Tuesday, May 24, 2011

6 months in!

 We have now past our 6 month anniversary in this wonderful yet crazy country. Its a melee of colors, smells and noises - our senses are permanently on overload, and without the comparative calm of the 'hood I'm not sure we'd survive!

I've been thinking about where we are at the 6 month mark for a while - and the answer is I'm not quite sure!! Missing friends for sure, but also already saying good-bye to new friends in this transient ex-pat world here. Such is the ex-pat life among ex-pats. Yes we are ex-pats in the US (now we are citizens, not any longer) but this is different. In the US, we became integrated into the domestic community. Here we are essentially amongst ex-pats from all over, here for a few years (some professional ex-pats who make our travel adventures seem rather feeble!) and returning Indians who are back in India for the foreseeable but not necessarily for ever - its very transient. Its a bit like the essence of the country itself, it becomes very intense. Friendships amongst the ex-pats are made fast and furious as we are all in the same boat needing friendships, connections in this foreign land but on the other hand knowing that time will take us back to our homelands, or the next assignment, in the not too distant.

The thought we have already been here 6 months is scary - 6 months of a finite period is a material percentage. When I think of it this way - there is so much I want to do here, to experience, to learn, to absorb and we have barely scratched the surface. I don't want to waste this once in a life time experience. On the other hand I feel we have come a long way and now have our heads above water, have routines, to some extent have learn't to get stuff done, have friends to call and folks to do things with. The kids seem happy - both have friends and get a lot more freedom than they do in the US, partly because school seems to entail a lot less supervision especially for Wills who actually once missed class as he was playing with first graders and missed the kindergarten teacher taking them back. Adam seems to be largely unsupervised at break and lunch, much like the US - but the school is on an 80 acre campus!! Here in the hood' they run wild, wielding cricket bats, dribbling soccer balls, brats on bikes, rebels on rib-sticks - well thats an exaggeration but I thought it sounded good! Ads has finals fast approaching so is somewhat curtailed at the moment.

There are things I miss from the US, but now I know there will be things I will miss from here when we come back. Experienced ex-pats tell me how it is hard to return home after such an absence /experience and I can in someways see how. But I have learnt how adaptable we as humans are - with an open mind and "go with flow" approach you can make a home almost anywhere, technology makes the world so much smaller, the difference is only ever in the details, and long may the details stay different!!

So for now, we will enjoy the moment, make the most of this incredible experience, embrace the country we are in, leaving something of ourselves behind and bringing something new back home.

Any old iron?

The scrap metal market in Bangalore - any spare part for any vehicle - you'll find it here!!
And we are not talking about a higgedly piggedly dirty mess, we are talking about order and cleanliness:
Not sure what these are or what they are for but they were all in line, spruced up, tidy and ready for sale. Every shop is a specialist in one particular vehicle part. Apparently this is the mortuary for all the vehicles which couldn't stand the pace of life on the streets of Bangalore. Each morning the night's victims are dragged in and the post mortem performed. Each part then finds it's way to the relevant expert, is cleaned up, repaired and ready to be resold.
And in amongst the spare parts, India true to form is finding time to live life to the full:
Shooting the breeze, laughing and enjoying the moment, or finding a little calm, and time to reflect, we have a lot to learn!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A day at the Market

Russell Street Market is all a bustle from early hours , so by the time we arrived some vendors were all sold out and catching up on their sleep!
The market was a great people watching place and after I had settled down with my camera, no-one really took any interest in the crazy white lady and I was able to get up close.
This old gent took such care in placing his lemons in a perfect array, as do all the vendors with their produce.
So many vegetables and fruits on sale. The pictures are better than words to describe this hive of activity:
But not only fruit and veg but also the most wonderful flower garlands and ornaments, mainly for weddings and religious festivals.
And of course as this in India, there is always an oasis of peace within the noise. What never ceases to amaze me is the calm within the functioning chaos.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A busy week at School!

First was the 6th grade science fair. Ads and 2 of his buddies were aiming to grow a silicon garden - looked more like a muddy moldy pond to me, but the model was good and Ads still has the gift of the gab......
......and was happy to explain everything to the school's CEO, also known as the colonel. Look at the height of Ads friend Ansuman - just up to Ads shoulder! Also the length of Ads' tie, shows he's not quite mastered the art of tie tying!!
This is the whole project, the brown pool of water hosting the crystal garden! Could have been in the US for this event!

The next event was Wills' class Recycle and Re-use fair. They had made a variety of "useful" items from various throw away household items -nothing new there. But when the parents arrived, each kid had to explain to their parents what they had made out of what and what they had learnt, the parents filling in a questionnaire and then having to answer questions posed by the teachers!
This was followed by a little presentation by the class -as you can see Ads isn't the only one at least a head above his buddies. The Towers kids are truly Towering here!!

And last but not least was DEAR (drop everything and read) week at school. The kids went in the costume of a character of a book. I had negligible input on the costumes. Wills (all of a sudden camera shy) was Prince Caspian (thanks Ramon - birthday gift 2010!) and Adam, Guillam, a character from the Raven's Apprentice, partnered with his friend Calvin who was dressed as Halt,(thanks Lisa (Calvin's Mom)- who cut and sewed well into the night).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cricket Craziness Continues......

Altho' the world cup is now over, the IPL (India Premier League) season is well underway. Our local team the Royal Challengers Bangalore after a slow start are now rising up the rankings.
So, Simon and Wills, along with a friends of Wills' and his family went to a Friday night match. Ads had some friends over so I stayed home.
It was a good night - the flags were waving. Bangalore were off with a bang, literally. Fire works greeted every six and as Chris Gayle was letting the sixes fly the skies were alight with color!
Simon was very proud of this pic as you can actually (if you blow the pic up!!) see the ball in mid air, having left the bowler and not yet been struck. A lot of Simon's pics featured the cheer leaders (I wonder why!), in some matches the cheer leaders are male -but not so at this one!
It sounded like a great night out and next time I am going. Even as I am typing this, Simon has the cricket on the TV behind me, and the fireworks are once again illuminating the sky as the man of the moment, Chirs Gayle hits another ball in to the crowds!
Wills is cricket mad and I can see when we get back to the US we are going to spend a lot of time driving him up to Fremont or wherever he can wield his bat!

A Scrimmage at the Rummage sale!

Today was the OWC (Overseas Women's Club) rummage, pink elephant or jumble sale -depending on where in the world you come from. The OWC is not just a group of expat women lunching and exchanging stories of driver drama and malingering maids but an efficiently run organization which raises money for and supports numerous charities in Bangalore.

Now, I know the Indians are enthusiastic shoppers but this took "enthusiasm" to a whole new level!
This was the crowd waiting to get in, an hour and a half before the sale was due to open. In fact, the crowd was so "enthusiastic", the crowd control/security couldn't stand the strain. As the tables tilted and tent walls caved it was decided to open the doors early - Friday after Thanksgiving in the US, New Year sales in the UK, don't have anything on this!
The tables piled high with clothes, accessories and household good soon began to empty. Apparently there is some correlation between your neck measurement and waist - I saw some guys trying pant waists around their neck before deciding if the pants would be a good fit! No jumble sale is complete without some people trying to take an extra discount. The best was a lady who slung an additional handbag over her shoulder. Claiming it was hers was not a good idea, as the cashier she picked on her way out was the donator, the original owner!! I have no idea how some of the more extravagant shoppers were planning to get their bags home:
I picked up some clothes for Sweetie's daughter - I feel bad as all the hand downs she takes are boys blue, so I thought I'd get some princess pink.
It was quite an exhausting long morning, but money was raised for the OWC charities, so it was all in a good cause. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Out of the noise, chaos and poverty, comes beauty, perfection and innocence

We wake up on Tuesday morning to numerous texts and missed calls. Karthik's wife is in labour and they are at the hospital or that's what we work out from his texts "Sir, I think I"ll be seeing my baby in a few hours"

So born 6 weeks early is a healthy little girl. However, this being Karthik, there is drama!!!

It seems he has no money to pay for the delivery (it is after all approaching the end of the month and the baby was early). Simon decided that we would pay for the delivery, but only if I pay direct to the hospital.

So my next adventure unfolds. As taxis seemed in short supply at that time,  it seemed a rick was in order. The hospital is on the far side of town so Sweetie decides she should come with me. So, for over an hour we bump along the streets of Bangalore, in the heat of the day, maximum pollution levels, dust flying everywhere and eventually arrive at our destination.

Outside this old and run down looking building there are people trying to do the laundry of their sick relatives which is then hung on the rails to dry, no laundry or food provided in these wards. Karthik, looking happy, relieved and exhausted comes out to meet me. "Mam, you're not going to like it in here". "Its fine" I said, "Mam you're REALLY not going to like it in here" he repeats and this goes on until we reach the ward. The beds are about 18 inches apart and the room is packed, maybe 40 beds each occupied. People in all sorts of medical states, mostly with a variety of relatives in attendance from Grandparents to kids. There's a lot of noise. It looks like a ward you'd see in a war zone.

Kathik points to a bed at the end of the room and there sitting cross legged on the bed, against the wall, a vision of peace and calm, his gorgeous (even 6 hours after giving birth) wife and next to her this perfect, peaceful, sleeping daughter.

The night was full of trauma - due to his lack of funds Karthik had had to sign a form saying that, as the baby was so early, if there had been a problem he acknowledged that they wouldn't save her.  He'd then had to wait outside the delivery room not knowing........until he heard his baby cry.

People at the hospital who had very little, seeing him in a worse plight than they themselves were in, had lent him money - bits and pieces from lots of people, he didn't now, united by their poverty at this hospital, had clubbed together and his baby was born.

It was so wonderful to see the new born and to hear how these strangers with so little were big enough to help someone in more need than themselves, so much we can learn here, I didnt really notice the rest of the hospital or the long bumpy ride home!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lens deficient on safari (Kabini part 2)

Early morning, it was our 6.00am wake-up call, but with a cup of chai, it didn't seem so bad! This was for our boat safari - primarily looking for different species of birds. The lake was beautiful in the morning mist.

The boat ride was smoother and the birds were a lot more co-operative than the animals as regards picture taking. However, after feeling quite good about my improving photo skills, I was beginning to feel substantially inferior on the lens front.
Maybe one day.............
Apparently we saw a lot of rare and exotic birds but I just took pics of all of them. not really sure which one was which.
But as long as they posed long enough for me to get my act together, they were on film (well on memory card!)
The kids didn't find this trip that exciting and were glad to get back for a warm breakfast. We took another jeep safari, lucky again to see more elephants and another leopard, survived the rains, thunder and lightening, which resulted in a wet bedroom floor (window left open) and 2 frogs in the bathroom and of course sipped another g&t, courtesy of the Brits many moons ago!!

Kabini - here we come!! (Part 1)

We left the 'hood in the wee early hours, with Simon at the wheel, the iPhone sat nav in position and 2 sleeping lumps transferred from their beds. With a sense of adventure (or terror!!) we set off up the road, past security into the dark. The idea being to escape the traffic. However,  the title "the city that never sleeps", should be passed from New York to Bangalore. The city center was wide awake with the usual unpredictable ricks and pedestrians seemingly having a death wish! But once we cleared the city the roads were pretty clear.

At 6.30 we got to Mysore and stopped for breakfast - I hope the other early risers thought the boys were wearing t-shirts and shorts, not still in their pyjamas. Breakfast was a buffet and was quite telling. Wills made a bee-line for Idil, Vada and Sambar -his usual breakfast at school, not even looking at the eggs, sausage or french toast. Ads did the opposite, Simon and I, a bit of everything.

We then pushed on to Kabini, the roads getting narrower and the potholes more frequent, until we bumped into The Jungle Lodge where we were staying. The Jungle Lodges are run by the state government and are very well organized (one arm of the government which does seem to be efficient, friendly and helpful!!). There was plenty of space for the kids to run and play - including these huge hammocks with tree houses at the top.

In the afternoon we were assigned our jeep and headed out to see, hopefully, elephants and maybe the prize, a leopard (leopards are shy solitary beings).  The onboard noises of the safari, the ooooooooos that turn to uggggghhhhs when it transpires that shadow which could have been, wasn't after all. At one point Adam got told to calm down after an excited outburst which after closer examination turned out to be a hen. As it turned out the deeper into the jungle we got the more plentiful the wildlife. We saw deer (including Sambar - the biggest Indian deer), Guar, wild boar, peacocks (one showed us his finery), wild squirrels, mongoose, lots of monkeys swinging through the trees.
Elephants, we also saw..
and then the weather changed - so it was elephants in the rain, but they still enjoy a mud bath!!
Just as it was getting dark and time to turn homewards, the rain was falling and our driver got the call!. a Leopard had been spotted. If I thought the jeep ride a bit hairy before, that was nothing. It was time to hang on to your hats, quite literally, as Simon's did blow off!! Up muddy banks, squelching and screeching round muddy corners we soon saw the other jeeps parking up and knew we were close!!
After the Leopard sighting, we were homeward bound. And how else to celebrate the jaded glory of the Viceroy's cottage bar than with a wee G&T, ice and a slice!!