31
July

Power`s off… power`s on…

The past two days have been marked by two significant power outages in India. The first occurred in the very early morning on Monday, and knocked out power to 370 million people across seven states, including Delhi, in northern India. Power to most, but not all, of those affected had been restored by the time the second outage occurred this afternoon. This outage was more widespread, and affected over 600 million people across 22 states. Both outages are blamed on several states having overdrawn from the grid. The grids in the North, East and North East are interconnected, so once the grid started to collapse, it cascaded across the regions.

These outages remind me very much of the great power outage of 2003 that affected almost 60 million people in the northeastern US and eastern Canada. It too came as the result of a station failure in a time of high demand, and led to a cascading failure across the continent. There are two differences, as far as I can see. The first is that this affected ten times the number of people. The population of North America is roughly 530 million people, and this affected more people, many of them twice. The second is that the power situation is far from what you would call stable in India. Hell, I’d wager that on any given day a large percentage of the population in India will have faced some kind of power interruption at least once.

I have received many messages from family and friends, concerned that we are without power. Thankfully, Bangalore has not been affected, as it is on the Southern grid, which is unaffected, and perhaps more importantly, unconnected to the other grids that serve the affected areas. The truth is that I likely would not have noticed at all, as our community is served by a back-up generator that cuts over within minutes of the power going out, and we have UPS coverage for things like the TV and the computers/routers. Our inconvenience, at first, would be just that, an inconvenience.
Each time that the power goes out, and it goes out EVERY day, I think of the people who don’t have generators, don’t have power line conditioners, and don’t have UPSs. They aren’t so lucky, and if they live near me, there are days where the power is off all day, or cuts out a dozen or more times. We have had a number of things fail because they were not protected, including the power supply on our brand new TV, our induction cooktop, and our water purifier (three times). Shockingly, these were all fixed under warranty.

I don’t pretend to be an engineer, or an expert on what ails the power supply chain in India. I do believe that the problems are equally split between management and maintenance of the grid. The fact that the difficulties are so clearly widespread leads me to the conclusion that there is widespread mismanagement, from the Power Ministry down. The fact that I see scenes like this everywhere I go? Tells me that maintenance/security/installation is also to blame.

Most nights, Goose goes to bed with a story, and then quietly sings to herself in the dark. Whenever the power cuts in this time, she always pauses, then sings out, “power’s off…” if she is still awake when it cuts back again, she follows up with “power’s on…” It’s just the normal around here.

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30
July

That funny stuff going on

The lils have become increasingly curious about the facts of life, and how they came to be.  While they haven’t actually come out and asked the hard questions, I know that they are coming.  Most of their curiosity is actually evident in their conversations with each other, as they explore where they came from.  We mostly listen in amusement, occasionally correcting gross misconceptions (like the idea that Goose was in “mommy’s stomach” with Woo, she just waited an extra year and a half before deciding to be born).

I sense that we dodged a bit of a bullet this weekend.  We were walking to the local mall, and Woo wanted to talk about the stray dogs.  Bangalore has a lot of stray dogs. They seem to be everywhere you go, except in gated communities, where the staff does a decent job of keeping the out.  They tend to ignore people, and seem to coexist peacefully with the other strays, although there are the occasional turf wars that result in much barking and the offending dog getting chased away. 

Woo wanted to talk about the dogs because the females are easily identified by the fact that their teats essentially drag on the ground.  We figure that they are breeding so often that their bodies never recover, and explained this to him.  He was more intrigued by the notion that dogs could breastfeed than he was curious about the constant breeding (phew). We answered all of his questions, and the matter dropped when we arrived at the mall.

On our trip home, it became apparent to me that Woo got the gist of what we were explaining. We used the appropriate terms, words he’d certainly heard before, and he seemed comfortable with them.  His interpretation, however, was coloured by the fact that he is five.  ”Mom,” he said, “that’s a female dog. She feeds her puppies with all that funny stuff she has going on under her.”

Ah, the simplicity of youth. 

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27
July

Too soon

As someone who has struggled with my weight and body image my entire adult life, I have always wanted to steer the lils on a path that would promote a healthy lifestyle, including balanced eating. I wanted to give them the tools so that they might not have to experience the same cycles. Willy and I try to be positive role models, both in what we eat and what we do.

I know that they are interested. They love to watch us play sports, encourage us to play with them as much as we encourage them, and have a lifestyle that is far from sedentary. Both love to cook, and have always had a place beside me in the kitchen, watching what goes into their food and asking why some things are good for them and others are not. They can appreciate a balanced meal and know that a treat is just that, a treat.

I was quite surprised yesterday when Goose came up to me and said “maybe if I don’t eat lunch, my tummy will be smaller.” I recovered and talked about how her tummy was just fine the way it is and that we need to eat throughout the day to fuel our bodies. She seemed to accept it and hasn’t said anything since. Who knows how this will go moving forward.

I am at a loss as to where this is coming from. We never talk about her body, other than to stress that it is her personal space. She is not exposed to negative media images, given that she doesn’t watch TV/listen to the radio or have access to magazines that portray the idea figure as one that resembles Barbie. Hell, she doesn`t even own a Barbie. I assume that it was a comment that was made innocently, by someone who didn’t know the potential ramifications, but isn’t that how this always starts. I just know I wasn’t ready for this.

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25
July

Wordless Wednesday – Scuba divers and superheroes

Diver

Scuba girl

Wonder Girl

Serious

Batman

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24
July

Before there was the internet

If you worked in an office environment on about fifteen years ago, you likely received one or more letters by fax or postal mail that originated in Nigeria. They were scams, asking recipients to pay a little bit of money to secure millions and millions of dollars, and many people fell for them. So many that there are a multitude of anti-fraud initiatives devoted to education about and prevention of this type of fraud.

These letters, which were always handwritten, were the original spam in my opinion. Sure, there was junk mail, but it often came in the form of flyers which do have a somewhat legitimate purpose. These letters had a malicious intent behind them and they were relentless, especially when the senders moved to email. I got one of these had written letters at our home a few years ago, and marvelled that they were still going on in their original form. Sadly it means that people are still falling for them.

I went to the mailbox today and found this, apparently India’s version of the Nigerian scam letter:
Before the internet

It is a handwritten, contains a heart tugging plea, mentions an illness, family, and God. They don’t ask for a specific sum of money, just that “help” (or cloths) be sent, so as not to dissuade any givers. I think that maybe I have just become cynical in my old age, but then note that it is written in English, it was addressed to the landlord (whose name is not western), and the home is located in a known ex-pat community. I’m ok with my cynicism here.

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23
July

Water. We need it to survive, right?

One of the things that struck me the most about Bangalore is the amount of water that I see on a regular basis. There are a tonne of little lakes and streams, some of them very close to my house. Moving here, I didn’t expect that I would see so much open water on a regular basis. Initially, it was a nice surprise. Then I started to really look at that water… There is a rather large lake less than a kilometre from our house. It would be lovely to see more of it, but there is a razor wire fence that surrounds it. When we asked our local friends why the fence, they told us that it was to keep people from the water, because it is so polluted, unsafe for any access, let alone drinking. It was an eye opener for me.

One of the things that struck us are particularly odd was that the birds drink from the swimming pools here. We initially thought that our pool might be under chlorinated, but started seeing this happening all over, in Bangalore and the other cities that we travelled to. It finally dawned on me that this was likely the cleanest and safest water they had access too. Most of the water that I see in is heavily polluted and filled with trash, but that doesn’t stop people from wading in, swimming, washing their clothes, and drinking it. As a result of drinking it, many get sick from it.

The problem has become dire in some regions, as the monsoon has not arrived in much of India, including the state of Karnataka, where we live. Much of the state has recorded a little over fifty per cent of the expected rainfall, with little relief in sight. This has caused crop loss, particularly for grains in all of the affected areas, and there is some fear that entire harvests will be lost as they have not been planted. It has also caused disruptions to the drinking water supply in areas that rely on water that is drawn from rivers. In some areas the supply has become dangerously low, and in others, just dangerous, with pollution levels being incredibly high. There are some areas where large groups of people have become ill, and many have died. It makes me pause.

Water supply in Bangalore comes from a mixture of sources. Much of the city is supplied by the Cauvery River, and it faced water supply issues earlier this summer. These have theoretically been resolved with the arrival of rains upstream. Our community is on the outskirts of the city and not on city water. We are supplied by borewells that go deep into the ground. There has been talk of supply from the Cauvery River being extended to our area, but this has not yet happened. There has also been community discussion about rainwater harvesting, but the lack of rain in years like this one would make that difficult. This year, the borewells weren’t keeping up with demand and three more were dug. We now appear to have a decent supply of water, but it is not without issue.

The water in the community is not safe to drink. It apparently tests fine, but I don’t know of anyone who dares to drink it. It is chlorinated on site, but there is a history of instability and random injections of excess chlorine in the system. It is also extremely hard. There is a community wide ion exchanger to soften it, but the softness achieved varies across the community, and it too is prone to humane error. The end result is water that is extremely corrosive. We have had the on demand hot water heater in our bedroom (the only one that we use) repaired three times in the nine months we have live here. It just started dripping again this weekend, and I know that they will take it apart and once again see that the water has eaten through it. It eats through everything; the pipes, taps, solar water heaters, our clothes, and rusts anything that it can’t destroy quickly.

The most alarming concern for me is what it does to us. I know that it stings my eyes to take my contacts out, or if I get water in the eyes when I shower. The lils feel it too, and complain bitterly if they get it in their eyes, or bathe with an open cut. I miss clean water.

 

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20
July

Under the sea

I fell in love with diving long before I ever took my first dive. The experiences of my brother and brother-in-law, as they got PADI certified and then told tales of their adventures opened my eyes to this whole new world, just waiting to be discovered. They had been diving for a few years before I took my first dive, but I knew immediately that they were right. It really was that great.
Wide Open

My first experience was in Jamaica. It was the week after a hurricane had gone through, and the seas were still pretty rough, making the visibility pretty limited. It didn’t matter. Willy and I went together, and were amazed at the sea life, coral, and assorted wrecks that we saw. We had the opportunity to see a part of the world like relatively few do, and I loved it. Many people worry that being underwater for so long may seem to be closed in or induce feelings of claustrophobia, but I found the opposite to be true. There was the wide expanse in front of you, and virtually no one else there.
Reef

Willy went on to get certified that trip, as I was still in school, and studying for some upcoming exams. My certification took me another two years, and another Caribbean trip where I was only able to do really limited dives (aka “resort certification”). I haven’t really looked back since that snowy* October weekend when two friends and I got our “open water” diver. Since that time I have over 60 dives logged, with over 2000 minutes of bottom time.
Diving in Jamaica

Crust

Before we had the lils, I had a pretty regular routine that included some local dives in the summer with my brother-in-law and our friend Carpet; touring the wrecks of the St. Lawrence, exploring a local quarry, or shore dives at the cottage. We also managed the occasional trip down south, where Willy and I would dive for a couple of days and read in shade for a couple of days. This has drastically tailed off since the lils arrived. Last week was a family vacation, but it was also very much an opportunity for me to dive. Willy was kind enough to watch over the lils, and I got in five dives. It was bliss, and I have a renewed interest in diving as a result.
See Turtle!

Jelly Fish!

One of the things that I noted, as I always do, is that divers are among the kindest people that you will ever meet. They are the people that will chat to you like old friends at a resort where you know no one, who will keep you company on the boat, and who will re-live the cool things that you saw over and over and over. They are also the people that you trust your life with when you are at depth, your buddies. Sadly, Willy is no longer able to be my dive buddy. He had some surgery on his ear after Goose was born that has enabled him to hear out of it again, but means that he won’t dive again. I have been encouraging both Woo and Goose, and they are quite keen, but a few years away. Until then I will have to see if my brother in law is game, and keep meeting the awesome folks on the dive boat.
Sting Ray

School of fish

*OK, only a couple of flakes fell, but it was damn cold in the St. Lawrence that day*

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18
July

Wordless Wednesday – Beach Vacation

Discovery

Beach

Iguana

The family that cruises together

Fire ball in the sky

One foot, two foot

Last night

Sea Turtle

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17
July

In the drink

The lils loved their vacation in every way, but their absolute favourite activity was watching for sharks and other fish in the water. They especially loved to come to the beach bar in the evening, where the deck overlooked the water, and the aquatic activity kicked up as the sun went down. Woo and Goose would lean over the rail, hang off of the rail or lie down on the deck with their heads hanging over. All the tables around us got the stereo announcement of what was approaching, and nothing was announced with as much gusto as the sharks, especially their favourite, “denthead” (she really did have a dent on her head).

Each time they approached the deck’s railing, one of us would warn them to be careful, hold on, sit down… and they always did. Then one night Woo hadn’t quite made it onto the deck, and was standing on the short wall looking at the fish. He lost his footing and tumbled in. I was sitting on the other side of the patio, but heard the splash and yelp. I just knew who it was and what had happened, so I bolted the fifty or so feet across the deck and reached him before Willy could. Luckily, one of the staff was even faster and had fished him out. The water wasn’t deep, but he was wet, shocked, and a little embarrassed. He got lots of love, some dry clothes, and set off to watch for more sharks.

Word travelled fast in a small resort and, for the rest of the week, we were asked by some staff if our son was OK and warned by others to keep him from the edge. We were extra cautious, and made sure that they were both really, really careful at the water’s edge. In the end, both Willy and I were relieved. He was glad that Woo was in no way frightened by this experience, and gleefully resumed shark watch right away. I was relieved that Goose hadn’t pushed him in.

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16
July

Ay Kurumba!

After several long and tiring trips, both within India, and around the globe, we had one important criteria for our summer vacation planning:  direct flight. While there are several nice places that fit the bill, the one that interested us the most was the flight to Malé, Maldives.  Private resort islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Of course we were interested.  After soliciting a number of friends, we booked in at Kurumba, a resort that offered some other features that we were interested in; close to the airport, children’s activity centre, and scuba diving.

We arrived at noon on Sunday, and immediately noticed that it was hot and humid.  Given that the Maldives are essentially on the equator, we expected this, but it was still noteworthy.  Once we connected with the resort employee who was sent to fetch us, we were whisked on to a luxurious and air conditioned boat and sped to the island that housed Kurumba.  As with most resorts and hotels in the Maldives, the island consisted only of our resort, a neat feature.  We were quickly and efficiently checked in, and shown to our room, which was right on the beach and looked out onto the ocean.
Room with a view

It didn’t take us long to get settled.  While I quickly tried to find the sand toys and bathing suits, the lils and Willy ran the fifteen feet to the water’s edge and started playing in the sand.  They inched closer and closer to the water until both lils were happily swimming, in their clothes.  We eventually got them into bathing suits and later dragged then away from the water to find food.  We walked the perimeter of the island to find the restaurant, and watched the lils inch closer and closer to the water until they were wet again.  It was a scene that was happily repeated throughout the week.
Walk the beach

That evening we headed to the beach bar on the eastern side of the island.  We had heard from friends that the patio was a great place to look for aquatic life, and had heard from the resort that they would be hosting happy hour for the guests!  On our walk around the island, the waters were calm and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the area within the breakwall and natural reef was teeming with fish and other creatures.  Our favourites were the numerous hermit crabs that skillfully* dodged little and big feet on the beach.  We sat outside on the deck at the bar, and marvelled at the fish, rays, crabs, squid, seahorse, and baby SHARKS that kept passing by.
Crabby

I spy

Three lil reef sharks

Our days followed a lazy pattern of early morning “shark walks”, lavish meals at the buffet, snorkelling in the patch of ocean that was right in front of our door (the snorkelling was really amazing, the reef is really well developed), more eating, some margaritas or other appropriate drinks, a visit to the “kid’s club”, more eating and switching to wine, and finished off with pouring the lils into bed (and occasionally falling asleep with them).  I was also lucky enough to get in five dives, which absolutely thrilled me.

While this may sound like it could have been any other all-inclusive vacation that we have been on, it was so much better.  The staff was bend-over-backwards friendly to us and the lils.  Everyone that we met, including the great staff working at the dive centre, went out of their way to ensure that we were all enjoying ourselves.  The food was great for the carnivores and seafood lovers in the family, and the chefs in particular were responsive to Woo’s allergy needs.  The rooms were clean and spacious, had nice linens, and were really well maintained for a resort that is around thirty years old!  We all loved the bathroom, with a great big soaker tub and a fabulous outdoor rain shower. A nice side effect is that has convinced the lils that showers are not so bad after all.

One of the best memories that we will all take from the trip was the sunset cruise on Wednesday night.  Billed as a dolphin and sunset cruise, I had no way of knowing just how many spinner dolphins we would see, and how they would perform for us!  There were literally hundreds of dolphins, swimming in the bow wake, dipping and diving all around us, jumping and doing their patented spin in the air as far as we could see.  We were all amazed, and I keep smiling thinking of it.  I just wish I had tried harder to get some better shots of them.  I was too busy looking on in awe!
We have a jumper!

Flock of dolphins

Now I have to convince Willy that we can go back there before we leave India.  I am pretty sure that he wants to go, we just need to know if we will be able to squeeze it in.

*well, all but one skillfully dodged my big feet.  RIP lil fella.*

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