Moving anywhere new necessitates a period of awkward adjustment. Moving between cities (or even just neighborhoods) in the US means finding your closest grocery store, your closest bank, your new favorite restaurant, your favorite walking path, etc. That’s all true with our move to India, as well, but everything is heightened somehow by our own general bafflement about how to do anything combined with the persistent jet lag fatigue.
We knew on arrival that we had four days to create some semblance of a home before Tom would start full-time orientation at the Canadian International School (CIS), and we were determined to accomplish basic unpacking, initial settling in, and finding our way to key places before then.
Day one (July 31) was challenging. We were exhausted from our 5 am arrival. We had headaches from 30 hours of avoiding caffeine in hopes of sleeping while traveling, and we were generally feeling a bit lost. We quickly set about making coffee and making a plan, using a sticky note system since that was the only paper we could easily find before fully unpacking. In the midst of the planning, the doorbell started ringing, which made showering and dressing suddenly extra important.
At home, the doorbell almost never rings unexpectedly. If it does, it’s probably Jehovah’s Witnesses, kids selling cookie dough, or someone who wants to talk to us about the environment. Here, it rings multiple times a day. The first ring was a woman who handed Tom a newspaper, but whom we otherwise didn’t understand (now we know that she comes every day to pick up garbage, recycling, and food waste and will ring the bell if we don’t put it outside our door for her). The next ring was a lovely young woman offering to clean our apartment (See endnote). She was the first of three to stop by over the course of the first two days, all with references from previous teachers. The third ring was Ranginath from the school, bringing a man to connect our internet. We were expected to select our internet plan based on our home data needs which we don’t know at all. We settled on the top option which will cost less than $24 per month. We can downgrade next month if that seems excessive, but how will we know if it’s excessive? Unfortunately, the internet guy found a problem when he tried to get our internet set up (one of so many things that we didn’t understand) so they told us they’d be back in 20 minutes. Apparently in India, that is not a specific length of time but rather a way to “some time later.”
Over an hour after the internet guy left, we realized that 20 minutes does not mean 20 minutes (we’ve since learned that 2 minutes does not mean 2 minutes either). Desperate to walk about our apartment complex, we left a note on our door and headed out, with a stop to tour the clubhouse with a very friendly security guard. Getting a sense of our immediate surroundings helped tremendously with our feelings of anxious displacement.
When we returned 30 minutes later, there was Ranginath with a big smile, telling us that the internet guy had just headed upstairs. Chatting with Ranginath, we learned that he left school after 10th grade and speaks five languages, including English which he learned entirely from talking to teachers at the school where he’s worked for the last 12 years. We probably understand about 70% of what he says — enough for the gist, but we miss a lot of the details. We asked him where to buy things we urgently needed, and he said we could easily walk to Food World just down the street and that they would have everything we want. We headed out to find it, not entirely sure we’d understood his directions.
Food World is not “just down the street.” Food World may be walkable, but it’s quite a distance and a bit intimidating for our first walk. The sidewalks along the way are caving in and filled with garbage. This, along with the sidewalk vendors, requires pedestrians to venture frequently into the street, despite the constant, chaotic, beeping cars and motorbikes coming down the road, and the many other pedestrians vying for the same limited space to walk in. We gave up on Food World when we saw Royal Mart, a small market where we could buy toilet paper and Tide, but nothing else on our list.
Day one ended with an anniversary dinner arranged by Shane, the head of school. The driver sent to take us was excellent and patient, but we didn’t really understand each other (are you sensing a theme?). Despite a failed first attempt to go to Druid Garden which was closed, we ended up at a truly beautiful restaurant where we had a wonderful meal (see Shangri La) and felt well taken care of.
Day two, we woke up around 6, very pleased with ourselves for sleeping through the night. We had this whole jet lag thing whipped, and it would be smooth sailing from here on out! This turned out not to be true, but it was nice to briefly imagine it was. Around 11, the school sent a bus over for new teachers to come and visit the school and then do some shopping. We were very eager to see the school that brought us here, to meet other teachers and staff, and to finally buy things like hangers and towels. While waiting for the bus, we chatted with some of Tom’s new colleagues, most of whom have taught abroad before – South Korea, Puerto Rico, China, Indonesia, Japan, Cameroon, and other places we may be forgetting. Melissa was a bit surprised, though, to discover that she’s the only “trailing spouse” (yes, that’s what non-teaching spouses are called in the international teaching world – it’s horrible) at least among the new teachers.
The school is lovely and will be the subject of its own post. For now suffice it to say that it will be a very nice place to work.
Our first supermarket experience was at a store called More. We bought towels and a few other things we wanted, but not sheets because they all felt so scratchy or hangers because they all seemed to be child-sized. We also bought some food, but it was weirdly difficult to figure out what to buy. We love to cook but suddenly couldn’t think of anything we wanted to make on our two burners (which at that point we still hadn’t figured out how to ignite). It was flummoxing. We were advised to buy our cheeses and fresh foods at Nature’s Basket, which felt more familiar, but came at a premium.
Such a relief to have the previous night’s delicious leftovers so we could go another day without tackling cooking!
Day three began after a very fitful night’s sleep. Tom took the big step of testing the walk to school which he’d mapped using google map satellite images. Melissa took the smaller step of trying to sleep some more.
At 10, the school sent a bus to take us to the Orion Mall. The mall was a surprise. It is remarkably western – we could shop at Columbia Sportswear, Clarks, Zara, or Sephora; we could eat at Cold Stone Creamery, Krispy Kreme donuts, or Starbucks. What we couldn’t do was buy sheets or towels or laundry baskets or any of the other things on our lists. We were disappointed and headed for the Starbucks meeting point early. Just as we were approaching the time when we would all meet for lunch, some teachers arrived carrying exactly the things we wanted and pointed us toward @Home across the street. It may not sound like a big deal to cross the street, but let us assure you. It is. There are no crosswalks, the cars never actually stop, the motorbikes are coming from all directions, and no one pays any attention to lanes. We were scared, but highly motivated by a desire to sleep that night without fighting over a single twin sheet. We made it (whew!) and checked off half of our list in 15 minutes before reuniting with our group (most of whom had followed us) for a bite to eat at District 6, a local pub.
The food was really good, but the beer was uninspired (at least the pilsners that we ordered – we should give other varieties another chance). The environment was great, though, and we had a very good time. That night, with some advice about our burners, we managed to make mediocre pasta for dinner and stayed up all the way until 7:45, before shuffling toward bed. This jet lag thing is a drag.
Day four (Thursday, 8/3), we experienced an important rite of passage for all foreigners living in India – a trip to the Foreign Regional Registration Office, commonly called the FRRO. All long-term foreigners must register with the FRRO within 14 days of arrival. Failure to do this would jeopardize our ability to renew our one-year visas next year, but more importantly, the FRRO paperwork is required to open a bank account, stay at a hotel, and other official things as well. Swamy from CIS got all of our paperwork in order, but we were all thoroughly confused about what was happening and how it was supposed to happen. I suspect that was the case for many of the strangers in that bleak room. The FRRO office is on the fifth floor of what looks like a nearly windowless building from the outside, filled with bureaucratic offices. Once inside, it is the kind of gloomy set-up that makes you instantly sad. It is entirely lit by low-wattage fluorescent bulbs – good for the environment, bad for the psyche. Along one wall was a row of desks with FRRO workers seated behind plastic screens with holes in them. The clusters of flowers and otherwise festive balloons hanging from the ceiling at five foot intervals somehow just made it sadder. There are no signs in the FRRO to tell you the process, and the guys at the metal detector are not informative. We don’t know why, but we were processed very quickly – we were called up to receive our magical pieces of paper before some members of our group even began the process. In 30 minutes, we were back outside, while some were there another five hours.
This was followed by mall experience #2: UB City. This mall is filled by stores we would never visit in normal life – Jimmy Choo, Rolex, and Louis Vuitton – and is clearly reserved for the “haves.” Outside, a big billboard for a women’s clothing store reads,
“If you have it, you need a store that has it all,” which really seemed to say it all. The top level is the fanciest food court you’ve ever seen with small, swanky restaurants open to a courtyard with a fountain. We ended up at Toscano where we had pretty good Italian food, something we didn’t expect to find in Bangalore. A nice big, late lunch meant we could happily have some cheese and crackers for dinner that night before crawling toward bed while it was still light out. Our dearest fantasies are now about sleeping at night and feeling fully awake during the day.
End Note: To Clean or Not to Clean
There seems to be a clear expectation here that we will hire housecleaning and cooking help. Women can be hired for as much as six days a week or as little as one. They may just clean, or they may also cook, wash and iron laundry, and provide childcare as well. It’s a dilemma for us. With Melissa not working full time, we hadn’t imagine hiring help. On the other hand, it’s really affordable and seems to be expected. And on yet a third hand, Melissa did not come to India thinking, “Gee, I really hope I get to spend more time cleaning the house in India!” If you’re keeping track, that’s basically two hands against one, so we’ll be hiring someone initially to clean two days a week and cook once a week. This will cost about $47 a month.