Common Unwealth

The Commonwealth Games have been all over international news this week – maybe you’ve seen the embarrassing photos of rooms inside the games village smeared in filth.  It’s a story that’s been bugging me – because of the truth behind the filth and the misunderstandings behind the truth.

Athletes arrived from New Zealand and when they moved into their suites at the village, they found poo in the toilets, sinks smeared with red spittle from paan, the local version of chewing tobacco, and pools of festering rain water.  There were also dirty paw prints on the beds and pillows.

It was a shock for the athletes, who had traveled far and arrived early to acclimate to Delhi and to prepare for competition.

Uproar followed – athletes from New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries (former British colonies) threatened to pull out of the games, or some actually did.   This coincided with the collapse of a footbridge at Nehru Stadium, the main sporting venue and the terrorist shooting of two Taiwanese visitors.

Delhi is also rushing to complete construction of some venues and roads – and there’s a massive effort to landscape the medians and traffic circles.  In three months, when all of those tens-of-thousands of seedlings get leafy, the city will look great… long after the games are over.

It is Delhi’s egregious failure to get this project done on time and to standard.  It’s not that the city isn’t capable – it is.  But corruption and arrogance grow like kudzu here, choking the spirit out of the system and blanketing the bureaucracy with impenetrable graft.  What you get is layers of inefficiency and institutionalized greed.

As for  the poo and the paan, workers building the village used the bathrooms and the water wasn’t turned on yet to wash away the evidence. Few writers have explained why the workers may have needed to use the bathrooms in the first place.

If you live here, you know that the village and the other venues were built by migrant workers – and they come from the countryside with their families to eek out a living that affords them nothing.  They live on the grounds of the construction site, often in tents.  The luckiest workers live in corrugated tin huts, or combination of tin and tent. The contractors don’t provide bathrooms – there’s no place to wash up.  There’s no school for the children and they play at the construction sites, on  sand piles, anywhere.  In august, a two-year-old girl was crushed by a truck delivering construction material.  There’s even rumor of child labor at the sites.

Given these conditions, of course the workers used the bathrooms.  Maybe some of the family members did too.  And during the daily monsoons that have plagued this city for months, everyone – dogs too – probably sought shelter inside.

And who could blame them?


I went out to dinner last night with Jim and an editor from New York.   As we were walking into the restaurant, he asked me how I liked it here.  I’ve answered this question many times, but this time I really really really wanted to say something that I’ve never said:  I HATE THIS !*&#^%$! PLACE – IT’S DRIVING ME BATTY…. (And I wanted to scream and make a spectacle of myself, because everyone here is in such infuriating control of their emotions. Where’s the rage, sometimes?)

Of course, I didn’t.   There’s only a sliver of truth in that imagined response. I do, in fact, enjoy and appreciate my life here and I hope that’s reflected in this blog.  As a trailing spouse you feel a responsibility to buck up and love where you live (especially when where you live comes with staff…)  – but you can’t love it all the time and finding healthy ways to vent is a necessity.   Consider this blog my vent…


It was Ritika’s birthday last week and I surprised her with cupcakes at school.  She is 12 years old:

I met a doctor who volunteers two days a week at the school.  She gives the kids check-ups and handles any general healthy problems.  She told me that she has worked with the director for six years, and that Gitanjali is extraordinarily effective in making money work at the school.  This, she said, is the difference between the Deepalaya organization and so many other NGO’s.  Since I last visited, the school has been wired with internet and now, ten classrooms have smart boards.  Here’s the doctor with a group of students who live in an orphanage and attend the school.

In the photo above, I should have worn a wrap to cover my shoulders, but I  forgot mine at home.  With young children, this wasn’t a huge problem but in other places I would have been more uncomfortable.


Here’s a typical street scene, women working and their children playing nearby.   See the woman on the right painting with her bare hands:

God Bless Soccer.  Eddie will play anywhere, anytime, wearing anything:

For the past year, every few months, I’ve seen  a white horse galloping through my neighborhood.  The sighting is usually a fleeting one – he’s gone before I can register exactly what I’ve seen.  Is he a wedding horse?  A leisure rider?  Finally, last night, I chased him down in the car.  He gave me his card and offered a ride – for a fee…

10 thoughts on “Common Unwealth”

  1. Hi Theo, thanks for providing an on-the-ground take of the Commonwealth Games situation. Two of our athletes have pulled out. Let’s hope it can all come together in time. I really enjoy reading your blog. Margaretx

  2. Being able to be true to yourself and to your emotions I find vital. Like you I find it very difficult here and it is a real sticking point for me as well. So Ditto friend you are not alone. x m

  3. thanks. I’m back with you and the blog now. re: Fear is Lala’s terrorist. That is very well put, and unfortunate. I remember after 9/11, our upstairs neighbors said they would not live here anymore and moved to Cincinnati. But I really had the opposite reaction.. almost of.. I will not be forced from my home by terrorist.. or all the things I love about life in NYC. That, to me, would be the equivalent of a “direct attack.” I feel that way to this day. That said, I suppose children have such different feelings about security than we do. We forget what goes through their head when they are in the dark if they wake up at night.. or if they are in a crowded place and lose sight of their parents. That is fear too. And I think when Lala leaves Delhi, she will feel very empowered that she thrived there, even with her fear.

  4. k: yes, fear is difficult to reason with. i remember overcoming a fear as a child, then having that fear challenged. it’s a long time later now and i’m still talking myself through it. lala is an extraordinary child – so many people recognize her awesomeness. i’ve learned not to push her too far – she copes in her own manner and surprises me always.

    hope you are well! i have a friend who moved to NY with ABC – maybe you guys will bump into each other.

    xoxo t

    1. what is your friend’s name? I had a really interesting week at work
      last week. Interviewed sarah shourd, the american hiker released from iran and davis guggenheim, the documentary film-maker who just released Waiting for Superman, which is basically an indictment of our public school system.

    1. thank you mrs. lankford! i taught h.s. chemistry and environmental systems today… remember all those silly notes and pranks we wrote during that chemistry summer? we were such awesomely silly students… xoxo t

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