Conversation With My Friends in the Time of Corona

Apocalypse Escape Plan by my favorite 9 yr old!

Hello friends!

How are you doing? I hope you are able to maintain your sanity in this extended lockdown period. I just pray that these times get over soon and we can be back to our normal self soon.

Daily activities take up a lot of my time and in addition to that, talking every day to family and friends has been helping a lot. You remember my crazy group of old-time girlfriends? A few weeks ago we spoke to each other about the current situation in their respective place of residence. Here is an excerpt of our conversation (published with their consent, of course!). It is eye-opening and heart-warming to see the similarities in experiences and the impact difference in cultures is having on people's lives:

D1 is an events planner in Australia.
V is an IT Project lead in the US.
D2 is a banker in Vadodara, India.
M is a stay-at-home mom in Saudi Arabia.
N is a stay-at-home mom (and an Air Force spouse) in Coimbatore, India.
And yours truly, stay-at-home mom in Jaipur!

D1: It has been very stressful. My husband is working from home, my elder daughter is having school holidays and we have stopped sending the younger one to day care. So there's no break in the household work. My (party planning) business has been affected, I had big plans this year. I am keeping my sanity intact by trying to distract myself from Corona updates. Netflix and Amazon Prime have become my life savers! Also watching motivational videos and killing time on social media.

N: I am feeling okay-ish too. Just that kids related chores have increased. Thankfully, the husband is at home so that has been a great help otherwise managing all this alone would have been very difficult. We are getting a lot of family time, so that's the positive side to it.

D1: I would recommend everyone to watch 'Tidying up with Marie Kondo' on Netflix. It was a big eye opener for my husband and I. It's the need of the hour.

V: As you all are aware the infected cases in the US are more than any other nation. Everyone is scared here. Racial tension has increased. People are abusing anyone who looks like a Chinese (Japanese, Koreans etc.). People are equally scared about losing their jobs. In the history of the United States, never have they seen so many un-employments registered;it has crossed about 10 million. Clearly, the US, the so called advanced country was not prepared for this pandemic.

We had to let go of all the contractors and temporary workers. Some friends have lost their job already. We are feeling very scared to step out of the house. Going to the grocery store is like going to a war zone. We have to be prepared with sanitizers, mask and all. Just before the outbreak, my mother-in-law had come to visit us and thank god for that. Both kids are home and both my husband and I are working from home - One from the basement and one from the office room. We both get up at usually the same time, work out a little, go for a walk, get dressed as we used to and start working. It makes us feel less lazy and trying to feel normal. We even have coffee breaks together and talk about work, bitch about bosses :-P 

On weekends, we have group video call with friends and visual parties. We are also using this time to get in touch with cousins and friends we haven't spoken to in recent times. 

Things we have realized recently is - people here cannot live without toilet paper! I have seen people fighting over the last bundle of toilet paper in the store! And I think I do not want to get old here. It's the worst country for old people. No one is taking care of them.

D1: I feel sorry for the people of the US. Is anyone following the US news and their President? He is more entertaining than any other Netflix series. 

Australia announced shutdown of non-essential business and 1 million people lost jobs overnight. The government announced several relief and stimulus packages to save people who lost their jobs. Not the Australian government has succeeded in controlling the spread of the virus and deaths considerably.

D2: I can tell the story from a different perspective. I have to go to work each day and we come int contact with lots of people from all classes, communities and age groups. The first few days, it felt good - calm and quiet roads, not many people )post demonetization I seem to have developed a phobia for large groups) and less work. It started feeling weird and even eerie after a while and now I can't wait for the lock-down to get over. 

It is like going through a ghost town, where everyone is scared, people who come in are viewed with suspicion and emotions are running high. W have specific time slots when people can come out and buy staples and it is being pretty well-managed by the enforcement authorities.

The home front has been a little tough with the maid not coming and the kids who are otherwise used to a lot of physical activity are being restricted. My biggest challenge is keeping them occupied. Thry are very confused and even have a meltdown on why does this stupid virus exist! Fortunately, my mother had come just in time for Ugadi and is like a blessing in disguise, though she is stuck here during the lockdown, it is a help for me with the kids. My dad is at Hyderabad and has rediscovered his enthusiasm for sketching and painting. 

I honestly thought this whole thing was not a big deal and a form of flu that is just being blown out of proportion [ the poor immune systems of the west unable to handle it and a bad case of fear mongering, fueled by social media. I wish there was a solid conspiracy theory to describe everything going on but I really want things to go back to normal. I feel privileged in a way but for lots of poeple wjo confuse boredom-loneliness and being alone, there is only so much isolation that one can handle.I have friens who want to talk on whatsapp teh whole day even if it is meaningless and mundane, because they feel 'stuck'. Some even said that they are feeling an inexplicable feeling of 'losing', not sure what.

M: Oh God, even I'm sick of cooking 4 to 5 meals in a day. On top of that, the schools have started online classes and day to day course is being uploaded on the website. We are supposed to make the kids study as per schedule. 

V2: I'm trying all kinds of quick snacks using the air fryer, insta-pot and what not! Thank God, my mother-in-law is here so she makes the main meals. I cook the breakfast and snacks.

Dalgona Coffee experiments in Australia

D1: My version of Dalgona coffee.

D2: What's Dalgona coffee?

S: Gaur se dekhiye iss aurat ko! This shows you've been working too hard and you need to take leave from work and waste time on social media like rest of us.

N: Same here girls..Please tell me also what's Dalgona and why is everyone going ga ga over it?

V: Which world are you living in girl? My dad lives in a village and even he asked me have you tried Dalgona coffee? With so much peer pressure, I had to try it at home. It came out pretty god though ;)

P: Yeah, even I didn't know it man! But my mom knew!

S: Parents are more advanced these

D2: Yes, may be they're using Tiktok :P 

D1: Haha..saree challenges have become old fashion now so I was checking what's trending. Someone who has nothing to do uploaded this video of Dalgona coffee in Tiktok and it has become viral. In the end I found out, it's just a normal cold coffee. It's called Dalgona coffee in South Korea.

S: Haha..I am staying in a guest room now, so I do not even get to make my own tea.

D1: Shilpa, you must write a blog on this - 10 ways to kill time on Social Media :P 

....and so I did!


Motherhood in Norway

Hello folks!

How have you all been? I'm so excited to bring to you the second interview on motherhood around the world series. Today's interview features Priya Balasubramanian, a young and vivacious mother living with her husband and three-yrs old daughter in Norway. Priya was my college classmate during graduation and then we proceeded to study in the UK at the same time which is when I got to know her better. I have always found her and her husband to be once of the nicest, most grounded couples I've ever met (total couple goals!) and their daughter seems equally delightful! I'm so happy to be speaking to Priya today:

 Could you please tell us a little about yourself
My name is Priya! I was born in Chennai and raised in Hyderabad. If you would ask me what is home for you in India, my answer will always be Hyderabad and I carry its memories and spirit with me wherever I go! I moved out of India 13 years ago when I chose to do a Masters in the UK where I lived for a few years before I moved to Norway and settled here for good.
I work in the software industry in Oslo and have a background in sales and customer success. The man I am married to is the guy I befriended in Edinburgh while I studied my Masters. We have been together for just over 12 years now. We have a daughter together who was born on a cold winter day in Norway. 
Norway has been considered one of the best countries in the world to be a mother, how true is that? 
Yes, I will agree with that. I can also add that it is one of the best countries in the world for women.
What was being pregnant in Norway like?
What I learnt very soon after being pregnant was that pregnancy is natural and absolutely normal and the Norwegians treat it the same way. This is a society where personal matters aren’t discussed openly and personal questions are almost never asked in day to day life unless you know the people really well. So no awkward questions will ever come your way from a local when you are pregnant. Most people are polite here and will most likely offer you their seat when you look pregnant and are travelling in public transport. Breastfeeding is considered absolutely natural and normal - one can breastfeed in any public space without feeling uncomfortable.
On becoming pregnant in Norway you get assigned a midwife (close to home) who monitors your pregnancy and gives you all the information and guidance you need based on where you are in your pregnancy and supports you until you get into labour.
In Norway you do all of the work yourself - cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. Having family support locally would definitely make a huge difference in these circumstances as you have somewhere to go to when you need a break once in a while and don’t feel too lonely or overworked. On a positive side you tend to stay much more in control of your pregnancy and your child and end up really fit as you don’t get to laze around during and after your pregnancy and naturally stay active.

How was your experience of childbirth in a Norwegian hospital?
Norway has state-run medical care. All expenditure pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth is covered by the government. You can also say that as residents/citizens we indirectly contribute towards this by paying extremely high taxes to the Government.
Once it is ascertained that you are pregnant, the closest hospital to your residence is automatically assigned to you. The emphasis is always on having a natural birth and to be honest these are not options that are even discussed. C-section is taken up when there are strong reasons for it, otherwise it is the natural way. 
I arrived at the hospital after my contractions were more frequent (my husband was timing it) and the nurse over the phone had confirmed that I could come over to the hospital. I was in a pre-ward initially where my contractions were measured and once I was ‘labour ready’ I was moved into a labour room. Soon after labour came in a new nurse who taught me how to feed and extract milk out of my chest. It was almost like a task - she gave me work to do and came back later and monitored how I was getting along. 
The best thing about the Norwegian system was that I was kept thoroughly engaged in the entire process. The nurses/doctors were constantly talking to me and telling me what they were up to and in certain critical instances sought my approval before they did anything. 
One of my strong memories from this day includes the moment when the nurse asked me if the father could cut the umbilical cord and if I approved of it. Only after I said “yes” did my husband also get to carry his child for the very first time. My consent was critical and I was the ‘mother’ in the room, felt powerful and I loved it! 
What kind of post-partum support is available for new mothers?
Upon child birth you are quickly assigned the nearest health centre (Helsestasjon) for your child. Health centre is for children between 0-5 years and their parents. The ground staff consists of midwife, health nurse, physician and physiotherapist.
Here is where the growth and development of the child is monitored, vaccination/immunization happens and you can seek help anytime you need during working hours as you can drop in. You can talk to the nurses about all matters pertaining to parenthood including questions on bathing a child/how often to feed/introducing solids/baby stool challenges/your mood swings as a mother/getting the child acclimatized to sleeping in their own room and co, etc.
Baselgrupper (mom groups) I would say is one of the best systems here in Norway. Once you give birth you are paired with all the fellow mothers that have had babies at the same time as you in your neighbourhood. The local health centre brings us women together and creates a group and sets the introductions. This group becomes an integral part of one's maternity leave where the mothers and babies meet once every week for a 10 month period and do an activity together such as meeting for lunches, going on long walks, treks together etc. Some of these friendships last a lifetime!

How long was your maternity leave for? And what support or benefits do new parents get from the government/community/employers?
Norwegian society encourages people to work and does its best to make sure people don’t find reasons to sit at home as that can be a source of most problems.
Maternity leave is offered for up to a year to only those that have been employed and need a break from work. There is close to 80% to 100% salary coverage if your salary is an average Norwegian salary. The father gets his own share of 10 weeks of paid paternity leave too which he can take up until the child turns 3. In addition, working and breastfeeding moms are also entitled to paid breaks to feed their babies. 
The nursery is heavily discounted as the Govt takes a big chunk of the fee and education/schooling for children is free as well.
Most places in Norway have baby changing facilities that are extremely clean with disposable changing liners, diaper bins and are free of charge. In some of the malls you have what is known as an ‘Ammerom’ (feeding rooms) where you have seating to sit and feed your hungry ones in a quiet space.
A typical Norwegian meal - baked trout/salmon with steamed veggies

What is your and your partner’s parenting philosophy?
I don't know if we have any specific philosophy pertaining to parenting. We go by our instincts and try to not do things our parents did to us that we didn’t like. The goal for us is to create good memories for the child for her to look back to when she grows big, create a space that she will always call home and mould her in a way she is able to make good decisions for herself.
We give a lot of importance to ‘communication’. We treat our daughter as a young individual and ask her opinion and thoughts on everything that involves her and us as a family. When we say ‘NO’ to anything we tell her why this is not OK and the reasoning behind it. This is also an influence from the Norwegian culture even though not all locals practice it.
Do both parents have an ‘equal’ role to play in the Norwegian society?
This is one of the best things about the Norwegian society! Parents are equal and they have equal responsibilities when it comes to managing and bringing up their children. Most Norwegian fathers cook well, do grocery shopping, drop kids to the school and do the home chores as a part of their daily lives - there is no gender differentiation here as to who does what. The idea is to share the workload equally between the parents.

We’ve all heard about how Norwegians (and other Scandinavian countries) emphasize outdoorness among their kids ever since they’re born. What is it all about? E.g. In India, I wouldn’t take my newborn son out or even now would not send him out if the temperature drops even by 5 degrees).
Norwegians are very outdoor people that love nature and are usually out walking/running or doing some form of sport. The nursery has a policy where the children should play outside for a few hours everyday throughout the year. It is also common practice for babies to sleep outside in their prams during the day in the nursery unless it is less than -5 C. 
It is perfectly OK to leave the babies sleeping on prams outside coffee shops while the parents go inside to get a meal/coffee for themselves - the pram is usually in their view from inside. This, I would say, was the most difficult aspect of the Norwegian society for me to come to terms with. I had to do this several times to get used to the practice before I could do this with ease.

Do you have any message for all the moms out there?
All I have to say is, enjoy motherhood and treat yourself well!

Thank you so much, Priya!


How Are You Doing?

Hi! How have you been?

I have been MIA here on the blog because the soldier finally received his family posting and we were busy spending time in his leave and packing up whatever little of our world we had unpacked. I wanted to give you all a surprise with the new destination but here we are!

As it was time for us to leave with bags and baggage, Corona had started becoming a matter of concern in Maharashtra. We had been mulling over whether to make the move or stay back but in the end decided it was better of us to travel at the earliest as things might only be getting worse. So we took all the possible precautions we could and left by road (ruling out train and flight). We only stopped at smaller towns with no known cases staying with relatives where we could. After several days of getting stuck in between, we managed to reach our destination a week ago where we are under quarantine for 14 days (because of our travel).

These times are weird. The world showed drastic changes last year (like all India floods, Australia bushfires etc.) but 2020 has defied all assumptions. I believe it is the Earth's ways to slow us down or may be a tiny little pause in our mad race towards advancement. All I know is that the world would not be the same after the pandemic ends. 

Here are a few things I have been feeling lately:

The pandemic: OK, it really has me worried (like everybody else). Life has just changed overnight and the uncertainity of it all is just so frightening. But like all of you have pointed out, we need to look at the positivity of it all - getting quality time to spend together. It is also a time to express gratitude because I have a family I don't mind being quarantined with, roof over my head and food on my plate without having to worry about it. My heart goes out to all those people for whom family has been toxic and work was an escape, workers and business whose income has come to a halt, a lot of our population who cannot afford to buy bulk food. I just hope things get better soon and if I can be of any help to anyone reading this, please let me know. May be you just need someone to talk to? Write to me! DM me on Instagram. Anything! If you are staying in a locality where you can help someone with some food, or may be you are around an elderly couple or a new mom with a baby, please do try to help in whatever way you can!

A scary movie: I thought in the given times, it would be fun to watch the movie Contagion and so we did! But boy, it has me s**t scared now. It is so eerily similar to what is happening now and just the scenes where they show how the virus spreads so rapidly has left me not wanting to touch ANYTHING and just lock my family up in a room and also probably give up on eating any kind of animal product ever! Well, we are kind of living that life now, so...

Managing a toddler: Honestly, it is like any other day because even when we were back home, we would still be indoors most of the day and would only go out in the evenings to the park. Of course, other outings like going to to the grocers or to someone’s house is out of question now but thankfully we are in a cantonment now and we have a tiny little garden space right outside our room where I do let the bub play in the evenings. I have my husband with me and it is easier to manage the bub now without feeling overwhelmed. 

Passing the time: We wake up late in the morning (because nothing to do?!) and have a leisurely breakfast. It is such a weird feeling to have breakfast as a family of three as it is the first time we are experiencing it in two years! Breakfast is followed by some play time for the bub in the garden and shower etc routine for us. We are staying in a guest room (and under quarantine) so there is no cooking involved and we receive all our meals at our room. Once we are done with our morning activities, we play indoors while the husband catches up with office work (WFH). We have our lunch between 1-2pm and then its nap time. We are out to play in the garden by evening 6 and come back home by sunset. Its some more play, dinner, play and once the bub goes to sleep is when the soldier and I catch up on movies and shows. I watched Captain Marvel for the first time last week and enjoyed it! We are hearing great reviews about Asur and Special Ops and planning to watch it soon. The husband has also caught up on many movies of his liking which I do not enjoy much (read Vin Diesel and Jason Statham types) which I love catching up on YouTube videos. Some of the Youtubers I really enjoy are Jovita George, Scherezade Shroff and Bake with Shivesh. Basically speaking, I like to watch a lot of makeup tutorials I will never try and food recipes I'll never make :-P I had been carrying only one book with me (as I forgot packing it in the main baggage) and I read a couple of pages from it once in a while. 

Anyway, how have you been? Are you keeping well? Tell me what all have you been upto, what are you cooking and what shows are you watching?

Take care!