Well, I’m not dead yet.

I really should be posting something about my job and current experiences thus far, but this is more fun.

So far, there are only a few minor mistakes I’ve made in my time here in India.  The first is that I may or may not have been eating street food the entire time I’ve been working.  Why?  Because we usually eat in the office, and someone else orders from who knows where.  Ok, they know where, and it’s someplace they’re comfortable with, but of course my immune/digestive system is not accustomed to it.  But judging from my bosses’ reaction to what I’d been eating – frog eyes and “Seriously?!?” – maybe it’s something I should’ve been more careful about.  And then there was that time he put his foot down about me eating bhelpuri.  Evidently our ‘of council’ got typhoid and all his hair turned white from eating it someplace on the street, and he’s probably got more of an iron stomach than I have.  So no more of that for me, even though it’s delicious.  Of course I didn’t get smarmy about how I took the live typhoid vaccine so I’d be inoculated for the next five years, thanks very much – because why take a risk?  I could get e coli instead.

I have been careful not to drink the water.  I’ve been doing all the right things as far as brushing my teeth with the bottled stuff and not eating raw things unless they are fruits with a thick peel, like bananas.  But then there’s the chutneys, which I didn’t really think much about until recently.  I should probably have been more careful of those, since I’m not sure quite what is in them – or how much, if any, fresh stuff (especially herbs) they contain.  Coriander is delicious, but it might be a bit of a risk. However, despite all this, I haven’t gotten myself sick yet, at least as far as digestion goes.

What I have done is had the worst allergy attack in quite some time merely due to the change in climates.  For a single day, I went through a box and a half of tissues, which is bad, even for me.  I took antihistamines up to the hilt, which didn’t really help much.  And I didn’t epi pen myself, as I could breathe just fine – I was just sneezing up a storm.  Thankfully, for that eventuality I came prepared – three boxes worth of tissues, family size, stuffed into separate ziplocks.  And they ended up having plenty of tissues for sale here, in this very metropolitan city.  Even have toilet paper!

Additionally, tonight, I may have gotten my co-worker drunk.  I’ve been craving just a sit-down someplace with people to hang out, and I finally convinced at least a few people to go with me tonight.  Of course, this meant me advocating for it for half the week, the girls in the office being excited in the office and seemingly willing to join me, another bunch saying they ‘don’t drink’ and me convincing them that my company and appreciation are worth a slightly pricy lime juice, and then half the cast dropping out last minute.  But, there were two other girls still willing to go – after a suitable amount of time hanging around, waiting – and then some shopping on the way, because who doesn’t need more chapatas? – and then some serious confusion and walking around dazedly when we got separated.

But my one drinker and my one non drinker eventually crowded into the only available table at the back of a small restaurant/bar on the main strip.  And it was lovely – cool, dimly lit, and only just a little loud.  My drinking buddy decided she didn’t know what she wanted, and I was the resource as the oh-so-cultured foreigner.  So.  I suggested something with rum.  She thought maybe she wanted to try tequila – a shot of it in fact.  I counter suggested getting some food into her stomach first, and explained the concept of a shot.  Eventually we decided on some strawberry soda concoction with tequila in it.  Very fruit, very sweet, and possibly too much for her, even with a mound of noodles, a fact of which I was only aware when we stood to leave and she started traipsing off through the crowd, a mad cackle on her lips.  Luckily, I was able to leave her in the care of my non drinking buddy as far as making sure she got on the right train.

As far as my usual habits, I haven’t fallen into anything obnoxious, I haven’t broken myself too badly, and I haven’t had any negative interactions with glass or fire.  One evening in particular the snails were out in force and I may or may not have stepped on one and crushed it to death in the dark, but I continue to hope it was just a crunchy leaf or something.  Oh yeah – I did explode my water heater.  Turns out you aren’t supposed to leave this particular type turned on without the water running – the connecting fittings get to hot and can snap off.  I think you can even rupture the tank eventually with the pressure that builds up, but thankfully I didn’t get that far.  Thankfully it also popped off while both me and my landlord were home, so he was able to shut off the water almost instantly when I came banging on the door.

Lastly, I discovered today that honey in India has a high concentration of lead.  Not sure how high, but you can bet I’m going to be checking out the symptoms of lead poisoning online and will be finding something else to go with my pb in the mornings.

India – at the beginning

India is strangely like China and strangely different, in a variety of ways.  The smells are reminiscent, especially the rotting garbage street-smell.  There are other smells as well that are the same – the smell of dust in the air, the dust of concrete and the chalky dust left from the cutting of stone like marble and granite, rather than the dust kicked up by dirt and dry soil.  There’s the smell of fish markets and too ripe fruit.  But there are differences as well.  The architecture is not really taken over by the communist ideology of the flat box – but there still is quite a bit of faceless concrete in use.  Fort itself is beautiful a and if it is mostly the work of the British, there are definite pure Indian influences as well.  Hindu gods pop up frequently in façade motifs, and there are some markers of the Parsi influence as well.  In fact, my boss is parsi, which I discovered through the mention of some of the distinctly Persian-looking sphinx statues around the area.  I knew nothing really about the Parsis, but evidently they are Zoroastrian.  I still know only a little, but the sphinx is really the angel of mercy.  Which I will have to check out later when I have internet again.  Scaffolding is the same bamboo ridiculous dangerousness I remember.  The smell of chalky, heavy dust in the air is the same – at least until the monsoon starts.  Then there’s the use of sugarcane – the same , and yet different, all chewed up into some kind of weird drink. I’m oddly fascinated by it but afraid of it too.  Deepika has warned me off of the street stuff, especially during monsoon when evidently all water and cleanliness are in question, even at the nicer restaruants.  So no street food for me.  Also, everyone is so nice and helpful.  It’s part of what I liked about Portland, too.

My first night here was basically not a real experience at all.  I met a lovely couple on the plane, and their son, who was much less fussy than you would imagine on a 14 hour flight.  The wife especially was very solicitous and curious and kind.  I think they would have asked me to live with them (we discussed me looking for a place once I got to Mumbai) if they had not lived considerably outside the city.  But they did look after me and made sure I got my luggage and had a way to get to my hotel.  Also I met with another law student, a Frenchified one who goes to (Rice> Kings?  Whatever that Montreal college is).  He’s not here to do that work though – he’s setting up playgrounds out in the remote regions for impoverished kids.  And travelling of course.  But it was interesting to run into another law student, especially one from that background,  Evidently they teach dual civil/common law systems at the same time.  Too much for me I think.

The next day was basically one of panic for me to find a place to live, interspersed with enjoyment.  I called quite a few brokers, which was difficult, since I had no way for them to reach me back other than calling the hotel and trying to get through.  However, one of them heroed for me and set me up with a visit to a place within walking distance of my office.  I couldn’t see it till the next day however, so I decided to stay an extra night at the hotel.  Still, the broker, like everyone else, was very nice and considerate.  He convinced my landlord that a two month stay would be acceptable to everyone involved (usually paying guest accommodations are not set up for less than 11 months here, at least in Mumbai) and got me in to see the place as soon as possible, since I was basically without a place to stay.

During the day I also managed to secure a phone for myself and did some clothes shopping.  The phone was an adventure, but I think a good experience.  I did it all on my own, after looking at various online advisories.  Evidently it’s getting harder to get a phone here in some ways – the phone companies are required to verify your residence in order to keep the number activated.  I think they are a little more lax with foreigners though, since they let me use the hotel  for verification.  Of course my number will not remain mine forever, once I stop re-upping my sim card with value (it’s a prepaid number) but that’s perfectly acceptable as I don’t know when I might be  coming back to India so a continuous number is not necessary.  Again, in this experience, everyone was very helpful.  I think that was a bit of the foreigner advantage though, because they let me jump the queue to get my number, and get the cheapest phone available.  They even sent me to a nokia dealer rather than giving me one of their more expensive phones once they knew I wanted the cheapest available.  Go Vodaphone! (I must further comment here that they shut off my phone a week later, made me resubmit all my documents, and were highly unresponsive to my annoyance at having to come in a second time.  Boo vodaphone.)

I also took myself to Fab India to get some culturally appropriate clothes.  Fab India is an institution in India, somewhat about local trade, but mostly about cleverly marketing rural and traditional fabrics and styles in a more modern way to the public at large.  Also, their bags are made out of recycled newspapers, which is pretty cool and works well.  The plastic bag disaster that seems to be plaguing the U.S. isn’t really present here, but neither is the drive to bring your own bag.  The companies are creative, rather than the customers perhaps.  Or maybe I haven’t seen enough yet to judge.  Plastic bottles, on the other hand… I’m not sure how much of a success my purchases were, but we’ll see how everything looks later on.  I’ve only been courageous enough to wear one top so far, and it was a very plain blue one.  Also, the pants really don’t fit my hips.  So I’m an extra large in pants (if those even work) and a medium or large in tops.  Usually I’m a medium unless it’s fitted across the chest.  But I did get some lovely things – they are just a bit brighter than I am used to.  So we’ll see how it goes.

Finally that evening I visited the restaurant recommended by the hotel staff as a good one close by, called Mahesh Lunch Home.  Evidently, it’s all about fish and other sea life, and also a local institution.  And spicy.  In fact, Deepika’s mom later commented that she would never send a just-arrived foreigner there, even though it is very good.  “And to think, I was worried about our lamb being too spicy for you!”  Evidently the hotel staff judged me well though because I loved it.  Even the waiters at the restaurant were worried about me though.

Are you sure this is what you want?

Yes,  I’m sure.

DO you like spicy?  Because this is very spicy.

Yes, I like spicy.  Not just to be spicy, bugt spice for flavor.

Is like 75% spicy.  Are you sure you want it?

Yess, yes.

It was spicy, I’ll admit.  But it was also very good.  And I had a beer to go with it to cut the spice if things got too intense.  And I didn’t even cry, so it must have been within my tolerance (there was a bit of nose dripping, I’ll admit).  And I left completely and overpoweringly full, something that was to continue in the coming days.

The next day was my day to spend with Deepika, but first I was off to check out the new potential living situation.  Of course I showed up early, but very sweaty.  Pre-monsoon weather is like the worst thunderstorm buildup you’ve ever experienced.  Yes, it had rained lightly the night before, but that served to only increase the pressure.  The experience is what I would imagine walking through pea soup feels like.  Maybe not quite scald-your-tongue hot soup, but enough that just the feeling of the air against your skin is wrongly hot and thickly oppressive.  It is a struggle to want to move, and every point of contact – clothes touching your skin, purse strap, belt – is sticky and bad.  But the room I was looking at, thankfully, was cooler.  It’s small, but good I think.  There are no windows in the bedroom, just the bathroom, but the door is frosted glass so even with it closed some light comes through.  All the cabinets and the wardrobe are new, or nearly new – the smell is of lovely fresh wood.  There’s no place really to cook, which has been a bit of an issue (according to other people – I don’t really mind eating a restaurants for 2 months), but  my landlord and landlady are perfectly open to me eating in the room – they just don’t want me coming in and out of their home all the time to use the kitchen, which I can understand.  In fact, my landlord suggested I get an electric teakettle or something similar so I at least have something in my room.  Also, the experience was one where I was able to offer some local Oregon jam to them as a gift for letting me stay – thanks to Louise ragging me about what stuff I was taking to give as gifts.  So, jam.  And I had that to use for Deepika’s family as well.  Which was lovely.

For the rest of the day I spent time with Deepika’s family, which was lovely and ridiculous and fun.  Ridiculous, because as all families with young children are, they were contantly tugged about by the hwhim of the youngest ones.  I was near Churchgate when I first called Deepika to try and figure out how to get to Bandra, where she was put up with her mom and daughter.  Of course, I called just as ‘something’ was afoot, and she couldn’t really talk.  So I wandered around and found someplace to get tea while I waited.  About the time my tea came of course she called back and said could I leave right then, because her sister was taking a car and I could possibly catch a ride with her.  So I gulped down what I was intending to savor, and went out to meet Priya.  After an interesting ride with her and her groggy daughter, we arrived to the family home and spent much time doing family things – entertaining the girls, making sure they were fed, trying to get them down for naps, etc.  it was delightful and relaxing.  And best of all, I didn’t have to do anything at all.  I was fed lunch and dinner, they took me shopping and for coffee, and I did get to spend a bit of time with Deepika talk over old times and currnt adventures.  I am supposed to have lunch at Priya’s home today as well.  No one has called me, so I will text about 10 am, when people can be expected to be awake.  All in all, it was a lovely experience and Pryia took me quite close to the hotel where I could find my way – constantly taking care of me, which I appreciate.

To top it all off, the weather finally broke that night.  And I discovered my hotel has a tin roof in certain parts.  At first I thought the hallway near the elevator was flooding with downfall.  But when I went to investigate, there was no leakage – only the sound of the water coming down, and coming down hard.  Along with natural thunder and lighting as well, of course.  It was nice to get to watcha  storm for awhile – things rarely happen that way in Portland, and the one summer storm we had while I was home just doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

Then, at last, it was moving day.  I packed all my stuff up from the hotel after breakfast (and reading my emails – thanks family!) and headed out.  I must admit, I was a little worried about finding a cabbie would listen to and understand my directions, but it all worked out.  The most nerve-wracking point was when the front desk called a car, saying the cabs outside were not so good, and then one of the other staff took my luggage out for me and put it in one of those very same cabs 9after confirming the cabbie knew where he was going.  Kinda).  In that situation at least communication was at a minimum, but it all worked out.  I got there, I got let in, the landlady was super-nice and gave me her cell phone number, saying I should call if I need anything at all.  Unfortunately, the keys had been misplaced, so I was basically forced to trespass a little on their hospitality if I wanted to go in and out until the landlord returned.  She gave em water as well, which was great (it’s still pretty hot here), and I spent some time acutrally unpacking 9at last!)

Around 3 I got to the office to meet with my boss, which was lovely.  He’s fun and funny, used to live in Boston (went to BC), has done a million and one things, and I think will be great to work with/for.  But it’s going to be intense.  I work from 10 to about 9 every weekday and noon to 5 on Saturdays.  Sundays we have off, and I’ll probably use that time to explore the city, which is nice.  And the girls I’m working with (Somandy and Associates is basically him and a bunch of girls) seem really nice.  No real going out, but I think they’ll be great for showing me the city and such.  Especially with working so much I’m not sure how much I would want to go out anyway.  But there is quite a lot exciting going on.  I’m going to be in on everything they do, going to court, maybe going to Delhi to see the highest court (which I forget what it’s called).  I’ll also be writing a research paper.  Which I guess it’s up to me to potentially publish once I get back?  It’s going to be about diplomatic immunity and its exceptions in India, but it’s a little unclear to me where he wants me to go with this.  I mean, I get the topic – it’s just that a thesis might be hard to come by.  Maybe it’ll just be an exploration sort of paper, I guess that’s possible.  The point is to help me explore the legal system because it’s a topic that touches on  a variety of types of law 9criminal, civil, Const.).  Anyway, it’ll definitely be challenging and he seems really nice and helpful – and apologized for the emailing issues.  Evidently he was getting ready to travel and a bunch of people were leaving he office for vacations so their stuff had to be organized as far as passing it along and tracking everything as well.  I don’t see how he keeps track of things, but it seems to work.  Also, the girls are wonderful, and fun.  And mostly young, even though there is one older than me and one who’s 29.  Not as young as the Chinese, but still young, and ridiculous, and sweet in a way that I think they will refresh in me and I hope I haven’t lost.  So that’s also a good thing.  Also, my boss loves food, so I think that he’ll be an excellent person to have as a reference for places to try out.  But those are going to have to be on my own I think because the girls seem (so far, at least) to have minimal food adventurism.  The boss man has already given me one reference though that he pretty much insisted I check out today (the 5th of June).  So there’s that, if I have time with everything else.  Also going to a Hindi film with the girls this afternoon, hopefully after I’ve had lunch with Deepika’s family again.

I noticed last night that lighting here is weird.  I guess all the main intersections have streetlights, but the roads themselves may not.  Buildings have few exterior glows, so seeing where you are can be a bit tricky.  Usage of headlights is inconsistent.  I hope I’ll be able to find my way home on Monday.