Some days I wake up excited to find myself living in India, conscious of my good fortune at being able to make this dream come true, and eager to see what the day will hold. And some days . . . I don’t.
Some days I wake up crushed by the weight of a thousand tiny irksome things that I can’t change or don’t understand. I don’t like my enormous hair, somehow inflated to twice its normal size by the humidity. I’m sick of the relentlessly itchy bugbites on my legs and shoulders (and last week on my right cheek). I’m tired of the frequent vague nausea that never actually results in anything, but somehow can’t be entirely ignored. The scaly rash on my eyelids is tremendously irritating. I don’t want to brush my teeth with bottled water. I don’t want to deal with the expense of a harrowing taxi ride to go anywhere. Neither do I want to walk along the filthy, smelly, noisy street to get to anything. I don’t want to use “toned” milk or part-buffalo milk butter or soak all of my fruits and vegetables in vinegar before eating them. And I want the stupid power to stay on, leaving the internet functional through the entire length of a TV show.
There are also particular challenges for a white American introvert in Bengaluru. I’ve found that I really kind of like the invisibility of middle age in America. I go out for a walk in Portland knowing that I can choose to be noticed, but am otherwise unnoticed and unremarked. Here, I do not blend. People will stop what they’re doing to stare at me as I pass. Strangers ask me to pose for photos with them – I was counting how many times until the numbers got too big. When I walk into a store, I draw a crowd of people trying to help me, all standing uncomfortably close and trying to interact intensively while we discuss rice cookers or mattress toppers or whatever I was vaguely interested in, but suddenly want to escape. I don’t want to be a jerky stranger in a strange land so I engage with everyone who attempts to engage with me, but it takes a toll and I generally arrive home exhausted.
The hardest part of the difficult days is acknowledging my own deficiency. I pictured myself living serenely in India, engaging happily with community, always up for any challenge that arose. I don’t like the reality that my nerves can fray and my tolerance for adversity is less than I’d like. But I know that in time I will grow a thicker skin and find it easier to deal with the challenges that life In Bengaluru throws my way. And even on the difficult days, I know I’ll probably wake up happy tomorrow, once again excited to find myself living in India.
As I read the news from the other side of the world, I am filled with anger and sorrow and frustration. America’s potential has always been a bright shining possibility – far from reality, but still a light that we were moving toward. Now small-minded, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynists are attempting to destroy that potential while their hateful hero sits in the ourWhite House.
Back in January, when Tom and I began telling people of our plan to move overseas (destination then unknown), many people asked us if it was because of the election of our new president. It wasn’t. In fact, the wheels started turning on this plan when we were still excited by our expectation of President Hillary Clinton. When I wore my pantsuit on election day, I was confident that we’d move away for a few years, with the country in good hands that we could be proud of. In the midst of my grief in the aftermath, it felt selfish to leave when there would be important battles ahead.
Yet we still moved forward with our plans and here I sit in India, happy to be here, but distraught that we can’t be there. There is little enough that we can do from here, but Tom has already written to our representatives in Congress, urging them to build coalitions toward impeachment. For myself, I will be writing today to Jeff Bezos and I will be cancelling our Amazon prime membership. We’ll keep coming up with small daily actions that we can take from a distance and we will cheer for those of you who can take a stand against hate at home. If you have suggestions of things we can do, let us know and we’ll get on it.
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.
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.
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.