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Saturday, April 14, 2012

India, you had me at Namaste!

Last you heard from me, we had just passed our Hindi exams. What followed was a couple of weeks of craziness that included a trip to New York for Paul’s consultations, pack-out, moving to temporary housing (Oakwood Falls Church), getting USDA certifications for the cats, a serious allergy attack on the part of Nia (featuring an unplanned visit to her doctor and the use of a inhalator), last-minute get-togethers with friends and family, cancelling accounts for cervices we no longer needed (including breaking our T-mobile contract without a penalty fee, yey!), a cleaning “party” at our old apartment, dealing with our HHE being overweight and the cats missing from our reservations and multiple trips to various stores to buy stuff and more stuff. Somewhere in there was also Easter, which we almost missed but yeah, those were two stressful weeks and I don’t want to think about them right now, so let’s set them aside for another post, shall we?

Back to the trip to India. It started out like this:

IMG_1951 IMG_1952

What you see above are two kids, two cats (in the turquoise/black carriers to the right), two adults (one of which behind the camera), 12 suitcases, a stroller and a car seat on their way to New Delhi, via Frankfurt.  As you may have guessed, getting to the airport with all of our travel paraphernalia was not trivial. We had to hire a whole van just to fit it all. We fully anticipated to have to pay for our second checked bags and have to expense them later but because of some loophole rule we didn’t, so yey for that. Two of our carry-ons also were deemed too fat to fly in the cabin, so they went cargo, which was painful at the time because we had to do some repacking but made things easier in Frankfurt.

Our total travel time was about 20 hours – first flight was eight, the second almost seven with a six-hour layover. It’s a long time no matter how you look at it. The kids slept some and whined quite a bit. Here’s a picture of them snoozing on the second flight.

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Paul and I dozed a little bit here and there. I don’t sleep well on airplanes in general. The leg room, or lack thereof, just kills me. The cranky kids don’t help either. I may have gotten 3 hours of shuteye total this time around. 

But I am delighted to report that our trip was generally uneventful and neither the kids nor the cats had any accidents during the flights. Amen to that! I know any mom out there would understand my happiness because any time we don’t have to deal with what I call the 3 Ps (pee, poop, puke) is a reason to celebrate. I was particularly worried about Chutney and the two furry little ones because that was their first time flying internationally but things turned out OK. Paul thought I had completely lost it when he caught me googling “how to diaper a cat” before the trip. I was seriously considering doing it because you do not want to be the person whose cat goes stinky on a long and crowded flight. So, while I did not diaper the cats, I totally diapered the bottoms of their carriers, just in case. Which we did not need, because the little furries crossed their little legs for about 20 hours and just didn’t go – amazing, no? They did meow occasionally (but then again, so would I had I been in their situation) but there was so much other noise on the plane on that I don’t think anyone noticed.

We had heard that Lufthansa had a pet lounge in Frankfurt and were so going to use it to feed the cats and let them go potty but were laughed at when we asked about it. Gone due to cost cutting, perhaps?

So, we finally landed Delhi just after midnight on 4/13, as in Friday, the thirteenth (gasp) and were reunited with our 12 bags. Nothing was lost – yey! As we made our way to customs, we were greeted by this:

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Namaste to you to, Delhi! Lovely, don’t you think?

Then, we got to go through the Diplomats/Officials line, where we were the only ones.

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I am pretty sure we were supposed to show a bunch of paperwork that took us days to collect to some very important officials about our cats, but no one noticed them and no one stopped us, and before we knew it we were out the door. But no worries, we have the paperwork and are ready to give it to whoever needs it, should they inquire. Just a quick note about the Delhi airport: it’s very nice – big and new, built for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. There was no “sleeve” for our plane and we had to take a shuttle to the airport but other than that, I was very impressed by the facility.

Our social sponsor, who is a wonderful man, was there to meet us with two vans. We loaded up our stuff and he took us to our temporary housing. That’s right, we are in temporary housing because our permanent is not ready. We are not sure how long it’s going to take for the permanent to get ready or where exactly it will be but it looks like it won’t be on the compound (Sad smile). Our temporary housing is in a neighborhood called Vasant Vihar and is about 6 km from the US Embassy. Vasant Vihar is often described as one of the “poshest” areas in Delhi. (I’ve never used the word posh before because it seems rather snobbish to me but everyone’s using it here.) It’s very nice, with a lot of embassies and embassy residences in the area. It seems pretty safe. Our temporary apartment is a three bedroom/three bath in an older building. It’s not palatial but it’s nice. It’s about 1,000 square feet, which is smaller that our last apartment, which was smaller than our not-so-big-house in Florida but we could live in it, if we have to. It would be tight but not impossible. It is furnished and the furniture we all get is Drexel Heritage, which couldn’t be further from my preferred style of furnishings but it is what it is and I have decided to make it my design challenge. Here are some pictures, in case you are curious. These were taken before we were assigned to the place. They swapped the one single bed for a crib for Max per our request.

Kitchen Dining RoomLiving Room

MBR-1 BR1

I am not going to spend a lot of time describing the place because it’s our temporary housing but interestingly it is going to be one of our Hindi classmate’s permanent housing. We were a little surprised when we found out that we’ve been assigned to the same place but she doesn’t get here until the end of May and the hope is that we will be in our permanent place by then. Rumor has it that we will be in an apartment that’s a little larger and is located in the West End neighborhood, which is between Vasant Vihar and the Embassy (about 5 km from the latter).

We haven’t seen much of Delhi yet but can’t wait to explore more. After a couple of hours of sleep, Paul went to work on Friday and we met him on the Embassy compound for lunch. The compound is lovely. There’s a pool, a baseball field, bowling alley, a gym, daycare, playgrounds, a health unit, a travel agency, a hair salon, a restaurant, and a commissary (a store with necessities mostly from the US – many of which are very expensive but nice to have nonetheless). We ate at the restaurant, which was very nice. We also did some shopping at the commissary. I was greatly relieved to find Nutella and wine at the commissary. Those are important items in our shopping basket and I wasn’t sure if they’d be available. Nutella is also available in grocery stores outside the commissary but we hear that good wine is hard to find and/or very expensive. The commissary has a pretty decent cellar. The alcoholic that I am, I drink a glass or two of wine a month, but I grew up around wine and if I don’t have it in the house, I start to hyperventilate. So, there’s Nutella and wine, which means life is good.

We hung out at the pool today and met a bunch of people we knew or had heard of as well as people we did not previously know. There are two Bulgarians in the US diplomatic community and two more teaching at the American Embassy School. Nia made fast friends with a few girls. Chutney didn’t get to go in the pool because his mommy had forgotten to pack swim diapers for him and he was not happy about that.

Our sponsors have been terrific in helping us get used to our new place and the city. Since we don’t have a car yet , they’ve been driving us around in theirs. Their driver is wonderful. Wish we could find one like him. I got to use my Hindi with him a little bit and he was very happy.

Within hours of our arrival (and possibly before that) word got out that there is a new diplomatic family in the neighborhood and we have been getting people stop us in the street, on the compound and ring our doorbell offering to be our driver, nanny, housekeeper, gardener, cook, what have you. It’s a little overwhelming. I know Delhi is a huge city - the largest in India according to the last census in 2011 – about 22 million. Many of its inhabitants are poor and need the work to feed their families and we’d gladly hire a good person but how do you know if a person is good? We will probably need a driver and a housekeeper but having never had help in my life to date, I am a little nervous about the process of hiring and using the services of household help.

We will more than likely use the referrals of the people from the embassy community because this way we’ll have at least some information about the people we are letting into our house, even though we hear there is a whole system in which the help refer each other to prospective employers and when a person lands a job, they owe whoever helped them get the job a finder’s fee of sorts, which may be as high as the first month salary. Pretty crazy, if you think about it, but what these people are making working for families from the embassy community is more than they would elsewhere, so they are willing to do whatever it takes…

Anyway, last night we took a walk to Priya Market, a shopping area that’s about a 15 minute walk from our apartment.  It was nice to stroll around the neighborhood and look at the houses, some of which are very fancy, much nicer than our building. Every building has a guard in front, who sits in a booth all day and makes sure there’s nothing suspicious going on around. There are a lot of people hanging out in the streets, mostly males. There are a lot of hawkers and beggars, especially at intersections and around shopping areas. Many of them are young kids, which breaks my heart. A lot of women work in construction and many of them work in beautiful-looking bright-colored sarees, which seems so strange to me. We are still getting used to the whole driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-street. We have to be extra careful crossing the streets with the kids because looking both ways is the reverse and traffic is just insane. You literally take your life into your hands every time you cross a street. Many drivers don’t stop for anything. They just honk their horns and keep going.

But I am rambling. I need to go out and take pictures, which may take me a while because now when we go out I have Max in my hands and he’s been very clingy, which makes taking pictures kinda impossible. I like what we have seen so far – warts and all. But what country doesn’t have warts? Both the US and Bulgaria certainly do but that doesn’t mean I love them any less. Delhi seems nicer than I expected, most of the people we’ve interacted with have been very friendly and helpful and we can’t wait to see and experience more, so stay tuned.

8 comments:

  1. Glad you made it safely! I got to drive through your section of town and it did seem quite a lovely area - hopefully you will be in your perm housing soon and able to start really making Delhi home. I am very impressed with your smooth travels -- I think that the last two weeks and arriving at the first airport are the most stressful parts.

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  2. Glad you made it with no problems. I am sorry you didn't get onto the compound though,it would have been so much more convenient for you with the little ones. As for teh furniture, we have the same stuff here. I hate it too but am used to it now. Just think of the fun we are going to have shopping for fabrics! See you soon.
    Amy

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  3. So glad you all made it safe and sound! Sounds like you had a wonderfully uneventful trip over! Yay! Looking forward to future posts.

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  4. Hey there! Welcome!

    I think Nia is in my son's class!

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  5. What an eventful two weeks you've had! I'm so happy to hear that you made it safe and sound to post, and I hope that the new housing is ready sooner rather than later. I can't wait to read about all your new adventures.

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  6. Uspeh, Danielka! Tolkova e vulnuvashto, 4e 4etoh na edin duh :)

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  7. So glad you made it safely and too cool that you and Naomi get to meet up in real life! Can't wait to read more about your new adventures...

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  8. I just saw these pictures and laughed out loud- I'm living in Guangzhou and we have those SAME ugly tan (but alas, comfortable) couches! And very similar looking furniture....I was hoping I would never see them again when we leave post in a couple months, but it looks like I may be proven wrong! Congrats on your move.

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