Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mumbai Affected

I wish I could claim this post, but my amazing husband, Rick Thexton, is the actual author.  As we prepare to leave Mumbai after 2 year, he reflects on lessons learned, at least from his perspective.  Yours will be different!

Mumbai Affected 

Not one single person can tell you what you can truly expect to experience in India.  Ignore the unsolicited words of advice from well meaning “know-it-alls” and “done-it-alls”.  The Mumbai experience is a fingerprint.  What you see and how it will affect you is singularly unique.  Open your eyes, heart and mind and leave your expectations at home. 

This is my fingerprint:

Drinking tap water isn’t adventurous.  It’s a trip to the bathroom or a hospital.

Mangoes rock!

Any morning drinking coffee and watching the ocean is a good morning. 

Mumbai is both the hardest and the easiest city on the planet.  No, I will not explain.

Solitude is both valuable and overrated.  It’s a Mumbai thing.

Cappuccino machines and French presses make for good coffee.   You import some coffee beans and an expat or two for great coffee. 

Children made to beg is tragic and should make you sad.

Street dogs make you feel special, like you are the only human for them, until the next special person comes along.

Bombay Belly is real.  You are not a Mumbaikar until you’ve pooped your pants a little.

The English may have introduced bureaucracy to India, but Indians have elevated it to an art form.   The continuum of events and conversation between “not possible” and possible is worthy of any stage.

Taking advantage of the “white guy” isn’t personal.  It may be expected, business, or even sport, but never personal.  Indians reserve personal for relationships.   Food, drinks and friends on the rooftop is personal.

All of your beautiful plants back home are from India. If they didn’t originate here, they’re not that beautiful. Look it up…

Friends and gatherings are more valuable than sleep.  This is both an observation and regret.

Early and late are relative.

A hand gesture, a head waggle and the statement “10 minutes” means absolutely nothing. 

Royal Enfield Motorcycles are COOL!

It’s ok to have an India Sucks day once in a while.  If it continues to suck, it isn’t India…

Trash, filth and foul smells are only superficial distractions to keep the true adventurers away.  I am guilty of being a shut-in from time to time.  Regret.   

It’s okay to be big in India.  My 20 inch neck seems to amaze the tailor, who invites his friends to look while he holds the tape around my throat.

The high pitched giggle of our housekeeper is always funny.

Housekeepers, taxi drivers, custodians and helpers of every sort are people.  Be nice to them.

Our time in India is over and I am happy to be off to the next adventure.  Sitting in my favorite coffee shop and reflecting has moved me realize how deeply I am affected by our time here. 

 Have I mentioned the ocean view coffee is nice?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Everything is Just Peachy!

I am back in Bombay for Year 2 at the American School of Bombay and living the dream of being an international educator.  I cannot begin to tell you how much easier it is coming home this year!  As I reflect on last year, I wonder how 1) I survived and 2) how everyone else put up with me!  To put it mildly, it was a tough year!  Thankfully, when I have shared this with a few of my close friends here in Mumbai, they say they find it hard to believe, which leads me to believe that 1) they are either way too nice or 2) I'm a pretty good actress.  (I'm going with option #1!)

Coming back to our home all set up, having Tina to help me navigate the day to day issues, and feeling a sense of renewed and positive energy, I feel like I am in a position to set some goals for myself.  There's the obvious, like eating less/moving more and keeping a positive attitude, but then there are some that serve to make our lives in Bombay easier.  Yeah, yeah, I know I should list them all here, but then some of you would be tempted to try to hold me accountable.

This weekend, I tackled what back in the states wouldn't even begin to be considered a challenge:  Buying fruit!

Fruit here is so lovely and fresh!  It's sold in stalls or off of carts in the market or on the side of the street.  But notice...none have the  little sign telling you how much it costs!  My challenge, nay, my fear is that of getting ripped off!  Last year, I kept my currency converter at the ready so I could understand the Rupees to USD difference.  This year, I feel much more confident with that conversion, so if the fruit walla tells me mangoes are 70 rps a kg then I know that is about $1.40.

There in lies the next challenge.  If you know me at all, you know that I always say, "I'm a Literacy Coach/Reading Specialist for a reason!"  How much is a stinkin' kg?  The only thing I know about kg's, is that I like the way my weight looks on the scale when compared to the pound.  Maybe it's best I avoid converting pounds to kg's, so to solve this challenge, I can just buy by the piece rather than the kg!  No conversion necessary!

I've also spent a lot of time asking friends and my helper, Tina, about how much I can expect to pay for specific fruits.  I'm learning to bargain and I assure the fruit wallas that 'I am a Mumbaikar' in order to try to avoid what Rick likes to call "The White Tax."

So today, as I was walking back toward home after my walk, I stopped at the  fruit carts off Carter Road and ta-da!

I bought 6 bananas (20 rps = $.35), 4 peaches (60 rps = $1.07) and 2 juicy mangoes  (50 rps = $.89).
I'm so excited and it really wasn't that hard!  I am constantly amazed at the people of India.  The men working at the stands were very helpful, no one tried to rip me off---I didn't even feel the need to bargain at those prices!  They all wanted me to buy from them, so I bought each fruit from a different cart because I want them to know that I am equally nice!

By conquering this goal, I feel a little more self-sufficient in a place where that isn't always the easiest thing.  This is home, after all, and it is good to be back.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

One Week in Bangkok

My friends know that before moving to Mumbai I hadn't traveled much.  A trip or two to Mexico and  Hawaii and numerous road trips around the states.  So opportunities to visit new places in this amazing world contribute to this adventure.

I can add "Professional Development" to the list of perks for teaching overseas, as you get to go to new and exotic places to receive your training!  Last week I traveled to Bangkok, Thailand to attend a professional development.

My visions of Bangkok were taken from old new clips and movies and so I was very pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful, clean, modern city.  The sky train made it extremely easy to get around and there was fantastic shopping and sightseeing!

Shopping at MBK, Patpong and Chatuchak markets yielded , a mango wood Happy Buddha for Rick, a new pair of Ray Ban's for Tully, traditional Thai pajamas for Bailey and Naomi and Thai silk scarves to share when we get home. I also managed to pick up a few things for our home as reminders of my trip.

On Saturday, I took a long boat up the Choa Phraya River to the Grand Palace.  Construction began on the palace in 1782.  I can't even begin to imagine how it was built.  There are just no words to describe the detail and opulence of the buildings there.  The palace was home to the King of Siam up until 1925.  Oh, to have been around with Anna in the 1860's!  I can't even begin to imagine!  I'll leave it to the pictures to try to tell you about this amazing place.

Kelli's Trip to Bangkok


Oh, did I mention that I also visited the American School of Bangkok and attended a really good professional development?  I think I added some tools to my tool kit for hard to teach students!  Can't wait to give those new strategies a try!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Super Sand Storm, Batman!

Smog and haze are relatively normal in Bombay, so this morning when the air was thick, I didn't think much about it.  We did discuss a  difference in the sun this morning.  Usually, the sun is a flaming orange ball on the horizon as we drive east toward Bandra Kurla Complex.  Today, it sparkled like a silver coin at the bottom of a fountain.

By the time we head home from school at the end of the day, the haze has typically been blown away with breezes off of the Arabian Sea.  There might be some upper level smog, or some smoke from fires burning in the slums.   But normally, we ride home with a blue sky above and sunshine warming us through the windows of the school van.

Today was such a different story!  All of the teachers on the 4:10 van were abuzz with talk of how dusty, hazy, polluted, smoky, (fill in your adjective of choice) the air quality was at the end of the day.  I even asked one of the teachers who has been here longer if this was normal and she said she had never seen the smog this bad.

As the van exited the Western Expressway to turn onto Reclaimation Road, you would normally see the Worli Sea Link  ahead and many high rise buildings across the bay.  Here's what you saw today:

When I got home, I was talking to Rick about it, so we went up on our rooftop to check out our visibility.  We could scarcely see Carter Road, which is just about 2 blocks from out house!

Later in the afternoon we found out what was really going on!  It wasn't simply Bombay pollution cluttering up the air, but rather what meteorologists are calling a "super sandstorm."  The storm originated in Saudi Arabia and spawned a plume of dust that stretches from Oman (across the Arabian Sea) all the way to India.    Have a look---

Thus far, the only effects we have felt have been a tickle in our throats and headaches.  Hopefully, the air will be a little clearer in the morning.  If not, Sand Storm Day, anyone?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Holi Mubakar!

Last year, when Tully was doing his research project for REACH, he learned about a holiday he would celebrate in India called Holi.  He learned that during this holiday people throw colored powders at one another and squirt each other with water guns.  Holi celebrates the end of the winter season and welcomes spring with colors, drumming, dancing and bonfires.
Before the fun  begins
Today, we experienced Holi.  One of my friends, Payal, extended an invitation to the faculty of ASB to come to a Holi party at her building.  It is safer to go to a party than just to play out in the street.  Most businesses are closed today and we noticed on our way to Payal's that we saw mostly men outside.  I guess it can get pretty crazy, so women tend to stay off the street and only play if their neighborhood has a party.
Payal and Manesh, our hosts
Once we arrived at Beau Monde, we were greeted by Payal and Manesh.  Tully took off immediately!  He was ready to play in the colors!  I needed to watch for just a bit and see what this looked like.  Many were dressed all in white, most were armed with a squirt gun, a bag of colored powder or both!  There were 55 gallon drums of water lining the lane and a couple of blow-up swimming pools all filled to the brim. Loud Indian music blasted from speakers set up in the "safe zone" and men were drumming along to the beat.
Angelo dancing to the beat of an Indian drum
 People of all ages were participating in the fun.  I decided to start with a bright pink color and joined the fun.  After taking a few pictures on the "safe" side of the barrier, I entered the play zone.  Several of my students were there and had seen me taking photos and were waiting for me.  I didn't have to wait long before I was wished Happy Holi with a spot of color to my forehead and the boys from school drenched me!
My welcoming party!
And so it went.  Time slipped away while I rubbed a rainbow of colors on faces and attempted to defend myself with a single shot squirt gun!  It was fun to play with students, teachers and parents from school in such an uninhibited setting.  The kids loved bombarding their teachers with colors and drenching them with squirt guns and buckets full of water!

On Holi, no one is a stranger.  One can anoint another with color, spray, splash or dunk with water, laugh and dance. There is no celebration or ceremony from the US with which to compare this wonderful holiday.  The best I can do is this simple explanation and a few pictures.

Thank you, Rachel Wixson, for this fantastic shot!
Holi Mubakar!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Unexpected Surprises: Indian Wedding Processional

One of the many things I love about living in India is the fact that you never know what you might find around the corner...literally!
Yesterday was one of those occasions.  My friend, Tracy and I met for at Costa Coffee, had a cup of Joe and chatted about the new school, then hailed a rickshaw and headed for Fab India to do some shopping. As we exited the rickshaw, we heard music, live and loud and just around the corner in front of the store.  We didn't know what the occasion was, but obviously something pretty important.  As we rounded the corner, here is what we saw:

Obviously, it was a "baraat"!  The baraat is a large wedding procession with a band, dancers and fireworks and consists of the groom and his family and their guests making their way to the wedding venue. Thankfully, both of us had our cameras in our bags, so we whipped them out and watched  for about half an hour.  Here's a few of the sights we recorded.
This guys had a bag of sweets and wanted me to take his picture

The Wedding Steed -the groom rides in on a beautifully adorned white horse

The band posing for the camera

Not sure what their job was, but they wanted us to take their picture, too!

The umbrella protects the groom from any negative energy

wedding lamp

All the men in the family wear red turbans

See the contrast?
 This is one of my favorite pictures, as it captures the contrast that we see on a daily basis.  On the left, you have a lovely wedding party in all their splendor.  Many of the older men in the wedding party were wearing  garlands around their neck loaded with rupee notes.  Then, on the right, a group of beggars.  Notice the small boy in front with the red t-shirt.  He is completely naked below the shirt!  This little group of ragamuffins wandered through the crowd in hope of a handout.
The groom's brother, cousin or nephew rides along as his caregiver

The procession finally made its way down the street and Tracy and I made our way into Fab India.
This was one of those pleasant unexpected surprises that make me love Bombay all the more!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas isn't Christmas Til it Happens in Your Heart

isn't Christmas...
till it happens...
in your heart...
somewhere... deep inside you...
is where Christmas really starts...

so, give your... heart to Jesus...
you'll discover when you do...
that it's Christmas... really Christmas... for you!

It has been so hard for me to get in the Christmas spirit this year.  So many things are different and new.
We won't be spending Christmas with family this year.  Instead, we will spend 10 days in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.  We have planned to visit the world's tallest building, play at a water park which boasts the world's highest AND fastest water slide, take an overnight desert safari and do some shopping at the world's largest mall-  Dubai Mall.  We also plan to take a day trip up to Abu Dhabi for a visit to Ferrari World, of course home to the world's fastest roller coaster.  Part of Tully's Christmas present will be a half day snow ski school and an afternoon on the slopes at an indoor ski resort!  Not a traditional Christmas by any means, but we'll be making special memories together and that is what really counts!

The weather is also not like back home!  Things have cooled off considerably and it isn't uncommon to see Indians bundled up in their shawls or jackets.  Down filled coats line the racks of the department stores.   The reality is the temps cool down to the low 70's overnight, but will still get up in the 80's during the day.  Looking at the forecast for Dubai for next week:  Lows in the 60's, highs in the low 80's.  The only snow we will see this year will be at the indoor ski resort!  I can't say I miss the bitter cold, but it does make it hard for it to "feel like" Christmas.

We do have a little tree, decorated with treasures from India.  Due to my unexpected hospital stay just prior to the shippers coming, I didn't manage to get any of our Christmas decorations, ornaments or stockings in the shipment container.  Our tree is the extent of our decorating this year, but I have Mom on a mission to buy some things that will fit in our suitcase next summer!

The gifts for family are not wrapped and under our tree, but rather bagged up and ready to pack in a suitcase for Larani to take back to the states with her.  We didn't want to risk Customs wanting to see what was inside and ripping the wrapping open, so Larani gets the task of putting everything together and under the appropriate tree, once she is back in the states.

Speaking of Larani, she has decided to return to the states so that she can physically be in school to work on her degree.  She leaves in just 2 days and our hearts are so heavy and sad.  I am so thankful that she came on this adventure with us, not just to visit, but to live it with us!  The time she and Rick spent together, watching her and Tully bond even closer and simply having her in our home full time has been such a blessing!  We will miss her terribly, but will always cherish the time we had with her here in this amazing place.  She knows she can always come back!  Just say the word, B, and we'll book the ticket!

So, while this is another holiday of  first and things are very different, I am reminded that Christmas isn't really about the tree, or the presents, or the snow.  Years ago, I sang in The Glory of Christmas.  The song, Christmas Isn't Christmas, has been ringing in my heart and ears over the last few days. Today I found the song on youtube and sang along, shared it with Tully.  He really liked it and was happy that I had decided to share it on my blog.  I've missed my nativity for that visual reminder that Jesus is the real reason for the season.  However, I know that He much prefers that we hold Him close in our heart, not just now, but all year long.