Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Life in Two Worlds

Sorry for my two-month lapse in posts... I needed to step away from the blog for a time to get some new perspective on our lives here in India. We've now extended our stay for a second time. Although we miss many things about life at home, we're obviously comfortable with what our lives have become in India. A summer trip home to visit friends and family helped us reflect on the two very distinct worlds our family enjoys.

During the trip we covered about 4,000 miles by car (leaving an enormous carbon footprint in our wake). The miles gave us a lot of time together as a family. Soaking up the American culture all around us, we had many conversations about the differences between our lives in India and our lives in the US. Some of these differences are a little difficult to explain unless actually experienced, but I'll try to share some recent observations.

Peach Cobbler

We made cobbler at my Dad's in the mountains of North Georgia. The peaches were large, juicy and freshly picked. They reminded me a little of the large, juicy mangoes we can get in Delhi. The experience sparked a kitchen conversation - couldn't we make the cobbler in India, my Dad asked? We explained there aren't really great peaches there... you can get them, but they are typically scrawny, not juicy and either under-ripe or mushy from sitting in the sun too long.

"Can't you just buy some frozen ones in the supermarket?" my stepmother asked.
Supermarkets? Not really. Just a few over-priced, air conditioned stores (think Delhi's Khan Market) that cater to Expats and wealthy locals. Frozen food is often unreliable because there is no constant source of power. Our neighborhood grocery shop is a 12'x30' stall that is open to the street. There's no air con, one freezer case for the ice cream and 2 upright cases for cold drinks and dairy products. The shop has pretty much everything we need, but no frozen peaches. We usually buy fruits and veggies each day from our street-corner cart-vendor.

There are some highways in India. A few are actually quite modern - the connector road Lesa takes each morning from Delhi to Noida for work is one such example. But the roadside surroundings are vastly different.
In the US, highways typically wander through open country side. Tall forests grow along their sides, wild flowers fill the medians. There is very little trash to be seen strewn on the side of the highway. Road repairs and construction are well-marked. The roadway is well-defined.
India's major routes are lined with villages and towns one after another. With few exceptions, trash is strewn everywhere the eye can see. Flyovers are slowly being retro-fitted in some areas ,but highways go right through town-centers. Travel quickly comes to a halt because of heavy pedestrian and animal traffic across the roadway (think NH2 to Agra, and NH8 to Jaipur). There is little signage about construction. A neat row of rocks or a few green branches laid out across torn pavement may be your only warning. Driving in India is challenging, rarely picturesque, but always entertaining.

In terms of food preparation (remember, HouseBoy is the family cook) the outdoor grill is one thing I miss. There just aren't any to be found easily for home use. It's a man thing at home. In India men don't cook. Most middle class women don't either - they have a servant do it.
Cooking is done strictly on a stove top - unless you are wealthy enough to have an oven. I would guess less than 1% of Indians actually own an oven. I make do with a 2 burner CNG stove (think Coleman camping stove) and a small electric oven (think big toaster oven). We eat meals that are healthy, fresh and in season, but if you asked the kids, they'd probably say our menu gets a bit repetitive sometimes. I'm working on it.

Indoor Climate-control
I see this as maybe one of the biggest failures of the west - particularly in the US. In India, unless you've got a lot of money to burn, or live on a large Embassy compound, there just is no central air con in the home. There's no heat in the winter either. (Of course winter only lasts about 5 weeks in Delhi anyway.)
We use room A/Cs in summer, space heaters when it's chilly. Our building's power system can only handle 2 units running at once, so no more than two rooms are ever cooled at any given moment. The kitchen, our bathrooms, and the stairwell do not have AC. Because it's so hot in the summer months, we don't turn on our water heaters. Cold showers only. The bathroom is 90 - 100 degrees and has the humidity of a tropical jungle. The kitchen, with the stove or the oven going can easily reach 120 degrees - I drink a lot of water when I cook. In the winter we wear warm socks and sweaters and drink a lot of hot tea.

Some of these challenges actually make a lot of sense. In Texas we routinely cool down 5,000 sq ft. homes - every room in the house gets chilled whether it's occupied or not. We love hot showers in the summer too - because our bathrooms are chilled with A/C. In the winter it's the same - everything is heated whether we use each room or not. My guess is a lot of this is changing out of necessity. After all, necessity is really what drives many of the differences we've learned to adapt to in India.

Water Use
There is not a lot of clean water here in India. Something I definitely take for granted at home. My wife said to me while we were staying at her mom's - she loved taking a long hot shower. Letting the water run over her, warming the bathroom and filling it with steam. I smiled at the thought, because I'd just enjoyed a similar experience earlier that morning...
We'd never do that in India:
Rinse, switch off, lather, switch on, rinse. Done.
You never know when the tank will run dry...
Namaste, Y'all.


Maya said...

Thanks for updating your blog! I moved to India just about 2 months ago, and since then, I've enjoyed catching up and finding that your family's experiences have been so similar to mine. I'll be sure to follow your new adventures.

HouseBoy said...

The longer I'm here in India the busier I've become... hence, less posts. I appreciate your following our experiences.