This is the India they warned us about

by Pam

We have officially moved into our new place, and I’ve spent most the week trying, with varying degrees of success, to take care of the necessities: Food, Water, Internet, and Laundry.

Water
Water is trying to kill us. We live in fear of the perfect storm, which in this case can mean accidentally running your toothbrush under the faucet or drinking from a cup that was just rinsed in tap water. We are still unclear on the perimeters and details of these life-threatening scenarios, so we both just assume that all water is evil and walk around clutching our coca-colas like a security blanket. We’ve been here 5 weeks now, and neither of us has fallen ill, so our fear-based strategy appears to be working.

Right now this fear extends to the swimming pool. Did we mention that our new house has a pool, and that the pool is actually inside the house? What the pool guy seems to think are bubbles, I know are mosquito larvae. I also know that in about ten days they are going to fully develop and the house will turn into a bloody feast. The mosquito screens on the windows and the nets that hang over the beds will no longer protect us, but serve to entrap the little bastards. There will be no escape. I can hear the clock ticking. If those eggs are allowed to hatch, we are toast! “Am I getting though to anyone here????”

http://www.mosquitoes.org/LifeCycle.html#anchor31858

From what I can gather the pool filtration system is broken. From what I can gather, the kid in charge of taking care of the pool has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. “Drain the pool,” I say, trying to do the international sign language for “drain the pool” by waving my hands and spinning around as if I’m going down a drain. “Yes, yes, yes,” he smiles, his head wobbles like its about to fall off. Great, we’ve agreed to drain the pool. I give him the “thumbs up sign, because I’m pretty sure that using the “OK” sign would be calling him an asshole. He keeps scooping larvae rafts from the water with the net. “Six monts,” he says. “Water changing every six monts. Only Sunday, Sunday.”

Okay, what I think I’m understanding here is that the water was changed last Sunday, and we have five months and three weeks to go before we can change the larvae infested pool water to clean fresh swimmable water. We are at an impasse.

This is the part where I start to question the logic of having an indoor swimming pool in a city that hovers around 90 degrees most of the time. A place where malaria is serious problem – serious, as in, people die from malaria.

http://www.malariasite.com/MALARIA/MalariaInIndia.htm

Our landlords have left us an excel list of phone numbers. Which is helpful, because since signing the lease and cashing our check, they don’t answer our calls or respond to our emails. There are three different entries with the list with the word “pool” in them. I dial one after the other until someone answers. After a circuitous conversation that leads down several dead end streets, I think I’ve gotten him to agree to come and look at our pool tomorrow.

Food
The food on the shelves of the Indian grocery stores laughs at me. Bags and bags of dried things, I think they’re called…”ingredients,” line the shelves. There are piles of fresh vegetables that I’ve been warned will make us deathly ill if not prepared correctly. I’m not a good cook at the best of times and under these circumstances I decide it’s best to not even try.

I follow up on a lead and email a potential cook. We make plans to meet at the house later that day. She never arrives. I email her the next day and she replies that that our address doesn’t exist. I order food from a local restaurant online. They email back to tell us that our address doesn’t exist.

We are hungry

The next day I try to email the cook detailed directions to our house, but the Internet is down. I attempt to call her but my phone card is out of money. I trek to an Airtel storefront and add money to my card. I dial the cook’s number and get a machine. I try to leave my phone number on her voicemail, but the number is 17 digits long and I can’t remember what it is. I accidentally hang up while scrolling through my phone for my number.

We are still hungry.

Clothing
We have a maid, she has a name but it is more syllables than I can remember, and when I do remember and try to say it…ramala…ramanena, Rachmaninoff…it comes out laughably wrong. She glides around the house like a barefoot sprite, sweeping the floors with a coconut hand broom. Appearing and disappearing.

We rented a washing machine for the new house. Rama and I spent half an hour trying to figure out how the thing worked. I poked and pulled until it began to fill with water and the clothes started spinning. Rama watched the clothes swirl through the window like it was a television set. As soon as the clothes were wet she tried to pry off the top of the washer to get them out. “This is the door,” I said, pointing to the window. She yanked at the door; anywhere she could get a finger-hold. I pointed to the numbers, and the illuminated “Lock” symbol. “Locked, it’s locked.” I pointed to number that were counting backward. “30 minutes” it’ll be finished in “30 minutes. 29 Minutes.”

I went my new office and began to work. Ten minutes later she wandered in dragged me upstairs to the laundry room and tugged on the door to show me it was locked. Adorable. I tried to assure her it was okay, but she came and got me two more times over the next 29 minutes. Less adorable.  I try instead to focus on the jasmine flowers she has strung and pinned in my hair this morning, or the dinner we made together last night when I discovered our stove didn’t work and she lugged hers, along with the gas tank into our kitchen.

A couple hours later I checked in. The washing machine was unplugged and three loads of laundry were hanging on the line. Turns out she’d jacked open the door and hand wrung the first load, then washed the other two loads by hand. She’d never used a washing machine before. Oh the assumptions Americans make.

Internet

It takes three visits from a young man who has never seen a Mac to get our Internet to a place where it doesn’t evaporate as soon as he disappears. He asks if I know Kannada. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t know Kannada was a language until about four days ago. “No, I don’t know how to speak Karnata,” I say. “Kannada,” he says enunciating every syllable, “Kan-NA-da”.  “We’ll how exactly Miss, are you planning to get along here without speaking Kannada? Most Bangaloreans don’t speak English.”

Finally, someone admits what I’ve suspected all along. A number of locals have indignantly insisted that everyone speaks English, that it is the common language of India. School lessons are taught in English. “Reeeeaaaally????”  I’m pretty sure that the Indians have taken the English language several thousand steps from its motherland, right up to the edge of creating an entirely new patois. Like what the Canadians or Creoles have done to French.

So, if we aren’t naked and starving, and if swarms of mosquitoes haven’t killed us, and provided you can reach us by phone or email, or find someone who agrees that our house actually does exist, even if our address doesn’t…we’d love to see ya.

7 Responses to “This is the India they warned us about”

  1. christine heath says:

    do we need to send you a care package of canned food and some new panties?

  2. Lauren B says:

    While traveling in “unfriendly water” locations, I also make sure I keep my mouth shut/lips sealed, while showering. (always reminding Arno not to talk to me while I’m in the shower)
    Stay well!

  3. lauralee says:

    This may sound dumb, but have you thought about getting some guppies (if you can find them) to put in the pool to eat the bugs?
    And, I love to cook. I make everything from scratch. And, living nine miles from the nearest grocery store, I’m good at dried ingredients. Let’s see, I’ll be there next Tuesday. We can rehydrate some corned beef and cabbage…

  4. John Feld says:

    Fairly concentrated levels of chlorine or bleach both kill larvae dead, but you will have to shut the door if you use bleach. They are only larvae if they wiggle. Eggs look like little flecks of dust floating on the surface and can be netted.
    You have already lived there longer than most mosquitoes life cycle, so I think you have probably seen them as bad as they will get, unless you run out of chlorine.
    Have fun. And you can be sure the sickness (acclimatization) is just waiting for you to drop your guard.
    John

  5. Phil says:

    John,

    Every time we eat a great meal and DON’T get sick, we get closer to dropping our guard for sure… we were persuaded to drink holy water at a temple, i have taken restaurant staff at their word when they say the ice is filtered, and i have been talked into eating cucumbers from a street vendor. Walking awfully close to the edge I think :)

  6. John Feld says:

    Be careful of bananas! They are a huge cause of gengi fever.
    Pickers are in the fields all day, with no bathrooms or water…and bananas are the one fruit no one washes.
    Been there and unfortunately done that.

  7. womannextdoor says:

    I know that all this must have been dreadful but I hope you can look back and laugh about it all now.
    That Ratnamma can be a riot, right?
    I really wish you had knocked on my door – would have been glad to help.