My expat life in India

A year ago I hugged my friends and family good bye to start an expat adventure to India with my husband and two daughters, 6 months and 2,5 years old.

I got that look from people back home. India? Really? WHY? So I hesitated and remembered my first trips to Chennai, 10 years back, when I felt like a Rock star just walking the streets with dozens of kids running behind me, touching me, calling the entire neighbourhood to watch this spectacle, me. Luckily things have changed a lot in 10 years and especially Bangalore is a modern, open minded city that has seen it all. There are so many expats here that you hardly get a stare. But it remains India, with its noise and chaos and power cuts and crowd and buzzing life wherever you go.

 

So I was all excited when I moved into my new house surrounded by flowers throughout the year and coconut palm trees in the garden. How exotic, how beautiful, until the first coconut fell off a tree just half a meter away from my head. Ever since the trees in our garden are emasculated, we chopped off all their nuts.

My housekeeper used to mock me since when I start running with the kids while crossing under a coconut tree. She said that God would protect us from any accidents because we are doing our Pujas, the prayers. Unfortunately I'm not a Hindu, so I might not be that lucky and so I keep running and occasionally even put my daughter a helmet on, even though she is only walking. This is the crazy truth.

Read about a life as Rock Star with thieves and psychopaths at home, cobras and emasculated trees in the garden, lady fingers for lunch and scary birthday parties.

"I felt like a Rock star just walking the streets."

"The trees in our garden are emasculated, we chopped off all their nuts."

"One ran off with my professional camera stolen from my living room and 2 fell asleep while they were driving. Seriously!"

"We were lucky, the neighbour got visit from a 4 meter cobra."

India is a great place with kids as there is so much help you can get at an affordable price. I definitely do not miss that part of my life in Paris where I lived in an apartment in the 4th floor without elevator and I had to carry my new born on my left hip, my screaming and flailing toddler clinching to my leg and somewhere 3 bags of groceries I just bought during a nightmarish excursion to the super market.

Today I have help, we have a driver who also carries my groceries. There is a maid that cleans the house, helps out with cutting vegetables and watches the kids occasionally. Sounds like a perfect life doesn't it?

Well there is a down side to everything:

 

Within a year, I have had a minimum of 10 maids, out of which one was surprised we actually clean the stove every day, one took my 1 year old to a two hours shopping trip without telling me (imagine my fear!) and thought it more important to have an extended morning chat than giving my screaming baby girl her lunch. Not to forget the psycho who black mailed us with suicide.

We have worked with about 15 drivers out of which one let me stand in the merciless heat in front of the supermarket with bags full of groceries and a baby and a toddler in my arms while he was enjoying coffee. One told me he wasn't my slave. One spread lies about us in the neighbourhood. One just vanished for a week without a life sign and came back to work with no excuse and as if nothing happened, twice. One ran off with my professional camera stolen from my living room and 2 fell asleep while they were driving. Seriously!

 

Adventurous life? It is.

We hired a snake catcher to capture a rat snake from our garden. We were lucky, the neighbour got visit from a 4 meter cobra.

I have laughed about my husband grabbing a frog with his bare hand taking it for a sock he left in his shoe.

My friend got attacked by a bunch of monkeys in her own apartment and I am sharing my home with a joint gecko family.

I have washed an elephant and of course stood in numerous traffic jams caused by cows lingering on the street.

Driving also is quite an adventure. Having driven myself long distances from Paris to Berlin regularly an being used to the French way of driving and parking, let me tell you, this is nothing! The mere fact that you can get a driving license within a week, at least so I have been told, explains it all. One way streets are circulated in both directions, non parking signs are only for decoration and red lights are being ignored most of the time.

I have stopped sitting at the front seat as it just scares the hell out of me. So I just sit there at the back seat, checking every now and then in the mirror if my driver is still awake and marvel at entire families finding place on a scooter and entire schools classes fitting in an auto rickshaw while my two girls sit attached in their huge car seats.

I do feel a bit exotic sometimes, like when I try to master Indian roads with my stroller or when I get astonished stares at my babies pacifier in her mouth. How the heck do the Indians make their babies sleep without them?

 

There are still a few questions I haven't quite found answers too. Appointments for example are so confusing. When we visited some houses for rent I got a call from the real estate agent begging me not to be late. The good German I am I was there 10 minutes early when he showed up one hour later!!! It took me some time to learn that something starting at 3 actually starts at 4 but most people often only show up at 5.

If you want to get some work done in the house and you are told, that it will be done in an hour, it actually means that they will show up tomorrow and tomorrow actually means some time next week while next week in reality means that you probably will never get a replacement for that window that just shattered out of the blue. Who needs a window anyway if a foil and some tape can do the same job?

 

Today I laugh about it but that hasn't always been the case. When you try to get things done, India can sometimes be really hard to life in.

I have gotten desperate and laughed about call centre staff mumbling their Tamil and Canada influenced English and complaining they can't understand my accent.

But people are kind and very welcoming. I love this huge warm smile I get whenever I enter a temple or walk with my kids.

 

We have made a lot of friends, expats and locals and I have attended the craziest birthday parties with bouncy castle, toy train and magician ... with up to 200 guests for a 3 or 4 year old! I'm so anxious whenever my older one is asking me when she finally is going to get her own birthday party with all her friends. If you know that I am a very down to earth person that loves simplicity and I actually only had 30 guests at my wedding, you can imagine what I'm going through !!

 

But adaptation is everything if you want to make this life work. I had to learn that there is hardly any ready made food available and that the cooling chain can't be trusted.

I have spent 8 Euros on an avocado and 10 Euros on blueberries before realizing that there is no need for any fancy food as this place offers the freshest and yummiest fruits and vegetables. Ever heard of lady fingers or drum sticks? Mango, Papaya and Water melon throughout the year, and my own Guava tree in the garden, I couldn't ask for more.

 

So do I like this expat life? Let me reply by shaking my head in waves from left to right and right to left like only a real South Indian does, YES I love it!

 

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