A few weeks back, Scott and I were surfing the web looking for information about Hyderabad.  We came upon another blog site, by another family in Hyderabad!  A family who is not only a member of the expat group, but also has children attending the International School, one who is in the same class as Ender. 

We had the good fortune to meet up with them this weekend, and spent a good part of the expat event talking to them. 

So, take a look at their website right HERE when you get a chance.  Its amazing how similar our thoughts and experiences are if you start reading from the beginning. 

Thanks, Camerons, for linking to us!

When our boxes finally arrived, I was thrilled to find that my beloved Bose Ipod speaker system was included in them.  Scott noticed that the power supply was able to take 220, so he told me that I could just go ahead and plug it in and it would be fine.  I was very happy to hear this, and looked forward to trying it out tonight.

My delicious sweet and sour dinner....
My delicious sweet and sour dinner....

So, I was in the kitchen, cooking a great sweet and sour dinner which no one but me will appreciate, when I decided that it would be the perfect time to listen to my ipod.  I was feeling somewhat homesick and remembering when I would cook in the house back in Florida and listen to my favorite group, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (I know Maureen, I know…) while creating wonderful works of macaroni and cheese and hamburger helper like I was so good at doing.

I grabbed the speakers and set them up, plugged the system in, and nothing exploded!  Hooray!  I placed the ipod carefully in the holder, and sure enough, sweet music to my ears.  I happily continued my cooking while dancing and humming to the snappy beat and inappropriate lyrics of a group that I am probably way too old to be listening to.

The offending Ipod
The offending Ipod

But then the inevitable happend.  The song “Tear” came on, but I really wanted to be listening to “Dani California”, so I cleaned off my hands and sauntered over to the ipod to change the song.  I innocently reached my hand forward and put my fingers around metal back of the ipod like I usually do, only to grab my hand away with a yelp.  Yes, my beloved ipod had turned on me.  It delivered an attention-getting shock that made my wrist hurt and the hairs on my arm stand on end!  The curse of the improperly grounded house had struck again, while Anthony Kiedis sang “Can you feel the voltage?…..”, completely unaware of the irony of his words. 

Yes, Tony, I can feel the voltage all too well.

The wait is over.  Our boxes that were supposed to be here approximately 8 to 10 days after we came have finally come.  Its only been a month and a half, but, hey, that’s India time, right? 

The hassles we have had regarding these boxes have been many.  Multiple emails went back and forth long before we even packed them.  Then, there was getting them to Miami, which Scott had to do on Addie’s 8th birthday while she and I and some friends went to Wannado City. (Added by Scott – Don’t read this the wrong way, while what she said is true, I DID go to Wannado City with the family, just escaped for a few hours to do this which took very little time and then went off to the USDA to get the cat’s paperwork done which took HOURS and was the real draw.  Stacy and Addie’s cats I might add so why I had to go and not them is beyond me!!)

Once we got here, we waited 2 weeks and then began to call to figure out what went wrong.  Apparently they hadn’t gotten the payment information from us, and it never occurred to them to contact us, so the boxes continued to sit in Miami.  Ok, we got them the necessary card numbers and were told it would now be 8 more days. 

8 days came and went, and still nothing.  Again, a flurry of emails regarding their whereabouts.  They were in Italy at that point.  Why they were there, I’ll never know.  All I know is that they weren’t here!

Finally, over a month after the saga began, we got word that they had made it to India.  Supposedly they were on their way to Hyderabad as the contact at the shipping office was writing the email to us.  Hooray, here they come…

Only to be stalled again in Hyderabad, where they were waiting for Scott to come with a passport and some money for customs.  Well, of course, Scott’s schedule didn’t allow him to come immediately, so…more waiting.  When Scott finally got everything squared away (only 2 days after they called me, again she makes it look like I was the problem!!), we were assured that the boxes would arrive that evening on our doorstep.

Evening comes, no boxes.  Turns out they were being held for ransom.  EVEN THOUGH Scott was there during the day, even though he had filled out every piece of paperwork they threw at him, even though we were assured that all was in order, even though he had promised them his firstborn (sorry Addie!),  they were again held up because they wanted more money. 

Negotiations commenced, and some guys from the office went on Scott’s behalf and tried to get them to release our stuff.  I don’t know the details, I really don’t want to know.  The only thing for sure was that finally, tonight, the truck came rolling down the road.  We recieved advanced notice of its impending arrival, and Ender and Addie went down the road to meet it like they were meeting a favorite aunt or the ice cream truck.  I knew when it was in the subdivision by Ender’s screaming that could be heard a block away…”It’s here, it’s here!  Our boxes are here!”  In fact, everyone in the whole subdivision knows that our boxes have arrived. 

Sudhakar was still here when they came, and I think he was as excited to see what they contained as the kids were.  He tore into those boxes and top speed and fought with the kids over each item, as he wanted to check them all out.  He wondered about Scott’s scuba gear, and wanted to know the purpose of some of the kitchen ware I had brought.  He and Ender played on the floor for a good long while with Ender’s irritating, noisy, light-up top.  We were all desperate to check out Ender’s drum set, but alas, we need a power converter before that can be fired up.

Now, I have to tell you, NOTHING in those boxes was worth the time, hassle and money that went into this.  For the amount we spent getting the stuff here, we could have bought it all new.  However, the kids are happy, and we have a sack of the most well-traveled Webkinz and plastic horses on the planet. 

From talking to the kids at school, I have found that the arrival of the boxes is a major event for everyone.  Several kids have spoken of this wonderous day and the excitement surrounding it.  It is a milestone in the life of an expat, a holiday, a sacred event.  Perhaps we’re just happy to have our toys again, or perhaps its something much more, the opportunity to bring a little of our old lives into this new place.  The common theme is that the boxes always take longer than they should, and they always contain more toys than anything else.  Its good to know that we’re not the only fools who paid an arm and a leg to ship assorted junk halfway around the world. 

Yes, the expense was ridiculous, but the joy on the kid’s faces make it all worthwhile.

Scott and our friend Srini, relaxing by the pool
Scott and our friend Srini, relaxing by the pool

From the Online Dictionary:

 

 

 

Noun 1. expat – a person who is voluntarily absent from home or country; “American expatriates”

Yeah, that’s us.  Luckily, in Hyderabad, we have good company.  If I haven’t mentioned them before, TEA (Twin Cities Expatriates) is a great way for new arrivals to get out and meet people in the same situation.  The expats are a wonderful bunch, who are glad to offer a their insights, assistance and a shoulder to cry on if need be.  The members all know what you are going through because they went through it when they arrived.  The expats are a very diverse bunch from many different countries and backgrounds, and the vast majority of their kids attend the International School as well.  We have met many wonderful people through this group in the few short weeks we have been here.

Addie gets a golf lesson
Addie gets a golf lesson
Ender misses the ball completely
Ender misses the ball completely

Aside from their weekly Friday dinner at the Walden Club in Whisper Valley, they also arrange many events for expats throught the year, and today found us at one such event.  A local golf and country club hosted our rather large group for a few hours of food and fun.  There were bounce houses, face painting, games and music for the kids.  The adults had the opportunity to socialize, network and enjoy a delicious buffet.

The country club itself was a beautiful place, with a very nice swimming pool, large exercise room, driving range, and stunning golf course (if you’re into that sort of thing).  I tried to get a few scenery pictures, but they never seem to turn out like I hope they will. 

Ready to Swim

As you can see from the pictures, the kids got a chance to swim and learn a bit of golf from Daddy.  Addie got a croquet lesson from one of the employees, and Ender had a good time trying his hand at table tennis.  (which, of course, was pretty much just him running and getting the ball he missed over and over and over).  They had a lot of fun playing with their friends from school and enjoying all the games and activities. 

Yes, Steve, he's even without a shirt in public!

I especially enjoyed the surrounding scenery.  The massive boulders that can be found all around Hyderabad have been incorporated into the golf course instead of being blown up and removed as is done in most new development.  They are a stunning sight and I wanted so badly to go to them and climb to the top.  I have a thing for rocks, what can I say?

This was our first large event with the expats and I look forward to many more in the year to come.

Beauty stinks.  There is no two ways about it.  She is hairy and smelly and gross, and she makes my house reek like dog.  Of course, no one else in the household sees it that way but me.  Addie adores her, and doesn’t mind sleeping in a doggy-smelling bed.  Scott knows she stinks but chooses to ignore it.  Ender doesn’t even notice (but little boys tend to have dogs beat when it comes to the noxious fume department anyway).  Addie’s friend who comes to play notices, though, and feels the need to tell me about it each time she is here.  In an astounding display of the lack of tact that I spoke of in the last post, she will say “Miss Stacy, your dog stinks!  Your whole house stinks!  How can you stand it?  How can you stand having a dog when it makes your house stink so bad??”  Indeed.

So, on a bright sunny Saturday morning, the dog-washing commenced.  It began innocently enough, with a bottle of baby soap, a hose, a dog, a daddy and 2 dry kids.  It rapidly devolved into a game of hose warfare that left the kids dripping wet, the dog cowering in the corner, and Scott laughing maniacally (because, of course, he was the one holding the hose).  I quickly retreated to the safety of the house and grabbed the camera, because everyone knows that the one holding a camera is off-limits when it comes to water wars.  I waited until the battle ended and snapped this picture of Beauty getting clean.  If only it would last for more than a day or two….

Then I decided to head up to the roof with the camera (one of my favorite spots to hide because the kids never think to look for me up there), and snapped this pretty picture of our street.  Up on the right, before the house with the red roof, you can see the entrance to the park where the dangerous water tower is.  A huge electric line runs through the middle of the community creating a little round-a-bout in the middle of the entrance road.  Large apartment buildings, in various states of construction, surround the community, but walking out on the street you never really notice them due to the trees and the wall surrounding the complex.

Tonight brings some dinner guests to my house.  I already informed them that I am a cruddy cook, and they know that Pizza Hut is the order of the evening. Being fairly recent arrivals to India themselves, they are more than pleased with my proposed menu!

Something very amazing about Hyderabad is the way that work gets done here.  The inefficiency boggles the mind.  Here is what I witnessed this morning.

The house across from ours is currently for rent.  It has been vacant for a long time now, and I am sure the landlord is missing the income.  In an attempt to make it more desirable, they have dumped a large pile of dirt in the driveway.  (That’s always good for making people flock to a rental unit, right?)  Well, I guess that the dirt is meant for the grass and flower beds along the sides of the house, which are currently just mud-pits.  Today is the first time I have seen any action over there.  A woman, with a small basket on her head, walks back and forth the 20-odd feet between the pile of dirt and one of the flower beds.  The man fills the basket for her and helps her hoist it onto her head, then stands and waits patiently while she slowly walks it over to the flower bed.  She dumps it, puts it back on her head, slowly walks back and puts it down. The man stretches and fills it again, and the process repeats.  It is excruciating to watch, and all I can think of is:  This is why India is such a mess!  Lack of proper tools and desire to get a job done.  2 people and a wheelbarrow could have this job done inside of 30 minutes.  The job as it is currently being done will take hours and hours.  Both people carrying buckets of dirt could have it done it twice as fast, and even the woman actually carrying the basket (it is small and not that heavy), instead of taking the time to hoist it to her head, would cut down considerably on the time this job will take.  I see this kind of thing over and over all around the city, from the men working on the roads to the restaurant staff to the people checking out our groceries.  A cultural difference I have a very hard time stomaching.

In addition, Scott has just informed me that there is apparently work being done on the interior of the house at the same time involving construction.  Yet another woman with a small basket is carrying wet red bricks from inside the house across the upper patio and unceremoniously dumping them over the edge without first checking to see where the man by the dirt pile is standing.  We are anticipating a yelp at any moment, or possibly just a wet, sickening thud.

I snuck up to the roof to take a picture.  I try to hide when I do this, as I feel bad taking pictures of things like this.  However, considering the fact that we get stared at wherever we go, told we are fat, and have pictures taken of us all the time without our consent, I think that truthfully no one would bat an eyelash if I snapped a picture.  Tact is not something anyone seems to worry too much about here either.

Here is an excerpt from a letter that went home with the students in the kids’ school just today:

“…in the meantime, Mrs. Stacy Fluegge, a qualified teacher from USA has kindly agreed to help us out.  Mrs. Stacy has been working with Grade 2 since Monday, 10th of September and it has been a great help and support to Mrs. Gertrude….”

“This arrangement will continue until Mrs. Stella joins us on the 22nd of September…after which Mrs. Stacy will continue to support us with the curriculum planning, classroom organization and strategies that will help the class function better.”

I think I am still a little in shock about how this all transpired so quickly, and I am, as of right now, unclear on what my duties will exactly be, but we will work that all out in the next week.

On the bright side, at least now I might actually get paid for being in the school all the time!  Of course, when the average teacher salary in India is approximately $3000 a year USD, I’m thinking that it will feel quite a bit like volunteer work anyway.

Yeah, I’m an idiot, but where would the world be without saps like myself?  The happy students clamoring around me yelling “Miss Stacy, Miss Stacy” when I walk in the door make it all worthwhile.

I know it won’t sound like much to most of you, but I made some huge progress on Tuesday night, thanks, in part, to my new job at the school.  You see, without the incentive of needing some good rewards for the classroom, I would have never ventured to the mall on my own without Scott’s support.  I would have been too scared to do it, too afraid of getting lost, of not finding Mujeeb when I came out, of encountering problems due to not speaking the language or knowing the customs.  However, because of the need to get those rewards, I overcame all of the silly fears and asked Mujeeb to pick the kids and I up from School Tuesday afternoon.

The mall is quite close to the school, actually.  Probably within walking distance.  Its a beautiful mall, much like its US counterparts, with plenty of clothing and shoe stores, restaurants, toy store, maternity store, home decorating stores, etc.  It is 5 or 6 levels high, I forget exactly how many, with the top level being reserved for a couple of large fancy restaurants.  We went in one clothing store, but it was not possible for me to try on anything with two kids in tow, so I quickly ditched that idea (though I am in desperate need of some clothes). 

The main attractions for us were the toy store where the kids played with everything (but we bought nothing), and, of course, the book store.  We spent the majority of time there, with Addie browsing the new series that she’s never seen before and Ender lounging on the floor reading a Wall-E book.  They each came away with 2 titles a piece, as I can never say no to books.  I chose some cursive writing workbooks for Addie (there are only 2 kids in her class who don’t know it, and she’s feeling very self-conscious about not having learned it), and some math  workbooks to help get her up to speed, as the math here is way ahead of anything that she learned previously. 

As we were leaving, we found the best part of all….lo and behold, there, in front of us, was a McDonalds!  Yes, a real, true, McDonalds, complete with the golden arches a statue of Ronald himself sitting on a bench outside the door.  Ender was in heaven.  We ventured in and found that the food, of course, was slightly different.  Hamburgers don’t exist, but you can have any manner of chicken patty.  There are, remarkably, no chicken nuggets, but the chicken patty is kind of like one large chicken nugget anyway and the kids were willing to give that a try.  Ender, amazingly enough, ate the entire sandwich, bun, mayo, cheese, lettuce and all.  Addie pretty much just took the patty off and ate that.  The fries taste exactly the same as back in the US, but unfortunately, they didn’t have my crispy chicken snack wrap that I usually order.  Instead, I thought I’d try the paneer salsa wrap, considering my newly-developed affinity for paneer.  Absolutely delicious!  The biggest downfall was the fact that they don’t have milk or juice.  Addie was happy with a strawberry milkshake, but Ender could find nothing he wanted to drink, and went away thirsty.

So, thanks to the school, we had a new experience that it might have otherwise taken me a couple of more months to get up the courage for.  Oh, and as far as getting home, Mujeeb was at the door of the McDonalds waiting for us, seeing me well before I saw him.  How silly I was to be afraid that he wouldn’t be there.  We are lucky to have such a wonderful driver, it makes everything so much easier.

So, I suppose that you all are wondering how the teaching is going.  Well, I must say, it is going extremely well.  I have had the pleasure of joining a hustling bustling room full of 27 wonderfully active, tremendously bright young students (the vast majority of which are boys).   The teacher and I are developing a great rapport, and she and the children are excited by the new ideas that I have to offer.  I have had the honor of performing some science experiments with the children (our poor tooth (egg) will be released from its soda-watery prison tomorrow for observation), and have helped institute a very popular reward system to help everyone remember the classroom rules.  I am having a great time and am very glad to have this opportunity, if only for 2 weeks.

The bus ride there is rather interesting, to be sure.  Each bus is equipped with a driver and an assistant who keeps track of the children on a clipboard and makes sure everyone is sitting down and behaving.  The assistant is a tall, skinny man, very soft spoken and sweet.  In the morning, the bus is mostly PreK and Kindergarteners, with only a few 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.  From watching what transpires each morning, it has become obvious why the assistant is so thin.  Each little one that gets on is ushered to a seat and buckled in.  But, in the true spirit of a 5 year old, each one of them, at some point, wiggles out of the seat belt, turns around an whacks their neighbor, drops items from their bags, etc.  The assistant is up and out of his chair constantly attending to their needs, admonishing them in his quiet Indian accent.  “No, no, no, you must seet, seet down, seet on bottom, come on, seet down, no, no, no, seet, seet! Oh, no, you can’t do that, no, not safe, not safe, seet, seet down, oh please, seet down”.  And on and on it goes, all the way to school.  Up and down from his seat, back and forth from the front of the bus to the back, he is wonderful with the children, but they just don’t give him a break.  Ender, too, gives him cause to panic at least once or twice each trip with his constant motion and inability to sit still.  I wish I could record the man for you all to hear.  He is so sweet and caring, and my heart goes out to him.  He has the patience of a saint.

I must say, it is wonderful to be able to get a glimpse into the school and find out how the day runs for Addie and Ender.  I am getting to know the teachers and staff and the inner workings of the school.  I am very pleased with what I see and am honored to be a part of it all.

I know this is going to be hard to visualize, but imagine a staircase that goes up to the third floor.  Now imagine me lying on my back on the cold hard floor below to get this stunning picture.  What can be more beautiful than a staircase decorated with wet laundry?  Does it get any more stylish and classy than this?

Before I got here, this was apparently the ONLY way that the laundry was dried in this house.  Scott was, of course, perfectly fine with this.  Then the crabby wife comes along and suddenly there are clotheslines outside and the laundry can’t be hung over the railings anymore.  Now, it is only on rainy days that we get to delight in the beauty and elegance of a pair of dripping wet boxer shorts arranged artistically on the banister.