Melissa’s Musings: The Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore

Before the big move, I had a bit of a panic when I thought about my potential isolation in Bangalore.

How would I meet people if I wasn’t working? How would I learn how to function in a strange country if I couldn’t meet anyone? How could I be happy in Bangalore if I couldn’t figure out how to function on a daily basis?!

In my panic, I turned to the internet. I searched for meet-up groups, hiking groups, language classes, art classes, and lots of other search terms besides. One group popped up a number of times: The Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore. The first couple times, I ignored it. The name made it sound like some kind of imperialist remnant, which was not what I was looking for. Finally, though, I clicked and was pleased by what I read. It’s a group that has a lot of social opportunities, but also a focus on “giving back to the city that so warmly welcomed us,” by supporting 21 charities around the city with both money and time. This group might be able to help me find both friends and a sense of purpose! It was at least worth checking it out.

Fast forward to my first Thursday home alone, and I was ready for the weekly morning coffee at the Leela Palace. I had prearranged for Madesh, the taxi driver recommended to us by CIS, to pick me up – when I asked him what time he’d need to get me in order to have me at the Leela Palace at 10, he said 8 am. I was surprised he thought it would take so long, but it actually did take an hour and a half, and clearly could have taken longer if not for his fancy (vaguely terrifying) driving!

I arrived half an hour early and walked into the most beautiful place I think I’ve ever been in my entire life. The Leela Palace is truly gorgeous. A young woman walked me to the Library Bar as I’d been told that the OWC would be meeting just outside – she was very concerned that the bar would not be opening until 11, but I assured her that I was fine and needed no more assistance.

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I wandered around awkwardly, taking photos, and looking about for women who looked as lost as me. At 10, I realized that the meeting was actually in the courtyard through the doors across from the Library Bar and women were beginning to gather there.

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The covered courtyard where the OWC meets
I was instantly welcomed after heading outside and began to be introduced around to the early arrivals – a woman from Singapore who has lived in Bangalore for many years, a woman from the US who moved here with her Indian husband nine years ago (intending to stay for two), a woman from the UK, and two women from Japan. One of the Japanese women was there for the first time, having arrived in Bangalore two days after me. The two of us sat with Meredith, the American woman who has a leadership role with the OWC. She told us all about the different kinds of meetings and events we can participate in and gave me membership materials. She’ll be at the Canadian International School next Thursday for new student orientation, when there are lots of new international parents also seeking orientation to the city. I can send my orientation materials to school with Tom to pass off to her.

I then went to talk with a woman on the Charity Committee who could tell me about opportunities to volunteer. She was able to pull up a map of the charities they work with and recommended a couple that are based in Yelehanka where we live: the Bangalore Eduational Trust which runs a free school for poor, rural children and the Sai Shankar Loving Lights Trust which runs a residential program that provides education and life skills for 50 disadvantaged teens. I’m not ready to make a commitment yet, but I’m so glad to know that there are some good options when I am.

I then made my way over to a group of women sitting in the corner – one from Sweden, one from the UK, one from New Zealand, and one from New York. From what I gathered, they are all here in Bangalore because their husbands are working here and they are not. They all seemed smart and kind and are all very much enjoying this city. They also had some good tips for me – for example, apparently everyone who leaves the country takes an empty suitcase with them that they bring back filled with large blocks of cheese and other tasty foods that aren’t available here. If you don’t want your bag to be carefully searched, just put a layer of tampons on the top. Lesson learned. It was nice to just talk about the things that I’m unsure of (should we really be doing the grocery shopping online?) or confused by (why does it take a million years to have a functioning phone?) or worried about (is it possible that I won’t be added to Tom’s bank account?) and get answers from women who have been there and already grappled with these very things.

While the coffee meeting was pleasant, I’m really looking forward to my first regional coffee – the Leela Palace coffee is weekly and brings women from all corners of Bangalore while the four regional coffees are monthly and take place in different parts of the city. These are smaller and more intimate so it’s possible to actually make friends. Once I’m a member, I’ll get info on all my other options too – regional coffees, the book club, the sundowners happy hour group, the monthly lunch group, and the monthly road trip group. I was glad to be able to assure Tom’s colleagues that this is not a group of “bitter women” who gather to complain, but actually a group of happy, interesting people who are enjoying the chance to delve into a new culture. I think the OWC can keep me as busy as I want to be, but I’m also starting to turn my mind to work.