Being too Busy in Bangalore to Blog

I haven’t written a blogpost for a couple of weeks. I have come to really enjoy writing and I am missing my daily drafting of notes of things to write about and update you. What have I been doing then?

U.K. Visitor and School Inspection 

We had a visitor with us from the UK for a week. We took a day trip to Mysore (which will be the subject of a blogpost at some point) as well as a trip around Bangalore seeing a few things. I also took him to a friend’s place as she was hosting a talk on North East India. The beer and biryani was certainly an attraction but the talk was fascinating.

During the same week though there was a visiting group from the international Baccalaureate accreditation who were looking at the school. I was on a panel of parents who were asked a few very easy questions about the school and the environment. So that took up an afternoon. 

On the Friday Zahra was in the PYP music concert and then finished school at midday. She also had a friend over for the afternoon for a play date. We went to the pool for the afternoon. 

The week just flew by really.

PTA Charity Gala

Well, it’s all been about the Stonehill International School PTA Charity Gala for the last few months and very hectic over the last few weeks. 

I’ve been sourcing gifts for the raffle and silent auction as well as vouchers for all attendees. I was pleased with the results. Thank you to those wonderful people who did donate and those who bought tickets.

I have to say though that the experience was one that was certainly an education in cultural differences. I can say with confidence that it is a heck of a lot easier to source raffle prizes in the UK than it is in India. Most businesses simply refused. Others passed the request up the lines of management (for there are many) before refusing. Those who indicated they might be interested in sponsoring wanted to know immediately what they would get in return and presented a long list of requests. Suffice to say that European contacts and companies were a lot more forthcoming and didn’t make these demands.

The whole process was exhausting. I had so many phone calls, emails, Whatsapp messages to try and get some of the donators over the line. It was if I was asking some of them to sell their granny to me!

I won’t be quick in volunteering to do that again. I’d rather bake some cakes. Which leads me nicely onto the next event.

Swim Tournament at School 

There is an international swim tournament being held at school on Friday and Saturday. (Zahra has an ENT viral infection and can’t participate.) We are hosting two girls from the Dehli school who are from New Zealand and Japan. They arrive Thursday afternoon. I’ve been shopping for healthy snacks (not easy in Bangalore) as I am sure competitive swimmers will be hungry. We rearranged bedrooms and got spare beds ready, all whilst baking for the bake sale. 

I’ll be having a stall to sell cakes and (handmade) cards at the swim tournament. So I’ve been baking: Chocolate Brownies, cookies, red velvet tray bake, flapjack, chocolate fudge cake with mini eggs, coconut cake and chocolate coconut cake. So far. More to come.

Sofas

It’s fair to say that travelling thousands of miles in a shipping container and a move across campus took its toll on our sofas. I washed the removable covers, only for them to shrink. 

I’ve bought new fabric – which Zahra chose- and the tailors are currently sewing up a storm in the lounge. Bespoke re upholstery is cheaper than buying a new sofa in India.


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So imagine the scene, there are cakes and cookies chilling everywhere and I have tailors measuring and sewing on the floor. In addition I finally got round to having all our art work framed and that’s sat around the walls on the floor waiting to be hung. 

It’s chaos. 

Volunteering at a Slum Summer School

This week was also the start of the summer school in a slum. This will be two mornings a week for the next 8 weeks. The first one was on Tuesday and it was great fun for both the kids and the volunteers.

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So as you can see, I’ve been too busy to blog.

The International Food Fair

Every year the PTA at Stonehill Hill International School organise the International Food Fair. It takes months of planning and it is a well liked and well attended event which raises thousands of pounds for the school community and the three charities the PTA supports.

When was it?

Saturday 21st January 2017, 1pm to 4pm.

The timing is deliberately in late January or early February each year so that home country food and supplies can be brought back by families returning home for Christmas.

What is it?

Parent groups volunteer to represent their home* country and donate dishes and desserts and then sell them to the rest of the school community and attendees from across Bangalore. In addition games can be played which are traditional to their country. They are allocated a space and tables and are free decorate their area in whatever way they please. People really go to town – it’s awesome. Flags and country colours are everywhere; the decorations are brilliant. People dress up in traditional costume or country colours. The Japanese always look incredibly elegant and the Dutch always look incredibly orange. The Iranians had rugs and beautiful books depicting Iran. The Chinese had delicate painted paper wall hangings. The Brazilians looked amazing as well as their stall. The Brits had Union Jacks everywhere and a lot of bunting! It was a riot of culture and colours and looked fabulous.

Early customers at the UK stall

The Food

The Japanese stall preparing for the rush

Gosh it was an amazing selection of fabulous food you can’t normally get in Bangalore. There was so much to choose from. 15 countries were represented in total and I will try and recall what was being sold.

The Japanese did a roaring trade in sushi (always super popular) and completely sold out within 90 minutes (and they made loads). 

The French had very tasty pastries and crepes (with Nutella) that had a constant queue. 

The Americans had sliders (mini burgers), rice crispy cakes and cookies amongst other things on their Stars and Stripes stall. Germany sold muffins and cakes.

The Chinese were selling Dim Sum. Next to them was Korea but for the life of me I can’t recall what they were selling. Next was India who had a fabulous display with lots of dishes including samosas and chicken biryani.

Mexico was crowded and I couldn’t get near! The Danish sold the traditional treacle cake and rice pudding with cherry sauce as well as a whole host of other dishes.

The Dutch were selling pancakes and buns. Israel was selling salad, hummus and tabouleh. Iran had a variety of rice dishes and rice based desserts. 

The UK stall

We made sausage rolls, pies (steak, leek and potato, chicken), devilled eggs, flapjacks, meringues, trifles and lemonade. Our game was ‘Splat the Rat’ with British sweets as the prize.

Everything was really popular. We had to make several batches of lemonade. The ‘splat the rat’ had a constant queue of children. The flapjacks completely sold out as did the devilled eggs. We sold about 50 sausage rolls and 100 pies; and someone super organised turned up with a cool box to take home a batch of trifles!

We had take away boxes for those who wanted sausage rolls and pies but could not eat anymore food at the fair as they were stuffed.

Other Stalls

The PTA also ran a drinks stall and a ‘Tiger Gear’ stall. Tiger gear is the school hoodies and house t shirts for inter house competitions. Both proved very popular.

Fundraising 

The PTA sold vouchers (akin to raffle tickets) at 50 rupees each and they sold a lot. In total ₹299050 (roughly £3,610) was spent on the food and drinks (over £1000 an hour!) and more was made on the Tiger Gear.  It is an amazing achievement.

The British stall took ₹41,900 (about £506) of that and we were all delighted that the hard work, sore feet (and literally days of baking) paid off.

The Charities

The PTA supports three charities in addition to the school community. These are:

  • the Iksha Foundation, who support children with eye cancer. Link: http://ikshafoundation.org/
  • Morning Star Ashram – a home for street and challenged boys of Bangalore, and 
  • the Stonehill Government School.

All are very worthy charities who will benefit from this fabulous fundraising event. 

It was a wonderful day, great fun with fabulous food with global friends. What the world really should be like. 

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*Home country – choosing a home country can be difficult for some expats who have moved every few years. These parents and children are generally known as ‘Third Culture’. They are free to decide which country they most associate with. For example Canadian passport holders coming to Bangalore from Germany chose to represent Iran, the country of their parents.

Back in Bangalore

So after several weeks away over the school holidays I am back in Bangalore. I have numerous blog posts to write about the holidays, sights we have seen and friends we have reunited with. However I thought I would note about my first days back in Bangalore after weeks away. How quickly you forget about the details and complexities of life here. 

Mosquitos

I haven’t missed the mosquitos but clearly they have missed me considering the plethora of bites I have already received despite lathering up on Odomos (local mosquito repellent). I have loaded up on antihistamine tablets in the UK so I am raiding those to keep the swelling down and applying tea tree oil as well. (Thank you for that tip Taran – best tip ever). 

Last night whilst we were sat at the dinner table we heard the familiar ‘hiss’ sound of the mosquito fogging guy. With Ninja like reflexes we all darted from the table, dropping knives and forks in the process, and dived for the windows. The windows were open (mosquito screens across) which meant the smoke from fogging was going to come straight in. I lunged for the lounge windows whilst Rez and Zahra sprinted upstairs to close the balcony doors and bedroom windows. Unfortunately I was a little too late and breathed in a lung full of the fog as I was closing the window. Rez and Zahra were safer upstairs as the fog hadn’t reached there yet. 

I had forgotten about fogging. It usually is around dusk (6pm), rarely when it rains and rarely after dark. It was 6:30pm and dark – we had been lulled into a false sense of security that fogging wasn’t occurring that night. What rookies.

Shopping

As soon as I returned I had a list of things to buy, mainly cleaning products, from the supermarket. I couldn’t face going to the ‘megastore’ (if only it were) and stopped off at the local supermarket on the way home from school pick up.  I gathered most of the items on my list quickly but could not find bin bags despite walking the whole store twice. Eventually an assistant asked if she could help. My pronunciation of ‘bin bags’, ‘rubbish bags’ and eventually ‘garbage bags’ offered “Pampers?” And two unrelated products in return. Eventually she understood my poor grasp of the English language and took me to a closed cardboard box under the stairs near the entrance and pulled out two rolls of bin bags. Now why didn’t I think of looking in that totally inaccessible and unobvious place?!

I also wanted dishwasher tablets. There were two boxes of 20 Finish tablets for sale. One cost INR 1999 (£22.93) and the other INR 2499 (£28.67). Clearly there was subtle difference in the two boxes I hadn’t spotted. I decided to give it a miss and leave them on the shelf. 

I paid for the products, put the receipt in my bag and exited the store. Only to be stopped by the ‘security’ asking for “Bill madam”. Oh yes, I forgot. Every store in Banaglore has them. Despite the ‘security’ at the door sitting (in this case) in clear sight of the till and watching you pay, they still insist on checking your receipt (but not your bag of goods) before hole punching the receipt. I have absolutely no idea what the purpose of this rigmarole is other than to employ someone as part of job creation. (Similar job creations in Bangalore include the chaps sat in lifts to push those buttons for you and the ladies at the car park ticket machines to push those buttons for you too. I wish I was joking.).

I put the bag in the car and turned back to complete my shopping at the fruit and veg section located inconveniently outside the front of the store. I looked despairingly at the sad selection of vegetables and fruit. I did decide to splurge and buy 3 nectarines (incorrectly labelled as peaches) at INR480 (£5.51) per kilo and 6 kiwi fruit INR290 (£3.33). Whoever said living in India was cheap clearly hasn’t been shopping in Bangalore.

I forgot to get drinking water. [insert your own expletive here]. That’s another trip. How quickly I had got used to drinking tap water back in the UK. 

The bread ordering group on WhatsApp is in full swing and I have put in my order for delivery. (See previous blogpost on WhatsApp groups). Bread without added sugar – something you can’t get in the local supermarket. Rez has discovered a local bakery selling artisan bread (ie without sugar) so we’ll be trying that in between the weekly deliveries. (‘Local’ is a 20 minute drive away).

Staff

Managing the staff again. We have a part time housekeeper (Saroja), a part time cook. (Saroja’s niece, Bhuvana), a part time gardener (Padmamma) as well as our full time driver (Manohar).

Gosh how simple life is in the UK when you can drive yourself anywhere at anytime without the need of a driver. He called me after the school run, work run and his breakfast: “Mam, what are your plans today?”. Every aspect of my life has to be planned in advance so the driver knows where to be and when. It can be exhausting. Suffering jet lag and trying to think straight was impossible. I gave him the day to himself and told him to return at 2.30pm for the school run. The shopping could be done then. 

Trying to organise a schedule where the driver is not just sat outside waiting at your beck and call is more hard work than it sounds. Whilst locals and some other expats here are quite happy to have their drivers waiting around, I am not. He’s got a job and I am not going to treat him like a slave. Be the  change you want to see in the world – right? That does however mean some energy, effort and organisation on my behalf. I need to get into gear and get going with the plans for the week.

The housekeeper Saroja is lovely and a chatterbox. As soon as she arrived she was full of questions about the holidays whilst noting I looked tired (that would be the jet lag!). Then came the list of shopping required and updates on her sons exam successes – one just off to University. She’s so proud of them both. A three year Uni course here costs INR 4500 (£5,163) in total. Which doesn’t sound a lot until you know that the average good working wage here for maids/ housekeepers/drivers etc is INR 500 (£5.67) a day. It will be hard work for her to pay those fees. I can see where her bonuses will be going this year.

Bhuvana turned up with ingredients (thankfully, I forgot those too) for dinner. She cooked chicken biriyani, cauliflower in white sauce, egg and roti. It was enough for two meals but she had put some hot chilli in the biriyani and we couldn’t eat it. (We gave that away the next day.) We hired Bhuvana after I became so ill and needed to control the food I ate and the environment it was cooked in. Bhuvana regularly shops for the ingredients (unless I want something in particular) which not only saves me hours of time but also means it’s from a clean, reliable source and cheaper. (We always have to pay more unless we buy from a fixed price supermarket.) It’s definitely helping with my recovery too. 

I’ve not seen Padmamma yet but she’s kept the plants alive whilst I’ve been away and removed one huge plant that was dying. The climbing plants I have trailing across the front porch railings have started to flower. The squash has started to die. (There’s a whole other blogpost to come on the trials and tribulations of trying to grow plants from seed here.)

Powercuts and laundry

Oh boy. How quickly these become annoying. Several every day. Still, I managed to get all the washing done despite the power interruptions. One great thing is that the washing dries within an hour or two here. A wash load takes about 1 .5 hours on a cycle here (without a powercut) so by the time the next wash is done the first is dry and ready to iron. There is a man here who collects the ironing and delivers it back, ironed, the same day. We brought our iron and ironing board with us to Bangalore – but of course you need power to use an iron. The ironing man uses a good old fashioned hot iron and water – no power required. The laundry is returned folded (with newspaper in the shirts to keep them stiff whilst stored) the same day. All for the princely sum of INR 5 (6p) per item. I had a full laundry basket returned the same day, ironed for INR250 (£2.87). One of the benefits of living in Bangalore.

TV

Wow I had forgotten how loud and shouty Indian adverts are. No controls over the volume of the programs you are watching and the subsequent adverts. You need to keep the remote handy. I’ve already been reminded several times that “Smoking is injurious to your health. Smoking kills. None of the actors in this program support or promote smoking.” etc.

We’ve been watching the Rio 2016 Olympics back in the UK. As we have the sports channels here we have 3 channels showing some of the Olympics. One of the channels is in English (I know not necessary when watching sport). We have been flicking through them to find anything Team GB are competing in. We can see some of the Team GB in the highlights and medal ceremonies but that is it so far. I’m missing the women’s hockey and were in the final. All video footage on the BBC and UK newspaper websites is blocked here so I can’t even catch up online. YouTube doesn’t have anything either. It’s so frustrating. 

School

Zahra retuned to school on Wednesday 17th August, very excited. She loves her new teacher and is delighted that she is able to sit with her friends (rather than being designated a desk by her teacher like last year). This teacher has relaxed rules on the placement of their water bottles in the classroom and some other minor ‘homeroom’ rules are relaxed now she is a year older. The timetable is different too with more information and different subjects. She also has a free period every Friday afternoon to undertake her own research. She has decided to research racism in preparation for her end of year exhibition. 

We bought some more uniform to replace the paint stained shirts and shorts from last year (no wash friendly paint here – this stuff stains!).  I had her feet measured in the UK and bought new school shoes there – at an eye watering £48. I hope she doesn’t have another growth spurt anytime soon. 

There are lots of dates to put in the diary and PTA meetings to attend. Sports camp is the first thing on the agenda in a week or so’s time – a night away camping at school whilst undertaking swimming, basketball and football. A camp fire, barbecue and scavenger hunt add to the fun. A great back to school ice breaker and great for new joiners to get to know their classmates.

Time for a cuppa

Manohar returned with the bottled water. Time to make a cuppa and catch up on the hundreds of emails I didn’t delete whilst I was away. Boring admin and bills to pay in the UK, oh and the re-letting of our home, which apparently  now needs redecorating after the last tenants left…I don’t want to think about that yet. Back to life, back to reality!