Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thankful for it all...

Yes, even the rats we've met and the car exhaust we've consumed ('s so thick you could cut it with a knife...and eat it with a spoon...kind of like pudding...only gray and smoky and filled with noxious fumes! Bon Appetit.)

In all seriousness: Though many of my blogs, thoughts and feelings about being in India focus on the comical, this does not mean that I am making fun of India. On the contrary, India is a multi-layered place filled with both comedy and tragedy, dark and light, generosity and need, joy and pain. If ever there was a country which embodied contradictory forces...well, India has my vote. It is as bewitching as it is frustrating.
We all have moments when our home country is deeply missed (and to be honest, ones in which we would run screaming down the runway and attach ourselves to the wing of the first plane out of Bangalore,) but for the most part we look around and see how generous the God and the universe has been to our family.

Yesterday, as we sat in traffic, a young girl about Grayce's age came up to the window begging. She carried a basket in which lay curled a brown snake. My "begging policy" is pretty simple (and really no different than it was back in the U.S.) If something tells me to give, I do and I don't feel guilty about it either way but I always try and see the humanity in the person standing before me. Occasionally, that humanity is pretty pissed that I'm not opening my purse. Occasionally, the money and person fades quickly away...moving on to the next open pocket. I rolled down my window, handed out a few rupees and was rewarded by a smile so open and genuine it took my breath away.

So many of the city's child beggars are part of a begging consortium. They "perform" acrobatics in traffic...contortionists and jugglers and drummers...dirt smeared faces...wide grins but often jaded eyes. They tap insistently on a window, thrust sleeping babies, calling out "medicine" or mime their fingers towards empty mouths. Giving them money might make us feel good, as if we are "helping"...but it's a poor solution...they don't get to keep the money and it does little to improve their lives. It's heartbreaking and surreal to live a life of abundant wealth surrounded by the close proximity of those who have so little. While there is poverty in the is never so starkly apparent nor so widespread. There are more degrees of poverty here and more complicated explanations. The gulf between those who have and those who do not is wider. And there are so many people that the individual becomes an expendable commodity. At the same time, there is less isolation and more extended family. Religious and social concepts of reincarnation and caste can make it seem as if there is *nothing* to be done and sometimes it seems like nothing is being done but there are people working tirelessly for the poor...excellent charity organizations and individuals with little or no means who still manage to feed the poor and help educate a child.

We are not ashamed of our blessings and successes and opportunities. It serves no one to claim otherwise. But they are not entitlements and we are no more or less deserving of them than any other human soul. We do not understand the disparities in this world but our eyes and hearts are opended wider to its needs and this is something we'll learn from, work from, parent from and carry with us in the years to come.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. No presents to buy. Just family, friends, a fine meal, time and space to celebrate our connections. It was strange to wave Bob off to work and the kids off to school. It felt lonesome. Our families were missed. We had dinner plans with the other Target expats at a restaurant called "The Only Place" which actually had a "Thanksgiving" Buffet complete with Turkey and all the trimmings. (See our friends, The Murphy's fabulous and entertaining blog for a recap of the evening: ) There was a singular moment when I looked around the restaurant, felt the weight of my filled plate, heard the screech and laughter of our horde of expat children and felt at home.

The Fischers in Bangalore

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Madness of Laundry...

And the "Little House on the Prairie" Award goes to...Chandra Fischer! For...Handwashing her child's urine soaked bedsheets...TWICE! Ok, so I'm just publicly fishing for a little credit here...can't really blame me ;-) I used to pretend I was Laura Ingalls Wilder. Now I get to live it! (Despite the niceties of Palm Meadows...I've heard another expat refer to this experience as "camping for two years.")

In all actuality, the award really should go to our maid, Vimala, who didn't quit on me even though she was forced to handwash ALL of our clothes for over a month. When we arrived we had a washing machine sitting in our utility room. Looking good except for the fact that it didn't actually work for more than 2 days. After multiple calls we finally had someone come, take it away for over a week, "fix" it and return it to our house where it again worked for 2 days. On the third day it appeared ready for take off...producing a sound so loud that the stray Tom cats began stalking our yard and the neighbors sent their non-English speaking grandmother over to try and tell us that there was something WRONG.

I kind of picture a family conversation in which she "drew the short straw" and had to be the one to confront those crazy American neighbors who apparently aren't smart enough to figure out that the washing machine needs to be euthanized. What they don't know is the level of desperation that I was overcome with: "It does work, it does, pay no attention to that sound, it WORKS!!!"

One of the major issues with broken appliances and the like is that service people do not exactly show up even close to the time or date they say they will.'s not an's not even a span of time (like I'll be there on Friday between noon and 5 pm.) When someone tells you that they will be there to fix something "tomorrow at 10 am" or "later today" or "on Tuesday" you must understand that this is only a suggestion...more of an article of good faith that someone, some day, at some hour, will arrive. And it will be when no one is at home. In which case, you will need to initiate the whole process again. I'm here to tell any person moving to India that you will save yourself a whole load of frustration just by knowing that time is a fluid notion here. Some days just are not auspicious days for fixing an appliance. And people are not "going to be" here or there...they are "here only." There is no instant gratification...a very western concept, if there ever was one! I can now, however, completely understand the reasoning for performing a "pooja" (essentially a ritual prayer or blessing...typically invoking various Hindu Gods or Goddesses, with offerings of incense, flowers, coins) on a mechanical object...

Back to the laundry: Our landlords bought a new machine and we were very happy...until last week, when it too, stopped working. Proving that there really is an exception to every rule...the repair man arrived the same day as the complaint, was carrying the "needful" part and fixed it on the spot. God Bless him!

You may have noticed that I do not in any way reference the clothes dryer. This is not because it works without issue. Rather, it is a *subtle* way of letting you know that it doesn't exist! All laundry items must be air dried. During the dry months this entails hanging the clothes on racks and lines on our rooftop deck. The sun is intensely hot, fading all color to a dusty version of it's former hue. Plus, it sort of ruins the ambience to sit down for cocktails surrounded by the family's underwear! During monsoon...things change. The clothes are hung outside. The humidity ensures that they remain quite damp throughout the day. By afternoon the clothes are finally looking dry. Dark Clouds begin to gather just at the moment that your preschooler shouts, "I gotta go poop!" You're left to quickly sort out what kind of a parent you'd be if you ignored that to save the laundry. Business attended to, you race up the stairs to the unmistakable sound of deluge and bang your head on the window, looking sorrowfully at the now sopping laundry. Some times you do rescue the clothes and then they must be draped about, ceiling fans at full blast in a final attempt to keep the mildew at bay. Occasionally you reassure your maid, as she gets ready to leave for the day, that "of course" you will remember to bring the clothes in! You don't.

There are other laundry issues: Crunchy, wrinkled clothes (especially towels and jeans...formerly made soft by "tumble dry," they now offer a brisk and painful reminder of what is lost to you.) T-shirts so stretched out that you convince yourself you've lost at least 10 pounds! A (ahem) $60.00 designer brassiere that you might have sworn was NOT blue the last time you put it on ("oh yes, madame, I don't know whatever happened?? I was thinking that this was not blue. Tsk. Tsk. You should never go to that shop again. Quality is not good, I think." ) Brightly dyed table linen washed with a white dress shirt on HOT (" are most certainly being much color is lost...this is not good.") AHHHHHHH! I do not mean to pick on my maid...she is a wonderful human being and a hard worker, Grayce and Owen love her, and I rely on her for many things...but there is just no way to reply to stuff like that. Either you spend your time furious or you patiently explain what you mean by "please don't wash the colors with the whites" again, knowing that some things are just lost in the translation by "of course, madame, I always wash the babies' dresses and madame's clothes and sir's clothes separate...and the purple and red linens...those separate too...but very poor quality" shaking head sadly.

The laundry is an all day, every day affair...washing very small loads in our teeny-tiny capacity machine, attempting to dry as described above and the final ironing....lots and lots of ironing. A friend's maid believes that ironing drains the soul out of a person. Thankfully, Vimala doesn't seem beset by that notion but you kinda gotta wonder...

The Fischers
wrinkled and crunchy in Bangalore!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

To Minnesota with Love...

A headline from this morning's "Times of India":

Bangalore in grip of cold wave
Bangalore: The world may be worrying about global warming but Bangaloreans are concerned about the big chill. A dip of 5.3 degrees in the last three days has pushed the minimum temperature to 12.7 degrees C (54 degrees Farehenheit,) a record low for the last 16 years.

...There's worse to follow. The met office issued a warning that the cold wave could continue for two-three days....

Beat those winter woes, P 3

Just so you all know the kind of weather we have to deal with out here! The truly sad part is that I woke up this morning and actually was cold.'ll be sunny and 80 degrees today (and pretty much for the next 4 plus months) , so I'm sure I'll get over it ;0) Did I mention how much we love the weather??

Toodle Ooooo!
The Frozen Fischers in Bangalore

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Plague of Sugar, Erroneously Hot Potato Salad and Those Pesky Little Intestinal Bugs...

We liked Indian food before we arrived and have grown to enjoy it even more since, happily dining on rice, dals, veg and non-veg curries of all sorts, curd, dosa, various sour-salty-spicy pickles, chapatis, tandoori and other traditional dishes and we look forward to all the dishes we have yet to try. Still...there are times when we are overcome with very specific yearnings for "Minneapolis Food" (as Owen refers to it). I would literally cry if you walked in the door with a Chipotle burrito or an order of flan from "El Norteno" restaurant in South Minneapolis. Bread from Turtle Bread Company, Donuts from Mel-o-Glaze, ice cream from The Pumphouse Creamery or Izzy's, an organic deli sandwich with all the trimmings from the Linden Hills Co-op or Trotter's cafe, real Sour Cream, Steamed Swiss Chard, Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce, crispy hashbrowns and a side of nitrate free bacon and please don't forget the cappucino (a little on the wet side) from Java Jack's! Were I to have the opportunity to visit the cheese department's at the Co-op, Kowalski's, Lunds or Surdyk's you would find me laying on the floor gorging myself on raw milk cheddars, smelly Tallegio, creamy-salty-pungent bleu... I know it might indicate a slight problem of sorts but I've been dreaming of liquor stores and wine shops on a regular basis...row upon row of multiple grape varietals...all duty free, many affordable and some really special followed by an astounding array of COLD beer...Summit, Fat Tire, Pilsner Urquel, Sierra Nevada, Celis White... (we can find a very small selection of nice, drinkable every day Indian wines here...Kingfisher, Fosters and occasionally other beer...oh and more Kingfisher (did I say Kingfisher?) Suffice it to say that if you come to not even think about coming empty handed!

Many of you know that I love to cook. I like fresh, organic, whole foods and am a bit of a "locavore" and traditional foods nut. (check out or if you don't know what that's all about). I'm not a purist (stray Oreos have been known to stalk me) but my kids can pretty much parrot my diatribes about the evils of high fructose corn syrup and refined sugar, the benefits of fermented foods and soaked grains and the supreme wonders of Cod Liver or Coconut Oil ;-)

I try not to think about driving down to Sweetland Farm for their luscious milk, cream, kefir or yogurt, duck and heirloom chicken eggs, grassfed beef and kombucha or off to Afton's Fresh Earth Farms or the Mill City Farmer's Market to pick up organic veggies and fruit. There is a fledgling organic movement in India and we do have a "24 Letter Mantra" small organic grocery close to us, which is a treasure trove of organic rice, dals and grains and a (very) few vegetables. I love farmers's markets and there are many open air markets in Bangalore....but heavy pesticide use here is common and the regulation of those pesticides is poor. is also quite possible to purchase lovely looking produce which has been watered or washed with sewage contaminated water. Yum! All our produce must be washed in filtered water and much of it must also be peeled (we don't eat uncooked lettuce or greens). There are definite pluses, too: Fresh Meats, Eggs and Produce are most often local (aka "hey kids, see that goat? Might be eating it tomorrow!) extremely fresh and much cheaper. Jaggery, a fermented, unrefined sugar is widely available. Traditional Idli and Dosa are made from a fermented batter. Coconuts are plentiful. Papayas, fantastic Pineapples, Pomegranates, Mangoes...and all manner of tropical fruits are bountiful. I can say with truth that I had never tasted a real banana until I came to India. Up until recently, packaged and processed foods were rare and I find it kind of sad to see that "modernization" is changing that.

Indian people (and when I say that, it is a complete generalization) love children. Indian people also love sweets. Thus it has been our experience that Indian people reaaaaaalllllyyyy love to give our children sweets. Lots of them. Children are smart and ours have quickly learned that it is easy to score candy in a variety of ways: smile charmingly, place your palms together and say Namaste to the neighbors, fall down and cry, pretend to fall down and cry, throw a tantrum, beg, wake up in the morning, breathe... It might be 9 o'clock in the morning or 10 o'clock at night...doesn't matter. There are few occasions that are not appropriate for candy. As a parent (particularly one intent in reducing their kid's sugar intake,) this is frustrating and very often infuriating. We do say "no thank you" when we can say it fast enough (many times the candy is out of the wrapper and in their mouths before you've opened your own mouth...not so fun with a peanut allergic child.) As with other cultures...modernity is both blessing and curse and while India has always had its sweets, they were usually prepared with things like ghee, jaggery, nuts, milk, rice or grains and various spices...all things which are nutrient dense. Today, though the traditional sweets are alive and well...there is a literal plague of highly processed junk food full of refined sugars...which in turn has contributed to a problem with Diabetes and other health issues. Don't get me wrong...there is probably a bigger problem with junk food (and obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc) in the American diet but people (especially ones you don't really know) don't generally feed candy to your kids.

The endearing part about this dilemma is that Indians of both sexes and all ages are truly engaged by children...and children are rarely raised by "just" their parents but by a multitude of family...both blood related and not (politics aside...there really are villages raising children.) The level of tolerance (and often mirth) for a child's naughtiness is astounding...and a real blessing for expats traveling about with their kids!

I can not tell you the number of people who have explained to me that "children are God," (a spiritual concept I believe in.) I think my kids are catching on...

You might recall that I gathered ingredients and made a nice traditional American potato salad over Diwali weekend...the usual: potatoes, hard boiled eggs, onion, pickle (no dill but I managed to find a sour, minimally sweet pickle) and mayo and it was delicious (if not completely authentic.) The next day was a Monday. I recalled the left overs in the fridge and thought maybe I'd snack on them later in the day. Lunch time arrived and our cook walked out of the kitchen with... a steaming, microwaved bowl of potato salad ("Madame...I heated the rest of your potatoes for lunch") NOOOOOOOOOO! My brain was overcome by a refrain..."Hot Mayo...taste it and see...Hot Mayo...lick your bowl clean." My eyes blurred, the room began to swirl around me. Alas, our cook is a nice, hardworking man and I didn't have the heart to tell him how much I like my potato salad cold! (or how much I hate microwaves but that's another story.) Not wanting to waste my weekend cooking endeavor...I wrapped in in an onion dosa and ate it anyway.

I'll conclude this blog installment with a request to each of you enjoying the perks of a safe water supply: Go now to your kitchen tap (I know, you probably usually filter it but do it for us...) grab a glass, fill it with water, add some ice and drink it. Now, take some lettuce from your fridge...wash it with tap water, dry it a bit, toss it with a little olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Eat your green salad with impunity. Brush your teeth with tap water...gargle...have another quick drink from the tap. Take a shower with your mouth open. There now, wasn't that refreshing?

I'll let Bob know you're thinking of us! He's too busy cuddled up in bed reading a story about antibiotics to the nice little ameobas that have been camping in his gut...


The Fischers in Bangalore

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Diwali...

This past weekend marks the Hindu festival of Diwali...which is actually celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and pretty much every other solitary being in India. Diwali is known as the "festival of lights," and is one of the most important holidays of the year. Depending on where in India you reside there are differencees in the legends behind Diwali, though all stories focus on the "triumph of good over evil." Some of the more common legends are:

In the North you might commonly hear the legend of Rama and Sita...Rama and his wife Sita, after a period of exile, return to claim their kingdom and defeat the demon, Ravana. After this battle, the former exiles are greeted by the lights of row upon row of oil lamps in celebration of their victory.

In the South (where we live,) the legend of Lord Krishna's victory over the demon, Narakasur is more prevalent. Lord Krishna smears the blood of the Nakasur on his forehead and is subsequently bathed in oil upon return to his home. A morning cleansing oil bath is part of some traditions in Southern India.

Diwali is also very commonly known as the day to worship the Hindu Goddess, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is known as the Goddess of Prosperity, Wealth and Good Fortune. Traditionally a pooja (basically a holy prayer and blessing) is made to the Goddess. A pooja to Lakshmi would involve ritual bathing of a Lakshmi icon, offerings of fruit, spice, grains of rice, other special foods and money (which would subsequently be offered to the poor.) Incense would be lit and special prayers offered. "O Univesal Mother, shining like the sun, it is through Your penance that the holiest trees of Bilva and Tulasi are born. They symbolize the tree of life. The fruit of that tree of life removes our poverty from both within and without. In other words, bless us with inner light and outer independence and abundance." (for more Lakshmi prayers, check out )

Other Diwali traditions are: the lighting of "diyas"...oil lamps to represent light over darkness and to welcome good fortune (usually in the form of Laksmi) to home and family. The lighting of "crackers"...BIG fire crackers available on the street and not exactly *regulated*. The purchase of gold, silver or at the very least a few new utensils. New clothes. Gifts for family, friends and neighbors (ours brought over chocolate covered almonds and traditional Indian snacks.) Each house is also thoroughly cleaned (out with the old with the new, so to speak.)

The Fischers spent the weekend in Palm Meadows. We gave our Raju (driver), Vimala (maid) and Lokesh (cook) the weekend off, along with a nice bonus. It was the first time that Raju had been home to his village for over 24 hours in more than 5 years.

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, we lit our oil lamps promptly at 6:00 pm, asked God (and Lakshmi) to bless our home with abundance and peace, cautiously lit some fireworks that Vimala had given as a Diwali gift to the kids (!) Made a *ceremonial" (read home made potato salad, hamburgers and a small watermelon) meal and pretty much spent the weekend lounging at the pool along with the other Minnesota Target expats... I should note that there were REAL (BIG, LOUD AND ILLEGAL WITHOUT A LICENSE IN THE U.S.A) fireworks being lit all over Palm Meadows and the rest of Bangalore and Bob was kind of mad at me that I wouldn't let him buy the big ones... Grayce had learned at school that the fireworks are commonly made in Tamil Nadu, often by small children who end up poisoned by the dangerous chemicals used to manufacture them. Given that our child was beset by the lessons of life and morality, "I don't want to kill any children!" (crying,) it seemed both prudent and necessary not to drive straight out and add rupees to their downfall simply for sparklers! We did have to coach her to say a nice "thank you" to our maid from whom the fireworks we did have were a loving gift. Which is not to say that we didn't sort of wish we didn't know anything about it just so we could enjoy the dangers like any fool... The streets smelled like sulphur all weekend and the "atom bombs" bursting at 3 am were a little much. It is also true that a number of eye injuries associated with fireworks were reported in the paper...

Bob wins the husband of the month award for the stellar Diwali jewelry he gifted his wife with:

Being a part of the Diwali festivities was a fun and interesting way for us to learn more about culture and religion here in India!
The Fischers

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Happy Birthday, Grandma Erna!

We love you and miss you!

One of the most difficult aspects of leading the expat life is the inescapable fact that we are far from our families when they need us or we need them, most. Flying to our home country is possible but complicated and knowing when it's imperative, even more so.

This week my Grandma was very ill and in the hospital and I could not be there. While I know that my family (and my Grandma) understands this, it falls so far outside the norm of what I would do if I was back in the U.S.A, that it brought me up short.

The questions are: What should bring us immediately back? How do we decide? How would it work? Do I (or my husband) go alone? Do we bring the kids? If one of us goes back alone, how do we work out issues of childcare, home and work? Life is unpredictable. We make decisions based on information available, love, gut feelings, logistics, convenience, past experience... Some times those decisons work positively in our favor. Inevitably, there are also times in which they do not and we are forced to miss family events...both joyful and painful...that we would never imagine missing.

Our family is thankful today for my Grandma's life and health and recovery... My Grandma Erna and Grandad Dan are the most amazing people. They have always been there for me and my sisters and brother...a cornerstone of my childhood and life.

Thank you, Grandma and Grandad! And a special *Hello* from Grayce and Owen!!

Much love to all our family...

Chandra, Bob, Grayce and Owen

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Knights and Princesses, Goblins and Ghouls...

Cereal Box, Duct Tape, Paper Clips, Staples, Glitter Glue. One small boy with large demands. One mother with a pair of scissors. "I Wanna be a Knight Wif a Hel(l) MET!"

When I was a child my mother painstakingly created unique and amazing Halloween costumes from scratch...for five children. As a mother myself, this has represented the pinnacle of ideal parenthood. One of the *important* things I always imagined I'd do as a matter of course for my own children... One of a number of things that hasn't exactly materialized in my current reality. And I was fine with that, really. This Halloween I came to the realization that perhaps my mother didn't spend all that time cutting and sewing because it was her greatest joy and aspiration to create one-of-a-kind costumes. Perhaps, (just maaaayyybbbeeee,) she did it because we children asked (demanded? expected?) it of her (GASP!)

Thus it was I found myself constructing a knight helmet...a *WEAL one* with a face plate that could be raised or lowered, simply because my son could not, would not, be a knight without one (and could not possibly choose another costume, of course.) AND he had to personally assist. Simpler versions were rejected out of hand. Only the best for MY boy!

Thankfully, Grayce could be relied on to choose a variation of "Princess" for which we have numerous dress-up options on hand. Add some make-up, a few ribbons, a little glitter, sparkly shoes and we're good to go! Ta Da: Grayce as the "Star Princess"!!

So I guess I've pretty much attained Super Mom status around here... and fullfilled my quest for the title of "Ideal Mother" (oh...that's right...that never was my quest...never mind...back to the real world where the words "ideal" and "mother" have no relationship, what so ever.)

All Hallow's Eve came to Palm Meadows. A friend, Laura Lee, donated some extra pumpkins she'd picked up at Russell Market (I was preparing to carve up a watermelon or make up something about India's Halloween tradition, "The Great Coconut") The kids cut and pasted and colored various colored paper renditions of the usual Halloween decorations and taped them to our door, windows and the two Palm trees just outside our house. We had signed our house up to be a "trick-or-treat" house a few days before. A listing of the houses that would participate was emailed to all and every house was asked to have a few Halloween decorations so the kids would know where it was okay to go. There was supposed to be a party with costume prizes at the Amenities Center but by the time we arrived it had degenerated into a swirling mass of decorated little we opted to just join some fellow Minnesota expats (Heather and Brian Vanderpool and their 3 children: Ella, Sacia and Zach,) for trick-or-treating. It was fun to see that a number of Indian residents, welcomed our children for their "Halloween Festival." India is one country that appreciates a good festival!

For once the kids did not have to cover up their costumes with a winter coat, mittens, hats or scarves... It was a balmy, dry 70 degrees F. It's the first time we've ever had to use mosquito repellant on October 31st, though! That reminds me... a tip, should you ever happen to be out trick-or-treating during the Mosquito Fogging Hour when Mosquito Fogging Man rides by on his chemical laden bicycle happily spraying FDA forbidden pesticides directly into a group of miniature witches, monsters and angels...RUN the opposite direction!

"Mommy, mommy are we going to be poisoned and DIE????"
"What? No, honey, of course not"
"But you said we had to come inside every night because the mosquito fog is DANGEROUS"
"What?? Well...ummm. Did I say that?? Hmmm...mumble, Cod Liver Oil...mumble...Vitamin C...'ll be fiiiiine"
"Are we gonnnnaaa diiiiieeee????" (wailing)
"No, well everyone is going to die some day, but, NO, " (not yet...anyway) "Look, he's gone the other way... hey, look at all this candy!"

There are just some situations you never imagine yourself in and some conversations that need to end quickly!

We hope you all had a Happy (chemical free) Halloween!
We had a lot of fun but really missed our usual Halloween adventures with the Archbold's in St. Paul (i.e. mommies hand out the candy and drink the wine and daddies take the kids trick-or-treating, followed by play time and candy craziness for the kids and take-out for the adults...pretty fair, in my book!) It doesn't seem quite right not to have our annual picture of all the kids dressed up sitting on the stairs...
The Fischers
Alive and Well in Bangalore, India