Wordless Wednesday – One year in India
One of the things that I did not anticipate that I would need to do before we left was find jobs for our helpers. The majority of the domestic workers here don’t have computers or smart phones, so being able to post their availability to the message boards where the ex-pat families look for staff. I don’t mind doing it, and actually am glad that I can play a role in finding them a good fit with a nice family. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would take so long.
Part of the problem is that we, according to some ex-pats and virtually all locals, over pay our staff. I don’t agree, I feel that we have hired good, hard-working and loyal staff. I don’t have complaints about them, my family loves them all and they do not let us down. I know their expenses, and our wages allow them to pay their expenses and take care of their families without killing themselves working extra jobs. I find it ironic that, in our community, some of the very people who complain about the wages that the “foreigners” (their word, not mine) pay are the landlords who charge those same “foreigners” an exorbitantly high rent. While I understand that the wages one pays ones staff is a personal choice, I often feel there is a double standard, in that it is OK for people to tell me that I over pay, but I am not allowed to tell them they under pay.
Our cook, Lakshmi, is a wonderful lady. I posted her availability in late August, and received interest from a newly arrived family in our community. I met with the mother, told her all about Lakshmi, including what we paid her (which is pretty much what the last two families that she worked for had paid her). This lady told me she understood and arranged a trial for Lakshmi. They were please with her work, the family enjoyed her cooking and the children really liked her. They offered her a job, as cook and nanny, but for a little more than half of what we were paying her. She was afraid of not being able to pay her rent and her son’s college tuition, so she reluctantly agreed to the work.
The family was in the process of hiring a maid, so my maid also talked to them. She ultimately turned them down, as they offered her essentially half of what we pay her. When they were unsuccessful in hiring a maid, the cleaning duties also fell to Lakshmi. She was still working for us, working a part time job in the mornings, and now doing full-time work for this family in a little over four hours. This was outside of what she was hired for, and it was killing her. She came to me last week to let me know that she could not go back.
I didn’t expect that she would ask me to contact the family and essentially resign for her. She is afraid of confrontation, and worried that it would go badly. I reluctantly agreed, and sent a note explaining Lakshmi’s difficulty with the work, and asking for the salary that was owed to her. The request for wages was an afterthought, but I know there have been at least two occasions where Lakshmi has worked and not been paid for her efforts, despite leaving at the agreed end of her duties. In one case it was a few days wages, but in the second it was a full month’s salary. I hate that people feel this is OK, that they don’t need to pay for the work when their employee leaves. While I know that I only have Lakshmi’s side of the story, I believe her when she tells me of the work that was expected, and the physical toll it was taking on her.
It took two more messages, and the fact that Lakshmi had given me the key to their house key to return before I got a response with a promise that the wages would be dropped off and the key collected today. I just made the exchange, and feel much better for having done this, even though it is WAY outside my comfort zone. I know that Lakshmi needs to pay for her son’s schooling, and this will certainly help.
On a positive note, we have also found her a lovely family where she seems to be quite happy. I know she’ll love it there, and am very relieved.
I have had much time to reflect and observe during the last year. Time to look at myself and our life, and see what works and doesn’t, and try to figure out what I want to do about that. Living here has certainly changed our family, in ways we did expect, and ways we didn’t. I am so grateful that we had the chance to come here, and that I didn’t chicken out!
We haven’t actually left yet, so I haven’t even begun to process the “big stuff”, the significant impacts that this has had on me. That will come, in time. I have made some small observations, things that surprised me, amused me, or changed how I approached life here:
- Rice really is filler for Indian cuisine. We rarely eat rice with our meals anymore, the gravies and the breads are more than enough. The exception to that is biriyani. I LOVE a good biriyani, now eaten with raita mixed in. I had never seen this before, and it makes it all the better!
-There are an alarming number of abandoned single shoes on the streets of Bangalore. I see at least one shoe every 20 – 30 feet when I am walking around. I suppose that a number of them are broken, or lost when people are riding two-wheelers (flip flops are CLEARLY not appropriate footwear for a two-wheeler)… but I wonder what these people do when the shoe is lost. I would stop and retrieve it, but plenty of people here don’t
- When I meet another person while walking, I now pass on the left. No more crazy zig when I should have zagged dance for me! Until next week, that is.
-I am brave enough to cross any street here, although it did take me a good six weeks to work up the courage to cross even a “calm” street on my own. Driving is still out of the question!
- The local language here is Kannada, which is pronounced very closely to how you say Canada. Of course now when people ask me where I am from I pronounce it “Kannada”. It’s a subtle difference, but I notice it and curse at myself everytime!
- I know more about Chhota Bheem than I care to admit, and definitely more than I know about any North American cartoon/character.
- Cricket is really not that complex. It’s kinda fun to watch, especially when it is just a group of lils, playing in the park or on the street.
- I frequently leave my shoes outside the door before entering, as is custom here. I am not sure how that is going to fly in Canada in January…
- The cuisine is really quite diverse across regions, and I can now identify some without being told. I have a better understanding of what I like and what I don’t.
- Confession time… I really don’t like having helpers. Yes, it is nice to always have a DD, have a fine Indian meal prepared, my garden weeded, and my laundry folded and sorted, but I would really rather do it myself. Except maybe clean the toilets!
- I don’t bobble… But Willy does!
We had a lovely warm spell in the middle of April 2002. I remember it well, because I was in school and studying for final exams, but also because it was then that a little grey and black cat started hanging around our patio. She was young and she was skinny, but I didn’t feed her, because I knew that would make me feel responsible for her. Knowing that I would never want to let her out, I didn’t let her in, despite her pleas at the door. Instead I just lavished in her attention. Within days she was sitting on my lap, keeping me company all day long. She even came to visit at night, meowing a quick hello at our open window before she settled in on the ledge. We knew the neighbours were feeding her, but she seemed to like us.
After a few weeks of these visits, the weather turned cold again, and snow was in the air. I called Willy, and he agreed; we couldn’t just leave her to freeze. I set out a saucer of milk, and opened the door. She waltzed in and settled instantly. She was home.
One of our other neighbours also wanted to keep her, but she chose us. He was sad, but could see that she was comfortable and knew she would be happy. Together he and I came up with a name for her; Minerva. We called her Minnie, and she was a fixture on our little courtyard, spending her summer days in the garden watching the world go by, and her winter days looking out the window, waiting to get outside again.
She moved with us to our new house, and handled most of the changes very well. She loved to new space, but resented the turmoil and let us know by peeing on our bed, or occasionally our laundry pile. We quickly figured out that lots of love and affection was the answer, and we were all much happier.
When Woo came along, she was curious and cautious, but took to him right away. As he grew and started moving, she was ever so patient with him, even though he chased and pulled her tail. She just took it. I think she was almost too patient with him, like on the day that I walked out onto the sunroom and noticed that Woo was taller than he should be as he stood behind the couch. “What are you standing on?”, I asked. “Minnie”, was his smiling reply. Sure enough, she was just lying there, taking it. He grew to love her very much, and delighted in taking care of her, feeding, brushing, and letting her in and out of the house. He taught his sister to love her and be gentle with her too.
We placed her in the care of my Mom when we left Canada last fall, knowing that she loved Minnie very much, despite her protests. If anyone knew her and would care for her as we did, Mom would. We all missed her greatly, but knew that she was in good hands. The lils and I loved to hear of her exploits, and they frequently demanded that Mom ask her to “meow” into the phone for them. They both obliged.
We heard from Mom last night that Minnie passed away on Saturday, when we were away and unreachable. Willy and I are very sad, and know that the lils will be when we tell them tonight. She was our first pet, and has always been a part of the lils lives. We were all looking forward to seeing her again. Instead we will remember all the fun, playfulness, and her crazy neurotic ways. The way she ran around like a crazy cat, how she talked to us as we talked to her, and the fun that she had roaming around our yard and the lot at the lake. She was happy with us, both at home and at the cottage, and we have lots of good memories of her. I just wish we’d gotten to see her one more time and said goodbye.
Does anyone see it?
Our lils, like many smalls that I know, have adopted a little bit of a Jekyll and Hyde performance when it comes to their behaviour. They frequently save their absolute best behaviour for when they are in public or away from us, and their absolute worst for the times they are home with us. The line has blurred somewhat in the last year, as they have tried to cope with the changes we have thrown at them.
We know that they are well behaved, kind, caring children. Their behaviour is not unlike that of many of their friends. It’s better than what we see it to be, and not quite where we want it to be. Yes, they both have traits that drive me a little crazy (and yes, they both inherited those same traits from me), but those are easily surpassed by all the good.
This past year has marked the first time that I have been exposed to children whose behavior caused me to raise an eyebrow. I’m not talking about the occasional acting out that every child does, I am talking about consistent patterns of behaviour that demonstrate that the child is likely to be labelled a “behavioral challenge” in school for many years to come. Things like the little boy who tried to hold Woo’s head underwater in the community pool one day. Incidents like this have been rare, and have helped to reaffirm that our lils are pretty good eggs.
I often wonder if others see what I see, and note that some children get away with far too much, or that their parents don’t seem to be aware of their bad behaviour. Recently, our cook Lakshmi told me of a trip to the park that she took with Woo. The two of them were happily playing, when one of these boys came along to play with them. He seemed to want to be involved, but wouldn’t share or listen, and was disrupting the play despite the best efforts of Lakshmi and Woo. Finally they separated, but not enforce the boy’s mom came to Lakshmi to ask how she got him to listen and play nicely. ”It’s because he’s a good boy”, she responded. I am not sure if the mom caught the implication, but I did, and was relieved to know that at least one other person saw what I saw.
Wordless Wednesday – Mysore Zoo, revisited
The lils have grown up with at least one camera jammed in their faces on a regular basis, and although they have recently developed and aversion to having their picture taken, they are still delighted to see the results. They would spend hours just watching the images on my computer scroll in a slideshow if I let them, and frequently ask to see the pictures that I have taken at a specific time, or on a recent trip.
Woo received a “toy” camera for Christmas when he was two. He loved to take pictures with it, but we often failed to download the pictures before the battery died. When Woo was almost four, we gave him his first “real” camera. It was my old digital point and shoot, which lay mostly unused; save for when I was going diving (I have an underwater housing for it). He was delighted, a became a very serious photographer:
The camera moved to India with us, but sadly, it was the first casualty of the marble floors in our house. He was doing some self-portraits, and in the rush to get in front of the lens before the timer went off, tripped over the tripod legs. The camera landed on the lens, and it was toast. Woo was crushed. Willy and I secretly hatched a plan to buy a replacement on eBay and have it delivered to Ottawa for our visit this past May. He was still keenly interested, and frequently directed me to take pictures of this or composed the shots that I NEEDED to take.
Under careful supervision, Willy started letting Woo use his DSLR in the spring. He seemed to like it very much, even though he was not used to needing to put his eye to the viewfinder to see the shot. They occasionally went on photowalks in the neighbourhood, but he was happiest to take pictures of his sister. His interest died down when he got the replacement camera, as he could use it all the time. His usage of Willy`s camera was heavily supervised.
A few weeks ago we went to Mysore, and Goose decided that SHE wanted to take pictures now too, and Willy`s camera and then his cellphone camera became hot commodities (I don`t share). The camera strap had to be modified for Goose`s tiny frame, but she too began wandering around, snapping like mad.
Yes, there were lots of shots of the ground, but they each took some pretty cute shots!
I had to crouch to get in the frame
Working on focussing on the subject
Woo in front of the temple
Hiding from the sun
This is what happens when you try to take a picture of Woo now!
Our driver, Subbu, was very amused by the two lil paparazzi
Talking a picture of me, as I took the picture of him above
I am so looking forward to fostering this in both lils!
Let chaos reign
Let chaos reign
I pride myself on being an organized person. I make lists for everything and they are what keep us together, with everything that we need, everywhere we go. This move from India to Canada is likely the one instance where I need to be most organized, to ensure that we are always moving forward, despite the multiple curveballs that get thrown at us. Sadly, the opposite is true.
I have no idea what I am doing five minutes from now, let alone tomorrow or the rest of the week. I have a list of all our possessions, but that is pretty much the extent of the packing and purging and organizing I have done. We don’t even have plane tickets yet, let alone have we figured out what we are going to do in the twelve hours between when we give up our house and get on a plane at 2:30 in the morning. I am starting to crack.
This weekend brought a triple-play of unexpectedness, when we had to go to the hospital/doctor for Woo, Goose, AND Willy. Willy and Goose would have been OK without the visit, but Woo woke up with a raging sore throat and fever, so we headed in. The damage was tonsillitis for Woo, bronchitis for Goose, and a suspicious mole that had been bothering Willy removed and sent to biopsy. All relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, just enough to push the collective crank and my stress level through the roof. Now, on top of all the things that I am worrying about not knowing that I am worried about, I have to figure out who gets what medicine when, five different meds spread over three people (OK, I did make a chart for this one).
What I really need to do is sit down and start that list. It boils down to me needing to get the house in order and run a few extra errands, yet the task is so daunting at this point. Willy is doing all the heavy lifting, interacting with the absurd Indian banks, our landlord who is less than helpful or responsive to our needs, and a myriad of other tedious little tasks that crop up while he is attempting to do his day job and be here for the lils. I am busy, and getting things done, but I fear that not having prioritized them is going to come back to bite me, and I will regret the little things like the ninety minute trip to the mall today where I failed to get the things that I am not sure we REALLY need when I am running in circles in the coming days. So I am going to crack open my list book before I lose my mind. Right after I open a bottle of wine.
The games people play
We have reached the point in our stay in India where I oscillate between frantically trying to cram in the people and things that I still want to see and panicking about all the work that we have to do to get our butts home to Canada. This week, the pack-panic is winning. We brought relatively little with us when we came over, as we had chosen to find a “furnished” house and receive a smaller shipment via air freight. The limitation of this is that we only have the same physical space in which to ship our goods home in. We leave in three weeks, and, until recently, I had done little more than think about this daunting task.
When we were on our look-see trip, we discovered that a furnished house has little more than the bare walls. We knew that we would have to acquire some items to make this a home, and over the course of the year we have, so the first task was for me to decide what to take and what to leave. This meant that I ushered Willy and the lils out of the house and did a complete inventory of every item, then decided if we pack or sell/donate. It took all day, but most of the decisions were not difficult, and we ended up with a fairly long list of items that we wished to sell. I posted that list on various message boards on Monday night. Luckily for us, almost all of the items had multiple interested parties within hours, and I am fairly confident that it will all be gone before we leave.
It had been so long since I tried to sell anything online that I had forgotten about the various types of buyers that there are out there, most of whom I had seen in my sales in Ottawa before I left. Over the last few days, I have interacted with the following types:
The Under-pricer: they commit to buying your items, but change the prices in their reply, hoping that you don’t notice before agreeing to the sale. We notice.
The Mooch: The person who wants to buy large items but doesn’t have a means to get them, so instead of trying to make arrangements just assumes that I will deliver them.
The Drive-by: They show up at your door with no warning and expect to be let in, or call/text, upset that you aren’t home. Hmm, maybe you should call first?!
The Wannabe hoarder: They try to buy the entire list, but are easily discouraged when you tell them that a few of the items are sold.
The Flake: They claim an item within minutes of it being posted, and then never show to pick it up, despite repeated assurances that they are “on their way”. For several days.
The Indignant flake: They ask to view or buy an item, never show up for the viewing, then get mad when it is sold to someone else.
The Under-cutter: they ask for a discount on EVERY item.
The All-or-none shopper: They find out that some of the items they requested are sold, so when asked if they want to make arrangements to pick up the rest of their list state “oh, I didn’t really want those things”
The Carpet bomber: They post their desire to purchase and item from multiple email accounts, responding on each list that I have posted the items for sale on.
The Doubter: They don`t believe you when you tell them that an item is sold.
The FOMO: they select a couple of items, are told they are sold, select a couple more, are told they are sold, select a couple of more…
The Jerk: They offer MORE money when told that the item has been spoken for, or even paid for!
This experience has taught me that these types of shoppers exist all over the world. The nice thing about it is that the people who have been successful in purchasing and picking up our items have been really prompt about it, and very happy with their purchases. It’s nice to know that our things are going on to nice homes. Now if only I had realized the ramifications of selling our sofas and chairs a full three weeks before we left…