Archive for October, 2011

Vacation Fail!

So this week is Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights – where people light lights and open doors to guide Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, to your household for the coming year. Due to this holiday, we got a week off. My first chance to go on an adventure.


I decided to vacation to Kerala – the southwestern most state in India. It is known as God’s Own Country, and is supposed to be lush and green and full of hill stations, national parks, houseboats, and elephants. I bought my plane ticket and picked out where I wanted to visit. I would end up with 2 days in one of the hill station towns, 2 days in a national park – with crocodiles, elephants, and tigers, a night on a house boat, and a day in one of the cities.


Shortly before I left, my boss was very worried because I hadn’t booked where I wanted to stay yet. So I spent some time and finally found places to stay everywhere I was going. It was mostly inexpensive hotels, home stays, and a couple of nicer places – like one of the hotels in the national park, and a houseboat.


Saturday I flew down and was picked up by a taxi to go to my home stay Home stays are amazing. It is essentially someone how has turned their house into a hotel/hostel type place. They don’t seem to be elaborate, but are often inexpensive and often include at least 1 meal a day. They also have the added benefit of letting you interact with the other people staying there – generally over meals. I got there about 8 and got settled. At dinner there were 4 lovely ladies from Spain as well as another woman from Mumbai and her mother. They were also headed to Munnar (a hill station full of tea plantations) and we made arrangements to hire a driver together and stop along the way to see elephants and possibly help them bathe.


After dinner I decided to head out to the bank because I wasn’t carrying a whole lot of cash – and it doesn’t get you very far here but is often needed. It was a beautiful evening out. It was still warm but there was a nice breeze. Everything was quiet and there were insect sounds.


I was walking along the street because the sidewalk seemed to often be filled with cars and trees and there weren’t really cars on the road. At one point, there was a car coming toward me and I realized that I was hard to see, so I stepped up onto the sidewalk ……………and down into the sewer.


Some lovely guys on motorbikes stopped and helped haul me out of this hole of much (not sure it was actually a sewer – may have just been a hole of mud, leaves, and such). Overall, it smelled a lot like the marsh mud I used to have to play in Georgia – so not as bad as it could have been. They banged on the door of the house we were in front of until the man came out. He was nice enough to let me use the outside spigot to at least dump a couple of buckets of water over my head and rinse off my face. One of the guys gave me a ride on his motorcycle back to the home stay I even rode sidesaddle like a proper Indian woman.


Once back at the home stay I rinsed off more outside before heading directly into the shower. Once I had finally gotten the goop off me and done an initial rinse of my clothes, I started to unload my knitting bag/purse I had been carrying. The amazing woman I was staying with came in and helped rinse off everything that had been in my bag while I dried things and checked to see that everything was ok. The grossest part was cleaning muck out of my eyes. I understand – and greatly appreciate – why your eyes are covered in a slime like layer, but it made pulling slimy strings of black goop out of my eyes extra gross. For the next 2 days I had extra nasty eye goobers.


My bag and stuff survived amazingly well. Between things in pockets and bad being empty enough it folded a bit and protected stuff, almost everything survived. I was very amazed. I had my phone, wallet, and passport in one of the pockets. I also had my camera in the bottom which was a bit worse for wear. The case was covered in muck, but once I took the camera out and took battery and such out and let it dry overnight, it was fine the next day. I even had a yarn sack with yarn in the bottom of the bag. The bag got a bit dirty, but washed up fine and the yarn was completely dry. The only things that were worse for wear was a magazine and my knitting book. After being rinsed, the knitting book is clean and still usable, but wrecked enough to want to replace it.


At first I thought that the only thing that had been injured was my pride (stupid Cera not paying attention for one minute). As I showered and took care of my stuff I realized that I had done more than just retweeking my sprained ankle and that my foot hurt and was already quite swollen and bruised. After my stuff was taken care off, I asked for some ice to put on my foot. While I iced, the lady went downstairs to where the Spanish ladies were staying (one of whom was a doctor). The lovely doctor looked at my foot and cleaned off the cuts on my toes. She put some sort of liquid on the cuts to make sure they didn’t get infected, wrapped up my foot, gave me good strong European ibuprofen, and off I went to bed.


I realized that my foot might be broken (though the doctor didn’t think so), so I canceled my travel plans. The next day the man of the house where I was staying accompanied me to the “expensive” hospital. On the quiet Sunday morning, I was the only person in the emergency room. They asked me check in questions (including taking my blood sugar), took ex rays, gave me a shot of pain meds, had an orthopedist look at it, and proscribed me an antibiotic, antiinflamitory, something in case this affected my digestion, pain meds, and a week of bed rest. Most of the time, I spent laying on a bed with a curtain around it reading my book. The whole trip to the hospital cost me 865 rupees – about $18.


Sadly, being Sunday, the crutches store was closed (the hospital doesn’t sell them). I spent Sunday hopping around the home stay trying to arrange a Kerala adventure that didn’t involve walking. The people at the home stay were amazingly helpful even spending the morning with me at the hospital. And since I was there at lunch time, they fed me lunch in addition to the amazing food they served for breakfast and dinner. Finally I gave up and realized that I would be better off going home so that at least I was kicking around my own space and could live in my pjs for the week, so Monday night I flew home (after acquiring crutches and going to the government shop to buy souvenirs). My two nights of stay and 5 included meals ended up costing my 1,200 rupees – $24. They even tried to tell me the tip I gave them was too much.


At the airport in Kerala I hobbled around on my crutches (I still don’t like to have to be reliant on people and being limited by it). But I noticed that my hands were starting to get blistered (I forgot how much crutches hurt), so when we arrived in Mumbai, knowing how big an airport it was, I said yes to a wheelchair. What I didn’t realized was that most flights (especially domestic) don’t actually go to the gate. Instead, you unload down the stairs onto the tarmac where the bus drives you the 100 yards to the building (they won’t let you walk – I tried when I first got to Kerala) This turned into the most terrifying aspect of the whole experience wherein 4 men carried me backwards in a wheelchair down the stairs. I tried to get them to let me hobble down the steps, but they had already taken my crutches. There was definitely a point at which they almost dropped me and none of it felt safe at all.


Now, I am home safe and sound and hobbling around my own house. It is a combination of getting stuff done in my life that can be done while sitting on the couch with my foot up, and watching movies and knitting, and building my crutches muscles. Everyone has been amazing and my boss, A’s, mom has been sending over lunch for the last two day. My foot is still huge but is turning from a lovely shade of purple to a sickly shade of green. I am hoping that by next week I might be able to walk on it – the 2 flights of stairs at the construction site are going to be a lot of work otherwise.


Overall, I really can’t do much other than laugh at myself. If my foot wasn’t still huge it would almost seem like a surreal dream adventure. I think it is one Indian adventure I am happy to only experience once.




Wonders of the trains

Getting around Mumbai is an adventures. Traffic is always a bit crazy and so getting anywhere takes forever. One of the few saving graces is the train. The train is it’s own form of crazy, but is also amazing.


You walk into a packed train station and try to figure out where to punch your tickets (assuming you have bought a book) or stand in the huge line to buy a ticket. Once your ticket(s) is punched, you look at the boards as they flip between Hindi and English to try to figure out where the train you want is going to show up. You have to pay attention to both direction (or line if you are at one of the bigger stations) as well as speed. There are both fast – that only stop at major stations – and slow trains – that stop at every station.


Once you figure out where you are going, you take the catwalk over to the correct platform. The platforms are generally packed with waiting people. The train compartments are separated between mens and womens, and first and second class, but it is hard to figure out where to stand on the platform to be near the correct car when it shows up. Women can ride in the men’s compartment with a man they are traveling with, but men don’t really travel in the women’s compartments.


The trains all have open doors and are generally packed to the gills. As the train pulls into the station, people (especially men) start jumping off even before it comes to a complete stop. Once the train finally stops, the rest of the people who are ready to get off the train burst out of the doors into the pile of waiting people. As soon as people finish getting off, the crowd surges on to fill every available space. Often people are running to jump on as the train pulls out with outstretched hands reaching to help them aboard.


The cars are often (though not always packed). People fill every available space. There are benches, which people fill to the point of perching. The area between the benches fills with as many people as necessary. The entire ceiling is filled with hanging handles. I haven’t yet noticed much difference between first and second class other than that first class tends to be a bit less crowded and the hand holds seem to be a bit shorter (which I don’t like because I hit my head). When the train is really crowded, there is a repeating discussion of what station you need to get off so that the compartment can stack itself in order of departure. Finally at your station it is your turn to get birthed and on you way.


There are definitely problems that come with the trains. Many of the more protective of our Indian staff members were very nervous of the fact we wanted to ride the trains at all. You have to be careful (though everyone has seemed more than helpful) to not get pushed off at the wrong station. Also, trains are no good at all if you have a personal space bubble since they often don’t exist on the train. The main problem are the many deaths that happen on the train. These are generally due to people crossing/walking on the tracks, or people who are hanging too far out of the doors when a particularly close post comes by or by trying to ride on top of the train.


Overall, the benefits greatly out way the concerns. It is soooo much faster than any other way of getting around the city. It can easily cut the commute time in half or more and that is in comparison to traffic that is moving. It is cheap. The most expensive trip I have taken so far was to downtown and my ticket each way cost Rs 8 (they are priced by distance) which is about 16 cents /way– you can’t get much cheaper than that. Now if I rode first class it is significantly more, but still probably only a little over a dollar.


But mostly it is often just an amazing experience to be on the train. Sometimes the women are singing in Hindi. Even though I have no idea what they are singing the beautiful songs create an experience amazing and unique. As you stand in a pack of women riding the lurch of the train feeling all the pressing bodies rock and shift almost like a rolling ocean wave, it is such a feeling of oneness and community that I find so rarely in a world where I normally get into a hired car to get driven to work.

Bubbly Toes

A whole group of us went to a Malaysian foot spa.  The thing that makes this type of spa different than most spas is how they clean the dead skin from your feet – with fish.  We all opted for the fish treatment.  There was a lovely rectangular tank with benches as the edges.  Two at a time, we put our feet into the water and the fish ate the dead skin from our feet.  You don’t really feel it as nibbles – or even what I would expect fish to feel like.  Mostly it felt like bubbles.  The image I had in my head was sticking my feet into the bubbliest champagne. For the first 30 seconds it tickled like crazy and I’m sure I had a silly scrunchy face.  After that I got used to it and felt odd, but not bad. For 15 minutes my feet were softened by fish (one person didn’t quite last the whole time).  After that I opted for half an hour of reflexology.  And all of this was for about $18.


    A beautiful photo of E’s feet with fish!

Today Rocked!

I got to spend my morning teaching my coworkers how to make multiple types of slime and spent part of my afternoon at work eating cookies and building legos.  Tonight I have a games party and pot luck at my house.  Life is good!