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Sunday, October 28, 2012

We are now homeschooling...

Emma and the Friday night class
Will's Saturday class

One of the great things that has happened to our family in India has been the opportunity to get involved in the local community.   Of course you can always donate money to any charity but giving some time every week provides a connection to real people.   Over the last year Emma has been involved in an after school program that focuses on improving the English skills for children in the villages around our housing complex.   India has multiple options for public and private schools, but those that are run by the government do not teach English.   If the children can learn to read and write in English they will have better opportunities for employment.    Just outside our neighborhood is the local school for Ramagondanahalli, it's a single story yellow building with a few rooms and a dusty play yard.  There are no toilets.   Kids from ages of first through eighth grade attend but in varying regularity and it's not uncommon for those around 11 or 12 to drop out to work at construction  sites to help support the family.  

In September the family that had been hosting the after school program moved to Australia and a new home was needed.   Emma asked if we could host the school which runs from 5-6pm, Monday through Friday and then 2-3 pm on Saturday for up to 30 kids...Doug and I immediately agreed.   The commitment from my end is light - provide a clean garage, put out water and cups and the teaching staff will do the rest.  We now have mounted whiteboards on our garage walls, a few on easels and often times the class expands to our front porch so the kids can be grouped in different reading groups.    Ms. Poornima is the program coordinator and she organizes the curriculum, complete with workbooks and lesson sheets.   There is now a waiting list of high school students to volunteer one night a week!   Emma still has Friday nights with 2 of her pals and William takes Saturday after he gets back from school (yes our kids have Saturday school here!).   On the days I can get home on time from work, I pull up in the drive to see a ton of smiling faces and am greeted by a flurry of "Hi Ma'am" and plenty of thank yous.    The kids usually show up around 4 or 430 to play with the toys we have in our garage, ask to use the restroom and visit with our dogs.   While we are not really a quiet family - 30 kids in your garage and a rotating line coming into the house to check things out is a whole new level of chaos for me!  

This week is Halloween and while it's not really a holiday / celebration in India, we will be giving the kids a goody bag of sweets complete with orange plastic spider rings.   I will keep you posted on our class this year - the kids love getting their picture taken (Especially when I print it out) as most of them don't have recent pictures of themselves.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Speaking the same language, but not really!

In August we ventured out to Dubare in the Coorg region of Karnataka state in India.  This is about a 6 hour drive south and west from Bangalore into the green hills famous for their coffee.    Our Spanish exchange student, Alvaro, was in town and we wanted to show him some wildlife.   India is famous for their safaris and general abundance of animals (not only the cows, goats, chickens you see in town) but the peacocks, tigers and elephants.   We settled on an elephant safari in Dubare and booked out stay at the government run "Jungle Lodge."    
After the normal but bumpy 6 hour trip, we turned down a narrow dirt lane, fresh from the rains, our driver could only think of what a mess the car would be.   We followed the lane to a dead end.  I could see a sign for the Jungle Lodges and thought we would be walking through the foliage with our stuff, my irritation level was increasing...Just then a small motor boat pulled up and it dawned on me that we were crossing a fast flowing river in a boat just larger than a bathtub to the lodge.  

Now I must remind you we are seasoned travellers within India, always prepared with snacks, gin & tonics to go, cards and plenty of insect repellent.  These essentials make sure even the most unexpected accommodations are tolerable.   During the boat ride - I kept thinking, what did I sign myself up for!

We arrived at the Jungle Lodge and to my surprise there were about a dozen brick villas, with a view of the river, equipped with a covered porch and plenty of space to spread out.   We had three villas and began unpacking our spread of chips, Cheetos, soda and drinks.    After heading over to the cafeteria pavilion, again I was pleasantly surprised with the mix of western and south Indian cuisine and the availability of sodas and kingfisher beer.   Alright, this journey was turning the corner.   Our afternoon included a jeep safari that allowed us to see the over 20 elephants roaming in their protected habitat, baby elephants feeding, peacocks scampering across the fields and some squirrels.  Now we have lots of squirrels in the Midwest, but our guide was most excited to show us the variety in India!   Small wonders...

After dinner and playing on some non-standard playground equipment (think tire swings suspended from high trees and large spider nets pulled 10 feet above the ground) we retired to one of the villas for cards and snacks, looking forward to helping wash the elephants in the morning.    About 3 am, Doug and I awoke to a tapping.  I was sure someone was at the window.  Doug sprang up from bed, put on his camping headlight and started to investigate.  Now this is where i really wish i had a camera, to see him in his boxers with the headlamp on was something else!   He told me to go back to sleep it was nothing.  

Hours later we all got up, I noticed a trail of potato chips in the corner of the room and my Tupperware container had tiny chew marks all over it...  I was promptly informed that a rat hat been in the cabin but Doug decided it was better for me not to know.   We checked in with Will who was looking for some sunscreen, sure he left it in our villa.   Searching high and low we found the tube that had about a dozen holes, clearly eaten through the night.   We decided to pack up and head to the river, hoping to enjoy the elephants and then get the heck out of there!   

After a rainy but nice time washing, feeding and then riding the elephants we checked out.   I complained about the rats and the staff kept showing me the bill, insisting that (I thought he was saying the rats) were included.   It took me about 10 minutes to realize he was saying VAT (As in tax!) and not RAT.  It wasn't until I showed the staff the chewed up tube the realized I was complaining about RATS.   Their response, "but Madame you are in jungle."

I am assured next time that won't be a problem, but I won't be coming back!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Move over Indiana Jones...

Our trekking group- 20 of us plus three guides
I am not really an outside girl, as you probably guessed by the title of my blog and my penchant for shopping.   I have really never camped in my life; once I did spend the night in a tent at our local park with all the comforts of our air mattress and 600 thread count sheets.    However, no India experience is complete without a proper trek.   With about a year left, I have made a bucket list for myself and trekking was high on the list.   I also wanted to visit the Dalai Lama's temple in Northern India.   

In late March, a colleague forwarded me the invitation to particpate in the Himanchal Pradesh trek as part of a fundraiser for the Manovikas Charity in  Delhi that provides mentally challenged folks with options and training for employment.   I had to think about it for 2 seconds, promptly signing myself.     I downloaded the pdf detailing the trek and I can't remember much of what it said other than "toilet tents."  My other fear was that I have not been keeping up with exercise, letting client visits, long hours and kingfisher beer get in the way.    Now I had a goal!  

Taking a break up as we went up hill 10 km with a friendly
canine by my side...Priceless!

I pushed myself to get in shape, pack all my belongings for the 6 day trip into one duffel bag and a 20L day pack.   I scrapped my normal myraid of toiletries and went for the basics.  I do admit to applying lip gloss as I trekked up the hill and moisturizer whenever possible but overall I really tried!    

Our journey began with a flight to Delhi, then a 12 hour overnight bus ride from the Delhi terminal to Dharamshala (home of the Dalai Lama) followed by a day of acclimitization and then the 3 day trek.   The 20 of us loaded the bus in Delhi and between a boxed dinner, a quick stop for the bathrooms
Me jumping off the side of a mountain...literally... and
done in flip flops
...we made it through the bumpy roads, noisy passangers and close quarters.

Move over Indiana, here comes Becky in full trekking gear!
Our visit to McLeodganj (small town in the Dharamshala metropolis) the first day was filled with eye candy... Tibetan monks, road side stalls of tourquoise and silver and plenty of hippies that looked like they migrated from Goa to avoid the monsoon.  The thing about India is there is no shortage of color and excellent people watching opportunities.   Sometimes the best moments of the trip were sitting along the path or at a small cafe with chai watching who rounded the next corner.  
The trek itself was hard, I have to admit I thought that the path would be well groomed and ready for me.  But it was like being on the stair climber for four hours straight.   I was a sweaty Becky going full steam ahead.   My competitive side came out and I enjoyed the fast pace - getting me to the top fo the trail ahead of the pack.  When you are walking for hours through the mountains, focused on your hear part of yourself that is usually buried under endless emails and phone calls.

Our camp ground in Triund which was a meadow about 10,000
foot elevation facing the western himalaya range
I can't say that the inner Becky revealed anything shocking during my three days of trekking, but I did get to really listen to the people I was with.   Learning more about them then I knew through our working relationship.   I learned my body can take the challenge and there is something freeing about reducing the clutter - either mental or physical - that we tote around with us daily.    And finally, I like to see the sunrise over the Himalayas with a hot cop of cocoa in my hand while the valley is still and my mind is clear.   I didn't even mind the toilet tents and am planning one my trek before I leave India :)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Baghdad Landing

As part of our India adventure we are trying to cover as much of this diverse country as possible.   Growing up in the Midwest I am used to a pretty flat topography which makes Bangalore feel like normal.   All our friends from California or Europe complain about the lack of mountains.   India, Nepal, Tibet and China have some of the tallest peaks around.  We figured it was time to go check them out.    Unfortunately the season for visiting the northern borders of India is relatively short - April through October as the snow and ice gets to heavy... Again, I am a midwest girl, we think nothing of 18 inches of snow overnight, shoveling and then off to work.   We opted for early April, packing the necessary winter accessories to escape the Bangalore heat.

The five of us boarded our plane in Delhi at 5:55 am to head north to Leh-Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir India.   No breakfast, bleary eyed and cramped on our flight - the kids managed to hold it together until the descent.  Gliding above the infinite plane of snow caps sprawling as far as the eye could see, our descent was slow and steady.   Soon enough the snowcaps were  disappearing and our flight was along the brown mountain sides.   It was spectacular.   I could see the valley ahead but we were still too high to land.  The the excitement started.  The plane started to rumble, bank to the left closely rounding the some lone mountains in the center of the valley...I could see the narrow streets and small air traffic control tower as we passed by...Again medium vibrations and we bank to the right getting lower into the valley.   I could see Nolan's eyes glaze over and the green tint spread across his face.    Stuck in a window seat, bag in the overhead i quickly dug into my pockets looking for tissues, wrappers or anything to manage the pending eruption.   Again we bank to the left, the landing gear drops and the rumblings become progressively more violent.

Nolan loses it.  I will spare you the details but this is when you earn your strips as a Mom.   My other two kids start to heave at the mere sight of their little brother and my husband looked away.  I was ready to throw out his shoes but knowing there would be no options in town - i opted for water and baby wipes hoping he would not inspect my handiwork.   I learned after deplaning this is what you call a Baghdad or spiral landing.  That should have been enough warning for what followed!

having coffee at the Grand Dragon hotel-check out that backdrop!
Off to the hotel which was at 10,000 ft elevation.   A day of rest was planned so we could acclimate to the thinner air.   I climbed in bed with a hat on my head and book in hand to hydrate and rest however a nagging headache got progressively worse.  I checked in with Doug - same headache.  Kids were fine watching the every present Cartoon Network.   It dawned on us around 5pm that we were just suffering from caffeine withdrawal.  Nothing a little Starbucks Via to Go couldn't solve.   New reminder - have 1 cup of coffee no matter the schedule to avoid delusion and hypochondriac notions!   I would like to say that the those were the biggest challenges of the journey but the toilets proved to be the next life lesson for the kids.

As an adult - you have more experience making do with what is present (outhouse, road side, holes in the ground and the like....) as a kid you are still operating under the parental orders of don't touch dirty stuff, wash your hands all the time and don't go down dark or unlit pathways...Well those were exactly the conditions of rural mountain bathrooms.   I tried to be a sport and use what was available so the kids would follow suit but there were just times Emma and Nolan could deal.   I don't have a picture or even have found something as interesting as what we saw in the mountains...picture the scene from Trainspotting - that was our Tibetan kitchen facilities... think back to Slumdog Millionaire and the style where the drop is 30 feet below and finally our favorite, a ceramic basin put in the ground with a rock on top sheltered by burlap wrapped around a stick!

I would say we are all experts at identifying good facilities after enough bad ones found - but in addition to carrying water, tissue and purell make the whole experience tolerable...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination

I spent the last few weeks back in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan for Christmas. It was really nice to put up traditional decorations, bake dozens of cupcakes and reconnect with friends and family. Many people will complain that the holidays are taxing and the true meaning is lost in the commercialism. Perhaps that is true and I sometimes find myself a little disappointed after cooking for hours to see my guests eat in 10 minutes and then move on. There is one person who always grounds me, reminding me it’s the journey not the destination. That is my husband Doug. When I get in a funk and feel that I am putting in effort that is unappreciated, he reminds me of the fun we had cooking including the mishaps along the way and the satisfaction we found in the process. The end result can be interpreted many different ways and that’s just life. Either my guests liked my cooking or not, maybe it was too salty or too bland…but a dinner was provided and that was the basic expectation.

Professionally, there are similar frustrations. I may have spent weeks on a particular project, fine tuning the presentation, reviewing it with the stakeholders only to find the discussion never gets past the first slide in the final sign-off. I may have felt like I had so much to say, or why didn’t the leadership want to look through the research? When the discussion resulted in the decision I was hoping for I am able to move on quicker however when it’s back to the drawing board, especially for a miss on my part, I end up in that same funk I had after cooking for the holidays. Lots of work and I didn’t get it right? Or maybe I sort of did, but still more to do. Just like my home life, there is someone to ground me. I turn to colleagues at work to bring me back into focus. Sometimes it’s just a few supportive statements over coffee, maybe they offer to help me review the next version or remind me that I learned along the way which will help me in the future. I find myself reflecting that the process is just as important as the output whether you are in the kitchen or in the office!

A key ingredient to success and having the stamina to sustain the pace in which we work is a support network. It’s easy to get lost in the details, feel buried in your inbox and think you will never get caught up. Most days I am reminded by someone in the office, where to focus and get grounded in my purpose as a boss, as an employee or a team mate. My support network is not just my supervisor, but a long list of folks from different offices and career levels. One of the best things about my company is the people we hire- for all positions. Sometimes it’s a simple smile from a colleague as we pass in the hall, the people in the mail room remembering who I am and what my weekly request is, or my EA knowing when I need a coffee to help me get through my afternoon. Other times it’s the leadership I find from my direct reports, the solutions they bring to the table or the wisdom they share from being in the company for a long time.

I appreciate these bits of help, and maybe they go temporarily unnoticed when I am having a crazy day. I forget to say thank you or really absorb the feedback that I received. However, when I stop to think about where I am, I am grateful for the people around me and I would struggle if not for their efforts and wisdom – whether that is my home family or my work family.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Somebody Pinch Me!

The blogs have slowed down after our first anniversary here in India.  I have to say my better half is much more witty and does such a good job capturing the moment, it gives me a reason to slack off.   If you have not read his blogs, please do check out  I just celebrated a birthday, moved house in India and received a promotion - lots of life events - in which I have had some time to reflect on what a journey coming to India has been.   Earlier I would have told you about the crazy traffic, animals on the streets, non-existant lines and a sense of logic to the chaos that we have learned to operate in.   Now I do not notice the traffic, readily plan to leave at least 1.5 hours in advance to travel a distance of 23km, push my way to the front of all lines, speak loudly at all times and complain to all waitstaff at restaurants.   Those are just the tactics applied for being a foreigner in India.   If I peel the onion back a little more, you would see that I can haggle with the best of them on Commercial Street, I do not pay listed price for anything; I have found my favorite places to get Mexican ingredients for dinner, hair cuts and last minute birthday gifts.   Go on more layer deeper and you would see we are quite at home here in India.   Even on a recent trip to the US (literally 48 hours in Detroit), my house seemed like the Schmitt Museum- full of expensive stuff nobody touches.  I know that is my home and there is comfort in every corner decorated by me.  However, on the flight back from Boston to Bangalore, I knew I was coming home.   My family was carrying on with daily life, my dogs were excited to see me, work was waiting and the social calendar was full for weekends on end .   While it was difficult to adjust to a place so foreign from middle America, I have found a happy spot tucked away in an old coconut grove in Bangalore.   I just have to pinch myself sometimes and ask, am I really in India?  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Who are you?

Another first for me while over in India.  Credit card theft.   I was sitting at home the other night, catching up on email when I received a mail from Debra at American Express "Please Call" was the subject line.  Slightly skeptical, I emailed back "I am out of the country, what is this in regards to?"    An immediate response:

From: Deborah L Del Rosario []

Sent: Thursday, September 29, 2011 9:33 PM

To: Schmitt, Rebecca A.

Subject: Re: American Express Request

Hello and thank you. I see 5 charges in great Britain on September 28th on your Costco card ending in 1019 (Douglas Schmitt is the basic, you are the supplementary account holder) I suspect fraud at these merchants:

Radisson Mayfair

Zara UK


Burberry Knights

Burdett Road

(Approx. $2,400.00)

If these are not your charges please advise ASAP as I am working with law enforcement in GB. Also, please report that account STOLEN ASAP (even though you most likely possess the card...right?) Sorry to disturb you while away.



(On my blackberry as technologies installing updates)

PANIC set in.  I opened my wallet - my Costco Amex was still tucked safely in it's slot.    I logged on to the website, I could only see the first charge for over $1000 USD at Burberry.  Clearly not mine, although not unlikely I could have racked up that bill.    Doug and I both went through the transactions, nothing irregular for the last few months until September 28th.  When was the card compromised??   Fortunately the people at Amex are on the top of their game, my card was shut off, the charges were flagged as fraudulent and Debbie called back to say they are have the GB Police in pursuit of two individuals who are using my card.   Amex is so good that they have sent a new card to my parents (I'll pick it up in November) and they even called my employer when I did not respond to my first email.    I was pleased to see that my HR rep emailed me asking to call Amex given my overseas assignment they were not sure how to contact me.
We are now in Thailand on our holiday and I have seen first hand how my card could have been misused.   Doug and I stopped at the duty free upon landing in Bangkok to pick up requisite Bombay Sapphire Gin and some Kentucky Bourbon for our week.    The cashier rung up our purchases and had us sign the customs slip.   She was very confused as Doug's signature did not match the one of the back of his card.    The back of his credit card said "SEE ID" in printed letters.    At first we panicked that we would not be able to make our purchase, but then I realized - she can't tell the difference!   I guess it would be pretty easy to use a card when the only check is if the signature matches SEE ID.