Monthly Archives: September 2010

Adventures in London

So I finally had a week in London. It’s been so busy, however, that I can hardly tell you what happened. Tuesday came Del’s belated birthday surprise – a trip to see the Lion King. That was certainly a worthy first step out, as any of you whom have seen it will know. It was also a friend’s birthday, and we met her before and after for a few drinks.It was nice to be in town for a birthday finally.

Beyond that, however, it’s been the errands of settling in. Actually, I should be on a flight to the US, since I have my first trip out of my new base tomorrow…but I was just so tired. Of course, it’s nothing compared to how tired I’ll be tomorrow, since my laziness today will result in an all-nighter tomorrow (since I have to fly to the US and then turn around and work right back here). But this “laziness” isn’t unjustified – I’ve been here a week and spent everyone of those days hobbling around on a sore foot because I had to try to get on the lease here, register at the dr’s office, try to get on hubby’s bank account, going to IKEA, building furniture….oh, and trying to put some of my clothes away – since hubby unloaded all the boxes I had so carefully labeled, to shoved my things pell-mell into the wardrobe shelving. (Er…thanks, honey.) I’m just exhausted and want to do email and photos (I still haven’t had time to re-do the photos that hubby messed up from Egypt in May!)

What else? Oh, we’ve been trying to get a new bed. You see, the place we’ve rented is furnished and everything is beautiful – except the bed. When I say that the mattress is bad, I mean it is so bad that the landlord should be embarrassed. There’s a sinkhole in the mattress. That’s right, a hole.  Take a look:

Can you see that, right across the center of the bed?! That’s just what shows through the sheets, with no one lying on it! But she has been adamant that we not change it. She’s a doctor; there’s no way she slept on this thing. We even offered to buy a new bed and give it to here when we leave, but we’d buy a size larger, and she refused. I don’t get her attachment to this thing. Anyhow, we eventually got the managing agency to see and they fully agreed it was unacceptable and convinced her to allow us to replace the mattress – at our own cost of course. (Plus, she felt it necessary to warn that we’d pay for any possible damages related to moving the old one out and new one in. Duh.)

I am also astonished at the process of opening a bank account here. Me being a foreigner – and technically a visiting one as of yet – I understand it not being easy for me. But just to open a bank account here, it was revealed to me that hubby had to disclose all sorts of information that I find excessive: profession, who he works for, monthly income, who pays his check, if he has cards/accounts at other banks, a pension, etc etc. If he were asking for a loan, of course. But this is apparently the norm for opening a simple account. Am I out of touch, or is this absurd? Del and I opened a joint account in DC and it required: some money, an address, ID…and that’s pretty much it.

I casually remarked on all the fuss and the bank representative couldn’t believe it was so easy in the US. What if you ask for loan? he asked. Well then you apply for a loan, and then you give such information. Besides, if Del were to suddenly ask for a loan, don’t you think they’d confirm the most up-do-date financials at that time anyway? If a bank is merely holding your money and giving it back as you need it, and it’s not a suspicious amount, why the 100 questions? It kinda gave me the creeps, just because I don’t really understand the need.

So there ya have it. My first days over here, and now another trip over there. I can’t wait to sit still for days in a row! Wish me luck tomorrow

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Pyar sirf ek bar hota hai aur shaadi bhi ekhi baar hota hai

I lead you with this famous Bollywood quote, as it seems appropriate for a post about attending my first Indian wedding. It means, “Love happens only once, so does marriage.” Also, the only other dialogue I know from Indian movies is “Jai ho” and “Aja, aja”, but Amen; come on! come on! doesn’t make for very a good title. Or anything else for that matter. They are, however, still fun to say.

It all started Thursday, the day after the “sleepover” with Adam I mentioned in the above post. A mutual friend from our Belgium days, Aga, flew in from the US just in time for the bride’s Henna (Mehndi) Party. Aga and I thought this would be 20 girls sitting around on cushions while Dimple (the bride’s name) got “henna’ed”…clue #1 that we were clueless about Indian weddings!

Dimple’s family lives among two houses side by side. The combined backyard had been completely transformed by a colorful fabric tent, turning the whole thing into a cheerful oasis. Oh, and there were at least 100 people there. Aga and I were also the only people not in a sari or other Indian-wear. Correction: the only females not in Indian attire. The men were mostly dressed in Western styles, but all had matching scarves (a party treat from the bride). I snagged one for Del but he does not seem inclined to wear it.

Dimple was secluded in a room, her hands almost done. Aga and I sort of pushed our way back there, not understanding that the bride was supposed to be secluded at this point, due to the high risk of smudging her henna if distracted. And we immediately understood this; her henna job was gorgeous and delicate, ultimately taking 5 hours –  just for the hands! She said that we were, however, special guests, so we visited for 10 minutes ooh-ing and ahh-ing, also over the fact that neither of us had seen her in at least a year. She has not only lost a substantial amount of weight, but also gone from girl to woman, in a sense. Our sweet, casual friend Dimple now sat before us like genie from a bottle. With a low braid languishing over her shoulder and reaching towards her stomach, movie-star make-up, a mega-watt smile and a joyfully embroidered, almost neon-orange dress, she was absolutely jaw-to-the-floor stunning. I’m sure the beaming happiness helped.

After causing her to giggle (and thus, smudge), Aga and I excused ourselves and joined the rest of the guests in the tent, where several women were offering henna. We’d been advised there would be “an Indian queue”, which meant we had to throw some elbows to get in line. But we managed. It was such a new world for us, being the minority for a change. We got many stares but all was cheerful and friendly and welcoming. We’re not very good at henna though, as ideally one sits still for 2 hours afterwards as not to ruin it. We did not have the luxury of being secluded, however, and crowds do not make for good mehndi.

Meanwhile, dinner was served. Surprise – it was spicy! (Over the course of this wedding we were fed 4 times. I’ve never been so generously fed and so starving in all my life…) Dimple made her entrance, led to a stage/lounging-throne at the front of the room, where she could be more social while her feet mehndi got done. During the henna process her relatives and friends serve her, feed her, everything-her as not to ruin the drying art. Given the effort required to preserve the design, it was not hard for me to imagine the ancient beginnings of this ritual – what a statement of rank and wealth an elaborate henna job was. (There goes Anthropology-me again…)

As for Aga and I, we both got fairly smudged; plus, it is body heat which determines the final color. This means that we both have beautiful light brown lacy designs on our arms, followed by smudgy dirty-orange hands. Any illusion of cool reserve is shattered for amateures like us, who don’t know well enough to ask for it on the (less heat-prone) back of the hand instead.

Four days later it has faded some, but still looks like this:

Oh dear. Work is not going to be happy…

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Londontown

So. Here I am. Across the Atlantic again. To live. How strange.

People have often asked me how I do some of the things I’ve done. “How did you up and move to Belgium all by yourself?” for example. My only answer is: I don’t think too much about it. Just like any other day, I set my alarm, I get out of bed, I pack my bag and I walk out the door. Next thing I know I’m in a plane somewhere, then walking into a new home. It’s a complete one-foot-in-front-of-the-other method of living. In this way, I don’t get hung up on nerves or worries, etc. But it also means that, from time to time, it seems I suddenly wake up in a different part of my life. Boom. Just like that. Does that make sense?

That’s how I find myself in London – amazed that I am actually here to stay. And I feel like more of an awkward foreigner here than I expected. Similar to the way that cultural differences with my husband always take me by surprise – because you always think you’ll see them coming a mile away – so do the differences here. My first grocery shop took me ages yesterday because the location of certain products was not intuitive to me. I couldn’t even find the ground beef; it wasn’t at the deli counter, and it wasn’t in an open meat section at one end of the store. It was in a refrigerated aisle in the middle of the store (on normal looking, but cold, shelves). It simply didn’t occur to me to look there. (After 2 rounds of the store perimeter I finally asked someone if it would be even pre-packaged or not.) I also don’t have my residence visa sorted (don’t get me started on THAT), so I cannot get my cell phone account, bank account or anything yet. I am quite the kept woman at the moment.

September will leave little time for writing as well, since I’m swamped with moving (cargo stuff is nearby but in limbo…), returning to the US to help my sister with the arrival of niece #2 (!!!) and starting all over to (re)sort, (re)crop and (re)organize those 4000 Egypt photos, which hubby accidentally erased (oh, you heard me right), not to mention the honeymoon photos. Of course, it helps when I don’t have celebratory welcome dinners with my friend Adam that turn into a sleepover chat-fest until 3:30am! (But no one who knows Adam and me will be surprised by that unfolding of events…)

But I’m edging my way back to the blog and writing in general and I can’t wait to get properly set up and get this writing ball rolling again!

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