Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Market

Knowing Thanksgiving at home is right around the corner and that many of you will be visiting your Costco’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and many other grocery stores, I knew it was time to write about shopping for food in India.  A better description would be “hunting” for food in India.  I have wanted to write about this topic since week one of our arrival, but am afraid I will not do it justice because as Conner says, “Mom, until you can put the sounds and smells into the blog, no one will really understand the experience.”  So, here is my attempt at giving you a taste (and smell) of what it is like to grocery shop here.

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The above picture of Modern Bazaar is one of the closest stores we have to an American grocery store.  It is found at a market that is near many expat living areas.  Now when you walk through the outdoor area of this market, do not take your eyes off the ground for too long as there are multiple cow droppings and stray dogs just laying around everywhere.  This store is 2 levels (one store I shop at has 4 levels), but don’t let that fact lead you to believe it is a spacious store at all.  You walk in, grab a plastic hand carrier (no room for grocery carts and they wouldn’t work on the stairs you must climb to get to floor 2 anyways), and SQUEEZE through the tiny aisles (aisles so tiny that two people cannot pass each other, one must turn and lean against the wall to let the other pass) trying to find anything that might work for dinner that day.

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This particular store has some familiar items but be not deceived.  We can find Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, Froot Loops (which has an entirely different taste!) and multi-grain Cheerios for our cereal choices.  You pay about $10/box and about 1 out of every 3 boxes you open is stale or has an interesting flavor added, like the taste of detergent that was shipped to India in the same container as the cereal.  Oh, how happy Conner and Hailey are when Tyler arrives from his quarterly trip to Seattle with a fresh box of regular Cheerios!

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This is the produce section of the same store (right around the corner from the pop tarts).  It is one of two stores that I have seen that has a refrigerated section for their produce.  Most produce is just sold sitting on the wagons and carts out in the open air.  This may be one of the reasons that I have found fresh produce does not last long at all here.  Apples, oranges, pomegranates, pears and mangoes have been some of the best we have ever eaten though.

Now, we leave the “expat” choice of shopping and move to the real “India” market experience.  The following pictures are from the INA market in New Delhi which is well known.  The market is outdoors with rows and rows of stalls.  Some stalls measure out your rice from the large sacks, others are produce only, some are clothing, fabric, pharmacy type needs, and then there are some that just have a little of everything.

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The picture below is a stall that isn’t even big enough to walk into.  It is just a store front, but it is where you can find things such as shampoo, soap, etc.  No… there is not a big selection of such but we have been able to survive so far with a much smaller selection.  In fact, one American I have gotten to know says she gets overwhelmed at the stores in America because there is too much to choose from.

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The store below is where I would stop to buy my ketchup, cream of chicken soup, a Snickers bar or mustard.  Please notice that you must look up to discover all that is in the store.  I have also learned that if you cannot find it, ask, and someone will climb a ladder, dig back three jars, and appear with what you want.  When you enter a store, there is someone right there following behind you wanting to either carry your basket, or see if they can help.  Often, they are breathing right down your neck and I have learned that most understand the word “browsing” so they will back off a little.

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Now the most fascinating part of the INA market has got to be the meat section.  I spared you the pictures of what it really looks like because it makes me never want to eat meat again (this is where you are grateful I can not insert the smell), and instead included the live chicken pictures that are adding to the egg supply.  Right next to this stall were fresh chickens, just killed and laying out in the open.  I have stuck with one butcher so far near our home that seems to keep his meat refrigerated — at least we haven’t gotten sick from it yet.

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So as you buy that turkey, very large potatoes, seedless grapes, and maybe a box of Cheerios at the market this week, be grateful for the bounty available to you.  We are so grateful that we have food in our cupboards, money to purchase it, a home to cook it in instead of on the side of the street, and clean water to drink.  May each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Nai Disha Volunteer Opportunity

Through the American Women’s Association (AWA) Outreach Group which I have become involved in, our family was given an opportunity to join three other families last Saturday afternoon to volunteer at the NGO, Nai Disha.

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This organization began with some professionals wanting to start a preschool for the upper and middle class families in the area.  As they were trying to market their business, they were approached by many poor families wanting a preschool for their children.  It was not long thereafter that these founders realized what the real need of the area was and they closed down their business and reopened as an NGO (a non-profit organization) to provide supplemental education to those families with a great need.  Nai Disha has about160 children that they serve ages 9-16.  These children attend the government schools here which is a half day schedule Monday thru Saturday.  Half of the children attend morning, the other half afternoon.  During the half of the day that they are not in school, they are at Nai Disha.  It is here where they really learn.  Nai Disha teachers sit with the children and help them learn and understand the concepts and help them with their homework.  The government schools are not a place of great learning.  Those families that can afford it do not send their children to government schools.  These children come from the families where their parents are the drivers, the cooks, the maids, etc. which are professions where they are away from home until late at night.  The women who run the organization listen to the children and their needs.  They had enough children wanting to help their own families where alcohol has taken over, that they have created a class on Saturdays where about 10-15 children attend.  It is similar to an Alcoholics Anonymous group and the children learn to cope with an alcoholic parent or even some of the older children have found it becoming a problem in their own lives.

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We had 4 different stations as a group.  Three of the groups taught simple science experiments such as catapults, levers and inclines and slopes.  The children were given opportunities in these groups to do “hands on” learning which they do not get at all in school.  For example, the catapult group made newspaper catapults.  Our family was given the “game room” assignment.

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The purpose was to give the children a chance to practice their English and learn through games.  We brought very simple games from home — UNO, Candyland, Zingo, Blokus, Charades, Spot It.  Most of these children have not had many opportunities to even play a game.  We had each group for 30 minutes and we had fun.  It was a little crazy because we were down two family members — Conner had soccer practice at the high school and Thomas had been leaning over the toilet all morning sick from something he had eaten the day before.

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At the conclusion of our two hours there, we watched the closing routine where they gather in the courtyard and do some simple yoga-like poses to end their day.  The children were so friendly and nice to us.

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Tyler wanted to show up with some type of treat for them, so on our way over we stopped at an Indian sweet store and purchased a treat for each of them that we distributed as they left that afternoon.  In the picture below, you can see Hailey and Tyler giving them away.  Education is the key to changing these children’s futures.  Nai Disha is a very well run organization that encourages these children to stay in school, work hard to pass the exams each year and provides a safe haven for several hours each day.

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The 8 Step Process to Have a Little Greenery in India

We may not have any type of yard here in Delhi, but there are a few outside ledges and decks where we can add a little greenery of our own to help clean some of this Delhi air.  Like MOST things in India, it is a process.  To get a few plants, here is the 8 step process I have just experienced.

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This picture is from the top floor of a hotel that shows just how green this city is when you get out of the chaos of it.

1.   Find a gardener.  Like most things here, you “hire” someone to do such type of work.  (An expat has to hire someone just to find out where there is a nursery to buy plants.)  We got a reference from someone that works with Tyler at Microsoft.  Due to the language problem, I had our maid schedule the time that he could meet with me.  He came to our apartment and looked at the areas I wanted to add some plants.

2.  Drive many kilometers to a nursery.  After showing the gardener, Vito, where I wanted plants, I asked our driver to take us to a nursery that the gardener recommended that has a good variety and better prices.  I have absolutely no idea what the actual distance was, but with Delhi traffic, it took about 40 minutes to arrive at this nursery.  Let’s just say that the Lowe’s nursery in San Clemente is probably 5 or 6 times larger but that should not surprise me as I consider most “stores” here.

3.  Place plants on dirt sidewalk.  While you are all digging up your petunias and marigolds, those are the flowering plants one sees in Delhi now.  The stifling heat and monsoon season has finally left so some annual flowers can finally thrive.  As plants were chosen, mostly by what the gardener recommended had the best success rate here,  they were placed right outside on the dirt sidewalk in front of the nursery.  There were 2 small nurseries side by side that we pulled plants from for purchase.

4.  Pay the “white lady” price.  Once the plants are chosen, the paper and pen appears.  Some young worker at the store writes down the price.  He then hands the list off to someone else who is holding a calculator to add it all up.  He writes the total price at the bottom and hands it to me.  Then one of the “higher ups” in the establishment actually accepts the money.  Cash only, of course.  Now, in India, there is the “Indian price” and the “expat price.”  Even though I was with two natives — a gardener and a driver (yes, I asked him to join us in the nursery to help me understand the gardener), I was still given the “white lady” price.  I could tell by how frustrated those working for me seemed to be while negotiating.  When I pulled my wallet out to pay, my driver would say, pay a few hundred rupies less.  He would hand them the money, a little more haggling and then it was settled with everyone, including me, knowing I still paid too much.

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This is the driver and gardener trying their best to get my price closer to the “Indian price.”

5.  Buy some pots.  Of course you wouldn’t dream of having the pots right inside the nursery.  It has to be the next market down the road.  I think there were more pots than plants but they are all extremely similar.  Once again, the price was discussed and again, it was clear that although I didn’t speak a word during that transaction, it was me with the money and thus the larger price tag.

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One of the markets to buy the pottery.

6.  Load up your wagons.  Yes, we drive an SUV that is similar to the size of a Toyota Sequoia and a Toyota Innova, a minivan, but no, in India, you don’t load up your car with the seats all turned down.  Instead, the wagons pulled by bicycles are the vehicle of choice for this errand.  I asked my driver, couldn’t we just place these pots in the back of our car.  His response was, “no, they would bang against each other and break.  So somehow, loading these cement pots on a wood wagon with straw placed in between them, pulled by a bicycle with at least an hours ride ahead of them is the best option — only in India!

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Hard to believe that these 2 bicycles pulled these wagons quite a distance to get to our house.  Of course, that is the profession of these men so they are happy for the work.

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7.  Buy soil and fertilizer.  So as the pots and plants were being driven away, I asked about the soil needed.  Of course, no soil or fertilizer is anywhere near the nursery or pottery markets.  The gardener informs me that he will buy that tomorrow at a different market.  So, the gardener drives a motorcycle and yes, he will somehow make it work that he can attach enough fertilizer and soil to his motorcycle to fill 18 medium to large pots.

8.  Pot, Place and Feed the Plants.  So as we arrived back to our place after our excursion, of course the gardener wasn’t going to wait around for the “delivery”, I tried to pin him down on when he would be returning to pot the plants.  “Tomorrow”, he said.  I explained that with it being Saturday, it would need to be in the morning.  By 11, he said.  Anyone who has lived in India knows that it will not be 11, rather a few hours later or a day later.  He explained that if I was not there, he would do the potting in the driveway area and we can place them later.  If indeed, he shows up and pots them all when I am not here, me, the person who has always been her own gardener, would love to carry them all upstairs and place them myself, but I would have a guard, driver and anyone else hanging around, feeling like they had to help me.  So, I suppose I will just have to go off Indian time and wait for the gardener.  He will be dropping by several times a week anyways to feed and care for the plants.  After all, it just wouldn’t be right to try to water your own potted plants in India.