Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Joe is gone to the U.S. on business, so I thought maybe it was time to write some blogs on some of the little things that make life in India different, before I got so used to them that I didn't remember any other way.

When I was in the U.S. I read about the European water heaters, that heated the water as it was being used, rather than keeping it warm 24 hours a day like in the U.S.. I wondered "How could you possibly heat it fast enough to keep up with how fast it comes out of the tap?" The answer is, of course, that you don't. This week I am reminded of it every day, because Joe isn't here to turn it on to preheat for 15 minutes before we start to take showers.

If you have an "old geezer" in your bathroom, you may need a plumber, or an electrician, but you won't need a policeman. It is just how they pronounce "geyser", the water heater. We have an old geezer in our kitchen, but unfortunately we seem to stand a better chance of getting a policeman, than a repairman or new geyser installer. However, this is about our only complaint about our landlord, so we're heating our water to wash dishes with and being patient.

Water is probably the most major difference in moving to India. Since it is contaminated with e-coli and heavy metals, it must be filtered, and boiled if you don't have the newest kind of filtration system. Minor but absolutely essential changes have to be made. The first thing I did upon coming here was to put a sock on the faucet handles to remind me never to drink or rinse a toothbrush with water from the tap. Instead we keep a soda bottle full of filtered water on the counter for rinsing toothbrushes, and another in the shower for rinsing hair. Upon my arrival I started losing a lot of hair with every shower. I had read a book telling of the person moving to India and losing almost all of her hair temporarily, so I wasn't totally unprepared. Still I didn't really want Joe's hairstyle, so I asked for advice. I was told to rinse my hair with mineral or filtered water. This seems to do the trick.

Though we usually heat tap water to do dishes to make it easier to dissolve grease, it is not necessary to filter or boil it, as long as you make sure you don't ever pick up a glass or utensil from the drainer and use it while it is at all wet. The germs seem to die very quickly when exposed to the air, on a dry surface. But you must be careful not to rinse your hands and then pick up something you're going to eat without cooking. I think the last time I got sick was from rinsing the stickiness from eating prunes off my hands, and then promptly picking up another one and popping it into my mouth.

This presents a quandary when eating out. If you're going to eat either traditional Indian food or Western fast food with your hands, are your hands cleaner before or after you wash them? My solution is to usually go to wash them while the food is being prepared, to give them time to dry thoroughly before eating.

You are told NEVER to accept a bottle of water that you have not either seen (heard) someone open, or done it yourself. I heard of a waiter who told someone that they don't understand why Americans like to drink out of bottles, but they do, so they obligingly pour their tap water into bottles...Not everyone who sells you water in unsealed bottles is so naive. After getting sick from ice cubes made with tap water on our first visit, that pop as the seal broke on the cap of the water bottle was a very reassuring sound.

On our first visit we tried another surprisingly safe source of water. We drank the water in green coconuts that are sold on the side of the road. Someone usually has a cart or bicycle loaded with coconuts, a machete, and a pack of straws. He selects a coconut hacks off one end with the machete, and inserts a straw.

We were told that coconut milk is very healthy for you, and absolutely pure. (As long as the knife or straws aren't exposed to water or germs.) "Coconut milk is the only water no frog has never peed in." Apparently during WW2 in the South Pacific, there was a bad shortage of safe water, so hospitals used coconut milk in I.V.s.

After you drink the "milk" or water in the coconut, you give the coconut back. The man then opens up the coconut some more with successive chops as he rotates the coconut. This process first makes you look to see if he still has all his fingers, and then makes you very glad it's him and not you doing it. One of the pieces that is chopped off is given to you to use as a spoon to dig the soft, white, unripe coconut meat out with. We did not care much for the taste, but it also had a sliminess, probably similar to oysters. So we've passed on that part since then. Coconut milk is supposedly extremely good for "stomach problems". I'm not sure how much of that is due to medicinal qualities, and how much just a matter of it being pure, in contrast to whatever gave you the stomach problems in the first place.

With a little care a foreigner can live happily and safely in Bangalore. Leastwise, we're very glad we came.


Karen said...

OK Donna. Unbelievably you have added yet ANOTHER reason why India is not on my top 10 things to do before I die. I have had the opportunity to drink coconut milk in Jamaica. And you are absolutely correct about the slimy innards of the coconut. Thought I was going to totally puke when our host offered me a glass before everyone else. The thought of the gelatinous stuff going down my throat was not exciting at all. Plus I am not crazy about the milk part either. Luckily the lady turned her back to talk to someone and oops, over the railing it went while my teammates all laughed at me for being a wimp. Of course they wouldnt drink it either. But keep writing because I LOVE reading your posts about life there. It fulfills any curiosity I may have had about India and more. Meeting you in Vermont sounds better all the time!!! Many hugs and kisses, Karen

John Galt said...

U.S Tap water is no better. Shocking to see that "prescription drugs" and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen were found in drinking water supplies in 24 major metropolitan areas in the U.S.

Wish I could get fresh coconut milk in this country.

Donna said...

You're right about that. Thanks for the link. They used to say to flush old prescription medicines, etc down the toilet to prevent children from finding it in the trash. They are finally seeing the light, but I wonder how long it will be before the word gets spread and people stop.

It's sort of like telling people to cover their mouths when they cough in one generation, then the next round they say, "Oh, gee. People mostly get sick by touching something someone who is sick has touched" (with those hands). I taught my kids to cough into their shoulder years ago. Now they're recommending that, but now what about hugging people! Well, at least that isn't a big problem in India!

Donna said...

If anyone wants to enlighten us on what's in coconut milk & how it helps you, please write.

John Galt said...

Search engines are very powerful and a wonderful source of knowledge. Please use search engines like Google,Yahoo and MSN to enlighten yourself on topics you are ignorant off.

For example:
step 1: Type in your browser
step 2: wait for the page to load
step 3: Once loaded type in your query in the "search" text box, in this case type in "benefits of coconut water"
step 3: press "Enter" on the keyboard and wait for the results
step 4: click on the results (based on the relevance to the topic in discussion).

By performing steps 1-4 you get to
that gives you a good listing of the various benefits of Coconut water.

Anonymous said...

I would assume you probably already know how to use google seeing as you know how to use blogger and all....

But a great how to, nonetheless.

Donna said...

John, It takes hours to try to write and share our experiences in India. We love India and are learning a lot. Sometimes it's nice to have someone else help with the endeavor. Especially if they know from experience or training. Or want to share part of their heritage.

I have just spent more than 2 hours working on my story of what it was like to wear a sari for the first time. I took your advice and found how to spell pallu through google. My first attempt brought me to the suggestion of "saris". That took me to sites for stores. I didn't find what I wanted, but one of them had directions on how to wear a sari. Guess I could have saved myself a lot of time. But it's not personal, and I doubt it would make anyone laugh. And it wouldn't explain to anyone from Bangalore why Joe said I "threatened to stay home." (Not one of his better moments.)

I am no longer computer phobic, but neither am I terribly computer savy. I needed a lot of help to get to where I am today, and I'm doing the best I can.

Karen said...

John and Donna. Google only gets you so far. It cant tell you that coconut water is a sure fire way to see who is a native in Jamaica/India and who is not. If there is a look of panic on their face when the gelatin is scooped out and plopped in a glass, they are NOT a native.

They are not a native if they try to open their own coconut with a hammer. Everyone knows you use a machete!

They are not a native if they thought coconut only came in small plastic bags labeled COCONUT.

They are not natives if they think that the fluid in coconut is milk instead of water.

They are not natives if the only use they see in coconut shells is to make a hawaiian bra.

And they are not natives if they think that coconuts only grow on Gilligan's Island.

Have a great day!!