First– all apologies for taking so long to update. As we get closer to the end of our time here and the date of my June National Geographic workshop things are hitting high gear.
The kids’ school ended in April, which also changed our daily routine. After a week off Alice and Willy took part in a month of the Revathy Kalamandir Film camp. Several kids in our complex were already going and recommended it. It was taught fully in Malayalam, but all the kids from our complex at least are fluent in both Malayalam and English and promised to help Alice and Willy along. I don’t think much filmmaking took place with our kids (they joined late as all the kids not at the International School have been on vacation since the end of March) but they did do a lot of art, dancing, and karate. It was a really fun program and they loved it. James was too old for this camp (he’s beginning to insist that he’s too old for camp, period) so he stayed home, worked on some Khan academy, and had a couple of play dates with his good friend Anna. Yes, they call them play dates here, even for 13 year olds, which all of us think is pretty great. Anna’s parents are from India and the Netherlands and we’ve all decided that James and Anna are dopplegängers– they look the same, love all the same stuff, and have a great time together! Because we’re traveling together for such an extended period, no one gets much independent time from the family. Anna’s family has been really welcoming and it has been so wonderful for James to have a chance to do his own thing here.
Now camps are over and Mike and I are trying to juggle work with switching off on childcare. Our kids can do a lot on their own of course –they’re not babies– but still it is not quite normal here in terms of divisions of family time and work time. I feel as if I’m kind of always working and kind of always watching the kids and I’m sure Mike is the same.
We are fortunate that we have lots of nice neighbors in our complex. We use the word chechi a lot these days– it means elder sister. So, while Alice is chechi for our little neighbor Ammu, our other neighbors Brindha and Ammu are chechi for Alice. Yes, they’re both called Ammu. Yes, it gets confusing. It seems as if every family we know has at least one Ammu– it’s kind of a pet name for a little girl and so lots of families use it.
From left to right, Ammu, Brindha (holding little Ammu), Alice, and Shambhu
Basically, we spend every morning between 6AM and 9:30 waiting until it is time to play with these friends.
I work from home as often as possible and now that Mike’s course is over he is also working from home.
Most days it is pretty quiet and the temperature is slowly cooling down. It’s not cool– don’t get me wrong– but it is not as dangerously hot as it was. Soon the monsoon rains will begin. We’ve had a taste of a few massive thunderstorms that were stunningly loud and long. In response the land around our complex is looking less dry and the trees are producing new pale green leaves. The dormant rice paddies nearby have become an impromptu cricket field.
In the last month the world’s largest democracy re-elected Narendra Modi. Probably the less we say about that the better.
We count ourselves very fortunate to have been invited to attend a wedding in India. Maya, a student in the Environmental Science department very kindly invited us to attend hers. We were thrilled at the prospect to see such an important part of culture up close.
We arrived on time in our finery– unsure of where to sit or exactly what to do. We were quickly shepherded to seats in the front row– in America these are typically reserved for the family and so we were very honored to be given these seats. I could see Maya on the stage, dressed gorgeously, being photographed. This continued for quite some time as more people filed into the hall.
I read online (of course I did– you know I have to do my research!) that weddings could be comparatively small these days– only about 300 guests for a typical wedding as opposed to the old days where one would expect a thousand guests. I believe there were as many as four hundred guests (Mike’s guess is only 300) present. It was a large hall outside a temple complex.
Maya was being photographed as a professional video of the couple was projected on large screens around the room. There were at least half a dozen photographers present as well as several videographers. The set up was very elaborate with lots of lights and equipment.
After some time, one of Maya’s uncles (who had been checking in on us periodically) said, “Won’t you come now with us to welcome the groom’s family?”
We of course wanted to take part in any way they thought appropriate, and so we joined a large group of Maya’s family (at least 50) to welcome the groom and his family. He did not arrive on a white horse (though according to the internet this can be the way it works), but in a fancy car. His large family walked forward with him and (presumably) his parents at the front. There were exchanges of gifts and ceremonial plates of all manner of items that I am sure have significance for having a healthy, happy, and prosperous life together.
I did wonder whether some folks (in either family) would see us and think– “Wait– who are these Americans? How are they part of Maya’s family again?”
But we went with the flow.
Then we were ushered back to our seats to wait. The ceremony began, while people in the audience chatted and continued about their business. The ceremony included the couple sitting and then standing at times, lighting candles, and whatnot. As Alice is five and not known for her patience, she quickly proclaimed she was bored.
How, I do not know– honestly, this was probably a scheme to get to play on my phone, which was absolutely not going to happen. We were saved again by Maya’s uncle and nephews, who brought the children large handfuls of flowers. They were told that they would need to throw these at the couple at a given moment, and we awaited instructions from Maya’s nephew on this.
Here are some of the kids from the bride’s side of the family with their petals. The adorable guy in orange became our chief contact, leaning over periodically for about the next twenty minutes to whisper, “One minute– we will throw the flowers in one minute.”
It was enough to keep Alice (and the boys) focusing on the ceremony. We did eventually get the chance to throw the petals and all the kids were DELIGHTED by this chance to participate.
The beautiful couple
Then the ceremony seemed to end and the first round of seating for the meal began. Maya’s uncle tried to get us to the front of the line for the meal, but there was a huge crowd by the doors that led into the eating area. We didn’t have the ability or the desire to push to the front so we told him we’d wait until a later chance.
People then lined up to take photos with the couple. We were asked to come forward and do so as well. What a cool opportunity– and one of my colleagues snapped this great photo of us being photographed.
That stage was hot with all the lights and I really felt for this couple who were probably exhausted and thirsty by this point (though they appeared to be only happy and content).
Eventually we were seated for an amazing Kerala meal. Here’s a banana leaf being set for the food.
I’m a big fan as this is the ultimate biodegradable plate! These are the chutneys and pickles that go along with a big helping of rice and many side curries. We’ve had Kerala meals before but this was definitely a step above a typical Kerala meal, with many more sides, lots of items, lots of courses and choices and everything really really delicious. The dining hall was set up with dozens of tables set with places and at least 100 wedding guests at a time would come in and fill the hall, be served, eat, and then be shepherded out for the next group seating.
We ate, we danced, we threw flowers. The kids did not want to leave, especially as my colleagues daughter Elena was there, who all the kids love.
Was I handed an adorable baby? Yes! She’s all dressed up for the wedding and you can see she has large bindi stickers on– it is very common to see babies both with bindis and with heavy kohl eyeliner and even eyebrow tints, though this little cutie does not have eye makeup on here.
It was such an amazing experience. We couldn’t have asked for a better feeling of being welcomed and included in such an important event.
Now do you see why it has taken me so long to post!? So much to share!
We’re hitting our last month here and while we’re excited about heading home we’re also sad to leave our new friends.
More updates soon (I hope!)