Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tap Water Phobia or Be Careful of What You Drink...

So, here we are. Off Indian soil. A London hotel and Owen is thirsty…”so thirsty, I’ll die if I don’t have a drink, mama.”

He wants the bottled mineral water in the room. Not so unusual. Bottled water is standard and free in our Indian travels. Mini-bars are cheap and we’ve emptied them for less than 20 bucks. THIS water is NOT free. And NOT cheap. I’m economizing and London is expensive so I offer him a drink of water from the tap.

From his response it is clear that future counseling may be in order.
He cries. He refuses to drink. I am a desert and the oasis is contaminated.

“If you force me, I will do it.

“Owen, I am not forcing you to do anything. The tap water is safe but you have a choice not to drink it.”

“Give me the bubbly water, mama…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” He cries. He moans. He bellows like the last bit of dry wind. “If you force me, I’ll drink it…”

Finally, an hour has passed and he must drink. A forlorn head bobble precedes, “Take me to that water, mama…” An endless march to certain doom.

We enter the hotel bathroom. The glass is overtly inspected by suspicious eyes. The tap is opened. The boy trembles. The glass is filled. He sips the tiniest of sips and then a larger, thirst-forced drink, before exclaiming…

“Owww. Owww. I’ve got the tummy crumps! It’s from that water! You MADE me dwink that bad water, mama. You’re a bad, bad mama!”

Indoctrinated time and again to the perils of unfiltered tap water, one can hardly blame him. We leave for a snack and I buy him a bottle of water. Happiness moves across his face. Surety of safety. Freedom from parasite. Purity of purpose…

Later, in the hotel room, I’m thirsty. I pick up a glass and go to the tap. And pause. Thoughtful.
5 minutes later I tell myself that it’s not a crime to want a bottle of carbonated water…

The Fischer’s
Out of Bangalore and Into the Rest of It…

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do...

Can you break up with a place? A country? A way of life? Leaving Bangalore feels a bit like the end of a relationship in which you’ve intensely invested all of who you are…where you’ve struggled through the early parts only to emerge stronger and closer to a person you know has changed you.

At the moment we are sitting in the lounge at the Bangalore airport. Which signifies the end of a journey that has taken us across the world, introduced us to fantastic people and places, and ultimately changed our lives in a myriad of ways…some concrete, explainable and others intangible, illusory.

I have not spent time here on the blog writing about our move back to the U.S. In part, that is due to a certain amount of denial (or, as we’ve all been telling people...our desire to leave this place kicking and screaming!) But mostly, it has to do with being a part of each present moment…in the here and now, with wanting to savor our surroundings and the remaining days with the friends and “family” that were created here. Our privilege has been the gift of community that wove its way around us. India is everything you hear: dirty, loud, smelly, smoggy, crowded, corrupt, poor, difficult to understand, complicated…But it is also filled with a life and living that can’t help but pull you in if you allow it to (and as in all things, surface appearance is a terrible method of judging ultimate worth).

The past few weeks have seen parties, laughter, generosity, tears, love, last days, last minutes, one-last-times… Our children (and us, too) have both celebrated their friendships and agonized over leaving the closeness of every day contact. We’ve shared this space in life with a group of very special people and the gratitude we have for that is pretty much limitless!

We are sad. That doesn’t mean that there are not people and places we look forward to reconnecting with (there are, of course, many). We know the energy that moves life…that can’t help but compel one forward step after another and we welcome the new joys and journeys that a “new” place and new challenges bring. Still, at the moment, we are choosing to move slowly through.

Expect to see more India blogs and updates on our “repat” life… Stay tuned if you wish and if you’re an old “new” friend in our old “new” place don’t hesitate to give us a call!

Our family motto is taken from the song titled “Be Here Now” by Mason Jennings… In these few words are the keys to an open universe.

Be Well, Friends…
Whatever part of the world you’re in!
The Fischer’s
Just Leaving
Bangalore, India

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Do You Know Where Your Children Are? Always?

Let me first start out by stating that I really am a responsible mother. I bathe my children, feed them regular meals, put them to bed on time and attempt to instill in them a sense of right and wrong.

Imagine, then, my surprise when the telephone rang one day: "Hi, it's Laura Lee. I'm assuming you know that Owen is over at our house."

Ummm. No.....

You see, we are having a table base made for our marble inlay table top and the furniture proprietor came over to pick up the marble piece in his company rickshaw. His driver offered to give Owen a ride on our street, while they packed and wrapped the table top. Owen, grinning ear to ear hopped on in and had a ride. He came back and sat chatting with the driver in front of the house and then came in and told me that the driver would give him another ride and let him help drive, if it was okay with his mom. I told him that it was okay, came out to take his picture and then went inside.

Not long after came the phone call.

Apparently, once they came to the end of our street, Owen insisted on driving the Rickshaw over to his pal, H's house. He pulled up to their villa, climbed down and heading to the door, gave specific lordly instructions to the driver to "wait 10 minutes then I'll come out H can see me drive my rickshaw." Laura Lee, realizing that Owen had arrived unaccompanied thought to seek my motherly input. Once we had sorted out the turn of events, Owen was invited to stay and the ricksaw wallah was told to return to our villa.

Which he didn't. Instead, he waited 10 minutes and then knocked on Laura Lee's door again. She again informed him that he should return to our villa.

Eventually the driver and rickshaw returned to our villa...when we inquired why it had taken so long he replied:

"Ma'am, I was waiting for the little sir. Little Sir informed me to wait"

Aaaah...the changes afoot for one young psuedo Maharajah are frightening to contemplate, aren't they?

The Fischers
Especially Owen
in Bangalore
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Welcome to the Land of the Gently Worded Warning...

This sign, located just outside the business park where Target India is located, is one of many such vivid and creative "public service" sign boards in India. Here, it is not enough to post a speed limit sign, backed up by speeding tickets. The straightforward solution is ultimately the most fallible. A ticket is bribery incentive. But DEATH and dismemberment cannot be cheated...though they are sometimes seen as the ultimate solutions. Despite the signage, traffic problems remain an ongoing headache and a constant source of ire. Ah, least there are entertaining things to read whilst we travel along.

Hmmm. Come to think of first thought on reading this sign was, "We have traffice police?!?"

Even better, the sign attached to the car in front of me the other day read...

"Infant Driving School"

Now that is something to ponder.

The Fischers
Amused Alot
in Bangalore, India

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Oh, Man, Oman, Oh Man, Oman..."

Our friend L gets ready to sing.
Owen takes a leap off the deep end at the Shangri-La Resort!

Shangri-La Beach

Laura Lee and L sea kayaking...

Grayce and L with their belly dancing scarves.

Our Omani Boys...

A Best Friend sing along!

The Shangri-La Resort "boat view"

Captain Owen

The whole gang, hot and happy after trekking and swimming at Wadi Shab
Owen and our guide in Wadi Shab

A "sink hole" where fresh and sea water meet...

Misty view of the mountains near White Sands Beach

Wadi Shab...trekking in the dry river bed

Mom and Grayce hikin' along

First pool at the Wadi Shab oasis

Real Men Eat Meat for Breakfast!

Our White Sands camp site

Mother Sea Turtle

Sunrise at White Sands Beach

Dinner! Middle Eastern Barbecue Feast at White Sands Beach

Omani boy

Beautiful ruins...the stones in this building are large pieces of coral

The Wahibah Sands

"Oh Man! Oman, Oh Man, Oman!!"
The constant refrain heard from the little people before, during and after our latest trip! Most effective when coupled with the Indian head bobble, and a hip thrust...

(the photo at the very top of L was meant to go here!)
L's brother and Owen's best pal, the incredible H

Hey! Multicultural dancing is WAY hip, ya know.

Living on the opposite side of the world makes the unreachable exotic an actual vacation destination. Take Oman, for example. Oman is a middle eastern country on the coast of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman/Persian Gulf. Ocean aside, the country is bordered by Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). The predominantly Muslim country is a monarchy ruled by Sultan Quaboos bin Said Al Said who took hereditary power in 1970. Prior to his rule, Oman was a financially poor country (at least in modern times) with little modern infrastructure. Sultan Qaboos has done much to change that...dramatically and progressively improving infrastructure and educational and business opportunity, including opportunities for girls and women. One of the best things about development in Oman is that it is not overdeveloped and there are limitations on building size and type with a lean toward traditional Omani architecture...keeping Muscat (the capital) a really beautiful city. Because the Omani government welcomes foreign tourists, we also found it to be an excellent and safe place to learn more about both Omani and Muslim tradition and culture...a real blessing in a world that is all to often shaped by religious radicalism and fear.

This is certainly a hot topic but I'm not going further today...and for the record, there is much about the Islam, the Middle East and the varying countries in and around it, that I don't know. Suffice it to say that we found ourselves surrounded by warm hospitality, by people who welcomed our interest and questions, and, who were happy to see us enjoying the beauty and history of their culture.

Here's how it went:
Our wonderful friends, Dave and Laura Lee and their two children (who happen to be Grayce and Owen's homeschooling buddies and all around best friends) invited us to join them on a vacation to Oman. We hemmed, we hawed, we said, "Yes! We can!" We got up in the middle of the night and drove to the Bangalore Airport where we sadly (at least to a couple of moms but not at all to Bob) did not get to drink our Illy cafe cappucinos... Apparently there is some unwritten rule that says it is okay for a flight to be called and to leave earlier than scheduled! A revelation to travelers who are used to delays... And the kids are pretty mean! They actually laughed at us, taunting us, "no coffee for mommies! ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha," ...but please, it is the only Illy cafe I've ever seen in Bangalore, so grown mothers pouting is NOT out of the question.

Yes, I am a grown-up. Really. Unless deprived of cappucino.

ANY way...
After a 3 and a half hour flight...which was mostly empty...we arrived in Muscat, Oman around 8 am. Our two GREAT "Desert Discovery" guides, Rasheed and Massoud, met us at the airport, at the ready, with Landcruisers, lots of water, and a driving plan that included a stop at Nisswa Fort, Lunch, and Dune Bashing in the Wahibah Sands, before a final landing at our desert camp.
Rasheed begs are way into Nisswa Fort...we arrived and it was just closing for Friday prayers, but they were nice enough to let us take a quick tour!

Along the way we also had the chance to stop at a local Omani heritage home where we were treated to exhibitions of local flat bread making, coffee roasting and a sampling of Omani hospitality a la coffee (coffee with cardamom and saffron) and Dates...which are grown all over Oman and are absolutely delicious!

Dune Bashing was an eye opening experience in which one develops a true appreciation for both desert driving skills and the versatility of the Land Cruiser. Blasting up mountains of sand, perching directly sideways mid mountain, inching breathlessly down vertical dune walls...excitement, fear, the occasional prayer, laughter... Owen, unsurprisingly, loved every second of it! Grayce started out singing and raring to go and then half way through decided that maybe the whole deal was much more than she bargained for...a few tears, a couple of visits to her yoga "happy place", some hand holding, and a lot of bravery later and she declared, "I am NEVER doing this again!" What to do? Can't leave the kid in the desert! (She later told me that she thought dune bashing was just driving up and down the hills...and it was, sort of.)

I carefully asked Massoud, "Um, so, I was just wondering, not because I don't trust you or anything...just for the sake of often do you roll the vehicle?"

He answered with a laugh.

I decided not to ask any more questions! Distraction being the better plan..."Hey, kids, isn't this FUN!" And it really WAS fun...after the first 20 minutes, when you realize you are still alive and you'd better make the most of it ;-)

Since we were two families in two vehicles, it was intensely interesting to see just what the other vehicle was up to...

Bob kept asking if he could drive but we threatend to leave HIM in the desert... "No Daddy, we'll all DIE if you drive!" so sayeth Grayce.

A break at the top of the dunes produced awe and wonder...the Wahibah sands are a place of beauty and solitude...sand running on like waves of water for 200 km to the sea. All the children ran up and down the hills pretending that they were lost desert explorers while the adults cracked some beers and dug their feet in, waiting for sunset.

After some time, and a little more spent pulling one stuck vehicle out of the sand, we headed for our desert camp...dinner, sandboarding, star-gazing...and time with friends.

Our Desert Discovery Camp in the Wahibah Sands
Morining romp in the dunes..."water, water...please, water!"

Laura Lee and H relax after a satisfying climb

Day 2 brought more Dune Bashing (we were all really getting the feel for it now...even Grayce, who still wasn't sure it was the thing to do,) We visited a Bedouin camp, counted (and rode)camels and eventually left the desert to head toward our second camp site, White Sands Beach, located on the Arabian Sea.

It's a LOT harder than it looks!

Beach camping in traditional Omani tents, a carpet and pillows to relax in the sand, collecting stones, a swim in the sea, the smell of lamb kabobs and roasting fish, more stars, a little wine, exhausted sleep to the sound of surf...and then a morning surprise! We awoke in darkness. Bob stepped out of the tent and noted...."Hmmm, I don't remember that big rock." To our delight, Mother Sea Turtle had risen silently from the water while we slept, to lay her eggs. A morning blessing in front of the stone "Alter to the Goddesses" the kids had built for Laura Lee and I, (you didn't know we were goddesses? All mothers are!) as we watched them play on the beach the eve before. We gathered around her silently as she slowly covered her nest with sand and returned to the salty sea.
An auspicious start to Day 3, we packed up camp and headed towards the peace and natural wonder of the Wabi Shab...hiking the dry river bed toward an oasis of turquoise water and rock canyons unlike any other place we've ever been. All four kids did amazingly well, even on some of the steeper climbs. Upon reaching the oasis, we unloaded our packs, and dipped into the water. After some discussion with our guides, it was decided that we would attempt to swim through all three pools (with a short, bare footed rocky hike between pool 2 and 3). Owen became the guide's best friend, Bob and I took turns helping Grayce (she was unsure in the water, not happy with it's depth, afraid of the slippery rock surfaces.) Laura Lee took her her daughter, L (also a bit scared) and Dave swam with their son, H. After reaching the third pool, we swam through a tunnel into a secret cave where the sun shone down into the water from far above. It was magic! We took our time swimming, making sure of the kids (though they are all good swimmers, this was a totally new and different place to swim). Our kids are brave and strong and full of courage!
Seriously cool kiddos!

Normally, the hidden cave would be off limits to them as the entrance is usually under water...but the water was low enough for us to swim safely through with our heads above water and it was an incredible experience. Once inside the cave, our guide helped all the kids to sit upon a rock ledge, Laura Lee and I supervised and swam a bit and Bob and Dave decided to climb up the rocks and jump in from above...a little heart stopping!
Day 4, 5, and 6 consisted of swimming in the pool and sea, eating gelato, floating down the "lazy river", eating more gelato, drinking cappucino with a segue into happy hour near the beach where the kids could play and the adults could have cocktails, followed by a kid's room service dinner on our outdoor terrace, bath and bedtime (kids) and then a relaxing grown-up meal. Rinse. Repeat.
Nah...we're not THAT lazy...we also took a boat trip to look for whales and dolphins (saw hundreds of dolphins!) and went snorkeling with the sea turtles (except Owen, who got scared but now deeply regrets not getting back in the water..."Mama, I'm so mad, I didn't see nothin'!")
Laura Lee and I also had a chance to leave the kids with the Dads, (both of whom would rather eat rocks than spend the day shopping), thanks to our desert guide, Massoud, who offered to drive us about...taking a trip into Muscat, visiting the Souq and some smaller, local markets, shopping for frankincense, Omani coffee, and a fruitless search for toy traditional Omani daggers (the real ones, which are incredibly sharp, are on offer to small boys as miniature incredibly sharp daggers...which would surely delight Owen and H, but frightens us!)
All good travel ends... After all, life returns to the day-to-day, even for an expat. This vacation was especially meaningful as it was our last big trip as expats in Bangalore and a chance to spend some time with great friends who we will all miss deeply as we exit India and move along our new path. Our children have been inseparable, more like siblings, sharing time, space, toys, life in India, and lots of learning adventures...

The Fischers
in India...already missing Bangalore!