"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Saturday, October 24, 2009

CROCUS Festival : Around the World in 7 Days

Yesterday, began a week-long festival at The Saffron Tree blog. CROCUS stands for a Celebration of Reading Other Culturally Unique Stories, and there will be reviews of books from all over the world, and interviews (among which one from yours truly).

The Saffron Tree participated in Amadi's Snowman's blog tour, last year, and I'm excited and honored that they decided to include us in their CROCUS festival.

Check their blog. They post reviews of very good, interesting, and culturally diverse books for children.

And while I'm shamelessly touting my own horn, I might as well mention that I gave another interview, but in French, a couple of weeks ago. Of course, I couldn't mention it here because of this little big problem with my Internet connexion. My Francophone friends and family members who grumble about having to read in English for my sake will be happy to be able to sail through that interview. Check out the blog of an incredibly productive, multilingual fellow writer, and crosscultural global nomad, Jo Ann von Haff, Ladybirdisms.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Diwali !

My experience of Diwali has gone through its own little process ever since we first arrived in India, five years ago. I must say that UNICEF basically parachutes its staff and their family in their duty station without so much as a booklet about the local customs (I'm not even asking for cultural training, here), so you're basically to fend for yourself, and that's what we do, learning by trial and error.

When my husband first arrived in Hyderabad, in May 2004, he spent a month trying to find a house. Without success. Most gated communities which have since sprung out were not built yet, and all he could find were monsters of houses, some complete with ball rooms, three or four floors, ridiculous layouts (kitchen miles away from the dining room), or houses that were more the type of things we were looking for, only, the owner wanted us to keep his furniture, and we didn't want that. So, when I landed in August, with our 4-year old, and six-weeks old baby, we settled into a hotel room, where we ended up spending two months, until we moved into what is still our house, on October 16. As an aside, this is the longest I've spent in the same house in thirty years !

One of my prerequisites, when looking for a house, is light. I need lots and lots and lots of it. And one of the things that I loved when we visited our house was that it has huge windows everywhere. Light comes pouring in from practically every angle. Of course, it's a nightmare, in the summer heat, but I wasn't thinking about that. And anyway, I'd rather be hot than live in the dark.

So, we move into our brand new house (the reason it took so long was that it was still being built), and of course, there are NO curtains anywhere, no blinds, no nothing. The first thing we did was order curtains rods, buy fabric and have curtains made. As the taylor actually comes to your house with his little sewing machine, that was done quite fast. But we didn't want curtains in the living-room. We wanted blinds made of wood or bambou. The guy who came to take the measurements promised they would be ready in two weeks, and, well, these two weeks turned out to be two months. 

Now, here I am, in my very pretty, still very empty house that feels somehow like a glass house, especially when it's dark. The nanny and the housekeeper have left. I'm giving dinner to the children. My little one is three and half months by then. She's holding her head, but not sitting yet. It is quiet out there - much more than it is, nowadays. My husband is at work. 

Suddenly, I hear shooting and explosions. And I don't mean a lonely shot or a single explosion. No. I mean Beyrouth ! The sounds surround me and go staccato all over the place, and I don't know where they come from, what it is, and what the hell is going on, except that it feels like what I imagine the middle of a war zone must be like. So, I grab my two kids, run up the stairs to the Master bedroom where I can quickly draw the curtains, and we sit on the bed. Baby is in my arms, crying. Kora is scared. And I'm so totally freaked out, I'm going out of my mind.

Happy Diwali !!!

Now, I hadn't been living in a vacuum, and I knew that the Festival of Lights was coming. But no one had told me that the lights come with a deafening accompaniement of firecrackers, fireworks, and what not. We found our rooftop carpeted with all the junk left by the various firecrakers and fireworks the following day. I mean, buckets and buckets of the stuff. And it went on for a whole week. 

This is a story I like to tell, now, but I wasn't laughing that night. So, when time came for Diwali, the following year, we decided to go and visit Kerala, which is a mainly Christian state, and where Diwali is celebrated here and there, but in a nice, low-key fashion.

In 2006, we went to a beach resort just outside of Mammalapuram, in Tamil Nadu, and visited Pondicherry, and again, it was a lovely, reasonably quiet Diwali.

In 2007, we escaped to ICRISAT, an enormous campus outside of town, where we rented a small flat, and enjoyed another peaceful Diwali. And finally, last year, I was either preparing the blog tour for Amadi's Snowman or smack in the middle of it, and it is a proof of the kind of timewarp I was living in that I cannot tell when or how Diwali happened, and what on earth we did, and I don't find anything in our photo files. What I do remember, though, is that I decided that we needed to buy diyas to take with us, because I was sure that I'd want to celebrate the Festival of Lights once I was no longer in India. I might not have actively partaken in the celebrations, but I already felt it had become a part of my life.

Well, as it turned out, we are still here. Also, our children are growing. Both of them go to school, and they made their own clay diyas (oil lamp as seen in the pictures), heard about the victorious return of Rama to his kingdom, etc, etc. On the morning of Diwali, they were both very secretive. We didn't hear them. And when they finally emerged, they were both wearing an identical salwar kameez, they had flowers in their hair, and bindis on their forehead. And the older, when she saw that I was wearing Western clothes, frowned, and said : "Today is Diwali, you should wear Indian ethnic clothes to show respect." Oups ! I was made to go and "at the very least" get a bindi. And my husband and I were also told that we had to buy something new ; whatever, clothes, bangles, earings, something !

In the evening, I took out our diyas, and we set them on the steps outside our house. We lit a few fire crackers (not too many, because these things are just sooo bad for the environment, not too mention earsplitting noisy), and, well, this was our best Diwali, so far. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A lizard comes knocking.

It is 11 am on a school holiday, and I'm helping my daughter with her French lesson. We're sitting at the dining table, minding our own business, when we hear a rattling sound coming from the French windows that open onto a small grassy terrasse. My daughter turns, jumps, and cries : "Mom, look, there is an animal ! Look!"

Gloups. Those who know me, know that I'm not into animals as a rule. The only pets I've allowed into our household are fishes in a tank. They're pretty, silent, and don't require too much work. I might have relented and gotten a cat (I always loved their elegance and their independent streak,) but my husband is allergic. End of story. Of course, I don't mention the geckos that grace our walls. I've grown totally used to having those around. They don't bother me, and I don't bother them. They're actually very useful as they eat insects. But that's as far as it goes.

So here I am, wondering - somewhat anxiously - what to expect. I mean, we have stray dogs, the occasional neighborhood cat, plenty of frogs, a rooster who crows at the most unlikely hours, a bird who adopted the outside staircase that leads to our rooftop, and regularly comes to hatch her eggs (half her babies get ripped apart by the monkeys, in spite of our efforts to protect them), and plenty of snakes, I hear, although I've so far managed to avoid seeing them. And of course, outside the gate, we have the buffaloes, the camels, the goats, the occasional sacred cow, and a few years back, we even had a black panther roaming the streets.

Well, this time, it's a three-feet monitor lizard !

We saw one on a road in Sri Lanka, so I know what it is. And even though I'm terrified of reptiles (I can't even look at a picture of a snake or a crocodile in a dictionary) that one does look pretty harmless. My daughter, of course, is jumping up and down, excited, and yet a bit grossed out, too. It is really quite bizarre.

Anyway, we look at it for a minute, take pictures, and I say, cool as a cucumber : "OK, it's just walking around. Let it be, and let's get back to work."

We sit down at the table, but a few minutes later, we hear that rattling sound again. Our friend is back. And it does look like it is trying to get in. I mean, look at that, right ?

We see it go around the terrasse a couple of times, and it becomes obvious that the poor thing is trapped. What to do ? The security guard calls the neighbor's mahi who shows up a few minutes later with a huge stick. Not at all what I have in mind. I somehow locate the phone number of the Friends of Snakes Club, call them, and, surprise ! a guy answers who not only speaks English, but tells me they'll be there in 30 mns. Ok, this is India, and I'm not holding my breath, but I've done what I could.

We try to get back to work, but it's hard. After a while of silence, we wonder where the lizard went. It is no longer on the terrasse. Maybe these guys will show up for nothing. We look for the lizard all over the place, and find it on the side of the house, crawling on the wall that goes down to the room where we hang our laundry to dry. Well, maybe it did find its way out. Then, the guys from the Friends of Snakes Society DO show up. On a motorcycle. I wonder how they will take that lizard to release it in the forest, but wait, we'll find out...

Now, the poor lizard, who's not the brightest on the block, honestly, has managed to walk into a drain pipe that's no more than three and half inches in diameter. How, I don't know. But it's stuck. See the guy holding its tail ? He's pulling, pulling, but the lizard is not moving.

They want me to break the opening of the drain pipe. No kidding ! Of course, I refuse. Come on. I'm not going to break the house for a lizard with no sense of orientation, and stupid enough to go stick itself into a hole twice too small to fit it.

So, our guys open a trap, and these HUGE coackroaches start coming out. Now can you see the scene ? I'm standing outside, shouting, so are my two girls, and then I'm running to the kitchen to get the spray to kill these BEASTS, all the time yelling to them to CLOSE THE TRAP RIGHT NOW !

Now, while I'm gone, don't ask me how, these guys actually get the lizard out. I mean, look at its
belly. It's HUGE.

So, now, the rescuers  ask for a pillow cover. No plastic bag. Our friend wouldn't be able to breathe nicely.

I find a large hotel laundry bag, and they're happy.

See? Who needs a big car, if you can carry your wandering lizard (or snake) in a pillow case ?

Well, that's it, Folks ! End of this new episode in the ongoing series : Our Incredible Life in India !

Monday, October 19, 2009


Against my will, needless to say. Thirteen days without Internet. And I still don't know why. I called, and called, and called. Got different stories, according to the person I managed to get a hold of (not many, and not often.) First, it was the weather. Then, it was the construction work going on in the area around our house. Then, it was a power problem. But then I was told that they were updating their system... ? No one ever called or even sent an sms to let me know why, or how, or when, or what the heck. And this morning, I tried, without much hope, and... it works !!! I still don't know why, or how, or what... A lot of people here pay two service providers to avoid this type of problems. I must say this is the longest I've had to go without Internet, in the five years we've been here. Still, I was starting to fume.

To come : a post about the unexpected visit of a three feet monitor lizard at our house. Good to be back !