Friday, July 25, 2014

Home, Sabby!

The traffic in India monopolizes all conversations. It is a beast, most days. Every variety of vehicle darts through traffic searching for an opening that often doesn't exist. There are few main roads where traffic moves intermittently at a relatively fast pace (the key word is relative!). The side roads have been taken over by encroachment (people building their huts or stalls on the sidewalk/street) and navigating through those is impossibly slow. You can be an hour or more late and safely say, "traffic" with a head wag and literally no one will be mad you weren't there on time. Well, except for Westerners. We like our schedules and our punctuality and expect wine where there is no water.

Motorcycles - or 2 wheels as they are frequently called here - are the fastest way to get where you're going. They plow through stopped traffic and congregate at the front, they take to the "sidewalks" (more like a foot path) to move around slow cars, and they weave in and out of traffic "openings" that no sane person would consider. They have a bad reputation as dangerous and as the cause of most accidents until it takes you 1 1/2 hours to go three miles in the car (an actual experience). Then you harbor secret feelings of envy.

Those who can afford it, hire drivers to avoid the frustration of traffic and absence of parking. They run around $300 per month plus about double for the use of their car. Those who can't afford a driver ride in autorickshaws piling in their entire family and several packages. Its a cheap way to travel - about $.50 to go 5 miles - but they are slow and terribly wet during the rains.

We've been on the hunt for the perfect driver and have tested out more than 20 in our search. When we first got here, I wanted a driver who was patient, didn't honk his horn, who didn't weave in and out of traffic, and who spoke English. After a month all my priorities changed! A driver who speaks fluent "horn" (but doesn't necessarily use it), who can be the first to jump into a sudden opening in traffic, who turns to the right confidently (there are no turn signals for this - you just have to stick your front end into the mob of oncoming traffic and go!), and who knows when to take the side streets is worth his weight in gold! Meet Sabby - who more than meets his weight in gold.

Sabby owns the car service we've been using to go to Church. Most of his drivers don't speak English but Sabby does. When he offered to be our driver, we grabbed the opportunity. He is my cultural consultant. I ask him a dozen questions a day (like "why is this cow just walking down the road! Shouldn't someone come get it?") and he patiently explains India to me. Plus, he thinks I'm funny. He laughed about the cow and told me that you don't try to move holy things. He thought I was really funny when I suggested that some holy grass could move the holy cow somewhere less inconvenient.

Everywhere we drive, I spy a hundred things I don't understand. Sabby never gets tired of my questions. "What in the world is that guy doing?!? Doesn't he value his life???" Sabby laughed and said, "Yes, ma'am, he of course wants to live. There just isn't room for him in the vehicle and he must work." So I check out the guy who wants to not only live but to work as Sabby flies past him.

But the best part of having a driver comes when you need to find an item. You rarely need to find a store since there are precious few buildings that we would consider stores and every soul in India knows where those are. But if you need to find something basic like scotch tape, or a gift bag, or some bubbles for nursery, or a butcher your driver is the one who knows the exact spot in the hodge-podge of cubicle sized vendors where you can get your item at a good price. And when you are thoroughly exhausted from hunting down all those random places, you can say "home, Sabby" and he will smile and take you there the quick way.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Arabian Sights

So many places to go and so many new things to see... How to spot an important person.


Address stamps are a must


Between the plain clothes policemen and the extensive camera system, nothing passes unnoticed. A worker's friend was fined $140 (500 drams) by an undercover agent for chewing gum in public during Ramadan - despite being a Christian. We are waiting to see how much of our "infraction" deposit we get back...

One of these names is not like the others...

The universal language...

Some stylish Arabians...


Benevolent leaders, with the help of wealthy oil fields, give back to the communities. This famous Formula One racing track is open to the public free each Tuesday for biking, jogging, or walking. Bottled water and bicycles are provided free of charge. Wednesday is lady's only night at the track with the addition of yoga, zumba, and other classes all paid for by the sheikh. 


And the trees along the side of the freeway that is normally all dessert sand? Special sprinkler pipes send water to each one - miles upon miles of trees being fed precious water are a sign of extreme wealth and extravagance. India can make anyone feel rich, but the United Emirates makes you feel comparatively poor.

We were happy to head home (one of us having a little skip in his step due to the newly acquired candy stash and cheesecake) having loved this unique experience.


Discovering the United Arab Emirates

We noticed an add for the world's fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi and when Ty saw the look on Danielle's face, he booked plane tickets and off we went. A short 3 hour plane ride put us in the Middle East - a surreal concept to us.

Not sure what to expect, we were surprised to find both Dubai and Abu Dhabi cosmopolitan, beautiful, modern first world cities with exceptionally friendly people. Their English was far better than any I have heard in India - I could actually understand it! Striking architecture lined perfectly smooth, wide highways.

Thanks to "Mission Impossible", the Burj Khalifa topped our sight-seeing list. The night-time views are spectacular!

It was in a massive mall that appeared to be filled with stores, restaurants, and people from all over the world. It would have taken days to see the entire mall but what we did see was beautiful.

We all loved the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. It is absolutely stunning!

It was Ramadan which is their holy month. They fast from the first prayer at 4 am until sunset each day for a month. The mosque was preparing for about 40,000 worshipers to break their fast together that evening. They had prayers rugs, air conditioners (it was a balmy 110 degrees), racks of Korans, and complimentary water neatly arranged and ready.


A few pictures that show some of the grandeur and inlaid stonework.

Ramadan was the perfect time to go despite having to be very cautious because it's against the law to eat or drink in public during daylight. As a courtesy for non-Muslims, screens were placed around eating establishments at sight-seeing areas. Hotels and air tickets were very inexpensive and the tourist sights were empty. We felt like the only people at Ferrari World. The ride operators let us stay on and ride as many times as we wanted. It wasn't easy to get Ty & Danielle away from the cars, but  we eventually discovered even the man-made beach was deserted.

The United Emirates was a beautiful surprise. With camel riding, ATV dune racing, and many more adventures left undone, we clearly did not plan enough time to explore this part of the world! Good thing it is only a short plane ride away.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

People of India

Some of my favorite glimpses of people doing ordinary things. Despite an abundance of garbage that most feel is beneath them to pick up, some people ignore the stigma and keep the area around their own places very clean.

Women beautifully dressed for worshiping at this Jain temple.

Many people work hard at jobs that are not very rewarding.

I liked her confidence and how stunning she looks in this color blue.

This fun mother-daughter duo were being chased by a monkey and hid behind me.

My favorite picture - she was on the side of a busy street collecting her dried laundry from the tree.

We drove by too fast for a good picture but I loved this little girl helping her grandma with the grain.

School children happy to be done for the day.