Thursday, December 31, 2009

Language Learning

We will begin language lessons in earnest soon. As soon as we arrived both Steve and I were chomping at the bit to get started but others who have gone before us here urged us to wait until after Christmas. They were right! It's taken a lot of mental energy just to learn how to live and get around. But as we've done that we have also internalized quite a few words and useful phrases that we learned previously.

We've been amused at how many people go out of their way to walk near us just to try out a bit of English. Their attempts are often quite cute! Yesterday a young man tried to carry on a meaningful conversation in English with me. I THINK we were discussing the difference in value between the rupee and the dollar, but I'm still not quite sure.

Our attempts at the local language are just as amusing to others. It's a good experience to learn to laugh at ourselves as others laugh at us. And while people are quite pleased that we're making an effort in their language, they're also often quite amused!

It's very satisfying to buy something at the market or tell an auto rickshaw driver where to go and where to stop without any English involved. Every once in a while there's actually just comprehension at what we're saying and no laughing occurs! And sometimes the words are coming without too many pauses to think first.

Steve seems to be absorbing words quite easily and has no qualms about trying them out on the street. I'm coming along as well, but am suffering an unexpected side effect. Several times a day lately I've had to stop and think for the English word for something! Not that I know the local word for it yet, but there's obviously a traffic jam happening in my brain and thoughts are experiencing difficulty coming through. Guess it will sort itself out eventually!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Experiences that are the norm here are very random to us! A few recent ones include:

-A man walking around the market this morning with a basket kept pulling out a hissing king cobra to be admired. Some people gave him money. I stayed as far away as possible.

-Yesterday I had trouble using a 500 rupee note (about $20) because it was ever so slightly torn. Like 3mm. And several shops refused the bill.

-Hannah and Rachel went into a beauty salon today and saw women getting their arms and underarms (ouch!) waxed while other women were having their skin bleached. You read correctly, bleached! Another ouch.

-My purse is inspected by a guard every time I go into a bigger shop. If I have any bags from a previous shop I have to check them in with the guard before going into the store. Whatever I purchase from the current shop is sealed in bags at the cash register. On the way out I have to show another guard the bags and the receipt at the exit. I need to remember to go back to the entrance to pick up the bags from the previous shop as well.

-Several times lately I've nearly fallen over from beggar children throwing their arms around my waist.

-I did fall over on an escalator yesterday. The handrail was going at a faster speed than the steps and I was leaning too much on the handrail!

-I have to watch my step all of the time on the streets to avoid stepping in something unpleasant or stepping on someone sleeping on the sidewalk. It's kind of handy, however, because I need to be careful to not look men in the eye, but I also keep walking right past people I know.

-Lines/cues are non-existent. If I want to reach a cash register I must remain vigilant and not be afraid to confront people of all ages cutting in line ahead of me. (I'm talking a lot about shopping, huh! It feels like I AM always shopping just keeping our family of 6 fed since I can only take home what I can carry each time.)

-There are carts behind bicycles where men pull the most amazing loads for a few rupees. The other day we saw six men helping the bicyclist get a load of steel pipe up a hill. Steve is continuously fascinated by them and is considering a photo montage at some point!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve

The factory closed early yesterday for the annual Christmas party. It was a fun time of cha (tea) cake, and items from various people. Some of us sang songs in English and some in the local language. There was a very cute First Christmas play by some of the staff and gifts of new saris given to all of the women.

But the highlight of the evening was a gorgeous 8 year-old girl who sang like an angel in both English and the local one. She's the daughter of one of the original staff who died of AIDS last year. Her life is a beautiful example of the love and support that the staff women give to each other. A couple of older women stepped in as 'grandmas' when her mother died and treat her like their own. She goes to boarding school but spends time with her grandmas while on breaks.

One of the grandmas lost her husband a couple of months ago and is still heavily grieving. She's an amazing woman and it's been hard to watch the pain in her eyes. We're hoping that time with this sweet girl who's also suffered loss will bring her healing as well.

After the party everyone was sent home with boxes of curry for their dinner. The highlight for our kids was getting to hand out the leftover parcels at the end to people living on the streets in the area as well as to some women standing in line waiting for 'customers.'

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Family Photos

Recent pics of us taken in the building where we'll be living soon.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I saw a dead body today. I've tried to not major on the more gruesome aspects of life here but this one has had me thinking all day. In coming here I was prepared to see the impact of deep urban poverty. I had seen the occasional corpse on the street when I was here 20 years ago. It's a very sad fact that people die of disease and starvation every day.

This particular body took me by surprise for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was because it was a young man who I don't think had been living on the streets. He had met some kind of violent end right there on the street (near the picture of the main road in my previous post). He was young and strong and 'shouldn't' have died. The other thing that upset me at first was the apparent nonchalance of the people around. There were a number of other young men standing around the body. Presumably they were there to keep traffic away until the authorities took the body but they were joking and laughing like nothing was unusual. Life is cheap here.

At first I was upset for the sake of the dead man but then I realized that the young men standing around have spent their whole lives with harsh realities like the one laying at their feet. Who could blame them for insulating themselves away from it? In six weeks we've already learned to turn a deaf ear to beggars holding babies and street children. We don't want to but there's no other option if you live here day after day. You have to choose your focus of compassion because there's just too much in your face each day.

I also thought about the belief system that has shaped people here. Adam's fallen a few times on steps, etc, and even though he hasn't been seriously hurt, people's reactions are to do a motion that's respectful to the g*ddess of the city, to ward off evil from themselves. Not only are people dealing with difficulties in humanity, they're living in fear of the higher powers that they believe in. Their lives are full of appeasement to avoid catastrophe themselves. What a burden to bear!

I am glad to serve the One who brings peace!

Friday, December 11, 2009

We haven't taken too many pictures so far. Here are a couple we snapped today, though. The first one is of the main road that the business is off of. It's earlier in the morning so the street is actually very empty! The next one is of the side road that leads to the factory. If you follow the road and then veer left you walk right between the two buildings that make up the business.

Notice the bamboo stacked around. This area that leads back to the red light lanes is for people who handle the dead. The men here make amazingly elaborate paper mache animals, scenes, etc, that are burned with bodies while they're floated out on rafts onto the 'sacred' river. We haven't been back to the burning sites yet but they are within walking distance. The people who live and work in this area are considered 'untouchables,' just like the women who work the lanes beyond, because of their proximity to the dead.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Culture Shock

We've been here two weeks today! What a lot has happened. We've learned heaps but still have so far to go. Steve just took the kids to school for the first day of their second week. Adam had a rocky start and I had to go and be around the school for a couple of days last week to help him settle in. Hoping that today goes better!

It's really helpful that we've been through culture shock before. It doesn't stop us from having to walk through it but it does help us to see it for what it is most of the time and not over think things along the way. In the worst moments we can remind ourselves that, 'This too shall pass," and not sink down and wallow! Certain things about life here are helpful, too. I know from past experience that one way culture shock affects me is that I want to stay home and hide. I can't though and feed the family since I have to go to the market most days! Good for me.

Something I've never had to adapt to before, however, is the absolute mass of humanity here. We're here, of course, BECAUSE of people, but there are soooooooo many of them! I've been finding myself longing to just be able to walk from point A to point B without weaving in and out and squeezing through the crowds. It's almost claustrophobic at times. Well, not 'almost' is IS often on the Metro (subway)! Someone who was visiting the business when we arrived described peak time on the Metro this way. "Think of a can of sardines, then squeeze a couple more canfuls into the original can. That's the Metro!"

T, the son of K and A who started the business, has been absolutely awesome with our boys. They've been having a wonderful time keeping each other occupied with active boy stuff. I've been amazed how T can suddenly erupt into rough playfulness in a room crowded with people, but somehow manages not to bash into objects or destroy furniture. It dawned on me the other day that this is a kid who's been raised in a place where he's never had space to walk down the street without weaving in and out. He's developed a real talent of making the most of his circumstances! We'll get there too!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Someone had told us that the first months and even longer after moving here are all about survival, practical day to day stuff that needs to be learned. I'd say they're right! We have the benefit of lovely NZ friends around who have been helping us but it's still a lot of work.

I've had a number of 'lessons' already on where to find food and how to go about it and I still don't know how to do everything yet! Most of our food is coming from a big bazaar nearby where you can buy fresh veggies, fruits, eggs, etc. I have to ask how much everything costs and try to communicate when I don't speak the language yet. It's making me realize that I really need to become and expert at numbers soon! There are also little stalls that sell other things, too, like rice, some noodles, soap, shampoo, boxes of milk, bread, cookies/biscuits, jam, even one stall that has peanut butter. A surprising amount of things actually. But the only meat is in the form of live chickens that they kill and skin for you after you choose it! Steve graciously went and got one and even cooked it a couple of nights ago since we'd had vegetarian meals for a couple of days previously. Last night, however, I was taken to a lovely little shop that's only a short auto rickshaw ride away that has already dead chicken in it! You can purchase a whole chicken, different parts, or even minced chicken or chicken sausages as well. Whew!!!

Steve found soy milk somewhere for Adam this afternoon (took him a couple of hours to locate but now we know!) and Saturday morning I'm getting taken to another market that has mince/hamburger. Things are looking up! There are still a lot of ingredients missing that would be on my shelf in the US or NZ or even Fiji that matter, but I'm pretty happy! You have to go shopping for small amounts often, though, because you can only bring home what you can carry.

I'm not used to the way things are done here yet so just doing daily chores is taking a lot of time. Things are often dirty from the market and have to be cleaned with filtered water. Plus water to drink and brush our teeth with. We have a water filter in the flat we're staying in but that's another chore, too, as we have to fill old 2 liter soda/fizzy bottles. It takes several minutes to fill each one so I have to do that between other chores and not forget that I'm filtering as well!

We wash dishes with hot water hauled from the shower. The washing machine takes a long time since the tub fills quite slowly and then we have to hang the wash out. Things get dirty really quickly and we need to clean a lot. Everything in this flat has it's own dust cover, even the TV remote. Smart idea! I also have to figure out what to cook!

Steve's been taking the kids to school in the morning (an hour and 15 minute round trip). I pick them up at 1:30 and starting in Jan. I will have to go back again at 5 to pick up Hannah until we feel like she's ready to venture out on the city by herself.

But I'm really not complaining!!! Just trying to paint a picture for you. We have so much compared to others around. Daily life will be challenging for some time until we get to be experts at the routine. It will always take longer than in our home countries, but we'll get it!