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Angels On and Off the Street

We haven’t seen much of Maya lately.  I’m sure she’s hiding from the 111-plus temperatures assaulting us here in Delhi.  There’s always a bag in the car for her for when we do see her and it’s lovingly packed by Lalawith an outfit, a toy, a book and non-perishables.  Last week we saw Maya take the bag to a group of children who were waiting nearby in the shade of an overpass.   She shared the contents.

You know that we’ve struggled with thinking of ways that we can help Maya. One of the things I wanted to do was learn more about street kids and the lives they live.  I contacted an organization that runs a group home and I toured areas around the Delhi train station which is often the entry point into the city for children who run away from home.  This organization has “contact points”  set-up throughout the city.  These are locations where kids can come for medical attention and help.  This is the first step in reaching out to kids and convincing them to either return to their families, if they have any – or to renounce the “freedom” of the streets and agree to live in a group home.  This isn’t always an easy thing to do because I learned that so many of these kids sniff glue,  a cheap and easily available high.  Sniffing glue dulls pain from injuries and illness as well as curbs hunger.  It’s also highly addictive.

Street kids fall into one of three categories:  runaways escaping poverty, families who beg together, and gangs run by pimps.  Most kids on the streets are boys. Girls usually cut their hair short and try to disguise themselves to avoid being picked-up by police and returned home or being pimped for prostitution.  There’s plenty to run from if you are a particularly spunky girl – many village girls are married off young and/or forced into domestic work by age 10.

The other interesting thing I learned was that street kids love to watch Bollywood and Hollywood movies and that they save their earnings to go to the movies on Friday afternoons – often, en masse to low-rent theatres.  This is the delight of their rugged weeks and they get to dream dreams that deliver on the silver screen.

Here’s a roomful of boys who live in a group home that I visited.  They spend their day in this room having lessons, meditating, eating, napping, learning karate, etc.  As you can see, there are no chairs, no desks, no sofas, no toys, no books, no paper – nada!  It’s a confined but safe life.  (I think…)

Of Maya’s life, I have no answers.  I’m guessing that she begs with her family or a group of families.  There is some organization to the beggars at her street corner and she appears and disappears with regularity.  More as this story unfolds….

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On topic, here’s another facility that I visited with Lala’s class yesterday.  This is a school run by a local NGO (non-government organization) to educate the poorest citizens of Delhi.  These kids live in a nearby slum, often in families with four or five kids all stuffed into one sweltering room, as described to me by a math teacher at the school.  Lala’s 5th grade class came here to meet the kids and to help them practice English.  In this lesson, our children shared books they had written about their daily routine, and in turn, the Indian children made their own books to share.  This is an English medium school, which means that all lessons are taught in English.  See Lala reading to her partners:

I wandered off to peak around the school.  Here’s the kindergarten class.  They had 38 students squeezed into this classroom.  Not all fit into the picture:

Boys far outnumber girls in this school which is a reflection of the abominable status of girls in India.  The director of the school told me that it takes 9000 Rupees, or about 200 dollars to send one child to school for a year.  I cringed when I thought about how I take out 10-thousand Rupees from the ATM to get me through the week.   On the drive back to Lala’s school, we talked about how we might help at least one little girl get an education.  The nice thing about this is that we could meet her and follow her progress.  Again, stay tuned…

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I thought this little scene was interesting.  While poking around the school I noticed two women sitting on the ground in the center courtyard.  I was curious about them, and as I watched quietly from a corner, I saw this little boy give a few coins to one lady and walk off with a piece of what appeared to be toasted bread:

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I’m melting…  It’s been 111 degrees Fahrenheit every day this week and temps may  rise to 113 by saturday.  Open air Tuk-Tuks are the way to travel if you don’t have your own wheels.   Taxis often don’t have AC or only pretend to have AC and you pay extra for that pretending.  Tuk-Tuks wreak havoc on the hair but when it’s this hot, who cares?  Short of Japanese-powered air conditioning, moving air is better than over-paying for nothing and sweating in places you never knew had sweat glands.

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At the end of most days, this is how we survive – we strip and dip.  I love this photo because Lala and I are caught teasing each other… you can see it in our expressions.  I won’t tell you what we were saying, but Lala comes from a long line of shit-talkers on both sides of the family!

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Under the Big Top

It’s been one of those weeks in which I accomplished everything and nothing.  We have a house guest for six days and our time is filled with organizing, accommodating, replenishing, and as will happen when you have three children with little lives of their own, juggling.  We love having guests though, so bring it on dear friends and family…  and join our circus!

In ring one this week we have one of Jim’s colleagues/boss from New York. He came to see incredible India and feast on all that makes this place a riot to write about. India is also a petrie dish of  many growing global interests:  terrorism, pollution, corrupted democracy, population pressures, diversity, religion, disputed borders – the list goes on.   I think it’s fair to say that he will leave for New York with lots to digest.

In ring two, we have the usual to-ing and fro-ing from home to school to after-school activities and my own, active life squeezed in between.  This  fills my days and renders me exhausted by bedtime.  I have also managed to find our cook a full time job with another family which is my passive-aggressive way of firing her.  This means that I have a few more dinners to attend to on my own and I admit to throwing left-overs at our guest on Tuesday night…

And in ring three we have a very public security warning for foreigners to stay away from markets until the end of the month.  This is supposed to steer me  from my usual haunts but it hasn’t.  Three years ago several bombs exploded killing a good handful of people, and following the Pune bombing and crude explosion outside a cricket match last week, security gurus are all buzzing.  I do admit to feeling mildly anxious as I weaved my way through traffic in the middle of one market today –  a blip of panic, then control.  It’s only natural to imagine what could happen but there’s so much of life that never gets lived if you live in fear.   Our guest wants to do a quick shop before he leaves in the morning  – I hope he agrees with my last sentence because there’s this great store in Khan Market….

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i’ve written about it – and now you get to watch it – my Bollywood dance class:

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And the week in photos… this first one is a rally organized by the main opposition party in parliament to protest rising food prices.  Many of the protesters came to Delhi from neighboring provinces.  Rumor has it that the red light district was crawling with visitors this week looking to see if inflation is affecting other markets…

Lala’s new ballet class.  Bamboo barre, stone floor, no mirrors…. but she loves it!

Here’s the state liquor store where I get my wine… notice that it’s open air:

And here’s my selection:

Playing in one of those markets I’m supposed to avoid:


The preponderance of joy:  See the parched earth, feel the heat  – and still, give kids a bat, a ball, and watch play prevail.  This is cricket, the most widely played sport on earth I’m told.  (Soccer fans, do you disagree?)

New friends and newer friends – that’s Ethan on the left.  He’s on R&R this week from State Department duty at Bagram Airforce Base in Afghanistan:

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Saints and Souza

First, let me say that my last post illustrates too well how the heat has affected me. Jim says that I was obviously delirious when I wrote it.  I took mild offense but on second look, had to agree with him.  Sorry for the inane tome on my heat-infested days in Delhi!

I visited an orphanage today and there’s no better way to renounce self-absorption than to see the beautiful faces of a roomful of needy children.  I was vaguely aware that the Mother Teresa Foundation ran several homes in Delhi and I wanted to see the work that is going on here.

The first facility I visited was located in Old Delhi, the original section of the city built by the Mughal ruler, Shah Jahan.  He’s the same guy who built the Taj Mahal.  The orphanage in Old Delhi houses 39 children, infants to school-age.  The home was exceptionally clean, organized and well-staffed, a contrast to the orphaage where I volunteered in Beijing.  I spent time with the toddlers in a relatively sterile play room.  The kids were all healthy and seemingly happy and responsive to me.  In fact, that’s what surprised me most – there wasn’t a child in the room who didn’t want to play or let me engage them.  The hugs and love were a perfect balm for my droopy spirits:

Later, I visited the infant room.  Most of the babies were napping, but I did get to hold one and rock him to sleep.  He was probably about 10 months old and he snuggled right into my chest.  When I put him down, he woke and I lightly caressed his hair to put him back to sleep.   He fought it though – sneaking a peak every few seconds to make sure I was still there!  In all truth, volunteers work for themselves as much as they do for the kids.  Holding and watching this little guy  stretched me beyond my own worries.

As soon as I snapped this photo one of the nuns snapped at me so I had to put away my camera.  Many of the children had a pendant of Mother Teresa attached to their writsts:

I also met a couple in the process of adopting.  They are Indian but live and work in Dubai.  They looked exhausted, yet excited and it was ever so sweet to see them dealing in the moment that would change the rest of their life.   Maybe I held the little baby they would be taking back with them….

After the orphanage, I went to an adult home.  It was under reconstruction but there were a handful of men still living on the premises.  Most of the women had been temporarily relocated.   The residents here suffer from mental, physical or medical disability.  Some were elderly and had no family to take care of them.  I took this photo as residents were lining up for lunch:

This is the dorm.  All of the Mother Teresa nuns dress in her blue and white signature smock.  This nun was walking ahead of me and she reached over to gently touch the bandaged head of a man who was resting on his bed.  She wanted him to know that lunch was being served.

I had a nice interview with the Mother Superior of this facility.  She has 400 residents, many needing medical attention and medicine.  The care comes from a rotation of doctors who work for free and the meds are donated to her as well.  Mother Teresa homes are all privately run with no government funding.  One of the nuns told me that this was “mother’s way”… she believed that God would provide.   Of course, something inspires the good will that keeps these places afloat, but it’s the hard work of very human and caring hands that makes all the difference.

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I had not intended to juxtapose a visit to a Souza exhibition with my visits to a catholic charity but it was the last day of the show and I didn’t want to miss it. Francis Newton Souza is a 20th century Indian artist known for his bizarrely fractured human portraits, explicit female nudes, and work that reflects his anger toward the hypocrisy of the Catholic church.

It was a strange feeling to stand amid arguably grotesque paintings after all of the welcomed warmth of my morning with the kids.  I can’t say that I liked much of what I saw but you don’t have to like art to necessarily appreciate it.  Souza clearly had demons brewing within and he exercised them on canvas.  I loved the colors he chose and even some of the content.  His erotic paintings, while not subtle, were somehow honorable.

One funny aside:  the exhibit was organized on two floors, with most of Souza’s nudes on the second.  The first floor didn’t have a single security guard and I was able to take a few photos.  However, the second floor was crowded with security.  I happened to be the only visitor upstairs at the time, and it was mildly awkward looking at the erotic work along with six male guards who were all particularly interested in watching me look at the work.  For a culture that’s author to the Kama Sutra, it’s an exceptionally sexually repressed place.  More on that another time…

This one is for you, Mom… it’s called House in Hamstead Heath (or something to that effect… I forgot the exact title.)

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Overcooked

I need to write about the heat because it is seriously driving me loco.  It’s unlike any heat that I have known. We are on our third week of temperatures soaring well into the 100’s (or 40’s for my Celcius readers) and I am muy muy sapped of everything that makes me feel like me: energy, reason, cheer, motivation, patience (despite what Lala says, I am a very patient mother!), good will, smiles, and creativity.  Every day ends in a headache and it’s tough mustering the energy to get through the routine. Veteran expats here promise me that my body will adjust to the heat and that I will learn how to tweak my life so that I don’t always feel so yucky.

Monday, temps rose to 110 – and the mercury in the days before and after hovered on either side of that mark.  A breeze helps if you like hot air blowing over your overheated body… walls and walls of hot, dusty air.   Add sun and radiation and reflected heat from concrete and asphalt and you have an oven stuffed with 14 million people here in Delhi.

Poor Eddie is still playing soccer and it’s a wonder that his team hasn’t dropped from heat stroke. Eddie drinks a lot of water before, during and after his games and I try to keep him quiet and cool between the end of school and his 5:15 practice. Still, this is difficult.  How do you get a five year old to stop moving?

George HATES the heat and prefers to hole-up in our basement in front of the t.v., the wii, the computer… or play with his legos. Fortunately we have a gi-normous playroom where the kids can play as well as ride their scooters or kick the soccer ball, as Eddie does every single minute of his free time. Take a look: (It’s the size of three new york apartments!)

Wednesdays and Fridays after school we go to the American Club to swim. It’s a bastion of utter American-ness, where we can buy Baskin Robbins, burgers, iced coffees and Coronas. Thank God for the latter… I worship at the alter of a cold beer in this heat. The up-side to the heat for the kids is that mommy actually gets into the pool and hangs out for  a bit.  When all three were officially water safe a few years ago, I let myself graduate to pool-side lounging and left the marco-polo games and diving competitions to Jim.  I don’t spend much time in the water at the beach either – I’ve always been scared of the sea even though I love, even crave to be near it.  But I’d  rather play in the sand and search for shells than body surf.   (I have a signature turtle that I build, and I love to make drip castles.)  At the pool, I like to pull-up a chair water-side and throw coins for the kids to recover.  I make them hide their eyes.  If you have a handful of  coins and you throw them all at once you can buy yourself enough time to read a few pages of your book!

We go through gallons of water every day.  The school likes everyone to have a water bottle and there are chilled water fountains throughout the campus.  This reminds me about the first time my  kids saw a water fountain.  We were  in the Chicago airport transiting from Beijing to somewhere and all three were reduced to giggles trying to lick the water… they had never seen a drinking fountain in China and had no clue how to use one.  Now they know to suck and swallow to stay well-hydrated.

We also devour popsicles, although you have to be careful where you get them so you don’t suffer food poisoning.  The schools sells them and most kids rush to the snack bar to get one when the final bell rings.  We’re also eating “cooler” foods at home.  Our nanny makes a quenching cold Korean cucumber soup.  It has a tangy, vinegar base with julienned cukes and sesame seeds.

Shopping is a problem – food turns quickly for several reasons:  it’s either exposed to the heat because most shops aren’t airconditioned – or it’s not properly transported.  Two weeks in a row I bought bad sour cream  – really bad, stinky sour cream.  So bad in fact that I couldn’t erase the olfactory memory and I kept smelling it on my hands.

Everything goes in our fridge now, including most of the fruit, the bread, eggs (during the cooler months we don’t refrigerate our eggs), and most opened bags of snacks.  With the heat comes bugs – LOTS and LOTS of bugs…. and they’ll brazenly walk off with your dinner if don’t eat fast enough.  This morning, I made Eddie a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I was acutely aware of making it before these little ants appeared from wherever they spy on me.

The other problem we have with food is that we don’t have much of an appetite later in the day – so dinners have been light lately.  I try to make-up the calories with frozen chocolate… in fact, I just devoured a SKOR bar while writing this.  It makes Jim happy when he sees me nosh because he’s overly concerned with my weight, a worry that the kids have adopted from him.  Now I have four sets of lips flapping at me to eat more and run less!

As for exercise – running outside is impossible unless I go as the sun rises.  It’s not natural for me to get up that early, but I will need to soon to properly prepare for the San Francisco half marathon that I’m running in July.  When I run in extreme heat, I drink oral rehydration salts.

Every day ends with a quick shower now – to wash away the heat and the sweat and the dirt that has accumulated throughout the day.  I haven’t met an antiperspirant here that actually does the job.  Clothes all go into the hamper with no chance of a second wear.  Yesterday, I left my gym bag in the car and today when I opened it to take out the dirty running gear – oh the smell! the smell… It was that  sour cream haunting me.

Told you I was going loco…!

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Here’s the neighborhood fruit vendor.  Everything is covered in burlap now to protect it from the heat:

Summer street food.  I’m not shy about eating locally, but I would NEVER, EVER touch these:

My smallest fishy staying cool:

Here’s another way to manage the heat:

George and his good friend George, cute as ever, playing with George’s DS… a toy I have yet to purchase despite my kids’ pleas.  (But I’m close to caving-in… shhh!)  This is the TV room, computer room, wii central, sing-star heaven… and the coolest place in the house:

This is how Lala stays cool: (for some reason, the leaves drop in the summer…)

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Technology revisited:  the  time-warp: (a print shop)

These guys are sewing embroidered cloth:

Back to the 21st century and caught on my blackberry: (note the mid-wall electrical sockets…. it’s a total assault to my decorative senses!)

And this dear lady has hands to get naked for… she’s my standing sunday date, 12 noon.  What does she do?  Guess!