Category Archives: Education

‘Help!!” Moving to India – have a read!

Pune Expat Advice

I am not an expert at being an expat. This is my first assignment after all and I have now been an expat for just under 18 months. In a way, this is forever and gives me the ability to claim myself as an expert on expat Pune but on the other hand it means I know nothing at all!

On arriving in India however I very quickly began to think – ‘oh why didn’t someone tell me this before I came!? Why didn’t I pack this? Why did no one know that I needed it!?’ So this is my attempt at helping you to find yourself in a better position when you arrive. It is long and extremely detailed – you don’t have to read it all -read what you need. 

Although, I hope much can be gained from this information for the working partner, it is primarily aimed at the ‘trailing’ spouse. Why? It seems little if any time, money or enthusiasm is shown by many companies / relocation companies in ensuring that the non-working partner settles in OK.

Why not? It seems crazy for these people to ignore the very person who to an extent the whole success of the move depends on. While life changes greatly for the working partner, there are some remanants of life as they know it. For the non-working partner, everything changes over night but yet somehow they are expected to maintain the house, cook food and ensuring the stability of the kids all while not loosing the will to live! If they become miserable therefore and cannot cope, it is will surely but the whole endeavour in danger.

Emotional Practicalities

  1. You are going to have some of the best times of your life in the next few years.
  2. You are also categorically going to have some of the most miserable times of your life! Be prepared for it! The sooner you come to terms with that, the easier you will find living in India. I always say, ‘I love India but I don’t know why I’m not in prison for bashing someone’s head in!’
  3. Try to laugh off the negatives (so, so hard at times!) and embrace the positives.
  4. You will have an easier life than your spouse who works but at times it will not feel that way at all and at times you will be right. Try and remember that you are both facing challenges and that you probably don’t recognise the extent of their challenges at times and neither do they recognise your challenges. This is natural enough.
  5. Talk about your problems and frustrations but don’t continually dwell on them. Get your irritation out and then move on.
  6. Most importantly, don’t forget to pack probably the only thing you really need – an open mind. Don’t pre-judge people / places. Don’t be quick to jump to conclusions about situations you may have little cultural understanding of. You may grow to understand a siutation and hate it but you won’t really understand it if you reach that standpoint immediately.

Women’s Safety

I am no expert and please take the advice here and mix it with everything else you get. I hadn’t initially included this information but recently a group of women asked to meet with me to advice them on their move. It was their very first question – therefore I deemed it to be too important to leave out. Everything I say here of course will be cultural stereotyping – which of course is not right but I’m not sure how to tackle this issue in another way.

  1. Indian is fundamentally different in its approach to women / sexuality than any more westernised culture.
  2. Single Indian men / women as a whole culturally are not allowed to have sex before marriage etc. It does of course happen but in a very closeted way. This leads to men who are more sexually frustrated and naive then you may be used to. It is also a male dominated society. Women are not expected to question their husbands, fathers, brothers and this creates a certain degree of entitlement amongst men.
  3. As I will detail below when I talk about clothes. To a certain extent as a western women you may be considered easy. They watch Hollywood movies and think we all jump into bed with each other on first sight!
  4. To argue therefore that there is no increase danger for a woman in India would be wrong!

HOWEVER!

  1. As far as I am aware, I know nobody who has had any significant issues with their safety as a woman here.
  2. One lady did have her breast groped in a busy market. Not good and I’m sure that was difficult for her but that could also have happened anywhere. You wouldn’t question living in London for your safety but such groping happens daily on the tube. Someone (I believe but will never know as I shouted a loud obsencity at the top of my voice which frightened them off) attempted to potentially molest me when I was in Poland.
  3. Be sensible – just like you would be sensible elsewhere. Consider where you are going and therefore your clothing. It is wrong but some may see your clothing as you saying you are happy for them to have sex with you!
  4. If you are out at night alone then try and have your driver collect you from the door of where you are. Don’t go wandering down the road in the middle of the night to find him – would you do that by yourself elsewhere?
  5. If you are in an Uber / Ola by yourself (during the day probably not so much) then set it up (from the app) so that you can inform somebody you are in the taxi. They can then track you and then it informs them when you get to your destination. My husband can track my phone as well that provides double the information. We don’t panic about such things too much though!
  6. Consider potential groping situations. If you are in a very busy market that is largely full of men (like Juna Bazaar which I love) then keep your wits about you. If a group of men suddenly want a photo with you (sometimes they will do this without permission) then just be aware of their hands – I have had no issues with this really.
  7. Remember you have in your favour that you are a foreigner. a) men may feel a little less confident around you then they would be with an Indian woman b) if a man does something to you, the police will take it more seriously because you can bring in the media and your embassy who can then get police commissioners involved etc. Being a foreigner dramatically increases the chance that the perpetrator will be arrested and found guilty!

In 18 months in India, I have had only one instance which made me feel uncomfortable (as a sexual being!). I ended up in a brass band warehouse in Jaipur (don’t ask!). My friend was jamming with some of the guys which was incredible. One of the younger band members wanted a photo with me and when he put his arm around me to do it because it was such a tight space I was aware of the potential opportunity I was affording him so said no.

Before I could say anything else an older member of the band, told him off and told him to move away from me! That was very reassuring! You could argue ending up in a warehouse off a narrow street in a city I didn’t know was unsafe especially as there was a bunch of guys. I would not have done this with a group of young men but these guys ranged from 20 to 70! Guys under 17 and over 40 are generally very respectful and will actively prevent the younger guys from being idiots! If I hadn’t had that experience because of a fear of the unknown then I wouldn’t have had an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life!

Clothes

An obvious concern is what you should wear and what is appropriate.

  1. Men can effectively where what they like – within reason.
  2. Women have to be a lot more careful. Why – many men are sexual frustrated and innocent and can’t quite distinguish between a strong confident woman and someone they perceive to be easy! It is not uncommon for women to be considered responsible for controlling a man’s sexual arousal! The implication therefore being that it is a woman’s fault if a man can’t control himself. This is clearly ridiculous but a fact that cannot be ignored.
  3. ‘Western’ places such as 5 star hotels, fancy restaurants etc – wear what you like – you will be shocked at some of the outfits the women wear!
  4. Local places – try and wear loose fitting clothes that cover your shoulders (a capped sleeve is no problem); something that covers your bum if you are wearing tight trousers; loose trousers; skirt / dress that is not above the knee; nothing too low on the back; don’t show your belly and absolutely no cleavage!
  5. Showing your belly in a sari is no problem at all – otherwise however absolutely not!
  6. There are areas however that are a between point between being completely westernised and being ‘local’ – Koregaon Park, Kaylani Nagar and Magarpatta being just three examples. Your clothing therefore can be somewhere in between.
  7. Not only is it totally acceptable to wear Indian clothing – especially kurta / leggings etc and indeed even a sari on suitable occasions – people absolutely love it! I probably wear a kurta once or twice a week and frankly they are so comfortable and cool. You can also do a half way house and wear a kurta with jeans – no problem even in local areas.
  8. Super high heels are not only impractical but may also be looked at slightly scandalously in some parts of town.
  9. In western style pools at hotels etc – go for the skimpy bikini – in pools frequented by mainly non-super wealthy Indians – be a little more conservative.
  10. My suggestion is to play things a little bit more conservatively until you get the lay of the land and understand how things work a little better.
  11. Forget conservative when it comes to colour and glitter – go for it! Nothing is too bling for India – ever!!

Friendship

  1. You are not alone – every single expat has come here with no friends or perhaps just one or two people they know slightly. Everyone has been in your situation in the last 3 / 4 years! They understand. You will find all expats welcome you with open arms – if you make yourself available. Remember you need them but they also need you – people come and go here and when your friendship group begins to dwindle you have to be pro-active about growing it again!
  2. You will have to be proactive – colleagues who have been out here longer than you may be very welcoming but not all are or you mightn’t have any colleagues or their spouses you can turn to. So, go on the expat forums and say – ‘anyone want a coffee?’ or go to an event that somebody has organised via the forums. Doing that is hard but also a great way to make friends! Make sure you post on the expat forums that you are coming – even if it is just a ‘hi, I’m moving in a few weeks and wanted to say hello!’ I have good friends I met that way.
  3. Rather than going straight into your apartment when you move here, try staying in a serviced apartment for at least a week or two (most end up doing this anyhow) and every morning say hi to the regulars. Go and sit by the pool or the coffee shop and say hi to people. People will inevitably say hi back and they can be your way into friendships.
  4. Throw yourself into as many things as you can initially, don’t say no unless you have to and then slowly decide what it is you want to do.
  5. You will not have the type of friends that you would probably have at home. Your friends here will be a mix of ages and backgrounds – it’s great. You get a chance to discover that age and background isn’t really all that important in friendship. Remember everyone you meet here has made the decision to do something great with their life – they are happy to take risks!
  6. Saying that! Try and ignore the negative ones – they hate India, hate the food, hate the people, hate the schools, hate, hate, hate! They will bring you down. Remember, at home these people would probably hate their lives anyhow – which is probably how they ended up out here in the first place.
  7. Embrace those who embrace life here! It will be hard at times to live here but embracing it will make it so so much easier! Some are happy to lunch and shop everyday – if that makes you happy go for it. On the other hand, you will probably get so much more from your time in India if you go out and explore and learn more about the city / country you are living in.
  8. Try not to get involved in the squabbles and the falling out amongst friends. The expat community is a small one, therefore it is like a pressure cooker. Remember, how in school because you had only a small group of friends to choose from, sometimes everything would just explode into a massive argument. It can happen.
  9. Do keep in mind that the expat community is transient. If you stick to only one or two good friends at the price of ignoring others – what will you do when they leave? How will the others feel if now suddenly you want back in with them? So, yes make some good friends but try not to focus on just one group of people – meet lots of different people and sustain lots of different types of friendships. It is more effective long-term and much more interesting!

Emotionally Dealing with Locals

  1. It sounds arrogant to say that you need to learn to deal with the locals. If you don’t learn, you may well lose your mind!
  2. Always keep in your mind that Indians are wonderful, wonderful people whose only real intention is not to disappoint you. Rather, not to disappoint you in the here and now.
  3. Indians will lie to you, placate you with mistruths, not tell you the whole story! Why? They don’t want to disappoint you!
  4. It is incredibly frustrating! There have been times where I have wanted to hit my head against the wall or slap someone I have been so annoyed!
  5. Remember! You are not alone! Speak to anyone (Indian or not) and they will tell you, they feel the same way!
  6. Working out how to play the system will help (see below).

Physical Practicalities

Dealing with locals

  1. Recognise that there is a group of Indians who firmly believe in being honest and sticking to the rules. They are unlikely to be flexible in this.
  2. My feeling is that they understand that in India if you are going to try and be honest, you have to be honest in everything otherwise the border between honesty and dishonesty is too vague.
  3. For example: do not expect a driver who is incredibly honest to be happy to park in a no parking area even for a minute. They might do it because they don’t want to inconvenience you but they will be panicking – it is better if you tell them to leave and come back in 5 minutes.
  4. Embrace these people even if at times they are tricky to deal with. India needs more people like them!
  5. If you are looking for precise answers – don’t ask an open question!  Get them to reiterate (several times) the answer. Inform them that you are expecting them to do what they said. Get them to reiterate once again that it will happen! Confirm with them (and get them to repeat it) what they will do if they will not be able to complete a task – i.e. call and inform you, tell you exactly when they will be there. Do not just assume ‘professionalism’ as we know it in the west!
  6. Where possible, don’t pay up front for things until they are delivered and correctly installed. This is not always possible but where possible avoid it. That way you have something companies want – your money!!
  7. If you get annoyed by someone not turning up read the situation – do you need to shout at them or do you need to be more diplomatic. Humiliating someone by shouting in front of their colleagues may mean they react even more negatively so you’re less likely to have something happen. On the other hand, sometimes being a bolshy foreigner shocks them into doing the right thing.
  8. If someone is due to come to the house, ring in the morning to confirm they are coming, ring an hour before hand and then ring 10 minutes before to check they are coming! The reality is though you will still end up waiting for hours or they still may not turn up! The contact does help  – most of the time!
  9. If someone says it will take a week, assume it will take 2 and then be pleased when it takes 10 days!
  10. Very often, you will have to pay a deposit and often that deposit is up to you. Keep the deposit to a minimum – that way if they want their money then they will have to complete the job to an acceptable standard!
  11. Don’t assume that because someone is better dressed than someone else that they are more reliable etc – often there is no way of knowing! Social status and education level are no real reflection of reliability! Not wanting to lose face goes across all stratas of society!
  12. Indians are less reserved about asking personal questions than most Westerners! This can at times be a little disconcerting. Someone will ask you how much something cost and you are left thinking ‘oh god, that is way more expensive than they could ever afford, how can I tell them!!’ or they will ask something like, ‘why don’t you have any children?’ The answer, ‘we don’t want any’ rarely being acceptable!  I have learnt either to be direct in my responses or if I feel too uncomfortable fudging the answer or answering what could have been a tangental question!
  13. Equally, as a consequence of Indians openness to asking questions, it is difficult to really insult them by your questions. As long as you don’t cause them to lose face, you are normally quite safe!
  14. Don’t allow yourself to get too het up about reliability etc – try and take the time to recognise in individuals and Indians as a whole just how nice and welcoming they are. Notice how they will always take a moment to smile at you if you smile at them!
  15. The extent that you will get stared at by locals (especially those not used to seeing foreigners) can at times be overwhelming. I, however, consider the way Indians stare to be far politer than in the west where we pretend not to be staring but actually are!
    • 99% of the time the staring is not intended to be intimidating (it is our western training that makes it feel intimidating).
    • Try smiling at people who are staring at you. If they mean well, they will smile back. If it is a man staring at a woman, he may look a little startled and look away – eye contact with women in some parts of society is frowned upon.
    • Don’t however smile at big groups of men if you are alone (or probably ever).
    • Some men will stare in a rather intense way when they pull up beside you in traffic – from the safety of my car, I give them a huge stare if I feel they are staring inappropriately. They panic and don’t quite know what to do! I am in the safety of my car however so there is nothing these guys can do if they don’t like my reaction! Sometimes it is just nice to demonstrate how the staring can make you feel – yes, I know childish!
  16. Photographs. Just accept that you will be photographed a lot!! There are however several ways that I find useful to deal with it.
    • You will begin to learn where people are most likely to take your photo – normally where they are not busy – shopping malls, tourist locations etc. In the busy streets of Pune you would think you would stand out more so more photos, I think however people are just too busy to worry too much about you there.
    • If asked politely, then look around – are there lots of young men who will pounce on what they see as permission being granted for a photo opportunity? If this is so and will make you uncomfortable – say no and explain why if you wish. If no one is there, then what is the harm.
    • If (usually young guys or people with young kids) suddenly come up to you and take a photo ‘with you’ without your permission then I normally say no – bas, bas (enough – no). That is quite simply rude.
    • If someone is just quietly taking your photo and you spot it, who cares! I take photos of Indians all the time – sometimes with their permission but if it is from a distance or they won’t notice without permission, so how can I complain. It is very rare here for anyone to say no to having their photo taken – usually people see my camera and ask me to take their photo – even though they can have no expectation of ever seeing the photo!
    • It is not unusual for a lovely polite photo session to become a free for all especially if you are a woman and look very un-Indian – I am blonde and blue eyed! Sometimes just saying bas, bas is enough but sometimes you simply have to walk away.
    • Why do people want to take your photo? Who knows? Some say because they want to show to their friends / families this foreigner they know – especially the guys this is a bit of a status symbol! Crazy right?!

Accommodation

Your relocation agency’s quality is key to this! Are they operating really as an estate agent or are they genuinely trying to make sure your relocation process is as seemless as possible?

  1. House v apartment is truly up to you! If a central location is more important then it is more likely that you end up in an apartment. If location isn’t key and you really want a garden etc then there are plenty of houses available.
  2. Do not expect to find a 1/2 bedroom accommodation that is of acceptable standard even if you are by yourself! You will end up with at least a 3 / 4 bedroom accommodation – 4,000 sqf plus! Smaller properties will be of such poor quality that there is no point even looking at them. As a consequence irrespective of whether you are single or with a family, you will end up finding similiar properities at a similar cost! Most companies don’t seem to understand that.
  3. Think really carefully about how far your accommodation is from work / school. Traffic can suddenly get very bad here so being as close as possible but in an area you are happy to live in is really important!
  4. Do not put any pressure on yourself to choose an apartment from what the agency show you. If you don’t like any, then you don’t take any!
  5. If your agency is failing to show you decent accommodation then you can use another agency – your company may disagree but it is common practice here. Your contracted agency is responsible for all the legal work etc but the new agency once they find your apartment are responsible for negotating with landlord and the move in. The contracted agency must then pay a fee to this second agency. Almost every single family out of the 15 or so that moved here with our company did this!

Looking at apartments

  1. Key to understanding how house hunting here works is that most landlords will do absolutely no work to your prospective apartment until you have signed the contract. A good relocation will verbally / via email state you will take the house but will not make you sign until they are satisfied with the quality of what the landlord has done.
  2. If an apartment has not been lived in for 2 years, you may have 2 years of dirt when you walk through the door. There is no natural attempt to make the acccommodation look as good as possible before showing a prospective tenant.
  3. If the place is new, do not necessarily expect the walls to have been painted or floors to have been laid. Certainly, don’t expect any storage outside of the kitchen.
  4. The state of accommodation can be quite off-putting and upsetting. You can’t help but think that your company are having a joke expecting you to move into such places! The reality – most will be lovely once done up!
  5. A good relocation agency will do their best to show you completed (minus storage) accommodation that is clean and presentable. To do this however, they need to ensure that there are enough landlords willing to do the work prior to showing a client!

Key Questions to Ask

Water

  1. Is water 24 hours? – due to water rationing some societies (housing groups) have limited water. You are unlikely to see these but it is always worth asking.
  2. Is water only PMC (city council) or is it also private? If also private, less likely to have water shortages as the water is bought in.
  3. Is there any water restrictions? i.e. is there no water for certain times or the day or has there been a history of restrictions. If you move here after monsoon, it is unlikely to have any restrictions but that doesn’t mean in the height of the summer there wasn’t! Look for notices in communal areas that suggest water rationing – often it takes months and months for such notices to be removed! One agency swore to me that there were none and had been no historical water restrictions – right next to a poster explaining the water rationing!
  4. Is there an electronic water filtration system? Is it built in? i.e. is it plumbed in. If not, is there a dispenser? If not, will the landlord be willing to install one. If there is, ensure that the water filter is serviced before you move in. Who is responsible for the maintenance of the water filtration system?
  5. Some buy in additional water and don’t drink the filtered water – I always drink the filtered water and I have had no problems at all. It is a matter of choice. Use the filtered water for washing vegetables, water for kettle etc. Some also use it to brush their teeth.

Electricity

  1. You will have lots and lots of power cuts, that you can’t avoid so it is a question of how your society is set up to deal with them.
  2. Does the society have a generator? If so, does it provide a complete supply? i.e. every plug etc. If not, what will the generator power? Does the generator operate 24 / 7 (most do)
  3. Try and find out the average cost of electricty for that society. Some societies (such as One North in Magarpatta) are horrendously expensive – as in fall over in shock when you get the bill expensive. Others are more ‘acceptable’. The fancier the accommodation / the bigger the accommodation the less ‘acceptable’ your electricity bill will be.
  4. If a house – does it have solar panels? How much electricity will they provide? Is there a back up system for example when it is monsoon and the sun doesn’t shine through the clouds for months!
  5. Make sure your agency provides you with your account details including the admin number for your area. You need this to pay your bill online. Electricity Bill Payment

Gas

  1. Gas is extremely cheap! My biggest bill was 300 ruppees (of which about 275 ruppees was admin charges!).
  2. Gas is largely only used for the cooker.
  3. Does the society have piped gas?
  4. Does the accommodation have bottled gas? Will the landlord provide two bottles? How do you change them? What are the contact details for the person to change the bottles?

Internet

  1. You should try not to move into a property until the internet is installed – you need it for whatsapp (must have communication method!) amongst many other reasons.
  2. Is there a fixed provider for internet – most Panaschil properties for example use a company called Lunatec (otherwise known as the lunatics!). They are awful and very very expensive but Panaschil provide nice socities! We paid about 80,000 ruppees for 6 months when we lived in One North – effectively unlimited.
  3. If there is no fixed interent provider who do the agency recommend – look at all the deals they suggest and deals you find online carefully.
  4. We use YouBroadband now we have moved – they are a pain to be installed but very good once installed. We have 800 GB of data for 90 days at a total cost of 5,000 rupees so an incredible saving for a far better system!
  5. Airtel also have 4G internet. We used it for about 2 months but ran through the 100GB of data in a week every time! It was also quite expensive.

Your first few weeks

My first few weeks in Pune were at times horrendous! I was so frustrated and so physically and emotionally drained that I found it really hard work!

This was particularly the case after we moved into our apartment. Every single person I have spoken to about my situation said they had the same experience – so will you and you are not alone!

  1. Priority when you move into your apartment (clearly your children but after that!) is making sure you have enough food and water so that you can stay home all day! You will spend a lot of time hanging around without the ability to go out and get food. If you don’t eat, all of what you will have to deal with will be so much harder!
  2. You will have lots and lots of people coming to deliver things – washing machines, dishwashers, water purifiers etc! They will all come late or not at all! You will not be able to go out though just in case they come!
  3. Try and make sure the internet is installed before you move in, this can take time. Having the internet means you can do things while you are waiting / hanging around even if it is just watching a movie.
  4. Do not move in until everything the landlord said would be done is done. Once you are in, they have no incentive to do anything!
  5. You may have a big fight on your hands to make sure the apartment is actually clean when you move in. Refuse to do so until you are happy with the cleanliness. Here, landlords will only clean and fix up the apartment often once the contract has been signed. It is your relocation agents job to fight your corner for you. If they are refusing to do this, go above them to their boss or to your company who employs them. Remember, your move is paying their salary.
  6. Before you move in try and ‘break’ everything in your apartment. Some things may have been made to look not broken but…
  7. You may have a number of days when you first move in where the landlord / developer will fix things for free – after that you will have to pay unless you are prepared to fight for it!
  8. This will probably be the most stressful time you have here. You will get through it. Don’t think that you will get away with it, you won’t – nobody does! You are better being prepared for it (as is your spouse for the stress they will return to!).
  9. Until your air freight arrives, you may well have to ‘camp’ at home – beg and borrow from people. My things are always in new people’s house. My way of repaying those people who lent me things when I first got here. If you can’t – who cares if you buy a few plates and glasses its not the end of the world and it won’t break the bank.
  10. Try and do something nice every day / week during these first few weeks even if it is just to go out for a coffee one evening / morning. It will help you deal with things and remind you why you came here.

Staff

Maids

  1. It is not a luxury (well not a huge one) to have a maid. It is so dusty all year round that your floors will need to be brushed / hoovered and washed every day as will tables need dusting etc.
  2. You will go mad if you stay at home all day and clean! You need to get out everyday and do something and meet people. If you are working, then a maid is definitely not a luxury!
  3. It is hard getting used to having a maid but it is also so nice!
  4. How often they come is up to your needs and your family’s needs. Our maid comes four days  a week for three hours a day. We have no family and I don’t need her to cook and I like one day a week where nobody is in the house other than me! Others do 8am to 4. So that they can help get kids up for school and then help when they get home. Others do longer hours again. Some even live in.
  5. What to consider when deciding your maid’s hours. Do you want your maid to:
    • Clean
    • Cook
    • Shop for food
    • Get children up for school
    • Take children to school and collect them
    • Water plants / garden
    • Play with children
    • Iron
    • Put clothes away
    • Wash clothes (be careful many don’t have washing machines and so most don’t get their maids to do this)
  6. Go on to expat forums on Facebook and ask what a good salary / hourly rate is. Again depending on the hours they do, you may pay them a salary or an hourly rate.
  7. My rate Oct ’16 – 120 rupees / hour including bus fare bus fare (some will ask for it in addition to their hourly rate – payment is up to you)
  8. Facebook forums and talking to expats is the best way to get a maid. Get a maid who is recommended by someone who understands western needs. Your driver may recommend someone good but if they have never worked for a western family they may need training. My maid hadn’t but after a few months was doing a great job!
  9. Be very clear in your mind, what you want them to do and express this clearly from day one. This gives them a chance to say that it isn’t something they want to do.
  10. Also be clear on what level of English is acceptable to you. Do you want them to be able to read and write English? I find having a maid who can read English is useful – I have a whiteboard where I write every days’ tasks and so if I am out it doesn’t matter.
  11. Be friendly but remember you are their boss not their friend. You need to be able to switch from, ‘How are you?’ to ‘How you did this was not acceptable’ without confusion.
  12. Be really accurate in how you explain what you want done. If you want a window sill cleaned – show them how to do it and then say – ‘you need to do this to all of the window sills.’ If you want them to clean the floor – explain that they need to move furniture out of the way etc etc. It is not that you are trying to say they are stupid but some won’t take responsibility for things you haven’t told them to do! Frustrating? Yes!
  13. Don’t assume they will know how to use household equipment like hoovers, clothes horses, dishwashers etc. If you want them to use them then show them how to plug them in, turn them on – physically how you use it and what you use it for. I showed my maid how to hoover the marble floor but then she didn’t hoover rugs because she didn’t know you could use it on rugs!
  14. It may take more than one training session for them to get confident enough to use the tool. Watch whether it is being moved (if you are out and can’t see it being used) – if not, revisit the training.
  15. Toilets. Toilet cleaning is consider a task for the very lowest caste. Some won’t want to do it. Ask them if they are willing to. If not, it is your decision – it takes 2 minutes to clean a toilet yourself or is that a deal breaker? If you want them and they refuse to clean toilets – try going into the bathroom when they are cleaning it and clean the toilet yourself. Some will be horrified that ‘mam’ is cleaning so will do it themselves. Caste is wrong but its impact does still exist.
  16. Explain that they can pick up things and dust underneath them. Explain that you expect them to be very careful of your things but if something is accidentally broken it is not the end of them world but they must tell you it happened. Otherwise you may look and look for something and wonder what you have done with it!
  17. You can leave your maid alone once you trust them and how long this takes will also be dependent on where they have been before and how trusted they were. (clearly you don’t take a maid where there is any question of trustworthiness!). Leaving them alone may take a few days or a few weeks.
  18. Some will give their maid a spare key, others wait for them to arrive and then go out. We used to have biometric locks so my maid used a code to get in when she first worked for us. Remember that if you have a big problem with a maid, you may not be able to get a key back so where possible give a code. On the other hand, most expats have given a key to their maid.
  19. I like to assume I can trust my maid but at the same time I don’t want to provide temptations that she may not be able to resist. Remember she will see things in your house that she could never afford in a million years. She may well see more money that she can earn in a few months or even years. 
  20. Lock away all cash and jewellery – most apartments have at least drawers with locks until you trust them. You may also want to lock away anything that is easy to pick up and put in your pocket e.g. iPad. I did in the beginning but very quickly stopped. If you are going away on holiday and your maid will be in your house then do lock away all valuables.

Driver

  1. Some drivers come with the car and you have no choice who you get but even if so, try and influence things as much as you can.
  2. Again, word of mouth is the best way to get a driver but be careful. As a driver told me, anyone can drive for you but they won’t necessarily be a driver!
  3. Interview and trial drivers – get them to take you out for a drive around. Give them a variety of places to go and see how do they deal with it. Like with your maid, thing about your priorities – what do you want from them.
  4. A good driver will once given an address (in advance) work out where it is before you leave. If you give them an address they’ve never been to and expect them to leave immediately – good ones will ask you for more detail, call someone who might know or ask you to call someone who might know. The bad ones just drive in the general direction and hope someone will be able to tell you where to go! The rickshaw drivers (who they normally ask) usually don’t know but it will lead to a huge conversation about the foreigner in the back of the car!
  5. If you can’t give your driver the exact address of for example a shop try and give them a contact number.
  6. Try and get a driver who speaks enough English that you can communicate relatively easily. They need to be able to write in understandable English as WhatsApp / text messages will be your main means of communication. Level of English will also be affected by how much you want them to be able to show you around, explain about Pune and generally just chat to you – or not – dependent on what you want.
  7. Ideally they should have a smart phone so they can use whatsapp and can look up maps etc. Cars do not have GPS here (think maps aren’t good enough!). Remember that if your driver uses WhatsApp it costs them money. My mobile bill here is laughably small but it may constitute 5% of my driver’s monthly income if he uses data. You may want to add a some extra money for data if this proves to be an issue.
  8. Your driver once appointed needs to sign a contract so that somewhere they have agreed officially to what your expectations are. Mention hours, salary, cleanliness and presentation, car cleaning, alcohol, mobile phone use, what happens if they are ill, what happens in an accident, over-time, being away overnight etc.
  9. Give your driver a month’s trial before you tell him he is permanent.
  10. Watch your driver’s speed, lane discipline (within reason), mobile phone use, time-keeping, how well he notices hazards ahead, use of gears, relying on breaks etc.
  11. As said about maid, you are not their friend but their employee so be friendly but not their buddy. It is quite likely that you will have a problem with them and a firm word is often effective! Inadvertently however when we had decided our current driver was so bad we were going to replace him, we solved our problem with him completely! We had a driver come for a trial – we never told our driver. From the next day however he was brilliant and has remained so. Why? We think our security guards warned him off and he knew he had to sort himself out!
  12. Save other people’s drivers’ numbers so that your driver can call them if you need to go somewhere that they know. Your driver should also accept phone calls from your friends wanting the same.
  13. You will need to pay for petrol (probably). Depending on how well you trust your driver, you can give them the money and they can just do it and give you a receipt. Be aware though that some drivers have a deal with petrol station managers where less petrol is put in but a receipt is provided for more money!
  14. Your driver will also need a kitty to pay for car parks. Some provide a kitty but some just give money every time it is needed. This can be receipted or not dependent on what you feel about your driver. I find it easier just to leave them with 200 ruppees or so – that way you don’t always have to have cash!
  15. Drivers can go away over night. You are meant to pay them 500 rupees but we pay more – some disagree with us completely!
  16. I feel very guilty about getting my driver to work over time or spend too much time away from his family, on the other hand overtime means more money and more money means for some their children get a better chance in life – have opportunities. Drivers are usually very pleased to  work long hours and even 7 days a week. For me it is a question of trying to balance my needs / their desire for more income / their need for a family life.

Lending money

At some point all maids / drivers / gardeners will ask you to lend them some money. Everyone you speak to has different opinions about it and there is probably no right or wrong answer. If someone asks you and you aren’t sure, just talk to your friends and ideally locals with their own staff and see what they think. Do however consider the following factors (amongst others more specific to your member of staff):

  1. Why are they asking? Is it really a necessity? Remember, providing good wedding presents etc is a social necessity and about maintaining face. Education is a way out of poverty so paying the costs of a child going to an English medium school will be so important to people. My maid recently borrowed money off me just in case her pregnant sister had problems after she gave birth (for cultural reasons my maid would have been expected to pay the bill). I agreed. In the end, there were huge problems and so my money meant the sister could get good quality medical care quickly.
  2. If they want to buy school books or school equipment, are you better going with them to buy it rather than just handing over the cash. Remember it is also a question of maintaining face – if you insist on going to the school to pay the fees, that will be saying to their community that they can’t afford the fees and they will therefore lose face.
  3. Do you trust that they will spend the money on what they say it is for? if not, do you mind if they don’t?
  4. Can they really afford to pay you back? If they don’t pay it back, how concerned are you?
  5. How much will they have to pay out of their salary every month?
  6. Are you and they both happy to have some form of payment card where you and they sign to say how much is owed and how much has been paid?

Ultimately, the decision to lend money is yours.

Bonus and Holidays

  1. It is traditional for you to pay your members of staff a months salary at some point in the year, usually Diwali (November). If they are non-Hindu ask them when they would like their bonus or do they want it split between two different periods (e.g. Diwali and Christmas).
  2. You may ask your maid to work a few more hours during the lead up to Diwali doing for example a spring clean.
  3. Your driver’s holiday time is relatively easy – when you are not there, they get a holiday. They should however have an additional week’s holiday during their most important religious holiday so Hindus – Diwali and Christians – Christmas.
  4. Your driver may also need specific religious days off. I try and find out what are the important days during religious festivals and either minimise the hours he works that day or if possible tell him I don’t need him e.g. if he goes to temple in the evening, I try and make sure I don’t need him in the evening. It can get frustrating however between September and November – it feels every second day is an important religious festival they must have time off for! I recently made my driver work on Dussehra (Oct) and regret it – it wasn’t right. Other days, other than diwali, I think are completely acceptable to work.
  5. Maids are more complicated. If you are away for three weeks then your house will still need cleaning so she will still need to come in. If I am away for a long period, I suggest she takes a week off during this time or perhaps doesn’t work every day but 2 out of 4 days.
  6. If you are away, then your staff members should be paid – it is not their fault you don’t need them. Payment for when they take time off is up to you and them and what you have agreed. As long as it is not ridiculous holidays, I have no problem paying them, they have the right to a holiday too!
  7. Once you have an Indian bank account, it is worth asking your staff whether they want to be paid straight into their bank accounts. I hadn’t consider it until my maid asked me to pay her into her account – with no money coming into her account regularly she wasn’t able to set up any payment systems to enable her to get a fridge or a freezer. She needed proof of an income.

Health

  1. Some people panic about health when moving to India. Pune has a population of 6 million and growing – it has all the modern amenities if you know where to go!
  2. Hospitals – you will probably be shown Ruby Hall and panic! Relocation agents always bring you there and expats can never work out why although many do still use it! There are more ‘private’ sections of the hospital that are fine though (usually!) My recommendation is Columbia Asia. My friend even had her baby there! You can just call up and see a GP or even a consultant without any waiting time – sometimes even the same day. They also have an emergency department (at the back of the hospital building) where you can go with a broken leg etc.
  3. Bring enough prescription drugs with you to do you for a few months. If you need to see a doctor regularly make sure your relocation agent arranges this and be sure you are happy with the doctor / hospital. Insist on seeing others if you are not. Remember the relocation agent works for you!!
  4. You can get prescription medicines over the counter here without a prescription (and they are seriously cheap)- this can be good but they may not always be what they seem. If you are getting prescription drugs over the counter, try and get ones recommended by others and from a chemist that is recommended. You are better to go to a doctor first. I recommend Khrishna Medical, North Main Road, Koregaon Park. I have used them repeatedly with no problems at all!
  5. You will get diarrhoea here and you may get it from what looks like a dodgy restaurant or a five star hotel – you cannot control it really! Make sure you bring dioralyte (you can get local equivalent) with you – you can get it but if you are sick, you don’t want to be searching for it! Oddly, Ibuprofen works brilliantly for some people in stopping diarrhoea.
  6. If you think you may have eaten something dodgy – try a probiotic drink (can get them in most supermarkets but especially ones aimed at expats).
  7. Mosquito bites – you will have lots of bites in the beginning (lots) – we are in the mountains so your blood will thin over time – thicker blood is tastier so they love newbies!! Bring bite treatment roll-on (usually has ammonia in it).  Also a good tip is Vicks – VapoRub! You can get tiny little tubs here that you can easily keep in bags.
  8. You can buy anti-mosquito cream very easily and incredibly cheaply here. Keep a tube in all your bags! Worth also investing in a mosquito bat. Most shops on the side of the road sell them. You can always ask your driver.
  9. Should you have no bite treatment creams a good solution is the back of a metal spoon as hot as you can bare to have it on your skin and for as long as possible. This kills the nerve endings that makes it itchy. Another option is to use your finger nail to make a cross in the bite mark – be careful though open wounds could potentially get infected – not something you really want to happen.
  10. You need to be aware of malaria. Pune is a very low risk malaria area but if you are travelling outside of it, it is worth just checking.
  11. Dengue Fever is also prevalent in areas with water such as by lakes and rivers. There is nothing you can take to stop you getting dengue other than using mosquito creams. Make sure your house has mosquito nets installed! This should be a deal your relocation agents negotiates with your landlord.
  12. Hydration – everyone suffers from dehydration when they first get here. Drink lots of water but also soda water (better than water for hydration purposes). Fresh lime soda mix / salty – you can order it in any restaurant and is easy to make at home with sweet limes).Watch your salt consumption. A craving for salty crisps / chips is ok if it stops your headaches until you get used to the heat.

Taxis and Rickshaws

Taxis

  1. Use a taxi service such as Uber or Ola or one recommended to you by a friend.
  2. Taxis are extremely cheap. I took a taxi all the way across town (about 40 minutes) and it came to 500 rupees (10 dollars / 5 pounds)
  3. Uber and Ola are paid online so you don’t have to worry about carrying cash or your driver cheating you.
  4. Both companies are fairly reliable but probably not advisable to travel alone in at night especially if you are a women.
  5. You order your taxi online and can use a pin to say exactly where you are and then online say where you are going – this helps if the taxi driver doesn’t speak English.
  6. You are unlikely however to be able to use the apps until you have an Indian bank card and Indian mobile phone – some international bank cards work but it is worth checking.

Rickshaws

  1. They are quick and easy to organise although a little bit of haggling is sometimes required.
  2. Rickshaw drivers try and exploit anyone not clearly a local (including other Indians) and charge them stupid prices for short journeys just because they think you won’t know any better.
  3. Go prepared with a rough estimate of the cost of going to your destination (you can download an app (Pune Rickshaw) that allows you to do this. This will mean you can haggle  without trying to be too cheap.
  4. I usually negotiate a cost but you can go by meter but remember if they think you don’t know where you are going, they may take the long route! I prefer to negotiate.
  5. Rickshaw drivers tend to be very poor so them getting an extra 10 – 20 rupees off you is not the end of the world.
  6. Try and make sure you have the exact money in cash otherwise some rickshaw drivers will claim they have no change. I tend to save all my 10 and 20 rupees notes for this reason.
  7. You can order a rickshaw through Ola.
  8. Rickshaw drivers often don’t know locations so you will have to tell them where something is near. Addresses usually include this. If they don’t know somewhere far away, they may refuse to take you.
  9. Usuallly better to ask for a hotel by putting hotel first so not JW Marriott Hotel but Hotel JW Marriott! If you do it the first way they don’t always get what you mean! Don’t understand why. Doesn’t seem to be an issue with taxis in Pune although I have had that issue in Mumbai.

Useful phrases:

    • Hotel X kaylee-A – Hotel X please
    • Season’s Mall kay pass – near Season’s Mall
    • kay lee-A kitna – how much?
    • bahut / zyad – too much!
    • 70 rupees hay – it should be 70 rupees
    • meter say chalo – go by meter
    • left and right – they must know these in English to pass their driving test!
    • Seedha – straight on

9. Try using humour to get the right price! I find these phrases once they give me a stupid price      incredibly effective!

    • majak mat karoo! – You must be joking!
    • metre say 60 rupees hotta hay / may 70 rupees bol raha hay – if we go by metre it will be 60 rupees, I’m saying 70 rupees.

10. Sometimes, it is cheaper and easier to use an Uber / Ola car rather than a rickshaw especially for longer distances.

11. A great option is to have a friendly rickshaw driver you can call up! I feel safer traveling in a rickshaw in the dark by myself (feel I can easily hop out if there is a problem) and with a driver you know and trust – it feels safer again!

Free Time

  1. The extent of your free time will vary dependent on whether you have children and what age they are.
  2. Very quickly you can fill your time with all sorts of activities – some practical like food shopping and some more frivolous, the extent that you feel comfortable with simply ‘filling your time’ is up to you.
  3. Many, many spouses however are very talented people with great professional backgrounds – there is no shortage of organisations needing your assistance. You can volunteer your time full time, one day a week or on a completely casual basis. The poverty that confronts you everywhere however compels me to want to at least do something to combat it – as little difference as my contribution may make. What’s the best way to eat an elephant though? One bite at a time.
  4. To get in touch with charities ask on the Facebook forums or ask anyone you meet.
  5. Many expats also learn a new sport especially golf. Lessons are relatively cheap here in comparison to most western countries and it is also easy and cheap to have someone like a personal trainer. So if you are going to have more free time, why not better yourself physically too?! Again contacts can be made through your own contacts or through Facebook.
  6. Use any holiday time you have to travel – around India and around Asia.
    • Depending on what part of the world you are from – Australia / New Zealand and Europe may be a lot closer too. America is just nightmarishly far away – sorry Americans!
    • Internal flights tend to be cheap and easily available. Flights to Singapore / Colombo etc also tend to be really good value.
    • Talk to friends about where they have been and get recommendations on tour companies /hotels etc
    • Don’t be afraid of the train – I was! Now that I have even been on a train journey by myself I don’t know what I was concerned about – you might want a strong bladder though. Not sure I would recommend an overnight train journey on the other hand. Tickets are available from train stations – just come armed with your date of travel, train number and seat class – these are available through Indain Railways website but more understandably through Makemytrip or Cleartrip. You can book your train tickets online but it requires an ID number which I have failed to be able to get – some have though – not sure how!

What to buy when you get here (non-perishable)

  1. Lots and lots of passport pictures – you can do it in most malls or your driver should tell you where. Get 20+ that might be enough! They are very cheap but you will need them for everything you can possibly imagine!
  2. Big American style fridge / freezer so you can buy lots of meat at the same time and freeze it – reduces the time spent doing it.
  3. Mosquito cream and patches – chemists and most supermarkets
  4. Mosquito plugs – all supermarkets
  5. If you have a garden / balcony – citronella sticks – supermarkets, garden centres
  6. Furniture etc will be needed – will give suggestions later
  7. Cleaning materials (order from Big Basket – they are heavy so they may as well deliver it! You will have to pay in cash until you get an Indian bank card.)
  8. Basic non-perishable groceries – again Big Basket is easier.

Perishable

Fruit and vegetables – supermarket quality is normally not great (Spar in Koregaon Plaza is better). International supermarkets can be slightly better.

  1. most fruit and veg will be seasonal and things out of season will not always be great quality.
  2. buy from markets (or does someone come to your society – ask security guards) – Tulsi Baug Market (next to Mandai market) in Tulsi Baug is the best that I’ve discovered. You can also try Shivaji Market in Camp. Get someone to take you there ideally but equally get your driver to take you to the best entrance and have a look! They haven’t tried to cheat me but keep your wits about you – if it seems silly prices – joke whether it is Indian or tourist prices and simply walk away if you think it is still too much.
  3. Fruit is much, much more expensive than vegetables especially apples.
  4. Weekly veg for two in Shivaji (mainly Indian veg) around 200 rupees. Fruit for two around 300- 500 rupees depending on what we have.
  5. Green Tokri are a farm (near organic) outside of Pune. They deliver to certain parts of the city every week. Good quality (although I still think Shivaji is better) but often do more English style veg as it is called here. They also do lettuce. Order online. There are more and more of these companies in town – you will need to ask around and look online.
  6. Big Basket are good for fruit and veg too but watch quantities – easy to accidentally order 500g of dill or a kilo of chillies!!
  7. Zipmeals.in do good groceries and some cheese – quality is generally good. Best place for cheese is probably Nature’s Basket.
  8. Dorabjees – sell Green Tokri products. Fruit and veg is ok.
  9. Nature’s Basket – do very good buffalo mozzarella – only place that taste likes home! Fruit and veg are only ok – although they often do white onions (can usually only get red onions).
  10. Stalls on the side of the road can be good – just watch quality and pricing! If you think prices are too high – ask your driver to check for you.

Meat / Fish

  1. don’t usually get from supermarkets.
  2. Lamb is actually goat (don’t ask me why!!) Goat can be very nice if cooked properly.
  3. Beef until recently was illegal. It is now only legal if it is imported from outside of the state. It is still therefore hard to get your hands on! I don’t have a source but I’m working on one or two leads!
  4. Buffalo – is denser than beef but nice if cooked slowly with lots of flavouring
  5. Chicken – has less flavour
  6. Pork – again tends to be less flavoursome.
  7. To buy fish and meat you will need to speak to the people who live in your area. Aundh and Baner have lots of good places. Magarpatta not so much etc.
  8. I cheat with meat and order it from the Hyatt Regency in Viman Nagar – if you go to their coffee shop (middle entrance) then you can order and get within 48 hours – is more expensive than the markets but you don’t have to go to the markets! You can do the same from the Marriott from the Italian restaurant.
  9. Nature’s Basket do a good pork loin.
  10. Fish is good in Shivaji market if you go to stall at the very end at right angles to all the other stalls.
  11. Meat and fish is very much a local knowledge thing so ask those who live around you.

Food Shopping

(as I know it – again speak to people who live near you for more precise locations)

  1. Important to remember that most shops don’t open until 10.30 / 11. Cafes are an exception to this.
  2. Spar (In Koregaon Plaza / Nitesh shopping mall) – best of the supermarkets. People come from all over Pune for it.
  3. Nature’s Basket – one in Koregaon Plaza and one in Aundh
  4. Shivaji Market, Camp
  5. Tulsi Baug Mandir (market) and the market next to it (better than the Mandai market)
  6. L’Bouche D’Or (known as French Bakery!) in Gera Plaza on Boat Club Road – does great bread and yummy cakes, run by a French man!!
  7. Hyatt Regency and JW Marriott Hotel
  8. Mahalaxmi Stores on North Main Road – seems tiny, sells everything and will order things for you if you show them a picture and they can find it! They have a great electronics stores on the 1st floor.
  9. There are lots of shops on the side of the road that sell everything you can imagine! Your driver is a good source of knowledge for this.
  10. Milk – people use a variety of delivery services – Nature’s Basket (just call them), Pride of cows to name just two. Local shops will also see UHT milk.
  11. You can buy fresh milk but usually this needs to be boiled and consumed quickly.

Alcohol

  1. Supermarkets do not sell alcohol except for the international ones but in separate sections.
  2. Look out for Beer Shopee signs next to little shops at the side of the road. Your driver should also be able to bring you to a local shop. Women can definitely go into these shops (really just counters facing the street) but you will probably be the only woman there.
  3. Get the number of a local shop and they can usually deliver within 30 minutes. Cash on delivery.
  4. Watch out for ‘dry days’ these are days where nowhere is allowed to sell alcohol (well not officially! International hotels are sometimes allowed to sell it). Dry days fall on big festivals. Your driver should know when these will be. If there is a calendar of them, I have yet to see it!

Furniture / Household

  1. RA Lifestyle  – Kalyani Nagar
  2. Sanskriti – Koregaon Park
  3. Lifestyle – Bund Garden Road
  4. Vasati – Mundhwa
  5. Inorbit Mall
  6. Ishnaya Mall (furniture place – bit weird but give it a go)
  7. Shoppers Stop – Seasons Mall
  8. Picture framers – Mohsinali’s Frames, Clover Centre on first floor, left hand wing. Top Art – Viman Nagar – framing is so much cheaper here!
  9. Hardware stores – are everywhere ask your driver, they sell almost everything that you could get in a DIY type store. DIY stores you wander around – do not exist!

There are places everywhere they are just a few! Again ask your neighbours and friends.

School / Stationary Supplies

Lots of options these are just three.

  1. AB Chowk – this is a whole street of school book sellers. Here you can get anything you can imagine in terms of stationary. Probably easier places to go but here is cheaper and more fun!
  2. Guarav – art shop in Koregaon Park (Lane D). Is really good but expensive.
  3. Artist Katta – fab art shop really near Shaniwari Wada. Much cheaper than more famous places and they people who run it are amazing!

Side of the Road

  1. Fruit and vegetables. If you aren’t sure about the pricing tell your driver what you paid and they will deal with it, if you have been done!
  2. Shoe repair / polishing – they usual sit on the side of the road, again ask your driver – they sell shoes laces too!
  3. Newspapers (although you can arrange for these to be delivered too – ask your neighbours)
  4. Matches / lighters – sometimes get in supermarkets but can’t guarantee. Again ask your driver.

Brunch

Brunch is a big deal in Pune on Saturdays and Sundays.

  1. Personal favourite – Hyatt Regency
  2. Oakwood Premier – go there during the week for breakfast sometimes – yum!
  3. JW Marriott – really popular – you need to book in advance
  4. Westin – the Italian is great but not for someone gluten free like me!
  5. Conrad hotel – new hotel, brunch is expensive and only OK.

Traditional Indian Food

There are great places everywhere in Pune! These are just a few of my favourites! All veg restaurants.

  1. Ram Krishna opposite the Clover Centre, Camp. Old traditional veg restaurant.
  2. Wada Pav, JJ Gardens (every driver knows this place so famous!) Wada Pav is a yummy deep fried potato patti served in a bun – delicious! You pay 20 rupees per plate at one stall and then hand a token to the place where they serve them. Always manically busy but so, so yummy!
  3. Vaishali, Ferguson College Road, also really famous.
  4. Ganraj near Tulsi Baug – so yummy!
  5. Archana right next to Tulsi Baug Mandir (market) – some of the best food I’ve had in India!
  6. Shiv Sagar – in Baner
  7. Kalyani in Kalyani Nagar
  8. Copper Chimeny -Lane 7, Koregaon Park (will deliver) – doesn’t look traditional
  9. Carnival – Mundhwa (near Marriott Suites) – very contemporary

Forums

Facebook – Pune Expat Forum, Everything Expats, Pune Parents Group – great sources of information and friendship!!

WhatsApp – while not a forum in itself – it is crucial for any communication in Pune. The mobile phone system isn’t exactly reliable so people use this instead. You will find there are lots of groups that share information and friendship although unfortunately you can’t search for them but ask people.

Places to visit

Pune isn’t a major tourist destination but it can be very interesting. Just throw yourself into the city centre. Go in with open eyes and more importantly and open mind.

You will be stared at almost everywhere you go but especially where locals have time to stop and stare. If you go to where they are busy and working, then they will see you and look a little but they don’t have time to want to take pictures of you etc.

Pune is relatively safe, as safe as any big city is. As a woman I have no problems walking around anywhere. If I go somewhere new however I tend to go with a friend largely so we can have an adventure together and having company always makes you braver.

Early days do a Chalowalks.in walking tour of Kasba Peth (an old area in Pune). This gave me the confidence that I could walk around what seems like chaos but isn’t really.  Jan (an Irish woman) and her husband Rashid Ali run the walks. They have lived in Pune for many years.

  1. Kasba Peth – just love to walk around there – really interesting
  2. Tulsi Baug / Laxmi Road – a market area (mainly household and clothes / jewellery) with a separate old Victorian market (fruit and veg)
  3. MG Road / Camp – more expensive than other areas but lots of interesting shops.
  4. Shaniwar wada – old fort in centre of town
  5. Ganesh temple (near Shaniwar wada)
  6. Alandi – about 40 minutes from centre of Pune – a lovely ghat – check out the new temple being built to the left of the ghat – you can’t miss it. Your chance to have a walk around an unfinished temple – they think they have 8 more years of building left!
  7. Pavrati Temple – temple on top of a very steep hill!
  8. Juno Bazaar – only on Wednesday / Saturday mornings – all sorts of things – go for the sights and buy something if you see it. From ornaments to canvas (this is where the military shop) and every single thing you could every imagine in between!
  9. Each area will have a specialism – keep an eye out as you drive around – these areas will provide you with everything you need!

Again, you can find lots of things in the malls but (I hate malls) it is more interesting if you look for them where real Indians actually shop. Ask friends / forums or your driver / maid. It will be harder but more real and cheaper.

What to Bring

Some people will have only air freight and others only a sea shipment – some will have both! I have assumed you have both.

What you will need is also dependent on what your situation is. Will you be in a serviced apartment until your sea shipment comes or will you have rental furniture and be in your apartment?

Some of the things I said in the air freight clearly need to be brought in larger quantities in the sea freight.

Clearly, if you have children then there will be additional items that you will need to prioritise dependent on what you need to bring!

Luggage

  1. Use full alcohol allowance for a spirit (lasts longer) or wine if you don’t drink spirits! Buy for me if you don’t want it!!
  2. Any solvents from home you need but can’t send in air or sea shipment e.g. hair spray etc. Don’t worry about cleaning products or shoe polish!
  3. Medicines – can get most things here but it is about not having to worry for the first couple of weeks.
  4. Small mosquito cream. When you get here buy Odomos creams and Odomos patches for children (although I use them all the time!). It is cheaper and more effective.
  5. Anti-mosquito bite roll on – more effective than cream.
  6. Tampons – you can’t get them here easily! They are available in a very limited selection in Spar but they are the really old-fashioned type that I don’t like but good to remember in an emergency! You can get sanitary towels. I brought hundreds of tampons when I moved – I do wonder what the movers thought!
  7. Enough clothes to do you until your sea shipment arrives. Nowhere is very formal so just bring something nice to wear just in case – everything else can be quite casual.
  8. High heels are not going to be worn unless you are getting out of your car and going straight in somewhere! The footpaths make high heels dangerous!! So bring one or two pairs only. Remember there is no such thing as too glittery here so if you want bring your fanciest pair just in case a sari party or the like happens before your sea shipment gets here!
  9. Sandals – if you have size 7+ feet get a couple of pairs of flip-flops / sandals before you come.  You can get larger sizes just not easily. If you are coming near to monsoon try and have at least one pair of shoes you can get very wet and muddy!
  10. Things to entertain children (and yourself) in the car – you will spend hours in it everyday! My husband invested in sound cancelling headphones for his commute and it is has made it much more restful a journey!
  11. Adaptor plugs (check if your apartment has multinational plugs, many aimed at expats do – especially the more modern ones). Extension leads are also a good idea. Although it isn’t hard to get extension leads that take multinational plugs – they are probably UK prices.
  12. Diarrhoea tablets and Dioralyte sachets. Ibuprofen – can work for diarrhoea!! Can get here but you don’t want to have to worry about such things in your first few weeks!

Sea Freight

  1. Things that will make your house a home are more important than practical things! Pictures, a rug, your favourite ornament, cushions.
  2. Clothes – don’t worry too much – you should be fine with what you brought with you when you arrived. I brought all my work suits in air freight!!!! Why?? No idea! They took up valuable space.
  3. Your luxury items that just makes life more pleasant! Ours was our Nespresso machine and 200 coffee pods!
  4. Plug in cooler box for the car. This will be something you are so grateful you brought! Make sure you bring a cigarette lighter adaptor. It means you can buy meat / veg whenever you want  and don’t have to think about how long it will be in a hot car for! Do not forget!! Even if you think you won’t need it – bring it anyhow!
  5. Fitted sheets (can get but extremely expensive)
  6. Things to make meat tastier – e.g. stock cubes (can’t get beef. Can get others but extremely expensive!), gravy granules, marinating powders (liquids not allowed in your air freight). Dried herbs (can get but expensive). Any non-Indian spices that you use. You can probably get them here but you don’t want to have to worry about them in the first few weeks. Don’t worry about bringing in beef based products – it is no longer illegal and when it was – nobody cared!
  7. Clothes horse (very expensive here)
  8. Iron / ironing board
  9. Dishwasher tablets and dishwasher salt (horrendously expensive if you want a known brand). Indian brands are fine just not as good.
  10. Anti-perspirant for men – cannot get here at all!! Can only get deodorants. Can get one brand of anti-perspirant for women but it is whitening. I don’t mind but if you do, bring loads!
  11. Decent pillows – can get here but expensive.
  12. Tinned tomatoes / kidney beans / butter beans / baked beans etc – can get but about 140 rupees a tin!
  13. Lasagne sheets
  14. Any specialist grains like quinoa or even couscous are very expensive here.
  15. Rock salt (at least I can’t find some!)
  16. Condiments – mayonnaise / ketchup / mustard – can get them just expensive
  17. Tin foil, baking parchment, cling film – can get and cheap but quality isn’t reliable
  18. Resealable plastic boxes – everything needs to be put in resealable boxes once you buy them especially flour. Little insects can be attracted to open containers unless you are very careful. You can buy boxes easily here but not always cheap. You can get them cheaper in the UK.
  19. Resealable bags – quality isn’t great.
  20. Big rubbish bags
  21. Potato masher
  22. Decent floor brush and mop (remember you will have huge floors!!)
  23. Hoover and any bits that will need replacing such as bags.
  24. Steam floor cleaner – floors are so dusty that to clean them with it once a week or so will help hugely!

Sea Shipment

  1. Everything above but in vast quantities!! You should have lots of storage space in your kitchen!
  2. Barbecue (gas cylinders can be difficult to get. Coal you can get but worth bringing lots with you!)
  3. If you drink, use every single litre of your alcohol allowance (if you don’t want to, bring some for me!). Domestic wine isn’t expensive here but isn’t great quality. Imported wine is very expensive. Spirits are more expensive than in the UK.
  4. Salt and pepper cellars (unless you are happy with boring ones)
  5. Herb containers unless happy in just small plastic boxes
  6. Picture hanging strips (you can use nails but they are so much easier!)
  7. DIY equipment – can get but if you have at home, you may as well bring.

Learning Hindi

If possible try and learn Hindi, even just the basics. Don’t be afraid to learn the script, it is easier to get your head around than you think.

Why learn?

  1. It will help you to read some of the signs around town, this will help you work out what each shop does a little easier. There is English but not always on the more local shops.
  2. If you learn the basics of how Hindi works you will be able to understand more why people use the particular Indian syntax that people use while speaking English. This makes what they say more easily understandable!
  3. People will be so surprised and impressed if they see you can speak Hindi – it will make them more inclined to help you out.
  4. Once you can begin to understand a little, you will be able to start working out what people are saying when they are speaking to each other and that will make it less likely that you will be cheated because even if it is just in English you can react to what they say!!
  5. Less educated people will speak little or no English, being able to speak to the fruit stall holder or the cobbler in Hindi makes you less dependent on your driver.
  6. People will really appreciate that you have gone to the trouble of trying to learn their language. You will seriously impress them! I now have conversations with people that I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t learnt Hindi – what a great way to learn more about this country and its people!
  7. Learning languages is great and what a skill to leave with at the end of your assignment!

The difficulty in learning Hindi is that people don’t expect you to speak it so either just reply in English or go into panic mode and are unable to understand you! You therefore have to try and find excuses to speak the language in order to improve.

Finally

I have not been in India forever, there are probably lots of things in this document that long-termers (5 years plus) would disagree with it and there is probably lots of advice that they would give you that I haven’t! On the other hand, I started to put this together while I was still new enough to remember what challenged me and what excited me when I first got here.

You will undoubtably come across experiences that I haven’t referred to here and you may well think – ‘what did she know?! If only she had told me about this!’ That, however, is the great thing about living abroad – there are so many things that challenge us all individually and that are unique to our own needs and character that it is next to impossible to cover everything in one short document.

The final words of this document were written in a floating cottage by the sea in Kerala after a week spent on a houseboat and in the mountains. All the hard challenges about living in India to me are worth it when you can so easily experience what in your home country are probably impossible or prohibitively expensive. The time will come when I return to the UK and will never have such an extended adventure again. When this time comes, I know I will have a wealth of experiences to take with me and to remember but also my experiences will have made me a more rounded and more open person.

Final ‘final word’ – try and ‘surrender yourself to India’ as Karla in the brilliant book, Shantaram, a must read, said! Don’t try and change it and don’t try and fight it. Just accept what it is as best as you can and relax into it. Easier said than done but it does make a world of difference.

What have I left out? Please leave a comment and I will include it!

Do you have questions that you hope I can answer? Leave a comment and I’ll try!

Also do email me at kironside78@gmail.com if you would prefer a more personal response to your questions. 

The Wanton Women of Indian

Normally, my blogs are filled with inspiring pictures from my travels or that I believe represent my opinions. Today, however, I don’t want to. I just want the words to do the talking. After a year in India, I am angry and for me only words can express this feeling. 

A woman in India must be protected. She must be protected both from her low intellect and therefore her questionable morals that her inability to think results in and she must be protected from man that cannot be expected to corral his own behaviour when faced by the licentiousness of a woman’s easy virtue.

Foreign women visiting India were recently advised not to wear skirts. That this was un-Indian and didn’t represent the high ideals of Indian morals. That as a consequence of foreign women’s low moral standards in terms of dress that Indian men could not be held responsible for their actions. The very sight of a foreign leg having the ability to drive a man to such distraction that a woman would effectively be bringing on her own rape.

A women faced with verbal or physical abuse on the street, should not look to those around her for support. For if she gets it, it is only to be expected that the abuser would rally his ‘boys’ and attack the very person who was trying to protect the victim of their behaviour. Fear of retaliation then stops many who do genuinely object to such behaviour from standing up and defending a woman when she is in a vulnerable position. While the man’s ‘boys’ rather than turning on their friend for verbally or physically abusing a woman, instead choose to defend her.

Men seldomly look at me other than to stare. There is never eye contact or recognition of my existence. My husband is always deferred to even amongst those I consider educated. Any decisions are always for my husband to make not I. This is not politeness but rather with my husband I do not exist. Therefore I either don’t exist or I am an object that can be stared at no matter who intimidating this is.

I recently booked two flights to Goa for my husband and I. I was the primary traveller on the reservation. I still travel on my maiden name: Donaldson. After making the reservation I immediately received a text message thanking Mr Ironside for having made the reservation. Closer to the date of travel Mr Ironside also was reminded of his flight. I did not exist. All correspondence was in his name.

My maid’s sister recently had a baby. As the elder sister, the sister left her husband and moved in with her. When she became sick after giving birth, it was my maid who had to stay overnight in the hospital despite her holding down two jobs. When my maid’s dad became sick in the south of India, instead of leaving immediately to see him, she had to stay – the baby’s father was not responsible for looking after the baby and the mother was not well enough to do it alone.  Her other sister lives below her and her husband refused to allow her to help look after the baby and shouted at her that she wasn’t spending enough time at home cooking and cleaning for him.

Mind you, this comes from a man who rejected his wife’s daughter. A daughter who now lives upstairs with my maid and for whom no financial support is provided. A daughter whose birth father rejected her on birth and refused to allow the baby girl to stay in his house. Hence why my maid took her in. He eventually left his wife but she still went on to remarry a man who refused to recognise her daughter’s existence.

The Indian government is in the process of introducing revolutionary new maternity leave and child care provision. Indian women will go from being allowed 12 weeks maternity leave to 26. All companies with more than 50 employees will have to have a creche that the mother will be allowed to visit 4 times a day. This is to be applauded.

Paternity leave is being debated although the resounding political opinion is that this is not fair on the wife. The husband will just see it as a holiday and it will just increase the wife’s workload when she already as a newborn baby. Once again instead of making a man responsible for supporting his wife more than financially, it is being officially recognised that it isn’t a man’s job to bond with his child. While this may be culturally the case, the government instead of fighting it will instead prevent those modern Indian men desperate to help out at home and bond with their child from doing the very thing that surely is a human right.

Most charities operating in India focus on women and empowering women, finding them a way to increase their incomes. Why? On average every rupee extra a women makes will go to her house, her children. It is widely recognised that on average every rupee extra a man makes will go on himself – on drinking, on cigarettes, a new phone and not where it is needed. If you want to educate a chid, you first educate the mother and not the father.

A BBC documentary about the rape of Nirbhaya on a bus in Delhi in December 2012 that didn’t hold back in its criticism of the authorities and the general approach to rape politics / culture in India has been banned in India. Better to ban a controversial topic than provide yet another means of highlighting something that no one is comfortable with.

I, a strong independent woman who refuses to take any nonsense from anyone- good luck to them if they should try, find on a daily basis my rights as a human being being infringed. On a daily basis, India tries to reinforce with me that I am worth less than my husband and indeed worth less than men in general, including those who rape. Faced with this on a daily basis by someone without the education and life experience to know that it is wrong, to try and fight it requires a bravery that many Indian women just cannot afford to have. Their very survival depends upon them not recognising how they are being treated and if they do, not standing up and fighting for their rights.

India proports to be a global leader. One that has managed to balance the needs of modern capitalism with defending the rights of the family. Yet it is one that fails to recognise the power of women in society. It is one that continually degradates a women and reduces them to little more than a feeble being incapable of their own management or hypocritically a wanton being who can bring a man to such lust that he cannot be responsible for his actions.

As a side note, this blog is sedition. Any criticism of India of any description is illegal. Questioning the status quo and the Indian government’s role in the current situation is not allowed. I could be arrested and sentence to10 years plus in prison for this. I personally call it the United Nations Humanitarian Right to Freedom of Speech.

Inspiration Where the Daily Mail Says There’s None

In my last blog, I said I would share some inspirational writing from 12 year olds that I teach. 

Under the new English National Curriculum, introduced this year, a new rather vague requirement is that children should be taught to ‘Write for Pleasure’. Now one has to question the concept that it is possible to teach somebody to write for pleasure. Sure, I can teach them grammar and spelling and extend their vocabulary. Sure, I can introduce them to inspiring authors. Sure, I can give them the space (in a curriculum that doesn’t really lend itself to space!?!?) to give them the time to write. Surely however, it is impossible to teach a child to write for pleasure.

In my attempt to investigate whether this was possible, I set as an experiment a writing task for my middle ability Year 8 students (aged 12 – 13). I told them they could write about anything, in any style, in any format and there were no length restrictions (i.e. it couldn’t be too long or short). I was a little dubious as to what I would receive.

Lesson One then for me is to never underestimate my students. They may still be children but they think deeply. They may still be children but they often crave an outlet for their thoughts; a safe environment where they can say what they like and know they won’t be criticised. Of course, some saw it as a great excuse for scribbling down a few hasty, unthought through lines, knowing full well there was nothing I could do or say to them about it. Most, on the other hand, put all they had into it. The results were heart-warming, heart-breaking, thought provoking, intelligent, wise.

Lesson Two therefore – just because somebody is young – part of the ‘barbaric horde’ (if you believe the Daily Mail) – this doesn’t mean they have nothing to say that is worthwhile listening to. Perhaps if we listened more to young people and less to the jaded politicians or the drama queens of tabloid newspapers, we would realise that young people are a stand up bunch of citizens that should not be tarred with the sam20140719-095038-35438347.jpge brush just because some decide to do stupid things. Would you call me a yob just because somebody 200 miles away (of a similar age) broke into a house? No, so why should we do that to young people.

The poem below was written by a lovely young woman about her difficult relationship with her father who she doesn’t see very often. You could question why these would be on my blog but my blog seems to have become a source of inspiration for many and a source of motivation. The piece of work below and of the student I will publish next week – do just that. For me, they put many of my worries and concerns into perspective. They help me to realise that while things can be difficult, I am lucky to have my wonderful supportive family. I am lucky that I never have to question whether I have their trust and love.

What’s Bothering Me?

Last night I got a text from my dad,

Not often does he text so I knew it was bad.

It contained the harshest thing I had ever seen.

I am cancelling when I am supposed to see you.’

See his children, not too keen,

I cried and I cried,

To all the goodbyes.

Never before had I witnessed this.

He is like an evil snake with a charming kiss.

I saw him last a year ago

Since then we have gone from friend to foe.

For some reason I can’t get over the fact

That his family orientated skills have lacked.

Dealing with this is not easy

Sometimes I just want to be free like a bee.

I carry on reading, reading, reading.

If I was bleeding, if I was needing,

I don’t think he would care.

Some of you may think, aw no

But don’t worry, it’s not rare.

I still wonder why.

But till now all I can do is cry, cry and cry.

Lesson Three Her poem is a reminder to me that in my day to day job, I can provide students such as this with a sense of security and continuity. No matter what happens at home, staff in school / rules in school / behaviour in school will be consistent. I can provide the confidence that no matter how difficult a child might make it for me, I will not back down. I will not refuse to give them my support and my care. In reality of course, no matter what it sometimes seems, no child is deliberately difficult – life has been made difficult for them and they react as they have been shown how to best.

Although not a parent, if I was – I hope this poem would remind me that no matter how difficult things get for me; no matter how challenging my relationship with my child or those in their life get – walking away from my child is probably the wrong thing to do. A child needs to feel love – that is really all they want – they just want to be loved unconditionally. Children can survive abandonment and mistreatment but few survive without battle scars that stay with them the rest of their life.

M.E. patients rightly cry out to their friends and family not to abandon them – young people have a need that is no different.

It would be wonderful to know what you thought of this poem. It would be amazing if the author (a 12 year old girl) could know what you think. How does it make you feel? What does it make you reflect on? What might it make you want to change in your life? 

Please also share this blog. Can you imagine how she will feel if she knows people thought her poem was worthy of being shared by others!??

What Will Happen to Me? Living Life

For the more observant amongst you, you may have noticed that my blog title has changed. It is just subtle but it represents a fundamental change in my life. No longer does it feel appropriate to host a blog entitled, ‘What Will Happen to M.E.?‘ but rather it is now the slightly more appropriate title, ‘What Will Happen to Me?‘ The subtle omission of those two simple dots may pass by unnoticed by some but for me they’re deletion is a cause of great celebration.

In two weeks time, my husband and I will go to spend another weekend with his family: celebrating his father’s birthday. 12 months ago, this very birthday weekend marked the very beginning of my illness. An illness that was to throw myself, my husband and my family into a brand new and unexpected world of uncertainty, pain and fear. The gradual and then sudden disappearance of this world over the last few months is still a source of amazement and at times shock.

Where previously my blog title represented a sense of confusion over my future – a sense of loss, my new title represents an awareness that I am now in a position to do whatever I want. I have no idea what is going to happen now. I have no idea where I will end up living; what I will end up doing.

What drove me in the past, for the moment at least, no longer drives me. I no longer care if I become a headteacher, I no longer care if we live in a fabulous house, I no longer care about my husband’s career progressing as quickly as possible.

Without being melodramatic, in the last year I faced being bed-bound or at best housebound for the rest of my life. It is only by a combination of a miracle and my determination that I no longer face this. However, if I was to face this again, would I care that I’d become a headteacher if it meant that myself and my husband hadn’t spent much time together so that I could do the job? If I was to face this again, would I care that my husband had a brilliant career and earned lots of money if I knew it had made him miserable?

I have been returning to work on Monday afternoons for the last few weeks for staff training. Last week, we had training in a program called, Shut Up and Move On (SUMO). This program is all about how to be logical and balanced in your emotional reactions to events. One thing that was said that I felt clearly reverberated with me was that most of us live our lives on auto-pilot.

Day to day, week to week and year to year we live our lives without thought. We rarely stop and consider what we are doing, why we are doing it and whether we really want to do it. Prior to my illness, I would probably have denied that I lived my life in such a way. A year in which I stepped off the treadmill of life however has allowed me to reflect on the reality of what I was doing, why I was doing it and whether I really wanted to do it.

This year has allowed me to realise that I was living my life on auto-pilot: that much of my dreams and aspirations were ill-thought out or not thought out at all. Some of the things I did previously reflected perhaps a high-moral point of view – it was acceptable, for example, for me to work more than twice the hours (32.5) I was paid for a week because it meant the students got a better education in a better more secure environment. While the moral value of this, i.e. the desire to put others before yourself is incredibly admirable – is it still acceptable? Is the value of what I gave students by working more than twice what I was paid to, worth the fact that it was having a negative impact on my own life?

I recently heard a teacher talk about the self-sacrifice being worth it for the benefit of our students. It made me want to scream. While I have no intention to become self-centred and inflexible, the idea that your life and your health is worth so much less than that of your students is not an acceptable way to live. If nothing else, my self-sacrifice contributed to 300 plus students over the last year not having an English Department that supported them as it should have.

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My life and that of my life with my husband, family and  friends  is incredibly important. Consequently, this life must come first. I am proud of what I have achieved in my professional career so far and I am sure that I will be proud of what I will achieve in the future. I am not however prepared to put my career ahead of myself, ahead of my husband and ahead of my family anymore.

This illness and my recovery (which I’m incredibly grateful for and amazed by) has released me to live my life no longer on auto-pilot. It has given me the freedom to do anything I want. It has also given me the freedom to enjoy the little things in life. The little things that make your life more rounded and whole and that are ultimately significantly more important than what we normally consider to be of more value: educational achievement; career; money; things; house.

Yesterday, my husband and I went for a 2.5 mile walk through the New Forest. A walk I have done a million times. Yet, this was the first time in a year I had been able to do it. I suspect unless you have been ill or have had your future or your ability to do even simple things put in question, you will not be able to understand the simple joy doing such an ordinary thing as going for a walk gives you.

I do not think such achievements as walking or climbing up a hill or reading your book for an hour or socialising with friends all afternoon are new joys. I don’t think they have gone from something of limited significance to now being hugely important. What has changed however is that I can now recognise that they are achievements and recognise they bring me joy.

If these little things can give me a sense of achievement and joy, then there is only one other question. What else is there out there that I have yet to do that can bring me equal if not even more joy or an equal if not even greater sense of achievement?

I was never somebody who was afraid of a challenge, I was never afraid of change but I have learnt that I am stronger and I am braver than I thought and that I can do anything I want. To not, therefore, go out and try and do new things and face new challenges seems an incredible waste of a life.

So last weekend, I went cavern trampolining in a slate cavern twice the height of St Paul’s Cathedral. It scared me so much, my legs shook and for much of it I clung to the net terrified but I achieved all I set out to achieve. I ran several times across the trampolines, I climbed up a scary ramp that required both emotional and physical strength, I went down a slide that scared me. Every time I was scared, I repeated to myself, ‘I can do it, I can do it.‘ Why? Because I could, I got through last year, I can get through anything.

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Every where I look I seem to see challenges just begging me to do them. I have never climbed Mount Snowden so why not? I have never been on the longest zip wire in Europe so why not? I have never driven across Australia so why not? Part of the SUMO concept is to ask yourself several questions so that you can put your fears in perspective. One question is on a scale of 1 – 10 where 10 means certain death how bad is it or could it be? For the three challenges above perhaps a 1 or 2. Although a venomous snake may climb into your car in Australia which may well mean a 10 but seriously what are the chances of that?

While I have yet to learn whether this illness will have left behind any permanent physical limitations on my life (certainly I wasn’t quite physically ready for the intense aerobic nature of the trampolining), I do know that I will always do my best not to emotionally or practically limit my life and how I live it.

The reality of adopting such an approach to life does mean that I cannot predict where we will end up living, what we will end up doing and whether or not I shall stay in education. The other reality is, ‘I can do it‘, I am brave and I am strong. There is nothing I cannot achieve.

The even more observant amongst you will have noticed my blog subtitle has also changed. This required some thinking. How did I reflect what is in my blog prior to my illness, what is in it now and what I hope will be in it in the future? I settled on, ‘Living Life‘. For this is exactly what I intend to do. I intend to live my life not just experience it as a by-stander. So I do not have the answer to the question, ‘What Will Happen to Me?‘ but isn’t that exciting?

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M.E. Awareness Day

Today is M.E. Awareness Day. Today is the today when M.E. patients all over the world from their beds or chairs try and spread the word about the existence of this disease. In Northern Ireland an M.E. support group has managed to get several public buildings turned blue (the colour associated with M.E.) and last year they managed to get M.E. trending on Twitter – something that they are attempting again as we speak.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you should by now understand what M.E. is and how it effects a patient. If you are a new reader, I recommend you have a read of some older blogs.

Today I don’t want to go over old ground and explain in detail the impact a chronic debilitating auto-immune disease has on your health. Let’s just leave it at the fact that it impacts on every aspect of a sufferer’s life causing extreme fatigue, pain and brain fog.

Today I want to celebrate patients. There are few diseases out there so misunderstood and so poorly supported by the medical profession. M.E. patients therefore should be celebrated for their ability to keep on fighting for proper medical support in the face of a society and a medical profession that often abandons them to their fate.

They should be celebrated for waking up each morning and retaining the determination to get out of bed and get dressed despite their pain and exhaustion.

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They should be celebrated for retaining hope that they can have a positive future despite a seeming inability to even begin the process of changing anything.

They should be celebrated for supporting strangers from all over the world experiencing the same illness for this enables people to feel less alone. This enables people to keep up the fight despite the odds being against them.

They should be celebrated for allowing their experiences lead them into new careers as writers, doctors, M.E. experts, forum moderators plus many more careers. They should be celebrated for choosing a career within which they can spread the word on M.E. or provide suitable medical support for those who are still ill.

They should be celebrated for retaining a sense of humour about their illness when the other option is to cry.

They should be celebrated for crying in despair when their other option is to keep it all in as a dark shadow over their lives.

They should be celebrated for training themselves to become M.E. experts when faced with doubting Thomas’s in the medical profession. They should be celebrated for the fact that they know more about their own illness than 90% of the medical profession.

They should be celebrated for seeing their illness as an opportunity to change their lives and that of their families for the good despite all signs suggesting otherwise.

M.E. patients could be considered victims of this disease. There are definitely days, weeks and months where feeling like a victim is the reality of how we feel. There are always dark days where being a strong fighter seems an impossibility. There are days where hiding in bed pretending nothing is wrong is the greater force in your life.

M.E. patients are not victims however. They are strong willed, determined, caring, loving fighters. They prove themselves day after day to be worth fighting for. They represent a wealth of intelligence and good character just waiting to re-enter the ‘world’ and be a force for good.

So on M.E. Awareness day just take a moment to recognise that these people exist. Take a moment to recognise the incredible job they do each day by simply getting through the day.

Add a blue M.E. ribbon to your Facebook or Twitter photo, share this blog, comment or simply recognise the amazing group of people out there in your thoughts.

Add a blue ribbon to your Facebook or Twitter account

See also my new blog: Me Opinionated! Really?

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A Tale of Two Worlds

Yesterday I did something that I hadn’t done for almost six months. It was something I had been wanting to do for some time but hadn’t been in a position to be able to. It was an incredibly strange experience. I hadn’t expected it to feel so strange. I didn’t expect it to feel normal but I hadn’t expected it to feel so strange.

Yesterday I went back to school. For those of you who have not been following this blog, I’m the Head of English in a middle school. My mother thought going back would be quite emotional and I don’t know if she was right. I left simply feeling strange: not sad, not elated – just strange.

It was one of those occasions where there is a direct contrast between the well you and the sick you. When I was last there I was sick but had been running on adrenalin for so long, other than feeling a little tired, I didn’t feel sick. To return yesterday – sick, showed me just how ill I have been over the last few months. I am making progress but I am nowhere near the bright, energetic, dynamic whirlwind I used to be. The whirlwind was noticeably absent yesterday but the sick girl was not. Yes it is a little sad but it is not the prevailing feeling. I know the whirlwind (in some form) will return and for that to not be me now seems just natural and again realistic. The whirlwind too needs to go into my neatly labelled box – Not for you, just yet.

It was strange to be around the people I used to spend so much of my day with; it was strange to be in the building; it was strange to hear the kids say, “Hi, Mrs Ironside.” My world has been so different from that world, for what seems such a long time now, it felt simply strange to be there.

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Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely to get hugs from staff and have my students excitedly ask whether I was back and was I going to teach them in their next lesson. It was great to feel missed and wanted. You forget very easily how thrilling it is to have kids motivated to do a lesson largely because they love the way you do it. It didn’t feel sad however to have to tell them I wouldn’t be back until September. It seemed realistic and the most natural of statements. It was sad to see that some were disappointed to hear this.

It was lovely that one parent, who has M.E., months ago wrote a note of support for me and the student finally got to share it with me. I had always known she was a carer for her mum, I just hadn’t known why. I can now see her in a very different light.

I do wonder however whether any staff looked at me and thought, “she doesn’t look ill.” An understandable thought, as indeed I don’t look ill a lot of the time. I also wondered whether people noticed the lack of energy and how much quieter I was. Did they notice by the end of my hour there how much I was struggling? I am sure those who know me best did or if they didn’t, they did not doubt my authenticity when I said I was beginning to feel tired (slight underestimate there – exhausted more like it!).

It was hard to see my classroom, being a bit OCD, not exactly as I would have liked it to be. I have always liked to have things exactly in the right place, my tables exactly straight and all my books extremely tidy. Teachers have different mindsets and all the mindsets are probably right. Mine however is a tidy classroom produces a room in which students can feel more secure. They always know where everything is and therefore it is one less thing for them to think or worry about; therefore, producing a more productive educational environment. There are many teachers using my room now and so there is no one person responsible for it. My perfectly laid out classroom is tidy but not perfect for my OCD brain (this only exists in school!). If anything was emotional that was – I tried not to look!

The one thing I was hit by more than anything else was that I am no way near ready to go back to work. I spent 55 minutes in the school. Walked to my classroom twice and sat in the staff room for the rest of the time. By the time I signed out, I was on my last legs and had to go back to bed for three hours on return. I knew it would tire me out but I had not anticipated the true extent of my exhaustion. I didn’t get near collapse but I feel that if I had stayed there perhaps just thirty minutes more I would have.

To return to school and work even for just an hour a day will require significantly more reserves than I currently possess. I knew the road ahead of me was long but perhaps it is a little longer than I anticipated. Oddly this doesn’t make me feel sad or worried. Again it just seems realistic and right. It too is in that neatly labelled box – Not for you, just yet.

Waking Up With Stinky Hair!

This morning i have woken up and my hair stinks! This morning I have woken up and I’m a little stiffer than normal. This morning I have woken up and I am a little more tired than normal. This morning I have woken up feeling like last night I had a good night. This morning I have woken up feeling like last night I was almost a normal person again.

Sad as it is to say, it is very hard to socialise when you have M.E. Patients are meant to flip between cognitive, emotional and physical activities (mixed in with lots of rest) so as not to tire ourselves out too much. Socialising however requires all three continuously for the duration of an event. Consequently spending time with friends or family is necessarily exhausting.

This morning however I can reflect on the few hours I spent with two good friends last night and be grateful for the fact that I enjoyed myself. I didn’t find myself in great pain and I was able to continually follow and add to conversation.

We didn’t do anything special, really we just sat around in the beautiful evening sunshine and chatted. These are things however that when you are ill, gain a new more important significance. These are the things that make you feel normal and so when you can’t do them, you don’t feel normal.

Last night, there was no mention of my illness other than the odd joke about my husband having to do most of the running around. For once a long conversation about how I was feeling was not needed, my illness wasn’t impacting on my ability to enjoy myself or on the ability of other people to enjoy themselves.

Ok so today I’m a little more tired than usual and today I’m a little stiffer than usual. Okay so today I am going to have to manage my activities a little bit more carefully in order to ensure I don’t run out of energy!  Feeling so much better over the last couple of weeks (a month on Sunday!) enabled me to enjoy a night with friends. It has enabled me to take the risk of having friends over where I can’t just leave as I get tired.

Why does my hair stink? First barbecue of the season – that’s why!

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Not Just M.E. Girl

Being ill does not define who I am though for many of my readers that is all you know. You first came across me as that girl who writes about having M.E. You may have picked up titbits of information discernible through what I write – most will understand I’m Irish, married and a teacher.

Today I thought I would fill in my background a little. Enable you to see me as a rounded figure not just the sick girl!

I was born 36 years ago in Cork, Ireland. I grew up surrounded by the countryside, swimming in the River Lee which ran past my house. My neighbours had horses, dogs and cats and we had two cats so my childhood was filled with animals. My sister is two years older than me but as a child we always played together along with our neighbour, who being a year older than me fit neatly between us.

My sister was the academic with the photographic brain, I just worked very hard to do well. Nothing came easily for me, if I was going to do well academically, I had to study hard. Education initially was incredibly difficult. My mother was told I was ‘thick’ and she should stop trying to push me, that I would never achieve much in life! This was said by a teacher! Today, my career would be in jeopardy if I spoke this way to a parent, in those days it was more accepted.

It was not accepted by my mother! These comments coincided with an American special needs teacher staying with us. One day, watching me do my homework, she told my mum that I was dyslexic. This was not something widely recognised and certainly supported in schools in Ireland at the time. My parents endeavoured to find extra lessons for me that would help me develop the necessary strategies to cope. These I did and my reading age went from significantly below my chronological age to 16+ (as an 11 year old) within a very short period of time.

Dyslexia still gets me at times, especially if I am tired or stressed. As a teacher however I find it a fabulous motivating tool for children who also experience the frustration and anger of being dyslexic. I hope they get hope from the fact that their teacher, the Head of English, was once like them too.

In school and university I was a bit of a nerd. I always wanted to do well and in school struggled socially at times. I had a couple of very close friends but otherwise wafted between different groups. I was never on the outside but I was never on the inside. As a teenager I always wanted to be on the inside however today I realise to have been an insider I would have had to compromise myself morally and socially and I think even back then, I felt this was not something I wanted to do.

I did a degree in History and Geography in a University College Cork and from there moved to London where I did a Masters Degree in East Central European Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Moving to London was to ultimately change my life forever. It was during my Masters Degree that I made two of my three closest friends, 14 years on they are still my closest friends. Where during my Arts Degree I had been a bit nerdy, studying extremely hard, during my MA all of that went out the window. Socialising and learning through the incredible multi-cultural student cohort shaped me and widened my outlook significantly. I passed my MA but in the end that was only a cherry on top of the cake of what I had learnt over the course of a year through the people I had met.

When I first moved to London, I worked as a Recruitment Consultant – a career that did not last long. My boss did not like my advising 16 year olds to stay in school to give them the best chances in life nor did she like my sending a transvestite to a job interview, worse however I made very little placements and therefore very little money for the company!

I was fired before the end of the summer and managed to get a job at The Irish Post newspaper in Hammersmith. They allowed me to work part-time throughout my MA, selling advertising for the paper. I got a promotion and for a few months was the Classified Advertising Sales Manager! I don’t enjoy sales unfortunately but at least this time I made enough to keep my job. I also believe they very much wanted to support an Irish student in London therefore some flexibility in my sales was accepted!

After my MA, I got a job working for Bloomberg in the City. You may know its owner, Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York. For Bloomberg I organised major events and parties. This job catered very nicely for my need to have control over everything! We organised parties costing millions. Bloomberg was known for their extravagant parties and nobody ever turned down an invitation. While this job was fun, overtime it morally began to grate on me. I felt that their philanthropy was only for those organisations that would provide them with suitable publicity. I felt that their carefree spending of money was so wrong when there was so much poverty in the world.

Much of this carefree spending came to an end the day the Twin Towers went down. We lost two members of staff and were first to broadcast about it. We had a TV studio in the towers and they broadcasted live from the studio until the moment somebody dramatically ran in telling them they had to get out of the building.

Suddenly, the company was faced with the fact that nearly every single major client in Europe and the United States had lost employees when the Twin towers came down, Michael Bloomberg was running for Mayor and so the extravagance we had gotten used to suddenly became crass and vulgar.

I couldn’t get away from the sense of moral discomfort however and so after three years I resigned. On resigning, I moved to Warsaw in Poland where I stayed for four and a half years. This was another moment that would have a fundamental impact on my life. I learnt Polish, I worked extremely hard teaching English, I became a TEFL teacher trainer, I published some teaching articles, I edited the displays for the Warsaw Jewish Museum and I worked for the Irish Government for three months at one point in rural Poland.

By living in Poland, I believe, I became a more rounded person. I got to live in worlds of extreme wealth and poverty, I put myself in positions that were terrifying due to lack of Polish and lack of cultural knowledge, I made friends for life and learnt how many friends are transient when you live abroad. I had to learn to grasp every opportunity as it came along because you never knew where it would lead you.

Eventually I reached the point of knowing that my career aspirations could never be met by staying. I was not at the top of my career but to get there required a major reduction in salary. You don’t have to be a foreigner to manage an English school so you can pay a Pole to do it for less.

I decided to move back to England and train to be a teacher. I spent a year training in Exeter in Devon. My first job was in a secondary school in Hampshire where I taught History. In my first year in this job I met my husband who, at the time, was a Captain in the Royal Tank Regiment. After two years he moved camp and I used it as an opportunity to get out of a very difficult work environment.

We now lived in Dorset and I got a job teaching English in a middle school – a very different subject and environment. It was a temporary job that I thought I would just give a go. I loved it and felt I was much better at teaching English than I had ever been teaching History. From there I was offered a permanent job as the Head of English.

I adored my job and felt that I was very good at it. Then of course the army, as it was prone to do, threw a spanner in the works. My husband was made redundant and had to leave the army after ten years of commitment. Once again we had to move.

He luckily got a great job but in Warwickshire! I, extremely luckily, managed to get a great job (again as Head of English) in a middle school nearby. Where we had assumed we would end up living in some awful dive of a town just so we could both work, we ended up living in Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. It is a truly wonderful town and somewhere two years on we really love living.

I haven’t worked since November but I hope beyond hope that I will be able to stagger a return from September.

I am more than my illness. I have dreams and aspirations. I have lived in 36 years a life filled with excitement and adventure. Every experience changes the path you are on slightly or extremely therefore I have no doubt that the experience of M.E. will / has changed my life fundamentally. Where it will lead me to is as of yet unknown but somewhere it will definitely led me.

The photos below are of friends and family and are proof that I am more than my illness!

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Career Bereavement?

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I first got what being a teacher was. As a teenager I ran a very successful debating society in school and that I believe was the start of my teaching career. It may have taken some time and several countries before I actually became a full time professional teacher but a teacher I eventually became.

In my career, I have changed stage (secondary school to middle school), changed subject (History to English) and changed career aspiration (Head of Year to Head of Department). I have found teaching to require the hardest work possible, I have found it aggravating, I have found it devastating but overall I found it exhilarating, challenging and rewarding.

Despite this, I never felt that teaching would be my career for life. I imagined becoming a Headteacher at 40-41, do it for ten years and then move on to something else. I had begun the process by applying for Deputy Head jobs. I’d even had an interview for one, a job very luckily I didn’t get. Lucky for two reasons: firstly it was due to start last January when I was in the midst of terrible boom and busting, secondly the Headteacher was an idiot who I deeply disliked and who deeply disliked me!

Now I am faced with the potential situation that I will not be able to teach again. At times it seems inevitable and at times (such as now) it seems simply a possibility.

If you have seen the recent rap Dear Mr Gove by Jess Green you will have some understanding of the pressures teachers are under. How Ofsted and Gove often seem to remove the focus from teaching to quantifying the teaching. Now, my last blog referred to the importance of data but data should only be used to improve your work rather than data for data sake.

The workload in teaching is outrageous. Before I became ill, I taught 120 students a minimum of 4 times a week each.

1. Marking
– According to Mr Gove and Ofsted, their books should be marked after each class – that’s 510 individual items of marking a week. Assuming each piece of marking takes 30 seconds (some chance!) then that is 4.5 hours of marking per week.
– Each child is expected to do two pieces of homework a week. Assuming one is just a tick, tick, flick piece of homework (not recommended) then that will take 1 hour.
-The second piece needs to be more substantial. Each piece takes probably 5 minutes to mark. That is about 10 hours of marking.
Marking alone then makes up 15 hours and 30 minutes.

2. Lessons and lesson planning
Before I was ill, I taught 20 hours per week.
– each lesson takes 30 minutes to plan and prepare resources for. That is 10 hours.
– 15 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon was spent with my tutor group. Total of just under 3 hours.
So I spend a total of 33 hours teaching or planning.

3. Meetings and duty
– every Monday we had a meeting which lasted up to 2 hours.
– duty every Tuesday at break – 15 minutes
– departmental / pastoral meetings once every two weeks or so – 1 hour
So this is a total 2 hours 45 minutes a week.

4. Data recording
– data workload varies dependent on the time of the year. At reporting writing time it can take up most of your half-term. However conservatively I will put it at 3 hours a week.

Do a simple calculation and that requires a weekly workload of 54 hoursa week and that doesn’t include chasing students for homework, after school clubs, a child in tears because she fought with her friend that means you don’t get a lunch break. Add to this the fact that I am a Head of English then 65 hours a week plus isn’t just likely but inevitable.

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It is no surprise therefore that I do worry that I will not be able to return to teaching. A 12 hour day plus working at night and the weekends seems completely impossible at the moment. Going part-time, I’ve always been adamant, is impossible. Part-timers always complain that they can’t complete their work during the day and therefore end up working at home on their days off. My days off will have to be for rest and rest alone. A part-time Head of English is just not feasible. It would be deeply unfair on the children whose education you are there to support.

If I cannot return to teaching full-time, I must therefore give up teaching. Give up teaching at least in the traditional sense, tutoring perhaps is a possibility. To leave teaching would be like a terrible bereavement. Teaching to me is a vocation, I believe I had no real choice but to become a teacher, all paths would have eventually led to it. I must therefore begin the process of coming to terms with the reality that I may have to leave. In order to reduce the trauma of leaving, I must begin to consider it a possibility in order to reduce the shock and sadness.

I am incredibly lucky, the senior management in my school are incredibly supportive and understanding. They are putting in place the only plan I believe possible that will hopefully enable me to stagger a return to full-time teaching from September.

There is no guarantee that this plan will work, all the support in the world cannot defeat the vagrancies of this illness. I must therefore be positive and hopeful but not forget what reality might be.

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