Monthly Archives: September 2013

Holy Cow I Want A Steak! by Conner Bryson

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When our family lived in Northern California and would travel back and forth for visits to Southern California, there was a very large cattle farm that we would pass.  We could smell it way before we could see it.  In India, instead of passing large dairy farms or cattle ranches, cows are part of the traffic problem in Delhi.  Sometimes the cows travel in a small group of 2 or 3 but most often it is just one cow sauntering around the streets and market.

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Cows are considered holy here among the Hindus.  Driving down the street we have seen a believer go up and offer food to a wandering cow.  For the most part, they are an annoyance to me and a reminder that I can’t have my beef while living here.  They block traffic, leave their piles of dung on the sidewalks (my mom stepped in one while trying to take the picture below), feast on nearby grass or trash bins, find shady spots under bridges to lounge and add a nice little personal aroma to life in Delhi.  Believe me, that my first stop when we arrive back in California for Christmas is In-N-Out — and it’s for the triple meat patty!

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Bukhara — a great dining experience

Several of Tyler’s coworkers had  informed him that the ITC Maurya hotel where we are staying has one of the best Indian restaurants in the world –Bukhara.  It has been placed in several Food Magazines in the top 50 restaurants in the world and in 2007 was #1 in Asia.  One employee told us its on the list of “100 Things to Do Before You Die.”  We pass it daily as we go to and from our hotel room, and finally decided it was time to try it.  It is only open for about 1 1/2 hours at lunchtime and then starting at 7:00 p.m. in the evenings.  It is always busy so we put in our reservations for last Friday night and we had a wonderful dining experience.

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They took us back in the kitchen and shared a little with us about the restaurant.  It has been in business at the hotel for 39 years and not a single ingredient on the menu has been changed according to one employee.  They start preparing their famous Bukhra Dal, a black lentil dish, at 11:00 p.m. the night before and let me just say that it was delicious!  They are also famous for their kabobs cooked in the tandoor — vegetable kabobs, lamb, some seafood and their chicken (they are hanging in the background of the above picture).  The chef was busy getting the balls of dough ready for naan bread and we got to see him toss and stretch the large “family” naan that we ordered.

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The restaurant gives the full experience by providing NO utensils and they provide an apron for each patron to cover any spills.  One trears off some naan bread (in the center of the table) and then dips it in the lentil dish.  The chicken we ordered you just ate with your hands.  Next time you see Conner, make sure you ask him about the after dinner “breath freshener” they provide.  When they brought it to the table, they gave us a bit of a warning “if you dare” as they explained it to us.  Conner was the only one brave enough.

At this point, you may wonder how everyone is doing with the Indian food.  Let’s just say the hotel knows the general order from the kids — mashed potatoes, pizza, cucumber slices, toast, rice, pasta, waffles.  If we eat Indian food, Hailey sticks with the naan.  Thomas and Conner have been much more adventurous and have found a few dishes and a few places where they enjoy the Indian food.

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Outside the restaurant stands this gentlemen dressed in authentic attire to greet you.  The staff was incredibly attentive, friendly and helpful in making our first visit to Bukhara a great memory!

Save the Children India

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This past week, I had the opportunity to visit a non-profit organization called Save the Children India that the American Women’s Association (AWA) supports.  The liaison between Save the Children and the AWA provided an opportunity for AWA members to visit and see the great work that Save the Children India is doing.  (It is not affiliated with the International Save the Children organization.)  This organization receives no money from the government and is run extremely well off donations from a few companies and some organizations such as AWA.  Save the Children India was founded in Mumbai many years ago and just 8 years ago, started in New Delhi.  A professional psychologist in India had gotten involved in Mumbai and she said she realized that this is what she wanted to do with her life. She chose one of the poorest areas in Delhi and started knocking doors to find out the exact needs of the area.  It did not take long for her to find out that she was facing a huge hill to climb to change the mindset of the people and their acceptance of wanting to educate their daughters.

WP_20130918_003The woman in green runs it and is the psychologist referenced.  This is the computer room.

This “village” which consists of about 200,000 people and covers about a kilometer area is one of the places that the very poor first arrive in Delhi seeking a way to earn money and provide for their families.  It is located near one of the main train stations, thus a key spot for the people to land looking for a job.  The families rent places to live which is a 10 foot sized room.  Then within the buildings, several of these rooms share a rather crude bathroom by our standards.  There are about 10-15 people that live inside of each of these rooms. Some of these are multi-generational families, others are several families in a room.  As this psychologist went door to door it confirmed the need for the women to be educated.  The first step was getting the daughters to get some type of training and education but has also moved into educating the mothers of the home.  Girls are seen as a burden, not a blessing so the girls are often left at home each day doing nothing.  They have had a huge problem of human trafficking in this area and losing the women to some really horrible futures.  In the past 8 years of Save the Children being in this area, they have gone from several disappearances a week to maybe a couple a month.  They have formed team leads from each building that now report and help look out for these occurrences.

WP_20130918_004A classroom with some of the students

Save the Children India would never be noticed if you were walking down the street.  They rent their few rooms from a landlord.  They do not dare make too many improvements to it because the landlord would then want to take it and use those improvements for his benefit.  It consists of about 8 rooms — a small kitchen that has a hot plate and where they feed one meal a day that helps the children get some milk, fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet; a small preschool room where they rotate a group of children every 2 hours a day to accommodate them all; a computer room where these women and girls get their first exposure to the internet and learn some basic computer skills; a classroom for school aged girls; a sewing room where they learn basics of tailoring and sewing; a doctor/dentist room where a visiting doctor or dentist visits weekly for free checkups for the women and children; a larger multi-purpose room (smaller probably than the average classroom size in the US); and a small room where they have 2 salon chairs and a massage table so the girls can learn skills to get jobs.   They have about 500 people that they help in some way each day.

WP_20130918_008 The beauty salon school room

There is a lot of pressure on these families that have left where they grew up because they couldn’t survive there and go to the “city” to find a better life.  When it doesn’t turn out quite as planned — lack of job, not making enough money to cover rent and food, etc. — it is common for the men to turn to alcohol to soothe their pain and then abuse occurs at home.  Through Save the Children India, the women and girls have been taught how they can say no, what their rights are as individuals and some self-defense skills.  On one of the classroom doors, it had a poster that stated “Daughters Are A Blessing, Not A Burden.”  To break the history-old traditions and mindset that this organization is dealing with is heroic in my view.  I left feeling a love for this brave woman and those that work with her in making this little piece of the world a better place.  No words I write can ever explain exactly how these people live, the challenges they face, but I hope in sharing this little bit you can each understand that you have each been afforded incredible opportunity where you live.  Take advantage of that every single day!

WP_20130918_005The sewing room where they learn to cut patterns, sew and mend clothing.

From Hollywood to Bollywood

Several weeks after arriving in India, we thought it would be fun to figure out how to go to a movie here.  We had lots of questions, such as do they play many Hollywood movies?  Do they have popcorn at the theatres?  How much does it cost to go to a movie?  But the first question to answer was where are the movie theatres?

After looking online we found just a couple of Hollywood movies playing in English — yes you need to make sure the time slot you are considering is in English instead of Hindi.  Most of the movie theatres are located in HUGE American-like malls.  You would never imagine that these massive malls would be found in India.  I have also seen one movie theatre located in one of the local shopping markets.  The movie we attended was located in one of the large malls where they had six movie screens showing films.

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The picture above and below are of the mall we attended the movie.

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The picture below is of the theatre located in the shopping center, not in a mall.

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Upon entering the mall, it’s a bit of a maze to make it to the movie theatre.  This one was located on the 2nd of the 3 floors, but you exit the theatre on the 3rd floor.  It was tucked back away from the shops so without following the directory signs in the mall, it is a bit hard to find.  When you purchase your tickets, they will ask if you want a middle seat or an end seat.  Yes, they are assigned seats, and no they don’t show you the map to let you pick which row you would like to sit on.  Instead, they like to cram everyone into three or four rows and leave the rest of the theatre empty — I guess it helps them on their cleaning afterwards.  Any Hollywood movies that are 3D are shown in 3D only — no 2D option.  Our tickets cost about $8 each for the 3D movie.  Coming from California prices, it seemed pretty reasonable to us, but very few Indian’s could afford such entertainment.

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This picture is inside the mall — you find many name-brand stores inside.

Our popcorn question was answered upon entering the theatre.  Yes, they serve popcorn — 3 kinds, butter, caramel and cheese along with some other snacks and drinks.  You collect your 3D glasses when you enter the theatre showing your movie where they take the 3D glasses ticket you were given with your purchase.  It was stadium seating, we were assigned about 3 rows from the top, with comfortable chairs.  Halfway through the movie, they have an intermission for about 10 minutes.  They just stop the movie and it gives everyone time to use the restroom, buy chocolate cake in the lobby, etc.  Outside of the intermission and the different scent in the theatre, it felt like a Hollywood movie.

This past Saturday, the hotel hosted a Bollywood movie so we have now experienced our first Bollywood experience.  There is a lot more music, dancing and singing in the Bollywood movie.  The movie would just kind of pause in the story and have a full on song about the dilemma being faced.  Yes, there were subtitles for the parts in Hindi but there was quite a bit of “Hinglish” where they combine English and Hindi so some of the sentence is in each language.  Much of this particular movie was in English due to part of it being set in New York.

Like the stars of Hollywood, I have noticed in the newspapers and on the internet news sites that they have their own entertainment section where they follow the “stars” just like Americans like to follow their Hollywood stars.  So, yes we will be able to see a few movies from Hollywood and if we like, there are plenty of Bollywood movies to choose from as well.

Hotel Life by Hailey

Living in a hotel may seem like a dream

But it’s not

You may want to be “Eloise”

But you don’t

Exploring can only take so long

And living in two rooms is no easy task

The restaurants get old

The breakfasts get dull

And you want to get to your house!

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After spending our first month in a service apartment, and before my dad departed for a trip back to Seattle for work, our family moved over to a hotel.  We are staying at the ITC Maurya about 5 minutes away from school.  At first it was very exciting to live at a hotel but soon became a little annoying to be living in two rooms.  I have to say my life is no “suite life of Zack and Cody” (a Disney show) but it is definitely better than the service apartment.  It is much cleaner and the employees speak English here.  I for sure feel safer here as well.

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When you walk outside the hotel, you still get a whiff of the interesting smells in India but I sure don’t miss the smells that would float upstairs from the cooking in our service apartment.  I would say to all of you that you should enjoy every day in the US because you are truly spoiled living there.

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A Day of Service on 9/11

This is the second year that the American Embassy has honored 9/11 by sending their employees out to their host country of India and giving back for half of their work day.  Several non-profit organizations  were carefully chosen here in Delhi to help.  Not all available slots were taken with the embassy employees so as a member of the American Women’s Association, I was given the opportunity to join.

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I spent the morning of 9/11 at NAB — a non-profit organization focusing on educating and training blind women between the ages of 18-35.  An individual had granted the center money to add a second floor to their building.  The second floor was to become the new living quarters for the women who live there during their training period (anywhere from 3-12 months).  As volunteers, our assignment was to help move bedding, personal belongings, etc. upstairs to the new floor.  There are about 25 women that live there and it is an interim stay for them.  They learn vocational training, computer training using speech software, receive help to fill out college applications to further their education, learn basic grooming and communication skills as well a life skills such as using a walking stick, how to cook, etc.

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Once we had curtains hung, floors swept and beds arranged, we would be assigned a girl and we would carry her belongings up to her new bedroom.  The bedrooms sleep about 8 girls each — 4 bunkbeds in each room.  Underneath each bunkbed there were 2 large drawers — one for each girl. It was in that drawer, that we helped the girls organize their very meager belongings — about 2 or 3 outfits, a small bag of toiletries, a purse and some papers.

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This is one of the girls that I helped move her belongings.

Although we could not communicate well with the women since they spoke no English, they were so appreciative.  At the end of our time there they sang us a song in Hindi about being a good person and choosing a good path in life.  It was extremely touching to be able to be a part of such a great event.

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This is the group of girls singing to us at the end.

“Driving” In A School of Fish

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Driving in Delhi was summarized best by other expats who have lived here for a few years — “It’s like swimming in a school of fish.”  Prior to hearing that explanation, I had only thought of it as chaos, but after thinking about it, the swimming in a school of fish is truly the best way to understand the order of driving here.

No one uses their rear view mirror.  You just worry about what is ahead of you and if someone approaches you by the side, they usually honk their horn to let you know they are there.  In fact, large trucks have painted on the back “HORN PLEASE” encouraging other drivers to honk if they are going to approach them on the side.  Yes, horns have got to be one of the most commonly used pieces of equipment here in India.

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There are lanes painted on the road, but they are obsolete.  I have witnessed one direction of traffic decide that they were more important than the opposite traffic so they occupied 2 of the 3 lanes that belonged to that side of the road.  So, yes, the best way to understand how it is all organized is the school of fish thought.  Everyone is driving as tightly together as possible in search of their destination.

On the roads, one will find all different types of transportation.

  • By foot — here the pedestrian does not seem to haves the right of way. One crosses the road at their own risk and best to do in a group of people.  People are found walking by foot on all types of roads, even the main tollway that Tyler travels through each day to work.

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  • By bicycle — It is very common here to see a father riding a bicycle in the morning with one child holding onto him on the back of the seat, and a second child sitting on the handle bars all dressed in their school uniforms going to school.  Deliveries are often done on bicycle.  I have seen 8-10 mattresses stacked high on a wagon cart with a bicycle pulling it to make a delivery.

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These carts can be pulled by hand or tied up to a bicycle to transport almost anything.

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  • By motorcycle — motorcycles are EVERYWHERE.  Our driver has lost one sideview mirror in the past month to a motorcycle and probably been bumped several times as well.  If there are a few inches of space between cars, motorcyclists will try to squeeze in ahead.  They definitely get to their destinations fastest.  It is extremely common to see a motorcycle with a husband, wife, and two children all riding on it.  It is the law for the man to wear a helmet which you will see on every motorcycle but forget about the small head of a child — nothing protecting it.  Women ride side saddle on the motorcycle and are often seen carrying a small baby in her arms.
  • By rickshaw — there is a bicycle rickshaw and an auto rickshaw. Near small neighborhood markets, bicycle rickshaws are prevalent hoping to make some money taking someone home with their groceries.  Tyler and Hailey rode one home from the market after walking to get some ice cream one afternoon.  They said “it was wild!”.  The auto rickshaws are seen everywhere.  They are green and yellow and three-wheeled.  We have seen these rickshaws stuffed full with about eight people riding in one.

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  • By taxi — there are auto taxis available and we have seen them most frequently around the embassies and there are always a few parked outside the American Club.  The taxi drivers there have a few cots they lay on throughout the day in the shade of a tree as they wait for a patron.  I understand that many of these do not have air conditioning so the open air rickshaws are sometimes preferred.
  • Public transportation — there are buses and some underground subways and trains available.  The city buses are usually “stuffed” full of people.  So full that you wonder how they could breathe, especially with no air conditioning.  I have no experience with the subways and trains yet, but I am sure they each have a story to be told.

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  • Automobile — for expats having a car and a driver is the number one mode of transportation.  I have to say that moving to such a sprawling city like Delhi, having a driver is wonderful!  It would take me all day to figure out where I was driving, but instead I just tell the driver and he drops me off — never having to worry about finding  parking spot.  The driver’s mobile number is the most frequently phone number, letting him know to pick you up, etc.  When you walk out of school, there is a huge lineup of drivers waiting to pickup and let me say that it is hard to distinguish your car from all the rest. Cars are much smaller here and the small Toyota Innova van we are driving in right now is one of the largest cars on the road.

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With the lack of organization on the roads, it is surprising that more accidents are not seen.  But if you look at nearly every car, it is evident that each car has had its bumps and bruises.  Let’s just say that NO ONE would worry about a door ding in their car here. That would not even be noticed among the other bumps and scratches on the vehicle.  Fortunately, one is rarely driving fast enough to create too much damage if a fender bender occurs.

During the second week here, I witnessed the first bit of “road rage.”  My driver was taking me home from dropping the children off at school.  All traffic had come to a halt.  About ten rows of cars ahead of us, two cars had bumped into each other and a man from each car was standing in the middle of the road having a full on fist fight.  It was not until another man stepped out of is car and asked them if they could please move it to the side so that the traffic was able to move again.  Our driver laughed as he saw my surprise over it.  He acted like it was not a big deal at all.