Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Reluctant Housewife

  I got my first job when I was 14. I didn't really like it but I was earning money, something my parents didn't hand out to us kids. I loved the freedom of earning and spending my own money. But, more than that, I enjoyed the sense of satisfaction it gave me of doing a job well and someone actaully rewarding me for doing that job well.
  I was lucky enough to have jobs that I enjoyed. While they didn't always pay well, I was resourceful enough and energetic enough to work a second job to earn extra money. Back then, I didn't have a husband or children yet so I had some free time and I saw no reason not to fill that free time by working. My dad did a good job of instilling a strong work ethic in me as well as the need for a good credit rating so working and succeeding was very important. Having been the first person in my family to graduate from college, a lot was expected of me.
 I got my first break right out of college. The company that I had interned for hired me full time with benefits, an expense account and loads of responsibility. I loved it. Working was not always fun but it was important to me. Fast forward a few years and I'm married to a great guy, have two amazing kids and a good job at a respected newspaper. Then, my husband gets promoted. This is usually a good thing for families. My husband reached the top of his profession, he was finally the Publisher. Sadly, this meant that I would no longer be able to work at the same newspaper as we had done for years. He was the boss; nepotism rules knocked me into unemployment. We were now a one income family. While his income was substantially increased, it did not off-set my missing income. No worries. I had babies and they needed me and we made sacrifices to make it work.
  That lasted all of one year. Not working left me feeling depressed. I had worked very hard to pay my way through college and a demanding internship to make my family (and myself) proud. I needed to work for my own mental well being. That's not to say that motherhood was not important to me. It was and I stayed home until my youngest was just over a year old. Working half time seemed like a great compromise. I could be all things to all people and still retain some of my own identity. It worked. Then my husband was promoted again and we moved again and I was unemployed again. My kids were in school full time and I had loads of free time on my hands.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fascinated by India

     I  have been trying to write a follow up blog to my last post two months ago but I honestly don't know how I feel about India. Some days I wake up so angry that I have to live here and sometimes I am truly fascinated to be able to have this experience with my family.
     I will never love India. I can say that without hesitation. Apologies to my husband, and his family who all lived here 30 years ago and still have magical memories of the country. Different city, different decade, different experience. This is considered a hardship post by the US Department of State. It is labeled thus for a reason.
     I have to bleach my vegetables, take my chances with local meat products, or whatever is on offer at the commissary, and live in a house that I would have been delighted with 20 years ago but now, a three bedroom apartment built roughly 50 years ago just doesn't scream "I've made it".  As I write this, my housekeeper, who shows up sporadically since she is always having some kind of crisis, is mopping the floors. I know what you're thinking. Poor me, I have a housekeeper. If I didn't, I'm certain I would have left months ago. Everything needs to be cleaned here every day. It's dirty. I don't know how the dirt gets in but it does. And, now that it's trash burning season, the air is a putrid mix of noxious fumes and dust. The poor people in the slums cannot afford to heat their huts so they burn garbage to keep their children warm at night.
     My younger son, Ewan, had his first soccer game the other day and I offered to walk with him to the field at the British School, which is just down the street from our school, and close to the compound. I had never been there and so we set off hoping to find it. We did find it, it is located just past the enormous slum stuck between the two schools. Apparently, the workers who came to Delhi to build the schools put up these make shift homes close by and then just never left. Generations have now lived there. I cannot believe that I had never seen it before. I could certainly smell it but I thought that was just the natural smell of New Delhi. We passed by tiny little boys playing cricket in the filthiest clothes I've ever seen. They seemed happy and even said hello. Amazingly, they didn't ask for money or food. People were coming and going, children were playing and laughing, if I hadn't seen the actual slum, I'd have thought it just an ordinary neighborhood with kids playing on the periphery.

     I do what I can, I know I could do more. I also know what my limits are and there are some days when I wonder if I will make it through this posting intact. I actually wonder if prolonged exposure to a place like this could make you bipolar? I am just not one of those people who is comfortable going out to lunch and spending more for one meal than most of these poor people will earn in a month. I feel guilty but I also like to eat lunch out sometimes so I get angry, then I feel sad. I know I have to carve out a functioning and happy life here for my boys and my husband, and I do. But, I sing a little less, never have impromptu dance parties in the kitchen anymore and drink way too much red wine. I know it will get easier once I wrap my head around the fact that I cannot fix this place. I always thought that I would be one of those people who would change the world or make a huge difference in someone's life. I was spared in Christchurch because I had something really important I had to do on earth.
     Coincidentally, today is my anniversary. I've been married to a great man for 19 years and we have two amazing children. I suspect that the lives I am meant to enrich here are theirs. And that, I can do.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Finding myself yet losing my soul in India

 Isn't that what everyone hopes for when travelling to India? To "find themselves"? The difference is, I didn't want to come to India. I never even gave it a thought. Ever. I'm not a religious person and I know exactly who I am, I don't need validation. But, the past month has made me question who I am to become.

  Now that we are part of the State Department, we don't really get to choose where we'd like to live. So India was chosen for us. I don't really mind, that's the nature of the job - a lifestyle that we freely chose. So when we were given India, we just went with it. Adrian had lived in India before as an adolescent, so he knew what it was like. Though he lived in a totally different part of India under very different circumstances, he knew what to expect. I, on the other hand, was told what to expect and told accurately. However, when you are told something, you always wonder how much is exaggerated and how much is truth.

  The truth so far about my India in New Delhi, is that it is heartbreaking. Granted, I arrived during Monsoon season so there is mud everywhere and since the antiquated drainage system cannot really handle the deluge, garbage tends to float in the streets. The smell is overwhelming. Nobody uses the public garbage receptacles here. I've witnessed rich and poor alike throwing garbage our their car windows, off the back of motorcycles, etc. It's accepted here. Most people just pretend it isn't there. That seems to be the underlying theme here. If we just pretend it isn't here or isn't happening then our conscience can be clear. After all, we didn't do it.

  I'm not going to tell you about the weather and that there is corruption and the mosquitoes carry more diseases than I knew possible (ones we cannot be vaccinated against). You can find out all of this on Wikepedia. Instead I'm going to tell you about some of the people, and there are lots and lots of people. New Delhi is grossly overpopulated and there is not enough housing or employment for everyone. Some of the more industrious have fashioned homes out of scrap wood and metal along the river banks and alongside strip malls, virtually anywhere they think they can. These slums house hundreds of people. Some have electricity and even cable TV pirated from a nearby utility pole. None have running water. The toilets, as far as I can tell, are anywhere you can get away with. It is not uncommon to see people pissing off the sidewalks. Though I've not yet seen anyone defecating in the streets, I've heard it happens often. The homeless wash their clothing in the public fountains and dry them on median barriers alongside the cows and stray dogs.

  Some of the slum dwellers have jobs and some hawk whatever they can in the streets; peacock feathers, balloons, dishtowels, water guns, flowers. Some simply make an eating motion with their hands and bang on your car windows. Most are children. I don't blame them. I'd do whatever I could to feed my family too. I'd bet that most of these beggars would take an underpaying job in a heartbeat if one was available. They simply are not available.

  In the Muslim neighborhood of Nizamuddin, they seem to have a system of welfare. Rudimentary as it is, it seems to work for them. The poor and infirm line up together along the alleyways and almost every adult male Muslim that I saw dropped a coin in each one's hand. At one corner there seemed to be a meal station for the poor. I was urged to buy a packet of 20 or so tickets for 20 rupees each that I assume are distributed to the hungry homeless huddled around the ovens waiting for the evening meal to be ready. I didn't buy any because at the time I had no idea what they wanted from me and why I would spend money for tickets when I had no idea what they were used for. Next time I will buy some. Sure, some of the beggars will take their ticket I give them and resell it to another beggar for maybe 5 rupees then go buy himself some liquor but it's no different from our own welfare system really except that theirs isn't subsidized by the government.



  We are asked to not engage the beggars. It can only lead to trouble, either for them or us. If one beggar sees another beggar receiving money from us, we would be swarmed and it is not safe. If we are in a car and we hand money out our window, more little children will come to us in the street and run the risk of being run over. So, we are delegated to volunteering for an NGO or other charitable entities like churches, and orphanages, etc. But, you just know that if you give money, someone pockets 95% of it along the way. Very little of it gets to those for whom it's intended. Like the street children who are forced to beg then hand over their earnings to the boss who drops them off in the morning in his Mercedes SUV, leaving the kids with no food and no water all day to beg. I assume he feeds them eventually since none of them look emaciated. Thin to be sure, but somewhat healthy. I guess a sick and starving kid is of no use.

  This is where I have trouble. Every instinct in my body tells me to help, to give. I want to feed and clothe these children when I see them. I know I cannot help them all, but I want to help the ones I can. I feel like a hypocrite sitting in my chauffeur-driven car, heading to a restaurant to drink a $30 glass of champagne then come back to my safe, clean and air conditioned home that someone cleans for me for minimum wage.

  Last night I dreamt that I was being attacked by beggars and I was stuffing 10 rupee notes into their mouths. According to the local government, you are not below the poverty line if you earn more than 33 rupees a day. That's 53 American cents. I guess in my dream I thought I was feeding them.

(photo from the Times of India)
  I know that there will likely be very little I can do to change India or its people. I won't "fix" anything. I am not a savior. I will spend the next two years pretending, like everyone else, that it is ok to have naked children on the sidewalks and old, sores-covered men sitting on blankets in the alleyways. I will continue to buy my $2 sunglasses off the hustler downtown and feel magnanimous because I just got him above the poverty line single handedly. I will ignore the little girl banging on my car at the stop light and step over the sleeping mangy dog covered in fleas with its ribs poking out. I will take day trips to the Imperial Hotel to feel civilized and spend all of our hardship pay visiting places that gives me glimpses into my former life.
  Can I maintain my dignity here? Can I somehow rationalize my aloofness? Will I observe this country like a journalist, just gathering information and not getting involved? Like those National Geographic documentarians that film the cheetah with the broken jaw and document its suffering as if they are incapable, not just unwilling to do anything to help? Will I be able to look at myself in the mirror every day? Will I continue to have nightmares? I suspect that every time I think of India I will think of that little girl and wonder what has become of her. But tomorrow, if I see her again, I will feed her.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Week one in New Delhi

We've now passed the one week mark. It actually seems like we've been here a lot longer but there you go.  The boys and I have been settling in and recovering from our jet lag and are getting to know our new home. Nobody is as eager to explore the city as Morgan has been. Our previously not too social kid has been out almost every day since we've been here thanks to some very friendly girls from our compound that will also be seniors at his new school.
Morgan has been to several Malls which range from high end super structures similar to those in the USA to back alley markets that are really just slums with stuff for sale. I am amazed by him, and proud. While I was initially surprised by Morgan's instant popularity, I am very happy that he has been getting out and experiencing his new home. The girls' parents are usually a bit more cautious with where they can and cannot go but, with the addition of our 6'3" son into the mix, they've been given the keys to the city so to speak. Nowhere is off limits as long as Morgan is in tow. It's funny, the seas of humanity really do part for Morgan when he walks through the markets. Not so much because he is tall but because he is blonde and tall. Nobody hassles him. So, for now, Morgan is content.

Ewan is another story. Most of the kids his age are back in the USA for the summer holiday. The summers here really are miserable for kids when its too hot to play outside and the Monsoons make everything damp. Lets not even talk about the mosquitos or the diseases they carry. So, Ewan has been socially challenged for the first time in a year. The final indignity is a bad ear infection that has laid him low for the past few days prompting our first emergency doctor call. It's comforting to know that we can receive good health care while here, even on a Sunday.
While New Delhi is obviously fascinating and full of rich history and culture, I've not yet had the time or inclination to see much of it to be honest. I've seen a lot in my first week here, don't get me wrong. I've been to three markets, a few forts, the City Gates, the big western mall and out to two restaurants off of the compound. So, I haven't been hiding. I just need to ease into India. It kind of smacks you in the face. It is incredibly crowded. It is dirty and yes, it smells. There are people living in highway medians and bathing in puddles. And yes, they really do use the city as an outhouse.
There don't really seem to be any traffic laws. The roads are well paved at least. The taxi drivers are....well, I'm having a hard time explaining. They get you from point A to point B and lets just leave it at that. I will worry less for Morgan, who has been taking cabs and rickshaws, once we get our car and driver.
I will try not to sound negative because I know there are good things about living in India and I intend to find them, just not this week.




Friday, February 22, 2013

Remembering Christchurch Two Years Later

  I intended to mark the day by doing something special to remind myself how good life is. I had several ideas all involving spoiling myself. But, then I remembered the 189 who were not so lucky and it seemed a bit shameful to celebrate.

  I've always been a lucky person. I don't win lotteries or raffle drawings but I have a good life, good friends, a great marriage and amazing kids. However, escaping totally unscathed from the earthquake on February 22, 2011 was just plain luck. I don't believe in a higher power and don't think that "God" was watching over me, I was simply in a little pocket of safety in a sea of destruction. I was lucky.

  So today I am not marking the day in any special way except to hug my kids a little longer, tell my husband I love him a little more often and just enjoy this crazy trip that is life. I am grateful that I no longer have hives or nightmares, I don't jump out of my skin when I hear loud noises and I no longer check on upon waking. I am even beginning to miss New Zealand a bit. I still don't really ever want to go back but at least I don't feel resentful about having to have to live there for 16 months after the quake. I still keep the newspaper articles from the day after and I still get freaked out about all the people who were killed in places that I had been in just moments before and I feel sad for them and their families. I never really thought "what if", I don't think that's productive, but I do think "Whoa, be grateful Amy" and  I am.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Where have I been for 3 months?

I can't believe it has been three months since my last blog post. I even had to reset my Google password since I couldn't remember it. Shocking. I've been reading everyone else's blogs, just not writing any. I've been a tad busy and by the time I sit down (when I get to sit down), I'm too exhausted to do anything other than read.

My boys and I left Wellington in July to start our 10 month sojourn in North Carolina while Daddy learns Hindi at FSI. Having lived in this little "pleasantville" for 9 months just before heading to FSI the first time, the kids loved it, made friends and wanted to return. Since we really didn't want our teenagers in DC schools we made NC our home. Plus, after the Christchurch earthquake, I got a touch of PTSD and bought a house off the Interweb that I had not even been inside. There was a lot of fixing up to do. I vowed to make the house livable while my husband was busting his hump at FSI.

I was able to sell my nursing cover business to a lady in New Zealand so this house is now my full time job. Thanks Claire, you basically paid to have my whole house decked out with new hard wood floors. Hope you like the business. Anyway, I've never worked so hard in my life. I'm no stranger to manual labor but my body protested most of the first and second week. I lost 5 lbs that first week too! My brother, my 15 year old son, Morgan, myself and 2 movers emptied the 26 ft moving van. It was a job I don't want to repeat any time soon. So now I don't look at it as work, it is my enforced exercise regime. My shoulders are becoming very defined from all of the painting and my legs are getting firm from running up and down the stairs a billion times a day. But, it is worth it.

Kitchen Before


I cannot take all the credit. My family helped. My amazing brother showed up even before the water or air conditioning was turned on to help make the house livable enough for me and the boys. He cleaned up and hauled away weeds & debris, built pathways and steps and painted a few of the worst rooms. He sanded all of the cabinetry so we could paint it too.

My Dad amazed me with his ability to fix ANYTHING!! He helped me disassemble all of the broken and nasty ceiling fans, cleaned them up, replaced a switch here, a motor & light there and, functional ceiling fans.

When the flooring guys cut the wrong sized hole for the air conditioning problem. Dad cut new ones and repositioned the sheet metal. But the big event was installing a new bathroom from scratch. We spent 7 hours at Lowe's the day before. Yes, that's not a typo-we were at Lowe's for 7 hours. The closest Lowe's is 30 miles away so we wanted to get everything we would need to work on the house for an entire week.

This is what we did in 3 days...amazing!


We didn't have time to get to Adrian's study. My Dad had to get back to Florida and my brother left with him to attend to his own affairs. That left me and the boys. Yikes. I didn't want my husband to have a heart attack when he finally saw the house for the first time. The moldings all had to be painted, the doors needed scraping and painting....we worked furiously.

He loved it. After a day or two of jet lag recovery, Adrian jumped right in and we set to work on his study. Now he knows how hard we've all been working.

Study before


Everyone pitched in. I even had surprise help from one of Adrian's college buddies and his girlfriend who stopped by to help install trim. I never want to do that again by the way.

Ewan Painting a new doorway to the balcony.

Adrian on his second day home, painting his study

 Morgan getting all the high spots.
Me and Thom putting in the trim

Jenna cutting the trim-she loved it.

We will NEVER be finished fixing up this house but it is in good shape and we love it. The new appliances, bathrooms and paint really make a difference.

The best part is that it is within walking distance to grandma and grandpa and Ewan's buddy lives across the street. There is a bed and breakfast within walking distance and it's just a short stroll to downtown. So, when your car unexpectedly breaks down like it did this weekend, you can still walk your kid to soccer practice.

We are Home (for 10 months)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Don't let them change you.

  I've been having a few "poor me" moments lately brought on by an inordinate amount of stress. Ilnesses, divorce (not mine), law suit, house renovation 9000 miles away, pack out, school transfers, etc. I am beginning to think that this high octane stress level is the new norm and will just have to get used to it. Most of it is beyond my control anyway.
  This lifestyle comes with a whole new set of little annoyances that you don't consider until you are overseas, and I'm in a first world country. Imagine what it's going to be like when I head to my first third world country! Something as simple as registering a car becomes a week long event involving countless emails, notaries and family members in country. Add to that, the fact that our Embassy here  in Wellington doesn't have a notary and it gets even more complicated. How can we NOT have a notary at the United States Embassy?
  I admit, I've let it get to me. I threw my hands up in despair and started thinking that I wasn't cut out for this. And then, the doubt crept in. Maybe I wasn't as awesome as I thought I was. Maybe people were talking behind my back, and saying that I wasn't good enough. Maybe I'm not smart enough or witty enough or pretty enough to be a diplomat's wife. I can set a table and cook the right food but what if I cannot hold up my end of a conversation? I even started to question the color of my hair. What if people think that I am trying to be too young by dying my hair? I was freaking out. WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK??
  Then it hit me, or rather, my husband reminded me; it doesn't matter what anyone thinks except him and my boys. They think I am awesome. I don't know when this low self esteem thing started but I am pretty sure it began when we left North Carolina to head up to DC. How it happened doesn't matter. That it happened and. happened to ME, matters. I am uber-confident. I am the person who volunteers to speak in public and I will confront anyone if I feel I am being wronged. It is who I am, er, was. So this new weepy Amy was really getting on my nerves. I tried to blame it on the earthquake but this started way before February 22. Luckily, I have a very supportive husband who reminded me that I have very good instincts and every decision I make is usually the right one. The confidence I oozed was the main thing that attracted him to me. I just forgot.
So, I am getting back to normal. No more seeking advice or confirmation. I am in charge of my own life and how I want to live it. Except for where I live it, or the house I will be living in to live it or the color of the walls of the house I will live in, or the furniture  or the schools my children will go to, etc. Except for all of that, I am in charge.