On Sunday, we decided to have a lazy day for once.  We hung around the house until almost 3, when we finally decided that we had to get off of our lazy behinds and get out for a bit.  Down the street a little way, in walking distance from our house, is a public garden that we had been wanting to check out.  So headed over there.

The garden costs 15 rupees to get in (about 35 cents), which, unfortunately, makes it inaccessible for a large portion of the population.  As a result, it was a rather quiet place, and I think we only saw 2 other children there.  There were lots of adults, mostly couples and a few larger groups of men, seated amongst the trees or on the pathways.  It was a little disconcerting walking around a shrub or tree and realizing that there was someone hidden there watching us.  We encountered this a lot.

The garden was reasonably well-kept in comparison with what you usually see in Hyderabad, and there was a wide variety of flowers and trees, some of them labeled. 

The first thing we saw when we came in was a large building used to house a cactus collection.  It was Ender who realized with the building actually was, and for those of you who know me well, you can understand my excitement!  What could be better than a giant turtle??

We began walking around, and immediately headed down the wrong path.  We were only a little way down a path that was obviously made by some large bulldozer, when we heard a whistle blow.  We looked back to find a police officer motioning at us.  (that is how they communicate here, they use the whistle and hand gestures to get your attention, they never actually talk to you).  So, we grudgingly came back up and headed down a path more well travelled.  The police officer seemed to be following us for most of the rest of our walk.  Apparently he was afraid that we would misbehave again.  (or perhaps there is some secret over behind the bushes that they are trying to hide!)  Eventually we saw another couple sneak off the beaten path, and he finally veered off of in pursuit of these newfound evildoers.

We saw some beautiful flowers, and the kids had a great time crossing the bridges and jumping from rock to rock.  There was even a little snack bar where we stopped for Bingos and a soda.  (Bingos are chips – more about those in another post). 

As we walked, we came upon this amazing critter.  Ender’s finger is only partially gone and we think he will regain feeling in it after the bite marks disappear.  (JUST KIDDING, it was harmless).  Far more horrifying than mom were the nest of babies that we soon stumbled upon.  They scattered like the wind when disturbed, and scurried in all directions.  (i.e.  right toward our feet!).

Here is a beautiful tree that, for some reason, the kids and Scott were gathered around.  I had to get a shot of it when I realized that it was a little taste of home that they had gavitated to.  We’ve got several of these trees back in our yard in Florida.

The pond, while definitely very pretty, seemed suspiciously devoid of life.  A couple of ducks played in the ripples and Addie enjoyed watching a water bug skate across the shimmering surface , but fish, turtles and frogs were not to be found.  A stark reminder of the city outside of the gate and the pollution problems that India does not seem to know how to handle.

Still, it was a beautiful place, and it was great to get out in the open air, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and have a little time to ourselves.  I think we will visit there often.

Normally a family only has to go through the “first day of school” experience once in a year.  Not so for the Fluegges!  If you have been reading Stacy’s posts then you already know she has gotten roped into volunteering at our kids school full time for the next 2 weeks while they wait for a couple new teachers to join.  What you may NOT have known is that she gets to ride the bus with the kids to get there!!

 

 

 

So it was up at 6:15am here to insure all 3 kids got up, showered, got dressed and had their breakfast.  Addie had some cinnamon toast, Ender had a pear and Stacy had her customary bottle of Pepsi.  Am I a good dad or what?  By 7:20 we were out the door and off to meet the bus.  Lets hope all three of them have great experiences to share when they get home!!

Ender in front of the Lazer Tag field
Ender in front of the Lazer Tag field

Today we got a chance to go out for a bit to a place called Runway 9.  We were originally supposed to go with a group of people, but one family’s child broke his toe yesterday, and the other family couldn’t make it, so we ended up meeting only one of Scott’s old co-workers and his wife there for a bit.

Runway 9 is about an hour away, in a direction that I had never travelled before.  It was refreshing to see a little bit of open space on the drive…some meadows and grassy areas that almost made you feel like you were in the country back home.  It was a welcome relief from the constant crush of people that Hyderabad has to offer.  Once we got out of the city, we even had a somewhat open road and Mujeeb was able to actually drive over 40mph!  (that’s a huge change from the city!)

We were very hungry when we arrived, so we decided to eat at the pub.  Eating out is very difficult with the kids here, as they have no tolerance for any spice yet.  So, when the garlic chicken came, both were begging for mercy with watering eyes and runny noses after the first bite.  Luckily, we had ordered Naan and french fries too, and the kids made their meals out of that.  The garlic chicken was too spicy for me also, and I ended up eating Scott’s butter chicken with naan, which was quite delicious and not spicy at all.

The main attraction at Runway 9 is the go-carts.  Not your whimpy little carts that the US has to offer, the ones that putter around the track like Grandpa on a Sunday drive, but fast-moving, wind through your hair, sliding-on-the-turn carts that can only be found in a country whose safety standards are like what I have talked about in previous posts.  Yes, we did have ill-fitting helmets, but they wouldn’t offer us much protection in the event of an accident.  The safest part was probably the nifty hair nets that we had to wear under them for hygiene sake!

Addie and Ender couldn’t ride alone, and were not allowed to ride with us.  Instead, they had to ride with one of the employees.  I couldn’t understand why I was putting on a helmet and they were not, but before I could even ask about it, they were off and around the track.  Of course, they adored every minute of it.  Its blurry because they were going so fast!

Other attractions at Runway 9 included a rock wall, bunjee swing, archery, lazer tag and roller skating.  Addie and Ender particularly loved the bunjee swing.  Much higher up in the air than the US ones, their feet never touched the ground once they were raised up.  Instead, they were made to jump by the man raising electronically raising and lowering the swing.  They were flying high, but neither of them ever managed a flip.  You can see the looks of pure joy.

Since the kids were too small for the rock wall, Mom and Dad decided to give it a try.  Here is Scott…can you see the clouds around him?  No?  Well, that’s because he only made it about half way up.  I can’t say anything though, because I didn’t make it nearly as high as he did.  I got scared of the height and it was all over.

No kid’s place is complete without a crummy playground, which, naturally, was an absolute thrill to the kids.  Of course, this was definitely the best playground I have seen so far in India, so I shouldn’t be so hard on it.  It looks like Scott was having fun too!

We arrived back home tired but happy.

Right now we are in the middle of the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.
In our community, driveways are elaborately decorated with chalk or paint, leaves and flowers are strung over doorways and gates, and a statue of Ganesh is situated in the clubhouse, with nightly prayers or “poojas” taking place for anyone who is interested.  Thousands of Ganesh statues could be seen for sale along the roadsides in the past few weeks, and the celebrations will culminate in the submersion of those statues in a lake or other body of water.  The lake that is used in Hyderabad is, unfortunately, badly polluted and quite disgusting.  Part of this (but only part) may have something to do with all the statues being thrown into it, so there is a move to make the statues out of clay with natural paints to make the whole occasion more environmentally friendly.
This is the Ganesh Idol that is currently in our clubhouse.
This is the Ganesh Idol that is currently in our clubhouse.

Since I really didn’t know the story, I have found a nice webpage explaining the whole thing and have reproduced it here. 

THE STORY:

Ganesh is the god of wisdom and prosperity and is invoked before the beginning of any auspicious work by the Hindus. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati, brother of Kartikeya and the general of the gods.

The story of creation of Ganesh is a very fascinating one.

A long long time ago when Lord Shiva, was away fighting for the gods, the lady of the house, goddess Parvathi was alone at home. On one occasion, she needed someone to guard the house when she was going for a bath. Unable to think of an alternative, she used her powers to create a son, Ganesh. She instructed Ganesh to keep strict vigil on the entrance to the house and not to allow anyone into the house. Ganesh agreed and stayed on the strictest of strict vigils.

In the meantime Lord Shiva returned happy after a glorious victory for the gods, only to be stopped at the entrance by Ganesh. Ganesh, acting on Parvathi’s orders verbatim, did not allow Shiva to enter the house. Lord Shiva was enraged beyond control and in a fit of rage slashed the head of Ganesh. In the meantime Parvathi came out from her bath and was aghast at the scene. She was very very angry at her lordship for what had happened and explained him the situation.

Lord Shiva wanted to make it up to Parvathi very badly and agreed to put life back into Ganesh by putting the head of the first sleeping living creature that came in sight which was sleeping with its head to the north. He sent his soldiers to go in search of the creature. The first creature which came in sight was an elephant. So Lord Shiva re-created his son with the head of the elephant. Hence the trunk of Lord Ganesh.

Parvathi was still not totally happy with the deal and wanted more. Then Shiva granted Ganesh a boon that before beginning of any undertaking or task people would worship Lord Ganesh. Thus the reason for worship of Ganesh before start of any work.

THE CELEBRATIONS:

Ganesh is the generous god of wisdom and Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated to worship Lord Ganesh. It’s one of the most colorful public festivals all over Bharat. In Mumbai city alone, more than 6000 Ganesh statues are commissioned collectively by factories. Up to 10 metres in height, these statues are carried on decorated floats. Little Ganesh idols are placed in nukkads or street corners and in homes, and poojas are performed daily.

Started by Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler, to promote culture and nationalism, the festival was revived by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak to spread the message of freedom struggle and to defy the British who had banned public assemblies. The festival gave the Indians a feeling of unity and revived their patriotic spirit and faith. This public festival formed the background for political leaders who delivered speeches to inspire people against the Western rule. The festival is so popular that in Mumbai the preparations begin months in advance. Images of Ganesh are installed and elaborate arrangements are made for lighting and decoration, and celebrations are on for 7-10 days. The Chaturthi is the last day dedicated to the elephant-headed god, and thousands of processions converge on the beaches of Mumbai to immerse the holy idols in the sea. This immersion is accompanied by drum- beats, devotional songs and dancing.

It is also forbidden to look at the moon on that day as the moon had laughed at Ganesh when he fell from his vehicle, the rat.

Addie made this card at school. She was going to give it to Sudakker, but she chickened out.  I didn't realize that we were Hindu now, but I guess, when in Rome....(or in this case, Hyderabad)

Addie made this card at school.  She was going to give it to Sudakker, but she chickened out.  I didn’t realize that we were Hindu, but I suppose, when in Rome…(or in this case, Hyderabad!)

Addie has begun work on her very own website!

We only had a little time to put a few pictures and links on, but she wants to begin working on it more by herself.

She is very busy learning to type and trying to think of things she would like to tell everyone about.  I think, from listening to her ideas, that she would like to do a blog also eventually.  We’ll see where her ideas take her! 

Please take a look at what she has so far.  She is very excited about it.

Addie’s Page

Taking the pets with us to India was a harrowing experience, to be sure, but we are very glad to have them here. The companionship they offer us in this strange place is invaluable. Beauty sleeps with Addie every night, keeping her company and helping her get over her fear of the dark. Addie has a lot of trouble sleeping, and I regularly find her cocooned in her blankets, dripping with sweat, while trying to hide from whatever it is that is frightening her. I remember doing the same when I was a kid, so I can sympathize. Luckily, Beauty is there to protect her, they have begun sleeping together each evening. As you can see from the picture, it is a good thing that Scott got Addie such a big bed, as Beauty takes up a good portion of it. I was able to take this picture without either of them waking up.

Beauty provides me with a feeling of protection as well.  Though I know she is a wuss who wouldn’t hurt a fly, no one else knows that, and many people here are really afraid of dogs.  People regularly cross the street so they don’t have to walk near her.  They won’t dare open my gate when she is outside, even if she is busy wagging and drooling happily at them.  So, when a stranger rings the doorbell, or comes to the gate at an odd hour, I make sure that Beauty accompanies me outside.  Everyone is always very nice to me.

Likewise, the cats have been my constant companions, which has been very important for me with Scott travelling so much. They sleep with me each night and tiger will sit in my lap for hours if I let him. They provide Beauty with a fun distraction (and occasionally a scratched nose), and are a big hit with the neighborhood kids. I rest easier with them in the house, because any strange noise in the night can be attributed to being “just the cats”.  Without them I’d be running all over the house during the night searching for the source of every creak and thump.  The kids adore them, and more than once I have found Tres in a pretty doll dress or snazzy kitty sweater with a look of utter contempt on her face.  Still, she goes back for more again and again, because she loves her Addie.

However, my little furballs do present a few problems here.  Food is definitely an issue.  Though I know I should get off my lazy butt and start making my own dog and cat food, I haven’t yet, and we are still trying to buy it.  I have enough issues trying to cook for us!  Dog food can be found at the local store.  Large bag, 1 type, $25 bucks.  Very VERY expensive.  Scott started out by buying the vegetarian stuff, which he discovered was easier to come by, but Beauty stubbornly refused to become a vegetarian and instead decided to go on a hunger strike until Scott gave in and found her the meaty stuff.  Hmmmm, kind of sounds like my kids, come to think of it.

Cat food is even more difficult.  Regular stores don’t carry that at all, and we finally found it, again 1 type and ridiculously expensive, in a store called Q-mart.  Q-mart is a grocery store that caters to expats.  They have shipped in a wide variety of items from all over the world to give expats a taste of home.  Of course, this comes at a price…if you find that you absolutely need some pop tarts and don’t mind paying $8 a box, then, by all means, go ahead and shop there.  I, personally, won’t go there again unless I get really REALLY desperate.  So, while we snagged 1 bag of food for them, an alternative needed to be found. 

Perhaps the biggest problem we faced was the cat litter.  Since people don’t generally keep cats as pets here, and certainly not indoors, cat litter is nearly non-existant.  We brought a box with us when we came, but I could only make that last so long before things got rather nasty and Addie (who has the cat box in a little room off of her room), began begging for mercy.  She even went so far as to create warning signs to remind people to stay away from the “cat room”.

After looking in several places and asking around, I was nearing desperation. I began considering ripping up newspapers, using bags of rice (certainly cheap and easy to find here!) or “borrowing” buckets of sand from nearby construction sites, but none of those really appealed to me, and they certainly wouldn’t help with the odor problem.

Luckily for the cats (and Addie), I came across an ad in the expat magazine for a veteranarian/pet store near the children’s school.  Bonanza!  Many MANY types of dog food, toys, bones, etc. and a whopping 3 types of cat food and 2 types of litter!  Hey, we even got the fancy French kitty litter, though I doubt it will smell like a “fleur” to me!   Meaty food for Beauty and toiletries for the cats, and a veterenarian on the premisis to boot.  After one visit, I implored the driver to commit the place to memory, as I knew we would be frequent visitors.

Of course, the vet clinic kind of looks like an open barn, with each stall being an exam room, with dirt floors and concrete counters, but beggers can’t be choosers.  They should be able to give the pets their shots when needed, and we can only hope that we find no other reason to need their services.  I did see two dogs with lampshades around their necks coming out of there, so I know that they do surgeries. 

Unfortuntely for the cats (and for Addie), the cat litter leaves a lot to be desired.  No nice little smelly crystals, minimal clumping capabilities, no plastic scoop.  So, I got her a big spoon and an air freshener…  I’m generous that way.

Step 1:  Go to the school and ask about volunteer opportunities

Step 2:  Agree to run an after-school activity called “Seuss after School”, where you will present a Dr. Seuss book and design related activites around it for 18 children in grades 1 and 2.

Step 3:  Send an email to the principal detailing what you will do for the after-school activity and giving a brief run-down of your qualifications for this, mainly the fact that you have a teaching certificate.

Step 4:  Recieve an urgent string of emails from the principal inquiring about this teaching certificate and  your willingness to help in the school.

Step 5:  Meet with the principal for 20 minutes regarding overcrowding in the second grade and the need for an assistant until the new teacher starts at the end of September.

Step 6:  Become the new Assistant 2nd Grade Teacher.

I start on Monday.

Since yesterday’s post got to be so long, I decided to divide it in two. For starters, let’s continue yesterday’s theme of electricity for just a bit longer.

In the park where the kids go to play, along the back wall, there is a small gate and a concrete fence.  As you can probably see from the picture, the gate is unlocked and hanging open slightly, and the holes in the concrete are nicely spaced for climbing in the unlikely event that the gate were to actually be locked, so effectively there is no barrier to keep out curious children.  This is very unfortunate, since what the fence is designed to hold is an electrical switch box with numeous rusty cables jutting out in all directions, presumably the contraption that is charged with delivering power to the whole community, and probably the source of some of our outages.  I’m not sure whether to ignore it and hope Ender doesn’t notice it, or to bring his attention to it and tell him not to go there…they both seem like a sure way to end up with an electrified child, don’t they?

Speaking of having no barriers to keep out curious children… Our community also has a water tower in this same park.  It is surrounded by some bamboo making it a dark and inviting play place.  Of course, the water tower is completely open.  A rusty latter system leads up to the top, and down into the murky water below.  So, we have a chance of death by falling off the top of the tower and  death by drowning in the water all rolled into one.  I’m sure if I climbed up it, I’d find some bare wires in there somewhere, adding death by electrocution to the list of horrors this one structure has in store.

Working in conjunction with the water tower, we have the well.  The well is located across the street in the garden area.  The garden is a pretty place, lots of bushes, trees and flowers and a grassy area that the kids like to play on.  According to the neighbors, the garden sits on top of the well.  Water is first pumped into the well, that acts as a holding tank, and then up to the water tower, and finally out to our houses, where we have to pump it back up to large tanks on the roof.  (Scott can explain all that some time because I just don’t get it.)  Anyway, the well is there, with 2 nice metal covers, that are never actually put on the well.  Yes, folks, another drowning hazard.  What kid wouldn’t want to investigate this??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, last but not least, we have the workers.  All around us we have apartment buildings going up.  The daytime is a veritable cacaphony of sawing and pounding.  Sometimes I feel like our community is a little oasis, the “Central Park” in the middle of big old New York. 

Wooden scaffolding is erected around the newly built structures.  The scaffolding is not boards, but actual trees, scraped clean, and bound together with rope.  The workers scale this scaffolding and do their jobs, hundreds of feet in the air.  No safety equipment, no hard hats, no shoes…

I will strive to get a better picture of this soon.  This was taken from the park (right by the water tower), looking out to the next lot.  I’ll take my camera next time I go out and get something closer. 

So, I think that you can see that my title “safety standards in India” is actually an oxymoron.  There are no safety standards in India.  Only lots of luck.

This is my fuse panel, on the wall in my bedroom, completely out in the open
This is my fuse panel, on the wall in my bedroom, completely out in the open

In the US we spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not things are safe. Each and every time a person is hurt, it seems a new law is developed to address what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Things are a bit different in India. As far as I can tell there are no building codes, no electrical codes, and no regard for safety whatsoever. To illustrate this point, I would like to present some pictures taken from around my house and my complex. Keep in mind, these are only from the community we live in. None of these pictures are taken from outside my gate. (one was taken from my community of something outside, but I’ll highlight that one in the next post.) Outside my little gated world, things are much MUCH worse.

Let’s discuss the electricity for a moment, shall we? First of all, the power here is not always on. In thesummer there are rolling blackouts. From noon to 4 each day, you could expect the power to be shut off. Summer ended, and so did the regular rolling blackouts, only to be replaced by completely random blackouts. Now the power goes off any old time it wants, and may stay off 5 minutes or 2 hours. It gets really old, but judging by the quality of the wiring, a blackout is probably the safest time to be in your home…

I hear that a little jolt of electricity can get your dishes much cleaner
I hear that a little jolt of electricity can get your dishes much cleaner

Here, the outlets are all 220. Though I have a very limited knowledge of voltage, amperage and the like, I have an inkling that 220 is double the output of the 110 back home. Therefore, it stands to reason that things like GFI outlets near the sinks and proper grounding would be a must. WRONG. Here is my sink. Notice that the outlet is an ordinary old outlet. AND, notice that the cord for my water purifier snakes up through a hole in the cupboard to the outlet, and that the cord is regularly drenched with water from the sink.

Wide plug outlet, complete with ink marks from Scott sticking a pen in there
Wide plug outlet, complete with ink marks from Scott sticking a pen in there

The outlets themselves are quite an interesting phenomenon. Here you can take a tour of the different types available in my house. There are SEVERAL different types of plugs used in India.  As you can see from the outlet pictures, not every plug will fit into every outlet.

In addition, each outlet has the larger single hole on top which is for the ground, however, precious few plugs come with this 3rd prong. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that each outlet is equipped with some sort of “safety” feature that requires a prong to first be inserted into the ground in order for a little plastic piece inside to move up and make room for the other two prongs to fit in. So, trying to plug the majority of plugs in requires us to first

Outlet to accomodate both wide plug and narrow plug
Outlet to accomodate both wide plug and narrow plug

insert something (usually a pen) into the ground hole to move the plastic and allow insertion of the plug.  So, if this is a safety feature, it seems to have the opposite effect, causing people to actually stick other things in the outlets besides the plugs.

As you can see from the pictures, there is one comforting thing.  Each outlet also comes equipped with its own switch.  Every outlet in the house is switchable, some with a light to tell you whether it is on or off at the moment.  This helps when you are about to stick a pen in it, but I certainly wouldn’t count on the fact that the power actually does go off….

The cord and junction box is about at head-height
The cord and junction box is about at head-height

Would you like a fan in your shower? Well, then certainly you won’t mind that the junction box resides in the shower stall where it can easily get spashed on and the fan cord is hanging out in the open on the shower wall.

Recently, I have learned of another phenomenon that I need to be aware of. I picked up my laptop the other day, and I felt a shock. I adjusted it in my lap, and sure enough, shocked again! I gave a little squeal as I moved my hands under it and got zapped a third time, and Scott asked me what was wrong. “The laptop is shocking me!” I yelled as I put dropped it on the bed. “Oh really?” Scott asked, laughing. “Yes, really!” “Yeah, that happens to me occasionally too,” he stated. “It’s something with the grounding of the house. The guys at work say its very common here. Just don’t touch the screws on the bottom and you’ll be fine.” I feel so much better now.

Tomorrow:  Safetey Hazards Indoors and Out

This outlet combines both wide and narrow plug holes, as a result, all plugs pretty much just fall right out of it
This outlet combines both wide and narrow plug holes, as a result, all plugs pretty much just fall right out of it
An outlet for all occasions...it accepts even American style plugs, though as Scott has found, this is inadvisable
An outlet for all occasions...it accepts even American style plugs, though as Scott has found, this is inadvisable

 

Since I know that the grandmas are needing their fix of kid pictures, here are a few to tide them over.  I will do my best to get the camera out more in the next few days.

 

 

Here you can see Ender hugging the dog.  Except it really looks like he is attempting to strangle the dog, and it doesn’t look like a dog, but instead, a yellow-eyed demon from the depths of the underworld.   In other words, a typical Ender picture!

 

 

 

 

Addie with her best fake smile!

 

 

And here you can see Addie giving me her best smile.  “Addie, dear, please give me a real smile!”  “This IS a real smile, Mom,” she says through gritted teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

And last but not least, here are the two little darlings washing the dinner dishes for me.  Since Sudakker does so much around here, I make sure that the kids don’t get too used to such treatment.  Of course, I have to accept that the dishes will not be clean, the floor and countertops will be dripping wet, and a fight will break out at some point in the washing cycle causing me to chase them both away and finish the job myself.

 

 

 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to mention just how happy I am with the school that Addie and Ender are attending.  The curriculum in Addie’s class is challenging but not overwhelming.  The learning structure is an integrated approach where all subjects overlap and are joined together by a common theme, so the kids are learning a science concept, writing about it, studying poems about it, studying spelling words from that topic, and doing mathematical exercises that relate to it.  In addition to the regular subjects, the children get to learn Hindi or French (we chose Hindi), and study a musical instrument.  Ender chose Keyboard and Addie chose Guitar, and they both will perform in the band!  Reading books come home with Ender each night, and Addie has about 30 minutes worth of homework in various subjects every evening.  Starting mid-september, the children will have their choice of an after-school activity as well, an extra 45 minutes of learning in a topic that interests them.  We can’t wait to see what the choices are!  Both Addie and Ender seem very happy with the school, and have many new things to tell me each evening when they arrive home.  Knowing how happy they are there makes me feel much better about moving them across the world.  The only thing missing from this school are their friends back home.  We miss you all!