The Hot Pot Blog


August 31, 2012

Moving Overseas With a Baby

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This post is a little off-the-cuff and a lot long so please feel free to skim or skip altogether!

When we moved to Chengdu in 2010 we didn’t have Will yet and I didn’t have a job yet.  With no demands on my days except the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t be spending it all locked up in our house reading the interwebs, I had all the time in the world to explore.

And so I did.  I was lonely those first few weeks and months, but I never wanted for a “real Chengdu” experience.  I was able to have it, whenever I wanted.  All I had to do was put on my shoes and walk out my front door.

I didn’t always know where I was going or exactly what I was doing.  I was forever being served tasteless, plain white noodles at the local noodle places until I figured out how to ask for the spicy bowls everyone else was having.  The first three times I tried to go shopping at Carrefour I left empty-handed because I couldn’t find the cash registers.  For the most part though, I bumbled along quite happily those first few weeks in Chengdu.

We’ve been in New Delhi nearly two weeks now and it’s amazing to me both how much I’ve seen of Delhi compared to some of the folks I’ve met here, and also how little I’ve seen of Delhi compared to what my expectations were before our plane touched down in India.

I didn’t realized ahead of time what an impact Will would make on our getting-situated process.  I should have probably.

Before we left I had visions of leaving the house early in the morning with Will in his Ergo and coming home late after a day of exploring.  That’s usually how we roll, especially when we travel.

But what I forgot to take into account was that we aren’t traveling now.  This is home.

This may be home now but Will is still too little to fully understand what is happening or why he is so tired or why we haven’t taken him back to the apartment in Rosslyn yet.  He’s still too young to vocalize what he feels, but it’s pretty obvious that this whole moving-across-the-world business has him feeling as out of sorts as his parents sometimes do.

And when it’s your kid, your baby, who’s feeling stressed out because of something you’ve chosen for them, you’ll do just about anything to try any make it better.

Including tossing most of your dreams for adventure in those first few weeks right out the window.

Having a baby now makes getting settled and making this place “ours,” feel so much more important than I realized it would.  In Chengdu, not having our stuff was simply inconvenient and I sort of enjoyed the freedom from “stuff” for those first few months.

This time I’m counting down the days until the boxes arrive.  Will might never remember this place, but I feel driven by some misguided maternal instinct to make this place feel like home for Will for as many weeks and months as possible before we have to pack it all back up again.

I’m realizing too that, to truly make this place home, Will needs to spend some time here.  He needs to get used to taking his naps here and knowing that where he is when he goes to sleep will be where he is when he wakes up.  He needs time to explore and bump his knees and fall down on the hard tile and figure out what is and isn’t off-limits around the house.

So, throw in the need to take taxis everywhere right now, unpredictable monsoon rains, Will transitioning back from 1 nap a day to two or more, stores not opening until 11am, and a bit of insecurity about our India parenting choices, and the result is that we’re spending more time at home than I thought we would.  Operation: Explore Delhi is unfolding much more slowly than I expected and, honestly, much more slowly than I’d like.

Our little man is clingier now than he was our first days here.  He pretty much gave up solid food for our first 10 days and wanted to be held constantly.  As most people who meet him remark, Will is a really chill little kid most of the time; but right now we’re seeing a lot more tears and hysterics and emotional roller-coaster-riding than we’ve ever experienced before.

It’s understandable, normal, probably healthy even, but it does make me think before I consider dragging Will across town twice in one day to satisfy my own wanderlust.  I’m still getting my bearings and not entirely sure how long it takes to get places, what traffic is like, how much I should be worried about Dengue Fever and whether I’m simply crazy for taking Will around town with me at all.

We live in a place now with a few real risks and many inconveniences associated with getting out and about with kids in tow.  I don’t usually give much thought to what “everyone else” is doing in the parenting department, but I’ve been second-guessing my parenting choices when Will and I are the only people on the playground at 10am on a seemingly beautiful day.  Or when I don’t see many other expat kids out with their parents around town.

Is it the fears of Dengue Fever?  Is it the heat?  Is it just that much easier to leave kids home with their ayahs and go out to explore sans kids?  Or are we simply somehow just managing to go everywhere at precisely the wrong time to see other kids and parents?  It could easily be that.

In Chengdu I always felt a little like a nervous nelly Mama compared to some of the other expat parents we met.  I kept Will home on days when the air pollution was bad.  We didn’t drive around on a battery-powered scooter holding Will in our arms.  We didn’t buy local baby products.

Here though, I can’t tell yet whether I’m normal or adventurous or would be considered borderline reckless by some people just taking Will in a cab across town.  We’ve met a few really wonderful, game-for-anything families now, but I’ve also had people tell us we are “brave” for taking Will to all of the markets he’s been to in our two weeks here, while others ask if he’s ok going out when it’s “so hot out.”

I don’t feel like we are taking huge risks or, on the flip side, being overly-devoted parents by taking Will with us everywhere.  He’s constantly covered in (baby-safe) bug spray, wearing long pants and being urged to sip from his water bottle.  We always go home as soon as he’s too tired, too hot, too overstimulated to stay out any longer.

Surely I too will leave him home with the ayah once in awhile once we have someone hired full-time, but hopefully not all the time and hopefully not when we could be out making memories together as a family.

But are we doing the right thing(s)?  Will we look back in six months and think we were nuts to drag Will around town with us for the seemingly meager amounts of exploring we are doing?  We don’t know yet.

We’re slowly figuring out our personal parenting remix, incorporating some of the norms of the community and holding fast to our own family values.  We’re still having fun here, we’re still exploring, it’s just been very different thus far than perhaps what we hoped and dreamed it would be.

I’ve been frustrated at times, I really have been.  Recently it’s begun to dawn on me though that being here with Will, as opposed to without a kid, we may actually be getting more out of our Delhi experience already than I would have thought.

When you don’t have kids and you know you have all the time in the world, it’s sometimes easier to put off exploring for another day.  You can stay at home and watch another show on Hulu and wait for optimal weather or the perfect mood to get out and see things.   When being home is nothing but relaxing, it can be harder to work up the motivation to leave it.

Being with Will all day, every day though, those short windows between naps and meals are so precious that I don’t want to waste them.  I don’t want to sit at home stealing glances at my computer if we could be out doing something–and Will doesn’t either.  Like most kids, he gets a little stir-crazy sitting at home all day.  He’s keeping me constantly challenged to think of new things to do and new places to go.

And he gets me out and meeting people.

One of the hardest adjustments for me in Chengdu was finding friends.  We made a lot of great friends in Chengdu, but I don’t know if there was another stay-at-home expat spouse without kids in the entire city during our time there.  Things got much better when I started working, but it was incredibly lonely at first trying to find people to spend time with during the day.

Not so here.  Babies are social-magnets, seriously.  They just make meeting people so easy.  We’ve been here two weeks and there have only been a handful of days that Will and I didn’t have a play-date or a lunch date or meet new friends at the kiddie pool.  Even on the few days we’ve “stayed home” and not left the compound, we haven’t actually been home that much.  We’ve been hanging out with some terrific families and great kids and it’s been a lot of fun already.

I keep reminding myself that we have two years here. Six months from now, the fact that we spent most of our first week sitting at home or walking around the compound probably won’t matter so much to us, but it might go a long way towards how long it takes Will to feel secure and comfortable here.

After two weeks in Delhi, Will seems to have mostly adjusted.  He’s starting to eat solid foods again. His sleep is still off as he keeps switching back and forth between two naps a day and the one nap per day routine that we got used to in D.C., but it’s getting better.  He laughs often, smiles constantly and keeps finding new things to play with around the house.  He’s still a little clingy sometimes and he’s begun throwing very theatrical tantrums when we take away a electrical cord toy.  But it’s hard to say whether that’s a result of the big move or simply us moving into the tricky business of toddlerhood (of which I suddenly have dozens of newfound topics for baby blog fodder right now!)

We’re busy right now chasing Will away from outlets and worrying about mosquito bites, trading afternoons at the pool for afternoons out in old Delhi, and wondering more than ever now whether we’re doing this whole third-culture kid thing right.  At the end of the day though, we’re just so happy we have this opportunity for Will to spend time in a country that we love so much.  It is, quite simply, really, really cool.

How did having kids change your adjustment to a new city, new country, new Post overseas?

August 30, 2012

Safdarjung’s Tomb: The Baby Wrangling Edition

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Living on the Embassy compound is a beautiful thing.  It’s incredibly convenient, well-maintained, safe and very, very comfortable.

Sometimes a little too comfortable.  We didn’t come to India to spend all of our time floating in a bubble of 1950’s Americana, but I’m new here and I’m still figuring out exactly what is nearby and what is far away, and what I can tackle solo with Will in tow, during quick gaps between meals and naps, and what’s best left for a weekend family outing.

I woke up this morning, as always, with an urge to get out–somewhere, anywhere.  I remembered seeing signs for Safdarjung’s Tomb on my way to a few other places around town so I knew it had to be close.  The Lonely Planet entry was short so I knew it had to be something I could appreciate in under an hour.

I doused Will in hippie citronella bug spray, let a cabbie rip me off in my enthusiasm to just get out the door, and off we went to Safdarung’s Tomb.  The monsoon skies had  just cleared and we were the first visitors of the day.

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It’s been years since I’ve been to a deserted historical site.  Scratch that, it’s been years since I’ve been to a truly historical site (outside America) at all.

One of the most disappointing realities of living in China is that there isn’t a great deal of visible or architectural history left there.  So much was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and so much of what was left has been plowed under in the manic real estate boom that’s been gripping the country for the past 20 years.

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But we’re in India now, not China and after I paid my foreigner’s fee and walked through the opening archway, I felt a certain thrill of excitement I haven’t felt in a long, long time.

“Look Will!  This is old!  This is really, really old!”

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Truthfully, Safdarjung Tomb is not terrifically ancient, it was built in 1753 and represents the final, grandstanding architectural fireworks of the Mughal empire’s twilight hours.

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The Tomb of Safdarjung is not quite as huge or elaborate as the better known Humayun’s Tomb; but it is old and deserted, in the most peaceful, beautiful way.

Besides a crew of workers digging up and replacing pathways, we had the place to ourselves.

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A nice old man shook Will’s hand and pointed us up the stairs to the deck of the mausoleum where we admired all of the right angles, the stunning octagonal towers and the brilliant red of the sandstone pavers (dug up, apparently, from someone else’s tomb).  We saw the names of lovers carved in the walls and watched from above as a few couples walked into the garden and shyly grabbed hands out of the view of passersby on the busy street outside.

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On our way out, a nice young man in a uniform came up to us to see if we wanted a tour.  He was so enthusiastic I almost said yes, in spite of the increasingly wriggly and intent-on-eating-garbage baby in my arms.  Instead though, I shifted Will’s sweaty little body onto my hip, put my camera back in my bag and told him we’d definitely be back again–hopefully with time for a tour next time.

I did manage to get a few pictures before we left, though I need to remember to carry my camera in a ziplock bag here, at least until the monsoon is over.  With the heat and the humidity, it took nearly 20 minutes for my lens to finish fogging up.

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I shoot in Manual 99% of the time and I think I’ve managed to perfect the art(?) of holding Will and my bag in one arm while shooting and adjusting my settings with the other.  I couldn’t help but think today though, as I alternated between taking pictures while carrying Will and running after him trying to keep him from eating dirt, that being able to run around town and do these sorts of impromptu photo shoots on my own is a distinct privilege of being the mother to just one, quite tiny and fairly easy-going baby.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep this kind of thing up when there are two in the picture (which won’t be for awhile!!).

Even now though, I keep my photography expectations low when I’m out alone with Will.  If I get any shots at all, great.  If I get any good shots, that’s fantastic.  If I get a photo of Will looking all adorable in front of ancient architecture, then we’re having a really, really good day.

Today was a really, really good day but not every single day can be great when you’re navigating a new city, a new community with a wee one in tow.  I’m working on a post right now about the very different experience we are having adjusting to a new Post with a baby versus at our last Post where we arrived sans kiddo.  It’s been very interesting and I can’t wait to hear other people’s experiences going through similar adjustments.

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Will getting into his history!

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Oh wait, never-mind. Spot lights are way more interesting.

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So is garbage, apparently.

(Photos above all edited supposedly-lightly in Aviary, a program I am coming to despise with a fervor previously reserved for Microsoft Vista.  What’s with the weird over-saturation thing?)

August 28, 2012

13 Months

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Dear Will,

Happy 13-months-old-day in India.

Today I tried to take you on a walk around the block.  Instead we stood in front of our house so that you could greet every person who walked past.

I struggle mightily to convince you to eat-eat anything-sitting down in a chair but these days you prefer your calories on the go, walking around the house, preferably after having thrown your food on the floor several times.

We spent 240 rupees on two trash pails our first weekend in town.  One is currently holding our garbage.  The other is a decoy to keep you from getting into the one with real garbage in it.  Most entertaining $5 we’ve ever spent, it seems.

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As your father likes to say (usually as you’re sobbing dramatically over the great injustices of toddlerhood) you have preferences now.

Preferences, a propensity towards sleeping horizontally in our bed, and a stubborn streak as wide as your father and mother’s combined.

And the most winning smile.

And the funniest grin.

And the most irresistible way of burying your head in my chest and melting into my arms for post-nap snuggles.

This parenting gig only gets more complicated the older you get Will, but it also keeps getting more fun.  Mostly because you are so fun.  And we love you. So, so, so much.

All of our love little man,

Mama

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p.s. Does the coloring of these photos look a little weird to you?  I’ve been editing in Flickr’s Aviary app lately and it is just about the most confounding bit of software I’ve ever used…

August 26, 2012

Dinner a la UAB

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A house isn’t a home until I’ve made brownies in it. Or until Chris has canned a jar of pickles. Or until we’ve made a meal seasoned with something besides soy sauce and bourbon.

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Speaking from recent experience though, brownies made with a splash of bourbon and bread flour are delicious. Perhaps even better than the original. My baking supplies arrive in 2 weeks but I’m not sure yet whether I’ll go back to all-purpose flour and vanilla-flavored brownies ever again.

 

Last Week

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I haven’t been blogging much this week, obviously.

The most boring reason is that we’ve been, well, boring.

I’ve spent the last week scrubbing floors, getting badged, cleaning out cabinets, going to check-ins, getting a cellphone, interviewing housekeepers and standing guard over Will as he took 2+ naps a day while getting over jet lag and his cold.  There were no cribs when we first got here so, to prevent any Charlottesville-style dismounts onto the hard tile below our bed, one of us has to either be in bed or near the bed while Will sleeps.

Which makes for some very thrilling days of folding laundry next to the bed, eating toast for lunch, getting up at ungodly hours to clean before Will, the human tornado wakes up, and writing and rewriting posts that ultimately seemed far too boring to bother publishing.  Throw in monsoon rains and the requirement that someone be home when workmen (so many workmen!) are here and it’s been a very busy week about which there was absolutely nothing to blog about.

But, things are coming along.    This morning, after a rather disheartening run at car-buying, we stopped by Sarojini, a one-stop-shop for export runoffs, luggage, produce and all-things-plastic and sparkly.

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The market was just opening for the day.  Vendors were carefully folding up the giant blue plastic tarps they use to cover their wares.  Families piled out of tiny hatchbacks in the parking lot. Coffee and tea wallahs carrying faded mauve-colored plastic canteens and stacks of tiny plastic cups competed with the sunglasses salesmen for our attention.  Neatly swept piles of garbage dotted the puddle-soaked alleyways, soon to be dismantled and trod under foot once again.  A slight breeze blew, keeping the flies at bay and sending the delicious stomach-rumbling smells of cooking onion and spices and fried dough wafting over the chaat stall countertops and across the market.

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Things seemed more orderly, less chaotic than I remember from my time negotiating similar markets down in Chennai.  Maybe it was the time of day, maybe New Delhi is just a very different city.  Or maybe I’m just a different, less wide-eyed person than I was back then.

I’m still figuring out how to wrangle my increasingly squirmy toddler whilst taking photos and I’m also still figuring out how to process our experience here thus far. This initial shift from back-water, boondock Consulate to one of the biggest, best-equipped Embassies in the world has been a bit jarring–in ways both good and interesting.

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I’m not sure what I can write right now that won’t be proven wrong by experience or more and better information over the next few weeks and months, but I will say this:

We like it here.

On Friday I had 25 pounds of organic and natural produce and meat delivered to our Embassy gate, including organic arugula, chorizo and water-packed fresh mozzarella.  A basket of food so heavy I couldn’t actually lift it cost less than one quick run to the grocery stores in Arlington.

After two years in Chengdu, that kind of bounty and availability is nothing short of jaw-dropping.  And that’s not even counting the commissary and vegetable stand not 30 feet out our front door.  We want for nothing here I think.

We went to a play-group yesterday where there was a lot of talk about air pollution concerns and worries about taking children outdoors.  Chris and I were actually a bit incredulous.  After living in China, it seems our standards for what’s unhealthy are very warped.

Our friends from Chengdu have been absolutely amazing, reaching out to us, sending potential housekeepers our way, and introducing us to people.  We are so lucky to count them as friends.   I also had the unique pleasure of going to lunch with someone last week who is even more fun and wonderful in real life than she is on her beautiful blog.

On the other hand, I still feel very much like the new kid at school.  This is definitely a “make your own way” kind of place here.  It’s too big for the “everyone’s included” mentality we enjoyed in Chengdu and I’m still trying to figure out how people form circles of friends here.  We’ve been so lucky to meet and reconnect with some wonderful people here already.   Even so, it’s always awkward to be the only Mama at the kiddie pool who doesn’t know everyone yet.

The thing is, this Embassy is so big and the expat community is so huge that I’m sure half the women I see around the compound are probably also looking at me wondering whether I’m new or old or someone they should be saying hi to too!

There are many aspects to life as part of this mission that we are still getting used to and so much of this city that we haven’t seen yet and are anxious to explore. It’s hard to say how much of what we think of this place will still ring true over the coming weeks and months. We’ll see, won’t we?

August 21, 2012

(Im)Patience

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I’d forgotten about this part.  This “we’re home but not really home yet” part.

I find myself mentally rearranging furniture and obsessing over what colors to paint, practically willing our shipment to arrive so that we can make this house feel like a home as fast as possible.  Our meager belongings–a shopping bag here, a bottle of bug spray there, a pile of check-in papers loitering on the stairs sit awkwardly, untidily in the first places we find to put them down.  It’s as if, subconsciously, we can’t bear to tidy up too much because, if we do, we’ll be hiding any trace of us actually living here.

That, or we just know that as soon as all of our stuff arrives, we’ll just have to take everything back out to organize again.  Probably that.

Our kitchen here is fantastic, spacious even, full of enough cupboards to hopefully hold everything we have for it.  But to really make use of it we need to fill up our spice rack and restock our pantry again.  It’s a slow process, one that inspires some very creative dishes.  Chris made French toast our first morning–using crushed up Cheerios for “sugar.”  Last night we made shrimp cooked in bourbon (yea, I know-but delicious!) and rice.  When not pretending we’re contestants on some Food Network cooking show, we’re eating lots of toast and fruit, something I remember well from Chengdu.

Except in Chengdu, you couldn’t walk ten paces down the street without running into a dumpling shop or a fancy Sichuanese restaurant or a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint serving dishes on tiny fold up tables on the sidewalk.  We ate out a lot our first few weeks in Chengdu.  Here though I’m not entirely sure where these sorts of neighborhood-y type places might be.  I know where the Mediterranean and the Chinese restaurants are in the nearby neighborhood, but funnily enough, I’m still working on locating the Indian food.  That we’re all still falling asleep by the time the restaurants open for dinner at 7pm only complicates matters.

There’s an incredible assortment of food to be had here–I even found quinoa and chia seeds at one of the crowded stalls at INA market–but we’re still not used to  rupee conversions yet and keep reverting back to Chinese RMB.  As such, I see the price “300” for a bottle of sesame oil and I think it costs $50 dollars, not $6.  By the time I’ve realized my mistake, I’ve already walked away..

We’ve gotten out walking and taken cabs out of the Diplomatic area a few times now and I’m beginning to realize how different an environment this “compound living” thing really is.

For the past ten years, I’ve been so used to walking out my front door and being in a real, bustling neighborhood–whether it was my college town, the neighborhood I lived in in Chennai, Adam’s Morgan and Mount Pleasant in Washington, D.C., the WuHou and Tongzilin areas of Chengdu, even good old Rosslyn.

Here there are neighborhoods, but there are also wide boulevards, gigantic Embassy compunds and quiet–it’s so much quieter than I could have ever imagined in India.

It’s beautiful–don’t get me wrong.  I love the greenery, the glimpses of interesting architecture peeking over high walls and imposing-looking gates.  This is India too, just not the India I’ve ever known.

We’re slowly, slowly adjusting.  My old favorite Indian-brand of shampoo is in our bathroom now and there’s a new cotton quilt on our bed that didn’t come out of the Welcome Kit.  The staff canteen here makes Southern-style dosas two days a week and I’ll plan on being first in line the day after tomorrow to try them out.  I’m beginning to realize that the things I used to know and love about living in India aren’t as far away as they seemed our first day or two in town.  We just need to make the effort to go out and find them.

And, as several wise, wise women have counseled, it takes time to make a new place feel like home.  To get ourselves and our kid used to new routines, new norms, new ways of doing things.  In a few short weeks we’ll have figured out the housekeeping, we’ll know where to shop, we might even have found a neighborhood Indian restaurant and made a few friends.

But until then, I need to remember to have patience.  We’ve got two whole years here, there’s no need to rush.

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Only had time for a few quick shots while Will wrangling at a few markets. Above is from Khan Market, below at INA. Oh and Will taking a school tour.

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August 18, 2012

We’re Here

Hi.  Greetings from Mother India.

Or rather from a little oasis of 1950’s Americana located in India.

Jet lag is a witch.  I suck at it every time.  I don’t nap during the day, I don’t sleep at night and thus, at this point, I have all the mental faculty of a prehistoric slug masquerading as a walking, talking human being.

Nonetheless, a few (ok, a lot of) bullet points from the past few days:

*Call it “mother’s intuition” or sheer dumb luck but I sat up straight in bed the night before we left D.C. panicking over whether I had packed the baby nasal saline spray for the plane.  Sure enough, as we waited for our plane to board, Will started sneezing…great gobs of yellow snot all over my dinner.

*Within a few hours of takeoff, Will had thrown up on me twice (that’s what I get for doing a fashion-related post!) and come down with a raging fever.  One dose of non-recalled baby Tylenol wasn’t enough to get his fever down, so 4 hours later I asked Chris for a second dose..which led to a 3 hour search for where on the damn plane the bottle of medicine may have rolled to.  Picture a screaming baby, glaring fellow passengers, annoyed stewardesses.   It was about as theatrically cliche as a bad flying-with-baby story can get.

*In Frankfurt, we consulted Google on Will’s cold/fever.  Turns out the prevailing interwebs opinion on traveling with a sick baby is that one is apparently supposed to cancel all travel plans and stay home.    Very helpful.

*I’m a bit perversely relieved though that we finally have our own horrendous flying-with-kids story.  Will has always been such a good traveler that it’s almost embarrassing.  It’s, of course, nice that people come up to us after long-haul flights to tell us how “well-behaved” Will is; but the constant, nerve-wracking anticipation I always felt worrying about whether this flight would finally be the one I’d been dreading for so long was actually almost as painful as when the worst actually did happen.  Turns out, I really, really don’t care what other people think when it’s my sick baby who is screaming.

*We landed in Delhi at 2am on Friday morning.  At 2:30 am the only thing I was cognizant-enough to notice was that our sponsor’s husband was wearing the exact same shoes as Chris.  A fact I shared only about 3 paces after “Hi, nice to meet you.”  Oh well.

*Our sponsors seem like super, super people, we really like them.  They have the sweetest, most wonderful dogs I’ve ever met (I’m not usually a pet person) and their daughter is 6 months younger than Will and absolutely adorable.  Crossing fingers that we get to hang out with them again.

*I don’t think there’s a writer who’s ever come to India and not made at least a passing comment about what India smells like.  India smells so strongly, so uniquely like no other place on Earth that it’s unforgettable to anyone who visits.  Scents are so emotional and they color our memories of a place like few other sensory experiences can.

*To me, India smells like a heady mix of burning garbage, sandalwood, decaying leaves and incense.  The smell pervades everything, everywhere, except the most aggressively air-conditioned of places.  It makes the air feel so heavy you can practically feel the weight of it on your shoulders and taste it every time you open your mouth..  You can smell it the instant the plane cabin depressurizes at the airport.  It smells like home now.

*Speaking of home, it was a very different first day here in New Delhi than we experienced in Chengdu, in so many ways.  We arrived at our new townhouse at 3 in the morning on Friday.  At 9ish, this lovely, sweet lady brought over some (delicious!) muffins.  By 2pm I’d already had 6 workmen over.  At 3pm, we took Will to the Med Unit (amazing people, wonderful facility, 15 feet behind our backyard).  At 4pm Chris’ sister came over.  At 6pm some friends from Chengdu stopped by and by 8pm we’d already fended off offers to employ 5 different gardeners (which we’ll do eventually, just not today).  Barely 12 hours in country and it felt like we’d already been here for months.  Weird I suppose, but wonderful.

* I like our house.  I like the compound.  I think I’d go stir-crazy if I had to stay here day in and day out but, after Chengdu, I can appreciate exactly how nice it is to be able to come home to a place where everything works and things are comfortable.  Are we “in India” when we are here?  Not really, but I’m counting on the fish-bowl nature of the place to keep us out and about around town.

*Dude, our couches.  They are exactly the same ugly GSO couches everyone gets, but after the faded red-and-gold, torn-up, 18 year old sofas we had in Chengdu, they look so beautiful to me!  We’ll be slip-covering as soon as we can, but I’m just grateful for now that I can sit down on them without feeling like I need to take a shower afterwards.

*Will is still recovering from his cold-turned-ear-infection but he seems to like it here.  True, he kind of likes it everywhere (that’s not an airplane) but he seems to get that this is “home.”  Between the move-across-the-world and feeling so crap-tastic, he’s mostly clinging to me around the clock, but that’s ok.  I like watching him as he tests out all of the drawers, measures the distance from couch to coffee table, and smiles when I tell him that we are “home” now.

*Not entirely on topic but: Will doesn’t talk at all yet and so it’s sometimes hard to figure out exactly how much he understands.  Yesterday was a big day though.  When Chris’ sister was here, we asked Will “where’s ahyee [auntie]?”  He turned around and pointed straight to her.  It was the first time he’s really responded to a question from us and I had no idea how meaningful that would be.

*Our air shipment should be here within a week or so.  Our stuff from China arrives on the 5th.  Amazing.  We lived in Chengdu for nearly four months with just the clothes we packed in our suitcases (and that wasn’t long to wait for stuff in Chengdu!), so this all feels so, so quick.  Honestly, between the med unit and the speed of shipment and the gigantic facilities crew and the ability to get mail more than once a week and the commissary, I’m in total awe of big Embassy living.  I’m also really glad that this wasn’t our first Post, it makes us appreciate everything a lot more.

Sorry for all of the random ramblings.  Today we’re going into town to get some shopping done (for garbage pails-yay!).  More (and more coherent ramblings) coming soon.

August 16, 2012

What to Wear For an International Flight

Ugh, self portraiture.  Camera is already packed, hello Instagram.  

We should be, hopefully, in India at this point, but until we’re officially back in wifi land, a quick, pre-schedule post.

I know nothing about fashion, I don’t have any high maintenance beauty routines, I don’t know how to accessorize to save my life.  But I like to think I’ve perfected the art of dressing smart for international travel.  Here’s my uniform:

1. A long, nicely-tailored tunic-type shirt or sweater.  It should be something that you can sleep in comfortably but that could also read “business casual” if necessary.  Tunic length is nice when traveling to more conservative countries and for avoiding weird gap-between-shirt-and-pants issues as you contort yourself into your tiny seat or across your neighbors lap to reach the restroom.

2. Skinny dark/black jeans or nice leggings.  This isn’t about looking cool, this is all about practicality.  The cleaner your pants stay, the cleaner you stay.  On international flights, especially from places like China and India you  do NOT want to expose any more of your person or clothing items to the floor of the airplane restroom than you have to, hence pants that hit at the ankle.

3. Slip on shoes and socks.  Not only are slip-ons easier going through airport security, but its nice to be able to easily slip off your footwear and curl up without worrying about dirtying up your seat or blanket.  I always pack socks, at least for the airplane because my feet get cold.

4. A nice big, somewhat heavy scarf.  Rather than pack a blanket and a jacket, I always just wear a scarf to help stay warm on the plane and on the tarmac. I try to make sure its something that could also be used as a towel or a head covering, should the need arise.

5. My hair in a single french-braid.  After traveling across the world, I don’t like my hair looking like a greasy advertisement to the world that “hello! I haven’t showered in over 36 hours!”  French braids tend to just look better, more messy chic, the longer I wear them (up to a point).  Should I land to find out that another shower won’t be in the cards anytime soon, I just undo the braid, finger comb, and I have a new hairstyle that can get me through at least a few more hours of activity.

Finally, it’s not just what you wear, but what you bring with you that matters.

I’m always afraid of landing in a foreign country and finding out that our luggage is lost (has happened) or that I’m going to have to get through another day and a half of work/social functions with nothing more than the clothes on my back (has also happened).

As such, no matter how much baby gear we need to bring, no matter how much of our luggage I need to devote to my oatmeal and cranberry rations, I always make sure I have the following items in my carry-on:

1. Face-wipes (a great way to wake up after a long flight)

2. Super-thick skin cream (for slathering all over my face and hands)

3. Basic make-up (mascara, concealer, lip balm and blush-the last one is key for looking truly alive after a long flight)

4. A clean pair of underwear.

5. A toothbrush and/or listerine strips.

That’s it, that’s my travel uniform.  What’s yours?

(Shirt and shoes are J. Crew–I never buy anything from there unless it’s on sale but that striped shirt was my first ever exception.  Scarf is Chinese knock-off, shoes are Sanuks–my favorite shoes ever, so comfortable and regularly on sale a few times a year.  Earrings are Target, toiletry case is Muji-the best store in the whole world)

Will taking his pre-airport nap.

August 15, 2012

Returning to India

Work in Progress

I went to India the first time as a naive, silly, totally unprepared, totally clueless 22-year-old intern.

I cried myself to sleep (out of loneliness? fear?) so many nights under a ripped mosquito net on a bed-bug infested mattress that I shared with a lovely Italian girl because we were all too poor or too cheap to pay for our own beds.   During the day, I walked the streets.  I traveled across the country on rickety buses and in third class sleeper train cars, I ostensibly worked for a tiny NGO that really, thankfully, had no use for me.

Market

I thought I hated India, in that way only someone who has moved across the world all alone for the first time really can.

It’s disorienting to move overseas and realize that it’s not just the language and the clothes that are different, it’s everything.  Things you didn’t even know could possibly be different, from paying the electric bill to buying gas for the kitchen stove, are strange, difficult, and sometimes not obviously logical.  Things are never the way you think they “should be” and, by the time the full magnitude of a place’s “other-ness” hits you, you’re usually in too deep to back out or run away.

Those moments when there’s a problem to be solved, there are people staring at you blankly waiting for an answer, and you have no clue what to do and no one else to turn to, those moments are sometimes breathtakingly brutal—and life-changing.

People say that you either love India or you hate it, and you’ll know instantly.  That’s not true.  I didn’t love India that first time there, but it got under my skin.  I’d crawl out from underneath our mosquito net in the morning and find myself craving the activity and bustle on the streets below our flat, the comforting routine of the call to prayer at the neighborhood mosque, the road-side stands selling South Indian coffee, the women who invited me to their aerobics class on the roof, the few truly kind auto-drivers I met in Chennai, the geckos on our window screens, even the neighbor’s car which always, unnervingly, played “We wish you Merry Christmas” while backing up.

Then just as I was climbing out of that first culture shock U, I left India, supposedly for good.

As I wrote in this post, though, I came back.  Again and again.  I met amazing people.  Funny, irascible, smart, socially-minded people who not only called India home but who welcomed me so graciously in spite of all of my misconceptions and silly antics.  By the end of my last trip, India began to feel a little like a home away from home.

We leave today for New Delhi, returning this time as a family, with a baby.

It will be different.  In some ways I’m sure it will be easier, in many more ways it will probably be more difficult, finding work, making friends in a huge expat community and figuring out how to travel the country again, this time with a toddler in tow.

We don’t know entirely what to expect, but then, no one moving across the world, ever really does.

August 13, 2012

Air & Space

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Lots of writing, lots of packing, lots of crossing things off the Teux Deux list as we countdown to that taxi ride to Dulles and arrival in New Delhi some 24 hours later.

We took Will to the Air & Space museum today so that Chris could show Will all of his favorite airplanes and so that I could check out the (very cool) AirCraft photo exhibit by Jeffrey Milstein.

Chris’ dad likes to tell Chris, and Chris likes to tell me that they went to the museum the very first weekend it opened in 1976.  Our visit today wasn’t quite as historic but it was a nice chance to soak up a few more D.C. vibes before India.

We stopped afterwards for some tapas and cupcakes to round out the evening.  Will tried a bacon-wrapped date and could not be parted with it for the rest of the meal.  He giggled, he cooed and, ultimately, he cried when  sweeping gesture sent his date flying across the room.  Poor kiddo.

A few photos from the day:

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