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‘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. 

Soaring on the Thermals of Life

A blog is well overdue and indeed a blog about my recent travels to the Maldives is well underway. Life however (largely revolving around scuba-diving while on holidays and then an immediate return to a full house move) has gotten in the way. 

A blog however is needed so I thought I would share with you something I wrote a few months ago based on WordPress writing stimuli. I’d love to know what your answer to the question would be?

My head is a font of ideas and inspiration. My thoughts fly from idea to idea, from location to location: forever dreaming of a better place; a different place; an intriguing place. The world is full of opportunity: a chance to do something different – to be something different.

I am not unhappy in the world I currently occupy; on the contrary, this world is an exciting and thrilling place. This world fills my ordinary every day with excitement. As I sit in the quiet of my rocking chair with my laptop cosily placed on my lap, I look out upon the city placed below me and I understand that out there there is so much that I do not understand, so much that I probably cannot understand. That makes my current life a good life. A life devoid of ignorance is a life of predictability and dullness.

If sitting in my comfortable chair I was however to feel a certain itchiness that slowly became a tugging feeling that slowly pushed me forward in my chair as wings sprouted from my back and gently lifted me into the air, where would I fly? Where given the sudden ability to go wherever I wanted, whenever I want – would I choose to travel?

Where?

onthewaytoRoopkundlakeLITTLE2.jpgWould I go to the soaring mountain tops of the Himalayas and glide through mountain passes (shivering perhaps just a little now that the summer evenings are easing away and becoming increasingly cold)? Or would I gently glide towards the sea and spend my days wafting along the thermals and resting every now and again on the golden beaches of Goa?

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Or would I go further and, like a cormorant, fold my wings and dive deep into the ocean to marvel at a world unseen by most?

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Yes, that’s me with my friend, Turtle.   Picture credit: William Erazo Fernandez

I think perhaps I would not choose to fly to the cities of India, thick with pollution and noise and over-crowding. Where would I rest amongst the broken roofs of the slums and the harsh edges of modernity?

Or would I fly to a person and not a place? Would I fly to someone who will welcome me with open arms despite the rather odd back appendage I had acquired? Would I fly to where I was welcomed and where I felt safe? Do I even want to feel safe?  Is feeling safe really the joy that all purport it to be or rather is feeling totally safe a good thing at all? Is it not better to live life knowing that it all may come tumbling down around you? Are you more likely to take risks and try something new if you know that your chance to do this may not last forever?

My answer to these question is direct. I have no answer and nor do I really want one. I will plan my time, my travel but I will forever be excited by the thrill, the fear, the anticipation of what I do not yet know will come.

Where would you soar on the thermals of life, given the choice?

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Embracing Kasba Peth: Embracing Community

This blog has been produced in collaboration with Deborah Clearwater of Embraced Photography. She is a professional photographer from New Zealand living in Pune, India. 

We have started to have great adventures together. Exploring the streets of Pune, in particular the city centre. Through her pictures, I have an opportunity to explore the beauty of this city in a way that the hustle and bustle of street life doesn’t always give you time to appreciate.

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Recently, we went on an inspiring walk through Kasba Peth. Kasba Peth is the oldest community in the city, dating back to the 5th century. Most of the housing however dates back to the time of the Peshwars who ruled Pune prior to British colonialism. The 16th century housing is not subject to protection orders; there is no money to invest in its maintenance. As you read this blog, buildings may be tumbling down taking their very many occupants with them.

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Life is on the streets: a wire recycler – stripping the copper out of old electrical wires

The streets are narrow and circuitous – paths developed over thousands of years of occupation. Some wide enough for a car (a slow moving car), others for a motorbike or perhaps a rickshaw, others again for only a bicycle but most can only be seen on foot.

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Kasba Peth: where the young and old live together harmoniously 

Life slows down on these streets. People loiter in the doorways talking to their neighbours or the women wash their clothes communally in a the washing areas – nattering and gossiping as can only happen when a group of women get together. Children run from house to house, no house really their particular home – all houses feel like home. They just happen to sleep in one particular place! All tenderly rub the children’s hair as they run by or scold them when they’ve been naughty. Bloodlines run thick through these streets but bloodlines do not seem to define family – love and care defines the family and no shared blood is needed for this.

As an outsider such communities can feel intimidating. You don’t know how they work, you don’t know how easily you could cause offence or intrude. Chalo Heritage Walks however have taken what in our minds is quite a unique slant on how to walk through these communities. Rashid and his (Irish) wife Jan have developed over the years a close relationship with the community in Kasba Peth.

They have watched the children grow up and celebrated their achievements and advised when necessary. On first going to the area, they took the time to sit with the locals: pass the time with them, talk seriously with them and laugh with them. As a consequence, it appears to both of us from the two walks that we have now done with them, the community engage with them and don’t see the foreign tourists they bring to the area as intruders but love the fact that they are interested in their little community.

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This fruit seller insisted that Deborah take her picture. Proud of her community and her role in it. 

Deborah has always had a strong interest in people but I think for me the more I live in India they more I realise that I am an ‘anthropologist’ at heart. I want to be able to understand what makes people tick; and how people live. This interests me far more than the history of a palace or a visit to a temple. These places do not reflect the lives of the ordinary people. They only reflect the lives of those lucky enough to achieve high status or indeed were born into privilege. City tours therefore can sometimes fill me with dread. The idea of traipsing from one monument to the next and one historic building to the next is unutterably boring. To wander through the same streets but stop and look down little alley ways; to try and speak to the locals; to simply stop and sit and observe – that to me is a tour worth doing.

Neither Deborah or myself will be paid by Chalo Heritage Walks for writing this blog but rather this is a reflection of what we have gained from them that we feel we couldn’t necessarily get from anybody else.

The biggest lesson for us from these tours has been the power of community. In the west we seem to have largely forgotten that a community that supports and loves each other, that provides peer pressure as a means of maintaining positive attitudes and behaviour makes us all stronger and more able to deal with problems as they arise. Yes, there are drawbacks but the drawback of not having a community to fall back on is surely far, far worse.

Reading the newspapers here or indeed following Indian religion and politics from abroad you could be forgiven for thinking that there is a huge animosity between the Hindu and Muslim communities in India. Indeed at times there is. What Kasba Peth made us realise however is that this animosity is not driven by the realities of daily life but rather political manipulation by Hindu nationalists (BJP etc) of sections of society who lack the life experience and education to understand they are being manipulated.

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Vivek in his community. Notice the narrow streets and the children happily playing. 

Along our route on the last tour we did, we met a lovely young man, Vivek – in his early twenties, total Bollywood guy: hair styled, clothes sharp but this guy didn’t lack brains, rather he is studying an MBa in Finance. He grew up in poverty, living in conditions rarely seen now in the west – yet he finished school, finished a degree and now is completing an MBa.

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‘Is it safe to come out Vivek?’

While chatting to us and while of course Deborah was taking many photographs of this highly photogenic young guy, we noticed out of the corner of our eye, this little, little girl – perhaps 18 months old peeking out through some doors at us and this man.
The young man upon spotting her put out his hand and beckoned her to come out and see us. It was so clear from the look on the young man’s face and that of the little girl that they knew each other and trusted each other. She remained however too nervous to venture any further than her peek hole by the door.

So how does this interaction relate to the question of Hindu and Muslim animosity – well this little girl is Muslim and this young man is Hindu. Is this an anomaly? Not in this community. Wandering through the streets you see women in full hijab laughing with Hindu women – hanging out on the door steps. You see the meat market where in order to make sure both Hindu and Muslim clients can buy all the meat – the muslims butcher all the animals making sure the meat is Halal. Muslim and Hindu butchers share a small space. In order to cause no offence to either side, the Muslims have never sold beef (although it is now illegal in Maharashtra anyhow!) and the Hindus do not sell pork.  They could have chosen to have separate butcheries and have Muslims buy the halal meat and Hindus their pork. However they have chosen not to render division in the community, rather for centuries they have a sought a way to work together in peace.

A tour of temples and historical monuments would fail to bring across this great harmonious relationship. Certainly, at times, a fragile relationship but one that is ultimately built on trust. As you wander through the streets you notice that Muslims will say, ‘namaste or namaskar’ to Hindus while Hindus will say, ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’ to a Muslim. Why? It is a traditional way of trying to accommodate yourself to others while they try and accommodate themselves to your way. There is perhaps a lesson there to learn in relation to the current world refugee crisis.

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Notice the black mark on this boy’s face: his parents warding off evil that may take his life while he is young

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Kasba Peth is an area that experiences severe hardships. There is a daily struggle for the very basics: water, food and money to educate the children. The children’s toys are old and often broken – yet they still find as much joy in them as they would something brand new. The younger children are often marked with black spots (they look like growths to the outsider) intended to ward away evil. Children die young in India and many are not even named until they are a few months old – to ease the pain if they are to die.

You are not however met with a grimace but rather an open welcoming smile. You can be certain that this community would give you the last of their food if they felt that would make you more welcome. They stop and give you the time from their busy lives to chat and share stories.

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This lady may be recovering from a major operation but that doesn’t stop her being the heart of the community

As my Hindi improves, this becomes an ever more enlightening experience. There is the lady who has had a triple heart by-pass but who proudly stands at her door and tells you just how well she is doing, while her husband is at his printing press next door that only prints lines for exercise books.

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Peek a boo works in any language!

There was the little boy we met – his mother an itinerant builder. Kasba Peth was only her home for a few weeks. This is a woman who lives at a level of poverty even more extreme than that of her temporary neighbours. Yet this woman still took the time to stop and enjoy the sight of her little son playing peek-a-boo with Deborah.

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There was the extended family of two grandmothers, their daughters and their daughters’ children. One grandmother took the time to explain who everyone was, how long they have lived in the area. All to a woman with dodgy Hindi while Deborah was busy taking their photographs.

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The youngest grandchild and his caring sister / cousin

It is a two-way street however. Rashid and Jan make sure that their guests take as many pictures of the people as they can. Their guests then send the pictures to them, they print them and then distribute them when they next do a tour.

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They were clear from the beginning that they did not want the relationship to be financially based. They wanted the community to get something from the visitors but not to depend on them. We met a little boy that said he was collecting foreign coins – on the last visit Rashid had given him some. However, he told the boy that he wanted to see his collection. If he genuinely was interested, then he would encourage his visitors to donate foreign coins if they had them. He insisted however that it be a genuine hobby and not just something he would take and do nothing with.

Jan, who has become a friend, recently forwarded me an article about a woman in Kolkata who has started a project of taking pictures of the poor and distributing them. She said she was struck by how many adults said they had a picture of themselves but when they produced it, it was simply their ID photo. She was also struck by the fact that many parents had no pictures of their children. Something we all love to have, to reflect on as our kids as they grow older.

In India however a lack of photos can have a dark side. What happens if your child gets lost or worse again is kidnapped and trafficked? How can the police and various agencies help you if you can’t even give them a picture of their child? Suddenly, upon reading the article, the work that Jan and Rashid do in the area became even more important.

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This woman is so incredibly beautiful and her saree is just perfect for her. She look so old despite her beauty but when I asked, she is only 50. Life ages you when life is not easy. 

To walk through the streets of Kasba Peth has to be my very favourite thing to do. The over-powering sense of community; the beauty of the women’s sarees; the smiles on people’s faces despite the hardships they endure; and the higgledy-piggledy nature of the streets is uplifting while at the same time reinforcing just how lucky I am to live where I am and to be free of all of those struggles that the inhabitants of Kasba Peth experience daily.

So my friend Gillian (mentioned in my last blog) arrives tomorrow for two weeks and both Deborah and I will once again do the Chalo Heritage Walk tour. I can’t wait to see what I will experience this time round.

Feel free to share and / or follow this blog for more stories about life in India just use the links below

Find Deborah Clearwater on Facebook through Embraced Photography and Embracing India pages: Embracing India (India portfolio) and Embraced Photography (general portfolio)

Chalo Heritage Walks website: Chalo Heritage Walks

I Don’t Think I’m Ready But Perhaps I Should Anyhow

This blog was first written about 18 months ago. I was too embarrassed to post it – too embarrassed to admit I wasn’t strong enough to cope. Since then, I regularly come across it, read it and instead of thinking why was I such an idiot about the whole thing? Why was I too embarrassed to post it? I continue to feel embarrassed – its ridiculous! 

So I have decided to be brave and post this blog. It is well out of date but I don’t think it matters. Perhaps somebody who is having a similar psychological fight as I had will read it and feel that they are not alone. Maybe they will see the ridiculousness in not talking about it and actually speak to somebody! 

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I’m doing something that only one person vaguely knows about – at least they are slightly aware of its existence but they don’t actually know I have started to use it. Not even my husband knows about its existence, never mind the fact that I actually have started to use it. This goes against everything that I have tried to maintain since I first got ill. Since I first got ill, I have always said that being open about what was going on, in particular with my husband, was absolutely key. Not being open might lead to distrust and misunderstandings. I have always argued that it was wrong to do anything that might encourage that feeling.

So what am I doing that is so awful I can’t even tell my husband? What is it that I am feeling so unsure of, perhaps even so stupid for doing it that I can’t tell my husband? I do not understand what makes me feel so embarrassed, I do not understand why I don’t want to share what I am doing with anyone. So what am I doing?

While we were on holidays and I had a relapse, one day we walked back from the restaurant and I clung to my husband’s arm, desperate for his support and to help me balance. It dawned on me that day that if I could find something that would help me maintain my energy levels and support me when I was having a bad day, then that surely would be a good thing.

So what have I invested in? I have invested in a walking stick.

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And look just how fun it is! And its my favourite colour!

The fact that it took me three paragraphs to get to the point says it all. I am not sure I am ready to use a walking stick, walking sticks are for old people or invalids – I am not old and I do not feel like an invalid therefore surely that means I do not need one. I am embarrassed at the thought of using it and I am embarrassed at the thought of being seen with it. Does using one mean I have given in – once again – to this illness?

You could, very rightly, argue that if I am using it to walk further on a bad day then it is assisting me in doing more than I should. If I could exercise myself better then yes, using it on a bad day would surely little by little assist me in improving my health. I cannot however exercise myself better so surely anything that enables me to do more is just increasing the intensity of my exercise? I think I am just looking for excuses as to why I shouldn’t use it, rather than looking for justifiable reasons why I should.

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True for so much of my illness, definitely not true in this case. Being too embarrassed to discuss my need for a walking stick preventing me using it. This was not me being strong but me being a coward. 

It has only been used twice, having owned it for more than a week I bought a folding one so I could have it in my bag to use should I be out and suddenly get an unexpected collapse of energy. I have   carried it around for a week every time I went out to use in just those circumstances. On Saturday when we walked across a field to get to a nuclear bunker (don’t ask), I was finding the surface hard going and thought just how much my walking stick might help me. There it was just waiting for me in my bag on my back. We were with friends however and I was embarrassed. Embarrassed because my husband had no idea I had it and embarrassed because then my friends might look at me as sick girl. I seriously overdid it on Saturday and as a consequence paid the price on Sunday.

20140318-080008.jpgIf I had used my walking stick for the entire duration of our outing, would I have overdone it so much? Would it have enabled me to use less energy by providing me with support, balance and indeed a method of propulsion. Perhaps, but I was too scared and embarrassed to try it.

This got me thinking. If I was able to reduce my energy requirements on an everyday basis by use of my walking stick, would this enable me to live more of a life? Walk further, do more? Would this be a good thing? Would this just encourage me to do more than I should? However, if I am using the same amount of energy but using it to do more surely that is a good thing? Again am I just looking for reasons to justify not using it and looking for reasons to prove my justification is ever so wrong. Perhaps the latter but I really do not know.

On Monday, still not quite having recovered from my overdoing it on Saturday, I went for a walk. A walk that included my walking stick. I deliberately kept to the back roads embarrassed by my stick. Ashamed to be seen out with it. At least this was my initial feeling. My walk to my usual churchyard seat took no longer than 6 minutes.  By the time I arrived, I was beginning to get the feeling that it was helping me. I should have been more tired by the walk given my energy levels. My legs should have begun to feel more pain but they were no worse than when I left. Was this the benefit of the walking stick or was it simply that I had under-estimated my energy levels and over-estimated my pain levels?

On my return, I walked back a different route, a route that touched the sides of busy roads, a road where there were pedestrians: people to see me and possibly make comments and wonder why a girl in her mid 30s was using a walking stick. I was very aware of everyone who passed, straining to hear them comment amongst themselves about me. Perhaps I was lucky or perhaps people just didn’t notice or care but I did not hear what I strained for. Silence.

Today Tuesday, the next day, I have tried again. This time walking further than yesterday. Again I didn’t struggle or feel my energy diminishing too quickly. This time I was aware as I crossed rocky ground that it was given me support and helping me balance. With my walking stick it was easier than it would have been without!

20140429-094815.jpgI am still a walking stick virgin however. I still hold it wrong at times and have to adjust it. I dropped it crossing the road until I remember to twist its string around my wrist so it wouldn’t fall. At times I don’t quite get the propulsion right and it lands on the ground at an odd angle. I haven’t learnt how to balance it when I sit down. I also haven’t learnt how to accept that it might be useful to me.

 

How can a walking stick be useful to a girl in her mid 30s who can walk for just over a mile (with a break half way)? How can a walking stick be useful to a girl in her mid 30s who doesn’t walk with a limp or need to balance against things? That is unless I am having a bad day.

For me using a walking stick is still a big experiment. Will I continue to use it? I don’t know – I hope I will if it consistently helps me. Will I tell my husband? I guess I have to. What will he think? I don’t know but I know he will at least wear a mask of support. I think he will think that if I am finding it useful then it is a great thing to do. I wonder whether he will find it embarrassing to be seen with me? Could I blame him if he didn’t? Hardly, I am not exactly embarrassment free at all of this, now am I?

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Gillian above (with her own walking stick) – my inspiration while I was sick and a never-ending source of support. She would have given me a right telling off if she had known I had a stick and wasn’t using it!

My friend, Gillian, was the first and only person I have ever discussed using a walking stick with. She uses one herself and even offered to lend me one of hers to try it out. I was embarrassed by the conversation – I think perhaps by the very need to have it in the first place. She was supportive and encouraging. She too was young and understood what it felt like to start to use one – she had started to use hers at 18! Her encouragement enabled me to at least buy one. I would like to think that one day I will be as brave as her and see only the positive reasons for using a walking stick. The negative reasons are surely just a matter of perception.

So I did eventually tell my husband who completely unsurprisingly was utterly supportive of me! 

I didn’t use it all the time but I always had it on me ready to pull out when things got difficult and I used it all day on a bad day. A walking stick categorically helped me! A month or so after I started to use it, I was re-diagnosed and given treatment that enabled me to make rapid improvement – very quickly after this the walking stick was no longer required. 

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In hindsight, I can only wonder why I made such a big deal about using one! Nobody looked at me funny, nobody laughed and in truth I don’t think any strangers actually cared. I should have used the inspiration of Gillian more – she is a girl who just gets on with things and doesn’t allow fear or worry stop her. Perhaps although I am now living in India and while not healthy, a lot healthier, this blog should act as a reminder that sometimes to be strong you need to accept your weaknesses and not let them hold you back.

India’s Nasty Side

There are without doubt many incredible things about living in India. India, in fact, has given me the opportunity to do things and see things that I could never have done back in England. In just 6 months, I have learnt more about the world and myself than I could have done in 10 years in the UK. India has taught me that people can preserver in the face of hopelessness; they can smile and be happy when all else seems lost.

India has also shown me that it is a disgustingly racist.

‘All my life, I thought I was ugly. All my life, people told my mum that my sister was beautiful and I was not. When I married, I always worried that my husband found me too ugly’. This from a beautiful woman not just internally but also externally. Why had she been brought up to believe she was so ugly? Why? She was darker skinned than her sister. In a society that values white skin, the darker you are, the more you are perceived to be ugly.

My maid told me that her brother (who is very dark skinned) is consistently told by his wife (who is quite light skinned) that she doesn’t deserve such an ugly husband. She deserves someone more handsome – i.e. whiter skinned. How degrading for the husband (especially as this was a love marriage – she made her own decision to marry him) and how confusing and upsetting for their children to overhear.

Not only does your skin colour seem to determine your level of beauty but it also seems to determine whether or not you are trustworthy. The darker your skin the more likely you are to be stopped and searched or as is the case more frequently, the darker your skin, the more likely security guards will make it difficult for you to enter housing societies or worse again to get jobs or promotions.

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Opportunities – leisure, positive future – what percentage of people in this image are dark skinned?

As you drive around India today or you visit friends have a look around. Just how many cleaning staff, maids, drivers, security guards look like the people above? Just how many senior managers or even junior managers don’t look like the people above.  I do not know a single maid or driver that I would not consider dark skinned – not a single one. Perhaps that is just Pune but something tells me it is not.

I am never anymore than superficially searched – I could carry anything in anywhere! Sometimes I feel like shouting – ‘you know I’m Irish, we have terrorist organisations too – how about you trust me less!’ Other times, our car is not searched while the car in front of us is checked carefully. It’s OK though – I’m a white foreigner so you don’t need to check me!

White is associated with trustworthiness, education and aspiration. All you need to do is walk down any ‘beauty’ aisle in a supermarket to realise that everything comes with skin whitener in it. The only anti-perspirant I can buy in India is also whitening – whitening for my armpits! When a society worries about whether its armpits are white enough that is when you know a society has a serious problem with racism.

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It takes 1 minute to find tips to becoming whiter online and it takes only moments to realise that the international beauty companies are in cahoots with a society that puts white over well what you really are.

A stranger prior to coming to India if they only watched Bollywood movies, saw adverts and read celebrity magazines could be forgiven for thinking that India was actually a ‘white’ country. The fact that Bollywood has now started recruiting white teenage girls from the UK with no Indian heritage to come and be turned into Bollywood stars indicates just how white you need to be to get ahead.

Just check out this list of the top 10 Bollywood stars of 2015. Not a single face is anything other than almost white. Where are the role models there for those that do not look like them?

2015 Top Bollywood Actresses

You could be forgiven for thinking based on the advertising hoardings for new housing societies that frolicking in the gardens of ‘Crystal Society’ or ‘Westminster Lodge’ were happy little English families – only difference perhaps being that these ‘English’ families are wearing saris and salwar kameez!

As a new comer to this country, I try to avoid falling into the trap of saying that everything in the UK is great and comparing it to India and finding India lacking. That, to me, just isn’t realistic and it isn’t fair.  Just ask any average British person on the street in the UK at the moment about their attitudes to Syrian refugees and it won’t take you long to find a revolting response to the crisis.

I can however judge the racism I see in India as unacceptable. I see racism here that would have been considered deplorable in the UK 20 years ago. Someone told me recently that on a WhatsApp group she received a picture of a white person and a images-2black person with the caption –  Oreo Cookie!

How this was perceived as acceptable to share as a joke is inconceivable. Sometimes racism is an outcome of ignorance and often this ignorance is driven by lack of opportunities to broaden your view of the world, a lack of opportunity to experience more than the  world simply around you. This lack of opportunity is often driven by not being able to afford to get outside of the world you live in.

This WhatsApp group, on the other hand, was a group for children at an international school. It was sent by an Indian who had the resources to pay the very high school fees and I can also assume consider it worth doing so the children could expand their horizons. These would be the very parents who would be more likely to have the time and money to break down the ignorance that such racism stems from. If parents at this level of society fail to see how wrong their racism is, how will others with less opportunities deal with such things?

In the UK, as a teacher I always felt it was crucial to consistently show young people that they didn’t have to be stick thin to be beautiful despite what celebrity culture said. I didn’t however have to try and convince them that they shouldn’t try and change something that is ultimately unchangeable – who they are – what their ethnic make-up was / what their skin colour was. While there are not enough role models from different ethnic groupings in the UK, there are role models.

Here it feels like the only role models are almost white. What does that say to the young girl or boy who is dark skinned when in reality there is nothing they can do to change it or indeed there is no real reason to need to change it? What does it say? It says: ‘you are worth less than those lighter coloured skinned people. You should not aspire to as much because you are not beautiful, you are not aspirational, you are not wanted.’ What sort of a message is that for India to send its own people?

‘Two Forces’ shows ‘classical’ Britain using the sword to protect themselves against Irish ‘rebels’. Notice the difference in stance, demeanour and look.

I too come from a land that was formerly colonised by the British Empire – Ireland. I too lived in a land where for centuries to be Irish was seen as being less than British. Just like Indians, the Irish were laughed at in Britain for being ‘bog trotters’ – basically unsophisticated idiots. Now the days of colonialism are long gone for both nations (Ireland became independent in 1948) but we shouldn’t forget that we were once looked down upon and therefore to look down upon your own is almost a greater sin than being looked down upon by a foreign agent.

I teach the children in my classrooms that unless they respect themselves nobody will respect them. Well, if India does not respect the fact that is is not an homogenous or more or less white Hindu country but rather a country of so many religions and of none; of so many ethnic groups; mixed ethnic groups; and mixed skin colours than how can it expect to be respected around the world.

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Jugaad! In Other Words Bodge It And Scarper!

India gets to you with its beauty, its people and the chaos! It gets you in ways that you could never expect. On the other hand, I have found myself more frustrated here than perhaps anywhere else I have ever been.

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Note the shelf with no lip!

The washing machine fell off its shelf a few days ago – yes shelf! Why? Because the company who built this apartment block insisted the shelf – 4 foot off the ground – was safe for a heavy as hell washing machine. Shock and awe, one morning I heard a bang so loud that I jumped to my feet and sprinted to the dry balcony! I was met by a washing machine on its side and a spray of water to challenge any Icelandic geyser! Surprise, surprise the washing machine had fallen off! Since then I have discovered that lots of people are worried about how their washing machines move in this and other apartment blocks and that at least four have fallen off in an identical development before mine did!

01971d8cc71a420c5e880be3220c4748Now once again there is a battle; once again I am losing access to my own time; once again I spend all day at home not being able to deal with things and get things done because some bureaucratic shit (excuse the language but I expect everyone one lives in or has ever lived in India will forgive me!) has to happen first! In all the years I have lived in rented accommodation, I haven’t had as many issue as I have right now and this is meant to be high calibre, aspirational housing!

Mix that in with the power and influence game that is being played and it gets even more frustrating. The company who found us our apartment won’t blame the real people responsible – the developers, because they want to place more people into their developments because for every rental agreement they get at least a months rent and have priority over many of the developers apartment rentals.

That relationship, therefore, is far more important than ours because they’e made ethics-2their money off us so now they can move on. Consequently, it seems they are raising a complaint against the washing company that installed the machine. This is despite the fact that the company argued for more than 30 minutes that to place it on the shelf was quite simply dangerous. They eventually agreed only because I was eventually convinced, oh my newbie in India innocence, by the smiles and guarantees from the developers that it was safe! Idiot! I have argued that to do this is morally as wrong as it can get, that responsibility for this situation lies solely with the developers but no, I am wrong! Why? That never quite seems to be answered unless it is with meaningless platitudes.

This is just typical India – on the surface all is well and full of smiles – underneath however is a bodge job – misjudged and ill thought out. It is a platitude filled land. You say or do what you have to do to be able to get away with it and then you get the ‘hell out of Dodge!’ and whatever you do – don’t look back to check to make sure Dodge isn’t on fire – if it was, it wouldn’t be your responsibility, that’s for certain!

I love India – possibly, I have even fallen in love with India. India however is like the lover who makes you float upon clouds of joy and happiness only then to thump you around the face after a few too many glasses of wine. Allow yourself to get comfortable and a little bit confident here and something will always come your way that tries to break you!

Frustration builds up here at all the little half completed jobs or bodge job completions. There is actually a word for it in India – jugaad! Yes, they have a word that clearly recognises the Indian ability to not quite finish a job right or just to make it look on the surface all right!

Hilariously, when speaking in the past tense, my Hindi teacher tells me that most people speak in the Passive Voice e.g. Active voice – I built the wardrobe. Passive voice – The wardrobe was built by me. By using the active voice like in English, you are taking responsibility for the action, the person doing the action is more important than the action itself. In English, we usually only use the passive voice when the subject is not important only the object, for example in a report or a scientific experiment. In this case we normally omit the actor, ‘by me’ as the outcome or the c3IHv9bprocess is all you care about.

The grammar is exactly the same in Hindi but rather than use it in quite specific circumstances, people use it nearly all the time when speaking about the past. So therefore if you say, ‘John was collected from reception by me’, you are also saying, if John wasn’t meant to have been collected well its just not my fault!’ Culturally in-built grammatical responsibility avoidance! I laughed the day I heard that – as it was also the day that everyone had refused to take responsibility for their own actions in relation to our washing machine!

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Rangoli – a beautiful traditional sand art done outside of your door.

There are exceptions though – there are those who reject Jugaad and find the results of it equally as frustrating as myself and my husband do. For example the lovely lady, Marina who every week does rangoli for me outside me door. She is inspirational in her approach to simply living. They are exceptions however. Some of the guys my husband works with are these exceptions but on the other hand he shockingly realised that he had fundamentally altered the way his department works because he had assumed that the people in charge of completing certain elements of a project were well – responsible for completing that element of the project!

He outrageously assumed as a result that they then had a responsibility for making sure it came in on time and in budget. That assumption apparently left a whole room staggered and concerned that they would have to change the way they worked! Why would you be responsible for the element of a project that your team was solely working on? Crazy eh!

We have been in India now for more than 2 months and I guess we are beginning to move out of the honeymoon period, we are beginning to get an understanding of how the society we are living in works. Thus, we are beginning to see the fundamental cracks in society rather than just assuming that our own individual frustrations were isolated incidences. It is a hard dichotomy to get your head around – the reality of living in India but also just how warm and welcoming everyone is to you. Somehow you imagine that a people who do not consider completing things as promised, on time and to a high standard would therefore also be a mean hearted, selfish people but Indians are not like that. Indians are extremely warm hearted, caring and kind people. It is odd!

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Lovely garland maker who insisted he gave me a carnation after I took this picture!
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The sweetest little girl in the world with such an adorable smile.

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Beware the Ivory Tower

11020776_10152842712541820_3240351471761126711_oI live in an ivory tower, quite literally. I am on the 17th floor of an apartment block that is quite ivory looking. Not only that our block – one of seven in our society, as they call apartment complexes in India, has the biggest apartments and the best views. one_north2I have a wonderful driver, Datta and a maid, Maggie who I complain about but who is learning. I have a wonderful fruit and veg guy who comes in his little blue van twice a week and sells great stuff at cheap prices.

Yesterday, after a mild ‘what the hell am I going to where on my feet in monsoon panic’, I went and bought a pair of Clarks sandals (Clarks simply because they fit my big clunky Irish feet). Discussions were had this morning on whether Chris and myself and some friends would all go out for dinner together on Thursday night.

Last week, we bought a gorgeous new bed and a stunningly unique table and bench and had chairs re-stained to match them. I ‘helped’ a friend yesterday bring in lots and lots of plants and trees that she bought for her balcony – I intend to do the same on Thursday or Friday.

Yesterday, my driver drove me 30 minutes to a shopping mall only for me to discover I had left my wallet at home so I got back into the car and he drove me home and then drove me back to the mall.

Last Friday, I went out for dinner with Chris and two friends. We had three bottles of wine and lovely Datta was waiting outside the whole time to take us home when we were ready.

I live in an Ivory Tower practically but also metaphorically.IMG_3407

Daily I drive by the ever evident poverty: the women walking miles in the heat so they can go and clean somebody’s house just like mine; the child begging on the street, clearly drugged so she would keep still; the construction village just below my 187-02-beggar-in-manilabalcony where 500 people live in tin sheds with one communal water source; the little children that come and beg at your window when you stop at traffic lights; the whole families you see digging the streets with little more than their bare hands; and so many more examples.

It confuses me.

Tata would not have employed Chris if they felt he did not have a skill that was not readily available in India. The cost of bringing him here and maintaining us here is far too much for it to be a crazy idea that simply wasn’t thought through. Surely, his presence here is playing a role in the development of the Indian economy – hopefully opening up more people to opportunities to better their own economic situation. Our relative ‘wealth’ surely also gives opportunities for employment that otherwise wouldn’t exist – maids, cooks, drivers, bar staff, mall employees, relocation agents etc.

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On the other hand, I am in danger here of becoming blasé to the poverty around me and thinking that the lifestyle I lead here is nothing special. It would take nothing for me to never walk on the streets here but to always head to the clinical safety of a mall or the ‘expat approved’ restaurants.

If I do, I will not experience India – I will only experience a part of it. The last few weeks have convinced me more than ever that I must do some form of charity work here. I have a skill that is in high demand and really I must use it. I thought previously that I would do paid tutoring. Indeed, perhaps I will but I think I must remember that to sacrifice time that I could be spending with a charity for the sake of my own personal gain is probably not the best use of my time. I am in th38d7297d4fb9e15e756b128979428167e very fortunate position of not needing to work economically.

Luckily, some connections have already been made with one charity where hopefully from September I will go out to a village once a week to teach the girls English – thereby giving them a better chance of having choices in their lives. The more educated they are the less chance they will marry young and live a life of drudgery and being considered secondary to the men around them. I do hope this opportunity and others will begin to emerge that will give me a role in India more than being the housewife and the lady who lunches.

I need it.

Buoyed Up With Confidence

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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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!??

Unbridled Expectations

One cannot understand anything unless one is determined and indeed wants to understand. It is easy to put on the blinkers and only look in the one direction you want to. For months that one direction was denial. Denial that I was ill, denial that I had to accept the limitations that this illness put on both my body and life.

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There were times when I eased the blinkers off slightly, looked around in fragile acceptance before quickly jamming them back on and once again refusing to look in any direction other than that where it appeared I was in full health.

Over time the clasps on the blinkers aged and all it took was a gentle knock before they fell away revealing my true situation. I was very ill and I had to accept all the limitations this illness placed on me or I would never get better. Refusing / being unable to accept this for so long had had a detrimental impact on my health. Being able to accept this enabled me to stabilise and then to begin to make very slow progress.

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As regular readers will know, early September I was rediagnosed and given a new treatment plan all connected to breathing correctly. The change in my health was exceedingly rapid. The true joy came not in my improving health but the corresponding improvement in my lifestyle. No longer did i have to seriously limit time spent with friends, no longer could I only walk down the road and back, no longer did I experience the debilitating pain I had dealt with for 9 months. Once again I felt free and invincible.

Invincibility however does not prevent the acquisition of new blinkers, stronger ones that won’t age and fall away so easily. Where previously the blinkers had prevented me from seeing just how ill I was, these new blinkers prevented me from realising that I am not super woman: there is a limit to what I am able to achieve.

I was so determined to relish my new-found freedom that I forgot the basic fact that I had been / was very ill. It is no surprise therefore after a few weeks of going to the gym every day, socialising with friends and finally towards the end returning to work that I began to see some of my progress slip away from me. I am still a million times better than I was even 3 months ago but I am not as well as I was a month ago.

My husband said he feels like it is back at the very early stages of my illness where I had no clue how to handle it. Where I was still blindly believing that I could exercise myself to good health, that staying out with friends for too long was okay because being social was more important.

This time however it took us both some time to realise that I was messing up. How could I be getting it so wrong when for so many months I had so carefully and so effectively managed my illness? How was it possible that the lessons I had learnt from that time could be forgotten so easily?

The answer is painful but relatively easy. I allowed myself to believe nay told myself I was no longer ill. While I still believe it is likely that I am no longer ill, I now realise that the process of recuperation doesn’t happen over night. The person who is declared cancer free is not one day ill and the next day totally fine. The person who is declared cancer free has many months of recuperation in front of them. With no one to direct me however I didn’t even consider this reality. I felt fine so surely that meant I was fine!

It is now I think about all those naysayers who read my blog and then warned me that by increasing my activity level I was inevitably going to make myself bedbound for life. That trying to do more was simply wrong. I think about them now not because I totally agree with them but rather if I soften their warnings a little – they are right. I have no doubt that unless I continue to carefully manage what I do, I will end up continuing to go backwards until I eventually reach the level I was six months ago or god forbid worse. Exercise and activity is not bad – in fact it is crucial to my continuing health. Unbridled expectations however are exceedingly dangerous, far too dangerous to dare go near.

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Once again I wish there was this magic person who could look at my life – how much work I have to do, how much exercise I want to do, how much socialising I want to do and how much down time I need and help me pace myself. However, given this person didn’t exist when I was desperately ill and floundering wildly, I very much doubt this person exists for me now. So I have put my husband, my family, my boss and all my friends on Karenwatch. Their job: spot when they think I am overdoing it and order me (not advise me) to stop, reduce what I am doing – think about it a bit more.