Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Two-Flied Milk Day

Jovie has sported the BEST faces lately

At 8 a.m. every morning, we have a visitor. Our milkman. Isn’t that dreamy? I am sure my dad’s side of the family are rolling their eyes at me as they read this, because they run a dairy farm - and don’t get me started on one of my favorite things as a child when I was visiting my grandma and grandpa and we would have really creamy milk that would come in the tin can from the barn and I would have Rice Krispies with loads of sugar on it. So yummy. Okay, so our milk doesn’t come in a tin can, but in a used 1 liter pop bottle. Sweet. Still warm from, well, the cow. We then boil it for 20 minutes, let it cool, scrape the cream off the top to save for butter and presto, milk for the day. I have also been making yogurt with it. It strikes me that I am a bit bizarre to get so excited about the whole milkman thing, but really there’s not much entertainment over here... no shopping malls for us, just the milkman. The fun thing about the old pop bottle is that when we were in Romania, oh I don’t know, 5 years ago, we got our milk from the family next door and they brought it over in an old pop bottle. Who knew the pop bottle is an international phenomenon for milk lovers everywhere? We obviously have become comfortable with the whole milk-in-an-old-pop-bottle thing, when the other morning the milk came with 2 flies floating on top. Why waste all that milk for two measly flies? We just scooped them out, and continued on with our boiling. Gross? You tell me.

Our milk pitcher and the bottles it comes in

Cream... soon to be butter

One hour left until our yogurt is good and ready

On the two-flied milk day, we went to church and after the service a bunch of kids were playing in the outdoor baptismal and found a dead shrew. They brought it out to the parents, proud of their discovery. Later, under a big tree, they dug a hole, found a wee head stone, said a few nice words and gave it a bit of a funeral. Awesome.

A shrew

I am still definitely mulling over the reality of us living here. I have been given some quiet mornings, now the A, J & S are in school and Jovie still takes a morning nap. I take great pleasure in the quiet, it has given me some space to think about our 7 1/2 months of being here, so far away from family and friends. I think I will just cut and paste an email that I sent a friend,
“i feel grateful for the friends we have here. i feel like there is a camaraderie between all of us - like we kind of need each other to battle it out here in this very foreign place we call home. but they do not take the place of our friends/family back home. that is something that i am slowly realizing. i thought if we would find enough good friendships here, it would fill the ache of not being home (the states), but it does not. that's okay though. we are fighting for girls who need a different story and if it makes me feel sad/uncomfortable then i want to gather the strength to come to terms with the fact that i just may have a constant dull ache the entire time we live here.”

Well, it seems that at some time in most peoples’ lives, urine has been some sort of soothing agent or disinfectant. Interesting. The Goan lifeguard did not tell Ani to urinate on her wrist, but to go to the nearest restaurant and ask for some vinegar. So, our friend Kirk, who really does know everything, was our star quiz player. As your prize Kirk, when we are in MN next summer, we will buy you a bottle of vinegar for all of your jellyfish sting needs. Thanks to everyone who participated in the quiz, it brought great amusement to read all of your ideas. And if we ever get the software for our video camera (the other video that we put up a few months ago is from somebody else’s camera), we will surely put up the video of jayson doing his Jason Bourne thing.

James after the first day back at school doing his "prep" (i.e., homework)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Kids Learned How to Kill Stingrays

So, I need to start out with a belated happy 1st birthday to our dear Jovie. She turned one on August 7th while we were in Goa. We celebrated with root beer floats. We can’t get root beer in Ooty, so I thought that would be a fun treat, but when I got back to our rental house I discovered that I grabbed cream soda instead. For whatever reason, I thought the kids wouldn’t mind, but they gave it the kibosh and just scooped the ice cream out. So close, and yet it slipped right through my fingers... Jovie is simply delightful. She gives us lots of smiles and good cuddles. I don’t think she will be a push over though, being the baby of the family... whenever her siblings get in her space a bit too much she gives them a commanding scream. Go Jovie.

On to the second part of our first holiday in India. Goa. Goa is the smallest state in India by area, and lies on the Arabian Sea. Portugal had control over it until 1961 and it boasts beautiful beaches and is visited by huge numbers of foreign and domestic tourists. Because we went during the “monsoon season”, it was actually very quiet. Despite the crouching monsoon season, we actually had quite a bit of sun and it was probably in the 90’s the whole time.

The "bracelet" a jellyfish left on Ani's wrist

But enough of the encyclopedia. We got into Goa and found our way to the house we were renting. Upon arrival, the first order of business was to dunk the kids in a vat of super clean water and extra strength soap - to ward off all the loveliness of the trains. After that was done, we barreled down to the beach. Let’s talk about the Arabian Sea during monsoon. It’s daunting. No, that’s not the right word, I guess I would say it was humbling. There were some serious waves and some serious undertow - I felt oh so small. I do believe that my blood pressure reached near record breaking highs while the kids played in the waves. But they loved every moment of the ocean, except when Ani had a jellyfish wrap around her wrist, leaving a sweet design. Trivia: What do you put on a jellyfish sting? Leave a comment following our blog to see if you are a jellyfish pro... (We’ll give the Goan lifeguard answer in our next blog entry.)

Goan fishermen catching catfish and crabs... and stingrays.

A stingray brought in by the fishermen

How about a few highlights... Fresh seafood that gave us such delight that it made us want to sell all the we have, quit Freedom Firm and move to a hut on the Arabian Sea, spending the rest of our days catching seafood and then eating it... Ani swimming lengths of the pool by herself and seeing how proud she was... James wrestling the waves (and winning)... Jayson pretending to be Matt Damon in Bourne Supremacy (which was filmed in Goa). He seriously had me video him running on the beach in front of these fishing boats just like Matt Damon did in the movie... the kids learned how to kill stingrays while watching local fisherman bring their nets in. To quote Ani, “All you have to do is flop them over once and pull off their tail - and then their dead, it’s easy”.

We wouldn't feel at home if we didn't have
some animal in our front yard

It was a great four days. Full of playing, relaxing and exploring. The Goa train station was not as overwhelming as the central station in Mumbai. Again, our family was split up on the train - Ani, Jovie and I on one side and then Jayson, James and Sydney on the top bunks across the aisle (with two random people sleeping on the bottom bunks...). Hilarious really. Anyway, we got into Shoranur the next morning and then took a 5 hour taxi ride back to Ooty. The taxi ride nearly made me want to pitch all of our kids out the window one by one, but I had self control and just asked the driver to close the windows...

On that super special note, we’ll say goodbye for this week. Be sure to cast your vote about the jellyfish!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Massive, Hot, Dirty, Crowded, Smelly, Noisy

First day of the new school year - Sydney's first day of school!

Ani's class

James' class

Hot off the press... pictures of the first day of school. This morning started a new school year for Ani (Standard 2), James (Reception) and Sydney (Preschool). They were all very excited to start and were all very ready for bed tonight. First day of school does that to you.

The family packed into an auto rickshaw

The city of Pune from the back seat of an auto

The modern is sprinkled throughout the run down in Pune

Well, we made it. We survived our first major travel in India. We went with four kids and we came back with four kids - good stats, huh? I will start with our first leg - Ooty to Pune. We had to go through Mumbai, where city proper is the most populous city in the world, with approximately 14 million people. Holy buckets that’s big! I didn’t see all 14 million people, but I saw a bunch of them. To be perfectly honest, the thing I noticed the most on our drive from Mumbai to Pune is that we were actually on proper highways - like 4 lanes each way - without crater-size potholes. And they had tolls, and yellow dotted lines, and speed limits, and everybody was going the same direction. Being that we really haven’t left Ooty for 6 months, I honestly was like a little girl who has never been out of her village. Okay enough about that. Pune, let’s talk about this little known city. It boasts 6 million people and is known as the college town and cultural center of central India. I was surprised on how beautiful it was - big green trees that arch the streets and it was quite tidy. I would like to say that we took in a lot of the local cuisine, but I must admit that we had Pizza Hut, Dominoes & McDonalds as well. Think what you want, but we had tears in our eyes as we put down our Big Mac and Meat Lovers. Not necessarily over the quality of food, more because of the presence of home. (One quick news note: While we were there Pune had the first swine flu death in all of India. Lots of reported cases, but no actual deaths until last week. I know Swine Flu is old news to you all, but just in the last month the amount of press time that it takes up here has increased a ton.)

Several of the amazing Freedom Firm Pune staff

On to our time with the FF’s Pune staff. Jayson spent both days meeting with staff and we the family joined them for lunch each day. It was just so great to hear more about the work that Pune office staff is up to and the crazy schedule they’ve upheld recently, rescuing 24 minor girls in the past 2 months. (Pune has become the hub in central India for the trafficking minor girls into the sex trade - hence the reason FF has an office there.) The moment FF rescues a girl, aftercare begins. The social workers spend time with the rescued girls in government-run homes counseling them and helping them prepare to testify against their brothel keepers or traffickers. On the day we left, two of the social workers were on their way to Calcutta to do several home visits. It’s a 36 hour train ride - yikes! Freedom Firm’s Pune staff are deeply committed and motivated to spend endless days and nights searching for and rescuing oppressed girls and they’re finding ways to be effective. We were honored to serve and encourage them for the 2 days we were there.

Arriving at the enormous Mumbai Central Train Station

Waiting for our train to arrive

The Indian train

We ended our time in Pune with ice cream cones at McDonalds and drove back to Mumbai to catch an 11:30 p.m. train to Goa. It’s what everybody wants to do at 11:30 p.m. with their 4 kids. Let’s see if I can paint an accurate picture of the Central Train Station in Mumbai, India. Massive, hot, dirty, crowded, smelly, noisy - really it was overstimulating in every not-so-pleasant way imaginable. Now picture the Palm Six arriving, walking probably three city blocks through the station to our train, with our luggage, two of the kiddos sleeping, standing out like 6 sore thumbs while trying not to stick out and attract swarms of attention - not possible. Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, trains - like the Eurorail or Amtrak.” Umm, not so much. These trains are what you would imagine trains going west during the Gold Rush years in California. I really have no idea if that’s true, but that’s the first thing that came to mind. We had tickets for 2nd Class A/C. Meaning, two bunk beds in each compartment (some facing each other) and it had A/C. The hope was that our whole family was to be in 4 beds that were facing each other with our very own curtain to give us a bit of privacy. Didn’t work out that way. We were across the aisle from each other, meaning a constant stream of people walking by, heading to the potty or selling “Chai, chai, chai, chai” “Chicken lollipops, chicken masala, veg biryani” - no big deal, once we got over the initial disappointment. (I’m still not sure what a chicken lollipop is, but I don’t really want to.) The kids slept great. Jayson and I... tried to sleep great. That’s okay, taking a train is a fraction of the cost of flying and it really is a great way to travel, it just takes, hmmmm... gumption and wet wipes. I really could go on and on about all the things we saw, but I need to end sometime. We are going to save the rest of our trip (our time in Goa... any Jason Bourne fans out there?) for the next blog - until then...