Monthly Archives: January 2014

Forget “Snow Days”, We Have “No Activity Days” Due to Air Quality

Having grown up in the very northern part of Utah, I was always a little happy when I would wake up on a school morning and my mother would announce that it was a “snow day”, meaning school had been canceled due to the heavy snowfall.  This meant the freedom to enjoy the day how I wished which usually included some type of fun in the new snow.  Well, my children have never experienced a “snow day” since they have lived in California their entire life, but now that they are in New Delhi, they get to experience “no activity days.”. And let me just say that “no activity days” hold zero magic in them like those “snow days.”

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This is a view out of our front window on a day with the heavy polluted air.  The plants are working extra hard and one can see the dirt from the air on all the trees and shrubs as you drive around.   

Despite New Delhi being one of the greenest capitols in the world, having a metro system that transports thousands of people each day and government buses that run on natural gas, New Delhi is one of the most polluted cities to live in the world.  The New York Times recently wrote an article about how China’s bad air would be a step up for New Delhi.  I have not lived in China, but I can attest to the very poor air quality in New Delhi.  It is a major reason why many people choose to leave India.  One of Hailey’s teachers as well as Conner’s principal have both decided to leave after this year based purely on the air quality of New Delhi.  They have both expressed that they would stay here a long time for the school, but the pollution is what is driving them away after a few years of living here.

There is an Air Quality Index (AQI) that establishes guidelines on Hazardous to Healthy Air Quality.  According to the AQI, 0-50 reading is Healthy, 51-100 is Moderate, 101-200 is Unhealthy, 200-300 is Harmful and anything greater than 300 is Hazardous.  Part of the measure of air quality is Particulate Matters (PM), especially PM with diameter of 2.5 micrometers.  Particulate Matters are materials suspended in the air in the form of minute solid particles or liquid droplets and are considered atmosphere pollutants.  Some PM originates naturally from dust storms, living vegetation and forest fires.  PM also originates from burning of fossil fuels in  vehicles, power plants, road dust, etc.  I would like to add that here in New Delhi, PM is definitely created by road side fires burning anything the person can find to stay warm or cook their nightly meal.

It was around the end of October, beginning of November that we started to experience the very poor air quality here.  We went from having just 2 air purifiers in our home to purchasing one for all rooms in our home.  One would wake up and before looking outside at the air, you could just sense it in the air of your home.  At about that same time I came down with a cold and the cough that accompanied it did not entirely leave until I left Delhi for a few weeks at the holidays.  Our two youngest children had asthma as young children and I have been watching to see if they would experience problems, but fortunately we have not had any problems yet and some of that may be thanks to the “no activity days” at school.

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One of the many air purifiers in our home  I have discussed and heard discussed from many different people whether they work or not.  The insulation in the homes here is very poor leading some people to believe purifiers don’t help.  I know they don’t take care of all the pollution inside our home, but I do believe they make a difference.

By 8:00 a.m. each school morning, if the readings are above a certain level (the harmful and hazardous levels), we receive an email from the Director of the School informing us that there will be no cardio activity that day.  This means that if the student has PE, they will do something other than cardio activity.  For after-school sports, they are canceled on that day.  We have had several days over the past few months where the air quality was determined a “no activity day.”. I have not been keeping track of them, but according to the New York Times Article, only once in three weeks at the beginning of the year did Delhi’s peak readings fall below 300.  Our most recent day of “no activity” was January 17th, the scheduled Middle School Open Gym night at the school.  The declaration of the “no activity” day disappointed many as it meant the night activities had to be postponed as well.  The papers will often post articles and pictures of the air in China with everyone wearing masks, but the worse air is indeed India, not China according to recent findings and to be honest, it is rare to see anyone wearing a breathing mask and see much written about it in the papers expressing concern.

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Air masks such as this one are rarely seen here but I have talked with different people who will use them during their exercise on peak days. 

The Air Quality has definitely affected us here.  Once the heat finally subsided, the poor air started which really limits wanting to be outdoors.  Conner had switched gears from wanting the In-n-Out hamburger to wanting to breathe clean air over the holidays.  As we departed from our layover in London, he even remarked, “well, my last bit of fresh air to breathe.”. I returned from the states with some air masks determined to try to use them when I was exercising in our gym in our basement.  It was so awkward and uncomfortable to run on the treadmill with it on, that it didn’t last but a few minutes.  We just continue to run our many air purifiers and limit outdoor activities.  We have had a couple of good days here and I am starting to actually believe that February might be the month to be in India.  I will keep you posted!

 

 

 


		
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Stages of Cultural Adjustment

After spending close to three rejuvenating weeks back in California over the winter holiday break, I wondered just how each of us would adjust coming back to India.  Happily, and only on our second day back to school, I can announce that it has gone much smoother than anticipated.  I think I expected to have children complaining the entire plane ride back to India about having to say goodbye to friends again, missing their favorite activities, foods, etc., but instead I got, “it wasn’t as hard this time saying goodbye to friends,” “can’t wait to see them again in the summer,”  and “it will be great to see friends back at school.” The trip back home was definitely needed.  We all learned that those we love are still there and in fact we appreciated every moment we got with them even more.  Our favorite things to do and foods to eat were enjoyed immensely.  Just turning on a friend’s kitchen tap water, I appreciated the quality of it.  How leaving for a while makes everything be seen with new eyes is truly a blessing.

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Best part of the trip — spending time with our oldest child, Jacob

About a month after arriving in India, the American Embassy School offered a parent information meeting on dealing with a new culture and the stages that we go through in the transition.  I learned so much and realized it can really be applied to many adjustments that we go through in life.

Stage 1:  The Honeymoon Period — each one of us went through this when we first arrived.  The newness of everything, the excitement, the children’s eagerness to please and be cooperative.  For each person this stage lasts a different amount of time.  I think that overall, this period lasted about 4–8 weeks for most of us.  The thrill of being in a new country and realizing just how incredible it is before the reality of it sets in leading to stage 2.

Stage 2:  Culture Shock — after experiencing a high period of the initial honeymoon, culture shock started to set in a bit.  Differences became irritable and tears and anger were on display in our family.  I believe that until we moved out of the hotel and received our shipment, this stage did not fully disappear for us as we felt “stuck” in a state that had gotten extremely discouraging.

Stage 3:  Initial Adjustment — this is another high period where things are looking good.  We definitely moved into this when we started to feel settled and put the suitcases away.  We got into a routine of knowing our schedule, where things were located in our neighborhood, etc.

Stage 4:  Mental Isolation — in this stage, one just needs their space — needs to shut out the chaos and difference of where they have landed.  According to the psychologists that did this presentation at school, it is a very common stage and is fluid where it can recur later on.  For many people that I talked to before moving here, they told me there were times where they just needed to shut out India for a while and they would hunker down and enjoy their own personal haven at home.

Stage 5:  Acceptance and Integration — this final stage is where you return and say “okay, it’s good to be home.”. I think I definitely felt a little of this upon returning.  I didn’t seem to mind quite as much the lack of a good grocery store (yes, I loved every second I spent in a Costco, Target, or grocery store in the US — do you realize how easy life is there?), or the car honking as we drove home from the airport.  I found the children even pointing out positive things like, “it’s nice it isn’t as hot this time when we landed at the airport.”. And we had some good laughs as we could “smell” where we had landed before we had quite reached the door to exit off the plane.

Now, these stages are definitely fluid.  We landed in a culture that is about as different as possible from where we came so the cultural adjustment can take a little longer.  We have had a few good days at home, even with the jetlag we are dealing with and waking at all hours in the night, but just knowing these stages are normal and that it takes a good 6-16 months according to the psychologists at school to really get to the acceptance stage, I feel happy and that life is good.  Yes, we LOVE and MISS the people in particular that we left behind again, but how grateful we are for this amazing experience to be in a different culture.  And so as our family goes through the ups and downs of living in a different part of the world, the knowledge of these stages helps me keep things in perspective and know that during the low points that at least we have those milk chocolate chips, peanut butter M & Ms and Cheerios for a while!WP_20140111_001

Yes, we made sure we had extra suitcase room to bring home our favorites!