Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Madelyn & Grace at Panbai International School

Madelyn and Grace finally got their uniforms and this is the first day they wore them.  They look so cute....

I totally support children wearing uniforms to school and I wish it were required in the states. It takes away at least a little pressure in wearing the "right" clothes and fitting in and also develops school pride.  They love them!  They also must wear their school i.d. card with their picture.  I tease them that it's in case they forget who they are, they can look at their badges.  Oh... Grandma...they say!

Panbai International School only opened in March so they are still building enrollment.  Madelyn is the only one in second grade, and Grace is one of five in senior kindergarten. They are both learning Hindi and Madelyn is learning French and Marathi as well.  In addition, they have a Spanish tutor that comes to our house twice a week so they can keep up on their Spanish for when they return to Oregon.

The very first Panbai Sports day was on December 20th, which they even had to attend school on a Saturday to practice for.  It started with a march, and there were relays, a torch ceremony, dance routines and individual races by age group.  Here are a few photos...

They actually really enjoy marching...go figure!

This is the whole school...teachers, students& Principal

Monday, December 27, 2010

Elephanta Island

One of Mumbai's most popular tourist attractions is the caves at Elephanta Island.  The caves were carved  by monks between 450 and 750 A.D, and are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

To get there you take a tour boat from the Gateway of India.  Fortunately, Deb's driver, Sateesh, who has lived in Mumbai his entire life - but never been to Elephanta Island, came wth us, and to act as translator.   The Island is10 km (approximately a 45 minute ride on a very slow boat) south of Mumbai.

The boat ride itself is worth the trip. The view from the water of the Gateway of India with the Taj Hotel in the background is great.

Like many things here it's a bit of a thrill ride.  The boat is wooden and probably 75 years old.  Ours stalled for about 20 minutes on the way back as they fixed the bilge pump.

The boat docks about 1 km off of the island as the water is very shallow.  You then get on a little train that takes you 1 km to the base of the hill that houses the caves.  Along the way you can purchase corn on the cob, and the discarded cobs get recycled right in front of you.

You then hike up a couple hundred steps that are flanked on both sides by market stalls and monkeys.  If you're not up to climbing that many steps, for ~ $11 you can be carried up the hill like this guy on the left.

The caves are amazing.  I think we took more photos here than any other place we've been.The interior of the caves is approximately 60,000 sq. ft.   Keep in mind these were carved from solid rock with hand tools.

Unfortunately, when discovered by the Portugese they found them sacriligious and decided to use them for target practice. - Jeff

Mumbai's German Christmas Festival

So one of the great things about India is the cultural mix.  While approximately 70% of the people are Hindu, there are hundreds of Hindu sects, so pretty much anything is cause for a party.  We live on a comparatively quiet residential street and in the two months we've lived here I've already seen several marching bands on the street.

So I wasn't too surprised when we arrived at the German festival and there were a couple of thousand people there, including probably a dozen Germans. They had a big stage, dancing is incredibly popular here, and they played all of the traditional Christmas songs (Santana, Beatles - Hey Jude, Doors, etc.).

Of course Santa was there.

They had German brats!  They tasted just like real ones, but of course they were meatless so the texture was awful.  The girls danced for hours, and we found stockings, Christmas cards, and plenty of beer - so a good time was had by all.

Deb and the girls even went back the next day to play all of the games.

- Jeff

Indian Wedding

This is wedding season here, just like summer is in the U.S.  However, their weddings involve about 3 days and have marching bands, horses, and one time we even saw a horse driven carriage with the couple in it go by our apartment.  I had assumed it was another holiday in this land of holidays and told our driver that a parade had gone by our house, and he is the one that told me it was a wedding procession.  Actually, just yesterday coming home from shopping, the rickshaw I was riding in got caught up in a wedding band march...it was kind of cool, we were riding right beside it.  Before marriage, the couple consults with someone who tells them when the best time for them to get married is and even last night when Jeff and I went to bed, there was a wedding, with fireworks and the works going on right behind our building at 1 a.m.  Weddings are all day and night here, but I guess with 22 million people, there does need to be 24 hour wedding ceremonies in order to share the facilities.

We were invited to the wedding of the daughter of one of the people on Jeff's project, which we attended not long after Thanksgiving. We were only invited to the last day of the ceremony which had been going on for a couple of days.  As you can see by the photos, they wear bright, beautiful colors in their ceremony.  We didn't understand anything said, but every so often they would bring by some colored rice and every once in a while everyone threw rice in the air....the girls enjoyed that part of it although I had to get one of them to stop throwing it directly at the people in front of us.

Part of the ceremony they encircled the couple with a rope and another part they wash each others feet ( that would be kind of nice especially if there was a foot massage along with it).  Afterwards, there was a time for people to come give advice/blessings/ whatever to the couple....I don't know exactly what my husband is saying, it could be anything.  By the way, they were married at 12:36 p.m.

Gandhi National Park

My driver Sateesh took the girls and I to Gandhi National Park, which is a huge, 40 square mile park right in Mumbai.  It has lakes where you can go on paddle boats, several playgrounds, a train that takes you through part of the park, and there are monkeys playing in the trees all over the place.  There is some small caged buses that you can ride to see tigers and lions and although we didn't have time to do it the day we went, a couple of weeks ago the girls went there on a field trip with their school and got to do it then, which they were very excited about it.  There are some caves there also, so it is on our list to go back on some Sunday when Jeff can go with us.

Wherever we go, people are always staring at the girls and wanting to take photos of them.  I finally turned it around on the people in this photo and said I wanted to take their picture.  It can get really annoying how people are so enthralled with these girls, especially Grace with her long blonde hair...everyone says she looks like a little doll and want to touch her hair or cheeks.  We left the park soon after this photo was taken, after a woman unexpectedly kissed Grace on the cheek.  I'm telling you that many people do not have personal boundaries here!  When Lisa was here in October, security staff had to intervene when she was mobbed when she went to get us food and drinks on a dinner cruise we went on...they all were wanting to take her photo also.  I can see why some celebrities have lost it and taken a punch at photographers and other bothersome admirers...it gets extremely frustrating to not be able to do anything without people invading your personal space and staring at everything you do.

The park is nice though, and when Jeff is with us people don't seem to bother us quite as much so I'm looking forward to going back there sometime soon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thanksgiving in Mumbai

We were all set to go to the Taj Hotel for a real turkey dinner on Thanksgiving that was arranged by the American Women's Club, but it got cancelled a couple of days beforehand; It was the anniversary of the big terrorist attacks two years ago and there apparently were some more terrorist threats targeting hotels where Westerners stay.  I think I was the most bummed out because I love turkey and I haven't seen one for sale here but we also don't have an oven to fit one in (we have a small confection/microwave oven).  However, it turned out to be a very nice day and we found a nice restaurant where the kids had fish and chips, Jeff had lasagna and I had prawns.  We actually had a little American fare because the french fries came with ketchup and also a cup of gravy to dip in so we essentially had some potatoes and gravy.  We topped it off with apple pie with vanilla ice cream, which is as American as it gets.  I had already bought the girls Punjabi's, so they wore those and were complimented many times in their Indian attire.

It was a very different Thanksgiving then we have ever had, but of course we are in a very different country and culture.  It is interesting though, that the first Thanksgiving was a harvest feast shared between the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and Native American Indians and here we were in India having a dining experience with Indians.  We missed our family, but it was a good day.