‘Mam, yes, mam’ Ahhh!!

Okay, time for some realism here. Most of my blogs have been so positive and so determined because, well frankly, that is the sort of person I am. I always do my best to see the positive side of everything. Yes, I’ll have a quick moan but then on I’ll go seeing the silver lining. Sometimes, however, that is quite frankly bullshit! Sometimes, it is damn hard to deal with things. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that there is always a silver lining.Expat

During our cultural training for our move to India, we were warned. ‘Chris will start working in what is in relative terms a situation he is accustomed too. There will be certain recognition of how things work and what the hierarchy of control etc is. The wife on the other hand (aka me!) will be dropped into an entirely new world with the expectation that they will just get on!’ While at the same time, the understanding is that the wife is having the easy life – going for lunch, lounging around all day – because she is not gainfully employed.

While this may eventually be the situation that I find myself in, at times it does not feel that way at all.

So what is my moan about? I guess it is simple: nothing is easy here to organise. You understand that before you come here. You listen in your cultural training; you are aware of the stereotype of the Indian who never gets things done on time but I don’t think you really get it until well you are dumped in the middle of it and simply expected to ‘just get on’!

For days it feels like I have been sat at home waiting for people to arrive. The typical, ‘Mam, we will be with you in morning’, ‘Will you definitely?’ ‘Oh yes, mam!’ so you wait in all morning, waiting for them to come and guess what they don’t turn up. So you call them. ‘Mam, we will be there half hour, definitely, half hour mam’. Five hours later they turn up or possibly don’t turn up at all. So you have spent your whole day waiting around for this person. A whole day stuck in an apartment, which possibly like today has no food in it but I can’t go shopping because I’m waiting for my maid, who on her first day is at the moment 30 minutes late!

It is one thing when you are waiting for one trade / service but for days now I have been waiting for very many. Right now, I am waiting for my maid, a washing machine installer, an electrician and a dishwasher repairman. The washing machine installer and the dishwasher repairman all promised me they would come yesterday, having promised this for the proceeding 3 days. The electricians when they came yesterday promised me they would be right back with the part needed to fix the lights – guess what? They never returned!

Of course, assuming these people do eventually arrive you are faced with another problem – not one that is particularly the fault of the people who have come but it still makes life incredibly difficult and stressful. The problem is most speak no or very, very little English. This is not their fault. These people are probably not very educated and have neither the time nor money to learn English as an adult but it makes it very, very hard.

Of course, they usually hunt in pairs and stand there speaking Hindi / Marathi to each other in long detailed conversations and the turn around and say, ‘Mam, everything t.k (OK)’ while doing the typical Indian head wobble (seriously it does exist and it is everywhere).

While it may be true that everything is t.k. but it also may not be but how are you to know? Indians hate to disappoint you; they are desperate at all times to make sure you are happy and satisfied, even if that means telling blatant mistruths. There is a certain sweetness to this but god it can be very stressful and very confusing.

Sometimes when the conversation needs to go beyond a head wobble and a ‘Mam, everything t.k (OK)’, a phone call is made to an English speaker so they can translate. Problem is, nine times out of ten, it is impossible to understand a single word this person says. You’re better off with the person in front of you and sign language! The person always speaks so fast with such a strong Indian accent that it just is not feasible to understand them. This even goes for those who are perfectly understandable face to face. This inevitable leads to you handing the phone back to the person who then leaves and leaves you none the wiser.

I will be honest, the above is annoying but really not the fault of the person who has come to do a job for you. What is annoying, is the platitudes! Back to the refusal to disappoint or lose face. More than once I have had to leave a person and stand around the corner where I can’t be seen and inwardly scream while jumping up and down. The alternative is to shout at them and that, quite frankly, will not help anyone.

It is excuse after excuse after excuse. My maid has just explained her half hour lateness by, ‘they held me at security’; which is probably very true but when I asked her for how long, it was for fifteen minutes. So, she was already fifteen minutes late. Now I know she comes from a long way on a hot bus so I am not being mean but it is her first day! If she is fifteen minutes late, that is not a crisis but you are honest about the reason why. If she is late, she just stays the fifteen minutes at the end! No big deal.

The realtor’s representative who works for the society as well is the worst case. He speaks very good English, is immaculately dressed and on first meeting seems efficient and on top of things. However, once the plans begin to unravel he becomes the platitude king. Any excuse is given, any positive slant on the situation is found, anything other than to be honest about the situation.

You know to expect this but when you experience it time after time after time and you are alone in your apartment trying to deal with it all – it is not easy. I don’t think in the long-run my husband has a better deal than I do: the exact opposite in fact but I think until things settle down and all the ridiculous paperwork is completed (don’t get me started on that – that is for an entirely different blog – let’s just say yesterday, Chris and I got 24 passport  each printed. We think that will be enough for a few days.) then my life will in general terms be very nice. Until then it is hard work both mentally and physically.burn_calories

To give you an idea about how hard work it is. I generally burn 2500 calories a day 2800 or so if I exercise. Since I moved into our apartment it is more like 3500 or more! It is all the cleaning that is needed; the running up and down trying to get things sorted; going to the Facilities Management office to try and get things done etc. I wouldn’t have thought it feasible to be so active while still feeling like you are achieving absolutely nothing!

Now, I said at the start that sometimes it is quite frankly impossible to see the silver lining in a situation. Well, maybe that is not quite the truth! You see, last Tuesday I had such a lovely day out with some new friends and made some lovely new friends as well.

The m11313145_10206593499059165_1030394388001712301_oorning started with a visit to a friend’s house where her maid dressed us in beautiful sarees, then lunch at a lovely hotel followed by an afternoon / evening on the terrace of somebody else’s apartment with my feet in a huge washtub of water. It was fun, relaxing and just nice to get away from reality for a bit. It helped 11156296_10152896590587992_1230909227398388954_nto remind me that this move is not about trying to get the dishwasher fixed or trying to organise a maid but about experiencing life in a way that I could not at home. And dealing with all the stress of workmen and sitting on a terrace drinking sparkling wine with my feet in a washtub is also an experience of life I would not have at home.

So that is my silver lining. It does exist after all!

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Friendship – The Hilarity and the Tears

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Sarah (on the left), Kathryn, Parin, myself and my sister, Ruth on my hen night!

16 years ago this October, I was lucky enough to meet someone who was to have a permanent positive impact on my life. 16 years ago, I met my best friend, Sarah. Fate plays a huge role in what happens in our life – we can steer ourselves in certain directions but that in no way implies that we have complete control over our lives.

For me, I was hanging out in front of a lecture room at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London so I could ‘bump’ into a guy I fancied (he had zero interest in me) while doing my Masters. That day, we met and had coffee but little did I realise it at the time but my life had changed utterly – far more than it would have if there had been a momentary fizzle of something between myself and this guy. This was far more than a momentary fizzle; this was the start of a true, deep and at times hilarity filled friendship. Sarah also walked out of the lecture room and joined us for coffee. This was our first meeting.

Some people come into your life and you know that you have found somebody who will be a good friend to you, who will support you. Generally, you feel that you play such a role in their lives too. Sarah, however, is different. Sarah, I am privileged to be allowed call a friend. She is a step above all other people I have met in my life. She is unique in a way that I could never dream to be. She cares deeply for those around her and will do anything for you – you often don’t even need to ask.

Since we met, I have lived in three different countries and she has visited me in all but one of those countries and more than once at that. The third – well that is India – her last text to me said, ‘See you at Christmas (when we go back to the UK) if not sooner.’ Sarah would never even consider not visiting or going out of her way to make sure that I was happy and comfortable – the thought quite simply wouldn’t occur to her.

Sarah, therefore, over the last 16 years has set a standard for friendship that I suspect is unattainable. She has however also made it clear to me just how important friendship is. Friendship, is not just fun and laughter over a few drinks; friendship is also darkness – it is being there (in person or virtually) when they think there is no light, it is being there to shine a torch into the darkened room of their life and show the person that there is a way out.

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Wonderful Sue on her wedding day not long ago! This picture summarises our friendship perfectly!

Friendship is clearly something that is a worry when you move halfway around the world. While I have no doubts that my Sarah will always be there for me as will Kathryn, Parin, Sue etc etc but they will not be here in India. They will not be there all the time to drink with, walk with, laugh with and cry with. Consequently, Chris and I now face the challenge of finding people who singly or collectively can play all the above roles – face-to-face.

It is abundantly clear so far that every expat you meet has an instinctive desire to make you feel welcome, to help you, to support you and it would seem to drink with you! This instinct surely provides the best basis for the type of person who could one day be a friend. Certainly, I have met people in just a week that I am more than happy to spend lots more time with and who knows maybe fate has already flown my way and I have met the person or people who will become my closest friends while we are here.

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Some friendships come in the ability to be really silly with each other. World Book Day and my former colleagues!

True deep friendships are like the love between a couple – yes, it can come in an instant and both sides can realise that they have met the ‘one’ they want to share their life with. I think most of the time these true, deep friendships just like romantic love, needs time and work to develop a level of permanency. So, who knows who is going to come my way over the next few weeks or years, who knows what friendships will develop.

Putting yourself out there – risking rejection is the only way to find the security of friendship. This was so clearly demonstrated by a Meetup group in Stratford upon Avon, UK that I set up. Now 330 members strong, there had to be the some in the beginning, happy to risk joining just a few people with no real plans and no real idea of where they were going. All of us, however, shared the desire not to be insular but to look to the world and see what it could offer them. We were faced with the choice between loneliness or the insecurity of a situation that could either lead to rejection or friendship. Through this Meetup group, I moved from being very isolated in Stratford to havingan active social life and a network of very good friends who I drank with, walked with, laughed with and cried with.

It is reassuring to know therefore that in the UK I have solid friendships – be those from old like Sarah, Kathryn, Parin and Sue or the newer ones met through the Meetup group. They help to give me the strength to look out to the world here in India and see that new friendships are always possible no matter what stage you are in your life. I threw myself into new / challenging / out of my comfort zone situations to meet my existing friends; I now need to throw myself into everything here too for the same reason.

So Sarah this blog post is dedicated to you and to the incredible friendship we share. This is your birthday present (for yes it is Sarah’s birthday today!).

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J rescued me from a difficult summer and took me in his RV to France – I returned happier and ready to face the world.
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The greatest friendship of all – my husband! He has seen me at my best and my worst! Somehow he still loves me!

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Buoyed Up With Confidence

So, I have arrived. Still living in a bit of bubble, not quite yet at the point where I can branch out and start to uncover all that India has to and will offer me. With perhaps the naivety of the innocent, we plan to move into our apartment on Wednesday. I say naivety purely as I have been warned, things don’t often go to plan here. 


Tomorrow, we go for a final check of the apartment. Tomorrow, therefore will either be the bursting of our naivety bubble or we will continue to live in the belief that things happen on time and to the stated standard here.  The question is: can you continue to consider yourself innocent of the truth if you are absolutely certain that sooner rather than later things will not go to plan – promises will not be kept? Perhaps informed innocence is a better term – if that is not an oxymoron in itself. Ah India, clearly nothing straightforward here!

A sudden nostalgia for a wonderful friend, Sarah, recently led me to the picking up of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is one of her favourite books of all time; one that I had never read until now. One of the main characters, Fermina Daza believes that you can like anyone or any place purely by making the decision to like it. That if you choose not to make that decision, you may well learn to hate a person or a place. I have chosen to like India. I have chosen to allow the things that will inevitably disturb my comfort to simply be ‘India’.


Chris and myself have laughed however as to whether in six months time we will still be buoyed with such confidence, relaxation and determination to get on. Once again, is our positivity simply a reflection of our newbie innocence or is it something that you can more or less sustain for a prolonged period of time? Let’s hope so!

I have promised readers a more practical explanation of all that has happened to result in this great transnational move. Well, here it is. 

For years, we have wanted to move abroad, to get an opportunity to live in a completely different culture, learn a new language, extend our knowledge of how the world works. Several opportunities for various reasons over the least 12 months or so have come and gone. Then India came. 

On January 23rd this year, I randomly checked my phone at lunchtime only to see a text from my husband, ‘JLR are looking for people in this city. What do you think? (link to a Wikipedia article about Pune).’ Within 20 seconds, I had sent a text back saying – ‘go for it’. Within ten days, he had the job and it was perhaps only then we realised that we should think about it. We did for about 2 minutes and realised that we were up for anything so location was more or less irrelevant!

Consequently, we have moved to Pune so Chris can work for Jaguar LandRover although seconded to Tata Motors (owners of JLR). We will be here for at least three years although we joke if he fails at his job, we will either stay longer or he will be fired! He will, you see, be responsible for trying to bring a Tata car development project in on time – hence the firing or staying on longer! I have promised him a gin and tonic every evening! Timings and India, well as Chris’ favourite Indian line goes – Indian Standard Time really means Indian Stretching Time!


During this time, I will not be able to officially work. Although it is possible for me to get a work visa, the reality is that this is unlikely to happen. As a teacher in an international school, I would probably only just get over the minimum salary requirement for a work visa, then to get it I would have to go abroad, giving up my entry visa. Should my work visa be turned down – which is likely, I would then be faced with the possible situation that they would then not re-issue me an entry visa as I had just applied for a work visa! The resulting situation could well then be Chris living here while I was forced to stay in the UK for the remaining time on his contract. Not a situation, we are willing to even contemplate. 

As I have stated in previous blogs though I need time, I need time to completely get my health back. I need to be able to set my own timetable and my own agenda. Prioritise getting physically fit which will help my health to make the final few steps it needs to fully return to the energy levels I was at 2 years ago. Legally therefore being forced not to work is exactly what I need. Without this, I think I would put pressure on myself, feeling I had to contribute – how could I be a feminist who lived off her husband when she had another choice. Here I don’t have a choice therefore no pressure to do what in reality I shouldn’t be doing anyhow. 

I do hope to start doing some voluntary work, probably working with some education based NGOs but this I will do in a few months and I won’t throw myself into it but will do a little bit at a time until I feel physically it will be okay to do more. I’m quite excited to have that flexibility!

For the next 48 hours keep your fingers crossed and secularly or religiously hope / pray that our apartment will come through without any issues. That we can continue to live in our naive bubble but that also we can begin to discover ‘real’ life in India. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the next blog – will we or will we not have moved in!??!?! Oh, the tension!

Don’t forget you can subscribe to my blog really easily by clicking on follow! Also, feel free to share it. 

Challenges: Infuriating But Mainly Exhilarating!

We are heading the way that many, many young Britons have gone in the ‘great’ colonial past. (As an Irish person, I can assure you ‘great’ is most thoroughly in inverted commas!) We are packing our bags and moving to IndiaMapIndia with, I hope, a tad less arrogance and significantly greater tolerance than the colonialists of the past.

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View of the mountains from the pool at VW Marriott, Pune

It is to Pune, three hours South-East of Mumbai, that we are heading. The former capital of the Marathi rulers and the former monsoon holiday destination for colonialists with a love for its ever so slightly cooler mountain climate.

This is a city that has grown over the last 20 years from a city of minor significance to being in the top ten largest Indian cities with a population estimated to be over 6.5m but growing by 100,000s a year.

It has been dubbed (yet another) Indian Silicon Valley, the Oxford of India and the Detroit of India. Western descriptions perhaps intended to show just how modern and developed this city is.

The truth of course is not so clear cut. Certainly, it is a centre for Indian tertiary education. Certainly, it’s IT parks employ 1000s of the Indian educated middle class providing IT services to largely western companies. Certainly, it is home to very many aspirational Indian universities. Most certainly it is home to many, many automobile companies; not the least TATA motors a subsidiary of TATA (which interestingly, through the various concerns it has bought into in the UK, from steel to cars, is UK’s the largest manufacturing employer).  Reality is however that people have flooded into Pune from all over India in the hope of finding a job, any job. Most of these people only experience the very fringes of the wealth such development has brought if any of the wealth at all.

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View from our apartment block to the prestigious Phillipe Starke designed YooPune residential block.

Alongside, the shiny new Trump Towers, the Phillipe Stark’s Yoopune residential building lie those that have not managed to find a way to this prosperity. Be it through poor access to education, caste or sheer bad luck. 32.5% of the population live in a slum. Many of these are illegal (not registered) and lack the basic services such as access to running water and refuse collection.

So yes, along with the prosperity of Pune, alongside its Westernised face will be the more bleak reality of poverty on a scale neither of us have ever experienced.

Our visit to Pune over the Easter holidays showed it to be every bit this strange combination of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. I saw some of the biggest, most extravagant houses of my entire life there and for the first time, I saw slums.  Although, having only just spent one week in Pune, it seemed obvious to me that at night, for example, far fewer people seemed to be sleeping on the streets than in my one and only night time visit to Mumbai – there it was obvious – perhaps in Pune it is just more hidden. Or perhaps, what they say is true, Pune is one of the wealthier of Indian cities, with fewer living in extreme poverty.

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In Pune, building projects are everywhere. If there is a sq milimetre of free land, it will be built on!

Pune is an exciting place. Change is evident everywhere yet no change is also evident everywhere – an oxymoron if there ever was one. The noise of tooting horns (Horn OK Please – across the back of most commercial vehicles); the colour of stunning saris and salwar kameez (a people not afraid of bright colours – thank god); the non-intrusive intrigue of passerbys when they realised that we are white foreigners – everything was invigorating and made me want to move there even more than when I only had a google ‘Pune’ search to rely on. I just can’t wait to get out there on Saturday and begin the process of being able to call it ‘home’.

For three years, our lives are going to be significantly different to how they are today. I hope that we do not find ourselves living in an Expat Bubble, obliviously to the other side of India on our doorstep and possibly even driving our car or cleaning our house.

Everyday is going to be a challenge, everyday I will learn something new either about myself or about India or even possibly both. Challenges will be frustrating, aggravating, infuriating but they will also be thrilling, exhilarating and life enhancing.

Time will only tell but one thing is for certain, we are about to go on an adventure or as Winnie the Pooh would call it – a ‘grand adventure’!

So feel feel to read along, join me and my husband in our ‘grand adventure’. Grow with us as we grow through experience and challenging our status quo. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the ride!

I Can Hardly Believe It Myself

Ok, so it must seem like quite a long time since I wrote a blog: you are wrong. I’ve written lots of blogs recently.

“What?” you say, thinking how could such an avid follower of What Will Happen To Me have missed said blogs. To be honest, I have written lots of blogs, I just haven’t published any of them. Our life has been such a tumult recently that each blog posting I wrote just didn’t feel right so I would walk away, to return to it again with fresh eyes. On returning however, I would realise that what I had written now felt even more not quite what I wanted to say so I would begin another and another and another. In the end, none were published. At this moment, I have every intention of publishing this blog – through hell or high water. Let’s see.

On Friday, I move to India (crikey!) – my husband has already been there a week. Who would have ever considered that possible? Only 12 months gujarat-leicesterago I was limiting myself to a few thousand steps a day at best and was spending at least 18 hours a day in bed. We had no idea whether my health would ever improve – although improve it eventually did. Now, 12 months on, I very shortly will be living in India. It is a miracle that I will always remain astounded by.

Re-reading old blogs recently, it was obvious that within the genuine positivity and determination to find a way out of my ill-health there was also a desperate voice whispering – “what if, what if, what if it will never happen?” The reality today is that I am still finding my way out of my ill health and perhaps will continue to do so for many years to come. However, re-reading my old blogs also showed an absolute determination to grab life and experience as much as I possibly could. I wrote about how I had no idea about where my life would now go or what I would now do but how that didn’t frighten me but rather filled me with excitement and pleasant anticipation.

Back in those days of new found enlightenment as I began to emerge from my illness, I certainly had no concept that one day (very, very soon) I would be packing up my bags and moving to the other side of the world. Although, to be honest, the idea of moving abroad was nothing new. Myself and my husband had discussed it for many years. I had slowly been inculcating him into the cult of ‘expat’ – we just hadn’t done anything about it – then I became ill.

I returned part-time to work in October 2014 and slowly worked my way back to full-time in January 2015. Being a teacher is the hardest work, there is no time to sit back and catch your breath (just a little important for a girl who suffers from Dysfunctional Breathing Syndrome). You get caught up in the job and the students and silly Ofsted requirements and it gets hard. Really hard. Especially if you are still not fully healthy. I probably should never have gone back to work full-time but how was anyone to know that until I gave it a try? Long before India came on the scene, I was struggling and not willing to really accept that I was.

The opportunity to move to India therefore could not have come at a better time. Six months earlier or six months later probably wouldn’t have worked. Six months earlier I wouldn’t have had the chance to return to teaching and see if I was right, that I had completely lost the love of it. I would have walked away from a career that I had been in for 12 years without knowing whether I really wanted to walk away from it. Six months later, I would possibly have worked my way back into ill-health or learnt to hate my job so much that I failed to give the students what they needed most – a decent education. I would consequently have possibly moved to India under a dark cloud of failure.  If indeed, I was even capable of making such a move.

India, therefore, came at the perfect time. I had returned to teaching long enough to know that I was no longer willing to buy into a lot of the nonsense that surrounds it. I had been back long enough to know that the only reason I liked teaching in the first place was being in a class full of students.

For the first time in my adult life, I am completely unemployed and while that feels strange and slightly uncomfortable, it is also a relief. My time is my own, I no longer have to dance to somebody else’s fiddle. I am no longer in a job I had, cropped-unemployed-not-happywith the exception of teaching classes, grown to hate. I am now in a position to walk comfortably away from a career I had for such a long, long time loved. Six months ago, walking away may well have broken my heart – today I simply miss the people I worked with and the children – nothing more.

My headteacher (a remarkable woman) has been kind enough to release me in the middle of a term so that I don’t even have to continue until May half-term. She was smart enough to realise that the stress and physical demands of moving halfway around the world made working impossible. Her kindness has allowed me to start my husband and I’s new adventure more or less together. Her kindness has enabled me to start once again to really take care of my health so that I will get 100% better.

So, this blog (which is definitely getting published) is the start of my adventure. If you want to know the details – where I am going, why I am going you are just going to have to subscribe to my blog via your email address or WordPress account. You can also follow my twitter @kironside78.

I hope to regularly blog again – I will have no excuse – I will definitely have the time. My aim is to (just like I did when I was ill), simply reflect on my experiences: the joys and the challenges of living in India. If it helps somebody else about to make such a journey or simply provides an interesting read over a coffee, I will be happy.