Monday, August 10, 2009

The Colony

Many people often ask us what it is like to live here. It’s a very hard thing to describe because everyone starts with a preconceived idea in his or her head. Some people who support us envision us in some sort of thatch-roofed hut in a small village where we have to hunt for our food. There are a few places in the world still like that, but I would have to guess it is a small percentage of the world’s population. In many countries people have traded in their straw huts for something I think is even worse: little concrete and tarpaulin hovels lined up in rows of thousands all around the developing world’s major cities (think Slumdog Millionaire). Other people though seem to envision us in a slightly poorer version of America. They are surprised to hear we have huge water, electricity, and gasoline shortages. They can’t imagine that most people don’t have refrigerators, central heating, clothes dryers, ovens, or even clean drinking water. After all, how do you live without those things? With the exception of the drinking water, amazingly, you can live quite well without all those “necessities.”

The other day we were watching the first episode of a show called “The Colony.” It was a free download on iTunes, and I can’t pass up something free. It’s a Discovery Channel show that is an experiment to see how 10 strangers manage living together in a post-apocalyptic world. They suppose a major natural disaster, terrorist attack, or epidemic disease has wiped out the vast majority of the world’s population, and now these ten volunteers are going to live in an abandoned warehouse for 10 weeks to see how they survive. They have to scavenge for food, live off the grid, and protect themselves against attacks from roving marauders (of course, on motorcycles). As we were watching the show, a surprising thought came into our heads, “Hey, this is like living in South Asia!”

So here are some similarities:

- They made the 10 volunteers arrive at the warehouse sleep deprived. Ever travel half way across the world? 20-22 hours in an airplane, another 10 hours in airports going through security checks? That’s sleep deprivation.
- They have to collect water from the polluted L.A. River to wash their clothes, cook with, and to flush their toilets. That’s pretty much how most of the world gets their water, except many of the rivers in the developing world are much more polluted than the L.A. river.
- The volunteers have to filter and boil all their drinking water. Yeah… us too. For more that just ten weeks. How about all the time?
- Since there is no electricity, the colonists gather together a bunch of car batteries and a power inverter they just happen to find laying around to run some lights in their warehouse. That is called an Uninterrupted Power Supply system or U.P.S. Many middle class families in South Asia have those for their houses. After all we do have 16 hours of no power every day in winter months. Oddly enough, we don’t have one because they are too expensive!
- On one of the first couple days of the experiment, the survivors were blessed with a heavy rain, and they scrambled around filling containers with rainwater. We fill up every bucket we have every time it rains, and just like on the show, we also put buckets under the downspouts.
- The roving motorcycle marauders attack the colony and try to steal their resources. Every week we hear about another foreigner getting their laptops stolen. So every night we have to secure our perimeter and keep all our valuables locked up. Who knows, maybe the thieves here also drive motorcycles.

All these things made us laugh. I kept thinking, “I would do really well on this show.” Then, the colonists cracked open a branded can of Spaghetti-O’s with meatballs and complained about their dinner options. Are you kidding me? Some days I think I would give my left arm for a family-sized can of Spaghetti-O’s!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Our Disappearing Neighbors

South Asians wake up early--way to early for me! Every morning the city comes to life shortly after five in the morning. By six o'clock, the little lanes around our house are alive with people fetching water, and there is a great symphony of the sounds of dishes clanging together, dirty laundry being beaten against stones, and the loudest of all dogs barking for the sake of barking. By 6:30, some kids are already on their way to school or to their extra "tuitions" (study groups) before school. All this happens everyday without fail for about nine months a year, but during the monsoon things change.

We have had a very poor monsoon this year, but on those occasional days when it rains all night through the mid morning, a drastic change happens to the morning routine. Two days ago I was standing out on our terrace at about eight o'clock (the earliest I would ever like to be out of my house) as a light rain was continuing to fall on the city. As I looked around, I noticed every house had its doors and windows tightly closed up. Our neighborhood was quiet. There were no traffic sounds. No washing, cooking, or water fetching could be seen or heard, and even the dogs mercifully had ceased their barking. Plus, our naughtiest cat decided to take the morning off for a sleep-in as well!

Now that's what I call a good morning.