So the past few weeks have been hectic for us--but good. Though I spent most of the holiday break miserably sick with a head cold or sinus infection, we still enjoyed a relaxing time away from the city.
This place has it's "upsides", but I don't think any of them are environmental. The weather reports often just say "smoke" or "smog" where they might say "sunny" or "cloudy" anywhere else. If I spend any length of time outdoors, my skin will be dirty enough that I can wipe my skin with a rag and leave a smudge on the rag. If I breath through a bandanna or handkerchief on the ride to work, later I can see dirt colored rings on the cloth the size of my nostrils. In the first few weeks I was here, a coworker and I both realized that we occasionally perked up at the smell of cigarette smoke. Neither of us have ever smoked, but concluded that, compared to the road pollution, cigarette smoke sometimes seems like a fresh, yet faintly familiar, aroma.
Sometimes if I'm out in the city for more than an hour or so, I start to feel a stinging or burning sensation in my chest. It's not hard to imagine why auto rickshaw drivers apparently don't last very long here in the city before they have to return home to their families in the North. Thankfully we have a HEPA air filter in our bedroom.
Of course picking up smoking is not the only option for an odoriferous reminder of home. I can't get my normal hair paste/gel stuff here, so I decided to try a more local alternative--a pure coconut oil. It actually works pretty well--and as a perk, I'm reminded of homemade cookies every morning as I style my hair.
So I've covered smells.... How about sounds? The other night, I was jarred to attention by air raid sirens. I'm not sure I've ever heard this kind of siren except in movies set in WWII England. We don't have a TV, so I had no easy way to check for any breaking news. In the end I wasn't able to confirm the reason for the sirens, but I am fairly sure they had something to do with rehearsing citywide blackouts as part of the current standoff with Pakistan.
Apparently the Pakistani government is basically denying that the terror attacks in Mumbai were at all linked to Pakistan--even though there is fairly strong evidence of the link. Troops are amassing at the border, fighter jets are flying more aggressive surveillance routes, bunkers are being added, and citwide blackouts are planned. Apparently, Pakistan has also threatened to use nukes if India retaliates directly against the Pakistan-hosted terror network LeT. Since we live very near the domestic and international airports and a military base, I assume that any anti-air defense stuff is probably rehearsed in our area.
Those of you who know Andrea well will not be surprised to know that she slept through the whole thing. I asked Indian coworkers about the India-Pakistan hostilities and they seemed to feel this was just another in a long series of yelling matches that never amount to anything, so I guess we shouldn't get to worked up about it...
On the taste front, I am happy to report that I finally have a reliable source for a few basic cheeses! There's just only so much you can fake with the same blocks of processed cheese, so I was getting desperate for Parmesan cheese for pasta, some cheddar for sandwiches and Mexican food, and maybe some Blue cheese to put some kick into baked dishes and salads. Our local grocer was eager to please as best as he could, and managed to import a bunch of cheddar for us expatriate folk. Considering that he runs a bustling grocery out of a storefront smaller than my D.C. living room, that's a nice gesture. For the other cheeses, I finally noticed that one of the fancy "hypermarkets" that we occasionally swing past on the way back south after church has a little (import) cheese counter off in a corner. I bought Blue and Parmesan in tiny little 200 gram chunks and I'm nibbling away at it to savor every Rupees worth!
As for interesting sights from the past few days.... Apparently there's a New Year's tradition here to torch dummies of old men. The burning old men symbolize passing of the old year. From the rooftop of friends' building where we watched New Year fireworks, we could also see two different groups of neighbors setting fire to their straw dummies. One group first took pictures with their dummy, then lit the straw on fire. The other group used blackcats and M80s to blow up their old man. I can't say it's a tradition I'll be bringing home with me--I think I prefer embracing the "new life" of a New Year than the ritual slaughter of the old year. However, if I had to put one year of my life out of its misery, it might be 2008.
Andrea and I agree that this year has included some of the best and worst times of our lives. Here's to a better 2009!