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!)
Guys, look what’s in my front yard: This gloriously scented gift from above, ripe with little green limes. I shall call it my Gin and Tonic Tree.
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.
A few weeks ago, I went to pick up The Babe from preschool. I don’t usually stop to chat with the teachers because it’s always chaos at pickup time, but on this particular day the head teacher pulled me aside with a rather concerned look on her face.
“Your daughter was talking about seeing all the people on fire last night. All the people and a big fire and everyone was nice and cozy,” she said, looking at me like I had roped my child into some kind of satanic ritual over the weekend.
I blanked for a second, and then I remembered: Funkenfest. That traditional Vorarlberg festival that includes music, Funkaküachle donuts and, you know, a giant flaming pyre. We had gone to check out this cultural phenomenon over the weekend at Am Himmel, a beautiful park up in the hills overlooking Vienna. The Am Himmel newsletter had promised “sparks and wine heaven” (according to google translate), so it seemed like something we shouldn’t miss.
And of course after arriving to find this incredible tower of kindling waiting for us…
I forced my kids to stay up way past their bedtimes to watch the big show.
The Babe was absolutely terrified and kept asking if Krampus was coming. Cletus wanted to run directly into the flames. But mom and dad got donuts and beer, so all in all it was a successful family outing. And thankfully The Babe’s teacher knew exactly what I was talking about, so Austrian child services did not have to be called.
I was sitting at the doctor’s office yesterday, reading about my upcoming rabies vaccinations (thank you, India). When I got to the section about the symptoms of rabies, my first thought was maybe my kids have rabies! It would really explain a lot of the insanity that goes on in our house.
Yes, I’ve been MIA for months now. But I’m making it up to you by going back and sharing all the awesome weird things we’ve been doing around here. Like celebrating the death of St. Leopold III, patron saint of Lower Austria, by taking a slide down the side of a 300 year old wine barrel roughly the size of my condo back in DC. Yes, in the spirit of Leopoldifest I climbed a ladder with The Babe and pushed her overboard first, into the arms of two wine barrel slide spotters. Then I took the (surprisingly short) plunge, making a wish for the new year before my feet touched the ground. Only in Austria.
Why head to Mardi Gras or Carnivale when you can really let your hair down for Fasching?! Here’s a sample of the Faschingsamstag party going down in my neighborhood this weekend. Please note that one of the drummers is dressed like Super Mario. But hold on to your sombreros (another popular fasching costume), because the real ruckus happens on Faschingsdienstag, also known as Fat Tuesday. That’s when all of the kindergarteners will be wearing costumes to school!
I’m guessing I shouldn’t flash anyone from my balcony?
They’re really big on social order here in Vienna. This is a place where no one crosses the street until the signal tells them to, and where the local newspaper shames you into cutting your grass by posting a photo of your slovenly yard for all to see. I thought at first that this was just one of those inherent cultural things, but come Christmas time, I quickly learned the secret to all this orderliness: the Austrians have an enforcer.
His name is Krampus. He is your perennial not-so-friendly Christmas demon, a pal of Saint Nikolo. It seems the threat of coal wasn’t an effective enough deterrent for the devious children of Austria, so Santa hired Krampus to be his heavy. Krampus looks like a cross between Satan and a wild goat. He carries whips and chains to beat the naughty kids and drag them back to hell, where they will be turned into demons themselves (please see this excellent claymation reenactment if you’re wondering what that might be like).
Around mid-November, Krampus starts appearing in chocolate form, dangling from shop windows to remind the little ones he’s watching. Krampus gingerbread cookies line the Christmas market stalls, along with creepy red devil plush toys and the even creepier vintage Krampus dolls and decorations. He’s everywhere.
But sweet edible Krampus wouldn’t be traumatizing enough to scare the masses straight. So on December 6th, grown men dress up in elaborately decorated, often hand-crafted Krampus costumes to run down a designated street in the city, scaring the begeezus out of children and adults alike. And if you’re thinking “what’s so scary about drunk guy dressed as a Satan-goat?“, just imagine this chasing you down a dark street while the do-gooders cheer with glee:
If you had that image seared into your young mind and haunting you for life, you’d always wait for the walk signal, too. Elf on a Shelf has nothing on this guy.