Absolutely nothing better in this world than sari shopping. An hour of being draped in luxurious silks will cure just about all that ails you.
Sorry for the radio silence folks. I am just now bouncing back from a weekend of adventurous eating, and the resulting week of gastrointestinal distress. Yes, Delhi Belly is a real thing – an accute bout of indiscriminate tummy troubles that is practically a right of passage here. It was not so much fun. But completely expected after three days of authentic Indian eating.
It all began when Husband and I hit up the Dussehra Ramlila festival in Old Delhi. Dussehra is a Hindu holiday that celebrates lord Rama’s victory over the ten-headed demon king Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. It’s often celebrated with performances of the Ramlila, a dramatic folk story about the life of Rama which ends with a ten-day battle between Rama and Ravana.
(If that sounds confusing, it is. Just nod your head until I get to the part about the food and death defying Indian carnival rides.)
We signed up for a special tour of the festival with Delhi Food Walks, which I highly recommend. Our guide met us by the metro station and walked us through the slightly harrowing yet festive alleys of Old Delhi, stopping along the way to try some jalebi – basically little Indian funnel cakes fried in ghee and drenched in simple syrup:
As I stood in the street with ghee dripping off my chin, one of the processions plowed by:
Then we made our way to the food tent where we sampled all kinds of spicy snacks: little fried puff balls filled with a broth that I can only describe as liquid fire, fruit cups filled with crunchy bits and spices, lentil pancakes stuffed with more tear-inducing spice. Did I tell you it was spicy? Holy Lord Rama.
It was all carefully washed down with bottled water and hand sanitizer. But there was one moment when we watched a worker douse the same freshly cut fruit we’d just eaten with a bucket of sludgy looking water and thought, Merde. This could get ugly later. But the damage was already done, and there was still Disco Fruit Ice Cream to be tasted!
This special festival confection is made by pouring fresh fruit puree and milk over a hand-cranked frozen tube. If you want to recreate this machine at home, the Disco chef told me all you need are a few spare rickshaw parts.
It’s hard to top Disco Ice Cream, but our guide was undaunted. After a brief pause to watch the Ramlila unfold on stage, he skipped gleefuly to the rides. Most of which were hand cranked and also seemed to be built out of spare rickshaw parts. No one in the group seemed keen on taking a rickety spin on the tin ferris wheel of death, which really bummed our guide out. So I jumped on, saying a silent prayer to Shiva, Ganesha, Rama and anyone else I could think of to please let me live to eat another jalebi.
Even after that exhilarating experience I was still feeling pretty good. Stomach felt mostly normal. I woke up the next day ready to tackle an authentic Punjabi meal for dinner. And some local biryani for lunch the day after that.
Which may have been pushing it, because that’s when it all came crashing down. The next morning I woke up in a world of hurt- a place of porcelain god worship that could only be escaped by sleep, fluids and mass quantities of probiotic supplements. A week later I am five pounds lighter (bonus?) and asking myself some important questions, like “Was the puff ball of fire really worth it?” and “What if this happens to one of my kids?” and “Is there enough hand sanitizer in the world to keep us safe from harm?”
Probably not. But am I going to let that slow me down? Never! Then I wouldn’t have any material left for this blog. So I’ll be back at it this weekend, living dangerously – one Disco Fruit Ice Cream at a time.
There’s a nifty graph that gets passed around whenever we move to a new place that shows the stages of adjustment. There’s a honeymoon stage, where everything seems new! and exciting! and did you see that?! Amazing! This quickly fades into hostility, as you start to realize that the locals may be friendly, but buying milk is going to take 3 hours and an advanced degree in linguistics. The hostility toward all the stupid ways people around you are doing things is supposed to ebb as your sense of humor returns and you make some friends who can show you the ropes. And finally, through time and effort or the discovery of cheap local booze, you feel at home. Or at peace. Or at least a bit buzzed.
I’ve certainly experienced these stages, but they have never happened in such a neat linear fashion. I feel like I run through most of them on a weekly basis, especially in the first few months. There are those days when you stumble into the perfect cafe, conquer the metro system and survive whatever gauntlet the local phone company throws down. You power down the weird supermarket aisles thinking I GOT THIS! I am WINNING the Amazing Race! Here’s to kicking this foreign country’s ASS!
And then 45 minutes later you get mugged on the train and forget how to say HELP! in the local language.
Then there are days that just feel like one long, slow grind against your very existence. Every effort at fulfilling basic needs is met with a roadblock. The bananas are different and the toilet paper is absurdly scratchy and the light switches don’t make sense and even the air you’re trying to breathe is just foreign. Every cell of your body bristles at the foreigness of it all, and it’s exhausting.
At the end of those days you crawl into bed and try to laugh about the absurdity of life. Then you make a plan. Sometimes the plan is simply “wake up tomorrow and survive.” Sometimes the plan is “book a trip to the Maldives, immediately.” But usually the plan is take a deep breath, get some rest, and get ready to kick this country’s ass again tomorrow.
(Aack! just realized this might imply that I was mugged! I was not. At least not in India, anyway. Just speaking generally about all the possible ups and downs of living in a new place!)
We made it! Alive! Two 8 hour flights with two small people under the age of 3 and I am still coherent enough to write to you. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. We touched down in New Delhi a week ago and so far, things are really not as crazy as I expected. Or maybe that’s the jetlag talking. It does help that we had a car already purchased and a nanny/housekeeper waiting to pitch in. And by day two we had a gardener and a driver. I might never leave India. Except for the hotness. The hot, sticky, sweat-through-your-clothes 3 times a day humidy horrow show that is monsoon season. Complete with swarms of Dengue fever-spreading mosquitoes. My beauty routine now solely consists of slathering on insect repellant and finding a tarp to tie down my hair. India is not kind to curly short hairstyles and I will probably avoid being photographed for the next 2 years. But aside from that, this place is exhilarating. We took the car out for the first time last weekend (sans driver) and braved the New Delhi roads with Husband behind the wheel, on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road. Here’s what that looked like: (Ok, so I let you see that photo of me, but only because you needed to see how driving here envokes the same kind of feelings most people get on old, rickety roller coasters) Anyway, we took the kids just up the street to India Gate, a Delhi version of the Arc de Triomphe (I guess we like to live near large, monumental arcs). Tucked in the surrounding park grounds we found a huge playground called Children’s Park. It was a Sunday afternoon, so the place was packed with families and kids and vendors selling everything from cotton candy to incense. We got a lot of stares, but the Babe and Cletus didn’t waste any time assimilating. Before long, strangers started grabbing my children for photo ops. Several different people just walked over and picked up Cletus for a group shot that most definitely got posted to FB later with a tagline like, “look at this weird blonde kid we found at the park!” Thankfully (?) Cletus has no sense of stranger-danger and would happily walk away with the first axe-wielding sociopath that growled at him, so these photo shoots were not a problem. He gamely jumped into each new Indian friend’s arms and shouted “CHEEEEEESE!” So if that’s any indication of things, I think we’re going to be alright here.
I’m moving to India in less than a week.
Yep, there’s been a whole time/space warp thing happening around here. One second I’m hitting playgrounds in Vienna, and then BOOM. Flying 14 hours to New Delhi. And that guy up there in the photo? That’s actually me, freaking out about taking a 14 hour flight with 2 toddlers.
Also freaking out about roving gangs of monkeys, Dengue Fever, finding schools for the kids, Delhi Belly, driving on the wrong side of the road, 115 degree heat, air pollution, parasites, making new friends all over again, getting another government issued oven, finding a job, bleaching all of my food, and procuring enough DEET to repel the mosquitoes into the Himalayas.
But hey, we might hit the Maldives for Christmas, so it all evens out.
Bear with me as I launch into this crazy adventure and hopefully get this blog going again. I’m thinking there might just be some good material coming ’round the bend…
If there’s one thing Austrians know how to do, it’s playgrounds. Also hotdogs, but that’s a different post for a different day. Anyway, the playgrounds here are amazing – always meticulously cared-for spaces that include plenty of death defying action for kids of all ages. That’s right, I said “death defying.” I’m talking super steep slides, zip lines, crazy climbing structures, and indescribable fun stuff like this:
Yes, that kid is jumping from one tall pole to another, without any kind of helmet, safety net, or parent worrying. It’s not quite a free-for-all adventure playground, but it is definitely a far cry from the sad plastic padded playground equipment we find back home. Another big difference? There are actually kids playing on this one.