Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cooking Gas and School Mahem

Mood: Neutral. Don’t laugh, that’s the best description I can come up with right now. Not good or bad, just meh.
Listening to: Can’t Take My Eyes off of You

Our apartment complex has a gas vendor. We don’t have cylinders (like so many independent houses do), but we have pipelines to the gas room in our apartment complex. We all have meters for our cooking gas in the kitchen and for the water heater in the third bathroom (the other two are included in maintenance charges). When you move in, you go to the gas office in the basement under one of the apartment and you get a card, which you then charge with some money. The card then goes in a meter in your house in an electrical shaft outside the kitchen. Back when we moved in, it took us quite a white to figure out all of the complexities of everyday life here, including the gas. We put Rs. 300 (about $6 US) on the card, figuring we could recharge it whenever we needed to. Well, that amount lasted us for 7 months. So you can imagine how thrilled we were about cheap cooking gas. We used to pay much, much more in the US.

Since Daddy G came home and was craving some chicken curry, that was on the menu for Sunday, as was lentils with greens (still trying to grow my hair back!). I didn’t have much other food in the house as I tend to not make full  on meals if all four of us aren’t at home.

After stopping at my little local chicken shop it was time to get down to business. I love me some cooking. I get the radio blaring with some GNR, ACDC, Velvet Revolver, Metallica, etc and sing along while creating things I love to eat. It’s like going to church for me – music and cooking. Half way through, I noticed that the chicken curry was no longer bubbling, as it should have been. I figured that maybe the back door breeze (this is not anywhere as dirty or disgusting as you think it is gentlemen) blew out the flame, which has happened before. I discovered that the lentils were no longer cooking either. In fact, none of the burners worked. We had finally run through the money we loaded the card with.

I figured, no problem, we can just go recharge the card. After grabbing my youngest to come along for company, we headed down to the basement.  There are 7 towers in my apartment complex that are all connected by a basement parking lot. I couldn’t remember where the office was, but I figured there were only so many places it could be. We slowly meandered around, checking each of the towers. We stopped in a shop to ask and she sent us across the complex. This was indeed NOT where the office was and I ended up wandering around for 15 more minutes before locating it in the last tower to be checked. Of course, their hours were Monday to Saturday. Oh was I pissed. Not only couldn’t I cook for my husband who had a serious yen after being in the US, I was worried the food wouldn’t keep half cooked until the next day, especially the greens I had soaked in salt water and chopped. I said a little prayer to the food gods and shoved everything in the fridge, pots and all, hoping I couldn’t just start up where I left off the next day.
We ended up ordering food (which was honestly pretty good) from a local restaurant, but I knew it wasn’t what Daddy G really liked. He’s one of those picky types who loves his Mama’s food. Since I learned from her, I make acceptable substitutes, restaurants do not. For dinner we had savory, spicy oatmeal. I love that stuff. It wasn’t a great culinary day, but at least we ate.

The next day, I went to the office first thing and with the assistance of 2 very polite guys, recharged my card. I managed to save all of the food I had started cooking the day before and everything came out really well, to Daddy G’s and my delight.

My husband had a good time laughing at how frustrated I got that the gas ran out on the day we couldn’t recharge it. Things like that happen here and either you roll with it, or you end up with an anger management problem. I would like to think I roll pretty well with life here, but every once I start getting twitchy. Like any time I deal with my kids’ school. You would think we deal with a government institution the way that everything turns out about 3 times more complicated than it needs to be. We’ve been having some drama with checks being returned due to signature differences. 

When I wrote the checks, I was standing in a stifling hot basement office in a line waiting to be seen in a cubicle by a harassed, cranky man whose name I won’t mention because I seriously don’t need anyone at that school hating me more than they already seem to. To be honest, my signature didn’t look at all the same trying to sign it under those circumstances and the bank returning them was valid. I found out about it from the bank and went the extra mile of hiring a cab and dropping off new checks (which I signed exactly like they should have been!) at the school. The school is now harassing me to send in Demand Drafts (which are like money orders for two other checks to make sure they get the money coming to them. I refuse. They are getting checks because I am not making a special trip to the bank when I have checks at home. Poor Daddy G listened to me rant for a few minutes and then asked me what the big deal was. The bank is a few minutes’ walk, why not just go get one. I told him it was a matter of principle and there was no reason why they couldn’t just take another check. There really is no point in fighting the school; it won’t do me any good and I’m aware of it. I just am tired of jumping through hoops to deal with them about ordinary matters. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a hassle with schools and my oldest has been in school for the past 5 years. It’s a matter of principle.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Check it.

I'm over at my Just Passing Through blog. You should go check it out (if you don't already) for some Indian bees, Kanada movies, and a new skirt.


Monday, July 16, 2012

An Update on the War Against Clean Clothes

Listening to: Hindi music videos
Mood: Hungry. Shut up, that is too a mood.

There are days when I really, really hate living in India. But don’t tell anyone, ok? I don’t want to hear anyone say “I told you so!”

Today was one of those days. India has a thing with power cuts; I’m sure you can imagine with so many people trying to use a limited resource. Most people and bigger complexes, like the one I live in, have backup generators that supply limited power if the regular current goes out.  It’s both a great help and a source of endless frustration.

The problem with the backup power supply is the limited part. Certain things in our house take up a lot of power. See water heaters, microwaves and, unfortunately, washing machines. If you try to use said appliances, it overloads the system and everything shuts off for a few seconds. If you’re not smart enough to turn off the appliance tripping the system, it will continue tripping until you shut it off. This is a ginormous problem for my router. Every time the power goes out, I have to wait for it to reconnect. Addicted? Says who?

This past week, our power has being going on and off like a junkie who can’t find a steady crack supplier. Of course,  the power only seems to want to switch off when I’m trying to get something done. Like eat breakfast. And then I get all stabby when I realize that I have to wait for the regular power to come back on so I can make coffee. No coffee=irrationally angry Becky G. I am so not making oatmeal and coffee on the stove. Or when I’m trying to take a shower or give my daughters a shower. When you only have 1 hour in which to bathe two children and the power won’t cooperate, it’s enough to make you want to just leave already.

But the king of all kickers is when I’m trying to do laundry. I generally do laundry around 10 am, or when I’m finished crawling out of bed and making coffee. I do this so the laundry will be done when my housekeeper comes over so she can hang it up on the insufficient wooden rack.  I will never, ever be an early morning person. Ever. This is about the time when the power starts acting funny. There’s no logic or rhythm to it, it goes on and off randomly.  The irritating thing is I can pause the washer if the backup power goes on. But it turns off (i.e. wherever in the cycle it was is lost) after a certain amount of time if you leave it on pause, so it’s not on pause indefinitely. The power never seems to come back before the pause time runs out. I love my washer, but it doesn’t have a cycle dial. It has a colors, whites, etc. dial. So you can’t go back to where in the cycle it was and just continue the wash. You have to start over. Currently, the load in the washer today has been started 3 times. It only has a half hour left; I’m hoping it can get through this time.

There aren’t too many things that make me want to just pack up and go home, but this is one.
On another note of interesting things happening on this side of the world in my house, they fixed the bathroom sewer smell problem. Apparently, a waste water facility in my apartment complex exploded (no, I’m not kidding) and contaminated all the previously cleaned water, hence the smell. I’m totally thrilled about this!

Another not so awesome thing is that ants have built some kind of home in my wall. Their front door is right underneath my bathroom door in a corner. I see them going in and out of this quarter inch crack all the time. They don’t really bother anyone unless you have children who forget to put away a vanilla yogurt cup overnight and you wake up to about 80 bazillion ants on your kitchen table having an orgy. Then it kind of becomes a problem. At least they’re not the evil red bitey ones that live outside. I hate those things.  But we keep the house really clean and I will get to the store and buy ant spray one of these days.


(Actually India, I don’t hate you. Take me back, I promise to never say such things again. Please don’t take away all the yummy chaats and byriani!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Olfactory Fun

Listening to: Dr. Feelgood – Motley Crew. Kickin it old school today.
Mood: Happy – Got some work done today.

Hello there. Time for more stories about life in India. Today’s topic is smells.  India is not for the faint of nose. Or heart for that matter, but we’re talking about noses today. Pile so many people, animals, and foods in one country and olfactory overload is almost impossible to avoid.

We’ll start with the good smells:

The Air. When I first came to India with Daddy G 7 years ago (damn it’s been a long time!), the first thing I noticed when I stepped off the airplane is the smell. It hangs in the air here. It’s like a mix of incense, sweat, people, cows, burning trash and coconuts, because Daddy G is South Indian. It’s just a part of the air. You never get away from it, although after a while, you notice it less. I’m not saying it’s a bad smell. It’s just quintessential India. I thought about this smell before we got on the plane to move here. I was really looking forward to that smell again.For some reason, when you put them all together and un-concentrated in the air, it's not as bad as single concentrated smells.

The Food. India has some amazing and varied choices when it comes to food. For someone who is a spice and spicy junkie, it’s heaven. Even if I don’t cook a meal, at least one of my neighbors is, and it will invariably smell amazing. So amazing that I almost want to knock on the door and beg a meal. Almost, I’m not that shameless. Chat is also included here. Chat are small, usually savory snacks that people here munch on around 5 pm. Anywhere public you walk around this time, you’ll smell it. Spicy yumminess floating around – even if it’s from the typhoid cart trying to pass out poison pani puris. (small crispy shells with flavored water and other yummies inside)

Incense. Indians are big on incense. It happens to be a smell I love, especially sandalwood.

The bad:

Sewage. There’s no getting around it – this many people produce this much waste. Drains are not always covered. When it’s hot, it really gets gag worthy. This includes the recycled water they use in our toilets in my compound. My bathroom always smells like sewage and I hate it. Hard.

Animals. Lots o stray dogs and cows also produce lots of stink and poop of their own.

Garbage. People here don’t always bother to find the nearest trash bin and most of the time, there just isn’t one. Trash is burned in the less urbane places too, like the village next to my house. Which leads me to…

Burning trash/coconut shell heaps. This is my Achilles heel. I can deal with the sewage smell, the animals and the trash, but the burning piles of disgustingness really get to me.  I’m glad I’m not pregnant. This one would have me puking every time I turned around.

Sweat. India is hot. Get a whole bunch of Indians in a room in the middle of summer and it is bad.

Automobile fumes. Lots of folks here have cars. An insane amount in fact. Nothing like choking on a nice big lung full of car exhaust when you’re on/near the road.

Eventually you become used to all of these smells, but every once in a while one will sucker punch you and you’ll be all, “Hot damn India!”, for good or for bad. Most days I don’t mind the bad smells so much and really enjoy the good ones!


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On National Holidays and Traditions When You Aren’t Geographically Present

Listening to: Suraj Ki Baahon Mein - Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara 
Mood: Reminiscent
It is smack dab in the middle of the summer in the USA. In fact, it’s July 4th day (on my side of the world anyhow). For the first time in, oh, ever, I am not in the US for the 4th. There will be no barbecues, no fireworks, and no excessive alcohol intake with friends. In fact, the only extraordinary thing happening today is that I am launching piano lessons. With an actual student.  There’s a huge part of me that wonders what this girl’s parents were thinking agreeing to let me teach their daughter. After all, I’m the one your mother warned you about, even if I am qualified to teach piano lessons. I’m pretty thankful to that girl’s parents for giving me the chance to pass on my passion to someone else though. I’m terrified and thrilled at the same time. But hey, the take a chance and move around the world thing worked out well, so why not give this a go too? Wish me luck people. Better yet, wish that student luck.

I am so far off topic here I probably couldn’t find my way back with a compass.  Not that I know how to use one anyhow. Speaking of which: Camping. I have been seeing lots and lots o posts about camping, and I must say that I am green with envy. Our current geographical location doesn’t really cater to camping. Seriously, there is no such thing as campers in India that I’ve seen. The bigger problem with our family is that Daddy G is categorically opposed to anything that doesn’t involve actual beds and wifi. When I was little, my parents (bless their nomadic hearts) loved camping. We lived out in L.A. and had a tiny trailer hookup camper that my dad towed behind their silver Subaru. No, I’m not quite sure how the physics of that work out either – so don’t ask.  We made good use of the Arizona/New Mexico mountains. My favorite destination of all time was Ghost Town AZ. Seriously amazing place It was cramped and not always comfortable, but people, I’m about to break out into song here about the memories. It was glorious.

It looked like this:
I seriously don't know the physics of shoving 4 people in this camper.

When I got a bit older, my folks moved to IL and we bought a bigger RV camper and stowed it at a campground in Morris IL. If you’re from Morris, you’ll know that there’s absolutely nothing out there. Or there didn’t use to be. I haven’t been out there in at least 20 years. Again, some very magical times. I’m not sure how we didn’t out right die from catching snakes, making forts, throwing milk-weed pods, throwing things in campfires, and generally roaming the entire campground by ourselves.  So enjoy your camping people. I’m still campaigning over here to get Daddy G to even try it.

Holidays are a bit funny when you’re off somewhere else. I don’t think I really sat and thought too much about holidays abroad apart from Christmas. Aside from that one freakish year we moved to Key West and were there over Christmas, I wondered how different it would be. Obviously, no one celebrates the 4th of July here. They have absolutely no reason to. Indian Independence Day is at a completely different time. This is another instance of things that make me feel completely disconnected with life before we moved here. I’m not even quite sure what to do with this though. I think it’s a bit ridiculous to celebrate by myself. The kids don’t ask about it. I never thought about how easy it would be to absorb the local holidays/festivals – we are all over Diwali in our house – and be completely removed from events that actually mean more to me than I knew.  Actually, everything American just seems so far away, both from a physical and emotional distance point of view. This is most likely a defense mechanism on my part – after all, I can’t sit and mope around all the time missing things. It also shows you how your own reality takes over your brain space. I can’t live 2 places at once.  I guess I’m greedy. I want ALL the holidays. I wasn’t my past reality and my present reality to mesh seamlessly, which is absolutely, completely unrealistic.

I hope you all enjoy your summer vacations and your 4th of July holiday. To those of you who choose to indulge in the adult beverage of your choice, enjoy one for me and give an extra cheer for the fireworks for me. Have your kids jump in the pool one last time for me. I’m pretty sure my tenure in  India will end much sooner than I would like and I’ll find myself bemoaning the fact that I can’t find good byriani in the states.