Something happened a few weeks ago that I’d planned to blog about, but it slipped my mind. So now I’m playing catch up.
Charlotte confided to me that she was not happy about going back to Germany and that she wanted to stay at Inventure Academy. Now anyone who followed the early posts of this blog might recall that she was the reticent one about coming to India in the first place and was the one who had the roughest initial adjustment the first few days. Now obviously her friend Freya is a factor. Freya is Charlotte’s first really good, close friend. Charlotte is outgoing and charismatic (two traits that certainly did not inherit from her father) and has lots of friends, but she’ll be the first to tell you that they are acquaintances and not real friends the way Freya is.
But there was something else…
There was a girl in her class back in Germany who had gone to kindergarten and first grade with Charlotte. This girl was from a German family, but was adopted as an orphaned toddler from Columbia.
This girl had brown skin.
She was socially ostracized and mistreated by her peers. Charlotte told me that the problem that the other kids had with her was the color of her skin, plain and simple. First graders have not yet learned the art of disguising bigotry with pretexts and justifications. Charlotte told me that they said to her that this is what the problem with her was. Meanwhile, her experience here was completely different. Her school is about 10% expat and light skinned kids are certainly in the minority here, yet she never experienced a single feeling of “otherness”. She made comparisons of the moral fiber of the kids at Inventure and back at Schloßberschule in Rotenberg and it was very much not in favor of Rotenberg. At the tender age of eight, she has already formed her own opinions of provincial bigotry and the people who practice it.
I wonder how much of it is India and how much of it is the international school environment. I know it can’t entirely be the former as the girl who comes for drinking water once thought our driver was Muslim because she did not recognize his name as a Hindu one. It was only after he told her that he was Christian that she became friendly with him and told him that she would not talk to him if he was Muslim.
Nevertheless, Charlotte has grown a lot in this year. Her father is proud of her. I did not learn those lessons until much later.
This may be the last update for a few weeks.
My father passed away yesterday.
In a few hours, we’ll board a flight to Philadelphia, by way of Dubai and Atlanta. Dani and the kids will be there two weeks. I’ll be staying a month. I won’t have much to say about India during that time.
When the kids came home, I asked Sammy how his day was and he answered “good, I have a belly ache”. I asked if it was because he was hungry and he said “no, because we ran a lot”.
He also proudly announed that:
The boys in his class are faster than the girls
There are 11 girls, but only 7 boys
There was one girl who was supposed to catch the boys, but could not
That small kids eat spicy food that only adults eat in Germany. This was said with a naughty look of “ha! we’re doing things they don’t do back home”
That he ate garlic.
I think he’ll be just fine.
Charlotte had her first week at school last week. She is in the second grade. Sammy’s Kindergarten started yesterday. The kindergarten kids had an extra week of summer vacation. Summer vacation in India runs from April 1 to the end of May, during the hot months prior to the monsoon.
(Incidentally, NRIs newly arrived in North America are probably confused by the usage there of the term “Indian Summer” to refer to the warm weeks of early autumn. Sorry guys, “Indian” in that case means native American, not south Asian.)
What surprised me is how open the kids are to the foreigners in their midst. At lunch on the third day of school, a teacher asked her if she had made any friends yet. Charlotte replied “not really” and this triggered a chourus of “I’m your friend”! The kids at her school are really amazingly open. There may be a bit of a fair skin bonus – Indians regard fair skin as beautiful – and some of the kids are children of former NRIs – a surprising number were born in the US, but even then I’d expect kids to shun someone who is not like them. Instead, Charlotte is very well accepted. This has been one of the pleasant surprises of our time here so far.
I have to say that she has really surprised us with how open and brave she has been. Even on the first day of school when we drove her to school in leau of her taking the bus, she seemed happy to see us leave. When I visited the school today, I saw here in the cafeteria. She seemed to already be integrating herself into a clique of friends.
With Sammy, I think the road will be a lot tougher. We took him to his first day of kindergarten yesterday and he was extremely clingy – physically as well as phycologically. Daniela actually spent the whole school day there yesterday. This morning, he went in by bus and I met him there to check on him. As soon as he saw me, he grabbed on to my leg and would not open himself up. He was using me as a crutch and my presence was blocking him from settling in. Eventually, I slipped away. This was a tough decision. The first time I had tried to leave, he locked onto my leg and started crying. The only option would have been to forcibly restrain him and that would not have been good. He was not going to settle in until after I left either. He has to get over that hump. It will be especially difficult as in his German kindergarten, he mostly just plays in the building corner and avoids group activities when he can. His friendships there have been built up with other boys who also hide in the building corner. He won’t be able to do that here. Either it will help him, or it will be excruciating. Time will tell.
Charlotte’s black mood did not last long. Already, we – and especially Charlotte – are less bothered by everyone staring at us. They still do, but we’re just getting used to it and Charlotte discovered the advantage of being the center of attention that comes from being exotic. We went to a department store here, called Big Bazaar. We walked there, about three kilometers from the temporary apartment. Charlotte and Daniela went on a shopping spree, buying Indian style clothing. Charlotte also met the women who ran the cosmetics department and a good sized portion of the female staff of the department store. A dozen women crowded around Charlotte for half an hour to apply makeup and she had an absolute blast.
I think she’ll do just fine. In fact, I think she’ll enjoy herself in the long run. Sammy will be tougher. Charlotte is gregarious and loves being the center of attention. Sammy is shy. When some of the women fawning over Charlotte turned their attention on Sammy and started fawning over him, he hid behind my leg. Speaking of Sammy, I read that the head is sacred in India and that you should not touch people on the head; including children. People often touch Sammy’s head. Either it is not really a problem in south India to touch a child on the head, or curiosity gets the better of people and they do it anyway.
I took the kids to the botanical gardens in the city center the other day. I wanted to see what the center of Bangalore looked like and I figured that the gardens would be a nice, relaxing introduction to the city. It was our first autorickshaw ride as well (prior to that, we had used a taxi or the relocation consultants’ 4×4), but rickshaws are a subject for another time. We arrived at the gardens, bought out tickets, proceeded inside and became tourist attractions in our own right.
I’m not quite sure what the trigger was, or if it was a combination of triggers. Firstly, white faces are rare in the city as far as I can tell; despite Bangalore’s international fame as an IT hub. Most of my German colleagues who have visited on business trips have naturally come without children and the few westerners that I have seen look to be the young professional types. Outside of the house hunting trips to a couple of gated communities, ours are the only western children I’ve seen. So fair skinned, blue eyed (Charlotte) and blonde (Sammy) children are few and far between here. Lastly, I can only presume that it is also unusual to a father to venture out alone with his children. That would be unremarkable in America or Europe, but I suspect it is different here.
We did not make it more than 100 meters into the gardens before the first family asked to take our pictures. The ones who did not ask to take our pictures were perhaps not as bold, but were equally curious, because it seemed that almost everyone was staring at us. This alarmed Charlotte to no end. We only made it as far as the entrance to the Japanese garden before she was so sick of the gardens that she wanted to go home right then and there. I tried to coax her along a bit more, but to no avail. I thought better of forcing her. I don’t want her to have a traumatic experience that causes her to reject India outright. So we went back to the gate to hitch a rickshaw ride back to Whitefield.
The Rickshaw driver wanted way too much for the trip, but I did not feel like having too much stress searching for a more reasonable driver, so we paid the overpriced fare. The driver did not know the way and had to stop and ask for directions a couple of times. He also got lost and it took us forever to get back. By the time he dropped us back off at the tech park, I had had my fill of India. We went inside to the mall to get our passport photos for the foreigner registration office (FRO) and we stopped at a café while inside. The kids had milk shakes, I had a cappuccino and we reconciled ourselves to the world. We regained some of the spring in our step for the two kilometer walk home. The spiritual healing powers of milkshakes and cappuccino are underrated.
During the rickshaw ride back, she asked me if I thought it was stupid that we came back early. I told her not to worry about it and that we’ll just have to slowly get used to being stared at. People here don’t mean to be rude and anyway, I don’t even know if staring is considered rude in India. They are all very curious. She has a friend back in Germany who was adopted from Columbia as a baby. Deana is a brown face in a sea of white faces. I think it will be good for Charlotte to understand the perspective of am exotic minority, but a little at a time.
Everyone in the family is both nervous and exited, except one. Charlotte is not at all thrilled to be leaving her friends for a year. She has campaigned off and on to not go to India. For a long time, she did not even mention it to her friends; as is not telling anyone would make it not happen. Her teacher says that she has become irritable lately in class and this morning she cried before school. She only has two more days of school after today. The kids have vacation next week and then we fly. In comparison, Sammy is easy. We simply had to tell the little mountain lover about the Himalayas, tell the little jet fighter connoisseur about the air show in Bangalore in February and promise to go on a tiger safari. He was sold.
She is going to have the hardest time of everyone, so we are going to have to make an extra effort to find her friends there as soon as possible.