Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jovie Loves Mangoes, Just Like Her Mommy

Sydney's Ready for the Rainy Season

Mango Madness

Yo Yo party people.  It’s Mango Madness around here.  Those of you who live in the States are in the thick of March Madness (by the way I have North Carolina going all the way, and I still have 15 of the sweet sixteen in my bracket, thank you very much), well we have Mango Madness.  I have never been one to make-out with Mangos, but my oh my, do i want to kiss these sloppy fruits all over!  Oh, did I just say that, I may have stepped over the line, but you know me, I step over that line now and again.  Anyway, I was fearing Mango season around here, because everyone tells me the flies are insane, and they’re right, they have increased in population, but so have the mangoes and the flies, my friend, are a very necessary evil.  I do not have the ability to eat or cut them without a terrific mess...  but even the locals say that it’s best to eat them with juice running down your arms.  

On Monday @ 5:30 p.m., I was in the midst of a thigh-burning Jazzercise routine when it hit me that I had forgotten to take the family in for their Rabies shots that morning.  These vaccinations were started the day after Ani got scratched by an unknown cat, which was just after we got the lecture that Rabies is a very awful way to die... We needed to get the shots on day 1,7 & 21.  If we do not follow that exactly, we have to start all over.  So, Monday was to be our last shot and we had to find an alternate hospital to go to at 7 p.m. (our doctor was out of town), not an easy task in the States, let alone in a developing town in India.  But with the help of Bec, we found a hospital to go to (it was an OBGYN clinic, but don’t tell Jayson that :) ).  It had nurses, nurses that actually wore white little hats, white uniform and white shoes... it was like the storybooks.  I am digressing.  We hauled all the family in there, it was quite dark, a woman was roaming the halls in labor, and I had a slight fear we are going to wait for hours to get these stupid shots.  It wasn’t but half an hour and we were out of there.  The nurses didn’t charge us at all, so we went and bought them a box of chocolates for their speedy service.  Don’t you wish you could pay your Dr. visits in chocolates?

I have been quite contemplative these days...thinking about a few things.  I have unsuccessfully tried to write about it three times now, and I am coming up with nothing but incoherency.  Maybe that’s a clue that I need to wait for a week or two to share about it.  I do know that it’s about relationships, living in community (when everyone is a bit at their end), where I am putting most of my efforts and what to do when my normal comforts are no longer available.  Now can you understand why I can’t put my thoughts in a paragraph - like the Mangoes, it may be a bit messy, but hey, that’s life, so lets just get messy.

I am now going to hand the blog over to Jayson, he has got some news related to his job that he would like to share...  its all yours Jayson.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been avoiding writing my first blog entry. Tarrah’s been nothing shy of brilliant in her writing and frankly, I’m intimidated. But here it goes, since I have some news. So Freedom Firm fired me. Okay, so they didn’t fire me, but the director’s asked me to take a different role. They’ve been searching carefully to fill the Director of Operations role for 18 months now. Knowing that it’s a vital role to the future of FF, I was honored, not to mention  floored, when they asked me to fill it. Side note: Two days earlier I had told someone applying for the Communications position (still displayed as “open” on the website, a sure sign they needed someone to fill that job!) that it was no longer open, only to email them again to let them know we’d like them to apply! As my first act as the new operations guy, Tarrah and I are having the FF staff over for Sunday dinner. (It was Tarrah’s idea, so if she asks me at 11:30 p.m. Saturday night, elbows-deep in potato salad, why we decided to have 25 people over for a meal, I’ll have a bit of ammo.) So, I’ll continue working on the priority communications projects that I’ve already started, while helping to search for a new communications person (staffing’s now part of my job...), and transitioning into my new operations role. 

Me again, isn’t he so great?  I think he is going to be fabulous in the operations role.  A few things to wrap up... We have a great story to share with you next time about one of the newly graduated Freedom Firm girls that went back to her village and family last week to visit after ten years...  beautiful story.  On a very different note, I have a bit of beef with you all... I put a terrific picture in our blog last time of Obi’s dog food (chicken feet and innards, remember?) and I did not get one comment on it... not even ONE!  What the heck!  I am hoping I just rendered you all speechless...

Warm regards from the Rabies-proof Palms

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Go Ani!

The Fruit, Veg, and Meat Guys

Cooking with Mom

Corn, to Corn Meal, to Corn Bread

Dog Food...Seriously

Don't Wear Sandals to the Market

You’ve all experienced the following emotions...  the pitter patter of your heart, clammy palms, upset tummy, involuntary screaming, close-eyed worry.  I experienced all these at last weekend’s Sports Day at Hebron School.  I was the proud parent and wife.  Yes, even Jayson got in on the action.  Ani ran the 100m, 200m, long jump, and football (soccer ball) throw.  James and Sydney did the 50m dash (and got a chocolate bar as they crossed the finish line) and Jayson ran in the dad’s race (which consisted of jumping rope, while skipping 100m...he didn’t win a chocolate bar, but instead fell down as he crossed the finish line).  Honestly, it was the most competitive race of the weekend.  As always with Hebron, the events were a great mix of British and Indian - with the Cricket and Football Ball throw, a sort of Chai tea being served in the bleachers, and curry-spiced chips passed out to the kids... 

Time to talk a bit about grocery shopping, food preparation, and clean-up.  Now, some of you may find this not very interesting, but we do have many questions about this from you all coming our way.  So, I thought I would tackle as much as I can w/o exasperating you. 

Grocery Shopping:  Everything fresh or dried is bought at the market in town (picture your local farmers market on steroids, with really bad body odor).  There are many, many (many) stalls for everything.  So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming, so I owe my friend Bec for pointing me towards the stalls that she likes going to.  I start by going to the chicken guy, asking him to prepare two chickens, 1.5 kg - 2 kg.  I then go to the beef guy, asking for 2 kg’s of minced and cubed meat.  From there I move on to the egg guy for 60 eggs.  While they are packing all that delicious protein, I find my veggies, fruit, grains and beans guessed veggie, fruit, grains and beans guys.  (The kashmir guy, of course, for most of my fruit, including apples from kashmir.) The market is really smelly, compliments of the chickens, fish, beef and mutton, but I just have to go for it...  Oh, and I don’t wear sandals to the market and I roll my pants up, because yes, I have gotten pooped on by a cow.  The best part?  There is the cutest gentleman, probably 65, give or take, who literally finds me in the market, takes my bags, and carries them for the rest of my time in the market, bringing them to the car for me.  He even comments on what I’m getting, but I really can’t tell what he’s saying because he speaks Tamil and has (close to) zero teeth. So cute, so interestingly helpful.  Most other items I get at the Modern Store - the store stocked with the imported goods.  It’s actually quite surprising what you can get.   

Food Prep:  When I get home from the market, it takes me a few hours to prepare everything for storage or the fridge - soaking all the things that we don’t peel in vinegar and water, making baby food for Jovie, washing and freezing the meat and sorting the dried goods.  I enjoy the rhythm of this process.  As far as meals go, we eat more similarly to how we ate in the States than I would have imagined.  I am glad that I enjoy cooking from scratch (props to my parents and extended family for this love and ability), because if I didn’t I would find cooking here really annoying.  I do miss the convenience of a box of Mac-n-Cheese or a frozen pizza, but for the most part I am quite pleased with all that we can do with food here.  We can’t drink water out of the tap here - we’ll never be able to do that - so we buy water and transport it home on a weekly basis.

Clean Up:  The biggest headache about cleaning up is the lack of hot water in our kitchen.  Our hot water is heated in a “geezer” (a mini hot water heater unfortunately located in the bathroom).  It takes a half-hour to heat the water, then we use buckets to transport water to the kitchen.  You’re jealous, I can feel it.  

So, how are you doing?  Was that agonizing?  I hope not.  I share this so you can better picture our day-to-day.

One last thing to report on.  Lost Kilos.  We had two fantastic meetings last week.  Fourteen women total, including both Indians and ex-patriots.  I do admit that I was a bit nervous.  I have lost weight before, successfully and unsuccessfully, but never dreamed of leading a group of women trying to lose weight.  I still feel a bit overwhelmed by it, especially considering the convergence of women from all over the world.  In the midst of my uncertainty, I am completely pumped about the opportunity to be part of these womens’ lives every week and trying to lose my booty in Ooty...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Meet Obi

IPAN Veterinary Clinic

Don't Worry Minnesotans...Spring is Coming

Obi Wan Kenobi

Did you know that at this very moment I am listening to Minnesota Public Radio?  I’m listening to what all MPR fans are listening to in the middle of their morning.  I love online streaming - it makes the world very small.  And I am sorry that everyone in Minnesota may be expecting a bit of snow...  its a bit chilly here today too, about 70 degrees :)  I’m sorry, that wasn’t very nice of me, was it?

So, we have a new member of our family.  No, Jayson’s surgery did work... :)  Actually, we have a dog.  A boy dog.  His name is Obi Wan (thank you to Sarah for the spelling correction - I thought it was Obe One).  This is the first animal we’ve ever owned, so we are total fish out of water.  Or better yet, in our case, a dog driving a bus.  We have no idea what we are doing.  Yesterday I tried to feed it leftover salad with an oil and vinegar dressing...  he didn’t like it so much.  (I am sure you’re surprised about that.)  So, the reason we got a dog is because everyone here has one to keep unwanted people and animals off their property.  It’s not my first choice, but Honeywell Security does not serve the local Ooty area yet.  Like everything here, getting a dog is not an easy task.  Yes, there are thousands of dogs roaming the streets, but those are not the “pet” dog that we were looking for.  So, Saturday morning we headed down the mountain to the Animal Humane Center.  We got lost on the way, which was just the beginning.  We finally found the right way and found ourselves going down some serious switchbacks with lots of monkeys swinging here and there.  As we went down, the temperature went up.  By the time we got into the valley it was about 95 degrees and zero vegetation.  Very unlike our home in Ooty.  I find it amazing to have two very separate climates, only an hour apart.  So we got to the driveway and saw not a driveway, but the movie set to Indiana Jones, The Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The scene where they are are going through the canyon...  yeah, that was us.  You can only imagine what we were thinking because you all have seen our car/van/can.  If we had a Hummer, we would have been having a good old time.  But alas, we left our Hummer at home :)  Anyway, Jayson grit his teeth, rolled up his sleeves and went for it.  With a serious ditch-like canyon on one side and a wall of red clay on the other, we tore up the driveway, or I mean we tore up our car/van/can.  Where was I?  So finally we got to the Animal Humane Center and it really was amazing place.  As far as passion, compassion and quality of work - they are doing great work.  The kids were a bit overwhelmed.  They were hungry and hot, so when they met about 25 dogs, it put them over the edge.  Anyway, this story is getting a bit long.  We meet Illona, a Finnish Veterinarian who lives there with her Indian husband and two kids.  We saw horses, donkeys, geese, dogs, cows, goats - all rescued and in need of rehabilitation.  We saw the dog Illona had for us - a sweet, low key puppy...still with all four of his legs.  The kids were delighted.  Ani spent the next two hours with Obi and even passed on the pony rides.  She was in love.  We left with our new puppy, had a peaceful ride home (after going back though the canyon) and prepared a salad...

Speaking of food for the dog, traditional dog food is quite expensive.  So, now when I go to the market to buy my chickens, instead of telling them to throw away the head and innards, I will now tell him to pack them in a separate bag for the dog.  When I get home, I’ll then add some rice and pressure cook the head and innards.  Then walla, dog food.  

It’s hard to know how to transition from that story.  I do need to address the contest about what to name my weight loss class.  Thank you to all for your suggestions.  In all, via email or posts on the blog, we got about 20 ideas.  Many of you thought a good name would be to rhyme Ooty and Booty.  Now, I find that rhyme great fun and very applicable because most of us will be working on that particular area.  But, here in Southern India, it is quite conservative and the word “booty,” believe it or not, is not in common circulation.  Anyway, I do need to pass on those ideas.  I did land on a name.  Lost Kilos.  They measure body weight in Kilos, not in Pounds.  So, I thought that idea was simple and clear to what one of the goal of the class is.  I do need to admit that the idea was from my Dad.  Now, some of you might think that’s a bit of favoritism...  it probably is.  But I really do like the name.

I need to finish, but before I go, I need to give a shout out to my grandma.  She had a birthday this week and her birthday present from the family was a computer.  One of the main reasons for this particular present is so she can see her lovely granddaughter and great grandkids face-to-face over Skype.  I applaud her and my family for the desire to learn the computer and internet, and for the gift of the computer.  Thank you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Driving Buddy

Pictures from the Retreat

Water-Based Wall Paint

So, I had this dream last week.  I was dreaming that I was driving our new van/car/can with so much authority and grace that it dazzled even the locals.  Now, let me remind you that the last time I drove a stick shift was in high school in a parking lot, and at that time I failed miserably.  So, the thought of driving a stick, in India, with everything opposite, including the side of the road I’m driving on, and the only child of mine that is in a car seat is Jovie, gives me a good case of the hives.  Needless to say, yesterday morning when Jayson took me out for driving lessons, I was not excited.  But I got behind the wheel of the van/car/can and had a flashback to the dream of mine, and I was off like the Indy 500.  The only moment that I got a bit nervous is when Jayson told me to practice starting uphill.  The moment I  started pulling over to practice, this monkey came swinging out in front of us and I nearly wet myself.  I really don’t want to get into my feelings toward monkeys in this particular post, but...let’s just say I didn’t invite him in to join us.  

We had a fabulous weekend at our first Freedom Firm retreat.  The retreat really was Jayson’s first project that he has been in charge of, and let me say this, I was so proud of him.  Everyone really had great words for him in regards to making it a restful, meaningful and community-building retreat.  Those words are a beautiful gift.  The kids (12 total, including ours)  basically spent most of their time playing star wars, swinging on a tire swing and playing in a huge pile of sand.  Their were two particular memorable events at the retreat.  One was Freedom Firm’s first ever graduation service - for two of the girls in the aftercare program.  These girls will now live in the YMCA for a while, with the FF staff helping them figure out life on their own.  The rehabilitation that FF devotes so much time, energy and love into is really beautiful.  

The other event that meant a lot to me personally was a long chat with some of the Indian social workers.  I have many, many questions about India, so I dove in with questions about why they think the population is so high, why the caste system is so engrained, why there are so many languages and then smaller questions about produce and places our family must see during our time here.  I truly enjoyed that conversation around the bonfire - and now have a million more questions.  Oh, and by the way, the entire time that I was having such deep, meaningful and stimulating conversations, I had a huge glob of marshmallow in my hair...  I have such dignity.  (P.S. Marshmallows are such a disappointment here - the only similarity they have to those in the States is that they are white and round.)

Okay, here is a funny thing about wall paint here...  it’s water-based.  So whenever you get a ding on the wall that you need to wipe off, you wipe off the paint too.  Isn’t that ridiculous?  I have no idea what our walls are going to look like after any sort of time here, because after just 6 weeks being here I have wiped off our walls peanut butter, chocolate, mud, spaghetti sauce and pencil... what in the world.

Yesterday, I was invited over for tea by one of my fellow jazzercise junkies.  We were walking home together and she invited me up and I was thrilled.  We talked about everything from cooking to her arranged marriage to what caste she is in and where in India she is from.  She said I will go far here because I ask so many questions.... who me?  She also said that she will teach me how to cook Indian, saying “her people” are known for fish and their use of coconut...mmm. 

I need your help on something...  I’ve been asked to facilitate a sort of weight loss class here in Ooty.  They have nothing like it here (in a town of 200,000) and there has been an expressed need.   I also think that it would allow me to get to know more of the locals and just be a part of the larger community.  So, here I go - But I need a name for it.  This is where you come in.  I will accept any and all ideas and will decide by the next blog entry what name is the big winner - because I start a week from this Friday!  (A little motivator for you all, the winner will receive a can, no wait, an envelope, of cooked beans from my best friend “the pressure cooker.”)

I will leave you with this...  water-based wall paint - why?