Thursday, December 10, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

~ Mehndi ! ~

Pauline's mehndi from Hindu wedding.
My mehndi from wedding !
My Diwali 2009 mehndi.
I just remember thinking, "How will I hold my beer now?"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

FYI: Why I write...

For those of you who know me, you know I've had a livejournal since I was 17 years old. Due to his highly personal content and long history I've closed it to the public.

However, I did realize that Remi and I moving to India is a great opportunity for blogging to a more friendly less serious tune for once. I do highly enjoy writing and I manage to always find the time, no matter how busy I am. I also felt it was a great opportunity to inform other potential expats on what life is like in India from a 26 year old American (and French) point of view!

So this blog will mostly be written by moi. Remi is extremely busy and even if he wasn't, blogging just isn't his cup of tea. I will include his views from time to time. So you'll be hearing moslty from me, hope that's ok? :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

AIC Field Work.

I spend most of my time at the AIC Residential Program, but today I finally made it to the AIC Educational Outreach Center. All the students inside were shaking my hand, asking my name, where I come from, if I am married, lots of questions! Every time I answered one of their questions they squealed or giggled in delight and turned away in embarrassment. They want to ask you questions and get to know you, but sometimes they're a little shy to use English.

Then we were off to the nearby busti (slum) that our children come from. This was my first time seeing these areas up close. We were going there with a mission however, most of the woman who give birth in these areas do it from home and a record is never made of the child. Julia and I were going into the slums for a small meeting to document exactly how many of them need their birth records, not only for themselves but for their children. Birth certificates are needed for most things, from hospital visits to entry into the local schools. Most of them don't know when they were born, and they don't tell you the year either, they will simply say their age. Which Julia says changes almost daily, she says "Sometimes someone will say they're 43, but then you ask them again tomorrow and they'll say 40". It's really confusing, and it's not like they're lying to you, they honestly don't know. This particular area is where Ramu came from, I met his Grandmother, she is the only survivor of the family. She has some serious leg issues and is in bad health. Unable to walk she sits on the corner in these slums all day in the sun, she looks as if she must be 100+ years old. Dark wrinkly skin with deep dark eyes that look like they've seen too much. She asked us how Ramu was and Julia assured her he is doing well and very healthy now. His Grandmother looked as though she might cry, but the moment passed and we moved deeper into the slum. Everyone tugging on Julia's shirt, asking her questions, wanting help of some sort. These areas (made up of metal shacks, cement, and some brick) are usually home to multiple families or extended families. Soon as we arrive they bring us to the middle of the houses, we follow them up to a balcony, which had the scariest most unsafe steps I've ever been on. Children as small as 3 or 4 years old went up and down them without a thought. Something I've been getting more used to seeing here I guess. Once upstairs they lay a little blanket for us to sit for the meeting. The sun was late afternoon, and it was hitting all their little huts and little homes so beautifully. Clothes lines were hanging everywhere, trash littered the wet muddy cement ground where the children played...most of them half naked without shoes. The women of the village were at the meeting, some young, some old and heavily wrinkled from the sun, dark eyes, colorful saris, babies in their arms. It was a beautiful moment sitting here, listening to an elder with a huge white beard and tiny legs discuss his ailments, a hurting shoulder, weak knees, a back ache. A woman complaining about her tooth ache. Of course none of this is in English, Julia translated into English as they spoke. The woman mostly stared at whoever was speaking at the time but occasionally would look over at us and smile. They really love Julia here, she does so much for them and I felt really welcomed and safe here with them in their homes. They all looked so amazing in the sunlight that I had truly regretted not bringing my camera. As if Julia had read my mind she leaned over during the meeting and whispered "Next time you come you should bring your camera, we need some photos of the places where our children come from." I truly am looking forward to next time. After the meeting was over, children grabbed my hands, calling me Didi, following us as we walked out. Not asking for money or anything, just wanting to talk to me and touch me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Diwali 2009.

So Diwali is starting, super exciting fun holiday in India. I believe it lasts 10 days, as most Hindu festivals do.

Last Saturday the school got all decorated and had a huge party on campus. The decorations are still up actually since Diwali lasts so long. The entire building is done up with lights and the canteen has the cutest more colorful decorations up.

Anyway...back to last Saturday and the party, the students organized the music and DJ side and the faculty organized all the equipment and food. It was such a fun party, I cannot even describe it all. I thought (as did Remi) that it wasn't going to be good, usually from experience during Indian festivals on the streets they play really cheesy techno music, popular American pop songs remixed to a faster beat, it's just horrible. From the sound of the INSANELY loud bass we already were dealing with in our apartment while getting ready to go downstairs, Remi turned to me and said "If the music is really bad I'm not staying." However when we did finally head down, the music was totally different. I guess they were just warming up for the event because the students took over the music and a lot of the songs were actually stuff you might hear in San Francisco clubs. Some hiphop, house, and my personal favorite even some electro beats! All the men immediately got their heads wrapped in some sort of traditional Indian turban (reserved for special occasions). I got lots of photos of it. All night Remi's students kept calling him "Indian Brad Pitt" which is funny for 2 reasons: ONE, in town he has already been mistaken for Brad Pitt (especially when he wears his sunglasses), and TWO, in SF a lot of the girls in our friends group nicknamed Remi "the French Brad Pitt". Of course Remi loves it but he won't admit it. :P

They had also free mehndi (henna tats) given. I got one done on my hand with Charlotte (my newest friend and neighbor here), they also had face/body painting, and hair braiding. I'll give you a brief insight into Indian culture that I've learned so far. They truly want you to experience their life, their festivals, and their food. They never let you leave a buffet table without trying everything, they made every French student or teacher get the head wrap, they pestered me until I got my mehndi. Not in a mean way (am I making it sound mean?) it's a really sweet way. Like they REEEEEALLY want you to understand them and their culture, they wish to share with you. It's truly unique and it's universal here.

So, after some food, and several Kingfisher beers (really strong Indian beer) we got to dancing. The American in me kept thinking it's too weird mingling with students, drinking with them, dancing. It was like at first I couldn't relax. I didn't want to let go because Americans are professional, Remi is a teacher here, I am his girlfriend, his bosses are watching as well as students and it would be unprofessional to relax.

Which lead me to think this...Americans never relax, period. We are always worried about being proper or professional...(but thats another thought for another day)

Indian faculty members were the first to dance. Sharma was totally wasted (the dorm warden) kissing students cheeks and shaking everyones hands 20+ times like he always does. The accounting department kept pulling Remi and I to the dance floor encouraging us to dance to the bhangra style music. The students were cheering Phillipe (Remi's boss) on when he finally hit the dance floor. Guillaume was drunk, so was Petra, everyone was smiles and laughter, and just having an amazing time.

I just don't think this type of party is possible in the U.S. Of course maybe you have a few cool teachers in your life who maybe you go out with on occasion...but I'm talking about an entire schools faculty gettin' their groove on shamelessly.

Remi and I were all smiles all night long, it's like we were in constant amazement at everyone enjoying themselves. Everyone had fun, not 1 person left early, not 1 person said it was boring, not 1 person didn't dance, where else does that happen I'd like to know? Seriously?!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Nesting" Phase.

Been sorta getting into my groove here and now that I have another pc here + cable TV (Yay! finally works!), I haven't been into writing. It's been nice just trying to relax into my usual self. Set up some sort of normal life here with dinner together, some of our favorite tv shows, and of course some computer time!

But I'll give you an update. The school is sort of in a frenzy at the moment, the students have started arriving and school will officially start in less than a week.

As most of you have probably already seen from the facebook photos I updated, Remi and I finally went to the mall and bought some things for the house (living room photo posted above). Decorative things, what a difference I tell you! Remi wanted to be only practical, buying things we really needed like our drier and other much needed bathroom and kitchen stuff. But I told him we should have a small budget for decorative things, otherwise this place will keep looking like a hotel and never feel like home. It's definitely made a difference, even Remi agrees!

I spend my time doing lame women's work. By that I mean cleaning house, doing laundry, washing dishes. But I also do a lot of research on India, trying to find all the places we should go. I am sort of in charge of our vacations and weekend plans/entertainment. Not to mention the buying of all the items for the house we still need.

This whole 'staying home' thing is not permanent I can tell you that! I'm already getting a little cabin fever as it is. So I've been researching the Osho Ashram which is in downtown Pune and boasts the worlds largest meditation classes. It's cheap for a monthly pass to the Ashram, only like $20 a month. It's sort of like being a member to a gym, for your spirit. I really want to take part in the yoga classes they offer as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Six-seater 101.

First, I will say the name "6-seater" is so misleading. They should seat only 6, but I've seen them squeeze in as much as 10 people. The driver makes the same fee from every person, so of course he tries to push in as many fares as he can. I had never taken one into town before, but I knew I needed to learn how it all worked, we wouldn't always have the campus car and driver available to us.

Charlotte (also a French expat here on campus) decided to go into town for some shopping and asked if I wanted to go. Since we're still new here there are many things we need for our apartment. We decided to take a 6-seater into the main hub of Hadapsar and take a rickshaw from there to the shopping center. Since campus is actually pretty far from Pune, about 30-50 minute drive (depending on traffic), we have to take the 6-seaters into town, then a rickshaw. We walked from campus to where they pick you up on the main highway. It was hot and sweaty standing there in the sun, and people stared at us like we were freaks (still something I am not used too). Charlotte finally hails the 6-seater and I notice there are people inside, she says, "Yes there is always people inside, hurry hurry, get in!" For some reason I imagined them like cabs, you hail your own. But no, and it was then the name "6-seater" was making sense. So I squished my big American ass in-between the smallest little Indian men. I took up about enough space for two of them. They squished over to let me fit in and Charlotte sat opposite squished between 3 others. I was really shocked, I had no idea we'd be riding with people and the uncomfortableness of this for me was almost unbearable. Along the way the driver kept stopping and picking up more people, I wanted to shout "Come on!?" But I didn't want to call any attention to myself...but seriously! We were packed so tightly and the drive is already a long, bumpy, and uncomfortable one as it is.

The pollution was so awful. Most Indians where masks or wrap scarves around their nose and mouth when in rickshaws or riding motorcycles to block the grime. I wasn't prepared, even Charlotte had a mask. So I used the hood on my sweatshirt to cover my nose and mouth. The pollution was so thick, my stomach was beginning to turn and I was praying I would not throw up. Dirt and debris were flying into my eyes and I was grumbling to myself the whole way.

The way back wasn't as bad. This time I knew what I was getting into at least. I smiled at the people in the 6-seater I shared with and they were very chatty and funny. When we first got in and were having trouble squeezing in, one of the guys said "Let the English woman sit!" They continued to call us English women the whole way and we didn't correct them. By the time we were getting closer to campus, the monsoon started, it was pounding the roof of the 6-seater and water was leaking in everywhere, the funny man across from us laughed and said (I think) "This is India!". The leaking roof was the least of our concerns, once outside of the 6-seater we had a long walk in monsoon rains back to campus! We arrived home completely soaked, but I had a nice hot shower and felt immediately better. The thunder from the monsoon was so booming it actually rattled the windows of our apartment!

It was a good day though, I was glad I learned how to go to town with the 6-seaters, should I ever need too. The pollution is what got to me most, I could barely handle 1 day completely immersed in it. I know Remi would hate it too, especially the part where crap flies into your eyes (literally), I kept imagining my eyes becoming infected eventually. I know, I'm paranoid. I do hate to sound prissy, but I care about the health of my eyes & lungs while I'm here. From now on I will probably stick to cars and use 6-seaters and rickshaws as a last resort.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our arrival in Mumbai. It was 11pm and both Remi and I were nervous and exhausted from our flight. . This was our first time together somewhere completely new. We may have well just arrived on Mars, for this is exactly how it felt.

The Mumbai airport smells exactly how you would expect it too. Like curry, or to be more precise, Indian spices. The floors were a dark stained burgundy color, and the airport pretty much looked like it was stuck in some 70s time warp. Even though this is a huge international airport, I could count the amount of white people I saw. Even in the airport, we were a noticable minority. Stepping off was a tad scary, a man with one of those guns that detect temperatures was aiming at everyone, as well as people with masks asking for our "H1N1 Virus forms" we had to fill out on the plane.

Once through the virus patrol we were onto the customs officers and passport checkers. Relatively easy we moved forward, there were no people movers in the huge airport and all the walking needed to be done by you (which is a lot). It took us a fair amount of time to finally reach the exit. If we'd thought the difference from airport to airport was huge, imagine our expressions upon walking outside. Even at 11pm it's warm, but in a sort of warm tropical hug way. At least that's it felt to me. It felt really amaizng to be outside, and I couldn't help the big smile on my face. Our driver was in a hurry, he grabbed our cart of luggage and began weaving in and out of people. Remi and I had to start jogging to keep up.

Nothing can ever prepare you for Indian driving. Sure I've had Indian friends tell me not to drive in India, always use a driver. Traffic is bad, etc. But I assure you, I can probably not even fully describe how truly insane it is. There are traffic lights, but those apparently are only for if you feel like using them. Same goes for the painted lines on the ground to tell you what lane your in. There are no lanes. Pedestrians walk everywhere, in front of speeding motorcycles and buses. I couldn't believe my eyes, the minute you get to any decent speed a car pulls in front of you or an animal struts into view. And by animal, I mean all kinds. Cats, dogs, cows, especially cows. Cows in particular don't seem to mind the traffic at all, they're completely at ease in sitting in traffic.

Our driver was a master of the road, weaving in and out. In the beginning I felt surely someone or something will get hit before my very eyes tonight. However, all the drivers work in some sort of unison. It's like they're in this gigantic school of fish, though all independent hey somehow swim perfectly together like some massive organism. Nobody shouts at each other or gives any rude hand gestures. This is just how it is, and works for them. You just sort of let go of any fears and let him do his job.

We were in that car for hours, around 4 hours to be precise. This is how bad traffic is, even at 1am. The distance between Mumbai and Pune is minimal, and probably close to the same distance as Orange County to San Diego, but imagine L.A. traffic the whole way. We're so exhausted when we arrive that we're not even coherent anymore. I didn't see much of Pune during the drive as it was dark (2am!) and I was in and out of consciousness.

We are greeted by an Indian man, he is balding and has a wirey mustache and bad teeth. He is some sort of warden of the building I gathered. I don't remember his name, I only remember he never looked at me nor shook my hand once. Which was quite the opposite for Remi, who probably received nearly 10 or so handshakes from the man. "Hello Sir, Mr.Marchand Sir, this way please Sir" in his heavy accent. The security guys at the door to the building open it for us as we walk in. They immediately take our bags for which I feel bad because they're extremely heavy and they were actually carrying them. Before I could try to explain the handle that pops out so you can roll it, the warden begins explaining stuff to Remi. I understand Indian accents better, obviously...English is my language. Remi squints hard as the man talks to him, a sign I know from experience means he has no idea what the man is saying. He is explaining where the canteen is for eating, afterwhich I say "Thank you." But he basically ignores me. We're shown to our apartment, on the 4th floor (I was excited about this, less mosquitos make it up that high). It's a nice apartment, the floors are shinny, a common floor style here. They take off their shoes when they come inside to show us around, how to work the lights and the air conditioners. They all wear sandals so they're barefoot walking around, I sort of giggle to myself because I find it very cute that these security gaurds in their fancy uniforms (looking like British infantry) and here they are barefoot in my house!

Once they finally leave, we take a look around. So, I'll say this in regards to the actual apartment. Upon closer inspection, it is sort of poor quality. Now, of course by Indian standards (*Note: By Indian "standards" I am addressing the majority of India, not the upper/middle class who use the internet and perhaps may get offended by that comment) I am living in a dream apartment here. So to be fair, this is high quality. Don't get me wrong, I love the apartment, I am completely happy with it. But everything is finished badly. There are paint stains on the new floors, the toilets flush so violently they splash water onto the seat. The showerhead for example is old, it already has some lime deposits on it. The door frames are black, but when they painted the white walls hey got paint all over every single door frame, looks like a child painted it, the light sockets are unstable and almost pull off the wall when you take your plug out. The list goes on, but it's all unimportant stuff. Stuff Remi and I can either rectify ourselves or work around.

We have a small British style fridge, in our huge kitchen (we've never had this much space in the kitchen before). With all the lights on and people gone I realize there are bugs around. Tiny beetles and ants. Not lines of them, but everywhere you look long enough you see one or two walking by. I'm strangley OK with this because I can see them on my floor. If it were carpet, I would feel a definite uneasiness. But, I smash them as I walk, not much I can do. We will definitely need a broom soon though, the little bodies are already building up. The bed is kingsize and hard as nails, we take the other mattress from the extra room and place it ontop of ours, it helps very little. Without much conversation we wash our faces, brush our teeth, and crawl into bed for our much earned reward...sleep.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Well 2009 has been a long year for us, a lot of planning and waiting. This idea started back in January and here we are, all the way into August and we're finally going to set foot in India.

We're beyond excited of course. We've been in Lille (pictured here) for nearly 4 weeks waiting on our Visas to come through, and now that they have it's a huge relief.

Today I am mostly packing and cleaning. We've been living at Remi's Dads house for the past week alone and we've been little pigs I must say. It's always hectic the last day, making sure laundry is done, scrubbing the floors we mucked up, and then packing...ugh. I've started my bag, which is in pretty decent order anyway because I never really unpacked everything when I arrived 3 weeks ago. Remi on the other hand has been here almost 2 months and his stuff is scattered about the house. I've been collecting everything and bringing it to our room to sort out in the final hours. For now, I am focusing on laundry and cleaning.

Remi went in town to have his tooth checked out by a friend who's in destist school. Yeah I know, weird thing to do on the day before leaving but we thought might as well get it all checked out before we go. Would be awful to have some sort of dental emergency in another country.

Anyway, next you hear from me we will be reporting from India!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

En France.

I was scheduled to leave the U.S.A. Monday @7pm from SFO. It was a long United (supposed to be Lufthansa, but cheapoair lied!!) flight from SFO to Frankfurt, Germany. Unfortunately for me the man sitting in front of me had a broken seat, so when he pushed the button to pop his chair back it actually tilted all the way into my lap, of which he didn't seem to mind at all! His bald head was right in my lap, I could barely read my magazines. It was a painfully long flight.

I delt with a mean German official who checked my passport, he was a big guy with a curly mustache that made it hard to take him seriously, he was so German looking. Once through this hurdle I had to re-check my carry-on for my Lufthansa flight to Paris which was in an hour. They didn't like my laptop cooler (a tray with a fan that cools your laptop while you work on it), I had to step aside and unpack my entire carry-on, which was embarassing. I had such random crap in my bag, I looked like a freak. Stuff I planned on bringing to India to help me decorate and make it more homey. Posters, magnets, a pair of shoes, a flat iron, four books (all random), little doodads and trinkets. Luckily the man swiped my laptop cooler with a pad that detects some sort of bad chemical and it passed. I was allowed to repack my crap and move on.

I was so tired, Lufthansa flight was short, a mere 50 minutes and I'd landed in Paris.

We landed in the airport of my nightmares Charles De Gaulle (don't ask!), and I was the walking dead by this point. Felt like I had a gigantic hangover. I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. I got my bag as quickly as possible and as soon as I walked out of the exit there was Remi, with a big smile on his face. I had not seein him in over a month, and his smile warmed my heart. He immediately gave me a hug, my long lonely flight with hours of sleeplessness was all worth it.

Everything negative my body had been feeling melted away, and in that instant, I felt home.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Injections for India...ugh.

Sitting there at the Kaiser Travel Clinic with Remi was weird, I was about to get my 4 injections needed for India. Tetanus, Polio, HepA/HepB, and Rabies. My 5th vaccine was via pills for Typhoid.

I told her about my previous reactions to vaccinations. The last one being when I was 18 years old for MMR booster (measels, mumps, rubella) and I had passed out. So she told Remi to buy a juice from the vending machine outside. Which turned out to be an excellent idea.

While Remi was gone she gave the tetanus, so easy and quick. No pain. She prepares the polio vaccine and right as I am sighing relief at how easy that was the darkeness came. Anyone who has passed out (not from alcohol) knows this feeling, the peripheral vision starts to fade, you turn pale, sweaty, feverish, dizzy, neausea, etc. All of that hit me so hard. I didn't need to say anything as she turned to me with polio ready and noticed my face, she pushed my head between my legs and said, "Don't sit up, you'll pass out." Sweat poured from me, she wet some towels and put them on my neck and back. Told me to breathe. I felt so sick. During this time she says, "Do you want me to do the polio or wait till this passes?" Knowing it would only drag everything out I asked her to do the polio, so with my head between my legs she pinched in the polio in my left shoulder muscle. I sat there for 15 minutes in agony, not sure if I was going to lose consiousness or just throw up.

Remi had knocked on the door, he had juice. He missed the whole scene which I was grateful for, I felt like such a baby. She decided this was all I could manage for today and that HepA/HepB and Rabies will have to wait till next week. I cringed, coming back here for more of this? Are you kidding? Why does this have to happen to me, every time. It's awful.

Remi wheeled me on the rolly chair into the next room, the doc turned the lights off and told me to lay down on the bed on my side. She told me I would need to lay like this for 15 minutes and drink my whole juice before she'd let me go.

God, I felt like such a wimp. Remi only 2 weeks earlier had received tetanus and MMR and all he said was, "I guess I felt a little dizzy for a minute".


Mary's Travels (so far!)