We’ve made great strides since my last post. We found a place to live, moved, bought school uniforms, and hopefully submitted all of our paperwork to register as temporary residents. We will hear from the authorities if there are any mistakes or problems about the paperwork. Fingers crossed.
On Friday we moved into our apartment- hooray! Our first week we stayed at the Ginger Hotel, which was a great price, clean, safe, and had lovely staff. The down side was no pool. Given our ratio of children to hartals, this made for some stressful days. When our week ran out at the Ginger, we moved up the street to the Karthika Park Hotel. It was on the same busy road as Ginger, but had an amazing rooftop pool and large balconies overlooking green space filled with coconut and banana trees. From this perch I completed the apartment search and registration with various agencies while Mike made twice-daily pool excursions with the kids.
View from the Karthika Park rooftop. The cluster of buildings on the back right include our apartment.
By the end of the week we submitted complete applications to the Trivandrum International School and bought our uniforms. The uniform procurement process took a full day. Working with Manikanden, the grad student assigned to help us, we arrived at the designated shop only to find it closed. The owner had stepped out but had left a sign with a number to reach her. Mani called and we had fresh juice while we waited: tender coconut for the kids (as far as I could tell, this was a coconut milkshake) and pineapple for grownups. The owner arrived and we began the arduous process of trying on each piece of the Trins uniform. Everyone gets TRINS polos in green and khaki, then the boys have red polos and Alice has a white polo for PE . Everyone gets black shorts for PE, swimsuits, caps, and goggles. Socks with a green stripe round out the look. The school is divided into four houses (Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire—I think). The boys are on Agni or red/Fire. As a kindergartener, Alice is not in a house, but we assured her she could support the red team in spirit if not officially.
The final step of the uniform-buying process was to buy yards of fabric from the first shop and take it to a tailor, where we ordered a “divided skirt” for Alice, shorts for Willy, and pants for James according to their year in school. The first half of this adventure was exhausting, so between the shop and the tailor we had to stop to eat. We took both Mani and the driver to eat at a cool chain called Zam Zam.
The kids have done an amazing job with the food. We’ve each ordered something that was too spicy at one point, but generally we end up with a good mix of shared food that works. There are always several bread options to round out our choices (we like paratha and parotta) and rice blends that everyone loves (Chitranna or lemon rice is our favorite—it includes peanuts and curry leaves. So yummy). Butter chicken, garlic chicken, and tandoori chicken are often crowd pleasers. Still, I’ve been shocked at how quickly they’ve adjusted. Imagine my surprise when I heard Alice explaining to the boys over our lunch at Zam Zam that spicy food doesn’t get spicier, “it just the same amount of spiciness, not more.” I am sure this is something she heard from Mike, but take home message is: if you can handle the first bite, you can handle all of it.
After our lunch we boogied to the tailors to have the kids measured for their uniforms. The tailor shop was packed. There was an outer sitting room that included women and men, then a second waiting room just for women. Alice and I were directed there for a bit, but then were shepherded back to the outer waiting room with the rest of our group. This second “ladies” waiting room was bedecked in fancy trim of all colors and styles, I assumed to be used for fancy saris and kurtas and other things I am sure. I saw an older woman enter with a stack of gorgeous fabric. But alas, custom-made saris and kurtas were not on the agenda for us this week.
Gorgeous sari like these are not on the agenda quite yet.
Thank goodness for Mani, who communicated what we needed to the tailor and his assistants. We noticed another family come in with the same bag of fabric and I asked them if they were also going to TRINS—the mom said they were—they’d recently moved from Australia. We didn’t have time to exchange info, but it was nice to meet another family from the school. After the tailor shop we hit full Thiruvananthapuram traffic and spent perhaps another hour driving back to the hotel. The kids were totally wiped out but rallied to make a quick trip to the rooftop pool before bed.
The apartment we found is a great fit and we couldn’t have found it without my new colleague Jaya and her husband. It’s very nice, comfortable, and a little off the main drag while not being far from anything. It’s an apartment complex and we’re on the 13th floor, which means steady and constant breezes that are relatively bug free.
You had us at bird illustrations on the wall. Views from inside and outside of our flat.
It also means that if one of your kids takes the stairs while the rest of your family takes an elevator, but it quickly becomes evident that the kid on the stairs has stopped to push the elevator button on every floor, so that it stops repeatedly, because he thinks this is HILARIOUS, and that if you, exasperated, get off the elevator at the third floor, vowing to catch up with this kid and tell him he had better stop it, you just might catch him before you get to your own floor, but you probably will not.
Our rental agreement has an anti-obnoxiousness clause and I fear we have already violated it. For the record, I did pause before signing that page, but I was hopeful we would overcome our innate obnoxiousness.
The complex is gated and has a permanent guard, which makes things easy and safe for us. We moved in on Friday morning and met the building’s caretaker, who has been helping us get our internet settled (critical!) and helping us understand the way things work. There is a pool, a playground, and tons of kids around.
Once we unpacked on Friday, Mike and Willy went with Mani to find a grocery store while Alice, James, and I made our way to the playground. Immediately a group of about 8 kids came up to ask us lots of questions. I introduced my kids, asked all the kids their names and schools, and said, “they have a brother who is eleven, but he’s not here right now.”
One kid piped up, “Yes we saw him. He left in a taxi about 20 minutes ago with their father. What’s his name?” That’s when it hit that we definitely stick out a bit. Another kid came up later as we were talking and asked what apartment we were in. Another child—a girl of about eight—answered her with our apartment number before I could. Clearly, everyone knows we’re here and where we’re staying.
Then the kids started playing tag. The boys even convinced James to try “football.” He made lots of disclaimers about how he didn’t know how to play, but held his own. For about two hours, dozens of kids were in and out, playing on the equipment, playing tag, riding bikes, and kicking the football. Parents sat around in small groups.
“It’s very safe here,” one mother told me. “Often in the evenings the elders come sit to watch the children, too”
“Oh, but do be careful,” one of the moms said as the children played, “when it gets dark sometimes small snakes enter the playground, so the children don’t play there after dark.”
As the sun fell I sat with a couple of moms and got the scoop on who they are, what brought them here, and the location of the nearest grocery store. All the important stuff. Everyone has been so nice and friendly. As we talked, I saw a huge bird, outlined black against the evening sky. It was too dark to see much of anything but its shape and size.
“Wow, that’s a big bird!” I said, “Do you know what it is? Some kind of hawk?”
The moms laughed. “That’s a bat,” they said.
It was enormous. The size of an average cat. I explained about the size of our bats, cupping my hands to show the small size. They couldn’t believe it. Our neighbor, a 12 year old, told me they are vampire bats, but I’m pretty sure he was messing with me. Mike asked his friend who works on a Tiger reserve a bit north of us, who says they are fruit bats. We googled it (of course we did!) and found that Pteropus giganteus (the Indian Flying Fox or Greater Indian Fruit Bat) is one of the world’s largest, weighing up to 3.5 pounds and with a wingspan of 3 feet 11 inches to 4 feet 11 inches. They do not eat mosquitos (mores the pity) but do distribute seeds critical to many ecologically important Indian tree species including the banyan.
Eventually Mike and Willy made it back with food and we had a late dinner before crashing. A festival is in the works nearby and in anticipation a loudspeaker on the western side of the apartment complex systems greets us with music at 5AM every morning, lasting until about 9PM.
To the east is an amusement park and maybe perhaps another temple—honestly I am not certain, because as I understand both are on the road in that direction. Something lights up the night with cannons, music, electric light displays, and loud announcements. Each of our rooms has a ceiling fan—several of them seem to be set to “wind turbine” level– which thankfully drowns out all else.
We have not gotten final confirmation that the kids can start school, but we are eagerly anticipating this announcement.
Mike has almost totally signed up for classes—he is going to virtually attend one course on writing for the sciences. I think it meets from 10PM to 2AM, but only once a week, so we think he can manage it. His other course credits will be independent studies and research design, which can be completed asynchronously from afar.
I have been trying to work with my new colleagues despite not being settled in the office yet. Several months ago Jaya and I applied for a grant that would bring teachers from across the country to a workshop we hope to co-teach in April. The granting agency contacted us last week with some questions so we hope to hear the final result soon. One of her grad students has an interest in creating a project on marine debris in a nearby fishing area, and I’ve already reached out to him to talk about what he wants to study and how he wants to focus the research. I hope to meet him to discuss further soon. In the meantime I’ve been planning my class and determining how I want to structure course readings and discussions.
We anticipated it would take two weeks to get settled and it is two weeks to the day that we arrived. Things are not quite on a ‘normal’ schedule yet but it feels like we’re close.