Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Fender Bender, A Hurricane, A Broken Toe, and A Moldy Apartment, ..Oh My! AKA.. Our First Year As A Married Couple.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were married in September of 2005 and immediately moved to south Florida to live. I remember the first day I arrived. It was a beautiful evening as Sarat met me at the airport and we proceeded to go to dinner. We went to a lovely place right on the beach and had a delicious meal as the wind gently caressed the lovely palms. It was exciting starting our married life together in a new place and I really was looking forward to it. You know, I always said I would never marry a guy who didn't dance.. and I did. I also said I would never live in Florida or South Carolina.. Well what can I say. Sometimes life surprises you and you do what you gotta' do, but I digress.

Anyway, anyone who remembers 2005 remembers a lil' ole hurricane named "Wilma" that banged into the south Florida coast in October. Now, before I talk about our experience, let me just preface this with I am known to have alot of weird stuff happen to me, in life, on vacation, whatever. I had a car where all the little interior gadgets(rearview mirror, gear shift button cover, window handle)started falling off, went on vacation and the handle of my very heavily packed suitcase came off in my hand, went to a museum in DC and realized I had left out tickets back in a hotel room, so we had to go all the way back to our hotel room in another district to retrieve our tickets, went to a restaurant, ordered a sandwich, and some of the luncheon meat was still wrapped in the deli paper. I bit into it and pulled it out with my teeth and my friend with me died laughing at the expression I had on my face. There are alot more incidences like this but that would constitute a whole other blog.

When we moved to Florida, we lived in a hotel for four months as it was very difficult to find an apartment. We had heard about Hurricane Wilma a week prior to it hitting our area as it came from the east and then scooted by in the ocean south of the state and then hit Mexico. It then turned and headed to the west coast and made landfall, moving east at a very fast pace. We woke up at 5:00 am to what sounded like tiles being scraped off the roof of the hotel. We were on the 5th floor of a very nice hotel and I got up to look out the window. What I saw amazed me. The hotel was an L shape and all along the other side of the L, the windows were all blown out.Coconuts from the palm trees had been blown into all of the rooms on the other side, damaging the windows. All the palm trees were being blown so hard they were bowed over touching the ground. Upon going downstairs, we saw there was a huge crowd of people staying there who had left their condos on the beach for a safer place. We had debated leaving town beforehand and ended up staying and I am glad we did. You get an idea of what a category 1-2( there was much debate as to which it was)hurricane is like and know you don't want to stick around for the next one. It was gone by 1pm that afternoon and luckily the weather became cooler because for the next 2 weeks there was no power. I have never seen anywhere that looked like a war zone, but that was it. Huge trees were toppled over from the roots through concrete and there were no working traffic lights at any intersection in town, It was very scarey. We left for Orlando and stayed there for 10 days. That was the southernmost hotel in that chain that had power, so basically my husband was the only one from his company that could work because he had power for his laptop computer. Unbelievable. Oh yes while we were in Orlando, we both had different visits to the emergency room , but I won't go into that.

Upon returning to Boca we dicovered that the storage facility where all our belongings were stored had roof damage and one of the vaults containg our belongings had water damage. We had, in the meantime, found a nice apartment to rent. On move in day, I had to go through all our boxes and get rid of moldy stuff. One of the ruined things was a chair that had belonged to my grandmother. I cried for days about that. What fun it was to open boxes and discover that all your shoes had turned a lovely shade of mold green. It was awful and one of the worst things that could have ever happened. The moving company made me itemize and price every item on claim forms that was damaged, so with a mask on, every day for a week I went through all of our belongings, bit by bit, and documented everything. Boy all that stuff sure did stink.
We kept calling the moving company and telling them that there was a potential for this apartment to acquire mold damage and they needed to do somthing about this.

Two months passed and we were scheduled to go to Kolkata in December for our wedding reception that Sarat's family was giving us. We were back in the hotel by this time because the stench of our stuff from being in the storage unit with no air conditioning for weeks was too much. A few days before we left, somebody who wasn't paying attention, hit my Honda from behind with their Toyota truck. Fun, fun, fun. In the meantime, the insurance company had ruled Wilma's damage an act of God and they weren't paying. We had argued with them to send someone to test for mold and guess what day they choose to call us to make all the arangements. Right-o the exact day we were leaving for the airport. Now we had to deal with all this from India. Luckily this situation was now being handled with someone from Sarat's company. While we were in India, A mold testing company came in and tested the place and Zowwie!, the spore count was extremely high. All of our belongings had to be removed, staged for spraying, and then were returned without boxes, so you can imagine the mess that greeted us when we went over to see it. I don't know what happened to my clothes dryer but it was dented and scratched. We still had to live in the hotel at this point. Upon our return from Kolkata I had to fly home the next morning because my dad had been admitted to the hospital and was very critical.
Four months later my father passed away and that was the hardest and most surreal thing I ever had to deal with in my life.

One good thing that did happen to us in June 2006. My mother-in-law came and stayed with us for three months. It really helped me keep my mind off of things. It was great. she showed me how to cook alot of Bengali food during that time. She got to know the owner of the Indian grocery store where I shopped as well as I did as she spoke to him in Hindi. They lived in Delhi the first eight years of my husband's life before returning to Kolkata, so she speaks Hindi pretty well. It was funny, one day we were standing in line there to check out and I was telling the owner that I had learned how to make samosas from scratch. He always liked to hear what new things I was learning to prepare. There was an American lady behind us who had this shocked look on her face and exclaimed "You MAKE them? Ma just laughed. During her stay with us,we took a glass bottom boat tour, went on an airboat ride in the Everglades which we all enjoyed, and one day we took a guided boat tour of the canals in Fort Lauderdale. I was very sorry when September came and it was time for her to return to India. She still to this day asks Sarat what I have cooked and is very pleased to hear I cook alot Bengali food for him.

In November, 2006 we were expecting guests for a few days so I proceeded to clean the house. I was vacuuming the living room and as klutzy as I am, banged my right foot into the vacuum cleaner. I just had a sock on, no shoes, and knew at that moment something was wrong. Just imagine the feeling you get when you remove the sock and see your pinky toe, in all it's glory, spread - eagled away from the foot,pointing out to the side, and not moving. For a brief moment I even considered driving myself to the emergency room as it was ony a quarter mile up the road. I called my husband at work(as he had come to expect when something had happened over the last year)to inform him of the situation. He came home and we left for the E.D. Yes it was broken, reset, and taped to the neighboring toe for six weeks. At least we were able to use a handicapped parking decal during that time which made life alot easier.

My friend Shelley who I used to travel with alot before I got married and experienced some of my goofy situations with during said travels, told me that Sarat and I had experienced more in one year as a married couple than most had in thirty years of marriage. I certainly believe that and feel we can face anything in life together.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Importance of Good Communication

One of the most important aspects of a good intercultural relationship (whether it is with friends,a spouse,family etc..) is good communication. Sometimes when there is a problem with my husband and I in that regard, it just boils down to the fact that I am a woman and he is a man and sometimes he just doesn't listen to what or how I say things. We had a whole big mixup about what he was going to wear to our friends' gurudwara wedding ceremony.I told him I packed his pants and dress shirt and later when we were speaking with Rami(the groom) in his hotel room, Sarat said he was going to wear his kurta pyjama to that portion of the wedding and I told him we didn't bring it. He seemed quite surprised replying with "Oh really?" I said "I asked you earlier what you wanted to wear and you told me your western get-up would be fine. I then looked at Delia(the bride) and said "you know, he doesn't hear half of what I say sometimes." She replied with a wry smile, "Rami is the same way, he doesn't hear what I say either." Even some of my American women friends complain about that as well. I think they call it selective hearing.
Another glitch is language. He is wired to think in Bengali and then translates it into English so sometimes what I say can get lost in translation. Sometimes I can just look at him and see the wheels turning in his brain while he is translating from Bengali to English. It is quite cute actually.

I found this hilarious example of what happens when communication between two intercultural roommates goes awry. Watch and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Who the Heck is Alistaire?... How Many Names Do You Have?

Many years ago I discovered a secret about my husband(then friend)Sarat. He had more than one name. Now, I know it is not unusual for us to be given nicknames by our family and friends here in the US, and usually it is a goofy name like miss kiney, googleye, goosie,dink,scube, etc(yes some of those are mine but some are also my cousin's). You get the idea. In India it is more formal than that. Each person has a home name and also a proper name for work and school. Sarat's home name is Raju. When I first heard that I was like, Who is Raju? He then explained to me about the 2 name thing.
I then started to hear him say upon answering the phone, "This is Alistaire." Alistaire, who the heck is Alistaire? He told me he has had that very British name since he was a kid. He never could remember how he got that name and all his high school friends and those in Kolkata still to this day call him that.
It sort of reminds me of my mom's sister, my aunt Polly. We have always called her that but I was shocked many years ago to learn that that was not her real name. Her real name is Florence. My grandmother's father wanted her to be called Polly, so that is what she has always been called. My mom said she never knew that her sister's real name was Florence until she got married. So all the people where they live call her Florence and all her family and hometown friends call her Polly and my uncle adjusts accordingly. I actually worked four years in my aunt's hometown and told a coworker that knew her that we call her Polly, so after that she called her PollyFlorence. "How is PollyFlorence?" "Have you seen PollyFlorence lately?" I also adjust, like my uncle does, depending on who I am talking to about Sarat. Sometimes I call him Sarat, sometimes Raju,sometimes I'm lazy and just call him Sarat all the time no matter who I am talking to about him.
One day One of Sarat's fiends asked him to join Facebook. He made the mistake of signing up as Alistaire Das. Well those friends he made later in life saw that and asked who the heck is Alistaire Das? Alistaire Das, when did you become Alistaire Das? I have only recently learned where this name came from. When he was a very small child, his cousin lived in England and come back to Kolkata to visit and would talk about British friends of his. Sarat cried saying that he wanted friends with British names so his uncle started calling him Alistaire and has been going by that ever since.
Not only do they have two or more names, elders are called by their relationship to you in the family. It can get confusing because your husband's older brother is Dada, your husband's father's youngest brother is Chotto Kaku. Our niece and nephew call us Kaku and Kakima or Kaki. That means father's brother and father's brother's wife. Your husband's brother's wife is called Bodi. It is totally different if you are talking about his mom's family. MashiMoni is your husband's mom's youngest sister, etc... there is even a name for your MIL's older brother and his wife. It is by role in the family. Very different than what I have been used to. Amazingly enough though, I was pretty much able to keep it straight when I met all of them.
I like being called kakima. When My niece, my brother's daughter, was two years old, she couldn't say my name well so she called me HEEhee. I loved it because it was unique. My mom's sister Barbara wanted my cousin's little boy to call her Granna B but you know what he came up with instead? Only the cutest, most unique, splendid name I have ever heard in my life for a granny. He calls her "Gikey"
No matter what culture you are from, You are special to somebody and a name can define that, no matter how many you have.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bend It Like Beckham

I was recently cruising you tube and found this really interesting BBC documentary about the making of "Bend it Like Beckham". This is one of my all time favorite movies as it shows cultural and generational expectations parents(especially mothers) have for their children(mostly daughters) and how they differ from the dreams of their kids. This is all shown in such a delightful, heartfelt, and comical way. I mean, come on, who doesn't know mothers like the ones Jules and Jes have? The writing and casting are phenomenal.It is shown in four parts here but worth a look if you have seen this movie.
I actually learned to dance to Bhangra music(love it) by watching this movie. It sure came in handy when hubby and I went to our friends' wedding a year and a half ago. Rami and Delia are Sikh and Romanian respectively and had a big Sikh Doo in Florida. It was soo much fun and similar to what was in the movie. At the reception they played alot of Bhangra music as well as some Romanian tunes. I was a big hit with all Rami's family and friends when they saw I could halfway dance to their music. I even got my non-dancing Bengali husband("Bengalis don't dance" I've been told by Sarat when the occasion demanded him to do so. He will if he has a little help from his friend Johnnie Walker)out on the floor and on video for posterity.
Where else can you see a pastey white chick in a sari, dancing at a Sikh-Romanian couple's wedding reception to Bhangra music? Only in America. It's all good!