Mumbai hits close to home

Published 12:21 am Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mumbai, India — Until Pauline Moore received an 11 p.m. text message, Nov. 26 had been an ordinary day. She dropped off her children at school, met with some Indian nationals at a local deli and had gone about daily living until it was time for bed and sleep.

Her husband, Seth, is the country manager for Halliburton Energy Services in India, and the text message that woke them was from the company.

The Moores’ first thought was to hope it was not from their parents or family in the United States, but instead, it was alerting them about nearby bombings. Ten minutes later, they received a second message telling them to be on “high red alert.”

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After discussing the messages, the Moores decided that Pauline would turn on the television to see what was happening, and Seth went to bed.

“We were not overly concerned,” she said via email. “(We had) received these messages before but never ‘high red alert.’”

There had been demonstrations and even explosions in the past, and in fact Seth’s first visit to the country was two days after a large train bombing. Barely a month after that initial visit, the family had moved to the country.

“We were all excited and looking forward to the new adventure. The idea of being able to not only live in a foreign country, but travel the world also was very exciting to us and the kids,” Moore said.

Upon arrival, they were greeted with a life very different than the one they knew in the U.S., a life in which they were given opportunities to take pictures with monkeys and elephants and buy their food — including live chickens — in open-air markets.

Since the move, however, the family had settled into a routine — the three children, Ashton, Peyton and Sarah, attended the American School of Bombay, Seth worked with the developing oil and gas industry and the family became involved in humanitarian work with the local AIDS orphanage. The children even played competitive sports.

That sense of routine and adventure was shaken as Moore watched television that night.

Gunmen had attacked and taken over several hotels frequented by expatriates, hotels the Moores frequented. It was the first time in recent history that Americans and British citizens were targeted.

“The first 12 hours were spent in disbelief that just 10 miles away, friends and colleagues were possibly being held hostage in these hotels,” Moore said.

The next morning, when the children woke up, Sarah called a schoolmate as soon as she learned that the friend’s father — the CEO of one of the hotels under attack — was reportedly still in the hotel.

That classmate’s family was able to exit the hotel safely, but the family received an email from the school that the parents of three other students were killed in the attack.

“How do you tell your children that their friends and classmates parents were killed by terrorists?” Moore said. “We decided it was better for us to tell them before they found out from friends. Both boys were upset and sympathy poured for their friends. The hours seemed to go on forever with no quick end in sight.”

Nearly three weeks later, the official death toll from the attacks is now listed at 163, and at least 250 people were injured.

The environment for expatriates has changed — daily routines, travel routes — and people are now encouraged to have an exit plan and a good stock of food.

Whereas before someone might have had to go through security checks, show ID, be subject to video surveillance and pass through metal detectors to get into some establishments in the city, security has been tightened even more.

“People have realized that having a show of security gives you a false sense of security,” Moore said.

“The hardest part for me as a mom is sending my children to school with armed guards outside. I know it is a precautionary action and history shows very few attacks happen to schools, but there is still the feeling of ‘what if.’”

The Indian nationals have a sense that they should let things play out, and after a visit downtown Moore, “did not notice any changes other than the buildings being damaged,” she said.

She has developed a special affection for her adopted home, but the fact that India is now ranked number two for terror attacks — Iraq is number one — troubles Moore.

“I have come to love India and would remain here for a longer period if possible, but that has changed with the knowledge of the country’s inadequacies in security,” she said.

Pauline is the daughter of Paul and Carolyn Button and Seth is the son of Edgar and LaVerne Moore, all of Ferriday.

Along with the other children, Pauline and Seth have another daughter, Elizabeth.