a massive heart attack and died first. He whipped through traffic to pick us up and stopped short at the curb. A HUGE bus was zooming along in the curb lane and had to slam on the brakes to avoid completely smushing the rickshaw. It stopped with less than a meter to spare. Thought I was going to witness my first traffice fatality and riot. Yelling at me to hurry up and get in seemed totally appropriate, given the circumstances. All's well that ends well, huh?