|Wednesday 7||Thursday 8||Friday 9|
|1am arrive Mombai Int'l Airport|
|3am arrive at hotel|
|noon Lunch with Minal|
|pm Shopping with Celine||pm Shopping with Celine|
As I mentioned in a previous post, we arrived in Mumbai the wee hours of Wednesday, 12/7 after having flown right through Tuesday. India is 10.5 hours ahead of us (who knew that time zones came in fractions?); on EST we actually arrived Tuesday at 12:30 pm. Eighteen hours of flying, plus all the time on the front end and the back end, made for 28 hours awake for poor me, who can't sleep on planes no matter how long it's been since the last shuteye. So, we spent the first half of Wednesday sleeping till noonish, and caught another nap in the afternoon, and basically spent the day in the hotel getting our feet under us.
Thursday morning we flew to Pune. Home of Hope Aradhana soon-to-be-Williams, and former home of Faith Amrapalli Williams. Site of happy unitings all around. There are many orphanages in Pune, and many of the children there are adopted by international parents. In fact, the adoption rate from orphanages in India seems to be very good. But more on that later, if I remember ... :o)
At each hotel, we discovered that when we asked for two connecting rooms or a suite, we always got a suite. And a suite never included two bedrooms, which was our primary goal. So, at the President Hotel in Pune, we went to our suite, realized the miscommunication, and requested two adjoining rooms. We were thankful to find that they did have the two rooms available, one with a king sized bed and one with two twins. Since we knew that later in the week Nanette would have Hope with her (!), she took the room with the king-sized bed.
The rooms were spacious and pleasantly appointed. My bathroom was particularly nice, with black marble and a large counter area around the sink. We found that our hotels all included a bidet in the bathrooms, a nice feature usually lacking in the U.S.! The one quibble I had with the President Hotel is that the floors are carpeted, but the daily cleaning didn't include vacuuming. Instead, a broom looking as if it was made hand-made with sticks and hay was used on the carpeting. Not that I needed daily vacuuming, but I'd have felt a little better about sanitation if I knew that a vacuum had been run over the floor before I arrived.
After we got settled into our adjoining rooms, Minal came to welcome us. Minal. What an amazing woman, and what a privilege to get to know her a bit on this trip.
Minal (pronounced meh-NALL) has served as the India-side social worker for both Faith's and Hope's adoptions. She is married with grown children, has lived and worked in the US, has an excellent education, and has the gravitas that comes with having lived for a while and looked the good and bad of life straight in the face. She also, as you can see here, has a lovely smile and a gracious sense of humor.
Minal assists with adoptions because they provide revenue for her main passion, ASHA, which is a walk-in center that assists women who have lost status for a variety of reasons: abuse, abandonment, divorce, pregnancy out of wedlock, rape ... all these things can cause an Indian woman to be cast out by her family. From a woman's perspective, life in India is a bit like walking a tightrope. Arranged marriages are common. Whether arranged or not, if the marriage works out, it's great, you can stay on the tightrope. But what if your husband turns out to be an abuser, or a philanderer, or spends all the household money on things other than the household? A wife has only one honorable option: stay in the marriage. Anything else causes her family of origin, her husband, and even herself to lose face. At best, she will be shunned. At worst, she will be punished.
Minal works with cast-out women to help them find options for themselves. She confesses that the work can be draining and that she often finds herself angry at a society that is so hard on women, so easy on men. But she persists, and I can only imagine her to be an ocean of calm and resolve for these women who are so desperate. I don't know what Minal's religion is (Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism are the big three in India), but I would be honored to call her "sister" in any case.
Minal shared lunch with us in the hotel restaurant. Nanette caught her up on Faith's progress: an extremely bright and happy daughter who is excelling at school and bringing joy to everyone she comes into contact with. We viewed pictures and reminisced about Faith's adoption, and covered a variety of topics concerning Hope Aradhana.
We carefully chose items that didn't have any lettuce or other fruits/vegetables without rinds or peels, and ordered bottled water to drink. Other than those precautions, it's generally safe to eat in India, especially in hotels that cater to westerners. We did have to be careful to use bottled water for anything that would go into our mouths, including ice (we had none the whole two weeks! I love ice!) and our toothbrushes. It's amazing how inconvenient it is to be unable to just reach for the sink and draw some safe clean, water. It's one of those things you take for granted until you visit somewhere where it's lacking, and it's a reminder of how pampered and privileged we Americans are. I definitely drank less water in India; bottled water just wasn't always available. On two occasions, out of habit, I dunked my toothbrush in tap water before realizing what I was doing. Fortunately, a thorough swish in bottled water seems to have taken care of any problems that might have otherwise been caused, because I didn't suffer any noticeable illness. If we go back to India, as we hope to do, I hope I remember to bring a small bottle of bleach for those absent-minded moments.
Minal is a very busy lady, so she was unable to personally escort us on our shopping trips the next couple of days. We were incredibly lucky, though, that her sister Celine was in Pune, visiting from Cincinnati! Now, this lady is a shopping powerhouse. And she had procrastinated about her shopping and was leaving Sunday to return to the States, so she was more than happy to wander around with us picking up Indian treasures, in her case for her daughter who also lives in the US.
Nanette wanted to pick up a number of jewelry and clothing items as gifts for friends back homw as well as gifts to give both Hope and Faith as they grow up. She wants to be able to give them a gift and say, "I bought this for you in your home city in India!" Isn't that a great idea?
Celine was available to help us later in the afternoon, so we retired to our rooms and tried valiantly to remain awake, wanting to acclimate to the local time zone as quickly as possible. We mostly succeeded, although we did both drop off for about ½ hour before Celine arrived. Her phone call from the lobby woke us, and we jumped up to go out on the streets of India for my very first time, and Nanette's first time this trip.
Celine ushered us into a car (Minal lent us her car and driver for the afternoon, wasn't that generous?) and off we went. I was like a kid with her nose pressed up against the candy store window. The pedestrians, the colors, the gorgeous saris, the very different way commerce is conducted, the dogs navigating the traffic, the sidewalk vendors, the carts loaded with nothing but bananas, the motorcycle rickshaws and the apparently reckless way everyone drove ... I was just soaking it all in, in wonderment and joy.
Well, OK, the crazy driving wasn't exactly a pleasure. In India, the lane lines are apparently a suggestion only. Three cars might squeeze down a road intended for two. Cars literally drive six inches apart sometimes. Passing on both sides is allowed. There are roundabouts everywhere, and I never did figure out how the drivers knew who was continuing around and who was exiting. Crossing over the center line into oncoming traffic is routinely done and excites no obvious reaction from anyone. We played chicken with an oncoming bus once (although our driver didn't seem to think it was close). I was hanging onto the handle above my window and hoping the driver wasn't watching his rear view mirror, not only because he needed to pay attention to that bus, but because I didn't want him to see my raised eyebrows, wide eyes and grimace of fear! At the last minute, the bus and we executed a neat maneuver to safely pass each other, and I decided it was OK to breathe again. Whew.
The interesting thing is that, with all the dodging, passing and honking, it's all extremely civil. I didn't see any signs of anger in the drivers, no gestures, no road rage. It's just all in a day's driving in India. Who's to say it's not better than our highly regulated roads, where we often read about angry encounters resulting in injuries, near-injuries, deaths, or lawsuits?
Speaking of pedestrians, there's no concept of traffic yielding to pedestrians in India. Around here, if you want to cross a street, you step off the curb and 99% of the drivers will halt to let you cross. In India, you takes a step into the traffic & you takes your chances. If a car is bearing down on you, you run! Or you wave your arms authoritatively to get it to slow down till you get out of its way. I didn't see any pedestrians get hurt, so everyone obviously knows the rules. I tended to follow my escort like a frightened duckling behind mama duck. It worked for me.
Well, this post is getting longer than I expected, so I'm going to go ahead and post it and come back later to tell you about our two days of shopping adventures with Celine! Does a post about shopping sound boring to you? Yeah, me too, but remember, this is shopping India style. It's not about what you buy, but how you buy it! Come on back & see what I mean!