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Monday, August 30, 2010

Human Capital

I am taking advantage of the human supply in India. There are plenty of people, more than there are jobs available. Many activities that are nice extras in the US become very affordable and enticing in India. When Doug and I first visited India, we felt the concept of household help was not something we would engage in. It seemed not necessary and extravagant. After a few conversations with my peers at work, it seems like one of my career level is expected to hire these layers of support and in fact, it contributes to the livelihood of the local economy… Still not convinced we resisted the maid for the first few days, only to see that all the house work is much harder in India. Dust is oppressive, no dishwasher, you can only run the washer or dryer, not both at the same time due to voltage restrictions and vacuum cleaners or swifters are just not standard issue.

We have given in. I have hired a maid, Jaya, who comes daily to clean my house, do all the laundry and ironing while listening to MTV India. Our dog appreciates the Bollywood white noise. I come home to a VERY clean house and happy family because I am no longer yelling at everyone to pick up, wash the dishes and put away their clothes. Next on the docket to hire is a cook, I am either left to buy processed imported American/ European food for high prices OR buy whole ingredients and make Indian dinners from scratch. I am really not a cook, much more of a warm up in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes kind of girl. Since having an oven is not standard in India either, I have to find someone who really does know how to cook. Yes a kitchen with a beautiful granite counter top, stainless appliances but no oven or dishwasher!

Finally, I have a driver, who is really like a life guide here in India. In addition to taking me to work and shuttling Doug on errands, Javeed helps us negotiate for help, manages our household employees, and assists in shopping and regular home maintenance. He is very knowledgeable and has expedited our adjustment to Bangalore life. He is worth his weight in gold. Any of these services would be out of the question in the US unless I was independently wealthy…even then I am not sure I would find someone so pleasant to actually do these tasks.

Other small fabulous things available are: 45 minute Swedish massage for $16.50 USD including tax and tip; spa manicure $11 USD including tax and tip…. And many more items I have not yet had the time to experience. More to come …

Best Packing Tip

So this entry is kudos to a co-worker who listens to my personal and corporate complaints. When I was making a list of things to pack; the best tip I received was to pack my portable French press coffee pot and some coffee. The advice that accompanied that tip was, no matter how bad the flight or the first day seems to be going – you can always boil water and have a good cup of coffee. This proved to be indispensible after 23 hours of transit, a 2 hour ride from the airport to my new house, a frantic dog (see Doggy Business entry) and a litter box instead of a bed (see Love thy neighbor entry). Megan (the expert tipster) is also on her expat journey for the second time with Accenture in Singapore; while we are not working together right now…we enjoy the basics in life: coffee, yoga and good shoes. Aside from enjoying good coffee each day I am here, I am comforted by the fact I can reach her during my regular office hours and get some consolation that this is the right journey to be on and all the growing pains are just “normal.”
Namaste my friend.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

First Day of School

The kids started school on August 23rd at TISB (The International School Bangalore), check out their website which also happened to be William's 14th birthday. Now, the kids have been pretty upbeat about India, no real reservations, but that morning was tense! First of all they started off their day at 6:15 am, shower and breakfast. Since we had only been in the country for about 60 hours, our grocery selection was pretty slim. I resisted the $8 box of poptarts and opted for the "Honey O" cereal and some milk. Next they had to wear uniforms for the first time in their lives and these are not so comfy...think stiff starched shirts, ties (except for Nolan), polyester pants and black tie shoes that seem like they were left over from the British occupation. I was able to capture one quick shot on our front porch before the 5 of us with dog in tow walked down to the bus stop. The bussing for children is very well managed, a teacher rides the bus, the routes are labeled, kids have assigned seats and they take attendance! Not as much fun as the years i rode a bus in Michigan with one lone bus driver and 70 kids hopping all over the place while a skinny eigth grader tried to act as a safety... The kids marched on the bus and it pulled away. For the first time, I was actually sad to see them go to school...I didn't cry at daycare drop offs, or first day of kindergarten, but seeing them drive off to a new school in a foreign country was a like a knife in the heart. I wasn't sure we had done the right thing. They were back home at 415 in good spirits and having already made friends...we celebrated with Domino's pizza (see Hello May I take your order? for that ordeal) and collapsed by 830 pm.

Hello, may I take your order?

One of the benefits to living in Bangalore is that most people speak some English. This is the home of Outsourcing, most of your call centers are serviced here. This is very nice when you (an expat) are trying to navigate the streets, the mall or the airport. Certainly everyone speaks much better English than I speak Hindi. Today (August 23rd) was the kids first day of school and also William’s 14th birthday. We opted for Domino’s Delivery (yes it’s the fastest growing franchise in southern India) for dinner to celebrate making it through today. I called to order and was frustrated with my own inability to understand the clerk’s questions. I placed the order for one meatza (note only chicken as now beef or pork are available at most restaurants) and one lamb pepperoni with cheese. As I cannot get an Indian phone or cell phone yet until the local police station grants me my residency permit, I gave the clerk my US mobile number. About 10 min later the doorbell rang and it was Domino’s, however my without my order. Apparently they do not have any lamb pepperoni and since the store could not dial an international number, the clerk rode his moped to my house to clarify my order! I was flabbergasted. Seriously, I think the order would have never showed up if I were at home in Detroit. I reordered a double cheese pizza and 15 min later, both pizzas arrived for 976 Rupees. Now I have a menu and an Indian cell phone, I am hoping for better days ahead.

Love Thy Neighbor

So as many of you know I have had a trying relationship with my neighbor in my home town. Much of it has been resolved either by us giving into their demands or ignoring the situation. You would think I would be selective when choosing a home to avoid any neighbor issues. I seem to be a magnet for crazies! The lady across the street has 50 cats, yes 5 – 0, and also owns a house one block down just for cats. I think the Palm Meadows Neighborhood Association was clamping down today and she was not happy. I don’t understand Hindi but it was really a scene. Now I can certainly live with a crazy cat lady but when her cats break into my house in use the bedroom as a litter box, then we have problems. See attached picture, this is what one room looked like when I arrive on August 19th. All cleaned up now and all screens securely fastened but our dog still is going crazy.

Visa - Third Time is a charm!

So in my experience, most things in life go as planned or with a minor deviation. I am well organized; I complete my work on time. I don’t think I ever handed in one assignment late in school, EVER. Once I made the decision to take an assignment in India, things seemed to move as planned. We took a pre-move trip, found a house on the first day, visited all three schools, the kids were accepted to our first choice, Doug was given a LOA from his employer. I was beginning to feel like the stars had aligned and I had surely made the right choice because everything had fallen into place like clock-work. The last big task to get the family to India was to secure the Employment Visa for me and entry visas for them. For anyone who has never lived abroad or worked abroad, there are a series of steps you have to take to gather the necessary documentation before applying for the visa. Employment Visas require sponsorship from your employer (I know Duh!) and often need letters supporting why you are needed verses a citizen of the host country. In the US these visas are known as H1B visas. Some governments are easier to work with than others…

India loves bureaucracy, paper copies, carbon copies, pictures, multiple confirmations and processing. I have learned this in the most painful way possible. The visa process required the following for me:
1. Employment offer letter for the position in India
2. Justification letter as to why me over someone in India already
3. Visa Application
4. My transcripts (yes from 15 years ago!!!)
5. My diploma from Michigan
6. My drivers license
7. My Passport
8. My birth certificate
9. A Letter from Accenture in the US saying they were sending me to India
10. A letter from India confirming I will pay taxes in India
11. And a marriage license to prove Doug was really a legal dependent for his entry visa

And of course, all of these things had my name, salary, career level and passport number on them. It was a summary of my life, worth to my employer and all the necessary information for identify theft.

So you can imagine my angst as I created this 50 page packet for the 5 of us, made a photo copy (because I not only needed to send my originals but a copy for the consulate to keep on file) and then a photo copy for myself (just in case). This was not a green activity. As I bundled up my files and slipped them into a FedEx envelope, I thought – I hope this makes it! This was July 13th. The expected processing time once received was 4-5 days for the visas.
A few days passed…Then the drama began. The third party expeditor you must use to apply for a visa contacted me (this is necessary because the Indian consulate will not deal directly with applicants) regarding missing documentation. Apparently my justification letter was not robust enough. No other context. Ok, not the end of the world. I waited until late in the evening when I could contact India to update the letter and send it back so my application could be resubmitted. A new justification letter was submitted on July 22nd. We still plenty of time to get our visas in time for a July 30th departure.

July 28th, I am contacted again by the third party vendor, my justification letter is missing a statement “Skills not available in India” is the feedback we are given. Ok I am starting to worry, so we submit a new letter. July 29th, I am denied my visa! Chaos! Confusion!
I immediately called the person who I know will calm me down and know what do to, Fiona (she has been my supervisor for the last 3 years) and usually at the receiving end of travel chaos. Fiona went to the top and got me help from our immigration attorneys. I broke the news to my family we are not going to India tomorrow as planned… it might be 2 more weeks (which really morphed into 19 days).

Several things could have been done better or differently to avoid some of the delays and aggravation, but in the end I learned that the US government had rejected a material number of H1B visas for Indians coming to the US. In fact, Indians were showing up at US airports and being turned away in the month of July. It’s no wonder the Indian consulate needed a little more proof that I was necessary in India! On August 5th my visa was approved and the kids were approved on August 12th.

Patience and deep breathing… plus vodka, rum, and potato chips got me through this bump in the road.


Doggy Business

I love dogs. I have always had pets – dogs, rabbits, fish, turtles and kids…well I guess they are not pets but sometimes I just group them all together (e.g., “Did everyone get fed? “As I look at the dog… “Who’s dirty feet just walked through my kitchen?”) In fact, as soon as we found out that we were expecting William, I felt the need to get a dog to complete our family. Hogan was our Border Collie mix that died last summer after 14 loving years and I thought, it was time to take a break from pets. Have a little more freedom, less expenses and a cleaner floor. That alternate reality only last three months before I wandered back to the pet adoption day at the local pet store with Emma. Once you take a child to a pet adoption day, you are doomed. This was November 7, 2009 and it was the Small Breed Rescue day. I knew I did not want another 80 pound dog and the thought of a cuddly pup appealed to me. We immediately found a spunky (that means barky) beagle mix that was about 10 months old and 12 pounds. Her name is Jami. Love at first sight. We took her for a little walk around the block and assessed her obvious qualities:
- Small, good for me and Emma to carry
- Fast, good for the boys
- Not so small you couldn’t play fetch
- Very short hair, no expensive grooming
- House broken
Now the plotting began. How would we convince Doug to add this dog into our already hectic life. At this point we had not even thought about going abroad… after three days of discussion and a very articulate PowerPoint (see attached below) presentation from Emma, Doug agreed and we brought Jami home on November 13th.

Fast forward to March as we are deciding on taking an international assignment, should it be India or Malaysia etc…The dog became a deciding factor – if she could not go, the kids would not go willingly and I needed to ensure she could make the journey without significant stress. India met those criteria and also offered me the best job :)

May and June consumed me with finding out how you get a dog into India. There are a lot of websites that will sell you packets of forms and directions (like but these are not necessary. I found an awesome blogger,, which had several strings detailing out all the steps you need to take. I also found my local vet to be very savvy on getting me an international health certificate and the annexure forms for India. Here is the part that seems a little extreme, even for India. I needed to procure a NOC (No objection certificate) to bring my dog into India. The immigration office required within 10 days of travel all her paperwork, international health certificate and my flight information. The only way to get these forms to the immigration office is the use a third party courier, who is commonly known as Fuzzy Wuzzy ( The price for this service is $500 USD payable only by wire transfer directly into her bank account. Ouch. However, they turned this process around within 24 hours once I submitted my paperwork. And they have updated the NOC given all my flight delays without any issues… so in this case, the service has matched the price.
Part 2 of the Dog hassle is actually figuring out what flight you can get on with your dog during the summer. Jami is now 15.8 pounds so technically small enough to be in a soft sided dog carrier under your seat. Additionally many airlines have a ban on transporting animals as checked baggage during the summer because it’s too hot to transport them on the tarmac. I researched out the options and selected Delta because it broke up the flight into two manageable segments – 8 hours to Paris, small layover which was good for a walk and a potty break for the dog (and the kids), 10 hours to Bangalore. I booked this flight 5 weeks in advance, confirmed with both Delta and Air France that she could accompany me in the cabin in Business Class and sighed with relief.

Next I began the search for the perfect under the seat dog carrier – I highly recommend the Sleepypod Air if you find yourself in this situation. Largest amount of leg room for your pet, fashionable and you can even buy a heat pad if it’s cold to keep the carrier warmed. I need one of those for Michigan winters for myself. Jami even liked her new little tote, we left it in the house and periodically put treats inside which she quickly found. Again, I felt like this was all moving at clockwork for this journey.

If you haven’t read my blog on the visas, you will think my next comment would be – and we boarded the plane and arrived as one happy family. NOT! Given the delay in the visas and not being able to book my departure until 24 hours before, I quickly ran out of choices for the dog. Delta had seats for me, but only in economy if I wanted the dog to fly in the cabin. Delta was also the airline that would not take the dog as checked baggage due to the weather. I was scrambling. Finally, I called Lufthansa after remembering that the Frankfurt airport has a Veterinary wing where your pet will be looked after during the layover. Again, I found they had a seat for me, but apparently there were already 2 other pets in business class and they could not accommodate Jami. The agent did give me the option to put her “in the hold” for a fee of $250. This would allow her to be in the back of the plane, accessible by the flight attendants and then transported to the Veterinary wing where they would change her cage liner, feed her and give her a walk all under the supervision of trained animal handlers. Ok, I could live with this. However I would not be able to see her for the duration of the flight. And I needed a new carry case – one that was hard sided and met the IATA standards for pet travel (basically she needed to be able to stand and turn around). Doug and I high-tailed it out to PetCo and PetSmart to find the right size, clip on bowls for water, nyla bones (to keep her busy) and stickers indicating this was a “LIVE ANIMAL”. Jami and I checked in on August 17th, no problems except for her howling as she saw me walk away. I am writing this entry from Frankfurt and have confirmed she is in the Vet wing and I am in the business class lounge… so far so good.

The number one question…

I am not one to keep things to myself when I don’t have to. Now I am discrete and do not repeat others secrets but I definitely like to share. Once we decided to take the leap and go to India I didn’t hesitate in telling everyone. I would normally start by saying, we are moving to India this summer. After the initial shock, almost every single person (excluding family and co-workers) would ask “is this for your husband’s job?” This infuriated me internally. Why would people assume we are moving because of my husband’s job, I work too! Generally people default into assuming a wife’s job is just a second income and not really a career. In our family, we are equal partners and strategically made a decision for the family that India a GREAT opportunity for everyone. After I while I just said my husband is retiring because this avoided the second question was of what will he do?

Thinking about how people respond – neighbors, teachers, store clerks, doctors etc…- has prompted me to think about how we let others responses shape our view of ourselves. If someone cannot imagine how Doug could give up his career for this adventure; that is really their inability to envision themselves in this situation verses something wrong with Doug’s decision. And likewise as a working mother, I have always heard “I could never work and have someone else raise my children.” Well maybe for me, they received better care from someone else. And I am OK with saying that because I think the kids have turned out great. I think it took me 10 years to get over that dilemma of working or staying home and now, I am pretty glad I kept working and earned this chance to work in India.

Just remember, a happy mom means a happy family. Whatever formula it takes you to get there.

Gypsy Genes

In the 15 years I have worked for Accenture I have had 8 different jobs and I am now beginning number 9. I guess you could call this career ADHD. However, I think this is the running theme of my life – Change – if there is not enormous change I am depressed. Looking back the change stacks up: 3 houses in 10 years, 3 kids in the first 6 years of marriage, running a retail store while working for Accenture. Fortunately I have a very supportive family and extensive network of stellar friends. I am an all or nothing kind of gal, on or off, full steam ahead or sleeping. This is my best and worst quality because it is the root of my stress (all self-induced) and the cause of most spousal arguments. (Doug sorry to air our dirty laundry.) However I am getting better thanks to yoga.
Recently I read my horoscope, I am a Sagittarius. It reminded me that we are always on the run, in search of the next thing. The horoscope said to control my gypsy tendencies. I am not sure that is possible or something I really want to do. I think those gypsy genes keep me on my toes and help me get through highs and lows, reorganizations at work, renovations at home and bad hair days. I am embracing my inner gypsy on this journey and trying to let go of control by turning over household management to Doug, subjecting myself to Indian traffic and leaving my comfort foods in the US. Plus embracing your inner gypsy has a certain fashionable side that works for India: long skirts, bangles and sandals. I think the inner gypsy is now the outer gypsy. Hope you like her too!