Thursday, February 28, 2008

Every picture tells a story !

My Favorite Picture !

Mother and Son

One of the Hindu gods ~ Ganesh ~ the god of success.

Auto, anyone?

Dried mango leaves are hung on each doorway for good luck.

You won't find a Big Mac on the menu but they do have McDelivery !

Monday, February 25, 2008

Life Jackets, Vaccines and Bleaching

We arrived home safely from India. There are many cliches I could use as I write this post but am saving them all for a separate post. An entire post of cliches, I think. For now, let's just leave it at it feels really good to be home. There's no place like home. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I am struggling with my usual roller coaster of emotions. I am so happy to be home yet I feel slightly depressed. I think I am now suffering from reverse culture shock.

I know how busy people are and I have so much to say (some things never change!) so I think the easiest way for me to process my India info is through the use of bullets. The little computer bullets, not the violent gun type of bullets. I will also continue posting pics ~ since I have thousands and that is what you all really enjoy. Pictures tell wonderful stories. I must give credit where credit is due. All of the pictures which are labeled in red where taken by either Skip or myself. The pictures with a 'blue' label were taken by David Squires. David is a friend of Raj's from California who attended the wedding. I had wicked camera envy when I was around David. He had this big professional looking Nikon with all of these fancy attachments. When Skip and David went to the Expo the people thought they were from CNN ~ and they ended up having an incredible adventure because of the camera. David is on a soul searching, back packing adventure for the next few months. He is currently in Northern India and is eventually making his way to Saudi Arabia by June. He originally planned to travel through Pakistan but was denied access due to passport issues. We wish him safe travels.

The best place for me to begin is at the beginning:

  • We flew Emirate Airlines to India. Real food and lots of it, real silverware (including sharp knives), hot towels to clean up with ~ much different than my previous airline experiences. Each passenger had a TV set on the seat in front of them which allowed you to watch dozens of movies, TV shows, or a variety of music selections to listen to as we flew for 14 hours. One of the options to watch on the TV was flight info ~ you could watch a direct camera view of what was in front of us or below us~ I got airsick watching those. For awhile I watched the map view which showed what geographical area we were currently flying over. The first dozen times I checked the map was the same - ocean, ocean and more ocean. I wish I had paid better attention to the safety talk at the beginning about life jackets. I try to look under my seat to make sure I have a life jacket under my seat - what if they forgot to give me one? I do some deep breathing to help me relax. I calm down and settle down as I watch a whole season of Friends. After a few hours I turn back to flight information. I sit up straight in my seat - we are flying over Baghdad, Kuwait and Tehran. I look around me to see if anyone else has a look of sheer panic on their face. Am I on the right plane? Where is that life jacket? I think I am hyperventilating. Where is the oxygen mask? I begin to squirm around. I elbow Skip, who is engrossed in a movie. He just nods at me. I search frantically for the flight attendant. Do they sell Cosmopolitans on this plane? Are we there yet?

  • The grass is always greener ( oops, those cliches just can't help themselves.) Many Americans spend time and globs of money each year on tanning products. There are tanning salons, tanning lotions - the message loud and clear is that dark skin is beautiful and light skin looks sickly. Well, in India people pay money and spend time to bleach their skin. They want light skin and the advertising bombards you when you walk into a pharmacy or salon. 'Fair and Beautiful' cosmetics! Western looking people are on their advertising billboards and even the mannequins have a Western look to them. There is a lesson to be learned here.

  • There are still many cases of polio being reported in India each year which is why we both received polio boosters before our trip. The Indian government is attempting a door to door vaccination campaign to help end this crippling disease. Unfortunately, some Muslims believe that the polio drops are part of a conspiracy to sterilize their children, and are refusing to let them be vaccinated. May the Indian government be successful in their attempt to enlighten people and end this horrible disease.

  • This was one of the hardest customs for me when I was in India ~ they do not say thank you and would prefer that we not say thank you. I am 50 years old and I was raised to say my pleases and thank yous so ... I struggled with this. I hope I offended no one and I truly tried to abide by their customs, most of the time.

At this point I will stop. I do want to thank all of you who responded to my blog and emailed me when I was in India. You will never know how good it felt to know my family and friends back home were thinking of us and sending such kind thoughts our way. I am going to keep on writing on this blog and posting pictures about our adventure. I figure I have enough material to keep me writing until my next adventure arrives. My bags are packed and I am ready to go!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beautiful People

There is a universal love for ice cream!

Oh, Those Eyes!



Too Cute!

A few of my new friends.

Friends !

'The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round...."

Life is Good!

Very polite, young gentlemen !

Melissa's new dad-in-law and me


A guard in front of a store.

Manager of the new Domino Pizza which recently opened in Hyderabad.

Amazon Debbie and the tailor

Gas Station attendants wanted us to take a pic of their cash.

Two of the women who worked for the tailor.

Shopping for a Sari - I didn't like the stripes.

The heart and soul of the people of India transcends through the smog, the filth and the sadness. Many of the Indians that I met have deep respect and pride for their country and are very protective and proud of their traditions and customs. I was impressed with the strong sense of family ~ cousins are treated as sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles seem to be like a second set of parents. There is a strength in their family structure that is lacking in the United States. The people of India welcomed us into their homes and country. They were wonderful hostesses and hosts. They were concerned about our comfort. Water was boiled to try and protect our bellies. We were fed huge amounts of food which might explain the rice ball which seems to be lodged in my intestinal tract. :) When we traveled in the city they always tried to get us a car with air conditioning to 'protect' us from the pollution. We appreciate their efforts. Our memories from this adventure will be filled with the smiles, the warmth and the kindness of the Indian people.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Through My Eyes, Ears, Nose and Heart

I stated in an earlier post that I was suffering from sensory overload. That didn't change throughout my entire visit. I guess it could also be called culture shock. I am the first to admit that I have lived much of my life in a bubble - right, wrong or otherwise, that is how it has been. I have lived in one state for my entire life. I was never encouraged to be a risk-taker or to take adventures so this trip to India was an incredible eye-opener. This blog will not do justice to the sights, sounds, smells and emotions that we experienced while in India. My life has been changed forever ~ I have no doubt about that, even if I can't explain how at this exact moment.

Driving down the streets and looking out the window of the auto, I would see bright and vibrant colors hustling, bustling everywhere. I was told that American clothing is boring and drab. I agreed to disagree. Looking out the same window five minutes later, I would be looking into the sad brown eyes of a beggar with his misshapen hand held out to me. I saw only shades of dull gray and brown. I try to focus on the bright colors of before, but can not see them through my tears.

Sleep did not come easily due to the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the noises of the day which kept blasting in my head. The constant horn honking, fighter jets flying over repeatedly, millions of voices speaking in a language I do not understand, scooters racing , babies crying, sirens...constant noise. I cover my ears.

The smell of diesel, human waste, body odor, animal smells all blend together at times and my nose would be offended. But then I would smell beautiful flowers, spices blending together in different foods, or the scent of incense and I would inhale deeply.

But what was affected most deeply was my heart. I witnessed a level of poverty which I had only read about or seen on television ~ and seeing it firsthand has changed me forever. Guilt, sadness, anger, confusion...I have a feeling that these emotions will not disappear for a long time. I want to gather up all of the children who are begging for rupees and help them see the importance of education. I am helpless. Surprise, shock and disappointment to see that chauvinism still exists in our world. Curiousity and amazement took over as I listened and learned about arranged marriages. I am so far from home. This whole experience feels so surreal. My comfort level is in the red zone.

I attended my daughter's wedding and felt happiness, joy, pride. I met wonderful people who were as curious about me as I was about them. Communication was often difficult but somehow a smile is able to break down all barriers. I smiled, they smiled and for that moment my heart felt whole again.

Before the rush hour traffic begins...

How many people can squeeze on a city bus?

Cows munching on their daily lunch of trash.


Taking a bath on the city sidewalk

Our neighbors

This little girl was asking for money after washing the windshield.

I will never forget her.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More Wedding Pictures from India !

Pouring of the Water!

Rishi has a meltdown !

The Groom's Parents

Pouring of the Rice

The Washing of the Feet

The Stomping of the Feet

Monday, February 18, 2008

Here Comes the Bride!

Mr and Mrs. Raj Seelam

The Happy Groom

The Mehndi

The Beautiful Bride

The MMR Garden

Ready to get married

Bling !

Braiding the hair


Real flowers were braided in Melissa's hair

The proud parents of the bride

In the United States there are a variety of traditions and customs surrounding weddings. We have bridal showers, bachelor parties, engagement parties and of course, the shopping for gowns, photographers, dj's, function halls, florists and wedding cakes. Religious ceremonies differ but usually the marriage vows are sealed with a kiss. There are traditional dances such as when the groom dances with his mom, the bride dances with her dad, the newlyweds dance and then my favorite ~ the electric slide. Toasts are proposed to the newlyweds, cake is eaten, bouquets are thrown, garters are removed and glasses clink as the guests celebrate with the newly married couple.

In India, there are many customs and traditions surrounding the weddings. Since I have only attended one, I am no expert but I can tell you that there are many differences and few similarities with the US weddings I have attended. On Friday before the wedding, many family members arrived at Raj's parent's home to attend the ceremonies which took place over the next four days. Many of the people were from rural villages and spoke little or no English - and many had had very little or no interaction with Americans. They found us to be very interesting. One lady told Raj's mom that my daughter could not be American because she was not blond! They found our freckles and moles interesting ~ they thought they were odd bug bites and were surprised that they were 'natural'. I woke up early one morning to knocking at my door. I opened it to find a group of villagers standing outside, just staring at me. There I stood in my pj's, hair looking quite attractive, wondering what they wanted. They smiled, I smiled. They stared, I stared. I waved good-bye and shut the door. I have no idea how long they stood there but when I finally left my room, they were no longer in sight. Later on , they found me and followed me around for the most part of the day. It was unnerving at times.

Back on track ~ the ceremonies on Friday and Saturday centered around preparing the bride and groom for marriage. They each attended separate ceremonies in which they had to shower and change outfits numerous times over the two days. Kumkum powder, which is red, was placed on their foreheads and turmeric was rubbed on their cheeks to celebrate this auspicious occasion. As the mother of the bride I was an active participant during these ceremonies as I placed kumkum on both of their foreheads and on the foreheads of many of the elders. I presented Melissa with her bridal sari and much rice was sprinkled on both of their heads. A mehndi party was held on Friday afternoon for many of the females. Mehndi is when henna is applied to the hands and feet. The designs are very intricate and is truly an art form. Lemon oil is rubbed on the henna to help it set - and the darkness of the henna is determined by body heat.

The wedding itself was on Sunday, February 10th at MMR Gardens which was an outdoor venue. The vows began at 8:35 PM which was the auspicious date and time chosen by the priest. February is a very busy wedding month - with weddings occuring 7 days a week, at all times of the day and night. Raj's aunt and uncle were invited to twenty weddings this month. The wedding invitation welcomes you to bring your family and friends to the wedding with you - and there isn't any type of RSVP involved. I don't know how they plan the amount of food to be prepared. There were 800 people at the wedding of Melissa and Raj. One if Raj's cousins is getting married next month and they have invited close to 7,000 people to their wedding ~ I can't imagine it. Skip and I were invited to two weddings while in India.

Melissa and Raj walked into the garden and walked onto the stage together and to be quite honest I wasn't even aware that the ceremony had begun since the guests were all chatting and I couldn't begin to understand the three priests who were speaking in Sanskrit. I began to get teary as I watched my beautiful daughter, dressed in incredible silk and jewels, walk onto the stage. All I could think of was the day she was born, almost 29 years ago. I watched her with love and pride as she stood on the stage about to embark on an incredible adventure.

The couple stepped on each other's foot as it was placed on a log, they poured rice on each other's head, more kumkum was placed on their foreheads, the priests chanted sanskrit, and at some point it was official ~ Melissa and Raj were married. There was no kissing, dancing, cake eating or toasting. But there were the traditions and customs of the Indian people which I had the honor of observing and participating in. I didn't understand all that was going on but it was clear that all of us who were present wished the couple only the best as they entered this new chapter in their life.

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