Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Its me again. Yea that is the other half Greg. We got a half day off today because of the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi. The entire town is abuzz with the the biggest day of Ganesh Immersion. Today is the day that they emerge the big ones. There is a big party and parrade that follows each Ganesh to the ocean. Last week I took part of one of the processions. It is a large drum line followed by a generator truck followed by a party truck filled with huge speakers, followed by a big dance party, followed by the large truck carrying Ganesh. It is a big party, and they love to see a gora (light skinned person) dance. A hord of youths came up to me to beg me to dance. It was ton of fun, and me and my friend Washuma danced and got to take part of the drum line. I guess Ganesh is a fun loving god so they honor him by having as much fun as they know how.

I have been riding my bike a bit too. In fact when I was at the dance party I had one of the kids watch my bike while I danced. I think riding a bike in India is like most things in India. It seems impossible and looks crazy, but it actually works just fine. It is a bit harrowing at times, but if you just get in the flow of triffic, everybody respects your spot and nobody is looking to hurt anybody. I actually feel more comfortable biking here than in the city in the U.S. Nobody is angry our shouting for me to get off the road. Actually the opposite is true. Again being a gora on a bike is a huge novelty. They love it and everybody is waiving and laughing as I go by. Judging by the attention I am getting you would think I am on a unicycle juggling fire. It is also very fast, and I think I get around (and lost) way quicker than I could even on a rickshaw. I will have some pictures coming of me and my bike.

School is going well. I am still really enjoying the school and my cohorts. The kids are getting into the full swing of things, and I am finding that all kids of kids from all kinds of cultures share many of the same problems, struggles, and accomplishments. I am settling into things, and I am still staying very busy. I am part of a math department that gets an amazing amount of stuff done during department meeting. I think we more or less redesigned our entire middle and high school curriculum in a matter of a few days. I am still amazed that it happened so smoothly. I shapporoned my first dance, and even though the size was pretty small, they did a smash up job and the kids seemed to have a lot of fun. Not too different from the U.S., minus some of the "bumping and grinding"

Thinks are going well, and I am still adjusting, but I am happy, and glad that we made the move. I am still running a lot most mornings, and I have a good group of runners to push me. The food is good, and having so much of it prepared for me makes it taste even better. Twyla is starting to get busier, and I think soon, her only problem will be deciding what direction to go. We just celebrated being together for 7 years, and I could not imagine being here without her. In fact, I probably would not have had the guts to do this without her

I miss everybody, and I wish you all could visit soon, so that I can share all of these experiences with you.

With love from

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chor Bazaar

Mumbai has numerous bazaars and markets all over the city in which you can get just about anything your heart desires and then some. Chor Bazaar or "thieves" bazaar, is located in central Mumbai and is known for its antique furniture and curios. Walking around, it also has auto parts, with men disassembling cars and rickshaws right before your eyes, and shop afters shop of tools. There were a few shops that sold the horns for motorbikes, very important for navigating the streets of India. I went with a group of other teachers from ASB Sunday morning. I first poked my head into a shop selling statues of Hindu gods and Buddha made of many different metals and stone, as well as many other artifacts. It was a thin shop, barely wide enough for two people to pass each other. Everything was dusty. I wondered to myself how these artifacts made it into this store...looted from sites around the country? The man in the shop showed me some things, but it wasn't until he showed me an old spice box that he had my attention. These boxes varied in sizes, were wooden, had different carvings, and their lids slid off to the side, attached by a wooden nail. The inside of the boxes had varying sizes of compartments that were, at one time, filled with different spices or powder. I asked if he had any smaller ones and he said he did at another store. I followed him, winding through the bazaar, not able to keep up because I kept peering into other shops. We ended up at a store that had it's metal door halfway rolled up. He pushed it up and maneuvered some wooden boxes out of our way. The room had larger statues along with carved doors, windows and headboards. There was a beautifully painted shutter with Ganesh that I eyed. He showed me some other spice boxes and had a helper wash them, revealing some intense colors. He had another person take me to another show to look at more pieces, again winding around the bazaar. In the end, I walked away, not ready to buy anything or wanting it enough to really bargain for it. I wandered back to where I started and went into some furniture shops that had some great lanterns, candle holders, and spectacularly painted cupboards (which two other friends bought and did a great job with bargaining). We were only there for about an hour and a half, not enough time to thoroughly explore, but it whetted my pallet for another trip down and with Greg, who did not go because he had work to get done. As we headed back to the vans we came on, Reid and Rachel's buffet they purchased was hoisted onto an older man's head and he followed us through the bazaar. We all felt bad since he was half our height and probably in his late 60s. But, his neck is probably far stronger than any of ours. The pictures are of the area. Luckily, it was not crowded on a Sunday, which made for an even more pleasant experience.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ganesh Immersion

The end of Ganesh Chaturthi is the immersion of Ganesh into the ocean. This can happen at 1 and a half days, five days, seven days, and 11 days after Ganesh has been brought to his altar. On Wednesday, day five, I went to an ASB staff's, Sanjana, family home to be apart of their immersion. When I arrived, they were already beginning the mantras and offerings to Ganesh. A hold man was present, who helped the family with the rituals. There were three other ASB staff their along with me. We first watched with grandparents from the couch, while the family chanted together. Then we were invited to each circle a metal tray containing burning incense in front of Ganesh. We clapped and sang some with the family as well. Towards the end, we offered marigolds to the statue and then each brought the incense smoke over our heads in a manner of purification. Then, each family member sat in front of the holy man, who tied a long piece of string around their wrists for good luck. Since this was only for those who are vegetarian and don't consume alcohol, none of the four of us were able to do this. Instead, we offered small rupee bills and were given a piece of fruit for good luck.

Ganesh was then brought down to the floor from his alter. The kids were invited to dance and sing around Ganesh and the adults all joined in. Before he was escorted downstairs and into a car, all of us whispered a wish into his ear for the coming year.

The children were a big part of the ceremony, learning, and having fun. Sanjana's nephew was a character. During the chanting, he came out of his room with a hat too small for him and some dark sunglasses, and pranced around. He is three years old. He enjoyed dancing and whispering into Ganesh's ear as well.

After the ceremony, Ganesh was loaded in the back of a car and we caravaned to Juhu beach, about a 20 minute drive. We passed other processions that were quite elaborate. Some had Ganesh on one decorated cart, with speakers in a truck, and then generator in another truck, while many people danced and chanted along. There was also a lot of drumming and many carts had a drum set on top with a boy playing away. When we arrived at the beach, we followed the statue down to the sand, the family found a spot, and we settled in for more mantras. Once Ganesha was honored, the men picked up the statue, and waded into the ocean. Us women, waited and watched as the Ganesh disappeared into the darkness. We were standing up to mid-calf in the ocean and various bits kept washing past. I tried not to think about what could be in the water. Eric, one of the ASB teachers, helping with carrying Ganesh out. He reported after at chest high, he started stepping on other immersed Ganesh statues and fell coming back in to shore. He was pretty psyched about being a part of this.

Once the men brought Ganesh's stand back, some of the sand was placed on the stand to keep for the year and we walked back to the cars, drove back to Sanjana's, where they graciously fed us some delicious Indian fare. What an amazing night!

I was bummed Greg decided not to join, so I convinced him we needed to go to Juhu beach on Friday, the seventh night, to watch other immersions. We went with three other friends after eating at Elco, one of our favorite restaurants. We grabbed two rickshaws and had a backup plan in case the traffic was too bad. Surprisingly, it was much less crowded and we reached the beach in no time. We started at the spot I had been on Wednesday and walked up the beach to the various clumps of people surrounding their Ganesh statues. Many families gave us sweets as they finished their ceremonies, to the point that I started to walk away as they finished because I could not put another sweet in my mouth. People were very excited about our cameras, especially children. They kept asking to have their picture taken and then enjoyed looking at themselves. At the main Juhu beach entrance, looking at the parking lot, truck after truck kept rolling in and people kept filing down, singing and dancing to the beach. At one point, there was a Ganesh carnage from Wednesday's immersion. Ganesh bits washed up on the beach, some almost whole. It was a bit eerie. A huge clean up happens after the final immersion next week since it's all so toxic. Check out for more pictures and a couple of videos.

"Ganpati Bapa! Moriya!"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bandra Fair

Our neighborhood is in a flurry of activity each night because of both Ganesh Chaturthi and the Bandra Fair, celebrating Mary in the Catholic Church, happening. Last night I took part in an immersion of a Ganesh statue with one of the ASB employees and her family. (That will be another post). This evening, after giving an offering to the neighborhood Ganesh statue, Greg and I met our friend, Wacumia (an ASB elementary school employee), and walked around the Bandra fair. Wacumia's flat is 1/2 a block from it. Think county fairs. There were some rides tucked around, the streets were lined with food stalls and trinket/clothes stalls. Hawkers were wandering around selling wonderful, gaudy toys. One was a birthday whistle that unwinds, only it shoots five feet up instead of like the US ones, which go out and only about a foot. It was crowded! We just wound our way through. I was fascinated by the rides because they were very rickety. I don't think safety standards would allow them in the US.
We reached long stairs that were lined with sweet stalls, music and book stalls, Catholic "trinkets" of much variety, and jewelry/clothes. At the top is St. Mary's Church, which was decorated for the occasion. The church's walls were adorned with wood carved pictures, depicting parts of Jesus's life in which Mary was present. We noted that Jesus and all other persons were brown, though everything for sale depicted a white Jesus. On the top of the hill, across the street from the door is a shrine to Mary. Many people went to both places (church and shrine) to give offerings of flowers, candles and wax body parts. The latter were available in stalls lining the street going down the hill. These parts, we gathered, were for people to either ask for help in healing or to give thanks for prior healing. We bought a few for several friends who are dealing with injured body parts. Wacumia thought that they were made of plastic becuase they were hollow and did look like plastic. So, he put a leg in his pocket and it broke. We were laughing pretty hard at this scene and wondered what that meant for our friend's ankle. He bought another and will be giving her both. As we decended, several people were worried that we were carrying the body parts away from the offending sites. We assured them we were not going the wrong way and they were for friends who would be back later, if they so choose.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ganesh Chaturthi

The much awaited festival of Ganesh has arrived! Ganesh Chaturthi is an eleven day celebration of the elephant-headed, Hindu god, Ganesh. He is one of India's most famous and loved gods as he removes obstacles and brings prosperity. This past month, sculptors and painters have been busy making thousands of Ganesh statues in all sizes out of plaster of paris. They range from half a foot to over 25 feet tall. Starting on Friday night, families and neighborhoods went to collect their statues to place them in alters all over the city. It is with great celebration and fanfare that Ganesh is brought to his resting spot. A family arrives to pick up their Ganesh statue and a ritual involving offerings, mantras, incense and then covering Ganesh's statue is performed before it leaves the building. The transport happens in a variety of ways. We saw Ganesh being paraded by foot, in a rickshaw, on carts, and in trucks. Many are accompanied with a drum band. The result is several days filled with drumming and cheering throughout the streets. It makes for a very festive atmosphere. The Ganesh statues are every color under the sun and are accessorized with fabrics and rhinestones, everyone trying to out do each other.

I went on a tour of Ganesh statues this weekend in South Mumbai, where the bigger statues are located. In a very small area, we saw about 20 different statues, all very unique. This area of Mumbai is part of a contest to see how high and extravagant they can make their Ganeshes. Of course my camera battery died half way through, but luckily my favorite was the second one we saw. The entrance was impressive in itself with shiny, mosaic peacocks keeping watch. (Ganesh'a brother, Kartikeya, has a peacock as his vehicle, or animal that gets him around. Ganesh's is a mouse, which was present in every statue). Walking through the entrance, you go down a corridor decorated with light strings and a fabric ceiling to a second entrance that made me feel like I was walking into the moon. Going up some stairs, puts you above the statue, which is surrounded by pillars with large lotus flowers on top. The colors are silver, blue, purple, and pink. You walk down to the statue, which is sparkley with rhinestones and the mouse is a silver statue looking up at Ganesh. It was marvelous! Like Indian Disneyland. So gaudy and ridiculous that it's wonderful. Most of the statues had scenes around them from the Ramayana (one of the Hindu, epic stories), or cardboard cutouts of movie stars, or other Hindu gods.

Ganesh Chaturthi will go on for up to eleven days, when Ganesh is immersed in the ocean and left to be purified (disintegrating in the ocean water). Family statues will be immersed at 1 and a half days, three days, five days, seven days, and eleven days. It just depends on what a family decides since offerings must happen daily and someone must be with Ganesh 24 hours a day because he is an honored guest. This takes up a lot of time and money, so some families opt for the shorter celebrations. The neighborhood statues are mostly immersed at eleven days. Traditionally, Ganesha was made out of clay, so putting him in the ocean really had no effect. With the current, toxic materials that are used, I've read that dead fish come rolling up on shore for a while afterward with the pollution. Supposedly "they" are going to address this issue, but I don't know who "they" is or when that will happen. Ahhhh, western influence! I've come to the conclusion that I won't be eating much fish in India. Ganesha statues, oil spill, monsoon, and a reported seven-mile dead zone along the coast don't make it too appetizing. I might be a full on veg here.

(The pictures are of my favorite Ganesh. Go to ( to see more photographs! I'll be adding more as the week unfolds).

Shipment arrives!

Friday, after four and a half months since I waved good bye to our bins, they arrived at our flat. I was a bit worried about the state they would arrive in since other people had mildew and water damage. But, everything was fine. Just a little stale smell that throwing everything in the laundry would take care of and one of our bins was cracked. Luckily, we really didn't have much that could be broken. Now that we've been here for over six weeks, I think we did a pretty good job with what we packed. Not too much in excess. It's been nice to drink tea out of my favorite mugs and have little comforts of home.

Monday, September 6, 2010

For all you single ladies, a message from India


I'm in love...the skywalk. Greg and I have been curious about the concrete structures above our heads, made for pedestrians to be out of traffic. When we got of the train, we decided to explore the skywalk. It was cool and breezy, no crowds, and offered an amazing view of the hustle and bustle below. My goal is to spend an afternoon strolling around to see where the various tentacles of the skyway go and enjoy the freedom of seeing the area without having to be conscious of traffic.

Sightseeing at the Port of Mumbai

I am finally ready to blog again. I've had a few days of feeling blah, which started on Saturday's trip to the port. A week and a half ago, Greg received an email stating that the port needed proof that Greg has not been in the country the last three years so that we could get our shipment under the category of "Moving residences." The ONLY way to prove this is with a passport. I was so proud of myself for getting us organized enough to renew our passports before we left, so our passports are new as of April. This means Greg needed his old passport...mmmm, right. Our old passports are in our 5x7 storage unit in Lakewood, CO.

This week, we were told Greg's presence was requested at the port to explain about the old passports. On Saturday, our shipping company sent Amit to pick us up and take us to the port. I actually didn't need to go, but who could pass up an opportunity to see the port of Mumbai?! We were told it would take about 30 minutes, but 3 and a half hours later, we finally left. We first had to get our passes. So we went into an entry area and signed our names. A guy at the port that was assigned to help us through the whole process, waited in line for us and then we both had our pictures taken. There were people in line that seemed pissed, not sure if our guy moved ahead or what happened. We hopped back into the car and drove to the yellow gate. The port guy handed our passes and his badge to the guard, who noticed our passes were incorrectly labeled "Indian Nationals." They bantered back and forth, but we were finally allowed in. The guard had wanted us to go back to have the passes changed.

The port was pretty empty since it was Saturday. It's an old port, so instead of the fancy, speedy cranes we have in the US, they had a bunch of older, smaller cranes to unload shipments. We ended up at a warehouse, walked through the area where shipments were held (I craned my neck around, hoping to glimpse some of our purple Rubbermaid bins but no luck) and climbed up stairs to an open room. It was dark with some fluorescent lights. I can't imagine having to spend whole days there working. In the center of this dingy place, were some couches and chairs where we waited. We first went into one office and the guy said to Greg, "So tell me you story." Greg explained what had already been explained. The guy said, "well, I believe you, but I can't do anything different." He showed us the rule book where it states the rule about needing to prove you haven't been in the country for the last three years. I could feel my blood boiling so I took some deep breaths. (Nothing is connected to anything else, such as the consulate office who gave us our Visas and the port. I don't think I even saw a computer at the port). Greg asked what happens to people who just got passports for the first time. This would not be a problem then. (I looked in my passport and, had we known, we could have stated this was Greg's first passport because nothing says otherwise on the passports). I said, "what about if we didn't get our passports back," since usually the US just keeps them unless requested. I realized I was pretty forceful with the statement so decided I should just keep my mouth shut less I freak out and make things worse. After this conversation, we sat back in the waiting area.

Other people were called from the shipping company and it was requested that we talk with the Commissioner. 30-40 minutes later we were in the commissioner's office, going over the same thing, only we told him that the US kept our old passport. He asked where our copies were. "Didn't you get copies of your old passport?" (India and it's paperwork. The country has a shortage of carbon paper because it's not being made anymore. India loves carbon copies. Come on, let's get on with the program, India). I really had to fight just laughing at how ridiculous this statement was. Our choice now was, paying tariffs at the more expensive rate of "visitors" or go in front of a magistrate to swear Greg had not been in the country the last three years. Who knows how long the latter would take. We asked to step outside and discuss the matter. Greg called our school contact, who laid into the shipment guy over the phone. In the end, we were advised to just pay the higher tariffs. I do want to make clear here that this was not a bribe, we just couldn't get our shipment cleared through the cheaper category. So, really, we wasted the morning to be told nothing could be changed, when that could have be relayed via email. We did get to see our shipping container, which was the smallest in the warehouse and made Amit chuckle because we don't really have anything. Two other co-workers of Greg's have since been told the same thing, they need their old passports. We just got to be the guinea pigs. By Friday, we will have our shipment...I'm just crossing my fingers that it's not all moldy and smelly. We were both tired after this and I was hungry. The upside, is we no longer have to be curious about the port (I can't see why it's not mentioned in the Lonely Planet) and while downtown, we found a market area that had many bicycle shops. I think we've found our bikes and the guy we are ordering from. Both of our bikes will have lovely baskets and rear racks and mine will be a wonderful, bright shade of purple. Greg's will be boring black. Hopefully we'll get those in the next week or so. The best thing is...each is under $100.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dahi Handi Part I

Yesterday I was trying to plow through to the end of "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver, which is a wonderful book and the subject of my book club later in the evening, when a loud, thunderous cheer arose. Ahhh! I need to get out there! Yesterday was Dahi Handi, a celebration of Lord Krishna, one of Hindus most revered gods. Lord Krishna, as a young babe, stole a clay bowl full of honey, one of his favorite things, so the celebration involves human pyramids trying to reach a clay pot (handi) high above filled with yogurt (dahi) and other liquids. The goal is to be able to crack open the pot, spilling the innards all over the team as they celebrate happily since they have one a cash prize and are to have a year full of good luck. There are clay pots strung EVERYWHERE! In Bandra alone I couldn't believe how many there were. Mumbai is one of the four cities in India that goes crazy over this festival.

I grabbed my camera and headed down to Hill Rd, where I had seen some of the pots earlier in the day and thought that must be where the cheering came from. There were huge, thumping speakers blaring, but traffic was still flowing and no teams were seen getting ready. I later realized that the cheer probably came from a truck load of competitors rolling down another street, heading to thier next destination. I took a couple before pictures and later on, while I was at my book club, Greg took during pictures and video of the party happening once darkness fell. (I'll let him post about that experience. It is funny to watch him dance among a large crowd of Indians).

Once Greg got home, I talked him into walking around before I needed to head over to my book club. We were trying to meet up with some other friends, when we heard music and cheering. Ahead of us a crowd formed. "Yes! Let's go!" I squealed gleefully. When we got there, it was a team of girls. I had read this was men only, so I was even more excited. The girls gracefully and carefully climbed on top of each other, the last one, with a bike helmet, reaching for the pot. She was just short. They quickly clamored down. After a few minutes they tried again and success! They cracked the pot, goo leaking out, and they tumbled down. Just around the corner, we located our friends and there was another pyramid about to begin. This pot was taller than the last one. The guys impressively stacked themselves up, up , up and out poured a red liquid. They were ecstatic and very happy to be having their picture taken. Our friend, Tash, had one of the bigger camera lenses I've seen in awhile and she was surrounded by excited Indian men.

I had to part after that, unfortunately. Here are some of the pictures while I was there and look forward to the rest of the Dahi Handi story from Greg... (I couldn't get this video turned, so it's sideways. You'll have to turn your computer. :) ).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

One International

I participated in my first volunteer position in the community at One International Wednesday morning. This agency was started by a Canadian, who came up with funds for a school in the Khar fishing village. It's located about a 30 minute walk or 5 minute rickshaw ride from my flat. I joined a parent group from ASB, who volunteered here last year. We all met up at the woman's flat who organized it all. A funny story of me trying to find her apartment! She had given me some directions to the area her flat was located, close to my favorite cupcake shop, Butterfly. I got myself there. Then, I looked up and wandered to some taller high rises. I asked the guards where her building was and they pointed to the building next door. I showed the guards at that building the address I had written down, they nodded and pointed to the elevator. I went up to the flat number I had wrote down and rung the bell. There were two doors, the main door and then the helps' door. The latter opened first and then she went around inside and the main door opened. "Ali?"I asked. The woman said, "no," in a heavy French accent. She thought I might be in the wrong wing and was very nice about the intrusion. I went downstairs and tried to find another wing, but couldn't. I called the woman up and she gave me walking directions from Butterfly. I was way off. Ha! Oh, well.

Four of us walked over to One International, which is a school that serves very impoverished children. They don't have a home, at least one that has an address, so they aren't able to get proper papers to get into a school. When we crossed a main road, we entered into a very different neighborhood from Bandra. The streets were narrow and blocked in by buildings on both sides. The people were much poorer, but still vibrantly dressed. We meandered through the maze to a door along an even narrower alleyway, enough for one person or two facing each other. We were told to go around front. The front opened into a dimly lighted room with many happy children clamoring over the two volunteers they already knew. They came up to me, shook my hand, said their name and asked for mine. They were wonderful. The students were finishing up their TV break then we were hearded up with them to the 5th form class. The room was no bigger than a walk-in closet and the floors and walls were a bit dirty, though I was told the rain had settled the dust that is usually milling around in the air. The upstairs was a maze of adjoining rooms of similar size, in which different classes were held. We had about 30 minutes to go over an English lesson. There were three students and four of us, which was nice to give them one on one attention. The three of them, about age 8, knew their alphabet well. So we worked on writing words for each letter and a puzzle to make three letter words. After our time was up, we moved on to 2/3 form class, 5-6 year olds. In this class we sang several songs, learned how to introduce ourselves and ask each others' names, the alphabet, and identifying colors. I worked with a little guy, Mela, who I helped teach how to write his name and worked on the alphabet. We used play dough to talk about colors and spell out our names.

All the children have boxes that double as a chair and storage for their belongings. Their names are painted on the box that belong to them. Many of them were very proud to show the work they have already done in their notebooks.

It was a wonderful experience and I'm excited to do this each Wednesday morning. I'm also eager to look for some of my own materials to bring to help the students. Learning English can help these children move up in the job market as it is a valuable skill and just being in the school helps these kids emotionally and physically. The school provides them with meals, which they might otherwise not receive. The four of us are hoping to move the kids from being able to repeat letters and the alphabet to applying their knowledge to have a grasp of English. We'll see how it goes!