Monthly Archives: December 2013

Finding Christmas in India

WP_20131217_002 Poinsettias are one sign of Christmas here.  This is the “tree” at the American Embassy School.

I have noticed since our arrival in India that our children, when explaining or comparing a difference in this new land that instead of criticizing or judging the difference they often use the term “it’s different –not worse or better, just different.”. I would like to use that term in saying that the month of December has just “been different”.  The familiar sights, smells and traditions leading up to Christmas do not exist here.  There is no smell of fresh cut Christmas tree or visiting Santa at the mall.  In fact there is almost NO sign that Christmas is just around the corner.  In a country of 1.27 billion people, only 2-3% of that number is Christian and the majority of Christians are found in southern India, not New Delhi so the lack of signs of Christmas should be no surprise.

WP_20131216_001This is the only store that I have found with Christmas decorations. It is located at Khan Market which caters to expats.

As we have searched and looked for ways to find Christmas in India, here are a few things we have “found”:

1.  There is absolutely NOTHING about Christmas here that is commercialized.  America has done quite the job of marketing, advertising, focusing on the “commercial” part of Christmas.  Even the Christians we know that are locals have shared their traditions of Christmas and it is all about family and celebrating the birth of Christ.  No where is it mentioned the busyness of shopping and trying to find “that perfect gift.”  Yes, they do give gifts but the feeling we have gotten is that it is family coming together for a meal and some simple gift giving.

2.  The whole world is not going at a frantic speed during the month of December.  I believe that this may be the first year in my life since having school aged children that I did not feel overbooked from all the events in December.  It has been refreshing to find time to read Christmas stories together at home at night.

3.  It’s not about the gifts.  A common question among children and teenagers in the US at Christmas time is “what do you want for Christmas?”. As I drove home this week with Conner and another 14 year old boy who is a native from a church activity, Conner posed that question to him.  The response was, “I don’t know… maybe some shoes.”. Conner was a little taken back that shoes would be a 14 year old boy’s wish.  I have found that my own children’s take on gifts has changed this year from being in India.

4.  Feeling the true spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with the Christmas tree, decorations or the number of gifts you have purchased at the mall.  We have very few things in our home this year that remind us it is Christmas.  They include nativity scenes, countdown charts, Christmas storybooks and Christmas music.  We shipped only the most important over to India and it has taught me that we really do not need the rest.  Yes, I miss the smell of the fresh Christmas tree (not one to be seen here), but Tyler and I have both expressed that we have felt the true spirit of Christmas stronger this year.  It has come through listening to the beautiful Christmas music and spending time together as a family doing very simple traditions.

Photo(1)Hailey is Mary at our church’s Christmas event where the children reenacted the story of Christmas.

Although I find myself having to remind me that it is December here, I am grateful for this “different” experience of truly finding Christmas in a land where it is not visible to the eye.

WP_20131214_002The American Club sponsored an evening with music, dinner and a visit from Santa Claus.

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The Guards Know Everything

Upon pulling up to our building several nights ago and seeing an armed guard posted in front of our gates, I realized it was finally time to dedicate a post to “the guards” and security in New Delhi as an expat.  I do not know the numbers of how many individuals are employed as “guards” in India, but it has got to be very large.  Our building alone has guards employed round the clock — and its not just the two guards we employed once we moved into the building first.  Now we have guards round the clock times four — one for each floor.  I just chuckle when I pull in and see all of these guards.  Now, Just as our children have wondered, you may be wondering why would we have guards for each floor.  Most buildings in Delhi do not, but we happen to have a floor where embassy from Singapore live, another with embassy from Germany and another from the United Arab Emirates.  With embassy employees, each embassy has their own protocol on guards outside their employees place of residence.  Thus the reason for an armed guard outside the gate of our building at night (I am not sure which embassy member he is protecting).

WP_20131111_003  Not all buildings have little guard huts.  Our guards just sit on chairs within the gated property.

The job itself has got to be so boring.  So, for our guards, they must be happy to have a few more people to talk with through the day and night — and let me just say that they talk about everything and KNOW everything there is to know in the neighborhood.  They know exactly who is home, what the schedule is, which person is nice, they get all the gossip and news.  As I have driven around, sometimes I notice a makeshift table in front of a building and the guards in the area will pull up a chair and play a card game.  Duties of a guard include opening the car door for me at home, open and close the gates to our entrance to the building for the car, collect any letters and packages (who needs a post box) and accompany any visitors to our door.  The guard is also responsible for keeping an eye on the generator and notifying us when more gas for the generator is needed.  There are definite unwritten guidelines that come with each job and no one is to cross those boundaries.  For example, if the generator needs more gas, the driver is fine going and buying it, but he won’t put it in the generator — that should be the guards responsibility.  Another example is if the guard isn’t right at the gate to open it, the driver will just sit there and honk and honk instead of getting out himself to open it.  One of our neighbor’s guards was a little slow today and the driver let him have it.  The humorous thing yesterday was when our neighbor from upstairs (the United Arab Emirates man) came bringing us gifts he stood at our door with his guard and our guard in the backgrounds making sure we were all alright.  Now, on Saturday as we had made our rounds in the building dropping off gift baskets and welcoming our new neighbors to the building, we started from within the building so no guard felt the need to accompany us to the doors. It’s a bit humorous.

WP_20131111_002  Just a look down one of the streets with more guards.

The building guards are not the only guards looking after this neighborhood.  The development we live in is Anand Niketan which consists of several parks, a large club house building and MANY four story buildings where people live in apartments.  Although there are guards sitting in front of every building, the Anand Niketan development is also gated (about 5 or 6 different gates) with a guard at each of those gates.  At 11:00 p.m. each night all but one of the gates is locked.  The guard at that gate at night asks for an address for you to enter.  Trust me, there is no one checking a name, approval, etc. you just give an address and they let you in so it seems a bit silly.  There had been so many car thefts in the neighborhood that they have tried to control it by posting the guards and locking the gates at night.  (The picture below is one of the gate entrances to Anand Niketan with the guard posted there.)

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Guards are also heavily employed at hotels, malls, every store in town and movie theatres.  Every time you enter a hotel or mall here, you have to go through security screening.  As a woman here you have to step behind a curtain to get the wand waved over you or the pat down, always done by another female.  Even if you have gone through the security to get in the mall, the movie theatre within the mall has an additional screening process.  Guards at each of the local shops stands at the door to open it for each person that enters and exits.  Most stores also require you to check any bag with the guard and you get it back once you leave the store.

Upon calling back to California to arrange some things for our visit home, the woman on the other end of the line explained to me, when she found out I was calling from India, that she had declined an invitation to go to India with a friend because she worried about her safety.  She wanted to know if I felt safe here.  Well, with all these guards, I would hope I feel safe, at least at home.  The reality is that the most likely thing to happen is theft and getting in a car accident.  We do have to use caution.  Much can be done to deter a lot of the other worries.  For example, dressing extremely modest is a must here.  Last week I attended a meeting sponsored by the middle school on keeping your teen safe in Delhi.  The US Embassy employee that presented said it is crazy to see these expat youths walking the malls in spaghetti strap tops and shorts.  It is opening a door to trouble is how he put it.  My maid has had her pocket slashed several times while riding the bus home to have her money stolen.  The buses are so crowded that one does not know that it has happened until it is too late.  We have been careful not to be out very late at night and we have avoided going to some places because of experiences other expats have had.  Like most things, our life has had to be altered some living here but in answer to the woman’s question on the phone, we do all we can so that we can feel safe here, and we have plenty of guards at the building to add to the protection needed here.  Now if I could only learn Hindi so I could really be up on the neighborhood gossip!

 

Lip Balm and First World Problems

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A few weeks ago, while riding in the car with Hailey and Thomas, my lips felt very dry and I didn’t have any lip gloss with me.  I knew where Hailey kept hers in her backpack and she usually does not mind sharing so I reached for it as I asked if I could borrow it.  She was not anxious to share it.  She explained that she really didn’t want me to use it because she had to make it last until we went back to California for Christmas.  She explained that it was the only lip balm that she will use because it has no taste and does not feel “spicy” on her lips like so many others that she has tried.  She gave me several reasons why sharing was not possible at the moment.

Thomas was listening to this dialogue between us and said, “First world problems!”  He repeated it a second time — “first world problems.”  At this point, I had to laugh.  For one reason, I laughed because he was so right.  Talking about the use and type of lip gloss was purely a first world problem.  But mostly, I laughed out of a little “payday” at that moment.  After dragging your children halfway around the world, one often wonders how this is all going to turn out in the end.  Well, one of those good moments was realizing that I have a 13 year old who REALLY knows now what first world issues are and how ridiculous many of the issues we get caught up in are when factored among the rest of the world.  Our children have seen first hand that hunger, clean water, having bathroom facilities, a home that is more than tarps or blankets are REAL problems.  If I need a smile in the day, I need only think about Thomas and that he gets “first world problems.”.  And as for the lip balm, I think we will be stocking up this trip home to California over winter break!

 

Thanksgiving on the banks of the Ganges River

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The Bryson family had a different, but very fun and memorable Thanksgiving weekend camping along the Ganges River.  We joined several other families from the school (a little over 100 of us) and caught a very early train out of New Delhi and traveled 260 kilometers north to Haridwar.  We then traveled 90 minutes by bus on a hill road to reach the beautiful white sands along the Ganges River.  Getting out in the beautiful scenery and fresh air was just what our family needed.

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Pictured above is the group gathering site where meals were served and a large bonfire was enjoyed each night.  Below, you can see the tents that were supplied.  Each tent held either 2 or 3 cots in them with a small table and bamboo flooring, perfect for the sand.  Our tent was located right along the bank of the river and our view was the waterfall across the river.

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It felt so good to be back in sand and water.  Thomas came in October with his 8th grade class for their “week without walls”.  Hailey was ready to sign us up for next year before the trip was even over.

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Someone in the group who has come several years in a row organized a Thanksgiving feast for Thursday evening with everyone bringing some type of dish.  Embassy employees were able to obtain turkeys from the commissary with the rest of us filling in with side dishes like pumpkin pie.  Although we were all from the American Embassy School, many families with us were not American but helped celebrate this great holiday.  Not once Thursday thru Saturday did I hear one child tell me they were bored.  In fact, we barely saw our children at all.

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Fishing was a favorite for Conner, Thomas did the most river rafting from our family, and Hailey loved making “sand pies” with all of the other girls and spending time along this beautiful river.  Volleyball and badminton were also enjoyed.

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Hailey practicing her kayaking.

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Since our children were so content to be right by the river, Tyler and I joined a small group on a hike up through some tiny villages along the Ganges.  We crossed this large suspension bridge to an area that is very remote but extremely peaceful.  Even the cows wander across.

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These are villagers carrying goods to and from their homes across the river.

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This past summer, during monsoon season, this village near the river was extensively damaged.

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This is part of the area where we hiked.  We went through several small villages and several small Hindu temples.

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As we descended from the hills to catch a small boat ferry back across the river, we were privileged to witness a small wedding party.  In this boat that we took across the river, the groom and other wedding guests have just arrived to climb the hill to the small temple where the wedding will take place.  The groom is easy to spot with the head piece.

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In Delhi, we have seen the wedding processions in the street where the groom is on a large white horse.  As this is a village wedding, it is much smaller and the groom rides this mule up the hill to the wedding.

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On Friday evening, a small group went into Rishikesh to experience the worshipping of the river.  The Ganges River is very sacred.  Many people travel long distances to worship along this river, bathe in it, spread ashes of loved ones and take the holy water back to their temples in their own villages.  When our driver found out where we were going, he showed us a video on his phone of him walking with large buckets of water from Rishikesh to his village.  He traveled six days by foot to carry that holy water.   Before arriving at the temple, we purchased small leaf boats filled with flowers and a candle.  After removing our shoes, we were escorted right down to the waters edge where we sat and enjoyed the music, chanting, and prayers before lighting our boats and sending them on their way down the Ganges.

This trip taught our family the secret of living in Delhi — leave for a few days once in awhile.  Getting away from the horn honking and smelling nothing but fresh air was the perfect way to spend this Thanksgiving weekend!