This Good Ink
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Mumbai, etc.
I’m an American high school English teacher who has lived and traveled overseas since I was child due to my parents’ work. I love writing, reading, cooking, playing around with my DSLR, traveling to new and exotic locations, practicing my acoustic guitar skills, cute animals, meditation, running, scuba diving, the Denver Broncos (I’m from Colorado), and generally enjoying this amazing life I have! I moved to Mumbai in August 2011 to teach English literature on a 2-year contract. I’ll be leaving in June 2013 and will be moving to Bali, Indonesia.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging in 2005, but I went through a long period of abstinence from the blogging scene while living in Thailand. I began blogging again because I wanted an outlet for some of the frustrations I felt living in India but also a place to share the wonder and joy in my life. I love how supportive and interactive blogging can be.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I love my post about the Mumbai Farmers’ Market because it highlights the efforts of conscientious locals who are trying to bring responsible growing, eating, and packaging practices to Mumbai, a place where extreme poverty and overpopulation combined with poor infrastructure and waste management make caring about the environment rather difficult.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Mumbai differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I haven’t lived in Colorado since 2008, but moving to Mumbai after living in Thailand for 3 years was just as much of an adjustment. Thailand is relatively clean, organized, easy to navigate, and tourist- and female-friendly I think I went through an intense period of culture shock when I moved here last year, but I handled it by visiting my friends in Thailand often. This year I decided to explore India more, which was taxing but also very rewarding.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Mumbai? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Oddly, though my father is of Indian origin and I have visited India several times, I was not at ALL prepared for life in Mumbai. I underestimated how much the poverty would affect me emotionally. I also underestimated how isolated I would feel. The expat community is much, much smaller here than in Bangkok, so finding people with common hobbies and interests has been hard. I think I struggle most with the level of noise, pollution, trash, negative attention from men, and the lack of social opportunities with like-minded people. This year has been easier because my boyfriend moved here to be with me! We spend a lot of time cooking and watching Amazing Race together.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Once I was in line for security at the Delhi airport, and it was crowded beyond belief. I was also in a great deal of pain and limping slightly due to an infected bug bite on my ankle. I noticed a group of guys in front of me pretending to take pictures of themselves in front of a plant but clearly angling to get me into the picture (a pretty common occurrence for foreign women in India). They finally came up to me and asked to take a photo and I agreed hoping it would make them go away. Big mistake. As soon as the flash went off, heads turned in our direction. I had to limp through security being chased by Indian men holding up their camera phones, begging, “Madam, snap?” It was the most bizarre and surreal moment of my life, but, hey, I got to feel like a celebrity for 15 minutes, right?
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Mumbai?
- Keep your expectations low. Your plate of food will always have something that’s missing or a bit off; your flights will be canceled or delayed; if you hire painters to paint your walls, they will destroy your windows in the process; people will answer their phones and talk through every movie. I had to learn that my frustration wasn’t going to change India. The only thing that has helped me cope is lowering my expectations and trying to approach even the most nonsensical situation with grace. It doesn’t always work!
- Find internal and external outlets to cope. Meditation can help strengthen your mind and give you emotional balance to handle the noise, pollution, ogling, etc. I have made my apartment a wonderful little sanctuary of good food and positive energy; I think it’s important to have a “haven” you can come home to. I also have a skype date with friends from around the world on Saturday nights. Another outlet for me has been becoming involved with NGOs, such as Habitat for Humanity and Akanksha; sometimes I feel the problem is too big for me to make any difference, but it was Mother Teresa who said, “We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.”
- Keep your sense of humor. One of the things I have struggled with in India is keeping my sense of humor and my friendly personality because this can often backfire, especially when interacting with men, but I think it’s really important to laugh at yourself and find moments of levity and joy in your everyday surroundings. My boyfriend and I started taking pictures of funny signs and posters, such as one advertising a “sofa-cum-bed” and another that said, “PMS Tours.”
How is the expat community in Mumbai? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I find the expat community in Mumbai to be quite small and insular, but I’m accustomed to the endless opportunities that Bangkok has to offer, so I guess I’m biased. It really depends on which category you fit into. If you are a business expat, married with children, or into the party or club scene, you should have no problem. I think people are often quite spread apart and traveling around can be arduous due to traffic, so social events aren’t as frequent or casually arranged as they are back home or in other cities.
How would you summarize your expat life in Mumbai in a single, catchy sentence?
Backpackers say India should stand for “I’ll Never Do It Again”; perhaps, but I’m glad I got to do it once; thank you, Mumbai, for the mangoes, monsoon downpours, and your special brand of madness.