Saturday, June 22, 2013

Necessary stuff

For future Extended India Travelers, I thought I would post the stuff I've been collecting for the trip to give you an idea of travel supplies.  We've been told that medicine all needs to be in its original packaging so that changes my usual travel where I throw the tylenol and advil and migraine excedrine all together in one bottle.

To start with, this is my new cool camera backpack.   It's going to be a bit of a hassle to take my dSLR camera with me, but how can I go to a dream destination without my good camera??  I bought this bag at Sams Club on a special $69.99 marked from $129.99.  The front part of the bag is for a laptop and the back is for the camera and lenses and cords etc.  This will be one of my carry-on bags for the plane.


And I also need my electrical converter type things so take a look at this stuff:

Shopping!    :)   Ok, starting at the top left, there are 2 boxes of travel converters with adapters.One I bought long ago for a trip to Europe, and the other I bought at Menards for under $20.  Find a description of what could be needed here:  In the US, for the most part, our items that use electricity are made for 110V so we need to convert it to be used in India. Also, our plugs don't fit in their holes (yeah, that's a technical description :) ) so we also need adapters.  And since the power is not as, hmmm, don't know a word for smooth or consistent in the electricity world, anyway, we need a surge protector.  Some things, like our computers and cell phones, are made for dual voltage so they can plug directly into the surge protector and adaptor and skip the converter.  So, moving right in the picture is a Belkin Travel surge protector (around $15 on and below it, 4 adaptors for India ($6.50 on Different countries get different adapters so make sure you have the ones specifically for Asia/India.
Just below those, 2 2-to-3 pin adaptors.  My converters are both ones that only take 2-pin plugs.  Most plus have the ground so they become 3-pin.  This allows that 3-pin to now plug into my converter.  I found these at Menards for under a dollar for both.

Hearing that most curling irons burn out even with the converter, I bought a dual voltage curling iron on for around $20.   With all the humidity there, this is probably a wasted purchase but I hold out hope for looking good at least ONE day while I'm there.

Nestled in by the curling iron is a flashlight and batteries.  I'm prepared for the power outages.  Our hotel will probably not have them, but who knows where our weekend travels will take us.

Middle row includes some travel bags.  The long skinny one is a PacSafe travel wallet ($30).  The straps have metal inside to keep them from being cut.  There is a place for the passport in there.  The gray bag next to it is a cross-body travel 'purse' designed by the Heys company.($40)

And on the bottom row, a doorstop.  In the book Wanderlust and Lipstick For Women Traveling to India ( a traveler suggested a door stop.  It's a comfort thing to let you know that at least while you are in the room, no one will be able to come in.  Once again, at our main hotel, there will probably be deadbolts, but at our weekend excursion hotels, this may not be the case.  Rounding out the row, headphones, portable fans (did I mention it's going to be HOT!, and a multiple plug surge protector.

This purchase speaks to the what-if side of my personality.  Certainly not necessary but I feel better that I have it.  Obviously water is a problem when going to India.  We're only allowed to drink bottled water and brush our teeth with bottled water.  This item was recommended to me and I did research on it.It's small and lightweight and will fit in my bag whenever we go somewhere.  I'm thinking if we're out somewhere and it's hotter than heck and we don't have ready access to bottled water, we can use this and we won't get sick.   You can read bout it here:  I bought mine for around  $70 at on sale.

So, yeah, I've bought a lot of stuff you're thinking.   Since the trip is delayed, I added a rain poncho to my stuff since our visit may now run into monsoon season.   Next to the rain poncho, I have some of those packing bags where you put your stuff inside and then squeeze out the air. And then there is a thing that will bungee a smaller bag to my large suitcase.  How I am going to get all of my luggage through the airport is a mystery.  Oh yeah, I also had to buy a giant suitcase.  I had one, but need two for the trip.  Maybe not so much for going over, but definitely for going back. :)  Suitcases at that size run between $100 and $150.  I stopped at Goodwill to deliver a load of stuff I was getting rid of and decided to stop in to see if they had a large decent suitcase.  Woohoo!  A Samsonite suitcase in excellent shape and no odd smells was $12.99.  I was pretty proud of that buy.

Mosquitos and sun are going to be a problem so we were instructed to buy mosquito repellent, in both the big and the travel size, that contained at least 30% DEET (DEET being the active ingredient in mosquito repellent).  OFF!, the most popular mosquito repellent here has between 7% - 25% so not enough.  I did find this brand at both WalMart and Meijer and it contains 40% DEET.   And there's some travel toilet paper in there as my hope for avoiding public bathrooms may not always be possible.

I bought pepper spray although I need to google to see if I can even take it.  And rounding out the picture on the bottom right are two kinds of those water flavorers because although I can sterilize the water with my Steri-Pen, I can't make it taste any better.  So this will cover any yuck...or that is my hope.

This was my trip to the Dollar Store for supplies.  Notice the toilet seat covers in the middle.  That's my positive outlook hoping that there WILL BE a seat on the toilet.

We have been told that all medicines must be in original packages so here is my medicine stash. And there included are my Malaria pills.

So that's what I have purchased so far for the trip.  Whew!  Any questions?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trip Status: Delayed

Delayed.  :(

Ahhhh, the disappointment.  My trip is now officially delayed.  Red tape seems to be the official pronouncement.  Patience has never been in my list of character traits and waiting to find out when I can once again ramp up on the excitement is exhausting.  You're going, you're not going, your're going,  you're delayed....Ugh. 

In the mean time, my body has been stabbed with too many needles.  New little antibodies are coursing through my veins, or wherever antibodies actually hang out and perform their magic.

We have a Travel Clinic at our local hospital.   I filled out lots of paperwork for my first visit and when I took my papers back to the woman at the desk she said, "You're here for immunizations?  Ohhhhhh, those really hurt!". (Me, blank stare) For God sake woman!!!  Have you not heard the phrase Discretion is the better part of valor??   I said, "Really?  Have you had them?"   She said, "No".  (Me, blank stare.  Perhaps a few blinks). 

 I got a Polio vaccine and an Influenza vaccine in one arm, a Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B in the other, a tiny little box of live Typhoid pills to rush home to the refrigerator, and a presciption for Malaria pills to pick up from the pharmacy.    After giving me the shots, the nurse said I needed to sit in the room for 15 minutes so they could monitor me.  She said "If you have any problems, we're right outside, ok?"  PROBLEMS???   What do you mean PROBLEMS?   Do I crawl to the door?  Scratch on it?  Wi-Fi was unsuable and so was my 4G so without my phone I scanned the walls for 15 minutes waiting to feel something funny.  I squelched the desire to look through all of the cabinets in the room which I was pretty proud of.   After 15 minutes, she came back in and released me.  I passed!  Reactions?   My arms were sore felt like sacks of potatoes later in the day.   Other than that I had no reaction.   

A trip to my regular doctor to make sure I was all ok for my trip added another shot - this time shingles.  Sure!  What the heck.   I don't want to get shingles so bring it on.   More little antibodies joined the gang.  Reaction?  None. 

My second visit to the travel clinic was  because the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine was suggested as an addition to our first round of shots.  Ok.  Reading about these illnesses makes any side effect pale in comparison to the actual disease.  Reaction?  A wicked headache the next day...most of the day.  My fellow travellers complained of this one too although one had extreme fatigue and two others had a stiff neck. 

I decided it was time to start the Typhoid pills.  I was waiting for a good time to start them.  Ha!  What's a good time to introduce a live virus into your body?    The thing with the Typhoid is you take one pill every other day for a week.  You take it first thing in the morning with a beverage that is no warmer than your body temperature and you can't eat for two hours.  It needs to stay refrigerated.  I started on a Monday and by the end of my 2 hour fast, I didn't want anything to do with food.  Blech.  Reaction?  NAUSEA and a dry mouth.  Day two was a day away from the pills so I started feeling better.  Day 3 took another pill.  Worse nausea.  Blechhhhhhh.   Day four is a day away from the pill but I feel lousy and my body hurts.   Day 5 and I am sooooo looking forward to taking that next damn Typhoid pill.  And to make it better, day 5 of my Typhoid and I have to return for my third visit to the travel clinic for my second dose of Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.   So, I army crawl into the travel clinic. (Not really, I just wanted to add some dramatic emphasis and maybe work up a little sympathy in my readers).  The nurse's aide takes my blood pressure, takes my temperature and then leaves to go get the nurse to give me the vaccine.  The nurse comes in and says, "Do you feel ok?".  A change, because this time she's asking me before I even get the shot. Of course the answer at this point is NO but I had to leave work early and I have been sitting in the waiting area so now I waffle between the truth which is NO and just getting the shot over with.  She says, "You have a fever and you're right on the edge of where we can't give you this vaccine".  Seriously??  I told her I wasn't tolerating my Typhoid medicine very well but wasn't otherwise sick.  She gave me the shot.  I waited the 15-minute problem time, stayed upright, and they let me go.  Reaction?  Nothing this time.  No sack-of-potato arm.

Unless something comes up, I have to return to the travel clinic one more time for a second dose of Japanese Encephalitis in two weeks, and a third dose of Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B in 5 months.  Oh, and I start the Malaria pills one day before I leave through one week after I come back.  Wouldn't it be interesting to see what's actually going on inside my body with all of these live viruses competing?  Should there be combat pay included in this?  The great news is I will be protected from the Hepatitises for life and Typhoid for 5 years.  Maybe I should start planning one of my other top 5 bucket list items...a trip down the Amazon!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Finally India?

Why Finally India!  ?

So why is this blog called Finally India! ?  Because after 4 or 5 years of obsessing and learning about India, an amazing opportunity is only 5 weeks away.  I'm going to INDIA!  I'm going to spend June and July working in Chennai. I don't know if it will cure me or fan the flames of insanity, but I'm running full speed ahead.  If I had my choice, I wouldn't have picked Chennia in June as walking outside will leave me in a little sweat puddle on the ground.  But it's all going to be part of the adventure. 

The first interesting step to getting there (besides the begging I've done for years...I'm not proud) is getting a work visa.   Things that made me smile or say hmmmmmm:
  • For occupation, the closest thing to what I do would have me choosing "Businessman".
  • I had to stand in front of the lunchtime crowd at CVS Pharmacy and repeatedly have my picture taken for the Visa because the cashier/visa-photographer could not make my ears show in the picture.
  • The Visa asked me if I had ever visited a SAARC country.  Hmmm...I didn't know because I've never heard of a SAARC Country. I googled it and it stands for Southeast Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka and later Afghanistan).  No, I have not.
  • The Indian government outsources their visa application process to someone else.  I got a little snicker out of that.  Even though you're supposed to be able to put pieces in at a time and recall them later, I'm on my third time of filling out the visa form.  And I have a 24 page document to help out.

The next step is the human pincushion step.   And this is the part that remind me that it is a 3rd world country.  I need immunizations.  Lots of them.  My appointment is next week and I'm sure I'll whine about it but at this point, I need immunizations like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Polio, a flu shot, malaria pills for before during and after, and maybe some repeats of my childhood immunizations like MMR.   I sure hope some of those have a side effect of weight loss!


My Long-distance Love Affair with India

My Long-distance Love Affair with India

It started simply enough. I work in IT (Information Technology…computers).  Indian IT had exploded and my company took advantage of a shortage of workers in this field by supplementing the talent we had with ‘external associates’ – consultants.  It started as a trickle and soon became a flood.  New faces were appearing everywhere to the tune of ultimately around 3000 consultants to augment our own staff of around 5000.  Yes, it takes a lot of computer programmers to automate an industry giant.    The flood brought instant diversity to a predominantly white profession in a predominantly white Midwestern town. The Change didn’t just affect the walls inside my company.  Our city began to change, too.  Indian restaurants began appearing.  Indian grocery stores began appearing.  People played cricket in the parks. People began, for lack of a better term, strolling.  Strolling…walking about with no particular place to go and not in a fast walk intended for exercise. 

How did this affect me?  How did this one simple change within the walls of a company change my life? J 

At the same time the shift in work culture was happening, my daughter was signed up to take Spanish in school.  I love languages and know enough Spanish to get me by but wanted to refresh my knowledge so I could be a help with homework.  I sought out help on the internet and soon found a wealth of websites to teach me Spanish.  While I was there, I shopped around…what else could I learn?  I wanted more of a challenge.  Not that Spanish is easy, but I decided I wanted to learn something that didn’t use my same character set, something not based on the Roman alphabet.  Yep, as you will see as you read further, I am not normal.    Chinese and Japanese seemed unapproachable as art was never one of my skills and making the beautiful letters or figuring out how they fit together was out of reach of my patience.  At that point, a light bulb went on.  A light that is still burning brightly…brilliantly…(  HINDI!  I’ll learn Hindi!  The National Language of India!  Ideas formed as to how I would have so many teachers abounding for my new lessons.

And so I started….very, very slowly at first.  I signed up at some language-learning websites like (more of a social learning site), (social as well as content-based).  I made ‘friends’ who would be encouraging my language-learning and correct my written and spoken exams.  I printed off a map of India and put pins in the map indicating where my new friends lived.  I’ve always had a love of geography but India was just, well, India – a triangular-shaped country hanging off of Asia, dwarfed by China, and surrounded by ‘stan’s…Afghanistan and Pakistan.   Suddenly, printing off my map and sticking pins in it made me notice states.  India is made up of states.  And this is where I really got drawn in. India’s states are not like the states here in the United States.  It’s not as simple as crossing a border here where the people look the same, talk the same, and eat the same food.  As I would soon discover, crossing a state border in India changes things, namely, in a lot of cases, language.  You’re kidding me, right?  States have their own languages???  Oh, that was only the beginning.

 I progressed…finding verbs at the end of the sentence, direct objects at the beginning, and feminine vs masculine nouns, adjectives and even verbs.  I had to learn to use postpositions instead of prepositions.  Whew!  Was this more than I bargained for?  I was still, at this point, skipping actually learning the Devanagari script, instead using transliterated hindi (making the hindi words as they might appear in roman letters).  (क्या = kya). This made it easier to communicate in chat sessions.  Easier is a relative term, however.  Since transliterated hindi is however the speller might assume it to be in roman letters, it took on all kinds of appearances.

And then there was  It allowed me to learn in transliterated form, but I couldn’t pass level one without being able to read a passage written in Devanagari script for my teachers to correct.  And then my favorite Learning Hindi book, which had carried me using both Devanagari and transliterated forms, started forcing me at Chapter 5 to learn Devanagari.  Ugh.  It was time to start over and go to page one where all of the sqiggles were.  Lots of them look similar to an English speaker.  For example here are some of my troublesome look-alikes:  म भ थ स .


This isn’t all of them, and don’t get me started on conjunct consonants which are two ‘letters’ squished together usually using only parts of one of the ‘letters’ leaving a person like me to say….are you kidding me?    There are over 1000 of these amalgamations.   I decided to only concentrate on the common ones and guess at the rest.

All of this obsession with learning the language and meeting teachers from all over India opened my eyes to the myriad cultural differences within the country.  Have I mentioned I like learning new things?  In this one country, there is enough diversity to learn forever.  And because Indian culture was virtually unknown to me, I dug in in all areas at once.    Let’s start with Music.

I have a Masters Degree in Music – Voice and Conducting. No need to go back up to the top of the article when you say, I thought she said she was in IT?  I changed.   Music is a big part of my life.  Western Music, I should say.  In all my training, I was never EVER introduced to Indian music – classical or pop.    New things are like Christmas morning to me.  Everything is sparkly and new and a little bit breathless.  The Indian classical music is hard on the Western ear which relies on consonance.  Indian classical is frequently dissonant.  There is a drone instrument with limited pitches.  The tabla is an interesting mix between bongos and tiny kettle drums.  The singer, singular because Indian classical music is centered on the improvisational skills of a single voice within strict rules, uses quarter-tones and sliding making it uniquely different from music Western ears are used to.   There is an amazing mathematical beat cycle component to the music and those that are math-inclined as well as musically-inclined would find it a challenge worth listening for.  And then there is Bollywood music.   It now fills my iPod.  Although the movies tend to take on a bit of a corny side compared to Hollywood movies, the music is worth exploring.   I don’t want to offend Bollywood movie-watchers, but American musicals put off many viewers as well, as actors break into song and dance in the middle of the story line….this is Bollywood.  Large choreographed numbers appear in virtually all movies complete with herky-jerky dancing.  Movies are also much more wholesome than the language, nudity and violence that litters American theaters.

Hold on while I go and get a bite to eat before I start this next paragraph.  Just talking about food makes my mouth water.  I love to cook.  I am passionate about cooking and flavor. A big part about learning about culture is learning about their food.  So I tasted.  Hmmmmm.  Different. I tasted again.  Hmmmm.  Tomatoes, cilantro, onions… familiar.   What ARE these other flavors??   The quest for that answer increased my cookbook collection of already around 300 to dedicate a whole shelf to Indian cooking.  Every new recipe to try meant more trips to the Indian grocery.  That, in itself, was a little uncomfortable at first.  In supermarkets, one can blend in with a hundred other shoppers.  In the Indian grocery, that number is less than ten, and many times less than five.  And I guarantee you, I am the only blonde, blue-eyed shopper.  I had to get used to curious stares.  In American culture, staring is considered rude.  Indians, for the most part, will unabashedly stare. 

So trip after trip, my larder grew, and my confidence grew.  I finally had to rearrange my kitchen to allow one whole cabinet to Indian ingredients.  I have to confess that I sometimes just open it and stand there looking at it all. It makes me happy.  I have YouTube contributors I follow to get different perspectives…thanks Manjula for basic instructions (without much smiling!) and thanks Vah Chef for an overwhelming ebullience and passion for cooking.  And then Hetl and Anuja from Show me the  And I follow bloggers Sailu (Sailu's Indian Food & Andhra Recipes) and Nupur (One Hot Stove) where I also get ideas. 

I would prefer to cook Indian food every day. My son loves it.  My daughter doesn’t even want to be in the house if I’m cooking it.   I’ve always wanted to be a vegetarian but with American cuisine it is difficult.  American food is centered around A Meat, A Potato, and A Vegetable.  Coming from a country with a high percentage of vegetarians, Indian cuisine has a wealth of choices.  And not once do you feel like you’re missing something by leaving out the meat. 

The rumors and misinformation I like to dispel are….”I don’t like curry”.  “ Indian food is too spicy”  Curry is not a thing.  In American cooking, curry powder is something that you can buy along with your other spices of oregano, basil, garlic powder, cinnamon, etc.    In India, curry would be roughly translated for us as a gravy, or a sauce. Curries take on all kinds of personalities, especially depending on the area of the country you are eating from.  Saying “I don’t like curry” would be akin to saying…I don’t like chicken, or I don’t like pasta.  It’s a whole class of foods.

And for all of you saying you can’t handle spicy food…not everything is spicy!  And if you cook it yourself, you can leave out the green chilis or the dried red chilies or the chili powder.  An important distinction here….chili powder in Indian cooking is  ground-up dried cayenne peppers as opposed to the chili powder we know here which is a dark brown to orange and actually a spice blend of chili powder, cumin, garlic and oregano.

 So, we've covered food and music and language.  It's just the beginning of the differences and the fascination.  Let's move on to religion.  Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddism, Christianity...all present in India but dominated by Hinduism.  Coming from a predominantly Christian nation, I had never learned about anything else. I believe in God.  I also believe that religions all have a different way of worshipping the same God.  Different names, different traditions, different idols, different statues.  One God.  Hinduism is a fascinating world.  The stories are magnific.  Learning about other religions does not diminish your own.  I wish people understood that.  I visited a hindu temple when at the wedding of a friend's son. Weddings are not held in the temple as ours are held in the church.  Shoeless, I walked through the temple feeling awed, but confused and out of place.  Worshippers in the temple did not find me as an intruder.  I was welcome.  One woman introduced herself and took me around the temple explaining the gods and goddesses.  She even gave me her business card if I had any questions...and not in a proselytizing way as our overzealous Christians do.  Ganesh is my favorite of the gods.   I collect Ganesh items that I can find here.
I can't discuss all the things that make me gravitate toward India without talking about all of the people I have met.  In joining the language learning websites, I met people from all around the world.  I helped people with  English and corrected TOEFL practices (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and taught idioms and slang.  In the process, besides hindi, I learned some arabic, portuguese, more spanish and some other bits and pieces of languages and culture.  Nowhere in the world were the people I worked with nicer and more polite than in India.  I was safe friending Indians as opposed to a couple naked Greeks and supremely perverse Turks. (I ended up making a rule not to friend anyone in Turkey!)  I got marriage proposals, requests to get people into the United States, requests for money, and many other things.  But none of these things came from Indians.   As for my indian colleagues, they have made my work world richer.   And who can't like that lyrical accent and head bobble. 
So, I could go on and on and on (just ask my friends and co-workers) about why I find India a place worthy of my obsession, but for now, that is my story.  I'm not sure how this will all play out but I know that my world has grown tremendously since discovering the subcontinent is more than just a triangle on the map.