January 14 is Makar Sankranti, which is a Hindu solstice-harvest-new-year festival. Different states and regions have different ways of celebrating the holiday. Here in Andhra Pradesh we have ceremonial burning, rangoli chalk drawings, decorated cows, and most importantly, kite flying.
We woke up to a smokier morning than usual. Mike had the day off from work so despite the smoke we went for a walk to see the neighborhood preparations for the holiday. Women were out making the colorful rangoli and there was a band going door-to-door with its decorated cow. (They leached us out of quite a few rupees to get Muffin's picture taken with the cow.)
We discovered the source of all the smoke -- the first thing to do when celebrating Makar Sankranti, at least in this state, is to burn all of your old wooden furniture at dawn. It symbolizes getting rid of bad habits and vices and starting the season with a clean slate. Dozens of houses we passed had little fires burning or piles of smoldering ashes in the driveways. When we got home from our walk we went up to the rooftop patio to see if the kites were flying yet. All we could see were low, smokey clouds. Multiply all those little fires in our neighborhood by the thousands of Hindus celebrating throughout the city, and that's a lot of smoke.
When our housekeeper arrived she did a rangoli design on our patio. She's Christian, but has learned all the traditional Hindu arts that women are supposed to learn. The rangoli are sacred Hindu greeting areas for the deities. For us and our housekeeper, it's just fun decoration. She doesn't use a stick of chalk; it's all chalk powder that the women manipulate with their fingers.
We kept going up to the roof to look for kites but never saw any. The festival continues all weekend so we'll try again tomorrow. We could go into town to seek out the good kite-flying areas but with a baby and without a car that seems more complicated than I'd really like it to be. Next year Muffin will be old enough to have a little more fun and by then we should have our car here. For the time being we'll just look for kites from our roof.
Last spring I started taking online courses for my master's degree in political science. Eventually the pregnancy got distracting and between that and getting ready to leave Africa and move to India, I decided to take a hiatus after those two courses.
As of the first of this year I'm a student again, again. Each month I'm starting an eight-week course, so now I'm taking one course, as of the first of February I'll be on the tail end of this one and starting the next one, etc., through June. It's busy and scary and exciting. I love that my brain is getting a workout. Dr. Seuss's ABCs is a classic, but I need to read something more stimulating every now and then.
I'm not working and even though I have a baby, I also have household help. Our housekeeper is great with Muffin and Muffin loves her; they can sit and play together for about an hour at a time. Muffin is also sleeping more regularly at night and is playing independently for longer stretches at a time so I can squeeze in all my reading.
Doing my homework takes discipline. I'd much rather be watching tv or reading blogs and online newspapers a lot of the time. But I think taking these courses is going to be worth all the work, whether it's for personal development or they help me land a job the next time we're living in the United States.
(Yeah, so, I'm writing a blog post because I have a little writer's block with my globalization essay for class this week.)
This year we left Burundi after twenty-two months of tropical fun. Sure there were some civil war remnants, but nothing serious enough to make us put down our fresh pineapple juice or stop us from enjoying beautiful sunsets on the terrace. And as one of my coworkers pointed out before I left, we have the greatest souvenir from our time there (see next paragraph).
This year Sophie Olivia came into our lives. It's sounds so cliche (and so does that), but we can't imagine life without her. She's happy and thriving and I can't believe how much she's changed in the first few months of her life. She started eating some real food this week, and with gusto. I'm so anxious to see how she develops further.
Finally, this year we moved to India. So far we are loving it here aside from a few transition pains. We've spent the New Year holiday unpacking, as the remainder of our household items -- aside from the car and the cat -- arrived on Friday afternoon. The New Year isn't much of a holiday here but Mike had yesterday off from work and even though we were tired, unpacking kept us up late enough to see the neighbors set off some fireworks. We'd already unpacked our case of champagne and had a bottle chilling in the fridge for a midnight toast.
We are looking forward to staying in one place for 2011. Cheers to everyone's hopes and dreams for the upcoming year!