2012 in review

I am not really sure how this happened, but according to my blog provider, Word Press, I manage to get 20,000 views this year.  I find this extremely interesting since I haven’t blogged since we moved back to the states in April, nine months ago.  Maybe I really should start writing again 😉

To those of you that read my stuff consistently, thank you.  I cannot say it enough, thank you, thank you, thank you.  You provided the love and support I needed to face my new and different life in India.  You will always be important to me and a huge source of confidence for me.

Thank you!!

Nicole C.


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 20,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The night of the Centipede

Have you ever had one of those moments when your brain completely shorts out and you are left a babbling idiot? Well, for me it has happened a few times… hey, no comments please! The thing is, most of these times have been here in India. There have been certain things I have seen that just send my poor American brain into overdrive and I am suddenly Dorothy from Kansas trying desperately to click my heels together and fly away to safety. The night of the centipede was one such event.

It was late, probably after midnight and we were in the kitchen getting ready for bed, i.e. brushing our teeth, washing my face etc. Vijay had just started to walk away to go to the bathroom and I was about 6-7 feet away from the sink when this THING came running very, very FAST out from under the cupboard covering the area under the kitchen sink. It was at least six inches long, and almost an inch wide with red and brown stripes. It was a centipede.

Now this is where my brain shorted out completely. My only thought was, “If Vijay makes it to the bathroom, I am going to be alone with this thing until he comes back!”

The only thing that would come out of my mouth was “honeyhoneyhoneyhoney!” I could not form a coherent sentence to save my backside! I couldn’t express to Vijay why I was in a panic; I simply couldn’t get past that single word. Thank God it did the trick as Vijay came back to the kitchen really quick. I am guessing he could hear the panic in my voice or maybe it was some other signal that indicated I was just about to lose my mind completely. When he saw the centipede he too made a noise that indicated he was less than pleased with our current situation! He then turned around and went looking for something big enough to actually dispose of this thing.

Now this horrific creepy crawly was a creature of God and an amazing one at that but at midnight in the middle of my kitchen death seemed to be the only option for his destiny. A calmer person may have found a way to walk this monstrosity out of the house but we did not have the presence of mind to come up with any solution that did not involve him no longer running around my kitchen.

While my brain was shorting out and sparks may have been flying out of my ears, I did have the presence of mind to get the camera.  Come on, no one was going to believe me about this without proof!!  Heck even in India I get strange looks when I talk about my centipede.  Without photographic proof they would all think I was simply a hysterical white girl; which may be true but I like to give the illusion that I have a grip on reality!!

So while he had gone back under the sink, seemingly looking to get away from me (do you blame him?) and Vijay was looking for a weapon, I started taking pics.  This creature was at least 6 inches long and a half an inch wide.  He had red and brown stripes and these horrible looking one inch long stingers on his rear end.  I don’t know what those are for, and honestly I was in no hurry to find out!  It moved with a speed and agility that one would expect from a critter with dozens of legs.

By the time Vijay got back with the only weapon he could imagine doing any damage to this thing, a 2 inch by 2 inch and 3 foot long piece of wood, the centipede had found a gap in the area between the tile in the back of the sink and the cupboard.  Oh no.  Now what??

Then I remembered a few days back.  After getting up in the morning we had noticed this same thing, or at least this thing’s cousin running around on the driveway outside our bedroom window.  At that time I couldn’t get to the camera fast enough to get a shot of it and I had NEVER seen anything like it before.  I was really bummed by the fact that I didn’t get a photo.

Once again, God had a chuckle at my expense (for the first laugh, please click here).  Since I didn’t get a shot of this thing outside, he decided to help me out and bring him in; give me a close up view of him and enough time to take a pic or two.  Thinking of it that way actually made me laugh and feel just one iota better.  But still, that thing was in my house … somewhere.

To be continued …

Posted in Centipede, Critters, Daily life | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Anyone for Roach Dodgeball?

One of the numerous creepy crawlies we are frequently dealing with here in India is the giant, flying cockroach.  Honestly, that name says it all.  No other explanation necessary!

However the official name of these things is the American Roach.  Personally I think that is a BIG misnomer but no one asked me when they were naming it.  I have never seen anything like this before and I pray I never deal with them again!

They tend to be around two inches long and an inch wide.  They have wings and can fly, usually right at you!  They are fast and of course like any roach they can fit into any crevice.  The one major difference with these as opposed to regular roaches is that you tend to only have one at time, not an infestation.  And for that I must say THANK GOD!!

Now my father-in-law is a devoted Hindu and with that comes the inability to kill another living creature.  He is brave/tough/goofy enough to simply pick one of these buggers up and carry it outside.  My husband is also a pretty devoted Hindu but he has no problem killing these things.  He claims I have corrupted him in this way.  Most other crawlies get escorted to the door and let go but these things usually meet the end of a thrown sandal (no use getting too close … you don’t know their potential).

The first time I saw one I had just gone into the kitchen which had an opening high in the wall for an exhaust fan.  Nothing covered it and it was open to the outside (needless to say, that changed immediately).  Sitting just inside the opening was the biggest darn bug I have ever seen!!  It seemed to be about six inches long (a slight over-exaggeration, but honestly not by much) and upon seeing me and the light he scurried out.  I was ready to book a flight back to the states but I managed to pull it together and convinced myself it was an isolated incident.

Now after several months of living here I had adjusted a bit to seeing them, infrequently mind you, and I hated them, but still I didn’t freak out too bad … usually.  So one night I got up to use the bathroom at 5 am.  After sitting down I reached up and turned on the light.  That is when I saw the roach about a foot from me sitting peacefully against the wall.  He didn’t move when the light came on and I held it together.  In fact he and I made a deal; I would leave him alone if he didn’t move.  I didn’t want to wake my husband and I was feeling very adult and strong.  At least for a minute.

Just after this roach and I made our peace, another one came RUNNING at me from the open door.  It made a beeline for my feet.  Not cool, not cool at all!  To say I freaked is a bit of an understatement!!  Vijay came flying in and by this time the roach had taken up refuge at the base of the toilet tank and I was trying to keep my feet up and not fall off the bowl.  I can only imagine how ridiculous I looked but I certainly didn’t care.  When I saw the new roach was staying put I moved as fast as I could out the door.

After dispatching these two roaches; yeah the first one got the boot too despite our deal, I felt bad but he was collateral damage; I went out to get a drink of water.  Our floor in that house was light gray marble with darker gray streaks.  It was still dark in the house, but I noticed a dark spot that seemed out of place to be a marble streak. And even though it didn’t move I had a feeling it was a friend of the other two.  Another one bit the dust.

After five months we moved into the house we are in now.  To date we have only had two or three roaches in a year and a half.  I’m pretty happy about that.  However the tradeoff seems to be giant centipedes and scorpions.

I’m ready to book that flight now.

Posted in Critters, Daily life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Family Titles and Lineage all in one Convenient Package

How about another blog on the Indian family?  If you missed the last family blog, the one on the family structure and the joined family please click here

In this blog we are going to talk about how family members address each other, and the names they call each other … and no, not the bad ones!

First off, a husband and wife usually never use each other names. Ever. My husband has never heard either of his parents use the others name. It is just not done. I asked him what happens if mummy wants to get papa’s attention. He said she walks into the other room to get him. Hmm, that is an interesting concept! If she had to call to him for something, she would call him Ashok’s (my husband’s oldest brother) dad. Never Raj or Vijay’s dad, only the oldest child; even if that child is a girl. And if the couple is newly married and there are no children yet, then the wife will simple call her husband ji.

Ji (pronounced gee) is added to every name for respect. So technically when I talk to mummy or papa, it is actually mummyji or papaji. This goes with EVERY family title. This also goes with actual first names as well. For example our neighbor calls Vijay, Vijayji. And no one in this country calls Gandhi simply Gandhi. It is ALWAYS Gandhiji. If you saw the movie Slum Dog Millionaire, about the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the host of the show called the computer, computerji. I didn’t understand at the time, but I do now! And when talking to siblings or friends it is not necessary unless you want to show respect for some reason. It is also not necessary every time you say someone’s name, like mummy and papa. Just often enough to show you respect them. Are you getting that respect is a big deal in this country??

And as you know from my references, parents are usually called mummy and papa. That is the simple part. Everyone else gets complicated, or possibly easier depending on how you look at it. Let’s talk about grandparents first. Now in the states they are generically called grandma or grandpa with any unique twists on these two names. However, ultimately, grandma and grandpa. In India, the name for your grandparents depends on which of your parents they are parents to. Got it?? For example, your mother’s parents are going to be your nana (grandpa) and nani (grandma). Your dad’s parents are your dada (grandpa) and dadi (grandma). See? So in one word lineage is conveyed.

As for uncles, your mom’s brothers are going to be your mama and his wife is your mami. Dad’s brother is your chacha and his wife is your chachi. As for your aunts, mom’s sisters are massi and her husband is massa. Dad’s sisters are buah and her husband is fufa. And you will never use your aunt and uncles names.

For example I have an Aunt Cindy. She would be called my massi and then any other designation I would use to distinguish her, like the fact that she is the second daughter i.e. massi number two. But I would not use her name. Unless I was talking to someone else about her and she was not there. Then I could use her name, but never in front of her. And your grandparent’s siblings are also your grandparents. Vijay talks about his younger or sometimes smaller dada, his grandpa’s younger brother. And his actual grandfather he will refer to him as his real dada.

As for your siblings, they too are designated differently depending on their birth order. Brother in Hindi is bhia. However, older brother is bhea. So Raj, Vijay’s older brother is his bhea, and Vijay is his bhia. Confused?? Me too sometimes. And sister is bahyen and didi for older sister.

Now for a really confusing designation. Ok, a daughter-in-law is called a bahoo. And a sister-in-law is called a bhabi. However, again age makes a difference. I am Raj’s sister-in-law, but I am married to his younger brother. That negates the bhabi name and instead makes me his bahoo. It doesn’t matter what my age is in reference to Raj, older or younger I am his bahoo. But his older brother’s wife was his bhabi. And to me Raj is my jate and his wife (when they arrange one for him) will be my jatani. But if he was younger he would be my devar. The great thing with my in-laws though is I am simply their daughter. They have never called me their bahoo and I like it that way.

And lastly we have the children of your parent’s siblings, the cousins. They are not simply your cousins; they are your cousin-sisters and cousin-brothers. Or like I mentioned in the last blog on family, simply your brothers and sisters in a joined family.

When it comes to strangers, if they are significantly older than you, like your parents age, then you address them as aunt and uncle. This applies to everyone. An example of this; there is a family in our building with two boys and occasionally the older boy who is probably 8 or 9 will get sent down to convey a message or talk to us for some reason. Vijay and I are about the same age as his parents so this makes us aunt and uncle to him.

However, when it comes to strangers around your own age, you refer to them as your older brother for men and bhabi for women. All the women in our building call me bhabi, and so do Vijay’s friends. I am not called Nicole by anyone but Vijay and that is only rarely.

To recap: Parents: Mummy and Papa

Dad’s parents: Dada (grandpa) Dadi (grandma)

Mom’s parents: Nana (grandpa) Nani (grandma)

Dad’s brother/wife: Chacha (uncle) Chachi (aunt)

Mom’s brother/wife: Mama (uncle) Mami (aunt

Dad’s sister/husband: Buah (aunt) Fufa (uncle)

Mom’s sister/husband: Massi (aunt) Massa (uncle)

Older brother: Bhea

Younger brother: Bhia

Older sister: Didi

Younger sister: Bahen

Older brother-in-law/wife: Jate (brother-in-law) Jatani (sister-in-law)

Younger brother-in-law/wife: Devar (brother-in-law) Devarani (sister-in-law)

Confused?? Good lord if you aren’t you are a heck of a lot smarter than I am!! Or you are Indian ;). Honestly for those of us who have never dealt with something like this it is beyond overwhelming, but when you really look at it, this system is pretty efficient. In one word you convey which side of the family the person is from, their birth order and who they are married to.

However, I don’t see this catching on in the states ;).

Posted in Daily life, Personal life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Holi … The Hindu Festival of Colors

This past Thursday, March 8th we celebrated a Hindu festival called Holi. Holi is called the Festival of Colors as it issues in the warmth and sunshine of the summer season along with the flowers and crops of a new planting season. It is a way to shake off the dreary winter days and make everything feel new again.

Now the story behind the holiday is one that I am particularly fond of; I am not sure why but I love this Hindu story! It begins with a demon king who has been such a devoted follower of the God Brahma, and had prayed so reverently to him that Brahma was obliged to give him a boon or wish/power. The demon king had put a lot of thought into this, and while no mortal could be granted immortality as their boon, he felt he had devised a way to work around that stipulation.

He cleverly asked that he could not be killed during day or night, in the house or outside of the house, by a beast or a human, on the land or in the sky. Because of his cleverly worded boon he thought he was now invincible and he began to demand his people worship him and not the gods and to treat everyone very badly.

The son of this evil king however did not agree with his father and was instead a devoted follower of the God Vishnu. No matter what his father did to him; throw him in a room with poisonous snakes, try to get him trampled by elephants or feed him poison, Vishnu would step in and save the lad from his terrible father.

This interference on his son’s behalf did not make the king very happy. Finally he came up with a plan that he thought was unstoppable. His sister Holika had also been granted a boon; however her power was invincibility to fire.

So the evil king told his obedient son to go sit on his aunt Holika’s lap while a large fire was started beneath them. Since she was resistant to fire he was sure the child would die in his aunt’s arms. Nonetheless once again Vishnu stepped in and protected the child and instead the aunt was burned to death before the eyes of the townspeople.

The festival Holi is a commemoration of this story, another celebration of the triumph of good over evil. Bonfires are lit the night before the holiday and some revelers burn effigies of Holika.

However on the actual day of Holi the colors reign supreme! Children and adults alike celebrate by throwing colored powder at each other and smearing color on each other’s face and body. The color can be done two different ways; wet or dry. We watched the kids play with the wet color on the morning of Holi by mixing the powdered color in water and then using water balloons, water guns and specially designed small cannons to paint everything and everyone in their path. They would fill their weapons of choice and then chase each up and down the road. It was fun to watch them!

For us personally we didn’t really plan on doing much for the holiday since we don’t really know too many people in our neighborhood so after watching the kids for a while I went in to take a shower. While I was in the bathroom one of our upstairs neighbors stopped by with colored powder. She got Vijay with a little bit of a light pink color on his forehead and was disappointed to hear I was showering. I too was disappointed that I had missed my chance to play but my disappointment didn’t last long!

Not too long after I had gotten dressed there was a knock on the door. Vijay went to answer it only to return and tell me, ‘You are in trouble.” When I went out to the living room there stood six very colorful women … all holding bags of different colored powder.

At my arrival one of them stepped forward and smeared color, green I believe, on my forehead and into my hair. This started the onslaught as one after another stepped forward to color my cheeks, nose, hair, forehead, neck, chest and even my back with orange, yellow, green, hot pink, and red.

Initially they were also putting small marks on Vijay’s forehead too until I asked why he was only getting small amounts while I was a mess of color. That was the only encouragement they needed and suddenly he was as pretty as I was!! The laughter never stopped and while most of the ladies don’t speak English and I don’t speak much Hindi it certainly wasn’t needed!! We had an amazing time and I felt like I belonged here for one of the first times in the two years I have lived here. I felt accepted and like I was part of something truly special.

I personally only knew three of the seven women who showed up but it didn’t matter. And it was so cool because so many Indians, especially in my area where they never see foreigners, are intimidated by me. They treat me like I am better somehow even though there is nothing special about me. But on Thursday I was the same as they were, just a woman, asked to play and have fun with other women.

I will never forget how I felt during this interaction.

Eventually Vijay and I are moving back to the states for a while, years maybe, but this day, this experience will forever be with me. And someday we may return to India to live again and now that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Posted in Daily life, Festivals, Hindu relgion, Personal life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Definition of Family in India


The word means something different to all of us doesn’t it?

In India the family is so much more than the basic, nuclear family.  In India, cousins are considered siblings, biological aunts and uncles are like parents and strangers are referred to as auntie and uncle.

And the living situations for most families are a bit more extensive than any American family I know.  As I mentioned in the marriage blogs, (which you can read here and here) the bride now belongs to the groom’s family.  She hasn’t been disinherited or anything, but she will live, more often than not, with his family.  Even in modern India, most newlyweds live with the guy’s family.

Two people we know right now live in large joint family households.  The first is our landlord Anoop.  He lives with his wife and kids; his parents and two of his brothers and their families.  There are six kids total in this extended situation.  They have a large home and he was telling me that each family had three separate, private rooms to themselves.  This includes a kitchen so each family can make their own meals if they desire alone-time.  Because of the current living arrangement, they rented out this home to us.  They had bought this house thinking they could move out on their own, but his parents were not ready to let them leave with his young daughter (the only granddaughter) as they would miss her too much.

The other person we know in a larger mixed-family household is younger and unmarried.  His family lives with his dad’s brothers and all the children of each family.  To him
the cousins are brothers and sisters; there is no distinction or difference between his biological siblings and his cousins.  He has told me that when he does marry, he
will bring her into this home, this living situation.  I’m not sure how they will manage things once the cousins start to marry off, as there are quite a few, but I don’t think any
of them are ready to move out to their own homes.  Should get to be an interesting situation; one that requires a new and bigger house!

A close friend of ours has a completely different scenario playing out in his family .  He is now an only child due to a tragic accident that took his brother a few years ago.  He has since gotten married and had a baby who is now 18 months.  He and his family still live with his parents and his younger sister.  However, not only do they live with his parents, but the parents, particularly the father, control when he takes his little family out, where he can go and what hours they can spend alone in their own room.  He has a job, albeit at his dads company, but he is an adult, a husband and a father, yet he can’t spend quiet time with his wife and child without his dad’s permission.  And the thing is it will more than likely be this way for the rest of their lives.

Another friend of ours is the only boy out of three sisters. The two older girls are married and it is just him and his younger sister at home.  The younger sister will probably get married first since girls get married younger, and then it will be his turn.  He will more than likely, live with his parents after his wedding.  He is the only boy and it is his
responsibility to take care for his parents.  That is his job, the expectation of the family that he is always around to care for them as they get older.

This will be roughly the same story for Raj, my brother-in-law.  Their oldest brother is gone, and my husband having married me will probably never live at home so it is Raj’s
responsibility to live there and take care of the parents.

Personally I wouldn’t mind living with his family, but their home is currently not accessible for me.  There are plans in the works to expand and change the home to
accommodate me, and eventually Raj’s family as well, but that is in the future.  Besides all that, there is a large probability that my husband and I will be in the states for large chunks of time.  Therefore Raj is responsible for mummy and papa.  Although actually, I
don’t think he would have it any other way.  He is a pretty traditional guy so I don’t see an international wedding in his future!

As for grandparents, they tend to end up living with the family as well once they get older.  My husband’s grandfather lived with his family up until his death last March.  He and his wife, grandmother of my husband, moved in with my in-laws after my husband’s oldest brother died.  They were particularly close to him and his death at the age of 23 shattered them.  They gave up their lives and home in the village town and stayed to be closer to everyone.

What is your idea of family?  Do you consider cousins as siblings or just those folks you see once a year at the holidays?  Would you live with your parents or in-laws?

Posted in Daily life, Personal life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Important is Hot Water in Winter??

In the last blog I talked about our winters here in India and how the cold spell is blessedly short but brutal in the unrelenting way it hits us.  The lack of insulation and heating apparatuses in the majority of homes makes this time of year a bit miserable.

However there is one more thing that makes our winters a bit rough.  The vast majority of homes in India do not have hot water.  Yes, you heard me right; no hot water heaters, no hot water.

It truly makes sense from a practical standpoint.  For the most part hot water is only used to bathe and usually our temps are at a point where the LAST thing you want is to take a hot shower.  In fact in the hotter months, or more accurately the other ten months out of the year, we tend to throw water bottles in the freezer an hour before we take showers to cool the water down.

See in India our water comes from the main supply (think large water tower).  This water, when switched on pumps into a large tank in the ground in the driveway of our building.  From there each individual apartment has a water motor that when turned on pumps water from the ground tank to our private tanks on the roof.  So the water is the same temperature as the air outside … which means freaking cold when you are trying to take a shower!!

So from October/November until March we all take bucket showers which are exactly what it sounds like.  You fill a bucket with regular water and then boil a large pot of water to add to it.  This brings the temp to a more tolerable level.  This will warm you up for a few minutes but the air in the house is so chilly that they counteract each other.

Last November was my first time experiencing all of this.  I didn’t know what kind of temperatures we were headed for and what not having heat in the house was going to be like.  So each morning I would endure one of the most painful experiences I could imagine, a bone-numbing,  ice-cold shower.  And each day I would ask my husband if this was as bad as it got.  It couldn’t possibly get worse could it??  Finally he asked me about adding boiled water to my bucket to heat things up, make it more tolerable.  Now to be honest, I  think I am a bit of a smart girl (don’t we all think this … usually right before we learn something valuable that only reinforces just how NOT smart we are).  I felt like such an idiot.  Really Nicole, this thought never occurred to you on your own??

So from that day until the weather improved in March, I boiled water for my showers.  This year having the foresight of what had happened last fall, and knowing where the temperatures were headed, I started using boiled water as soon as it got cold in late October.  It wasn’t worth it to be uncomfortable and by golly I wasn’t trying to prove myself to anyone!  Heck, everyone I know already had a pretty good clue that I am no iron woman!!

While I am talking about our lack of hot water, I need to pass along this story.  Last year my mom was visiting in February, and she was very proud of herself for experiencing India at its most basic.  She had adjusted to the wild cows, monkeys and pigs roaming free.  She was getting used to the people following us when we were out and the way people reacted to her.   She was also brave enough to try every Indian dish, no matter how spicy, that we made for her and she was adjusting to Indian bathrooms (no toilet paper) and taking bucket showers.

Then one morning after only I had gotten my shower (could I have planned that any better??), the gas cylinder that heats the stove ran empty.  Without the gas there was no way to heat water for showers for her and my husband.  They both decided they are tough and could handle a shower straight from the tap.

Now mind you, this water was about 55*.  She went into the bathroom; we heard the water turn on and then this bloodcurdling WAHOO!  She was frozen when she was done but she did it!  I think she wore several layers of clothes for a while to warm up after, but she was pretty darn proud of herself!!

These days we are very protective of our gas supply and cautious about running dry.  We never let it get close to empty for fear (ok outright terror on my part!) of having to take a cold shower!!  In fact I was getting nervous this past weekend that it was getting close so my husband and brother-in-law brought a new cylinder to our home from their parent’s house.  The very next day mummy called to tell us they had used our cylinder, just to finish it up, and it ran empty within one use.  Ooh, that was too close for me!!

India has taught me some very important lessons about what I NEED versus what I WANT.  I have learned more about me and my priorities in the last two years, and I think I am a stronger person for it.

And yes, hot water is something I am putting in the NEED column ;).

Posted in Daily life, Weather | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Sense of Smell, My Grandfather and Life

This blog is going to be a bit different from my others as it has nothing to do with my life in India. So please bear with me or go ahead and skip it all together if you would like. I promise it won’t offend me. This is just something that I had to get out as it has been heavy in my mind and my heart this past week.

I have been fighting off a cold/flu that culminated into a nasty sinus infection. I’m sure you all know what I am talking about; that pain and pressure in the head, the feeling that someone has poured cement in your sinuses as nothing is moving in or out and the inability to smell and taste.

Now these are two things most of us take for granted. And I have had colds that have resulted in a day or two of not being able to taste but this time it was five days. Five long days. And it made me think of my grandfather, my dad’s dad, Gerald Running.

My grandfather had throat cancer in the 80’s. The treatment at that time, chemical radiation, destroyed his windpipe making it impossible to be salvaged. The result was a tracheotomy that he would breathe through for the rest of his life. The hole in his neck rendered his mouth and nose useless for breathing, smelling and ultimately tasting.

Now this is something I have always known in my mind, but I have never really understood it emotionally. He handled it very well, teasing us grandkids at our birthdays that he was going to blow out our candles and then laughing in his way, no sound (he lost his voice box and vocal cord to the cancer as well) but lots of happy smiles.

But the loss he must have experienced would have been phenomenal. The ability to smell rain, food, clean laundry, heck the list of things is endless, and the emotion tied to all of it is monumental.

The five days I couldn’t smell or taste was horrible. Everything was bland. I had no desire for food and quit eating altogether the last two days. I couldn’t tell my husband what we should have for dinner; honestly it all felt the same in my mouth I didn’t care what it was. He even tried to bribe me to eat with the promise of pizza, one of the few things in India that taste like home and even that held no desire for me.

And when you think about experiences in your life, don’t you associate it with smells? I remember the smell of my grandmother’s house, the way my nieces smelled when I held their tiny bodies’ for the first time, the smell of my husband’s skin when he holds me and the smell of any of the Indian dishes he cooks. I can easily tell the difference between rain back home and rain here in India. Or have you ever buried your nose in your pet’s fur?

How about the smell of sun? You know that smell that accompanies you home after a beautiful day out in the sunshine that clings to your clothes, skin and hair? Or to children that have played outside all day. Or the smell of your home in the springtime after having the windows open for the first time after winter has faded.

What about the emotion tied in to perfumes or colognes? I know what my dad smelled like when he was getting ready to go out to dinner with my mom. And my Grandpa Hagens’ favorite cologne, Brut. It will always be his smell. Or my mom’s subtle but distinct perfume.

A dear friend of mine lost her boyfriend suddenly and for years after she would smell his cologne in odd places and it would instantly send her back to a different time. All these things have ties that stay with us for our lifetimes, and when they are missing, a part of us is missing.

I don’t know how my grandfather adapted to his loss back then. He lived without scents for almost 20 years. But I wonder if it was ever really gone? I wonder if he occasionally got a whiff of something that brought him back to a different place. Or if that loss just made other things stronger.

Either way, I am grateful to have what I do. Sometimes it is good to lose something for a little while. It makes you appreciate it a whole lot more when you get it back.

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Winter in INDIA … Why am I freezing?!

Aah, winter in India. No snow or frost, only sunshine. So why the heck am I freezing??

For Indian residents the temperatures start to go down in October when they descend below 90* for the first time since February. The air conditioners are run a bit less with the ceiling fans doing most of the work.

By November we are down in the 80’s during the day and 60* or so at night. At this point the ceiling fans are turned from “4”, the highest speed on the dial, down to 2 or 3.

By December it is still in the 60’s-70’s but the nights are getting down to the upper 30’s low 40’s. Still not bad but getting more uncomfortable.

By January it is downright cold. The daytime temps are in the 50’s with nighttime dropping into the mid to lower 30’s. And the icing on the cake is that it is also cloudy and overcast so the warm sun rays are not getting to us during the day.

Now I know by home standards this is not cold. I was raised in Wisconsin and lived there for the majority of my life with the exception of the ten years I spent in Indiana before moving to India. Not exactly warm weather states, so believe me when I say I know cold weather. I have heard weather reports that include warnings like “uncovered skin can freeze in a matter of minutes” and I know what that means! I am not usually a wimp, but being here in this climate is worse than a Wisconsin winter for me!!

See the problem with India’s cold weather is that you have no escape from it. Our homes here are not very well insulated and we don’t have furnaces or heaters. There is no central heating, or cooling for that matter, systems in India. When it is 50* outside, it is that temperature in the house too.

Back home it is much colder outside, but you don’t actually spend much time in it. You go from a heated house to a heated car, to a heated office, school or store. In India most offices, schools and stores are not heated. It is an unrelenting cold, unavoidable and inescapable.

The first winter after I met my husband we were chatting online while I was at my parent’s house in Wisconsin for Christmas.  He was dressed in a hat, gloves, jacket and had a sheet wrapped around him.  I didn’t understand the way the homes were here in India, that the inside temp was the same as the outside temp.  My brother walked in, took one look at Vijay and asked what the temperature was.  I think Vijay said it was around 50*.  My brother and I both looked at each other and I could see he was thinking, “man this guy is a wuss!”  However, we ALL understand it now!!

Our cold snap, the unbearable, unending cold is only about four to six weeks long. We all wear many layers in the house, and hide under the quilts and blankets if you can. Girls at school are allowed to wear pants with their uniforms instead of the required skirts.

I talked to my father-in-law on Christmas about his office. He works at a printing press and he said that while they don’t have actual heaters, they do have some warm air blowers to dry the print. Thank God for small things! Most small, private businesses cannot afford the luxury of energy sucking heaters. However, this past week my husband went to the post office to pick up a package. He said that there were very large heaters there; however the Indian government was picking up that energy tab!! In that case, bring on the heaters!!

This cold spell is simply a part of living in India that everyone adjusts to. By the first of February the temperatures outside are back into the 70’s to 80’s and the sun is out consistently. By the end of March we are experiencing our first 100* days of the year. So this cold snap is relatively short, but it is brutal.

I must say, in my personal opinion Indians are some of the most adaptable and strong individuals on this planet. The extremes that they deal with would break many folks … like a slightly wimpy girl from Wisconsin!

The sad thing is, this weather does break some people over here. The young, old and the poor do not have what it takes at times to deal with the temps. We have had a rash of cold related deaths and it is heartbreaking to read about. The people who live quite literally on the streets, inches away from vehicles that create a constant breeze. Infants too young to cover themselves. And people who think a drink or two will warm them up instead find it lowers the body temps and makes them more susceptible to hypothermia and death.

India is a country of conundrums, contradictions and chaos. And I have to say, you either love it or hate it. Not too much middle ground, from economics to weather, and everything in between, there are only extremes here.

Posted in Current News, Daily life, Weather | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

AMRI Hospital Fire: How does this happen?

“Every time I see incidents like AMRI I’m convinced we really are a 3rd world  nation with delusions of greatness”

~Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir

India is a country of dreamers and optimists.  They believe that things can change, things can be better.  That politics and greed will one day not be the force that drives everyone.  And then something happens to only further demonstrate the position that this country is in.  To show everyone that people don’t matter, money does.

This was the case once again this past Friday, December 9th as a fire ripped through the “state of the art” Advanced Medical Research Institute (AMRI) hospital in Kolkata on the eastern side of the country.  At the end of the day, 94 people were dead and people were once again asking how could the conditions that led to this fire be tolerated?

To begin, this hospital was modern, featuring radiation therapy in its cancer center, deluxe suits for wealthy patients and one of the best surgical trauma units in eastern India.  However none of this matters when so many other things fail, are ignored or patients are simply left to fend for themselves when disaster strikes.

In August it was discovered by fire inspectors that the hospital was using its basement as a storage area for diesel, motor oil and wooden furniture.  Instead of being shut down, they were given three months to get rid of these items.  That deadline came and went the end of November without a return visit inspection.

Once the fire started, shockingly enough in the basement, further mistakes compounded the loss of life.  The smoke detectors in the basement had been turned off by the smokers in the building.  There was also a lack of further firefighting devices, i.e. sprinkler systems or fire extinguishers anywhere in the building.

When the fire was finally noticed, the doctors and health care professionals fled the building leaving the 160 mostly bed-ridden patients alone.  The ones who did stay behind believed it was a small fire and neglected to call the fire department for a few hours.

Once the fire department was called, it took a couple more hours to get to the hospital.  Once they arrived, woefully unprepared with only ladders and ropes, they didn’t know what to do.  Patients were seen being lowered out windows by pulley systems.

In the meantime, after seeing the black smoke billowing out of the hospital people from the nearby slum showed up wanting to help.  They were turned away at the doors by security guards who told them there was only a small kitchen fire and nothing to worry about.

The design of the building contributed to the demise of most of the patients.  The exterior was made of thick glass, which proved to be impenetrable by the firemen.  The windows didn’t open and the air-tight hospital became a chimney for the thick, black smoke pouring out of the basement.  No vents were available and by the time the firemen were able to break a window in the upper floors, smoke had been pouring out of the basement for over four hours.

All of the patients, and the few health care workers, mainly nurses, that stayed behind to help were suffocated to death.  No one was burned by the fire.

Now all the agencies involved are pledging change.  Making promise after promise that this will never happen again.  The problem with these words is that they are the exact same empty sentiments uttered a year ago when a similar tragedy occurred at a court building in town resulting in the death of 43 people.

The six top officials from the hospital were called in front of the courts over the weekend.  In India, if I understand this correctly, you must appear if ordered and then an advocate or lawyer will step up and help you get bailed out.  When these officials went to court no one would advocate for them.  Because of this the judge ordered them remanded to custody for ten days.

Will anything come out of this tragedy?  I can honestly say I highly doubt it.  In my time here I have seen tragedy after tragedy unfold only to hear the politicians pledge change and then ignore it when the next tragedy hits.  Every accident gets an immediate response, and a monetary amount is assigned to the victim’s families but it never gets dispensed.  It doesn’t matter what it is; terrorist attack, train accident, trampling at a temple, or a raging inferno, no one gets anything that is promised.

I don’t want to sound like an arrogant foreigner when I say this, but this country has some issues that are never going to go away.  The United States have issues, lord knows there are some problems in that country but we don’t handle them this way.  Nor can I safely say do we put up with these kinds of cases.  We have accidents and things change.  Again, maybe I do sound naïve or worse, holier than thou, but the US would not allow these kinds of things to happen.  Careless mistakes or items overlooked for a bribe.

That is unconscionable, but it will be replaced by a new tragedy next week.  Sadly, that is life in India.

For more information you can read here or here.


Polgreen, Lydia and Kumar, Hari.  (December 11, 2011).  Indians stunned at 94 die in hospital fire.  From http://www.smh.com.au/world/indians-stunned-as-94-die-in-hospital-fire-20111210-1oosf.html.

Romina, Datta.  (December 12, 2011).  AMRI fire: Yet another wake up call for govt.  From http://www.livemint.com/2011/12/12003600/Amri-fire-yet-another-wake-up.html?h=B

Posted in Current News, Daily life | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments