Monday, February 28, 2011

Go Shorty, It's Your Birthday

False, it's MY birthday!  Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes and presents!  And most of all, thank you India for giving me the best present of all: a ticket OUT of India!  Ahh, but I joke, I joke.  I love you, India.  And I love to hate you.  It's complicated.

Today has been great so far.  I've just been packing and had a birthday/going away lunch with my expat lady-friends.  They got me a wonderful (and HUGE) book on Iyengar yoga so I can continue to practice no matter where I am!  The book is amazing; it has pictures and detailed instructions of all the asanas, as well as a detailed yoga plan so you can do it easily on your own.  I also got a beautiful silk scarf and purse, which I promised not to re-gift to my lady-family members back home - sorry, Mom.

Matt always makes me a birthday card, and this year was no exception.  I think this time he really outdid himself.  For every holiday, the hotel gives us a "WelcomScroll" explaining (sometimes in far too much detail) the holiday and the meaning behind it.  Matt, in his infinite genius, copied their format and made it into a birthday scroll for me.  Behold:
Caitlin Streett Birthday Holiday - 28 February 2011

Each year, the American holiday of Caitlin Streett Birthday is
celebrated on the 28th of February.  This holiday is to commemorate
the day on which leader, visionary, and adventurer Caitlin Streett was
born.  This day is auspicious because it is the last day of February,
a short month, during non so-called “Leap Years.”

Caitlin Streett was born in a small town of Yellville, Arkansas in
America.  Local legend has it that babycaitlin was weighed on the
scale at a super market.  From early age, the strength and mental
prowess of street was clear and evidently.  It would not be said that
that Streett’s rise to the top was meteoric, even though it was.

In 2004, Steett once had an awkward birthday just to see what it was
like.  It is rumored and well documented that Amitabh Bachchan himself
in 2010 interrupted filming of a “Bigg Boss 4” episode to call Caitlin
Streett and tell her hppy bday.  Also, in Mother India, Streettji’s
birthday is celebrated with fireworks, some nice kite flying, and
dancing.  If you stand on RC Dutt Road one afternoon, it is possible
to have a glimpse of Streett having a brisk walk.  Sometime, Streett
birthday coincides with Hindi holiday of Holi, which is a great and
momentous occasion indeed.

Other notable celebrities born on this date include bombshell Ali
Larter, tennis star Jelena Jankovic, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu,
Italian-American race car driver Mario Andretti, notorious criminal
Bugsy Segal, and country music sensation Jason Aldean.  Jennifer
Kapoor, actress and husband of Indian star Shashi Kapoor, was also
born today.

On this day, 28th February, in 1948, the last British troops left India.

As a guest of Welcomhotel Vadodara, the management and staff wish you
the best of regards on the Caitlin Streett Birthday Holiday and hope
that the holiday celebrations are truly special.  We thank you for
choosing ITC Welcomgroup hotels, palaces, and resorts and trust that
your stay is comfortable.
It had a WelcomHotel Logo at the top, but that didn't paste on here.  Also, he did the typos on purpose, as all the WelcomScrolls have typos and he wanted to be as accurate as possible.

Saturday night we had a scavenger hunt at Karen's house.  Karen has been living in Baroda for seven years and always has an annual fundraiser dinner to raise money for one of the orphanages in town.  This year was the first time they did a scavenger hunt, and it was awesome.  Matt's team came in first, and my team came in (a very close) second.  I think that's pretty admirable, considering we had to get items such as a turban, diya (those little oil lamps they use at temples), a brown hairy coconut, pictures of team members in an auto, etc.  We both won prizes (German meat, which we gave away, and an MP3 player!), and then I won a door prize of brunch at Little Italy!  I had to give that away, too, because we're leaving, but still.  It feels nice to win.  It was an honor just to be nominated!  (Forgive me, I watched the Oscars this morning on Star Movies.  Congrats winners.)

Anyway, that's about all I've got to say about that.  We leave this evening for Delhi, and then will be back in Chi on Thursday.  Can't wait to see everyone! Love to all, peace on earth, goodwill to men, etc, etc.  

Friday, February 25, 2011


Today was my last day of yoga, which was surprisingly really sad!  This yoga class has definitely been the best part of my time in India by far.  It's been an amazing stress reliever, which I've absolutely needed on this assignment.

Anyway, today I took my camera in to class so you guys could get an idea of the kinds of stuff I've been doing the last three months.  Remember, I'm not very advanced, so none of this is going to be amazing, but don't forget I can do a headstand, too!

This is Mina (from Korea) and me doing a variation of the Adho Mukha Svanasana, aka "Downward Facing Dog".  I'm actually not doing it correctly here, but you can't really tell.  

Carrie in a handstand.  She can just kick-up into one.  Very impressive.  I can do one, but only with lots of help.  

Me in the rope Sirsasana pose.  This is my favorite thing to do.  After the initial blood-rush-to-the-head-woozy thing, it feels great!  It is really amazing for your back.  Forget inversion tables.  All you need is a rope and some hooks!  

Mina in some sort of "legs over the head" pose.  

My instructor, Smita, has been amazing.  She is a wonderful teacher and absolutely radiates kindness and serenity.  I'm really going to miss her both as a person and as an instructor.  Of course I have nothing to compare her teaching style to, having never taken a yoga class before this, but she is a wonderful teacher.
Smita and me.  I look like a giant.  She is very short.  Lots of Gujaratis are.  I don't know if that's offensive.  I don't think it is, but if I'm wrong, I apologize.  

Thursday, February 24, 2011


WE'RE DONE!  Well, technically not done, but IOCL has agreed to release Matt and replace him at least until it's time for the test run in a few months.  All this really means is that we're coming home!!!  Matt got reassigned to a job in middle of nowhere Kansas, so we will be heading there the 2nd week of March.  We're planning to fly out of Baroda on Monday night (this is like the best birthday present ever), then go visit the Taj and Delhi (because we still haven't been), and then fly to Chicago on next Thursday.  I can't believe in less than a week I'll be walking on American soil.  Amurica!  

Awhile back (when Ben left... so like 2 months ago) I found this great Shawshank quote that I swore to use when our turn to leave came around.  The time has come for one last (modified) Shawshank quote:  
I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head.  I think it's the excitement only a free woman can feel, a woman at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.  I hope I can make it across the border.  I hope to see my friends and shake their hands.  I hope Lake Michigan is as blue as it has been in my dreams.  I hope.  
That quote is perfection.  I haven't been able to sit still since I found out we were leaving.  That said, at the risk of seeming completely hypocritical, I do have a few mixed feelings about this new development.  Mostly I'm sad to be leaving all my new friends.  I've never had this many friends on an assignment before, and these women have really made my stay more fun and exciting than just bearable (or unbearable, as it surely would have been had I not met them).  I had been planning a trip with four of these women to go to another area of Gujarat for a few days, and we were set to leave next week, but now I guess I can't go.  They are all kind of upset and disappointed, but at least this way there will be more room in the car for them!  Anyway, we'll probably be back in April/May/June, so I might see them again after all.  

In the end, all that really matters is we're leaving Baroda.  On my birthday.  Thanks, universe.  I appreciate it.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Life in Cotton Balls

About three months ago, I ran out of cotton balls and had to go buy some from the store.  I deliberated over whether to get the 50-count bag or the 100-count bag.  The 100 count bag was only 10 rupees more, and had twice as many balls, so I thought, what the hell?  I will get those and then throw the rest out if I need to, because surely we won't still be here in 100 days.

Yesterday I ran out of cotton balls.  I use one a day.  So that's what depression feels like.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Downhill Slide to 30

It's official:  Matt turned 26 Friday.  He is no longer a young and vibrant 25-year-old, much unlike his wife, who still has a week to go before she starts her downhill slide to 30.  Friday also marked the seven-month-versary of our second arrival in Baroda.  If that's not a great birthday present, I don't know what is.  
Birthday decorations.  That creepy picture is the "Raja of Cochin".  

I wanted to make Matt's birthday something special because we were both so bummed out about still being here - but of course my options were severely limited.  I eventually settled on presenting him with (miniscule, inconsequential) gifts throughout the day, and then decorated the room (poorly), and then "took" him to dinner at our favorite restaurant, Kai Asia.  But that's not all.  In light of the fact we can't order alcohol with our dinner, we devised an ingenious plan to sneak some white wine into the restaurant; we poured it into empty ginger ale cans.  Ha!  Ahh, man, what great achievements can be made when we put our minds to work!  I haven't felt that much like a high schooler since... I was in high school.  It was the best night.
This creepy picture is Matt with his birthday cake.  

Blowing out the candles.  Those "My Little Pony" dolls are for Bella, not Matt.  I just thought they made a nice addition to the birthday decor.  

Trick candle.  Haha.  Works every time.  

Saturday night we went to a party hosted by one of the Indians in the International Women's Club.  I was a little nervous about it because we didn't know what to expect, but it turned out to be fairly awesome.  It was a huge blowout with a fully stocked bar, food from both Little Italy and Mainland China, as well as a performance from a couple of male strippers.  There was a huge crowd around the male strippers so I couldn't see anything, but I was told the most they took off was their jackets - under which they were wearing vests.  Ahh, India.  Your conservativeness astounds me daily.  Matt and I boogied for quite a while to all the super cool hip hop music (think Lil Wayne, Usher, Akon, etc), but eventually they started playing strictly '70s tunes, and that's not how we roll, so we left.  I was pretty amazed to see just how deserted Baroda gets after midnight.  We got back to the hotel at 2am, and there was literally no one around.  We stood in the middle of the street marveling at our isolation.  I swear, this place is worse than Yellville (Arkansas).  The only people we saw were the ones sleeping outside by the road.  There were a lot of them.  Talk about depressing.  One day I will take my camera out and photograph them, so then you'll all really know what poverty looks like.  It is unbelievable.

Anyway, on a brighter note, we watched a pirated copy of 127 Hours last night.  That's the one where James Franco gets his arm stuck under a boulder for 127 hours before he cuts his arm off.  It is a metaphor for our lives in India.  I guess that wasn't such a bright note after all.  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bomb - Ay

We did, in fact, make it to Bombay (Mumbai for all those concerned with political/historical/geographical correctness) last weekend.  We got tickets two weeks ahead of time, which is unheard of for life on the road.  It was so early, in fact, that I started having mini anxiety attacks at the idea of being locked into this trip.  What if something else comes up?  What if I get sick and can't make the flight?  What if we get released before then?  (That last one was a joke.  HA.)
Sign at the Baroda airport.  Matt has now taken to saying "reGREATed" whenever possible.  

All my worrying was for naught it seems, and we had a remarkably "normal" weekend in Bombay with Jason and Mary and Andrew Novotny.  I use the term normal loosely, as Bombay's "normal" is no longer my "normal".  It is in no way "normal" for us Barodians to stay at a nice hotel, enjoy free happy hour every night, eat "American" food (beef burgers?  Are you kidding me?), and hit up an actual bar where you can order drinks, and they bring them to you, and then you order another round, and they bring those to you as well.  And the drinks have alcohol in them.  I may have gone a little overboard with my "astonishment italics", but that's only to show you how astonished I actually was.  Hugely astonished.

Anyway, aside from hanging out and feeling like we weren't in India, we didn't do much the whole weekend.  Saturday we all piled into Andrew's refinery car (a four-seater at best, we stuffed 6 people in, including the driver - who wasn't too pleased, by the way) and drove the hour-plus into downtown to get our alcohol permits renewed.  Easier said than done, of course, as the people at the tourism office spent 45 minutes looking for ways to refuse us.  We tried to fight them about it, as there appears to be no written rule denying our right to drink in Gujarat, but in the end, they won.  They always do.  We got them slightly extended, but not enough.  Not nearly enough, considering we will likely be here until June.  Can you believe that?  June!  Ugh.  Whatev.  I'd like to take a moment to mention that the lady at the tourism office is the same woman who we spoke with in December who wouldn't extend our permits then because our visas were about to expire.  This woman is horrendous.  To say she is unpleasant would be a vast understatement.  Suffice it to say that I hope karma treats her just as she's treated me on the two occasions I've been unfortunate enough to deal with her.  Although I suppose living in India your entire life might be karma's way of punishing you for your past life... Just to be on the safe side, I think I should call on everyone to send negative energy her way, and maybe we can get enough bad vibrations going to at least maker her stub her toe or something.

After our tourism department fiasco, we were a little bit spent and didn't really have it in us to do much else.  We did meet a little boy at the park who told us his favorite food is mouse masala.  Mouse.  Masala.  He said chicken masala is okay, but mouse is better.  I asked him if he ate fried mouse and he looked at me astonished and said "How do you know about fried mouse?"  I didn't have the heart to tell him I was just joking, so I said it sounded good to me.  He said fried mouse is okay, but mouse masala is better, and then he invited me to his house so his mom could make me some.  Thanks, buddy, but I think I'll pass.
This is me (eating, of course) and our new little friend.  I stole this picture from Mary's blog.  Thanks, Mary.  

He told us all about how he sets traps and catches the mice, and sometimes they are big, like "half a kilo".  Half a kilo!  Sorry little guy, but that sounds like it might be a rat instead.  Rat's probably not that much different than mouse, if you subtract the risk of black plague.  I was pretty shocked by the whole conversation, but then I thought about it, and it's probably smart that he catches his mice/rats for dinner.  Free food, good protein, tiny little mouse bones you can make into a necklace and then sell to make some pocket rupees.  Win, win, win.

Anyway, that was about all of it.  Oh, in case I haven't mentioned this little tidbit, I will mention it now:  When you fly into the Baroda airport, you have to take a bus from the airplane to the terminal.  It is very close.  Like maybe 200 feet close.  But they won't let you walk.  One time, there was no bus, so they told us to wait.  The entire flight said screw that, and we all took off walking, while the flight attendants chased us down and said "No!  You cannot walk!".  It was the best day.
This is the view of the airport from the airplane.  See?  SEE?! It drives me crazy every single time.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wedding Season

Last Thursday was my yoga friend, Dhwani's wedding.  As you all know, I had been looking forward to this thing for weeks.  I didn't have a saree so I borrowed one from Srila, but after wearing it, I think I might just need one.  They're so pretty.  

Dhwani, the bride.  I think this is really typical Gujarati wedding attire.  She told me her nose ring was bigger than most.  I'm jealous.  

Matt and I were fairly nervous going to this wedding, mostly because we didn't know anyone and didn't know the etiquette.  Did we need to bow and curtsy?  Do we have assigned seats?  Does it matter that my shoes are sinking in the mud?  Where do I put the wedding gift?  Can I put my clothes in the dishwasher?  We were pretty pleased to discover that everything is extremely laid back and no one really cares what you do - at least they didn't care what we did.  Sometimes being a foreigner is nice.  Anyway, the wedding ceremony takes place up on a stage which is set up in a huge open area.  All the guests sit in the lawn to watch, and the bride and groom are up on stage... with their families and maybe some friends... and all the different people performing the service... and all the photographers and videographers.  
My view of the stage.  The groom's part of the ceremony had already started at this point.  Not that anyone really cared.  

Very different from a Western wedding, but it works.  This part of the ceremony lasted maybe three hours (there was also a morning ceremony that I skipped), so people just kind of watch for a while and then get up and mingle and go eat and maybe jump to get a better view.  
Guests watching the action and taking pictures.  

It's pretty strange and feels a little inconsiderate, but I like it.  Maybe I'll do this for my next wedding.  
Dhwani getting her feet washed by her aunt.  Don't ask me the symbolism or tradition behind this. I wouldn't tell you even if I knew.  

I watched almost all of the ceremony and took literally no information away from it.  I didn't know what I was looking at, and had no one to tell me.  Was cool though.  

Dhwani and Amar (the groom) light the fire.  Those two old men on either side are like priests.  I think.  Maybe they just wanted a closer view.  
Then they run around the fire five times and people throw stuff at them.  

When the ceremony is over, I guess guests get up on stage to give their gifts and get a picture with the newlyweds.  I did this and was so nervous about it I was shaking.  I'm no good in unfamiliar situations.  Especially with my translucent white skin gleaming under the lights.  I only almost fell twice though.  Some stories have happy endings.  

The couple with their friends.  Don't you love all the colors?  Why don't we dress like this in the states?  

Which brings us to Matt and me in all our finery:  
Yeah, we're sharp.  So sharp it stings the eyes.  
Matt made fun of me for taking this picture, but I wanted to show off the back.  

I had to call the receptionist to come wrap me in the saree.  She pinned me in there really well so nothing would fall out.  Thanks, Priyanka.  
That is all I have to say about that.  It was fun.  Probably we won't go to another here, as wedding season is almost over and we are staring scorching summer in the face... unless we're still here next February.  Can't say that's not a possibility, though believe me I wish I could.  

This is what happens when Matt makes fun of me.  I get my revenge.  This is his Barney Stinson pose.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm Still Standing

Yup, we're still here in India.  Contrary to popular belief (or at least contrary to what I've been implying through various emails and Facebook postings), we're not doing all that bad over here in good old Baroda.  We had a minor morale dip earlier this week when Matt heard they were going to replace him with a guy from Delhi, and then realized not only was IOCL not going to accept the new guy, they were going to fight to keep Matt here... forever.  Or so it seems.  I know that isn't really news because we knew we were staying, but it's hard to keep getting our hopes up that we might leave, only to have them dashed at the last minute.  Ahh, but life goes on.  

While Matt's been struggling with UOP Delhi and IOCL, I've been doing a lot of expat women stuff - ie shopping, eating, chatting, etc - as well as going to yoga five days a week.  It's been pretty fun, and I'm more than grateful for all the diversions. 

My yoga friend Dhwani is getting married tonight, and guess who gets to go?  Why, me, of course!  And Matt.  This will be our first foray into Indian wedding culture, and it should be really interesting and fun. I'm thinking if all goes well, I might just have to start wedding crashing.  Probably I'd have to buy a saree first.  Tonight I'm just borrowing.  Tuesday Dhwani invited me over to get mehndi (henna tattoos) on my hands in preparation for the wedding.  I've seen people doing these here on the street, but I haven't wanted to just get it done for the sake of it; now that I finally had an excuse, I was all over it!   

Dhwani getting her mehndi done.  
Because Dhwani is the bride, she had to get the most mehndi, and the most intricate designs.  She had it all up her forearms - front and back- and on her feet.  Just the application took more than 4 hours!  I couldn't believe she could sit still that long, but she's a trooper.  Then she had to wait a couple more hours for it to dry (for the color to set into the skin) before removing the dried out henna pieces.  

Dhwani told them she wanted peacocks and paisley, and this is what they came up with.  Not too shabby.  

Dhwani's feet.  

My application took about 20 minutes, and I could barely sit still through that.  Then I had to wait a couple hours before removing it.  One of the servants took pity on me and started feeding me snacks and sips of water while I waited.  I wasn't even that pampered on my own wedding day!  
I don't know that there's ever been someone as excited to get mehndi as I was.  I almost peed.  In my pants.  

I had to scrub really hard to get the hardened henna crust off.  My new maid friend came and rubbed cooking oil on my hands to soften the stuff up.  Kind of gross, but it worked.  Plus, then I smelled like hushpuppies the rest of the night, which is always a good thing.  
Finished product!  They say the darker the mehndi, the more your husband loves you.  I think he loves me on the inside...
...But not so much on the outside.  They told me the color is always darker on the inside because the warmth from your palms heats it up and lets the color sink in deeper.  

Anyway, after the mehndi excitement wore off (yeah right... like it would ever wear off!), I went to a city called Surat, a couple hours from here, with some expat ladies.  Srila was looking for inexpensive but nice sarees to donate to an all-girls orphanage in Baroda for them to use as uniforms.  Surat is the single largest producer of textiles in India... and that's saying a lot considering India is one of the largest producers in the world.  

A guy putting sequins on a saree.   
We went to one of many gigantic textile markets in Surat, with each stall selling pretty much the same things as the previous stalls.  
Tons of these guys were hauling loads of fabric on their heads and shoulders.  

Annie (from France), Dori (from Canada), and Srila (from Michigan)
Surat seemed to be pretty much same same as Baroda and Ahmedebad, only bigger than both.  We didn't do anything besides saree shopping, but it was nice to see something (a little) different.  

So that's that.  I am roaring and ready to go to this wedding, and so is Matt - he even got a suit made here just for this event.  Friday we're heading out to Mumbai for a long weekend away.  Gotta get new alcohol permits.  Should be legendary.