Category Archives: expat

Force to Fly 2………

You may (not) remember that I told you one of my essays about living in India was going to be published in an anthology called Forced to Fly 2. Jo Parfitt is the editor and she asked for submissions.

I read through some of my blog posts and submitted one about the time I went to the Post Office in Delhi all.by.my.lonesome. (Which doesn’t really sound very brave, but it felt very brave.) Then I stood on my keyboard with my hands in the air and screamed, “Pick mine, pick mine. Oh. Oh. Oh. Please pick mine.” And then Jo did just that!

This is very exciting for me because this is the first time my writing will be published in an actual book – well, minus the literary magazine in high school. But that doesn’t seem to count as much as this does. This is very exciting.

The book contains humorous accounts of living abroad and will launch on Oct. 5th – don’t worry, you’ll hear (lots) more about it then. And it will be available on Amazon. Yahoo. Amazon will be selling something I wrote – seriously?

But Jo sent out the cover design. So, I thought I would share it with you!

The used-to-be me……

This whole blog started off as a way of journaling our move to India so we would capture – and never forget – the details of our adventure. I wanted to remember the monuments and the memories but had no real way of knowing that, while those were fun, they were insignificant in what we should remember from our experience. The memories came from traveling – but the lessons came from everyday life. The routine that never actually became routine.

We have been home for over a year now and I still have not written about everything. And I have (finally) accepted that I will never write about everything. You just cannot remember it all – and even if you could remember every detail – there is simply no way to explain it all. Partly because India hits everyone a little differently and partly because there are just not enough words.

Unfortunately, I drop little pieces of our India experiences like sand falling off my shoe.  Some of them are hard reminders and I eagerly (and unfortunately) toss them out like I would a rock cradled under my toe. Others just drift away all on their own. And this blog was supposed to be like a big broom and sweep up everything. It turns out there is not a blog or broom big enough for that task.

One by one, you barely miss a piece of sand – but together they can form a beach. It is not good to lose a beach of experience. It’s really not.

Alas.

But what is making me really frustrated and sad is that I changed in India and I am losing some of that. India taught me to be more patient and to have a bigger world perspective. To remember the reality of it all. And, damnit, I am letting myself get caught up in some of the nonsense again. My perspective is shrinking and re-framing.

In many ways, India brings non-Indians to their knees. It’s hard to live in an “all-about-me” bubble when you are constantly bombarded with people suffering and struggling and still surviving – and surviving happily. The people who have the most to legitimately complain about actually complain about nothing. I am not sure if they don’t complain because they don’t think it will do any good or if they just find it unnecessary. But complain they do not.

Please know that this is not an “India is so dirty, the people are so poor” story. If you are a big lover of India, please do not take this as insulting. But the reality is that there are people in India who survive on very little and it is hard to be selfish and self-absorbed when you are reminded of that every single time you step outside. Not everyone owns an ipod – or an outlet to plug it into.

Even when you are inside. It is inescapable.

When you have to give your cook and his wife water when they go home at night because they don’t have access to water, you suddenly remember to turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. You realize that what you absolutely take for granted as ever-flowing and abundant and even safe is non-existent for someone else – really, most everyone else. It puts you in your place a little bit.

And you have a lot less energy to worry about what other people are doing and what other people aren’t doing. You are busy getting through a day that is just exhausting to get through. And you are often even more busy getting your children through a day in a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense to them. You try to let them experience the reality of it, while protecting them from the reality of it.

I remember one day in India that we got in the car to go to school. The kids were fighting about who was going to sit where. My head almost spun off my neck. My tirade went something like this………..

Holy Hell. You are really going to sit in an air conditioned car with a full belly which is covered by clean clothes and with a head that slept on a pillow on a bed in a room that you do not have to share and drive by all of “this” and complain about anything. Seriously. What are we doing here? Have you really not learned anything? You ate breakfast made by someone else, put the leftovers on a side plate for Ravi to eat at lunch (he would literally eat the crusts they left on their plates), and left your dishes in a sink for someone else to wash. In fact, I should have stopped with “you ate breakfast“. Turn to the left, look out the window and turn to the right, look out that window and shut the hell up.

It was not one of my stellar mommy moments. But that morning had an impact on all of us. The kids didn’t complain (that morning or the next and maybe not even the next). And I wondered how we could walk and live and breathe in India and not lose more of our selfishness.

How could we drive by children without clothes or a roof over their heads or even morsels of food on a plate – dear God, who am I kidding? A plate. No, you are right, they didn’t own need plates – and complain about which comfy cozy seat our bigger than necessary arses were going to snuggle into so that the air conditioning could hit our faces just right.

For Pete’s sake, our driver rode his motor scooter in traffic and dust for an hour to come and clean our car and wait for us to be ready to go somewhere, anywhere  – at any time. He held the door for us and swept up our messes and ran our errands. And at night he took our leftovers to a home with no air conditioning whenever we declared ourselves done for the day. He just waited for us to decide when we were finished so that he could see his family at some point before they laid on a threadborne mattress all in the same room together and went to sleep. Just to wake up early to do it all again.

And we did learn those lessons and we do embrace letting go of some very unnecessary involvement in things. But sometimes I slip and those slips are coming more often. I am getting caught up in minutiae and it is making me nuts. I have an opinion about too many things.

Anyway, this little rant is almost over. Pinky swear.

The bottom line is that I am going to start praying harder for (and working harder toward) patience and perspective. And, yes, a winning lottery ticket would certainly be nice – but if perspective kicks in properly, I won’t push my luck. 😎

Expat Youth Scholarship Opportunity………..

Clements International Announces 3rd Annual Expat Youth Scholarship

Clements International, the leading provider of insurance solutions for expatriates and international organizations, announces its 3rd annual scholarship program for expatriate students.

Clements International’s Expat Youth Scholarship is a unique contest exclusively for expat students who spend their childhoods moving between different countries and cultures. This year’s theme asks participants to create a video explaining their favorite thing about their host country and its culture. Clements will award a total of $10,000 to students ages 12-18 of any nationality who have resided in a foreign country for at least two consecutive years.

“We’re so excited to offer the Expat Youth Scholarship again this year with a new twist,” said President Chris Beck. “Incorporating online video and Facebook voting will  really make this scholarship contest an interactive experience for everyone involved, including participants, expats, supporters and viewers around the world.”

This year, everyone gets a chance to help determine the winners. A Judges Panel consisting of individuals representing the expatriate community will determine the top 12 video entries, which will be posted on the Expat Youth Scholarship Facebook page under the “Links” tab. During the month of August, members of the Expat Youth Scholarship fan page will be able to vote for their favorites using the “Like” feature.

Voting (aka “Liking”) will end on August 31. The total number of fan “Likes” will determine the top three winners in each age category.

The scholarship entry deadline is Friday, May 13, 2011. For more information about the scholarship and to submit entries, visit www.expatyouthscholarship.com.

YESTERDAY AND THE EXPAT F0RUM………

Yesterday, I got to be a grown up and go into Washington, DC for a meeting. For those of you who do this every day – I am soooo, sooo sorry. Augh.

My day started out all loverly – hubby got the kids ready for school so I could leave on-time half an hour late. (I left late because I stink at waking up and overslept. Hubby really was very helpful.) I went into my closet to find something to wear – yes, I should have done that a month ago when I would have still had time to lose a little weight – only to discover that I actually do believe in magic. I tried on pants that had no chance of fitting and even tried to zip them and what I discovered was that  A) I need to stop wearing pants with elastic in the waist so that I can feel when my clothes are getting tighter and B) too tight dress pants don’t look any better than too tight jeans. Sigh.

But there were some pants that fit and looked decent. So on they went and I even had a top that didn’t have grape jelly or ketchup stains on it. Yeah for me.

Then I set out in to the big bad world of DC traffic. I did my homework and found out that there was an accident on the road I wanted to take, so I turned right instead of left. I also found out that the Transformers is filming part of their latest movie in DC – this week. Oh goody. So, basically, there was no great route to take. And, yes, I could have taken the metro – but I h.a.t.e. the metro. Hate it. HHHH.AAAAA.TTTTT.EEEEEE.   IIII.TTTT. So, that wasn’t really an option. I just can’t start my day with all of the following smells combined into one – smoker’s breath, coffee breath, perfume, sweat, hairspray, gas passing in one form or another, and inevitably someone has gas on their hands from filling up their car….augh. Metros really should be smell-free zones. Seriously, you should have to pass through an odor detector – if the smelldar goes off – you go directly to the showers or the deodorizing tank. Off with your smells. And, by the way, good smells in combination with bad smells in confined spaces still equal really bad smells.

Anysmell, o-n-e h-o-u-r and f-0-r-t-y-f-i-v-e minutes later, I was able to park and find the building. But I am not bitter at all about how long it took to get there and this is why – first of all – I was by myself  in the car for one hour and forty five minutes – no one asking me questions or asking me to do this or do that – but more importantly, the last two times I parked in DC parking garages, it took forever to find a spot – then the one I finally found was really too small – which is why no one (with pants that weren’t too tight thus reducing blood circulation to her brain) parked there. But not me, remember, I believe in magic – zippers that zip and cars that fit in too small parking spots. Both times – yes, both times – I side swiped the entire driver’s side of my van on a cement post. But yesterday, I quickly found myself a big wide open spot (right next to the exit, mind you) with no cement posts nearby. Yippee Skippee.

Are you wondering what the point of this post is – sorry. I finally sat down at the Expat F0rum, only to find out that Andrea Martins was one of the panelists. That’s pretty cool because she is one of the co-founders of the website Expat Women – which is listed on my blogroll – and I am listed on theirs (under the blogs about Asia section – and because my blog starts with an “A”, I am even near the top of the list). Expat Women is extremely helpful for any women who do not live in their own country – lots of info, lots of stories. Andrea is enthusiastic and knowledgeable and it was a treat to meet her.

Of course, I just had to introduce myself to her. Didn’t you see that coming? You must know by now that I did. I told her about my blog being listed on her site and she tilted her head a little and went ohh and then ummm. Okay, I was a little disappointed that she didn’t screech that she was so lucky to meet me and that she reads my blog religiously but at least she didn’t tell me my pants were too tight. Anyway, she did ask if I had plans to turn my blog into a book and she wants to give me the contact information for someone who might be able to help me. Yes, tres coolio!

Alan Paul was also there as a panelist. He wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal about being an expat in China and now he is turning that column into book. Do I see a growing trend? Turning a blog into a book – sounds like a great idea, right? Anybook, he was funny and just encouraged everyone to think about what you gain from an expat experience and not focus on what you are losing. It’s easy to get frustrated about how hard life can be away from your home country but if you look out your window, you just might see the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal. That can’t be all bad.

At the end of the panel discussion there was some time for questions. One of the themes throughout the f0rum was the difficulties spouses have with finding employment overseas. I was never someone interested in working (oh sure the paycheck part was appealing but not the working part so it never really worked out for me) – there were days I felt like I could barely tie my own shoes – much less be responsible to a boss – but lots of people do want to work and it ain’t easy finding a paying gig. Oddly enough, Susan Musich was there. She is the Managing Director for Passport Career.

I will let their website description explain what they do: “Passport CareerTM is the first-ever, comprehensive, online global job search support system for international professionals moving to or living in unique and challenging destinations around the world. Whether they are moving to the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America, Passport CareerTM provides detailed insight and knowledge on the business customs, strategies, and resources related to the job search for each country and destination covered.” Good to know, right?

The Department of State also has a similar program for embassy family members called the Global Employment Initiative.

The whole f0rum was hosted by Clements International, a company offers (okay sells) international insurance policies but also does a lot in support of the expat as a person – like this f0rum and writing contests for kids. They invited me, so I thought I would mention them. Thanks Clements. And, nope they did not pay me to say that. I also have never investigated international insurance policies, so, to be fair, this is not an endorsement – but they might be one place to look if you are searching for international insurance. There. Disclaimer said.

So, even though I did not want to get out from under the warm and cozy covers only to try on big girl clothes, I am glad I went. I even won a Starbucks gift card worth $10. 😉

Fiction Writing Contest for Expats…………..

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – DEADLINE 15 OCTOBER 2010 – SHORT STORIES ABOUT EXPAT LIFE BY EXPAT WRITERS

Organised by Writers Abroad
National Short Story Week (www.nationalshortstoryweek.org.uk) will take place during the week 22nd – 28th November. In support of the event, Writers Abroad will be publishing an anthology of fictional short stories.

Title: ‘Writers Abroad’

Theme: Fictional Short Stories on any aspect of Expat Life, the pains and the pleasure. Submissions can be based on real life experiences but should be fictionalised.

Contributions: From Expat writers (either currently an Expat or previously an Expat)

Word Count: Anything up to 2,500 words. Submissions can be flash fiction i.e up to 500 words or short stories up to 2,500. Word count does not include the title.

Submission and Entry Rules:

  • All stories must be previously unpublished
  • Submissions should be received by midnight Friday 15th October 2010
  • Submissions must be in English
  • References to porn or racism will not be accepted
  • Manuscripts must be submitted in either Word or RTF format (No DOCX or other format will be accepted).
  • The approximate word count should be inserted at the end of the story
  • Author name and story title should be placed in the left header of the document and page numbers in the right footer
  • Manuscripts should be presented with double spacing and Times New Roman Font.
  • Submissions are by email only to expatwritersabroad@gmail.com – in the subject line please quote ‘Writers Abroad submission’ and provide your contact details and story title in the body of the email
  • Entries are free, only one entry per author plus a short bio of 30 words
  • Successful authors will be informed within two weeks of the closing date
  • It will not be possible to provide feedback on stories but successful stories will be edited and authors may be required to undertake minor changes for publication purposes

Copyright will remain with the author and the stories will be published in an anthology in a number of formats

Outsourced……….blech…..

I was so excited for the premiere of the new tv show Outsourced and was absolutely bummed when my son’s back to school night was scheduled for the same night. Honestly, you would think the school administration would be a little more sensitive to my tv viewing preferences and be a little more careful to not create conflicts between my parenting and entertainment priorities. But no – they weren’t  – Outsourced aired right in the middle of my session of 8th grade math. Hpmf.

But the techno gods have been generous and blessed us with tivo capabilities. So, all is in sync in the parenting and hollywood worlds.

Last night, I finally got to see Outsourced – the new NBC comedy about an American manager running a call center in India. Frankly, they should have outsourced the production, writing, and editing. Blech. Let’s remember that I did offer my assistance. They should have taken me up on it. Who knows, maybe they still will. 😉 The Executive Producers are Robert Borden, Ken Kwapis, Victor Nelli, Jr., Tom Gorai, and David Skinner – just in case you are reading along fellows, you can contact me at AReasonToWrite (at) gmail (dot) com.

There wasn’t much about it that was realistic – even worse, there wasn’t much that was funny. And yes, I understand you are supposed to suspend reality and just laugh. But I just spent the past year and a half of my life living it and there is a lot that has laugh potential without being insulting. A lot. There is the line at the post office and the puja and oh, so much more.

I am not always great with chronology so I might not get my complaints in exact order but it doesn’t really matter.

The first big misstep was that the American manager went to work in a rickshaw. Beyond the fact that the rickshaw scene was very poorly done, an outsourced manager in India would very likely be driven to work by a driver. They just ruled out about 3 hilarious episodes by leaving out the driver and his very real side (splitting) story. Having a driver in India is part of the experience and it adds a whole new dimension to life abroad. It is so foreign to the way most Americans navigate through their day in the U.S. Maybe the manager should have tried to drive himself somewhere – now that would be funny. Very funny. Or try to communicate with a driver whose English is not exactly up to snuff – like here. Or try to find the zoo – like here.

However, my biggest criticism is the Outsourced character of the big Sikh guy who just looks intimidating and totally ticked off. Too easy. It’s (horrible) stereotyping. It’s ridiculous. And based on the Sikhs I met, it’s largely inaccurate. Many are actually gentle giants in many respects. Their temples all have kitchens and they feed absolutely anyone in need for free. I wrote about the Golden Temple here, where they feed over 100,000 people a day.

And then a cow appeared in the front office window. Really? A cow? That’s all you’ve got? Sure, cows roam the streets – but really? Again, way too easy. They should have at least made it a monkey (more realistic in front of an office window) or a camel or an elephant. At least that would have been unexpected. And not to be nit-picky but the cow in the window was way too fat.

On to the minor inaccuracies. All the desks are lovely, spread out, and nicely decorated with picture frames. Yeah. Not gonna happen. Call centers operate on shifts. And for obvious reasons, they try to get as many people in a room as they can (just like in U.S. offices). In the real world, two to three workers would rotate sitting at a desk during a 24-hour period. So there would be no personalizing your workspace. And it is highly unlikely that the boss would be sitting in the same room as the call center employees.

The Indian manager was wearing suspenders. I don’t think I ever saw an Indian man in India in a set of suspenders – I am not saying it didn’t happen – but I call malarkey. Or at least bad editing.

The company in the tv show sells novelty items – some of which are a bit risque. My experience with Indians is that they are very modest people. At one point in the show, the American manager is explaining the “value” of a mistletoe belt to the staff at the call center. How it works – why you would put mistletoe on a belt. Yeah, that would be totally inappropriate and awkward. Later in the episode, he shows the staff a plaque with a replica of a woman’s chest (read boobs) on it that jingles when a song is played. Maybe it was called Jingle Boobs – I had mostly tuned out at that point, so I probably didn’t get the name right. But please. A female employee at the call center laughs at the novelty item. I just really have a hard time believing that would be a typical response. Even most American women would not exactly be amused.

If it was Al and Peggy Bundy get Outsourced, it might have been chuckle-worthy. But it wasn’t about Married with Children hits India and it wasn’t funny.

The one thing that was funny was the food in the cafeteria but only because they made another (way too) easy joke about what we used to call Delhi Belly. When you are not used to spicy foods, you do have to be careful what you eat – and of course that is true of anywhere – not just in India. And some Indian food is super spicy and it can upset your belly. And it can be funny – when it happens to someone else – and someone else who knows better and laughs when they put it in his/her mouth and jokes “what’s the worst that can happen?”. That is what I call “famous last words”. Which are often followed by Montezuma’s Revenge and a quick re-enactment of the fabled Murphy’s Law.

So, for what it’s worth (and I realize that is nothing), I was left very unimpressed. I do, however, remain very willing to offer ideas and suggestions. 😉

Why you don’t need a cook or a driver in America……..

When I first told people I was moving to India, they all wanted to know – “does that mean you will have people working for you?” And they said it with lust in their eyes. As if it was all rainbows and unicorn farts burps. If you don’t know why that could possible be NOT the most fantastic thing that has ever happened to you – please read here first and then maybe here and maybe even here. This blog post might actually be more interesting to my readers who have never been in the U.S. but, trust me, if you are all too familiar with the ways of the West, you might just be amazed at what we are all taking for granted. Trust me on this one – it’s not always the same, same every where.

I have always admitted that having staff made my life in India (much) easier – it was just a pain to have people always around you and sometimes stealing from you and blah blah blah. In fact, for the last five weeks of our lives in India, I did all the cooking and 90 percent of the shopping. People marveled at how I was going to manage it. Why would it be so tough to manage without a cook? Well, most of the shopping is done in markets and there are very few convenience foods. There is no “one-stop” shopping.

Today I went to a grocery store and Walmart and I marveled at just how many things we do not have to do in America.

First of all, some stores in the United States are open 24 hours a day. That is right – they never close. Can I get a hallelujah? In India, most markets don’t open until much later in the morning. And have I bored you to tears yet by telling you how many different places you have to go to get everything on your list? Shopping, cleaning the food, preparing the food, and cooking the food really can be an all-day event. And the foods don’t have a lot of preservatives – which is all sorts of loverly – but it also means you have to go to the market more often. See how tedious it all becomes? I know, I know, there are bigger problems in the world – but I am just sayin – shopping, cooking, and cleaning in India – harder than in the U.S.

So, I am in my car – driving myself – listening to the radio – windows down and I am reminded that the definition of traffic is not universal. Here is what I saw

Now this is not a side road – it is a well traveled thoroughfare and this is at 8:30am. Not necessarily the height of rush hour – but not in the middle of the night either. And, no, everyone is not simply running late today because no one was really behind me either. And I know I should not have been taking a picture – but give me a break – I used the rearview mirror – I had my eyes on the road the whole time! Pinky swear!

So, I pull into the road in front of the shopping plaza and see this sign.

Yes, you see that correctly – A) there is a sign telling you what’s here (what a marvel of modern technology) and B) all of these mega stores are within walking distance of each other.

There is a Target next to a Walmart (basically the same thing) and a BJs with everything that Walmart and Target sell, only in larger quantities. There is a shoe warehouse next to a Payless shoe store and a Toy Store right next to Target and Walmart (which both have enough toys in them for a large country). If you are from India and know about Spencers or Big Bazaar – think of that magnified 8,000 times. Bigger, bigger and better, better.

I know it reveals just how fancy I am not – but if I had to pick only one store to go to for the rest of my life – it would be Walmart – okay, a super Walmart – but a Walmart nonetheless. I heart this store! And, for my Indian readers – do you notice what is missing? Parking attendants and drivers waiting by the front? Oh yeah, and the occasional armed guard. That is because – everywhere in the U.S. there are parking lots. In India, mostly only the malls have parking lots. Hence the real benefit of having a driver. Here – no problemo – parking galore…

See all those empty spaces – you just pick the one you want and zip in – no one has to push a car out of the way for you or drive around the block while you shop. The down side of that is – guess what – you are carrying your own groceries. Just consider it exercise.

And inside these markets is a whole different shopping experience.

There are carrots that are already peeled and cleaned for you. Yummy.

Need a veggie tray? Done.

Need a fruit salad? Done.

Want lettuce? You can get it cleaned and shredded – ready to eat.

Oh, I am sorry – did you need dressing with that?

What’s that? You don’t like bottled dressings? Okay – make your own – here is a starter kit.

Would you like some cheese with that? Shredded perhaps? Remember how our parents used to tell us that they had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways? I now lament with my children the olden days gone by when I had to shred my own cheese. And slice it too. And there sure as heck wasn’t any colby/cheddar on those grocery store racks. Oh, the hardships of childhood.

Oh, your child has tactile issues and prefers sliced cheese? No worries, we’ve got that…

Your mother-in-law prefers cubes – it doesn’t matter if she says that just to make you crazy – it’s all good, we’ve got that too…

And just in case no one is happy with the above choices, let’s throw in some cheese sticks.

And yes, you saw the labels correctly – those are all some form of cheddar cheese – but some like it shredded some like it not.

The cereal aisle can quickly earn you a seasons pass straight to the looney bin. Frosted or not. Fiber or not. Crunchberries or not. Sugar free or high octane. It’s amazing we ever get out of the store.

And even when our carts are full of things we can cook, we still have the option of not preparing our own food. Close your eyes on this first one if you are vegetarian.

We don’t even have to put cheese and crackers together ourselves. They even add a drink.

And if opening a box just seems too daunting at the end of the day – there’s this – we don’t even have to make a sandwich. It’s been done.

Those were frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The first time I saw them, I was outraged that we have become so lazy that we can’t even make our own sandwiches. Now, I own stock in the company. They are frozen so you do have to plan ahead and let them thaw out for a whole 15 minutes. Patience Grasshopper. Either that or tell your kids they are a popsicle  and cross dessert off the list as well.

Need a drink? Which one? Beer?

Wine?

I included this picture just to show you that Gallo wine really does not cost almost $30 a bottle. Remember that?

And to top it all off, you can even buy your apples already sliced.

You would think with us doing all of our own cooking, shopping, and driving that we would run out of time to do anything else. Not true. This woman still had time to decorate her car with silk flowers. Who says Americans don’t have their priorities in order?

To be very fair to this person, though, this car is a Honda and finding a Honda – your Honda – in the midst of a Walmart parking lot without the aid of a driver is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. She probably did this to make it easier to find her car and to ensure that other moms (or anyone else for that matter) wouldn’t go anywhere near it. She clearly does not have teenagers yet. They would never stand for this degree of lunacy.

So, that is why we don’t need drivers and cooks – we have parking lots and shredded cheese.

Housekeepers, on the other hand, are another story altogether. I cannot imagine a land or a time or a dream where they don’t make perfect sense. 😉

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not the  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.

Lived there, done that…………..

Since we have been home, we have been catching up on some great t.v. Yesterday I saw an ad for this new NBC Show – Outsourced. The new comedy will be on Thursday nights starting in the fall. It looks like it has the real potential to be very funny. Of course, they will have to maintain a very careful balance so that the show is also not insulting. What I hope they don’t miss is the “life outside of the office” experience. Frankly, I think they need a writer who has actually lived it, perhaps a blogger with a bunch of material (already) in the queue, maybe a blogger who has over 100k hits on her beloved blog, perhaps someone with a sense of humor about how different life can be ……. hmmmmmmmmmmmm ……. maybe they will be calling me soon. 😉

Anyone have any contacts at NBC? If so, please feel free to pass them along.

I can feel his pain ………… unexpected connections…..

Today we went to see the new Karate Kid movie. If you have not seen the movie, you might not want to read this yet. It’s predictable – you already know what happens, so I promise I am not ruining the ending – but I am all full of opinions about this and I might taint your viewpoint. Better to see it first then tell me how wrong I am.

At one point in the movie, the 12 year old boy who was forced to move across the globe has a mini-tantrum and tells his mother that he hates it in China and that he just wants to go home. After the movie, Bear said that he could totally feel his pain. And then he laughed. And we marveled that we had already been gone a year and a half and that we are now back home. We all agreed that the experience was amazing but we could totally relate to the main character wanting to get the heck out of there – even if the ice cream is really good.

One of the beginning scenes was at the airport and they showed this statue.

We all simultaneously looked at each other and laughed. Several parts of the movie were filmed in places in Beijing we had been – the markets, Olympic Park, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square, etc. That was bizarro. I knew the movie was filmed in Asia but I didn’t realize it was filmed in Beijing where we had just visited not too many weeks ago. We went out for a little family bonding time in front of the big screen and behind bags of popcorn and we found some tremendous unexpected connections.

Right before we left for India, Slumdog Millionaire came out and that was really my first introduction to India. It’s wasn’t a warm and fuzzy “how ya doing” introduction – it was a “holy crap you want me to move where and take our children with us – yeah, that sounds like a great idea” kind of introduction.

And then, when we return, Karate Kid comes out. That is about as full circle as it gets. And as much as the Indian population was not that impressed with Slumdog, I don’t think the Chinese people and mothers in general are going feel the l.o.v.e. for Karate Kid.

It missed the boat on a number of fronts. The bottom line is that a father has apparently died and a mother moves her son from Detroit to China for a job. But knowing how tough this decision really is, I was disappointed that they just started the movie with the move. A move that they made too simple and too uncomplicated. There weren’t really any tears – the family just picked up and left with a few hugs in the rain as Dre’s (the Karate Kid) best friend gives him his skateboard and they knock knuckles. That just is not reality. When you move around the world, you are tearing yourself away from just about every little level of comfort you know – especially if it is your first international move – and even if you don’t love everything about where you are leaving – you at least mostly know what to expect. Anytime you move, you are leave people you care about and routines and just a life that is familiar. Surely, there is a thrill in the new adventure but it just doesn’t begin with a hug in the rain.

Those of you who know me will probably laugh when I say this – but I also simply cannot believe that a widow can take her 12-year old boy to Beijing and let him just run about town. He spent a good deal of his time unattended. Let me say this about Beijing. We wanted to take a cab from our hotel to the Hard Rock Cafe and back to get my brother a hat. The hotel “strongly” discouraged us from doing that because most people in China don’t speak English. It’s not easy to navigate a big city even as an adult and even when you can speak the language and can read the signs. It is totally unrealistic to think that a 12 year old could find his way around that town alone and that a mother would be comfortable with that happening. I know you are supposed to suspend reality when you watch a movie. But I think that when people put together a movie that they want you to believe in – they should make attempts to make it believable. A woman alone with a child in a completely foreign environment just would not give her son so much freedom. I could not get past that. Every time Dre was walking somewhere alone, I could not help but think that he should not be doing that.

After the movie, I asked Bear what he thought the chances of me letting him roam around Beijing by himself would be. He laughed that I would probably let him do that before I would let him delete a text message from me and then not respond. Oh yeah, that happened too. Dre’s mom was looking for him and he just hit “delete” after receiving the message. Excuse me? But she was on his arse about not hanging up his jacket. Huh?

At one point, the boy and his instructor take a train ride to train at the Great Wall. Seriously? She’s going to let this total stranger take her son on a train? So, the mom might win an academy award for this movie (but don’t bet on that) but she certainly will not be getting mother of the year honors.

Anyneglect, then there was the whole issue of Dre making friends. On the day he arrived, the Karate Kid met a boy about his age and played some basketball with him. Then he saw a cute girl and went over to meet her. Enter the bullies who were unimpressed. He got the crap beaten out of him. Frankly, it was a little much. I certainly do not claim to be an expert on the Chinese teenager – but this seemed so out of character for what I have experienced. Five or six boys ganged up on the new kid and pummeled him. Exit the new friend. This blond boy is never seen again in the movie. Again, really? Not even at school, not even once? Really, Chinese teenagers would pummel a foreigner within hours of his arrival in the country. It just didn’t all add up.

When Dre’s mom saw his black eye – and not until the next morning by the way – she accepted his “I ran into a pole” excuse to avoid having a discussion in front of the school administrator. Again – not gonna happen. You realize your son has been beaten up, you did a little deeper. You don’t leave him at the door with a “I love you, honey” and send him into the wolves den. Guess who some of the first kids he saw at school were? Bingo!

It was never clear what type of school the boy was going to. But it seemed to at least be an international school. They have this new student thing down pat – they usually assign a “buddy” to kids to help them navigate through their first few days. Didn’t happen. Dre did run into his “crush” at the cafeteria but the bullies didn’t like him talking to her and turned his tray upside down on his shirt – right in front of the school administrator. She just sent them on their way in opposite directions and did not address the conflict at all. Huh?

The boy got bullied a few more times and then finally saved by the maintenance man (Jackie Chan – lucky to have him as the maintenance man). Jackie Chan agrees to train Dre and they become fast friends.

I also had a really tough time accepting the bullying nature of the group of boys in the story. Everyone I know who has their kids in some sort of martial arts touts the discipline the art teaches. It is not about the fighting but about strengthening the mind and the body and learning focus. You become strong so you do not have to fight. But the motto of the teacher of the bullies was basically if you have any mercy, you are weak. Fight until someone cannot get up. Yes, you remember that correctly. These boys are 12.

I guess, it was possible to believe that the fights on the street got nasty. But even in competition these boys were giving blows to the face and trying to maim their competition. They were more like MMA fighters than 12 year olds learning martial arts and competing in a respectful manner. It did not give a great impression of martial arts training in China. Dre’s teacher did say that there were no bad students only bad teachers. But still. The whole premise of the fighting was that these boys were out for blood and trained to be so.

There were just too many missing pieces in the plot. Not enough of a front story. Not enough of what we loved about the first movie – the training sessions and the growth of the character. And a very predictable ending – which had to be predictable because it is after all a remake of the Karate Kid. I can forgive it the ending – and, no, I was not crying at the end. The theater was extremely humid.