Saturday, September 17, 2011

Udaipur 2

Even in Pune, even after 9 months in India, I am still pretty rapt just by the view out the side of the rickshaw, and Udaipur was no exception.   The cows in Udaipur do look particularly healthy though.  Pune sees more water buffalo and garbage.



My next destination was Udaipur.  It looked like it would be beautiful and relaxing and exceeded all expectations.  I lucked out with a great auto rickshaw driver from the train station who showed me around and invited me to dinner with some other tourists.  In the end I extended my stay to over a week!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Hey!  Haven't been posting lately.  I've been looking for work, which isn't very interesting.  At the moment I am travelling India for about a month, which keeps me away from the internet.  My first destination was Jaipur.  Excuses and long stories, I didn't get too many photos there, but I did have a good time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I've mentioned before the lines of people you see doing manual labor.  Here are the landscaping ladies in their sari uniforms, sweeping up the grass clippings at Sula's resort.  At least they had a mechanical lawnmower.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Weight loss

Shama's weight loss tips:  Sleep on your stomach for 10 or 15 minutes in the morning.  Apparently her doctor recommended this after her c-section 18 years ago?  Drink hot water.  I only know this as a Jewish remedy for nausea.  And nausea seems like it could be an asset to weight loss.

One of the things I wanted to do while on this sabbatical thing was lose some weight.  I'm embarrassed to say I don't feel like it's been going well.  I have been working out regularly when not sick, but I've been sick a lot.  I think I also expected to walk more, which isn't always practical here.  And let's face it, I'm pretty lazy.  I also really like food.  Haven't really curbed that at all, but am glad there are no Taco Bells for Boaz to suggest deliciously, shamefully unhealthy food.  But McDonald's delivers.  Sigh.

It isn't all bad news.  Progress is being made, apparently.  To refer to the situation as 'muffin top' might be an understatement, but I did get myself into the pants I wore on our first date almost 3 years ago.  So there's that.  Maybe it's safe to unpack the scale now.

How India Sees the World

(Click to biggify)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Revamped articles page

The articles page was getting pretty unwieldy.  I've added dates and tried to categorize the articles.  Did you know that categories are basically never mutually exclusive?  It was harder than it sounds.  For now the new categories are 'Light and Funny', 'Life Culture and the Arts', 'Politics and History', 'Economy Education and Development', 'Health and Environment'.

I am also deeply sad to report that Playboy has taken down all their archived interviews, like the one with Jawaharlal Nehru while he was still Prime Minister of India.  There were a ton of interesting things there not related to India too.  I've e-mailed them to complain.  If you're like me and read Playboy for the 40 year old interviews, you should whine too.

Mystery Produce Episode 8 - Banana Flower

Yesterday we checked out the mega supermarket at a new mall nearby.  In the produce section (which includes Western fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, basil, yay!) I saw a pile of big, purple, conical, husky things.  So obviously I bought one.  It's a banana flower.  Peel away the husks and little banana fetus tubes and eventually you get to the pale yellow, edible part.  It's apparently a pretty common vegetable in Asia.

I made a little salad, inspired by this recipe (and cute write-up on banana flowers).  I should have discarded another layer or two of the leaves.  Our salad was a tad bitter, but still pretty tasty.  Hard to go wrong with lime juice, fruit jam, soy sauce, chili powder, ginger/garlic paste and cilantro tossed with Chinese fake meat, topped with fried shallots and roasted peanuts.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weekend at Sula Vineyards

We spent a lovely weekend at Sula Vineyard's Beyond Resort.   We didn't travel more than a few kilometres from the vineyard or a few feet from the booze, so there aren't many pictures.  It was darn picturesque though, as you can see.  The room was very comfortable.  I was pleased with the food too (all meals are included).  I didn't try any of the continental fare, but the Indian offerings were tasty without being heavy.

The Nashik Valley is littered with vineyards and wineries.  We did a tasting at Sula, but are already very familiar with their wines.  Wine pickings in India are pretty slim and Sula is a widely available, palatable choice.  I've been drinking a lot of Sula.   We also visited York's tasting room.  York's wines were a little more distinctive, a welcome departure and lately my go-to wine.  We especially liked their late harvest chenin blanc.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Conversation with a Nigerian expat

I recently got my first reader e-mail.  Exciting in and of itself, but she also turns out to be a Nigerian studying in Jaipur, Rajasthan.  We've been e-mailing a bit and I've found it really fascinating.  She was kind enough to let me post parts of our conversation here.

J:  Hey, I'm J, saw ur blog:  "who ran away with her bf to India" thats really funny.  I'm a student in Jaipur so if u ever come to Jaipur maybe we could meet and just say.  I've been here for almost a year and I totally agree with u on every thing.  Incredible India!  :)

S:  Thanks for writing!  That sounds cheezy, but  I'm really glad that you did.  I  know more than just my friends and family read the blog, but it's a great mystery who they are and where they come from and just wonderful to hear a stranger is enjoying it. 

I don't know a lot about Nigeria.  Since moving to India I read a lot more about the developing world.  One of the founders of Tech Crunch spent some time there and had a lot of interesting posts about it (  How does the infrastructure compare (electricity, internet, roads)?

J:  About Education, what ur saying makes alot of sense.

But honestly, there is no place like home.  I discovered in India u have to pay for electricity as u use it but back home u just pay monthly no matter hw much u use.  Internet, when I left abt 2 years ago was very dull and except u had enough money pay for internet u ur home u'll hv to go to cybercafes.  But right now almost all my class mates are on facebook, my teachers neighbours, etc so I guess its improved me.  Roads are same but the governor of the state I'm from is trying his best with traffic lights and less potholes.

I think everything is getting better back home but the kind of news I hear of Nigerians here just makes all the good seem bad and like nothing's worth it.  Thats why they "sent us here" to experience a culture other than ours and bring back something to develop the nation.  But no matter what I prefer Nigeria to the Indian food, mentality(the way they think) and reception of foreigners.  Remember there isn't a perfect place on earth.

I'll tell u a story of what my pastor went through when he first came to India.
Here it goes.....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Travel minutiae

Planning a selfish weekend getaway to a local vineyard, wrapped in the guise of a surprise for the Manboy, I've encountered an interesting travel reality/feature in India.  The destination is (hopefully) less than 4 hours away by car.  Of course we don't have a car, nor do I want to rent one and drive myself.  Obvious solution: I'm hiring a service. 

But do we have to keep the driver for the whole weekend, or will he drive back and forth?  If the former, do we have to put him up at our destination?  It turns out 'bedding' your maid or driver is part of the hotel service.  Yes, they actually called it 'bedding'.  And imagine taking your maid to a hotel!  It is too much.  I want to say 'Only in India', but this is probably common in many other places too.  You guys, I am so not coming back.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Arindam Chaudhuri sues the Caravan, Google, ect.

In making an actual list of the articles I read about India, I realized I was not reading any Indian publications.  Ever since I've been making a point to seek them out.  One of my favorites, The Caravan, along with Google India, Penguin Books, and  the author of the article, Sidddartha Deb, is being sued by IIPMHere is their press release about it.  I'm honestly very upset about the whole thing, but it is a fascinating conflagration of issues. 

Firstly the Caravan is great and I have to admit I've had a hard time finding Indian publications I like.  Arundhati Roy talks about some of the problems (sensationalism, corporatization, censorship, lack of integrity, whathaveyou) with the Indian media in an interview at Guernica (another fine publication, but not Indian).  I don't feel qualified to pass judgement on these matters.  I don't like say the Oregonian much or any American TV news either.

Although the plaintiff and The Caravan are located in Delhi, the suit was filed in Silchar, Assam (and they have used the same tactic in similar suits).  That is just bizarre and seems like a gross abuse of the justice system.  What, they've got a judge in their pocket in Silchar?  And they'll just be allowed to file wherever they want?  That is messed up.  An injunction has already been issued and The Caravan has taken down the original article (but you can read it here).  And corruption scores another point. 

There's been a lot of chatter lately about new internet regulations here.  I'm afraid I haven't been following it much.  But the fact that Google is included in this suit and individual bloggers in previous ones, highlights that some of the new regulations will make censorship even easier in India.  Media Nama has good coverage of these topics, in particular this post calling out some of the more troubling language in the new legislation.

I hope people get all riled up over this stuff.  But it's also funny that I am so up in arms about it.  One interesting side effect of moving to another country may be a renewed interest in politics and what not.  I was pretty cynical about all these issues back home and didn't pay a lot of attention.  I haven't been burnt out by the futility of the machine here yet.  Or maybe it's more about India being a developing country and there really is more opportunity to shape things.  Either way, it's welcome.

So go post about this nonsense on Facebook.  Make jokes at Arindam Chaudhuri's expense on twitter or at least read them and have a chuckle.

Kitten video

Mom requested more pictures of  the kitten.  I'll do one better and post a little video.  I have never seen Cat do this before.  She must be conducting some kind of hunting lesson.  Kitten pretty quickly retreats back to a Safety Zone and begins crying though.  I don't think cats are meant to be only children.

(Video after the jump.  It was slowing down the site.)

Price comparison addendum - veterinary care

I pointed out before that medicine is wicked cheap here by US standards.  This doesn't carry over into cat medicines.  I figured the cat had fleas.  I was using flea powder for a bit, but didn't know when she was due and figured flea killing agents on nipples that tiny babies  keep in their mouths was a bad idea.  So they've really got fleas now.  And this is very likely how Cat got tapeworms!  I especially love the little, wriggly egg sacks that get deposited on the guest bed.  (We'll be replacing the mattress pad after this.  Please don't be disinclined to visit!  We like visitors!)  So off to the vet for better flea treatment and worming medicine - Rs. 400.  Or $10.  Still less than at home I guess, but I was kind of surprised.

India guidebooks

I read three of these I think, but only remember two specifically, Wanderlust and Lipstick: For Women Travelling in India and India - Culture Smart!: the essential guide to customs and culture.  These are both generally about visiting India, not about Pune or moving permanently.

Maybe because Brij is Indian or I'd read enough about India online already, but I didn't find either of these helpful.  There are some very short anecdotes from travellers in Wonderlust that were enjoyable to read, but otherwise I found these books very superficial.  I also haven't spent any time in rural India, which I'm sure is a totally different experience.

Some specific peeves.  Both books suggest that women not make eye contact or small talk with strange Indian men.  Yes, sex is quite under wraps here and that can create some weird tension.  Baywatch and other American media has pretty well gone and sullied our reputation almost everywhere.  We'll just overlook the fact that Bollywood's got a lot of skin and booty shakin' and unarranged romance.  Be aware of that, dress modestly, but don't be rude.  I smile and nod at people I pass in my neighborhood, make small talk with rickshaw drivers, ask strangers for directions and nobody has ever mistaken that for a sexual advance.  Hopefully you travel for more of an experience than just looking at things from a distance.  Indians are on a whole friendly, inquisitive people and there's very, very little violent crime.  You know, except for all that communal violence...  But I'm not part of those communities (Hindu, Muslim, Dalit, upper caste, etc.).

And about how to dress.  A common piece of advice is to look around and dress like the most conservative woman you see.  That's not bad advice, but it cramps my style.  In my experience the more affluent and westernized women are not walking around on the street.  They are in cars, malls, restaurants, etc.  You may blend in more at the open market in a Punjabi dress, if a white chick in ethnic clothing counts as blending more than contradiction.  But as soon as you're inside the swank mall or at a party with modern Indian women, you'll stick out like a very sore thumb.  Jeans and a kurta is a nice compromise.

Interpret the ambiguous head wobble as the answer you want.  That almost always works.  Be polite, use common sense, and go with the flow.  Don't drink the water or eat at an empty restaurant.  Pack assuming you won't be able to buy whatever you need easily.  This isn't always true, but it does make things easier.  Most Indians are not my size/shape and miming diarrhea is embarrassing.  If you want a better understanding of where folks are coming from, read In Spite of the Gods.  Get a travel book on the specific place you are  going.  Find out what holidays are going on when you travel, but be particularly cautious in crowds.  There, you don't need to read these all purpose India travel books now.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mosquito bat

Good things to know about the totally awesome mosquito bat:

It is darn cheap.  I plan to get one for every room in the house.

It is darn satisfying.  I love killing mosquitoes.  This week we have some fruit flies.  It kills them too!

If you are wearing leggings  (they are good to work out in, shut up), it will not shock you through them.  You can rub that bat all over yourself in a fit of bug paranoia.

It holds a charge for AGES.  I plugged it in overnight as recommended, and it held its charge for like a month.

You cannot actually kill all the mosquitoes with it.  It is a sad reality to face.  As empowered as you feel bringing down all those bugs with a loud snap and bright spark, there are always more.

At first you will want to touch it.  I can't recommend or discourage this, as I haven't tried it.  This went away after killing some number of bugs, but the urge is coming back.  If I succumb and shock myself with it, you'll be the first to know.  If you've already done this, please post your story in the comments.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dalton on CWC

In a fit of missing my pets, I sent a picture off to Cute With Chris.  They didn't use any of the story I sent, except the subject 'Fancy and Vicious.'  It won't make up for abandoning him, but Mom, you must show this to Dalton anyway.  Does he understand what computers are yet?  Are you slacking in the training department?  Thank you for taking care of him.

Makin' Korean food in India

That tinda pickle was part of my effort to make an Indian inspired bi bim bap (or bi bim bap inspired Indian food, I'm not sure which).  Bi bim bap is in my mind the quintessential Korean dish: several different preparations of vegetables and ground beef and rice and raw egg and delicious chilli sauce.

Ours of course has no ground beef, as Bo is vegetarian.  Shama had made some soya ball curry,  but I don't like soya balls.  I like the crumbled granules okay, if cooked with enough soy sauce, cumin, garlic, onion - basically flavor and salt.  The way she makes them they taste like waterlogged, grainy sponges.  (I'll cover all of this in another instalment of  Mystery Produce.)  So I wanted to repurpose her curry.  I chopped it up, cooked it with garlic, onion, cumin powder, garam masala, coriander powder, soy sauce and ketchup.  Ours is topped with a fried egg and an attempt at chilli sauce.  I would go with cock sauce or a Korean chilli sauce, if you can.  I made ours with ginger garlic paste, sesame oil, chilli powder, little soy sauce and vinegar.

Here it is without the egg.  I'll describe the veggie vignettes starting at the top and working clockwise.  First we have simply carrot matchsticks (poorly crafted, I am no Masterchef).  Next time I will pickle these in some fashion.  Now sesame scallions.  These are just inch long pieces of scallion marinated with a little salt, garlic, sesame oil and seeds.  Next is plain chopped tomato.  Then our beef replacement.  Followed by our tinda pickle.  The potatoes were particularly good.  These were sliced as you see and simmered gently in some water with a ton of soy sauce and turmeric powder.  Delicious.  And finally long beans sauteed with a little ginger and garlic.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kitten update

I cannot tell you how excited I am right now!  The kitten is using the litter box!  Properly!  This isn't so much about the kitten going in a proper place.  I was way past that.  I didn't care where the kitten went to the bathroom, I just didn't want it to eat the litter anymore.  Obviously my first efforts at potty training went badly.  Changes in litter type were involved.

In Spite of the Gods - Edward Luce

I have been wanting to write about this book for a while.  In fact I just want to quote about half of it right here, right now.  That's not practical and probably not legal.  This is the best book or article I've read on India so far.  Frankly that makes it hard for me to sum up.

It is written by a man that was or maybe still is the India correspondent for a British newspaper.  He also married an Indian.  This is all assuming I am remembering this correctly of course.  I have the luxury of just telling you my impressions and not getting any facts right.  Edward Luce on the other hand, has a lot of personal experience delightfully woven into what is a pretty academic analysis of modern India.  There are some anecdotes and the language seemed comfortable, but there is a lot of history and studies and religion and economic evaluation packed into this book.  I love it.

If you're planning to visit or move to India and have a similar mentality to me, this book provided a lot of wonderful insight into the cultural and political realities of India.  And it did so in a very positive way - or an objective way, I guess.  It is so easy to  get bogged down in the poverty and polution and corruption and communal violence and strangeness of it all.  I see this trend in my posts and the articles I list even though I like India.  That says more about me and a failure to emphasize the positive (without getting into all that spiritual mumbo jumbo, gag).  Luce talks about India's history and topical reality in a frank, open, interesting way.  Check it out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mystery Produce Episode 7 - Tinda

I've been wanting to do another Mystery Produce installment.  It's one of my favorite things.  And there are some good candidates in my cabinet as we speak, but I've thrown away the packaging!  Or I could do one on Indian "cheese", but I can't bring myself to buy any more of it.  Maybe I'll try to sneak a picture of the cheese section at the grocery store, even though it is explicitly prohibited.  So today I just bought something I'd never seen before and hoped would fit into my dinner plan.  I bought tinda.

Tinda, or Indian round gourd, is exactly that: a little green, round, white fleshed gourd, complete with pumpkin sized seeds.  I licked it raw (it's not usually eaten raw), but am struggling to describe it.  For our dinner tonight I am pickling it.  A quick, more Korean or Japanese style pickle with sugar, salt, garlic, green chili, and vinegar.  There are quick pickles in Indian cuisine too, but they are usually soured with lime juice or tamarind.

Boaz describes the result as having the texture of a raw cucumber, but a flavor closer to an unripe pear (or something like that).  It came out pretty well.  I left the skin on for appearance's sake, but next time I'd peel it.

(See the dinner this was for here.)

Maybe that was obvious

I'm beginning to think that if you have sensitive skin and abhor heat, India isn't the best place to move!  I know, I'm a genius.  I've handled it so much better than I expected that I don't consider it a big deal, but I am surprised at some of the presentations.

The rainy season has kicked in.  The humidity isn't exactly comfortable in some ways.  It feels warmer than it is, but is so dramatically cooler as to more than make up for it.  I welcome the humidity with joy.  Even though the laundry takes forever to dry and my hair always looks kind of weird (can I blame that on humidity?) and there are more bugs and we're all sweating more.  But it should be the end of all my problems.

I find my troubles fascinating.  That's a requirement for having a blog, right?  My fingertips were like paper; dry with little creases, tiny bubbles would sometimes form and break only on the very surface, my fingerprints were shallower.  Much longer and I could have been a spy!  'Cause  I wouldn't have had any fingerprints!  ...  Anyway, the change in weather has brought back pretty normal, supple fingertips for me.  I had some rough patches of skin various places too.  Most lotions are downright ineffective, but Mom brought me several Costco sized bottles of my preferred lotion that fixed that right up.  Pedicures are now mandatory. 

Today I discovered a whole new weird skin thing.  I think it is Miliaria Crystallina, a form of prickly heat/sweat rash.  A little spray of super tiny, clear blisters that don't itch or hurt or anything.  It just looks like I have some dew drops on my arm.  In the time it has taken me to identify them and write this, they are already almost gone.  They were probably kicked off by my new, more intense workout routine.

Should I show you a picture?  Of course I took a picture.  I also take pictures of my more horrifying looking mosquito bites.  It's an unflattering picture of a nearly unidentifiable part of my arm and you may not want to look at my weird skin problems, so I'll put it after the jump.  I'm not  sure the picture is even very good.  I took it with my cell phone and it emphasizes what I think is pretty normal white chick pink blotchiness, but you can see the dew drops too.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Amateur Hour

Boaz (from the living room):  Are you gagging?
Me (in the kitchen):  Yes.
Boaz:  That is so awesome.

Let's just say the sour dough starter didn't go well.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Along with the rain came an explosion of weeds in our totally neglected little back yard.  Believe it or not there were actually a few sad looking rosebushes under all this.

I finally bought some plants and did some weeding.   The surprisingly helpful rickshaw driver and maid concur that I paid far too much.  But I haven't stopped feeling $10 for the 9 plants and a big clay pot is pretty reasonable.  

I was hoping to get some herbs and vegetables too.  The nursery purveyor looked at me like I had some kind of illness as I mimed eating plants.

Paid somebody else to do the heavier pruning nonsense, weed the scary corner and soon to extend the flowerbed all along the fence.  Did you know a lot of bugs live outside?  True story.

Now we just need to decide whether to re-sod the whole yard or pave it or what.  It's mostly dirt without all those weeds.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I sometimes, very casually, wonder about basic infrastructure in India.  In the States when your power goes out it is usually a physical problem that a human has to come out and fix.  Most of the outages we experience here are really short.  I cannot imagine there is a system in place in India to monitor local power in real time.  (Is that a thing?  Compstat for the power grid?  It must be.)  I cannot imagine people are calling the power company to report it.  I really, really cannot imagine the Indian power company has teams at the ready to promptly address any problems. 

I'm obviously pretty ignorant about the nuts and bolts of power delivery systems.  
What is it that puts the power out anyway?  Does where you live matter?  Do hospitals and schools get  better response times and whatnot, exceptions from rolling blackouts?  Should we just get a generator?  Why do our fans make more noise when they are running on battery?

I thought the hot season would bring the worst of the power failures.  What with all those A/Cs running.  I was wrong.  The rainy season is the worst.  The power goes out every day now, several times a day, for much longer than ever before.  That's not the worst though.  A power outage is alright.  It's a bummer to lose the internet and the air conditioning, but we have a battery back up.  And it powers essentials like the fridge, ceiling fans, some of the lights, and one lone outlet.  Now we seem to be getting reduced power from the grid - not low enough to kick on the batteries, but not strong enough to fully power the fridge, A/C, DSL modem, or incandescent bulbs. 

I had reckoned halogen fixtures were the norm because they are cheap, but they also don't pulse and fade in a half-powered moment.  Which is annoying, really annoying.  I may be easily annoyed.  It's the little things I miss.  Like not feeling as though I'm showering in a cheap motel as a train goes by in a bad horror flick. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

More pictures from Israel

Some of these are still from Tel  Aviv, most are from Jerusalem, Haifa, and Akko.  I would fail a quiz though.  Boaz insisted on going through all 710 photos in one sitting. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kitten update

They have relocated again into a very secure box of clothing in our bedroom.  Cat and Kitten seem healthy and pretty content.  I've noticed Kitten trying to play with Mom, attacking her ears, paws, and tail.  She tolerates this, but doesn't engage.  So I made him a little kitten toy.  Unfortunately he is pretty sure I am some kind of giant monster and that nowhere outside the box is safe.  So we don't get to play yet.

Get a load of that tail!  It's like a bottle brush.  Under normal circumstances it is sleek, like his mother's.  If he tried to make himself look any bigger, he would poof right out of existence.  I try to pet Cat in the box while he's watching, which sometimes just gets wide eyes and sometime gets adorable, gasping hisses.  Hopefully I am socializing him by taking him out for a little while most days and not permanently traumatizing him.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Useful services in Pune (and beyond)

One of the harder things to adjust to here is not being able to use the internet to find shops, restaurants, services, etc.  For a country that's always in the news for its booming IT sector, the average Indian and average business here just plain doesn't use the internet.  I'm glad that hasn't translated to a doorstep piled high with YellowPage type directories.  Fortunately there is JustDial.  It doesn't have much in the way of reviews or detailed information about products and services, but is nontheless a vital resource.

Do you like having things delivered?  Then you would probably like India.  Using JustDial of course, I found a pet shop in my neighborhood.  I called to confirm that they had cat supplies (dog supplies are more common) and to get better details about where they are located (addresses aren't always that helpful here).  But instead of getting that information, they asked what I wanted and delivered it to my door within the hour.  The wine shop, the small local grocer, probably just about everybody will deliver.

Including just about any restaurant.  (Not the Hard Rock Cafe, no sir, they are too good for that.)  You may have difficulty taking advantage of this if you don't speak Marathi or Hindi though.  I've been told by more than one neighborhood restaurant that they don't take English orders, even though it seems like a list of food shouldn't be that hard.  YumKing to the rescue!  We love, love, love this service.  There are a fair number of Pune restaurants on the site and it's very easy to use.  It only shows you restaurants that deliver to your area, warns you if they aren't open at the moment, and delivery is free!  McDonald's has online ordering too, but that is more like a curse than a blessing.

We also love BigFlix, which is available in several cities throughout India.  It is pretty much just like NetFlix.  Major differences being:  the suggestion algorithm, if there is an algorithm at all, is not very sophisticated; there is some streaming, but not of English titles; they tried to emulate NetFlix I think, but the  second icon that looks like it will add a movie to the top of your queue, adds it to the bottom just like the normal 'add to queue' icon; I hear they have brick and mortar stores too; they hand deliver and pick up your movies the very next day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Speaking of bugs

Thank the stars we don't have camel spiders!  I like the idea of being serial expats, but let the record show that anywhere with camel spiders is summarily rejected.

Mystery Produce Episode 6 - Spices

I am making some of my own masalas, so I went to a little street vendor and bought a sort  of ludicrous amount of spices.  They were so eager to garner my repeat business, they gave me a little handful of almost every spice they carry for free.  Most of them are familiar to me at this point, but I had never seen turmeric and hing in their whole forms.

 Trying to start with the big yellow lumps at the top and working clockwise:  turmeric rhizome or rootstock; just under that is mace; next is a chunk of hing, which I had only seen in a yellowish powder form; a mix of white poppy seeds, coriander seeds, sesame seeds, whole peppercorns, cloves, green and black cardamom, and god knows what else; star anise; dagad phool, literally stone flower, a lichen common in Maharashtrian cuisine; cassia, which is like cinnamon; tejpata, patta meaning leaf, this is an Indian bay leaf.

The dagad phool has a mild, familiar aroma.  Who knew we've probably been eating moss for months.  The turmeric rhizome and hing are like rock hard.  I'm at a loss as to what to do with them.  Maybe I should have brought my microplane.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

White Tiger - Aravind Agida

Okay, I think this book was critically acclaimed and it was personally recommended, but it's a novel and takes the form of a letter to the Chinese Premier from a murderous servant turned entrepreneur - let's just say I wasn't very excited about it.  The power kept going out though, so I started to read it anyway.

It turned out to be a really fun read.  The format proved an accessible yet sophisticated way to tell the story.  Kind of like 24, except I appreciated the effort and the result.  It touches on so many aspects of life in India without feeling strained.  Overall it was just very entertaining.  I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

More bugs

Living in Pune tip:  Don't leave your porch light on overnight unless you really like bees.

That's a pretty blurry photo, huh?  It was a hurried shot, as I was sure they would wake up and swarm me any second.

Bee stings are one of those things that can grow mythic in the anticipation.  I was old enough the last time I was stung that it wasn't traumatic.  I recall gaining some perspective from the experience.  But it's also been long enough now that, on a basal level, I'm just positive I would die of pain.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I think the rainy season officially kicked off yesterday.  There was thunder, lightning, wind and power outages all day.  Then it rained all afternoon and all night.  The change in temperature is really dramatic.  It's been close to 100 degrees all day for months.  It wouldn't even really cool down in the evening.  Early morning was the only pleasant time of day to my PNW-raised, heat averse body.  Last night felt blissfully cool at just under  80.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Indianisms, from useful to hilarious

Prepone - Like postpone, but to have a meeting earlier rather than later.
Upgradation - To upgrade, obviously.
Do the needful and the same - "Here's the form.  Please do the needful at your earliest convenience and return the same."
Contest - To run in an election.
Intimated - Contacted personally.  "You will be intimated by customer service shortly."
Haan - Pronounced like a nasal ha, it means 'yes'.  Usually 'haan, haan, haan'.  Okay, okay, okay.  Acha, acha, acha.
Bas or ho gaya - Enough.
Chelo - Let's go.
Peg - A shot of liquor.
Coolers - Sunglasses.
Cousin-brother and cousin-sister -  Just being gender specific, I think.  There are a lot of these compound familial relation descriptors.
Eck, do, teen - One, two, three.  You don't really need to know more than that, do you?
Lakh and crore - Hundred thousand and ten million, respectively.  "You totally want to have like one crore of his babies."
Double/triple - As in 'our phone number is 8408271 tripple 9' (that is not our number).  Or 'No, see in this case is spelled s double e.'
Only - Along with its usual meaning, used instead of 'just' and often at the end of the sentence.  "How's the concert so far?"  "I don't know.  I got here only."
Gymming - Going to the gym.  "You look great.  Have you been gymming?"
Mugging - To memorize.
To pass out - To graduate. 
Rubber - Some of them are really just British English.  Like duster for blackboard eraser and shift for moving house.  When the students ask me for a rubber, I'm pretty sure they want an eraser and not a condom.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pictures from Tel Aviv

Here are some of Boaz's pictures from Tel Aviv.  I'll post those from Jerusalem, Akko, and Haifa in another entry.

Tel Aviv graffiti Egg Plant Krew 

If there is grafiti or boats, Boaz is taking a picture of it.  This is a piece by the Egg Plant Krew.  Eggplant being like a repurposed, empowered racial slur in this case.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The firang

I noticed that in talking about our trip to Lucknow and Delhi and the wedding, I didn't talk a lot about how people react to the obvious foreigner.  I must be more self conscious about my reactions to their reactions than I am at being the center of attention.  Now that's saying something.

We stayed at a hotel on a busy road in Lucknow.  Sometimes we stood outside to wait for one of Brij's eminently gracious family to pick us up.  Passersby on foot, bicycle and motorized vehicle alike would slow down to look at us.  I've adjusted to lingering looks and whathaveyou in Pune, but I still noticed that it was more pronounced in Lucknow.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The metric system

I'll admit I haven't gotten used to the metric system.  The nutrition facts on packaged food are similar here, but the serving size is apparently (and sensibly) mandated;  It is always 100g.  This is a pretty inscrutable description for me though.  And it never tells you how many servings are in the package, forcing me to do math.

If you have trouble with the metric system too, xkcd can help.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

My greatest fears realized

Okay, I'm exaggerating again.

I had two major fears about coming to India and they may seem trivial because they kind of are.  Those fears were of paralyzing heat and bugs.  Part of the reason these were my topmost fears is that I didn't think there was much I could to do about them and I can't see getting anything in return for coping with them.  Running away to another country without a job or anything?  Scary, or wildly irresponsible, but I get to live  in India!  Witnessing incredible poverty, animals that aren't cared for and whathaveyou?  Hard, but character building, right?  Plus sometimes I get to help and that is awesome.

So I was scared of bugs and heat.  The heat has turned out to be bearable.  It affects my activities, but I'm not dying or anything.  I don't think I've even seen a cockroach.  If I am particularly brutalized by mosquitoes in a short period of time, I do go a little whacko.  That's mostly unfortunate for Boaz.  The spiders are especially scary because they all jump, but there aren't a lot of them.

There weren't a lot of them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

More cat antics

The cat really doesn't like using the litter box.  This hasn't been a problem per se, even though she can only go outside when I open the door for her.  That is until one night when I had eaten something bad.  I threw up a bunch and slept much longer than usual.  The cat opened the window to the roof and climbed to the ground from 3 stories up!

Alright, Cat, let's make a deal.  I will leave the door to the office open a little so you can use that window.  But you have to promise not to spray in there and hope that the electric mosquito destroyer machine protects the rest of the house from vampiric marauders.

She agreed.  And then she decided a little box full of cds and books in the mountain of partially unpacked miscellany in the office was the best place to keep the kitten.  Silly Cat.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My first Indian wedding!

One of the women that works at the education center, Swati, generously invited me to her wedding.

Indian wedding getting ready

You can barely see her here surrounded by, oh, about 30 women in a room the size of a big closet.  Having trouble getting shots of the bride will be a theme for the evening.

Casual price comparisons

A couple people have asked me about it, so here are some very personal, anecdotal, imprecise comparisons of prices in India vs. the States.  The basic  trend is that things you don't really need are expensive/similar to price in the States, absolute essentials and labor are cheap.

Pharmacy - I find this is the most dramatic.  I never get a receipt, so I don't know what individual items cost.  Last time I went to the pharmacy I got 2 tubes of antifungal cream, 4 toothbrushes, and 40 Xanax.  It was under $4.  My copay for a month's supply of name brand prescriptions was $45 in Seattle.  I think Lotrimin is like $8 and what is a toothbrush, $3?  So it would have been somewhere around $75 for me at Walgreens.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mystery Produce Episode 5 - Chickoo

Indian produce chickoo fruit

Chickoo!  Chickoo, chickoo, chickoo.  I just love saying chickoo.  This was certainly a new fruit to me.  I chopped it up with some mango and put it in a custard.  I can't say it's my favorite, but I would eat it again.  I like some tang to my fruit, which chickoo is not.  Nor is it cloyingly sweet.  The texture is almost grainy, like a pear.  I think in smells oddly like the fenny Boaz's coworkers brought back from Goa.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Articles page

If you're obsessed with how I spend my day (and if you're reading this, I'm sorry to say, you just might be.  Hi, Mom!), you can now read along with Siera about India in the new Articles section.  It's like longreads/longform/givemesomethingtoread except it is all India all the time.  And no pesky context like dates of publication, date of listing or summaries either.  Though there are editor's picks in the form of painstakingly designed asterisks.

Pictures from the Delhi trip

We were in Delhi over Holi.  We saw evidence of the festivities, but didn't get much action ourselves.

Delhi old city Holi 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cat and Kitten

The cat finally delivered in a box in our living room.  Very small litter of 2, but one was stillborn.  So only one kitten to find a home for, yay!  It's a pretty cute copy of mom.  Of course all they do right now is nap and nurse, nap and nurse, nap and nurse.

More pictures from Lucknow trip

Lucknow building alley

We stayed at a pleasant little hotel in Lucknow.  These were the views out our little terrace in the back.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mystery Produce Episode 4 - Torai

Today we cooked with Torai or ridge gourd or, much to my surprise, luffa!

Upon seeing our creation, I had what is now a totally foreign experience for me - an inexplicable aversion to trying this new food.

It doesn't look all that different from other food I eat, it smells good, I generally relish trying new foods.  Nevertheless, I didn't really want to eat it.  And when I did, I didn't really like it.  It's not bad, but it has all the qualities I dislike about overcooked zuchini (that's overcooked by my definition and not necessarily anybody else's).  Fortunately Boaz likes it.

Book - Indian Summer

This was a quick, mostly light, mostly enjoyable read.  Overall kind of a shoulder shrug.  The writing is decent and I enjoyed much of the story, especially now that I'm living in India and working with slum kids.  It's basically a memoir about how Will, an Englishman and teacher by profession, finds himself in India.  Finds himself in India mostly to escape his horrid students in London though.  And he's pretty disparaging about said profession, maybe in a self deprecating way, but here's where I start to not like him all that much.

He stumbles on this opportunity to go to India.  He finds he doesn't like it at all and plans to return to the UK immediately.  (Liking him even less.)  I forget why he doesn't and instead happenstance brings him to working with a small orphanage/school in a slum right here in Pune.  But again, almost grudgingly.  He comes around and the story of working with all these little children to put on a performance of the Ramayana to save the slum from developers is full of comedy and heartbreak and triumph.

The major events are driven exclusively by chance encounters and Will's total lack of, well, will.  I do not get the subtitle to the book:  "A good man in Asia."  The way it's presented, it's more like a not-so-bad guy that is open to anything and everything.  Which really isn't a bad thing and neither is the book.  *shrug*

Friday, April 15, 2011


Kitty is definitely pregnant.  Kitty also hates, I mean hates being locked in the guest room.  I did not properly secure the window once.  She opened the screen, climbed out onto the sill and managed to negotiate her pregnant self down from the second story.

Though she dutifully uses the litter box in there, as soon as I let her roam the house she sprayed on a box in the office.  I've let her back outside, but still feed her in the guest room.  Two or three times a day, after she eats and under my watchful eye, she sleeps for a while on the floor in the living room before heading back out.  I am still kind of hoping that she'll get used to being inside and have her kittens here?  Yeah, probably not.

The Imambaras

Lucknow impressed us overall with its wonderful, old architecture.  Much older than Pune.  We visited both the Bara (big) Imambara and Chotta (little) Imambara.

As I understand it and that is probably not well, Imambargah are Shia congregation halls for ceremonies associated with the Remembrance of Muharram.  This is a time of mourning over Ashura, the martyrdom of Muhammad's grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, on the tenth (ashura) day of Muharram (the first month of the islamic calendar).

Mystery Produce Episode 3 - Bottle Gourd

Shama has been giving me some cooking lessons.  Today we made the dish she served when I visited her home, white pumpkin dal.  It's good that she is doing the shopping for these sessions, because I never would have guessed that this was 'white pumpkin'.

 The flesh is indeed bright white and makes about the tastiest dal I've had so far.  (I'm not exactly a fan of dal.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

It's evening in Pune

And it smells like rain.  It has only rained once, and very briefly at that, since I've been in India.  I expected it to be humid, but the humidity hasn't been above maybe 10% so far.  Probably a very good thing in this 100 degree weather.  Quite the change from Seattle, which is at 81% today.  My palms and fingertips haven't looked this old and papery and alien since taking Accutane.  But it's awful pleasant out right now and I am looking forward to the monsoon.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Uh oh!

I am pretty sure our little kitty friend is now pregnant.  I was thinking I would take her to a vet for shots and to be fixed and get flea treatments, etc.  It seems I'll have to wait until the kittens are born to do most of that.  I wish a little kitty abortion was an option, but I don't think that's a thing.

So now I'm struggling with whether or not to bring her into the house until the kittens are born and then have them all fixed.  I do love kittens.  Who doesn't love kittens?  But no, I don't want a whole brood of indoor cats.  I miss my pets, but I don't miss dealing with their poo and fur and damage to the furniture and fleas (okay, mine didn't really have fleas, but there was a day a month that they were covered in toxic chemicals to achieve flea-freedom). 

How can I bring these cats in, only to cast them out again?  Or do I just leave them to their own devices?  Nothing feels quite right, but maybe that is life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mosquitos: the epic battle

Okay, it's not so dramatic.  I did try geranium oil in a lotion medium today and it worked fantastically for maybe 3 hours.  It smells better, is less likely to give me cancer, and is cheaper than anything with DEET.  Soon I may even find empty spray bottles and try it in an alcohol medium.  Lavender is also on the list.  I'll keep you posted, 'cause I know you're dying to know the best naturopathic mosquito remedy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

South Africa

Just for fun, I grabbed a smattering of photos that Boaz took in South Africa.

South Africa Pretoria funny bartender

(Click the link to see them all)

First family visit and domestic travel

(At a south Indian restaurant in Lucknow, Brij's sister Rashmi; my mom, Ann; my stepdad, Brij; Brij's brother, Ajesh; his wife, Jyoti; Rashmi's husband, Arun; me; and behind the camera, Boaz.)

My parents had planned a trip to visit Brij's family before we moved.  So Mom spent a couple nights with us in Pune, before we all headed to Lucknow for a few days and then Delhi for a few days.  It was a great trip.  We visited a number of historic sights, ate far too much good food (Jyoti's cooking in particular is fantastic), and I got to meet the rest of Brij's wonderful family.  Many, many, many thanks to them all and Push for inviting us into their homes and showing us around!

Many more pictures to follow shortly.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In case you hadn't noticed

I've made some additions to the blog.  At the top of the page, under the big title, there is now a 'Blogs I Dig' page.  Go check it out.  It includes AIC's newish blog and the recently relaunched Celebrities Eating, both highly recommended.


After my post on subtle challenges teaching at AIC, I talked to Eric.  They do handle optometry.  In fact, they had an 'optometry camp' just two months ago and all the kids at the Education Center were checked out.  Probably the girl in my 9th standard class just missed that day.

I know she had been out of school for some time and only recently returned.  It was in the previous volunteer's report.  And she is very shy/quiet, but her English and reading skills are about as good as the other kids in the class.  I actually hope nearsightedness is a problem for her and that glasses will help her level of engagement/confidence in both our sessions and the rest of her classes.  (And not provide another source of self-consciousness.)

Why am I so uncomfortable?

I'm actually not at all uncomfortable with Shama (our maid-cum-savior) anymore.  I was uncomfortable with maids even back home.  Maybe out of being such a slob or mostly feeling weird about not doing anything while somebody else deals with my mess or knowing that it's not like I have more education than this person, but I make at least 4 times what they do an hour, if not significantly more and there's more variety and I hate doing what they are doing right now and how the hell is that fair?  This commonly applied while traveling for work and staying in hotels or even staying at my parents'.

Shama is college educated in hotel management and now works as a private maid largely because her mother can no longer manage the household, her daughter is now at college, and her husband has passed.  It gives her the flexibility she needs and working for foreigners affords her a pretty good wage here.  She's been a great help to me in getting more involved errands done and translating flashcard words for class.  She takes pride in what she does, and I do too now.  Whew!

I've run into a sort of similar problem with one of my lessons for the kids:  What do you want to be when you grow up?  I prepared flashcards in advance.  (I prepare everything in advance and make almost all of my stuff from scratch - from flashcards and bingo boards to worksheets - 'cause I'm obsessed.)  And here's where I struggled.  I want to encourage them to be anything and everything they want.  I also want to be realistic.  The word 'realistic' just used, right there, even sounds patronizing, bourgeois, classist - oh my god, I am the devil.  But I still want to be realistic.  So I am using a mix of occupations from tailor and driver and maid to scientist and teacher and pilot and actor.  Oh please, let me not be an asshole. 


No idea what the fireworks and loud music were actually about.  There is a tract of land near our house that often hosts carnivals or expos, currently a handloomed household goods tent.  Not just curtains and bedsheet sets, appliance covers for your fridge or washing machine are also very popular.  It is afterall a dusty country.  When we heard all the blasts outside and finally went up to the roof to investigate, we caught the end of the fireworks show and my camera caught a very ill-timed shot of the very last display.


The little cat had not been around for a while.  I'll admit I was pretty disappointed - I like the idea of having an outdoor cat that sits with me while I read and drink my morning coffee.  He's been back today.  He seems more afflicted by fleas than before.  I know one of the grocery stores stocks catfood.  I'm hoping they also have flea collars.  He obviously wants in the house now too, but so far I am successfully resisting.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Speaking of subtle problems

As I mentioned in my first post about AIC, I figured there would be some subtle challenges to this teaching endeavor.  There are plenty of obvious ones:  limited time; potentially limited motivation; totally different style of teaching; 3rd language for these kids; I have no experience teaching kids, much less teaching ESL; etc. etc.  Eric has talked about the fact that it took them a little while to figure out that the Health Outreach program needs to work hand-in-hand with the Education Outreach program - kids that are sick or whose parents are sick cannot come to class.

I'm hoping this means that they can address optometry as well.  One of the girls in my 7th/9th standard class is obviously nearsighted.  I do some 'fill in the blanks' grammar work with the older kids, which I prepare before class on a large sheet of paper.  She cannot read it from the back of the class and is too shy to want to come sit closer.  There's also a girl in my youngest group who wants to use the book on the few occasions that I write the text on the board to copy.  I am thinking because she has trouble reading the board.  It could also be my handwriting.  Add that to the list of subtle challenges.

Where to sit?

So the kids here just sit on the floor for class.  They have little clipboards or clipboard like things that they use for writing surfaces.  The teachers all sit in plastic patio chairs.  (Yes, those ubiquitous mass produced ones you're thinking of.)  I don't usually sit in a chair, despite many efforts to get me to do so.  It's akin to trying to refuse food in any Indian home.  I'm usually standing at the board, crouching with a book, or sitting on the floor in a circle with the kids.

Usually during my second class the cook (I think she's the cook at the center) brings us tea.  Today they were out of tea masala, so it was hot, sweet milk instead.  I was sitting in a circle doing the 'How are you?' exercise with the kids and not paying attention to her talk with the Marathi teachers.  I don't know if she had been trying to ask me if I wanted milk or what.  But she walked right up to me, grinning all the time, and pinched my cheeks really hard.  Maybe she thought it was cute that I was sitting on the floor like a child.  I'm really not sure.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Screw you, banks

As if the total collapse of Wall Street, ensuing economic disaster, and total lack of justice wasn't enough reason to hate banks - there was probably enough reason before that too - now my bank is finding new ways to mess up my day/week/month.

Despite alerting them that I would be in India for the next 6 months, my account has been frozen by the fraud detection unit and I can't do anything about it over e-mail.  I have to call, on a phone, like this is 1890.  I can't call because we don't have a functioning phone.  It turns out our phone was shut off because the alternate phone number provided is in the States and Idea! does not authorize branches to make international calls.  Maybe I need a new tag for Frustration.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Shama's home

Pune India alley auto rickshaw 

After Boaz and I suffered greatly and failed miserably at the task, Shama was kind enough to track down a merchant with the kind of mosquito nets we wanted.  After cleaning today, we hopped in a rickshaw and headed to Camp.  First she needed to drop off her things at home, so I got to meet her family and see where she lives.  The little alleys snaking toward their home are charming, colorful, tidy, filled with plants and drying laundry.

Shama lives with her mother and daughter in a one room apartment.  It is utterly adorable, complete with a divided cottage style door.  I can't imagine living comfortably with three people in such a small space though.  They were incredibly hospitable, serving tea and pastry and white pumpkin dal.  Shama's daughter is currently studying science at a college here in Pune and hopes to go on to medical school.

Phones, phones, phones

Getting a cell phone here is a pain in the ass.  After many struggles with AirTel, Idea! finally seemed to be the winner with a phone that has been in service for over a month.  It has now been shut off due to yet more paperwork problems or something (like mismatched signatures).  Frustration abounds.  Not having a phone for myself was bad enough.  No phone at all is totally unacceptable.  Prepaid sim cards are kind of the way to go here and I think it may be time to just ask Shama (our maid) to get one for me in her name.


Okay, okay, I finally signed up for that Facebook nonsense.  The blog will automatically post as Notes there.  So if you prefer Facebook for that sort of thing, you can add me as a friend and get all the updates that way.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Little monsters

I mean that affectionately, of course.  Housie is so popular I have created a problem for myself.  My 6th standard class was so obsessed with getting to the game, I almost had to skip it.  I still think it is a great tool for reinforcing the lesson.  Hopefully as the game gets harder, they will see that they have to pay attention to the lesson in order to even play.

I am trying to integrate motivation for the whole class to pay attention during the lesson/activity (even when a student is not active) right into what we are doing.  To teach different ways of answering "How are you?" I had my 3rd standard kids sit in a circle.  I passed out flashcards with the different answers, a picture of it, and the Marathi word.  Going around the circle, each student asks the person to their left "How are you?" and they respond with the word on their card.  Then we each pass the card to the next person and start over.  These are also the pictures/words in the housie game at the end of class.  The kids want to be sure they know how to say their word even before it is their turn, but they would not listen while the other kids were talking to hear how it is said.  Hopefully as they get used to this activity, it will eventually motivate them to listen.

Starting to get hot

Apparently it reached about 95 degrees today.  I had class, so I was out at the hottest time of day and in small, unairconditioned, unfanned rooms filled with warm little bodies.  Fortunately I wasn't miserable.  Unfortunately it means it is still going to get much hotter.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Little visitors

Boaz and I are sitting on the couch eating dinner or something.  He's looking at me, talking, then shouts "OH MY GOD!" mid-sentence.  Obviously there is a giant, rabid, spider lunging at me from behind with its deadly poisonous fangs.  Or there was just a lizard in the entry way.

I've seen a little cat in the courtyard a few times and found paw prints across our table on the veranda.  Today I caught him lounging on my chair.  I can't tell if he's a stray.  He's friendly, but not very clean.  He seems to like cheese.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Our stuff has arrived


It is ludicrous how visibly happy I am to be sitting on a couch right now.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mornings in India

Things in India get started a little later.  Boaz's office sends a shuttle for him and other expats in the morning that doesn't even arrive until 9:20 and he's the first pickup.  Some shops are open about 9 on weekdays, but most things don't open until about 10.  Malls, restaurants, etc. never open before 11.

I like to sleep in, so this seemed totally awesome for a while.  It's almost eerie, like waking from a coma in a zombie apocalypse, if you go out at 9am on a Sunday.  (I've been watching a lot of zombie movies while I've been sick.  Maybe too many.)  Those rare days that I want to get an early start become a waiting game, assuming I remember that nothing is really open.  A few times I've headed out early, but only been able to do 1/2 my errands because everything else was still closed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sick again!

I don't usually get sick this often, so I'm pretty grumpy about it.  Probably I can look forward to getting sick a lot more here.  Not only are the viruses foreign, but now I'm doing volunteer work in a building that sees 250+ kids, from who knows how many schools.  Dengue fever hasn't been ruled out yet either.  Our stuff has been processed by customs and will hopefully be delivered soon.  Being stuck in an uncomfortable bed all the time doesn't help with the grumpiness. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

First class?

I did my first classes today.  They went really well, I think.  I hadn't actually prepared enough material for them.  The other volunteers had emphasized not expecting too much from the classes.  It makes sense.  This is an extracurricular for them and they only see us twice a week for an hour at time.  But all of my classes were pros at reading as a group, at least phonetically.

Housie was big hit.  I caught myself doing a lot of India no-no's.  I pointed at children to call on them, I patted a kids head.  Nobody called me out, but even I know that these are rude behavior here.  There's a lot of learning to go around on both sides I think and we're getting to where we can share that with each other.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prepping for class

One of the more obvious challenges I saw in the session I sat in on Monday is keeping the whole class engaged.  The volunteer started the class with some conversation.  "How old are you?  What is your favorite color?  Can you ask Didi some questions."  Then she wrote the alphabet on the board and had each of the students come up to name all the letters.  This is where the other kids started fidgeting and chatting with each other.

One-on-one time is important, but how do you find the time in just 2 hours a week and review past material and continue to cover new stuff?  I am thinking once a week I'll have the kids do a written worksheet while I read with each of them individually.  Otherwise, I want to focus on group activities as much as possible.   Maybe start each class with a short review game:  pass around a bag full of flashcards that the drawer can identify and then the group has a chance to do a follow-up, like spell the word or use it in a sentence.

For the first class I think we'll just do some introductions and questions followed by a game.  I'm hoping they like Housie (Bingo) and prizes.  I'm really hoping they'll even help come up with the clues/words/pictures for future game boards.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Volunteer work at AIC

I started talking to AIC before leaving the States and submitted my formal application shortly after arriving, but hadn't heard anything for a while.  I was beginning to worry that Grampa gave me a bad reference and this whole thing wasn't going to work out.  Turns out the HR-and-everything-else guy I've been talking with, Eric, had been back Stateside.  So he e-mailed me Saturday.  We met at the education center on Sunday.  And today I got a glimpse of the work I'll be doing with the Ashraya Initiative for Children.  You can read about all of their programs on their website.

I'll be starting with the education outreach program.  AIC arranges enrollment; pays tuition; provides supplies, uniforms, and a place to bathe and study for about 250 slum children.  The kids in the program return to the education center before or after school for additional instruction, help with homework, etc.  I was lucky enough to catch the weekly dance class yesterday.

All of the new students are enrolled in English medium schools, but originally many of the students were sent to Marathi medium schools.  (Marathi is the regional language in Maharashtra.)   Volunteers like me work with these students for two 1-hr sessions each week to teach them basic English.  I'll start Thursday with 3 groups of about 10 kids from the 3rd to the 9th standard.

I'm excited.  The kids are all delightfully friendly.  Even on the street near the center they run up to shake my hand, yelling "Didi! Didi!"  But I'll admit I'm a little intimidated too.  I sat in on one session with a 2nd standard group today, but I'll be leading my own classes already next time.  There are some obvious challenges and I'm sure more subtle ones as well.  The volunteer that is leaving is preparing some detailed reports on each of the groups for me.  I'll be talking more this week about how I'm trying to prepare too.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Census of India 2011

Yesterday afternoon one of the security guards knocked on our door and handed me this form to fill out.

India's 2011 census began in earnest yesterday.  I'm a little perplexed that one of the 2.7 million census employees didn't deliver the poorly xeroxed form.  It's also full of spelling errors, even headed "Censes of India 2011."  Is it possible this isn't really part of the official census?

Another phase in April/May will apparently include coming round to fingerprint, iris scan, and assign an identity number to everybody in India.  All 1.2 billion?  A massive undertaking indeed.  The FAQ on the official government census site is kind of interesting, but doesn't include any of the questions I had.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Boaz has recovered.  I thought I had escaped the infection and celebrated appropriately with a bottle of wine on Sunday.  Now I'm starting to feel crappy.  I've also been terrible about remembering to take pictures while wandering Pune, but I'll throw a few out to you while I spend some time resting.

Indian wine Zinzi

Speaking of wine:  Alcohol is pretty expensive here.  The cheapest wines I can find are still over $5.  I've found a couple in that range that I like.  You can easily spend $30 on a domestic bottle of wine that is about on par with a $5 bottle at home.  I haven't found any reds I really like yet.  That's always a little trickier.  This system won't scale, but for the moment I take pictures of bottles I like or hate.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Boaz is sick

He's got some sort of head/chest cold with a fever.  So unfortunately, we had to back out of the Goa trip.  Bo is determined to plan another shortly.

The grocery stores here don't seem to stock first aid stuff.  It's a little like the East Coast; there are few supermarkets and most things are bought at dedicated shops.  I also stand out, so the pharmacy shop already recognizes me from getting bandaids and heartburn medicine.  I don't know if this contributed to how easy it was to just walk in and ask for codeine syrup.  But they sold it to me, despite the label stating it is only available by prescription, which was very convenient.   So Boaz is coughing less and a little high - not a bad place to be with a flu in warm weather.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

General update

Our shipment from the States was estimated to arrive on the 27th of last month.  Now they are saying the 5th of February.  Cross all your fingers y'all.  We won't miss our stuff this week though.  We are heading to Goa for some kind of company retreat thing.  Yay!

Monday, January 31, 2011


I was kind of hoping mosquitos wouldn't become a real problem until summer.  Not so.  Most nights one or two manage to hide somewhere in our bedroom until we turn out the light.  I then get up and turn on the light and hunt them with my electric mosquito bat.  This is not very efficient.

Last night one mosquito managed to get me twice on my back, once on my elbow, twice on my hand, and TWICE ON MY FOREHEAD.  Fortunately it looks like malaria isn't very common in urban areas, like Pune.  Dengue fever however is.   A well and truly determined mission to find a mosquito net will commence tomorrow.  I've checked several places already without luck.  I also hear geranium oil is an effective repellent.  I'll be trying that too.

Tonight we are trying some sort of chemical that plugs into an outlet.  "Insert the liquid dispenser into the electric mosquito destroyer machine."

The instructions indicate to both install it away from windows and fans with doors closed and to open doors and windows while in use.  I assume this means to plug it in for 30 or so minutes with the doors closed, then air the room when actually in use so that you don't get more cancer than you're already getting from all of the pollution here.  But neither of us is happy to be sleepy and not in the only room with furniture for 30 minutes before bed.

Sprouts! Part 2

Oops!  I didn't get a picture of it, but the methi (fenugreek) sprouts came out well.  I made the tempered spice salad thing and added some cilantro.  It was a little bitter, but tasty.  The moong dal and chowli sprouts are looking great.  We'll start eating them tomorrow.  I thought the chickpea sprouts would be the easiest, but so far only the ones on top are starting to grow.  We shall see.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sprouts! Part 1

I'm really enjoying fenugreek here.  Fresh, dried, seeds, powdered.  I never used it at home for some reason.  I came across this recipe for warm sprouted fenugreek seeds.  I may be embarking on a new obsession to join the spice collection.  Salads made with all kinds of sprouts should be delightful in summer.


It's pretty obvious when you think about it, but you can sprout almost anything.  Speaks to how removed we really are from the production of our food.  Upon realizing this, I had to resist the urge to start sprouting anything in my cabinet I thought might work; whole peanuts, mustard seeds, ajwain, cumin, fennel seeds, various lentils.

I'm starting (from left to right) with fenugreek seeds, chickpeas, red chowli, moong dal.   After soaking over night, I'll put the beans into those water bottles.  I've sawed off the tops and cut holes in the bottom for excess water to drain.  The seeds I'll do in a wet tea towel since they are so small.