Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Fatigue of Being Punjabi

As usual, my Disclaimer:  This post is not about pity, sympathy or disrespect. I want to highlight some of the challenges that will be faced by newcomers to the country. Expats thinking of relocating to this part of the world. By increasing our knowledge and understanding, we enlighten ourselves and the world becomes a better place - one mind at a time.

Anyone who lives in a well developed country like the U.S. knows all about the ChildReach commercials touting starving children and dirt floor homes. Those commercials are designed to solicit money from your pocket through emotional blackmail. Almost every American sleeps on an 8-inch thick (approximately) mattress. Has a nice floor under their feet and walls and doors that seal out the outside world any time they want them to. So looking at these commercials in unimaginable to the average American. We don't understand how anyone could live that way and how sad we feel for them that they don't have all that we have.

I've had the fortune to be alone at home for 2 days now. I'm loving the peace, the quiet, etc. It's the first extended break I've had from joint family living for 7 months now. I don't have any real complaints about joint families, but after living as queen of the house for so many years, it's challenging to completely step back as I've done here so far. I've been treated like a princess since I've been here. I was forbidden to do laundry and dishes (though I snuck it in a few times lol) and if I got caught doing them I get lectured about how I shouldn't do it. Not in a bad way, but MIL really loves doing the laundry and she's not in any way ready to give that up. She actually comes in and claims the dirty laundry several times a day lol. It's unusual to see that kind of dedication (at least for me hahaha). The only other time I've seen it was my former step mother. She was that way over dishes and was always running around the house looking for dishes to wash. She washed dishes 5-6 times a day. But that's another story.

So, being home alone for 2 days it became absolutely necessary I do the dishes (though I have not said a word to MIL lol - she's expecting to come home to a massive amount of dishes and I'm thinking very seriously about lying and saying my husband did them to keep from getting in trouble hahaha). I had free reign of the kitchen so I took full advantage of that and tried out some new foods yesterday. (Ya'll let me know if you want my recipe for Mushroom Jeera Aloo because it turned out fabulous!) I saved up the dishes until last night because for lunch for one, no matter what you do there just aren't enough dishes to warrant washing under the circumstances we have here in this house.

This morning, after some food was spilled on the bed, it became necessary to wash the bed sheet right away as well.  I figured since I was washing, I would throw in what little clothes I had, the dish towels from the kitchen and whatever else I could find so it would be enough to warrant all the water I had to fill up the bucket with for the bed sheet. I did manage to get the bucket half full lol. I've done laundry by hand before, but it was in the bath tub in an American bathroom and I had plenty of space and the AC was on.

Now that brings me to the point of this post. I know, I can be long winded with background information though lol, but I don't think you'll understand as well if I skip all the details. Our wash station for dishes and laundry is outside, on the terrace. We have a 20 gallon bucket and a faucet under a small partially covered area, located under the giant soccer ball that serves as our backup well. I did dishes last night and, not wanting the stain to set, this morning I did laundry. Due to the fatigue I'm about to explain, the breakfast dishes are out there soaking until I can manage round 2 lol.

To do the washing you have to sit on these two tiny stools stacked up (one will work but I imagine MIL stacked them because of the joint fatigue that is suffered as a result of these things). They are wooden stools and one is about 4 inches wide, the other 6 and they are about 12 inches long. They are only about 4 inches high each. So she normally sits on these stools, maybe 8 inches total off the ground. This leaves your knees in the air as if you're squatting and the stools provide minimal support. Surprisingly, they weren't that hard or uncomfortable to sit on, but the rest of your body suffers.

Then, no matter how close you get to it, you have to lean somewhat to get to the bucket and the water and actually do the washing. My shoulders, arms and upper body managed just fine - and I must say I'm a weakling in those areas. However, my hips, knees and legs are in a tremendous amount of pain from the pressure sitting like that for roughly 30 minutes caused. Now I already mentioned there weren't a ton of dishes or laundry so it wasn't like I was there a long time. Even the sun, which was getting hot, didn't seem too bad. My hips actually went to sleep/numb and now and hour later they still ache. It wasn't quite as bad last night but I imagine the strain then plus now is what's making this so bad.

This isn't the only fatigue I've noticed about daily life here. The majority of the mattresses are only 3-4 inches thick and it's foam, sometimes with a backing about an inch thick that is hard but not wooden. MIL sleeps on a 1 inch thick cotton mattress. Under that is only the hard wood of the bed. The house is entirely concrete so walking up and down stairs or around the house means your entire body takes all the impact. These things, combined with the intense heat and humidity in the summer cause a great amount of daily fatigue to your body, your joints and your muscles.

I know over time MIL must surely have built up a tolerance but I see how she has trouble walking, maneuvering about certain areas of the house and getting up and down the stairs and it's heart breaking. She is a hard working woman, she is dedicated to her work around the house and taking care of things here but this lifestyle is so hard on her body. She's not even old enough to have these kind of joint issues. In her case, she's a little heavy and that doesn't help I know but I'm barely heavy at all and these few activities were very hard on my body. I can only imagine how hard they are on her. (Not to mention I have a much thicker bone structure. MIL is this tiny framed little woman lol.) (And we have a washing machine but I don't know how to use it lol - it's nothing like the ones in the US.)

Yes, many people in Punjab and across India have more modernized homes and more conveniences but many do not. Some have less than we do. I see several women along the street who wash their clothes and dishes outside in the streets because they don't have indoor facilities. They don't have the stools to sit on that we have. When they shower, yes out in the street, they have to duck their bodies down to get their hair under the spigot to rinse sometimes and those things are usually only 2-3 feet off the ground. I can't imagine the fatigue they go through. They have to bring all their stuff to the street on the ground floor (most of the houses are 3 or more stories here) and take it back up when they're done.

No one ever tells you about these kind of hardships. We don't even think about it when those commercials come on and show the starving children in Ethiopia and such. India is nowhere near as bad off as some of those countries, but it is still a fast developing nation. Many expats travel to other countries for work, humanitarian purposes or to find themselves spiritually. I am pretty confident none of them think ahead of time about the amount of stress and fatigue they are going to go through without all those modern conveniences once they get there. They only think about food and shelter. So if you're going to be moving to any other country, I highly recommend you work on your physical fitness level to prepare for whatever it may have to challenge you, change you and enlighten you. Good luck!


  1. that is one thing i CANNOT do-wash clothes- cooking, cleaning, baby care is fine-but clothes, clothes are my enemy

  2. yes true it is quite hard at times. i come from a small town in Karnataka where even today things haven't changed so drastically at least for a sizable number of people

  3. I have a whole new respect for how difficult the Indian lifestyle is after living here. And I know some places and families have it much harder. Thanks for your comment.

  4. :) when i moved with the then boy friend (and now husband) i used to do laundry every weekend...he used to help but one time he didn't and i got annoyed and took the whole pile, shut the bathroom for three four hours and washed all the evening i had severe pain in my right arm and i could not sleep the whole night, we had to rush to the hospital at 3 in the morning....well, then we bought a washing machine...i wonder how the women used to take care of house chores....

  5. You poor thing! I can only imagine how bad that was. Like you, when I'm angry I get more work done but, you're right it's painful lol. Wears you out so much. When I did my laundry by hand in the bathtub I put it in at shower time first. That gave it plenty of soap and some agitation while I got myself cleaned up (plus I tell myself it saved some water and energy and got some leg exercise into the mix lol). That started off round one and got me through the soaking and such. This was nothing like that though. I think, even though our wash area has a concrete floor, I would have been better off on my knees trying to wash. It might have hurt less anyway. But then I run into the problem of my butt being in the air in public and I'm not sure I'm okay with that haha. Is there any way to win here? I'm starting to think no lol. Oh well. I will always have the experience now.

  6. Yeah, washing this way is definitely not fun for anyone. Give me an American style washroom and I can kick laundry's butt any day. I just don't want to do laundry like this anymore and I now have a much deeper respect for the women that do it this way, or have it harder. Having done laundry by hand before I didn't think too heavily about this until I sat there myself. I have a lot of trouble cooking here too. The gas heat is really intense and many, many times I've almost passed out in the kitchen. I rarely cook anything alone in there and I don't stay in the kitchen unless I absolutely have to. The kitchen is well ventilated but the heat just doesn't go out and the fumes from the gas bother me even when I'm on the next floor up and they creep up the stairs. I haven't attempted baby care here yet. That I could probably manage though. Other than freaking out the kid might fall down the stairs or get a leg caught in some of the hazards around the house. I shudder to think of those. Yikes!

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