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Posts Tagged ‘india’

Mosquito nets: less romantic than you think.


I’ve been to southern India five times in eight years (my husband is from there), twice with a small child. I learn a few new things each time; here’s the baker’s dozen list for this trip.

1. If you bring white linen pants to India, you will look fabulous for approximately five minutes. Then you will look like a wrinkly, dusty mess. But if you’re willing to put in the necessary time hand-washing them, then by all means, bring your silly white linen pants to India. 

2. Bring the extra bottle of insect repellent. Indian insect repellent products are stinky and/or less effective than what we brought (and ran out of). 

3. I no longer get culture shock here, though I’m still curious about cultural differences — and I still get homesick. 

4. Divali in India is very fun, and very loud. Bring good earplugs and a large bottle of Benadryl, or be prepared to stay up all night watching/listening to fireworks go off way closer than seems safe. 

5. Oatmeal, peanut butter, almond milk, wheat bread, Dove soap galore, and Sensodyne toothpaste are available for purchase in southern India. Graham crackers, Cheerios and NutriGrain bars are not available, so pack what you need if you bring a picky eater (ours tried new foods there, but didn’t fall in love with anything substantial).

6. Indian bananas are divine. So many different kinds, and they all taste different. It’s almost a fair price to pay for three weeks without a crunchy vegetable. 

7. Watching the light in an Indian person’s eyes as they greet a child is a transformative experience.

8. The closeness to the natural world can be gross to Western eyes (so many bugs in the house!) but it’s also one of the loveliest things about the country (my mother-in-law feeds a chipmunk and a crow every day, and they yell at her if she’s late).

9. Bottles of makeup must be “burped” before opening mid-flight. Unless you want foundation on the only pair of pants you brought on board. It’s up to you. 

10. Leaving the house/hotel? Bring hand wipes, tissues/toilet paper, snacks, and water. Every time. 

11. Explaining that you can’t have milk/yogurt/paneer because of lactose intolerance will get you some very funny looks. Also responses like, “But we boil our milk!” and “But it’s yogurt!”

12. Taking a preschooler to India is both delightful and nervewracking, especially if the child isn’t good at looking where s/he’s going. 

13. I will probably never be able to decode the various looks I get here. I’m not okay with that, but I’m trying to accept it. 

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You went to India for three weeks in October-November 2016.

You did very well with international travel once again, though your increasing independence made it tougher to keep you close by as we waited in security lines, boarding lines, and immigration lines. 

You asked Mama to read you the safety card in every airplane we were in. We were in 10 airplanes. On one of them, we bought you a reusable shopping bag printed with the plane’s safety information.

You watched far fewer cartoons on the planes than you did during the same trip two years ago, and slept less.

You ran straight to your Avva (Indian grandma) at the airport, and gave her a big hug. (Two years ago, you burst into tears when she said hello to you.)

You were again fascinated by the light and fan switches in every house we visited, and figured out that you could only reach them if you stood on a chair. Thus, you started asking for a step stool in every house we visited. 

You asked Mama why you had to use your right hand to give someone a gift. She told you it was the tradition in India. 

You were told the story behind the leopard your great-grandfather shot (it was a maneater and he was the chief conservator of forests for the state of Madras). The animal’s skin lives in a storeroom in your Avva’s house, and you had a lot of questions about it. 

You loved all the Divali fireworks you got to see and help light. Somehow, you managed to fall asleep with thunderous booms happening all night. Mama brought this up when you said you couldn’t fall asleep on a plane because of a crying baby. 

You woke up sick the day after Divali, first saying “my tummy is tickling me” then going back to sleep only to wake up vomiting. True to form, you puked for a few hours, slept for a few hours and were fine by that afternoon. A doctor who lives across the street came to check on you three times, which made us all feel better. 

You met Daddy’s cousin and her family in Chennai, and enjoyed playing with the daughter in the family. You had a great time asking questions about the switches, “helping” make dosas, and playing with a neighbor boy your age. 

You came down with a cold when we came back from Chennai, but it didn’t slow you down. 

You spent a lot of time at your great aunt’s house (next door to Avva’s house), doing exciting things like sweeping, washing pots, and going over the details of how her well pump works. You pretty much bounced between the two houses all day, running in and out through perpetually open doors. 

You discovered a cartoon called Chhota Bheem, which you watched devotedly even though you didn’t understand the Tamil dialogue. You also liked Tom and Jerry, which was also in Tamil.

You had a great time at the beach in Chennai, where you ate ice cream, played in the waves, rode a horse (with Mama), collected shells, rode a hand-cranked merry-go-round, and shot balloons (with help from your cousin).

You said you missed your Grammie (American grandma) two weeks into the trip.

You had a lot of questions for the guy who came to service the battery for the back-up power system. You also got to see the system in action during a six-hour scheduled maintenance outage. 

You developed a taste for oatmeal (plain, or with a little salt) and appalams about two and a half weeks into the trip. You were willing to try Indian sweets exactly once; other than that you stuck to your old pals, Milk Bikis and vanilla ice cream. 

You claim that this stove lighter was your favorite thing about India:

But we’re pretty sure pushing switches was your favorite thing, just like at home. 

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“Do you like India?”

The speaker was a fresh-faced young woman I had just met. She had taken a shine to my toddler son, and he to her, perhaps because she was one of the few people we met who understood how to play with little kids.

All of that made answering her even more of a sticky wicket. Even though I know it’s an attempt at connecting with me, that question is so reductive that it’s hard for me to refrain from rolling my eyes. Meanwhile, I feel I can’t answer it honestly without offending the asker — while there’s plenty I like about India, there’s more I don’t like. Put another way, the negatives outweigh the positives for me.

I love how children are cherished there. I hate how many children suffer there. I love that opportunities are opening for women. I hate that so many women are still treated as property, or worse. I love the mish-mash of architectural styles on my mother-in-law’s street. I’m not crazy about the trash and smells on those streets. I love to see the street vendors pass with their enormous handcarts, yelling about their bananas, or onions, or noodles. I hate to hear the street dogs yelping in the middle of the night.

But none of that is anyone’s fault — and certainly not the fault of the person asking my least favorite question. So usually I lie and say yes, I like India. This time I laughed and said that I had only seen the insides of a few houses, and I liked them fine. Not a lie, but also not the whole truth.

It seemed like the kindest way to preserve the connection the woman was trying to establish.

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We recently took the Boo to India to meet and stay with the hubs’ mother (“Avva”). Yes, we might be slightly crazy, though honestly, it all went a lot better than we thought it would where the Boo was concerned. Herewith, a list of the highlights.

You asked, “Where’s Avva?” immediately after arriving at the airport for the first of four flights that would take us to India over the next 36 hours. Your next question was about going home.

You were happy to receive a lollipop for takeoff, then displeased when it became sharp after you bit into it.

You were so enthralled with your personal in-flight entertainment screen that you would watch a cartoon you’d never seen, without sound.

You hugged a total stranger at the playground in the Frankfurt airport. He happened to be a brown-skinned man. We all laughed and called him your new daddy.

You slept on the long-haul flights and never went into the kind of frenzy we had feared you would. You did get a little wiggy during the last layover on the way there, but that was an eight-hour ordeal after more than 24 hours of travel that had all three of us strung out.

You cried when you met Avva, whom you had only experienced over Skype from the time you were six months old. We concluded that you thought she lived in the iPad.

You gave your Avva a hug within 24 hours of meeting her.

You delighted in discovering all the switches and fans in Avva’s house, and particularly loved the switch for the pump that delivers water to the tanks on the roof. Fortunately, all of these switches are about five feet off the ground.

You loved watering the plants in Avva’s front and back yards despite your distress over getting mired in thick mud.

You did not get sick (not counting the rash you developed).

You became enamored of a stick that is often used to drive away street dogs.

You did not care for the noise of steam escaping from the pressure cooker and would clamp your hands to your ears when it was hissing, even with the kitchen door closed.

You experienced several firsts during our stay: your first Slinky (instant love); your first time blowing a whistle (instant joy); and your first encounter with a gaggle of adoring, but loud, Indian Aunties (instant tears and vehemently closed eyes).

You climbed onto the lap of a visitor, a total stranger. Even after you realized he wasn’t your daddy, you stayed in his lap.

You met two of your cousins, and enjoyed playing with their carrom board, tricycle, and scooter.

You woke up the first six nights we were in India, sometimes tossing and turning for four hours before you were able to sleep again and often crying from the frustration of trying and failing to sleep. Sometimes Mama singing to you would help, sometimes it wouldn’t.

You shared a bed with Mama during our stay — a first for you and a big change from your crib. At first you would sit up and call for her if you woke up, but then you realized you could just roll over and cuddle with her. In the mornings, you would lean against her and announce that you were awake.

You asked to sleep with Mama when you woke up in the middle of the night back at home. She explained that the crib was too small but said she could take a nap with you in the big bed.

You thought Daddy’s nightly ritual of killing mosquitoes before you went to bed was hilarious. You also loved the mosquito net that cocooned our bed, though you would be in such a hurry to get in or out that you would often slam into it before Mama had a chance to raise it for you.

You tried a tiny bite of mango. You seemed to like it, but refused additional bites.

You refused to try any of the three delicious varieties of Indian bananas your Avva had gotten for you.

You devoured the sev (fried chickpea flour sticks) Avva made for you, but otherwise stuck to eating the food we brought for you.

You announced, “This is not home. This is India. This is our India home.” This happened about a week into our stay.

You went to India with Mama and Daddy, and we were nothing but impressed with how well you handled the trip.

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