Saturday, November 30, 2013

Don't You Dare Send Me Back to Washington

When we landed in Chennai it was almost two in the morning. By the time we corralled all our luggage and car seats, went through security to get out of the airport, successfully navigated the throng of Indian men willing to tote all of our luggage on their heads out of the airport, and drove home, it was after two. We arrived at our new home in the middle of the night. Of course, we couldn't go right to bed. We explored our new house in all its palatial enormity (There are several rooms we have no idea what to do with). By the time every one settled down and went to sleep it was close to five. 

I awoke at 7:30, showered, put on a necktie and went to work.

I grasped my leather attache, a hand-me-down from my father-in-law, but an item I already know will serve me well for the duration of my career, and I stepped outside. It was morning, and in the daylight, I saw India for the first time. 

Flower petals drifted to the ground from the green canopy of trees that shaded our house. Parrots darted overhead, and sunlight filtered through the trees. 

I walked to the gate and stepped outside onto the dirt street in front of our house. Soon, a driver, Raju, that had been sent for me swung by. I climbed in his small van, and he whisked me off to work. We weaved through the tree-lined streets of our quiet neighborhood. Giant banyan trees shade the roads here, and our sprawling modern megalopolis is more like a village, sometimes sleepy, most times noisy and frenetic, but rarely intimidating. Older men in polo shirts and sweat pants were on their morning walk. A few ran. Without sidewalks, they shared the street with bicycles, tuk-tuks, and cars. There is an interesting vehicular hierarchy here. Size does not matter. Cars defer to tuk-tuks. Tuks-tuks defer to motorcycles. Motorcycles defer to bicycles, and bicycles defer to pedestrians. All stop for cows.

The minute we pulled out of our quiet neighborhood and forced ourselves into Indian traffic, I felt something familiar and exhilarating, something I hadn't felt since we left Brazil. I felt at home. I felt like I was where I belonged. 

Traffic in India deserves a blog post of its own, but as we drove past dogs sleeping in the road, curled in piles of sand, long-horned water buffalo cows harnessed to carts or left to their own devices, beside scooters zipping around cars and bearing entire families of four, among and around swarms of motorcycles and tuk-tuks that darted around us like hornets, I immediately felt a familiarity and comfort that had been lacking since we left Brazil. 

I think the kids feel it, too. We live in different countries spread all across the globe, but my work buys all its furniture from the same vendor. So even though we are several continents separated from Brazil, I think everyone--Elise and myself included--immediately took to our new house, because the tile floors were familiar, the parrots were familiar, and most of all the Drexel-Heritage furniture was familiar. 

Of course, they are out of sorts, and the jet lag was staggering. For a week, we found ourselves waking up in the middle of the night, coming downstairs for a snack, watching some television, before falling back to sleep at dawn and sleeping in until almost noon. 

During our second night in India, Elise and the kids were up. I slept, having gone to work that day. They were about to come downstairs when they noticed droppings on the stairs. Elise paused, and Sam suggested they wake me up to investigate. To paraphrase Elise, I think he said something to the effect of, "I don't want to face that thing. Do you? Let's get Dad." I expected to see a lizard. Elise, holding Clementine, and I crept down the stairs into the dining room and were greeted by the most ginormous rat I have ever seen in my life. I am not exaggerating when I say this thing's body was easily a foot long. I followed it to the electrical "cabinet", a wooden fuse box with a bundle of wires I discovered to be completely open to the outside. 

 I don't care if you are moving to London from the States, the first 24 hours are going to be hell and the first week is going to be only slightly less challenging. There are so many unknowns. Everything is harder in those first few days. Especially when you move to a land where you can't use the water out of the tap to brush your teeth and the fruits and vegetables need to be rinsed in bleach. The mosquitoes have been are biggest nemesis. They feast on Clementine as though she were her namesake sweet orange. They bit her on the thin skin of her upper eye lid, and it swelled to such a size, her entire eye squeezed shut. 

It has only been a little over a week, but we are finding India, and Chennai in particular, immensely fascinating, exhilarating, and endlessly interesting. Naturally there are moments when we all cry and say we want to go "home", back to America.

The other night I had a dream that my work said my assignment to India had been a mistake and I would have to go back to Washington for a year. We were all devastated. We didn't want to leave. I am not sure if this is more a testament to the merits of Chennai and India or more a referendum on Washington, D.C.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Passage to India | Part II

Just when I think Elise and I have done the most difficult thing we will ever have to do in our lives, we will tackle an undertaking that is the most difficult thing we have ever done in our lives. When I look back on what we have accomplished in the last two weeks I am stunned and proud.

Two weeks ago today we left our temporary corporate housing apartment in Falls Church, Virginia, a place we had called home for nine months. We piled into a giant black Suburban and drove to Dulles and got on a plane bound for New York City. There, we took three small children into the heart of Manhattan. Elise and Peter ice skated in Bryant Park. Elise starred in a movie. We climbed to the top of the Empire State Building. Saturday night, we got on another plane at JFK and flew to Frankfurt, Germany. We got off the plane, checked into our hotel room, and hopped on the subway--with no knowledge of German--looking for a mall we would find closed on a Sunday night. Instead, we bought the boys McDonald's (Clementine, exhausted, slept in my arms). We walked through a very cold and very windy and almost deserted Frankfurt. Over cobblestones, past church spires, and beneath flocks of ravens.

Finally, we returned to our hotel, miraculously navigating the subway system. There, in anticipation of arriving in a dry Tamil Nadu state, pounded two Warsteiners and ordered brauts and schnitzel room service for Elise and I. The next morning, we boarded our last leg....10 1/2 hours from Frankfurt to Chennai.

Five hours into the flight, Elise leaned over. I had been watching the cinematic release Man of Steel, so I removed my ear buds. "How much longer?" she asked me.

I hesitated to answer. I thought about slipping my ear buds back in and ignoring her query, but she was persistent. I finally answered, "Four and a half hours."

Elise said, "I don't think I'm going to make it."

With our options somewhat limited at that point, we swapped seats. I piled in between the three kids, and Elise sat in front of the two Norwegians who had had two Warsteiners each and two tiny bottles of Finlandia each before we had even ventured out of German air space (If you have to be near two men who are going to get completely schnockered on a flight, I recommend they be Norwegian. These two gents were on their way to watch the World Championship of Chess being held in Chennai).

When we finally landed in India, the sky was hazy and orange. It was almost one in the morning. We emerged from the airport into a cacophony of people, tired, disoriented, and desperate to keep our children close...which was difficult since Peter insisted on pushing one of our carry-ons through the mass of humanity clamoring to carry it on their head for five rupees.

We have been in India for one week, and one blog post cannot possibly capture the breadth of all we have already seen. I am playing catch-up now. Thankfully, it only took one week for our internet hook-up.

I will skip ahead and say that on Thanksgiving morning, we discovered a new coffee shop close to our house, went to look at a used Mahindra Scorpio and almost returned home with as ten-day old kitty, and had a very warm Thanksgiving dinner at my new boss' house. Though beer has been scarce, bottles of Budweiser were available and welcome. Beggars can't be choosers. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Passage to India | Part I

Yesterday we stowed the rest of our belongings within our suitcases, jumped in a giant black suburban, bursting at the seams of it's blackened windows and headed for The Big D (and I do mean Dulles).

We were greeted at 10:00am with the expected excitement ofan already disgruntled airline ticket agent and the stares and audible whispers of onlookers.

“Jim! *Gasp* Look at all that stuff. *Gasp* Aren’t you glad we travel lightly Jim and are only leaving for two days not moving a family of five for two years? Jim can you believe all that stuff!?”

“No Frances I can not believe all that stuff! Aren’t you glad we can’t remember what it was like to travel with kids 30 years ago and how it felt to have people staring at you and whispering and judging, Frances I cannot!”

We held our heads high, for we had only packed five bags, you heard me, FIVE bags. We are allotted two each up to 50lbs for a total of ten and we traveled with each and every one to and from Brazil. We are *Gasp* learning to pack lighter than your typical (whatever that means) family of five moving to a foreign country, now though. Throw in a few bulky car seats, a backpack, a briefcase, a bumble bee, puppy dog and big-boy backpack and yes we might look a little materialistic to a passer-by. But, I’d dare Frances or Jim to confront me on either of our back-to-back 10 hour flights to the south of India. Aside for organizing every last inch of each of those five bags, four backpacks and my camera bag, I secretly packed the kid's bags with treats and toys with the fervor of a travel elf, and they will (for the most part, usually, sometimes) play quietly and I will later be complimented on their behavior while Frances and Jim snooze away the hours in the adjacent seats. Word. 

Peter is most excited for "New Lork City" and “The Statue of Little Bees." Sam is most impressed by the overwhelmingly delicious scent of the airport bathroom soap and Clem is just a little bit stressed out.  Paul is quiet, in anticipation of my eventual nervous breakdown, which may come tomorrow after I bid farewell to my best friend who is driving to New York from DC,with her family, for one last ultimate play-date in the city. Until then, he is worried because I am incredibly calm and collected. I wonder why myself, but have a lot of good people on my side and I’ve done this before. Sort-of.

After uncovering a bottle of champagne gifted to us by my brother on our wedding day, while the movers packed our apartment, we shoved it in the only available suitcase with weight to spare and ditched a champagne bottle’s weight worth of women’s and children’s clothing.  We made the command decision to finally pop it open in New York, ending it’s worldwide travels and christening our voyage to India, just shy of our eighth wedding anniversary in January, in the place where it all began.

As we settled the kids into our room last night, Sam on aroll-away, Peter in one full and Clem in the other, a tiny and familiar drum began to play outside our hotel window. From the street belowcame the humming of pipes, familiar from my childhood lived between Bellingham, Washington and British Columbia, and my days of Highland dancing.

As we wondered what the business was of a rogue piper in Midtown on a Thursday night, the rest of the Scottish pipe band arrived and proceeded to play themselves up and down 44th  for the next two hours. Peter and Clementine fell immediately asleep and Sam thrummed on his pillow along with the beat of the snare drummer. Paul and I cracked open the bottle of Dom Perignon to drink together in the dark of our hotel room. I fought muscle memory and held myself still instead of bursting into a full Highland sword dance in my pajamas and we all eventually fell asleep to the more normal-abnormal sounds wafting in from the streets of the city.

True story. I may or may not still wear the kilt and vest occasionally, Paul will never tell.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Let's go ahead and flashback really quick for nostalgia sake: 

Halloween 2008: Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat.

Halloween 2009: The cutest bus in the world.

Halloween 2010 (aka embracing failure): The Thomas that never was

Halloween 2011: Store bought dinosaur, hand-made hot air balloon.

Halloween 2012: Lion man, Jo-Jo and the Speck.

Halloween 2013:

Jake (Sam), Cubby (Peter) and Izzy (Clementine) as Jake and The Neverland Pirates. 

"Yo ho ho!"

The kids watch their hour of tv usually just before we take Sam and Peter to school, just like we did when we were kids. The usual line up is "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" and "Jake and The Neverland Pirates." 

A few months back the kids realized together, that since there are three Neverland Pirates and three of them that they were in fact the Neverland Pirates. They even had an Izzy and what a great Izzy she was.

They sell these costumes, they are 100% lame compared to these, in my opinion, because these are made with love and with the help of the kids and our imaginations. Paul and I don't believe in buying costumes, that was perfect really until 2010-ish and then we modified our beliefs to, "We don't believe in at least making or trying to make part of our costumes." Because I didn't go to art school for nothing folks. I believe in good design in all aspects of my life. Just look at these faces, hand crafted, perfect.  

I made the boys vests, boot-covers, modified their t-shirts and bought the headbands. I made Clem's boot covers, bandana and pixie dust bag. We bought the sword and spyglass and Sam made Peter a map. 

Babies and costumes are usually a bust, but once she got over the screaming when I put pigtails in her hair and slapped a lollipop in her hand, Clementine acted like she had done this for years and years. She stormed off without the boys to get started.

It won't come as a surprise to you that we tricked and treated with our BFFs. We tricked all through out Oakwood apartments and after just two of four buildings the kids had their fill and we headed home. The boys were just as tickled to hand out candy on the other side of the door as to receive it. It was arguably the best Halloween ever. A perfect balance of fun and insanity, friendship and sugar highs.

and me taking pictures until everyone is ready to pass out.