Sunday, March 28, 2010

We have a home!

[Truth in advertising: Today, I agreed to take an apartment on April 1st.]

The apartment/rooms are attached to an elegant, much-larger home.  The owners, who live primarily in Kolkata, use the main house as their get-away place and keep the loveliest grounds and gardens.  We will live in the back, attached to, but private, from the main house.  We will have our own bathroom, kitchen and two (yes, you got that right) bedrooms. 

I have scheduled a man to come to install an inverter (battery backup for the fan when the power goes down).  It will not power fans in both rooms, so C and I will probably go on sharing.  Perhaps we can use the other as a work room?  We might need at least a little more furniture if we do that.

The place is furnished.  This means that it has ceiling fans, light fixtures and a portable gas burner (without gas). Plus it has beds.  We have to provide, or do without, everything else.  Since we're heading to Kolkata tomorrow, I plan to do some shopping there. The owners gave me some idea of which things we are unlikely to find here.  Not only that, they gave me the specific shops where they get certain items when they are in Santiniketan, plus a few spots to avoid, even suggestions for cleaning supplies (and what they are called).  Of course, I can shop where I like, but I am grateful for any guidance I can get.

Kolkata, tomorrow. We plan to use those train tickets that I so cleverly purchased the other day.

My current major quandary is how to deal with the people where we are staying now.  The caretaker family is so nice, attentive, respectful, thoughtful, etc.  But we're leaving anyway.  And I have to tell them.  They got the battery fixed, so the fan stays on when power goes out. But that's not really worth 3-4 times what we'll be paying.  Yes, they feed us.  But I think I can handle that, too.

How to be gracious and clear without a common language, or much of anything else. I realy don't know.  And this is a very, very small community.  (So small that when I tripped last week, about 1/4 mile from here, the caretaker showed up on a motorcycle minutes later to check on me.  This was both charming and terribly embarrassing since I'd already continued on my way, with a few scrapes and a lot of dirt, feeling extremely foolish.)  I sent a query to my University adviser about it. I hope he will take pitty on me and join the conversation.  Any advice?

If I get a decent connection some time next week - which is unlikely - I'll send pics of the new home.

If anyone is thinking of visiting, we will have a place to put you up!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Busy, busy, busy

We are very busy here, at least I am.  But, as before, little gets accomplished.  At the same time, I can see small improvements.  Since my last post (6 days), I can report the following successes:

  1. I have permission to use both the Kala Bhavana (art school) and Central Unversity Libraries.  Can't take anything out, but I can go in and read.  The libraries are unlike any I've used before.  In some ways they seem poorly cared for, but when I look at the collections, they are most impressive.  I will write more about them another night.
  2. I have met several people who are not only friendly and good company, but who are also interesting, accomplished and speak English.  Plus, C has a new friend and the two girls are going to take art classes together.
  3. Both Celia and I can name a variety of foods in Bengali.
  4. We can also count to ten.  And Celia can write all the numbers.  I'm a bit behind.
  5. I was permitted to look over the Tagore photo archive. Not sure if they will let me do anything with it, but it was quite the experience to see it.
  6. I bought us each an umbrella. Though it looks very dorky, it's really helpful for the sun.
  7. We have taken several rickshaws.  I still feel guilty, but sometimes it is necessary.
  8. I walk miles each day.  And for some of them, I actually know where I'm going.
  9. The accomplishment of which I am particularly proud today is that this morning I bought us train tickets to Kolkata for Monday.  I need someone to look them over to see if I got the right ones, but I'm feeling pretty thrilled with myself anyway.

Continuing frustrations: No. 1) We still can't find a place to live.  Every referral I get is already taken or wasn't really available or will be in July. No. 2) Very limited Internet.  That one I'll work on more once we get the home thing straitened out.  No. 3) I'm having a really tough time remembering names.  I'm working at it, but failing miserably.

Don't worry about us being homeless.  We are still in our beautiful and very expensive rooms, being well taken care of, and sweating a bit less now that they have the battery working so we can use the fan when power goes off.

Speaking of which... Power is gone again, so I'll sign off.

Thinking of you all and wishing you a good morning (it's 10 pm here).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

US Health Care Reform

I am very happy to learn about progress (finally!) on health care reform.  Keep up the good work, Team America!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Since my last post, I have accomplished a few of the 'goals' I spoke of previously.  This evening I' have decided to focus on accomplishments and pleasures rather than failures and frustrations.  Of course there have been plenty of the latter.  Pleanty.


  • I figured out how to get warm water from the tank to the tap.
  • I (really someone else) got my laptop to work with the University's internet (once).
  • I did not get lost on the way back from the University this afternoon. (No comment on the way there.)
  • Though my 'facilitator' took me to a book shop that didn't have one, I - on my own - found another and they had a child's first Benali script book.
  • I bought a bunch of bananas.
  • I figured out how to light the mosquito coil when the power went out last night and I didn't burn anything or anyone.  (And for you public health folks, I thought long and hard about the pros and cons of using this thing indoors and decided, with plenty of ventilation, the risk was worth the benefit. These mosquitos are mean.)
Non-accomplishments that I'd like to share:
  • Yesterday six rather large monkeys ran in front of me, one at a time, and lined up on the wall beside where I was walking.  Eventually I stoped and let the parade continue, not knowing the protocol to avoid a Margaret-monkey colision.  The last one stopped in front of me, turned his head to examine me, then lept onto the wall.
  • I found the main commerce district.  It's busy and rather overwhelming.  Though many people stared at me, no one bothered me.  This is so not Delhi.  On the other hand, I got the feeling things cost me a little more than they should.  Just a little, though.
  • We are eating so well.  Manju, the caretaker's wife, who cooks for us, is very talented.  We both thoroughly enjoy our meals. 
  • We are far enough from the Kala Bhavan, the school where I am afiliated, that I'm getting plenty of walking. Much more than in Highland Park.  If I find that I am going back and forth too often, I may need to get a bicycle just to save time.
Uh oh.  Power has gone again.  I will send this later and add more as time allows.  For now, off to relax w/ C.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Eating Well, Accomplishing Little

While we continue to be comfortable and content - perhaps too comfortable - I am very busy accomplishing almost nothing.  As one can imagine, it's frustrating.  Still, I can't say I'm really upset by any of it.  My concerns only are with the difficulty of staying in touch, of being able to do, at least some, of my project, getting around and functioning day-to-day.

No problem, right?  As Becky advised, one goal only per day.  Unfortunately, I believe she meant: set and accomplish one goal.  I'm well with goal setting.  It's in accomplishment where I fall short.

On the other hand, I've leapt two of the initial hurdles - with a great deal of help - and didn't hurt myself.  We now have a mobile phone and both C and I completed 'Foreign Registration'.

Regarding the Foreign Registration process: It was made much, much easier by the many people in Udaiphur at the Fulbright meeting who warned that it might be terribly difficult, necessitate multiple visits, long waits, etc.  Though it wasn't the simplest thing, by any means, it wasn't as bad as I anticipated it might be.  It did require a long drive.  The nearest Foreign Registration Office (FRO) is quite far from here.  It took several hours at the station. We each needed four copies of several forms and had to write each copy out by hand. (Not bad, but a little tedious. However, they let us sit at a table that had a nice breeze going by, so it was really pretty civilized, in a no-duplicating-machine kind of way.*)  It was an overly-long ordeal for C, but the only part that troubled me was when the officer repeatedly scolded me for waiting until I'd been in India for 12 days. (14 is the legal limit.)  I don't think he would have cared about my going to the meetings, leaving luggage in Delhi, waiting 2 days in Kolkata.  No matter.  It's all done.

One little difficulty, though.  As we were leaving, the officer told me that we had to get an exit stamp from that FRO before we leave India. At the least, it means I have to do this two more times: once with C in August, once when I leave, a few weeks later.  More troubling is that it may involve a bunch of extra travel (including the costs there of) if we spend time in the north when N, S and Steve come this summer.

Worry later.  Exit stamps are not on my daily goal/accomplishment list for months yet.

As I type now, I am uploading a single 30M file as a test. It's 39% complete and has been running for 17 minutes.  My greatest worry regarding internet is that I rely on it to back up photos. I also have backup devices here, but were I to lose my equipment, it would be very upsetting. Should I lose my equipment and have no net-based backup, I would also lose all my work.  Wish me luck and hope that the technology angels take pity on me.

For day-to-day narrative, see C's blog where she is carefully recording her experiences with her typical wit and insight.  I enjoy reading it, and I'm right here.  For now, from me only ramblings, observations, bits of experiences.  If the technical stuff gets evened out AND I dig out from all the settling-in chores AND I figure out how to do some work, maybe then... I will catch up on email.  AND if that happens, perhaps a more timely updates from me, too. Maybe.

Until then, some 'bullet points' about which I had intended to write in detail (the ones I remember).

  • My first bicycle rickshaw trip.  It made me feel uncomfortably guilty to have this man doing all the peddling.  I also felt very heavy.  And a little worried we might tip over as we turned.  The driver didn't complain.  He even smiled as I paid.  As it was explained in one of the books we read, it's work for him.  I hope that's true and that it really was okay with him.
  • Cost of living.  The house in which we are staying now (not sure for how long) is charming, spacious, clean, safe, a good location, with a western toilet and running water, plus they cook and clean for us and they have a dog.  [More about 'home' at another time.] 

Negatives, not many.
  1. It's really hot and no AC. 
  2. The power goes out pretty frequently, but that's not specific to this house. Perhaps AC wouldn't help much without electricity?
  3. The hot water tank light comes on, it's full of water, but I can't figure out how to make any of it come out. (4 knobs, all cold.) Since it's hot, we don't really mind cold bucket baths, but I'll put figuring it out on my daily goal list soon.
  4. Lizards, or whatever they are, are disconcerting. Again, not unique to our place. (C will write more on them.)
  5. This lifestyle is expensive.  Not by US standards, but it's way more than either USIEF or I had budgeted.

Figuring cost of living is not as simple as I'd thought.  Without internet (sorry to be whining constantly about it), I cant find in-country flight prices, a major expense.  I hope to have more info on local expenses as I accomplish some of those daily goals.  Obviously, I never thought of this as a money-making venture.  I knew I'd spend more than the grant.  But how much, and how I can control costs, is a tough call.  Made even tougher as I contemplate it sitting in my comfortable rooms...
  • Trucks:
  1. Nearly all commercial trucks we've seen are intricately painted with a variety of designs, instructions to honk on the back and, occasionally, text that inspires my curiosity (e.g., "Hypothicated to State Bank", "Sunset, Good Morning", "Backing Home").
  2. Most have their mirrors very close in to their cab (they'd be knocked off otherwise), possibly explaining requests to honk? 
  3. And many of those mirrors are adorned with decorative, hanging pom-poms.  C and I think we will need some pop-poms for our car when we return.
  • Graphic anti-smoking ads with images of damaged lungs and very ill people.  I approve.
  • The most helpful airport staff imaginable.  Not particularly speedy, but helpful beyond my best expectations.

More soon. (Now lets see if I can upload this post.)

The following are notes I tacked to the bottom of my text as I composed.  I was doing various upload tests. Don't pay them much attention.  I include them only to illustrate my adjustment to, or battle not to adjust to, technological limitations.
Note: This entry was typed into a text document, off line, over a period of about two days, during which I did (read: 'tried to do') a lot of other things. There were also two power-outages, one lasting all yesterday afternoon.

  • FYI, the upload I was trying crashed.  Oh, well.
  • Restarted upload. Ran 2hrs 16mns and disconnected itself. No crash this time, but I can't get back in to see if anything, even remotely successful, happened.
  • Nothing. Ugh! Retrying using different approach and with a smaller file (15M).  It says it will take another 32 mins.  We shall see...
  • Ahhhh! Logged off with 15 mins to go.  I re-started and it began from 2k.  I'm not surprised, just fantasized it might remember where it was.
  • I shouldn't write this as it may lead to bad luck, but I will so you don't see only complaints. The upload says it's 63% complete.  I know, I know.  I won't hold my breath.  Just trying to be positive.
  • 75% !!
  • 95% !!
  • Success!!
  • 15M in less than 2 hrs.  Hmmmm.

* As we were leaving the FRO, I saw a pile of carbon paper on one of the desks.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More Internet, Please

India is very far without internet. 

My thanks to Steve for posting for me.  As he explained, we are having difficulty communicating.  As soon as we get that fixed up, I'll start posting again... if the electricity stays on long enough.

We are fine, staying in a nice place, eating too well. 

Frustrated, but happy in West Bengal,


... content with one exception: Internet.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cell Phone!

Hello all. Good news - Margaret has a mobile phone now! I talked to her a bit and she sounds great. She and Celia say to hello to everybody.

Ask any of us for the number, but be aware that it will be expensive to simply call from your regular phone. If you plan to call frequently, either use Skype or get a Reliance calling card. You can do the latter completely on-line at (I used that the first time Becky was in India).

Call me if you want help on any of that.

Just remember to look at the handy India clock on the right. When it's noon in Chicago, it's 10:30 PM in India.


Margaret and Celia are fine

Hello all. Before she left, Margaret gave me powers, awesome powers, fearsome powers, over her blog. Basically I can post to it. :-)

I know she has been quiet for a while, but I have heard from her twice very recently: once yesterday via a nice fellow-Fulbrighter in Kolkata who dined with her, and once via a short email that arrived this morning.

Basically, they are fine and are doing well, but the technologies are not working as well as one might hope. After leaving the palace at Udaipur, Internet access has been rare, and when present usually doesn't work with Mac. :-( She has tried the communication stalls which litter the towns to call and/or FAX, but again they have been flakey. I *do* have emergency numbers to call if anything urgent should come up, but otherwise we'll just have to be patient.

Anyway, she is FINALY in Shantiniketan where the real fun will begin. Hopefully she will get mobile phone capabilities shortly and figure out the whole Internet thing.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Life at the Palace

Rockwood Palace Hotel, Udaipur

We traveled Sunday from Delhi to Udaipur via Jodhpur. Non-stop meetings since then.

But first, a not-so-quick stop at Fulbright House to drop our bags so as not to lug them along.

Though a little frustrating because we had a flight and an impatient taxi driver, the guards at Fulbright were attentive and very careful with security of our things. Bureaucracy dictated a great deal of back and forth, phone calls and messages, men with clipboards, signatures and approvals. As I said, a little frustrating. On the other hand, I'm quite confident that, if my equipment isn't safe, it's not for lack of trying.

In a long, but not very interesting story, we've changed plans again (!) and will, after all, return to Delhi for a night before heading to Kolkata. This plan is quite a bit better than the luggage-in-Delhi version proposed before we came. In that one, we'd have taken four flights, with a nine-hour delay to get the bags, in one day. Now, we will fly back on Thursday, pick up the bags, stay the night at a hotel, fly to Kolkata the next morning, spend Friday night and Saturday there, then travel to Shantiniketan on Sunday. (Exhausting just to type it all.)

But now I have nothing at all to whine about.

We are in Udaipur attending the Fulbright conference. I am so fortunate to have arrived immediately before this event. I wish I'd had the regular orientation that most of the others enjoyed, but this is so much better than any plain ol' orientation. Everyone else is experienced in India and has completed all or part of their fellowships. Plus Fulbright coordinators from all over Southeast Asia, former Fulbrighters to the US and a representative from the US Embassy are here to share experiences, findings, ideas, etc. Me, I just have to take it all in. I feel greedy as I drink it all in and give nothing back but enthusiastic thanks. What's more, I'm meeting so many people who are not only interesting, but have all kinds of advice for me to help me get going. Some have even offered to assist me in networking and logistics. Man, am I ever lucky, or what?!

On top of the project related benefits, the people here are warm, interesting and fun to be with. I only remember one other time when I found myself in crowd of strangers all of whom I wanted get to know. (FYI: that was at Rancho in Mexico with B & L.) I wish there was time for an extensive conversation with everyone here.

The presentations are excellent. Unfortunately, with concurrent sessions, one can't attend them all. Okay, that's a little complaint. Another is that the schedule makes for a very long day. (Does it count as whining if the complaint is too much of a good thing?)

... And then there is the palace.

The meeting is at a re-purposed palace. And I mean palace. In many senses, it is too opulent for me to feel should be here as I begin an exchange scholar. However, attendees who have been working here for months are enjoying every the luxury, and they deserve it. Me, not so much.

Tonight dinner was served on the lawn with a dramatic view of the palace and a Hindustani vocal concert by one of the conference participants, Guy Beck (from Tulane).

C has been enjoying herself. There are several other children, though all are younger. One boy is 12 and they have been leading the younger ones in outdoor play, including lots of time in the hotel's elegant pool. One little girl in particular is enamored of C and, as her father put it, "she is in love." It was so sweet seeing this little girl following C around this evening. When we sat down for dinner, she ran up and perched on C's lap.

Internet has been on and off the here, so I will not try to upload pics right now. However, here are some that C took yesterday of the palace (plus one I took - guess which).

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I'm not sure what I'm doing.

I don't refer to questioning why I am in India, away from family, or how I will manage here. Though I do question these things, too. Rather, I am not sure what I am doing from moment to moment. Simple things, like: How will I move all these bags over the next few days? What should be in each bag (particularly since the gear-arrangements I made before leaving aren't working well)? What time should we get up? Even more trivial: Socks or no?

And, every few minutes: Where did I put ... ?

Today, I was reminded that I don't even know how to cross the street properly. Or use the telephone. Or tip.

I can't figure out how to turn on the television in our room. (Not to mention yesterday's safe fiasco, though at least C found that amusing.)

All these unanswered questions and doubts, inhibit my thinking about the things that will really matter. Though, perhaps that will be alright, also, as more-deliberate decision making hasn't helped recently, and patience and flexibility seem vitally important.

I suppose my doubts (and mistakes) are 'normal', but they don't feel so.

Still, we are very far from home. Nearly everything is different from what we expect. We are surrounded by millions of strangers, knowing only each other. A little uneasiness, plus a great deal clumsiness, and many, many mistakes are to be expected. Aren't they? They are, right?

On the other hand, we are both just fine, safe, well fed, with an excellent - if intermittent - internet connection.

Day 1, New Delhi

C 'blogging'

Dusk, from our balcony

Friday, March 5, 2010

Blogging on India time

Even if we aren't adjusted yet, we've switched the blog times to India Standard Time. I'm not sure what that means to anyone reading back home, but it seemed a good idea from here.

C & I are thinking a lot about time today.

We're a off schedule due to the travel and losing 10.5 hours. Sleep is irregular for so many reasons. Plus, I'm never much good at keeping track of time zones, often forgetting who is earlier and who is later even with only an hour or two difference. To practice, we keep discussing what time it is in different places of interest. (e.g., Chicago, New York, London - where Steve will be next week.)

As if a curious omen reminding me to stay 'in the moment', my watch stopped working within minutes of the plain taking off. I like to think it was a message, not simply an inconvenience. This afternoon, I appeased a man desperately trying to get me to visit shops he recommended, by permitting him to walk us to his watch repair stall. There I got a new battery, Rs 60 (Becky, forgive me if it's too much as I haven't the confidence or energy to argue), and now (so long as the battery lasts) we have time.

Last night I wrote about the troubling feelins I had seening all the construction around Connaught Place. Today, I feel more positive. While some is still from the bombings, much of it is improvements as the city readies itself for increased tourism. For example, there is a great deal being done in the area to even surfaces of the streets and sidwaks. This has mothing to do with the 2008 damage, it's just improvement.

Best of all, we found the milk place. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down the name (Kev....?). Happily, it is the same one that Becky took us to when we were here with her a year-and-a-half ago. I had told C about it and promissed that, if it was still there, I would take her. Unknowing then how convenient it would be to our hotel. We each had a cold milshake (hers, cholocate, coffee for me) and it was just as good as I remembered.

Right now we are using the computer lab at the USIEF/Fulbright offices. I am scheduled for meetings in 20 minutes. C is bored because I had us come here early. I didn't know quite what to do as I wanted to meet some of the people with whom I have corresponded the past months. With meetings starting so late, I feared I would miss everyone afterword. Since tomorrow is Saturday and we leave on Sunday, I though it my only opportunity. (Sorry, C. But it's probably not the last time we'll have to entertain ourselves. And next time, there may not be a computer...)

Finally, to all of you who have writtin, left comments, notes, etc. We can't thank you enough. We are just fine, but feeling the distance in a strong way. We're thinking of you. Thanks for letting us know that you are thinking of us.


Yes, we are really here.

It's 12:15 am. C and I are at the Hotel Corus, Connaught Place, enjoying their internet connection. We got to speak to Steve and leave a message for B & L via Skype.  It's hard to be so far away, but it's also reassuring to be able to get in touch so quickly.

A little late for extensive narrative. The flight was comfortable.  C slept for most of it. (Lucky, her.)  It's very warm and humid here - no surprise. We were met at the airport by a gentleman holding a sign with my name.

Beyond feeling a little anxious, a little excited and a little sad, one thing that struck me as we arrived at the hotel, was the state of Connaught Place. We had been here on our visit in the summer of 2008. Even now, evidence of the bombings that fall are evident. Of course it's dark now, making the place seem less vibrant. I'm curious to see it in daylight.

While I feel completely safe, the scaffoldings and boarded-up areas are a sobering reminder.

And I mean it. We are entirely safe.

More soon.

View from our room

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Airport Bound.

Off to O'hare in a few minutes.

Of course the past weeks have demonstrated that too much anticipation is overrated. Still, it looks like we're off.

Right now I'm missing those we are leaving and feeling sad (and a bit nervous).  These emotions override any excitement. We'll have plenty of time to think about adventures on the plane. For now, we are thinking of you.

Please stay in touch. We miss you all now, and a great deal more tomorrow.

See you in Delhi.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wednesday Departure

Wednesday departure for sure.
... unless that changes ...

The plan unless it changes is as follows:
  • Wednesday fly to Delhi.
  • Arrive Thursday night.
  • Meet with USIEF folks on Friday.
  • Fly to Udaipur on Sunday.
  • Attend Fulbright conference and enjoy Udaipur through Wednesday.
  • Thursday morning, fly to Mumbai, then to Kolkata.
  • Friday to Santiniketan.

I've been reading about Udaipur. It sounds so lovely, interesting, romantic, historical, beautiful, grand, perhaps a little too luxurious for C's introduction to India (?).  At the same time, I received a tentative agenda for the Fulbright meetings. They have planned a very busy schedule, each day programming late into the evening. I do hope to have at least a little time to explore. (And I hope C won't be bored. But waiting is part of her India introduction, eh?)