Monday, April 14, 2014

Taking notes

How do three little children ages 3, 5, and 7 enjoy a museum? With their own little notebooks, of course! We checked out the Bahrain National Museum and had a great time. Here are the kids studying up on People and Culture.

 While some of us watched a lengthy film on the art of bookbinding, others of us played under the super-cool patterned lights on the museum carpet.

 Teyo is a MAP GUY. The expansive entry area floor of the museum is a map of Bahrain. Teyo found the embassy and his house!

Jenya had four requests for our big trip: the Taj Mahal, her orphanage, elephants, and camels. And she wanted to ride either an elephant or a camel.

So we checked, checked, checked the boxes on the Taj, orphanage, and elephants (and riding) while in India. Although we saw many camels on the roads while in India, we didn't get too close. But Auntie Aimee lives around the corner from a camel farm! Perfect.

Evidently these are the king's camels. And evidently they do not get too much exercise. I have to say, maybe I'm placing my own ideas on the well-being of a camel, but these guys did not look all that thrilled with being anchored in their stalls at the camel farm all day long.

I neglected to post this photo from yesterday's burger + shake lunch spot:
Oh no! Now how are we going to get our milkshakes???

After a day of museums, camels, and even a tour of the cousins' preschool, we were ready for Pizza and Movie night. We were tired. And when we're tired, what do we do? We jump in the bouncy house! Because my sister has a bouncy house.
In the living room.

The pizza was good. The movie, I think, was a little rough, given the age range of the kids. The bouncing was wild and loud. The sleeping was sound.

Friday, April 11, 2014


Last stop on our journey: Bahrain. My sister and her family moved there a few years ago.

The country of Bahrain is 1/4 the size of Rhode Island. 

Evan, Jenya, and I flew to Bahrain for a quick visit because, ya know, it's on the way home. Sort of. 

Best moment: when our car pulled up from the airport and we were met by whooping, jumping, shouting-for-joy cousins! What a welcome!

Aimee knows we like to kick it in to gear when we're traveling. She had our Bahrain plans all mapped out. Auntie Leslie (our dear family friend) was visiting too, so we got a double-dose of all things FUN.
 Shake Shack at our layover in the Dubai airport. Just like the good ol' USA.

 Prayer rooms in the airport. Not just like the USA.

We began our tour with breakfast at a Bahraini restaurant. Seated on the floor, we mopped up the various yummy foods with delicious chapati-like bread. This place encourages drawing on the walls…perfect for busy young artists!

After a hearty breakfast, we were off to the Grand Mosque.  We ladies were required to cover up in official Mosque attire. (I do believe we missed that photo op.)

Off to the park for a little playtime. No shade, but great play equipment and a field to fly the kite! I also noted that near the public park restrooms (extremely clean) were the ablution rooms and prayer rooms. I have never been in a Muslim country before, and I found all these facets of public life very different and interesting. Imagine having prayer rooms at our public parks! (Okay, imagine having RESTROOMS at our public parks…)

Next stop: the Qal'at al-Bahrain, otherwise known as the Bahrain Fort. The site is one of those layer-upon-layer testaments to ages of human civilizations. There is evidence of human presence in that spot from 2300 BC until the 16th century AD. Fascinating. And a great place to play a little hide and seek!
Evan, Leslie, and I also explored the Fort Museum.

It sure is great to see family…and it's especially fun when we also get the chance to explore new places. Day 1 in Bahrain was a grand success.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Full Circle

Our big reason for traveling to Kolkata was for Jenya to visit her old orphanage, Matri Sneha ("Mother's Love"). She was very curious to see the place, meet any ayahs (nannies) who'd known her as a baby, and to just fit that piece of her history into her life's puzzle. Jenya left the orphanage at 10 months old, so although some of her experiences there may have been formative, she doesn't remember anything.

We began our day shopping for thank-you gifts to present to the ayahs. We decided on saris from a local sari shop. Our hosts of the night before had told us where to go and what type of saris to buy. Of course there are all sorts of subtleties that escape our American eyes - the fabric content, the level of detail work, the type of print, and local trends involving complex weaves with metallic threads. We chose a dozen everyday saris for the ayahs and a fancier one for the orphanage director.

Then we were off to Matri Sneha, and found ourselves turning up and down the little streets, searching for the correct address just as we had in 2007. The exterior of the building looked just the same. We climbed that same narrow staircase and met with Ms. Roy, the director, a kind woman who once gave Jenya her original name, Mohana, which we knew meant "beauty" in Sanskrit, but which also means "the place where two rivers meet" in Bengali. What true descriptions of our child and the way our family came to be.

Ms. Roy chatted with us for a while, and then led us to the room where Jenya Mohana used to live. Jenya and I both agreed that it seemed tiny! We visited with a few little cutie-pies who are there waiting for new families. The ayahs only speak Bengali, but Ms. Roy translated for us as we asked them if they remembered Mohana. They did! Jenya offered the saris and got big smiles and squeezes in return.

 Mohana and Bhargabi (Jenya and Devi) in the crib then…

 …and oh, how teeny-tiny that crib seems now!

After a little looking around, we headed over to the other building where infants and children with significant special needs stay. It was beginning to be a hot day, and the air was stuffy inside. Jenya was surprised, I think, at the severity of some of the children's conditions. We chatted with a delightfully smiley ayah, Shopna, who had comforted Jenya on the day we picked her up in 2007. Then Jenya whispered to me that she didn't feel good. And all at once -- she fainted! Just completely keeled right over. We were all very surprised. I quickly took her over to a mat on the floor, where she immediately revived. The orphanage's doctor happened to be there, and he checked her over. No problems. Probably dehydration, heat, and a confusing environment. We scooted back to our taxi without meeting the rest of the children, got some water for Jenya, and went to the hotel to rest. What a surprising conclusion to our orphanage visit!

 With Shopna then...
…and now.

In retrospect, I think the experience of re-visiting Matri Sneha was necessary for Jenya, but also a little underwhelming (fainting aside). There wasn't much to do or see, and we don't speak Bengali, which limited communication. But I am so very glad we went. It's the closest thing Jenya has to knowing her origins. The room we saw matched all the baby photos we have of her. I think it kind of confirmed the things we'd told her about her first year, and now she seems to feel more settled about it.

After Jenya rallied, we tried some light lunch fare and a little stroll through New Market. New Market is an expansive indoor mall, but, ah…rustic in feel. More like a walking past booths at a state fair or something. Hard to describe. It's a maze of pathways, each lined with shop after shop crammed with goods: saris, salwar kameez, jewelry, snacks, toys, shoes, purses, sunglasses, little metal dishes, baskets, linens, t-shirts, decorative boxes and figurines…everything. Lots and lots of everything, all crammed into little tiny stall-type shops. The hallways are crowded, the shopkeepers are calling everyone in to look, and getting lost is pretty much a guarantee. It's great! We wandered around, trying to keep our bearings (although you could walk out any doorway and eventually find a marked street, so getting lost is not really a problem). We found some super-sparkly bracelets and rings for Jenya.

For dinner, we decided to try a rooftop restaurant on the 9th floor of a hotel across the street from New Market. As always, Evan needed to race us to the top. He took the marble stairs and we took the elevator. Evan had a clear win, because the elevator operator would.not.operate.the.elevator. He stood staring in shock, goggle-eyed, as he encountered this Indian-American girl who did not speak Bengali. Or Hindi. And who was holding hands with some white woman. He tried again and again to make sense of the two of us, speaking to Jenya in what we assume was Bengali, but it was clear we were kind of blowing his mind. Finally, after many minutes, he heaved a sigh, closed the gate to the elevator, and pressed the button for the 9th floor. (Evan had been waiting a while.) On the way back down after dinner, it was the same story over again. We got many stares and many questions in India, but this was kind of the funniest!
A street pic from the walk back to our hotel…I just held up the iPhone and snapped.

We had a super-early flight to Bahrain the next morning, so this was our last day of adventures in India! We loved our time in Kolkata. I hope to return some day. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

On the Town

Ahh, we were able to get a good night of rest and a leisurely start to our second day in Kolkata.

Our hotel rate included an expansive breakfast buffet: everything from chocolate cereal to made-to-order omelets and dosas. Fresh fruit juice, three kinds of homemade yogurt, about a dozen hot dishes, you name it. We sat by the window near a lovely garden. The radio was playing from a speaker right over our heads. There seemed to be a certain fondness for contemporary arrangements of Bee Gees hits, Muzak-style. And then…full blast…Jingle Bells! So funny, because no one else batted an eye at Christmas music in India in February.

We started our day touring the Victoria Memorial. Why didn't we visit this lovely building last time we were in Kolkata? Oh yeah, it might be because we were focused on other things…like picking up our daughter! Well, I'm really glad we went this time.

At the ticket booth there are separate prices for Indians and for Foreigners. It's a huge difference: 10 Rupees for Indians, and 150 for Foreigners. Schoolchildren are free if they are in uniform. So we should have had 3 full-price tickets. (450 Rupees is about $7.50.) But the guard would not charge Jenya the Rs 150. She got her own ticket for 10 Rupees.

The Memorial is made from the same type of marble as the Taj Mahal. It is strikingly beautiful, and the grounds are lovely as well. No cameras allowed inside the main building, which had several exhibits on the building of the Memorial and other topics of interest. We liked seeing the marble sculpture of Queen Victoria holding the very orb and scepter we'd seen at the Tower of London just a couple of weeks before. We were able to climb up into the dome, which houses a series of 12 wonderful paintings depicting scenes from Victoria's reign. Again, it was extremely cool to make some connections to history we'd learned both at home and in London.
 View from the second level

Evan gave our guidebook a careful look and decided we should check out a neighborhood new to us. The Bara Bazar area wasn't as polished as other neighborhoods we'd seen; it was pretty crowded and dingy. We wandered around looking for an old Armenian church build in the 1760s. Up an alleyway and through a dark passageway, we finally found it. Closed, but the courtyard and gravestones were pretty to see. We did a tiny bit of shopping and lots of people-watching, and then decided to call it a morning.

Dress-forms showing off the girls' outfits for sale

This fellow is selling fresh lime soda. He uses that press-wheel to squish the liquid sugar out of the sugarcanes. Add fresh lime juice and water, and you're good to go. Except we couldn't buy it on the street like this -- the water would be unsafe. We had it often in restaurants, made with sparkling water. Our favorite!

After lunch we walked to the Indian Museum. Again with the ticket confusion. Rs 10 for Indians; Rs 150 for Foreigners. I tried to give Rs 450, but they wouldn't charge Jenya the Foreign rate. She got her own Indian ticket for Rs 10. The museum is undergoing refurbishment to bring it up to 21st century standards. We saw one updated exhibit on coins which was just excellent! We also toured the not-yet-updated animal exhibits, which thrilled Jenya despite their old-school feel.

In the afternoon I did a little shopping for some wearable outfits for Jenya (as opposed to the bling-studded numbers she got in Jaipur) and some scarves. At dinnertime we had the privilege of dining with some friends we've made through our adoption community - the man in the family works at the hotel where we stayed. We ate at -- get this -- the German Cultural Center in Kolkata, where our host's brother-in-law is a cook. Afterward, we visited very briefly at this family's home, a one-room dwelling for four people up a little alleyway from a busy street.

We enjoyed our evening walk so much the night before, we decided to venture out again just for fun. We navigated the crazy street traffic and bought more rainbow bangles, and also watched some men in open-air shops sewing sequins and sparkles onto scarves and dresses. It was neat to see how the patterns of beading are marked and stitched. More probably-bad-for-us ice cream (c'mon! the cones were only 15 cents!) and a stroll through the crowds to our hotel, and we were more than ready to roll into bed.