As I say farewell to India, I realize there is a lot I will miss. But, I will also carry a piece of India with me always. I am a different person after living here. My view of the world has changed, and so has my personality. I’ve grown more patient and flexible, because that is what is required to live in this country. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself and not worry about what others may think or say, because regardless of what I do, I am stared at in this country. I’ve learned how to live with the basics and more fully appreciate the luxuries of life, because I often had to “use what is available” in this country. Thank you for following along on this amazing journey with me. Now to begin the next chapter of my life…
The final countdown to our leaving India…
Repatriation Countdown #17:
What I will miss about India: Tuk-tuks (auto rickshaws). These three wheelers are seen everywhere on the roads. I have fun looking at the decorations the drivers put on them. Another pastime of mine is counting how many passengers can squeeze into one of these vehicles. The most I’ve seen is 8 + a driver. Crazy!
What I won’t miss: The crazy drivers and traffic. We were sideswiped by a bus last week. My driver rolled down his window and yelled at the bus driver, who just head bobbled and yelled back.
Repatriation Countdown #18:
What I will miss about India: The culture. India is an almost indescribable cultural experience. Before moving here, I had wrongly assumed that “Indian culture” was the same across the entire country. (I am sure foreigners make the same assumption about the U.S. after watching American TV shows such as Dallas and Duck Dynasty. ) Traveling throughout India made me realize how vast this country is, with its various historical contexts, languages, cuisines, and politics. We also have been exposed to the cultures of other expats living here. We are so fortunate to now have friends across this vast planet who have helped us understand that people of various backgrounds can get along and have fun doing so.
What I won’t miss: The Indian government, especially that in Hyderabad. I am thankful I will never have to go through the local foreign registration process again, where they change the requirements every time, without any warning or reason. The corruption is horrific. I pray that the new Telangana government can bring this under control. I also hope that the new Indian Prime Minister Modi can bring about change that builds the infrastructure needed to support the existing and growing needs of this country.
Repatriation Countdown #19:
What I will miss about India: The students at the Mastan Nagar School. For three years, I volunteered once a week teaching English to 4th and 5th graders. These children, who live in a nearby slum, won my heart with their beautiful smiles, eagerness to learn yet shy hesitancy to try a foreign language.
What I won’t miss: Seeing the disparity between the different castes. The people who live in the slums make do with what we would consider “nothing” in the Western world. Many of our school children would come to class without shoes, with torn clothing, lacking basic school supplies such as pencils. It would break my heart knowing I could not do more to help them.
Repatriation Countdown #20:
What I will miss about India: My friends. I quickly fell into a great group of friends going through the similar experience of adjusting to life in India. Some had lived as expats in other countries; others were like me, and were on their first expat assignment. All of us quickly bonded over the frustrations and joys we shared. While I will miss them, it’s great knowing that I now have friends I can visit and chat with around the globe.
What I won’t miss: Post-Heart Cup headaches!
More countdown leading into our final day in India…
Repatriation Countdown #13:
What I will miss about India: The amazing history of this fascinating country. For example, the first year we were here, we visited Aurangabad, home of the Ellora and Ajanta Caves, which were created by hand centuries ago. What we saw was awe-inspiring. I’ve also read a few books about the birth of the Indian nation, and it is interesting to learn about how India’s independence came into being.
What I won’t miss: The conditions of many of the historical monuments. People carve their names into the lime walls. Trash litters the ground. Polluted air stains the stonework.
Repatriation Countdown #14:
What I will miss about India: The food! India is a vast country with different foods representing the different regions. I especially love the fish dishes of Kerala and the food in the north, which isn’t as spicy as that in the south. I will especially miss Hyderabadi Biryani and the local masala chai.
What I won’t miss: The food-induced Delhi Belly.
Repatriation Countdown #15:
What I will miss about India: The travel opportunities. Traveling around India is an adventure I will never get tired of. Plus, India is located in the perfect location on the globe to get to many other interesting countries relatively quickly and relatively cheaply. I can fly to Bangkok or Singapore on a short flight for less than it would cost me to fly coast-to-coast in the US. This has been a big advantage to living in this developing nation.
What I won’t miss: Flying on airplanes that fly into or out of Hyderabad that carry passengers with little regard for personal space or personal hygiene. Oh the stories I can tell!
Repatriation Countdown #16:
What I will miss about India: My grocery bill here. I can buy a kilo of mangoes for what it would cost to buy 2 back in the U.S. While it may be difficult to find my favorite foods from home here, we have made due shopping at local markets and limiting our purchases at the local import stores. With two growing teens, I foresee my grocery bill growing substantially once I get stateside.
What I won’t miss: The lack of the concept of “queue” in India. Waiting to checkout at stores and having people try to cut in front of me is a common occurrence. When I first arrived in India, I was indignant but silent. Now I cause a ruckus and shove my way to the front with the best of them.
The countdown continues…
Repatriation Countdown #9:
What I will miss about India: My driver, Ramesh. He takes care of my family and me and has become a trusted member of the family. While it took a while for me to get used to relying on someone else to take me places, I am glad it is Ramesh who gets to do it. Plus, he does fun things for the family like bringing us all flowers on our birthdays (even the guys), bringing me a tuk-tuk to drive (!), and inviting us over for dinner at his place this past weekend.
What I won’t miss: Not being able to drive here. I am very much looking forward to being able to hop in my car and get to the store without having to plan out my entire day in advance.
Repatriation Countdown #10:
What I will miss about India: The unbelievable sights seen daily as I look outside the car windows as we drive around town – overloaded bicycles, families of five on motorcycles, herds of cows and water buffalo, crazy misspellings on signs. EVERY day I see something new that gives me a chuckle.
What I won’t miss: Being stared at by locales as if I am an alien from another planet.
Repatriation Countdown #11:
What I will miss about India: Our maid, Krishna. She helps me manage the household and the madness that is our life in India. She truly cares for us, especially the boys. I know I could not tackle the household chores the way she does. When I try to mop, it just streaks and spreads the dirt. She gets it clean in minutes! She has been a special blessing this week as we pack up the house.
What I won’t miss: The dust and dirt of India. Everything is coated with a layer of dust within a day, if not sooner. I’ve never used wipes, hand sanitizer and hand soap more in my life!
Repatriation Countdown #12:
What I will miss about India: Religious tolerance. People of all religions live in this beautiful country and seem to respect the beliefs of others. Stealing the beautiful words of my dear friend, Dana M. (who moved away from Hyderabad last week):
“While living and traveling around your country I have been blessed by the Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Jains. I’ve walked in your temples, shrines, mosques, and churches. I’ve been blessed with your holy water, peacock feathers, holy reeds, chats, smoke, rice, and hands. You have confirmed to me that we all seek to get to the same place by our faiths and beliefs, we are just walking through different doorways to get there.”
What I won’t miss: Being treated like a “rock star” when visiting the various religious sites, frequently bombarded with photos and stares.
I’m continuing my countdown of what I will miss and what I won’t about India as we approach our last few days living in Hyderabad.
Repatriation Countdown #5:
What I will miss about India: The beautiful fabrics and textiles available in the shops that are almost beyond compare. And with fantastic prices too. Plus, the tailors that make clothing to fit your body.
What I won’t miss: Coming out of these shops feeling like I need a bath because surfaces are so dusty and grimy.
Repatriation Countdown #6:
What I will miss about India: Raju, the kind barber who has been cutting my guys’ hairs for the past 2 years. He also gives a clean shave and a fantastic head massage. Today, all three got haircuts and the total was less than $25 USD. My guys are looking mighty fine as we head out of town.
What I won’t miss: The Hyderabad water that causes sores on my scalp, breakouts on my face, and dull, flat hair on my head.
Repatriation Countdown #7:
What I will miss about India: Mango Season! YUM!
What I won’t miss: Summer (111F last week!)
Repatriation Countdown #8:
What I will miss about India: The celebrations! So many colors, sounds, and smells. The people here definitely know how to party and have fun. Last week was no exception, as the 29th Indian State of Telangana officially came into existence with banners of pink flags, drums, and cheering people.
What I won’t miss: When the celebrating goes on into the wee hours of the morning. White noise doesn’t mask throbbing drum beats, I am afraid.
A Note From Mom:
In less than a week, my family and I will be leaving Incredible India to begin our journey back to our home in the United States. These past three years have been an amazing experience for us. I want to thank you for joining us by following along with this blog. I realize I haven’t posted much this past year, but I was focused on writing my thesis and completing my master’s degree program. I graduated in May. HURRAY!
Over on Facebook, I’ve been posting daily countdown notes, highlighting what I will and won’t miss about life in India. I realize not all of my friends are on Facebook, so I’ve decided to share these on my blog as a closing to our time in this amazing place. Our expat experience may be ending in India, but L.S. and I are already talking about when and how we can take our next work experience abroad. Yes, we have been bit by the wanderlust bug!
Thank you again for reading along. What follows is Part One of my Repatriation Countdown.
Repatriation Countdown #1:
What I will miss about India: Our cook, Hamsa. She has been such a blessing to us and is now a member of our family. For 2.5 years, she came to our house two days a week, commuting by bus two hours each way to get there. She has had some health issues over the last year, so she wants to slow down. On her last day cooking for us, we set her up with supplies so she can launch a catering business out of her home. We hope this allows her to get the rest she needs while allowing her to continue to do what she loves — cook continental-style food.
What I won’t miss about India: Taking a cold shower (because the water heater is not working) when the power goes out, cutting off the water for almost 10 minutes as I stand covered in soap.
Repatriation Countdown #2:
What I will miss about India: The cost of medical care in India. I had my annual brain MRI two weeks ago at a cost of $250 USD on a modern machine. (Came back normal, by the way.) Can’t even imagine what it would be in the U.S. Plus, the doctors here are top-notch, and I don’t have to wait weeks to see them.
What I won’t miss about India: The hospital administration and support medical services here. The “sisters” aren’t trained, the bathrooms aren’t clean, and the facilities in general aren’t fully up to Western standards.
Repatriation Countdown #3:
What I will miss about India: Traffic jams caused by wandering cows and water buffaloes, which give me chuckles almost daily.
What I won’t miss about India: Seeing people doing their “business” on the side of the road when stuck in said traffic jams.
Repatriation Countdown #4:
What I will miss about India: The INCREDIBLE bandwidth and speed of our internet. It is so much faster than what we have back in the States, at very inexpensive rates. I am not looking forward to the snail-paced movie downloads I will encounter at home.
What I won’t miss about India: Dealing with internet outages caused by “cut lines.” This includes those that happen in October around Ganesha Chanturthi when they start tearing down overhanging power and internet wires indiscriminately to allow the Ganesha parades to pass through the streets.
A little over a month ago, I returned from my home leave in the United States. While in the States, I was constantly asked whether I liked living in India. I often responded with mixed feelings. Living in India is a challenge, I must admit. However, there are many things that I do love about India. Here are my top six:
I love the shoes here. Because of the dirt and the practice of removing shoes before entering homes, sandals are most commonly worn. I see plenty of cheap, rubber flip-flops. But, I also see lots of beautifully adorned sandals, bejeweled and beaded. These shoes are so much less costly than in the Europe and the U.S. Granted, they may fall apart faster, but who cares when it is easy to find a replacement pair with even more bling! I wear my Indian sandals when traveling and get a lot of compliments. One friend of mine has even asked me to buy some for her and bring them back with me when we move back to the States in 2014. Shoe shopping, anyone?
2. Reuse and Recycle
Compared to the U.S., items are minimally packaged in stores in India. No need for special scissors to open heavy plastic, which is then just thrown away. My housekeeper reuses any container, bottle, or bowl available. I even rinse out my precious Ziploc bags for reuse. I can imagine continuing this practice when we return to the States.
Plastic is discouraged as it does not breakdown naturally. Stores here CHARGE for each plastic bag used for purchases. This is such a change from the U.S., where I would expect great outcry if people were asked to pay for the bags that hold their groceries and other purchases. I’ve always tried to provide my own reusable bags in the U.S.; here it’s a cost savings to do so.
For dry cleaning in Hyderabad, they use a Tyvek-type material to cover the clothing rather than plastic. How smart is that? And, if I want my items hung, I need to provide my own hangars. I have never been a fan of wire hangars (No, I am not Mommy Dearest). It’s nice to put my freshly cleaned items directly in my closet without having to sort through the excess hangars and throw away the plastic bags.
I have always been a recycling fiend of sorts. In the past, some of my friends have made fun of my behavior. But for me, it makes sense. And, in India, it’s more of a way of life, which I appreciate more after returning from my home leave.
Along the same lines as #2 is the way energy is used in this country. India does not produce enough power to support the population. Daily power outages are a way of life here, and they are quite inconvenient and annoying. Yet, there are things in our house that conserve electricity and just make sense. Such as the use of solar water heaters on our roof to heat the water that we use. On cloudy days, we switch on the “geyser” to electrically heat the water, but this costs a fortune. So, we have learned to make do with lukewarm showers some days.
Also, central air conditioning is not standard in homes. Why cool the entire house when everyone is only in one room? Each room has a wall a/c unit that we turn on and off as we enter and leave. This is much more energy efficient. Admittedly, I do perspire (ok, I actually sweat) when I go upstairs to do something in my house and don’t want to turn on the a/c for the five minutes I am up there. But, there are ceiling fans in every room, too, and that is a big help.
4. Less Expensive Medical Care
The cost of going to the doctor in the U.S. continues to skyrocket. While on my home leave, I had to see an ear/nose/throat specialist to remove part of a hearing aid that got lodged in my ear canal. The visit cost me $350, and the procedure lasted 20 seconds. LITERALLY.
Meanwhile, back in India, I visited an endocrinologist the other day, and, as a new patient, my total cost was the equivalent of $12. You read that right. Another family member had to have an x-ray this week. Cost for this? $5.50. The doctors we see are western-trained. The medications we purchase are generics of those we buy in the U.S., and are so much less expensive. I now understand why medical tourism is a growing industry in this country.
5. Strong Family Bonds
The pace of life is slower in India. We are not rushing to get the boys to various lessons, practices, and meetings. Our Saturdays are designated as family days, where we spend the day doing things together, whether it be running errands, going out to lunch, or watching a movie. This has definitely brought our family closer together as a unit, in addition to going through this incredible, yet challenging experience together.
Also, travel can be less costly in this part of the world. We have taken advantage of this at every opportunity. We enjoy spending time together on these trips, and have learned how to “unplug” ourselves and learn about the cultures of the various places we have visited. This has changed us in ways we never could have predicted.
Actually, some of my friends would use the term “unsafe practices” instead. Daily, I am amazed by the sights around me. Five people riding on a motorbike. A man carrying a mirror, while sitting behind the driver on a two-wheeler. A precarious load perched on a small rickshaw that could tip over at any moment. Women carrying jugs of water on their heads, so their hands are free to carry children and other items. Many of these sights make me chuckle. But, all of them remind me that I live in Incredible India, a country I have grown to love.