Friday, September 30, 2016

The Clinic

I joined a friend yesterday at the clinic where she volunteers and then afterward for lunch.  We lunched at one of Bombay's social and athletic clubs.  This club has been operating for over 100 years and has been beautifully kept.  The clinic was only ten minutes away and serves the mothers and babies living in the surrounding slum.  This dichotomy exists everywhere in this city.

I would love to lay out the details of my visit to her clinic and our conversation afterward.  I was fascinated and enchanted every minute of the day.  The clinic serves pregnant mothers until their children are three years old and exclusively provides preventive care.  When they connect with pregnant mothers, they talk about good nutrition and breastfeeding.  When they meet new moms, they weigh the babies and help with breastfeeding techniques.  As the kids grow, they maintain growth records, watch for malnutrition or vitamin deficiencies, and provide nutrition counseling and any necessary supplements.

The clinic is the small room behind the two doors pictured above.  A few mats cover the floor and some old picture books had been scattered about.  The nurses and doctor each held cloud connected devices with every child's full medical record as they joined the mothers on the floor.  The small room provided more space for the children to stretch and play than their homes, keeping them alert, active, and happy.  The moms seemed relaxed and comfortable, both with the doctor and nurses and with each other.  It felt similar to the playdates I joined when my girls were little, where babies enjoyed seeing new faces, and toddlers and moms enjoyed social interactions.

We saw a two month old baby who weighed under five pounds.  We saw a one month old baby who weighed only slightly more.  I watched my friend teach each of these mothers how to feed their babies in order to help them grow.  She acted as a lactation consultant for one mother and discussed how to properly prepare formula with the other.  Watching these women, I remembered my own fear as I cared for my first baby.  I remembered feeling in over my head and drinking up all of the information provided to me by my pediatrician, my obstetrician, my lactation consultant, and all of the nurses at the hospital.  These women delivered in a simple hospital, saw doctors for a few immunizations, but otherwise receive no preventive care or well-baby checks outside of this free clinic.

As the babies grew bigger, the doctor talked to their mothers about which foods to introduce next and how to serve them.  Just like my well-baby visits in the states, she told them when to begin introducing solid foods and how to prepare them.  As she checked each child's weight, she would listen to their diet and advise which foods to insert and which to take away.  A lot of local mothers feel that babies need runny food and so they water down their cereal, porridge, fruits and vegetables.  Babies fill their bellies with water and don't ingest enough calories to reach a healthy weight.

Over lunch, we discussed how simple her work really is.  Breastfeeding is a skill that must be learned, but which is simple to teach.  No mother has a natural ability to prepare formula and cooking for an infant is significantly different from cooking for an adult.  It is no surprise that mothers do now have this knowledge - I certainly didn't.  Such knowledge is simple to share and leads to dramatic changes.  Her detailed growth charts showed clear results.  Consistently, women bring severely malnourished children to the clinic and within a few months their kids have reached or surpassed statistical expectations for a healthy child.

She has plans to expand her work on a regional or national level and I have no doubt she will.  After our day yesterday, I hope to spend much more time with her.  After hearing her vision and seeing her clear results, I hope to get involved.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I Can't Even

The plumbers arrived this afternoon within their designated window, which felt like a real win.  They brought a hot water heater that seems to function.  Hot water now streams from the faucets in my bathroom, and water no longer gushes through the ceiling - a route that would be easier now than before, because it has collapsed since the water leak first began a few weeks ago.

I asked the plumber to show me the functioning hot water bathroom.  This is what I saw.

This is the floor just inside the bathroom door.  These dirty footprints go through my bedroom, down my stairs, and out my front door

This is the filthy ledge of the tub immediately underneath the hot water heater, where the two plumbers were standing.

This is the large chunks of ceiling which collapsed into the tub.

As I surveyed the mess, the plumber said housekeeping.  He knows I don't speak Hindi.  I know he doesn't speak English.  We both know that my housekeeper is away.  So I'm left to wonder - is he telling me that someone will come and clean up this mess?  Or is he telling me that I ought to change into my grubby clothes because I've got a lot of work to do?

Postscript:  I'm writing from the floor of my girls' bedroom because it is now the only room in the house with functioning wifi.  Its too early for a bourbon, so I've ordered a salad instead.  It will be made fresh for me and then delivered to my door for just over five US dollars.  I'm not sure what will happen with the bathroom, but I've gamely closed the door and am looking forward to the arrival of my lunch.  And possibly also someone who will clean the massive mess.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The India Dance

An essay recently described India as punching you, then hugging you, and then punching you again
Sorry - I think I got the order wrong there.  In her piece, she says that India hugs you, then punches you, then hugs you again.

You'll have to forgive me for inverting her thought, but I've been a bit pummeled lately.  Yet the hugs continue close behind, keeping me charmed and baffled, frustrated but not quite angry.

We traveled last week.

Friends in Calcutta were amazing hosts and fabulous company. Calcutta displayed chaos overlaid upon old colonial infrastructure.  Our friends provided guides both  the days we were there, which we appreciated because the city would have otherwise been overwhelming.  Both Mumbai and Calcutta have shown us a mass of chaos and poverty and filth amid the beauty of old architecture, the scents and flavors of spices and tea, and the brilliant colors in the fruit stands and the clothes.  We didn't so much explore the city as observe it, and photograph it.  I'll post pictures soon. 

From Darjeeling, I suppose I expected a rural British escape - maybe a spicier version of England's Lake District.  Darjeeling has been a tourist town for well over 100 years, providing a mountain escape for the British colonizers living in Calcutta.  The city is perched upon a mountain where the air is cool and a sunny day will display two of the three highest mountain peaks in the world.  When the British began summering there, they also began growing tea there and those same bushes have been producing ever since.  Green tea bushes cover the verdant hillsides, providing a beautiful sense of natural order to the mountains.  We stayed on a tea plantation that has been operating for over 150 years and I expected a luxurious mountain retreat from a pleasant little town.

Darjeeling is a developing city in a beautiful region, an escape from the heat more than an escape from chaos.  Our shower lacked hot water.  Cracks in the bathroom were over an inch wide and allowed an array of spiders.  The rain dripped through the ceiling and onto the original wood floor.  A light in the girls' bedroom would not turn on until the power went out late in the night, when they suddenly flashed brightly.  The food was delicious, and always came over an hour after we expected it.  I could go on, but it would be silly because I eventually changed my outlook.  Darjeeling is not a city of luxury.  It may be pricey, but the visitor pays more for access than for spotlessness.  Once I looked at our lodging as a guesthouse providing a strikingly authentic colonial experience, I relaxed a bit.  The setting is beautiful, even through the rain clouds and thick fog.  I'll post pictures soon.

We returned home on Saturday, eager for a comfortable bed and a hot shower.  Our bathroom lacked hot water, so we used the bathroom down the hall.  The landlord promised to replace the hot water heater this morning, but never showed up.  The hot water heater has been broken for nearly three weeks now.  Punch.

Mumbai was pummeled by major storms last week.  We thought to unplug all of our appliances before we left, with the exception of the new and extremely expensive router and automatic computer backup.  The storms knocked out our internet and our new router.  Punch.  The internet people promised to come at 11:30 this morning.  I called them at 12:30 and again at 2:30.  Punch.  They showed up at 4:30 and confirmed that our router is fried.  Punch.  But they did get the internet working again and offered tips on repairing the too-pricey router.  Hug.  Soon after they left, every device in the house refused to find the new wireless signal they established.  Punch.  We've since discovered that if we leave the computer searching for the wi-fi signal, it will find it within 10 minutes.  Not sure how to categorize this one - sucker punch, maybe?

Our housekeeper didn't show up.  One child has been sick since Friday.  Dinner took too long because washing vegetables takes half a day.  Punch. Punch. Punch.  But the guy at the market new me by name and delivered everything to my door for free.  The butcher packaged everything quickly and replaced one item because it looked imperfect.  The vegetable stand had everything I wanted and in beautiful condition.  Hug. Hug. Hug.

Our housekeeper will eventually return.  Our hot water heater will eventually be replaced.  Our journey provided some beautiful glimpses of a fascinating country, and this crazy city has already begun to feel like home.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A City of Hidden Treasures

Shopping frequently stumps me in Mumbai.  Unlike either Jakarta or Arlington, most shopping is accomplished outside of central shopping centers.  There is no mall in my neighborhood.  Our local market is both fabulous and affordable, but a shopper still needs to know which shopkeeper will have which items behind the counter.  I've begun to maintain a list of favorites - when someone tells me their favorite restaurant or shop, I jot it down in my little notebook and try to visit soon.

Flowers had left me stumped, though.  No one had recommended a place, so I asked our driver for advice.  He took me to a glass-fronted shop with neatly placed bouquets that looked pricey.  We moved on to a street lined with buckets, each filled with long stems.  I negotiated for a few bunches of flowers, which were placed directly into my back seat.  Climbing back into the car, I remembered that a friend had recommended a bakery just around the corner.

I asked our driver if he knew of the Hearsch Bakery.  He did not.  We found it on the map, just at the corner ahead, which looked like this.

We kept going, scouring the buildings down the block for a bakery sign, or any sort of store front.  We drove past two times, at which point our driver said, "You are looking for a bakery?  I believe there is one back at the corner."  Rather incredulous, I asked him to show me.  We returned to the spot above.

I looked at him in surprise and walked through the gate.

I rounded the house, passed the crowd, and discovered a small bakery back in the corner.

Exactly what I had been looking for.

This city is full of these hidden treasures, little shops and restaurants that you can stumble on or walk past a hundred times and never discover.  I've been picking up insider guides and paying strict attention to my list in an explorer's effort to find all of the little discoveries hiding in this city.  Walking through a neighborhood further south, I stumbled upon a fabulous cup of coffee, some amazing little art shops, and this very blue Jewish temple.  When I returned the following week, a friend took me to five places I had completely overlooked on my first visit.

On another walk, a historian pointed out this gem below.  It is now being used as a hospital in an intensely crowded and dirty part of town.

The building was originally constructed as the home of one of Bombay's richest and most influential men, famous for holding lavish garden parties on the estate's grounds.

More so than any other placed I have lived, these hidden treasures make me want to explore, and more specifically, to have a number of guides who will show me the hidden shops, the tasty restaurants, the clean street food vendors, and the history behind so many of these gorgeous, crumbling, old buildings.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Festival Season

It is festival season in Mumbai, and it is a busy season in our household as well.  If I understand correctly, festival season lasts from mid-August until the end of October.  It coincides with the end of the monsoon and some of the nicest weather of the year, and Mumbai particulary ramps it up for the 10-day long festival celebrating the birth of Ganesh.  While Mumbai has been decorating and drumming and parading idols through the streets, our family has been celebrating birthdays and attending sport tournaments and dance classes, finishing the unpacking and the painting and the hanging, and preparing to transition into a two-income family.  On top of the busy-ness of our household and the busy-ness of the season, our housekeeper had to go away after the tragic death of her mother just as multiple things began to break down in the house.  Our driver has to spend a few days in court because his landlord is trying to displace the neighborhood.  Contradictions are ever-present in India, even within our house.  While the community celebrates, our household begins to crumble, but the energy from the dancers and the intense drum beats is infectious and I'm still in love with this city.

Tonight is the fifth night of the festival, and many different community groups paraded their idol through the neighborhood, apparently toward the sea.  This group passed slowly by our house.

As I followed them up our street, I noticed a much larger group at the intersection up ahead.  In the darkness of the photo, you can see the idol's carriage covered in flowers on the right.  There is a large truck with lights and a sound system on the left.  Dancers and revelers are in between.

I followed them to the road that runs alongside the sea, where they turned into traffic and filled the street with their music and their dance.  That's where I turned around.