We arrived in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday December 31st in the early afternoon, a mere six days ago. Since that time we’ve been camped out in a pair of hotel rooms, trying to maintain our sanity with three children who are very much ready to be in school and making new friends. Any thought of homeschooling went swiftly out the window if it was ever on the table, which according to Mike is debatable.
The kids are simply too bored with each other, or it may be more accurate to say: way too adept at pushing each other’s buttons. We’ve asked a lot of them these last few weeks and they’ve been troopers, but they are so ready to have a routine and new classmates.
Our first night was New Year’s Eve, which is no time to get good sleep in a hotel on a busy thoroughfare. Horns were honking all night. The smog was thick. It was tough.
On our first day I met my new colleague Dr Jaya (photo above), who has been a godsend– truly going out of her way to help us get settled and to find a place to live. I contacted her cold over a year ago after discovering her research on the internet and she kindly agreed to serve as my research collaborator in India. She is under no obligation to help us in this way, but is doing it simply from kindness and a willingness to be helpful. She and her husband came along to our apartment hunting visits, which (as I’ve read in my helpful guide to India from USIEF) goes a long way in establishing that we’re nice people and not roustabouts. She introduced me to all the folks who work in the Department of Environmental Science– and they are a wonderful and welcoming group. Huzzah!
Everything is going well on the teaching/research front (except that it hasn’t quite begun because we are living in limbo) but the getting established with apartment/school/etc is a different matter.
We could not be more out of our element and as I’ve been told many times, things take time in India. We are in the throes of completing all the documentation necessary for me to register with the University, the paperwork for registering the kids in school, the paperwork for the Fulbright folks, and the paperwork for registering all of us with the Indian government as temporary residents (something that must be completed in the first 14 days and if not, a $300 USD fine is levied against EACH of us). Gulp.
The weeks-long work and the mountains of copies/photos/documentation it took to complete our research visa applications were a good short course in prepping for this stage. I am a BOSS with paperwork, but imagine trying to do all this without access to a printer/copier/scanner and while in a room with one slightly frustrated husband and three very antsy children. Good times. Have I googled Prison Cell Workouts? I have. They’re unsurprisingly creative.
Since we arrived, there have been a couple of hartals (strikes) enacted. You may have seen the news about the women in Kerala state protesting for gender equality. Woot Woot! The issue is pretty complex (it always is). This one stems from a controversy about women being prohibited from entering a certain temple.
In general, a hartal is like a snow day in the sense that the schools close down. We are advised by the Fulbright folks to avoid political gatherings (as well as large crowds for festivals in general). Our friend Jaya told us that we should stay in our hotel during the hartal. All the drivers of autos (the yellow 2-seater open carriage vehicles) and taxis stop their business in a hartal. Restaurants close. It has made the process of getting established a little more… interesting.
We were able to get an Indian mobile phone and sim card, which after a half-day adventure felt like the greatest. achievement. ever. We were helped by Manikandan, a grad student who has been assigned to help us get established. He’s great– he studies coastal pollution, but has a background in botany so he and Mike were fast friends.
We visited the Trivandrum International School (above) which we LOVED and can’t wait to start. Alice spent about 30 minutes with the kindergarteners and didn’t want to leave. Now we’re in the process of registering (!), procuring uniforms, and such. We hope to start on Monday, because we hear a couple of hartals are scheduled for next week. Not kidding.