Monday, December 1, 2014

Home Blessing

Two amazing members of our branch are Rubina and Mansi - vivacious mother and daughter. This picture of them competing against each other at our branch activity shows their fun personalities.

They are strong women who joined the church together. Though the men in the family (husband and son) are not interested, these two keep each other going through hard times. Ty was just assigned to be their home teacher so last night we went together to pay a visit.

They live in a warren of housing set aside for government workers and we played our own version of Marco Polo for a while before they rescued us and led the way. The address was something like: 1st floor, building 60 near the school and across from the auto rickshaw stand. Mailmen are first rate detectives here!

We arrived with all of our Utah home teaching habits - apologize for coming on the last day of the month, don't stay too long, bring treats, offer to help, give a brief message, leave quickly and let them enjoy their night. Instead, we were treated to the Indian version - come whenever traffic lets you, stay many hours, feast on their food, accept their help, listen to their incredible testimonies, linger longer and plan 5 other times to see each other the next week. 

This is the entirety of their home. Mansi is being instructed where to find the only two glass glasses which are reserved for company. All they own are in those cabinets and in the one underneath the bed where Ty & I sat. Never did they apologize for their house like we tend to do (sorry for the mess, excuse the old furniture, etc), but they told us how grateful they were to have it. They know someone who is looking for a house but sadly, he can't afford one in their neighborhood. 

We were treated to such kind hospitality - they went to great lengths to make sure we knew we were welcomed and that we enjoyed visiting their house. The orange chips are spicy for Ty and the light ones are not spicy for me and the cookies are sweet for everyone - Mansi explained this to us as we sipped our cold soda purchased just moments ago because they don't have a refrigerator.

We laughed and enjoyed great stories while getting to know each other better. For the first time since he was 10, Ty sat on a seat high enough off the ground to swing his feet :) Okay, it's the brother's bed but it doubles as a couch during the day. The rest of the family sleeps on the floor together.

Ty tried to give a short message on prayer, but Rubina has a giant testimony on the power of prayer - "I pray all day long and have many conversations with God. He helps me. I know He does." Indians have the gift of speech and we heard the best home teaching message on prayer and scripture reading "All my coworkers know I read my scriptures. I come to work early and that's what I do first thing always I am found reading my scriptures. No one bothers with me. They say, 'don't bother with her - she is reading her scriptures!' so they leave me alone. Every day it is like this only."

As we slowly made our exit over many pleas to 'come visit any time - no call required!' and planned to meet up again later on, I looked at those two women with their beaming faces so happy that we would come to share food with them in their home, and thought it should be called Home Blessing instead of Home Teaching. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Around the Apartment

Here's an insider's look at expat apartment living in Mumbai. Bungalows (houses) are rare in our area so most people live in high rise apartment buildings. This is ours - we are on the top floor of a very long elevator ride which I use to make friends with fellow neighbors. We share a common "garden" with about 10 other buildings but it's only open for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening.


As you enter, you stop at the security gate for them to raise the bar. Visitors have to tell the apartment number of their guests or take their best guess.

You pull under a covering to an open lobby with a security desk and your choice of 4 elevators. The guards always wave and stand up when we come through but more importantly, they stop anyone else from coming up to our floor without signing in and wearing a security pass.

There are four apartments per floor but often one person will buy two on one side and made a massive home. Our front door is on the left and is one of the plainest. People "build-out" their entrances with paneling, stone work, paint, furniture, plants, or temples. Shoes are left outside the door. We arrived home to a pile of shoes and knew the air conditioning repair guys had finally shown up! But what we really need is a double door like the one on the right so you can stay safely locked in while checking out the many people who make it passed security. Assault is, sadly, prevalent so you need to be very cautious about who you let inside. 


Garbage collection happens twice a day - 10 am and 4 pm. You simply put anything you want to throw away just inside the door to the stairs and two guys ride up and down in the elevator with big cans to haul it away. In four months, I've only seen them once. These guys are pros!

The main areas of the house...Most of the oh-so-lovely furniture came with the apartment but we spruced it up a little with some artwork, bookshelves, and a piano to save my sanity ;)

The kitchen sealed the deal. We looked at dozens of apartments that all had narrow galley kitchens that lacked ovens and dishwashers. Pretend you hear an angelic choir singing because that's what I did.


Through the kitchen is a small laundry area where all our drinking, cooking, tooth brushing, and vegetable washing water sits. We use two 20 liter jugs a week which a delivery boy replaces as soon as we call. Through this room is my least favorite invention - the duct rooms.


Each room in the apartment has an individual AC compressor and and each sink has a mini hot water heater - a geyser - which take up a lot of space and create unwelcome heat. The geyser is the small white thing on the left and needs constant resetting (not a normal thing - just an old thing). To activate your hot water, flip the black switch UP - the red light indicates power is on. One cold shower and you learn really quickly to remember that step.

We had the hardest time finding a dryer that actually dries. People line dry their clothes here in these duct rooms (which are roasting hot) or out a window or on a balcony. The problem is that each duct room is wide open to the outside which translates into dust, dirt, and pigeon droppings. We finally found a good sized dryer but it's a steam dryer. Somehow it pulls the water from the clothes, converts it to hot air to dry the clothes, and then collects the remaining water in this container underneath which needs to be emptied every so often.

Down the hall we have three bedrooms, an office, and four bathrooms that each have a door leading into dusty, dirty duct rooms.


This handy gadget dehumidifies the air and gives my hair a chance to look normal around the house. Two of them work 24/7 and both are full each morning when we wake up. Light switches are another really tricky experience. The few electrical outlets are located halfway up the wall on some of the light switch panels, but you have to remember to turn on the outlets or nothing will work - not even the air conditioners. Indians find it wasteful to leave the sockets on so workmen, cleaners, or even guests will switch them all off but I don't notice until my phone isn't charged or dinner isn't cooking or the house is roasting hot. The dial turns on a fan and the little circles on a switch mean there's another switch somewhere in the apartment that operates that same light. There are SO many switches that we still have no idea which one does what or where the twin is. When Ty locks up for bed I can hear "click, click, click, click, click,click" as he searches for the winning combo.


I've saved the best for last - the perks of long elevator waits and 10 minute rides while you stop at every conceivable floor - the roof top terrace! The flight of stairs just inside the front door lead to this oasis.

This wonderful little place we've found to get away from the craziness of India is finally starting to feel like home and that's made all the difference. Now, bring on the visitors!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Secure Job

The terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008 inadvertently created a lot of jobs. Security guards were suddenly en vogue and every store, restaurant, hotel, office and apartment building hired them by the dozen to stand at their new gates, collect at their entrances, and to sit in their elevators. Years later, the rituals are firmly entrenched while the actual security part is highly questionable. Most seem really bored and uninterested like this guard at the cell phone store.

We walk through 'security' check points many times throughout our day, we beep and buzz as we step through metal detectors, my purse is scanned and physically rummaged through, a hand wand is ceremoniously waved in our vicinity, but no one has ever given any of the beeping or flashing red lights a second thought.

For example, a trip to the mall requires everyone to pass through security gates at the street, security guards outside the main doors, and airport style security checks at every entrance.

The men go through metal detectors to the left, beep loudly, step on a small platform, get wanded, beep several more times, and walk away. Women go to the right, bags are inspected then scanned while the women enter a curtained booth for a wanding experience, beep several times, and walk away.

Once you're inside the mall, each store has their own security guards with places like the movie theater and grocery stores having a second set of security personnel, metal detectors, booths and wanders. No store will let you enter if you have shopping bags or back packs. A purse is okay, but all other items have to be checked at a counter either outside the store or just inside the door to the store. It is a serious deterrent for shopping - you think long and hard about whether you REALLY want to browse through a store when you know you have to stand in another line to check in your bags and then again to claim them once you leave.

Any purchase you make inside the store, HAS to be stamped by the security guard on your way out. Oh, and by the way, photography is forbidden. 

It is virtually impossible to return things, but if you want to loose your patience and several hours of your life, you need to present a stamped receipt that every employee in the store will feel impelled to study and ruminate on it. If you pay in cash, a second worker has to circle and initial the change given back to you verifying that you actually received it - or more likely, that they didn't keep it.

Even the little grocery stores in our tiny town have metal detectors and bag-check counters. I avoid the Dmart that's popular with the Indian shoppers because you have to wait in an additional line to have your purse zip-tied shut. The cashier has to snip it open at check-out to make sure you haven't swiped something while shopping. This is the Haiko where I do most of my shopping - you can see the clumping of people at the entrance as they wait to get in. You have to grab your grocery cart before entering and hand it to a security guard while another one watches you beep your way through a metal detector before handing your cart back. I keep trying to side-step the metal detectors but while our elderly guard may not care that you beep, he really cares that you attempt to avoid beeping.

When we first arrived, I was constantly getting chased down for not getting receipts stamped or for walking around a security check-point. Now, I rarely give it a second thought. The other day I actually caught myself chasing down a distracted receipt-stamper to get my verification in ink - my very own gold star for a safe and legal shopping experience. No security guards at a restaurant, store, office, or apartment?!? Why, that feels completely unnatural and is the reason why the security guard's job is the most secure thing in India.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Let Me Tell You 'Bout My Best Friend

Relationships between boys and girls are considerably different in India than in Western countries. Schools and activities are strictly segregated so unless they have siblings, girls grow up associating only with other girls and boys grow up hanging out with other boys. Dating is non-existent, but longed for, and the young single adults in our branch (we have a lot of them) dream about how wonderful American church dances must be - not only do you get to talk with a girl/boy but you get to touch their hand! One of our YSA girls actually went on a "date" with a visiting returned missionary this week. They met at KFC and had a fast food dinner (very little talking and definitely no hand touching) that sent the entire branch into wild marriage speculations, massive amounts of grinning, and knowing head-wagging. She will never be able to talk about anything else!

So the stigma of boy/girl association is quite prevalent, but nonexistent when it comes to guys hanging out with guys. One of the bigger surprises for me were the shear number of guys who ride on motorcycles together. It's so common that when you don't see two guys riding together, you're surprised and hope they are on their way to pick up a friend.

It's also fairly common to see three guys scrunched together on a motorcycle.

What really shocked me into asking piles of questions, were the frequent sightings of guys holding hands. It turns out that holding hands or walking with an arm on another's shoulder indicates a relationship so close that you would trust your life to that person. It's a sign of a bond stronger than brotherhood and it's envied by those who don't have it. Indian men are proud of their friendships.


Normally on a Sunday, we have a substitute driver so Sabby can spend the day with his family and at his own church. This particular Sunday, though, Sabby decided to drive us. He had never seen Ty in a suit before and was very impressed. As we got out of the car, Sabby had a favor to ask, "Sir, could I have a photo with you? And will you put your right hand on my right shoulder - just like this - and hold your brief case in the other hand? Very nice, Sir. You are looking very smart. This is most excellent, Sir. My friends will not believe that this is me!" 

And that is how Ty got his new best friend. Sabby, who I'm certain would lay down his life for Ty, never gets tired of telling me how wonderful 'Sir' is and how blessed he feels by God to work for him and just yesterday he texted me, "I will also be by Sir's side. I'm very happy to be at his service." It would be ridiculous if it wasn't so sweet. There isn't a moment where Sabby doesn't jump to Ty's defense and extol all his virtues. No wonder Indians are proud of their relationships - they have this friend thing perfected.