It's been a little while since we've done a Notes from the Field, and I'm pretty excited because we have a few new ones all lined up for the weeks ahead. Hope you're ready for a little arm chair traveling.
First up is Jaipur, India. Laura Kantrud is an expat wife who is sharing her experience today - she's a former teacher but currently working at the Vatsalya School and Orphanage there and starting up a blog, Girl Meets India, about her experiences. While she misses a good cheeseburger from home, it looks like she's fitting right in with the elephant rides, market excursions and a new love for spicy foods.
Follow along with Laura's adventures on her blog and twitter ! And for those wanting to share their diplo or expat experience, I'd love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
Diplo-mat or Diplo-spouse (or other)? Expat Wife
Current Post: Jaipur, India
Three words to describe your current post: colorful, chaotic, and HOT!
Best thing about Jaipur:
The best thing about Jaipur is the fact that I am constantly being forced outside of my comfort zone. It has allowed me to appreciate and view life from a different perspective. It has also truly inspired me. Despite all the negative press in the news about India, there are so many people here who are doing good. I have met people who devote their entire lives to helping the underprivileged, and that's pretty amazing.
You have visitors in town for the weekend in Jaipur, what does the weekend look like?When my in-laws came to visit us, it was important to us that we were showing them what our daily life is like here. Even visiting the grocery store can be quite an adventure. My husband Matt and I took our family to visit places like his work and the school I volunteer at. Our new daily routines look quite different than in the United States.
We also brought them to several of our favorite restaurants. I had never eaten Indian food before coming here, but I love it, and I enjoy sharing my favorite dishes with others.Since Matt and I had already visited the touristy spots in Jaipur, and since we were both still working while his family was here, we sent them off on their own for some sight-seeing. I think this was actually important, because if you're going to truly experience the chaos of India, you need to be thrown into it without someone there to hold your hand.
If you’re in Jaipur, you must try...:
The food! I've seen lots of foreigners come to India and shy away from the delicious dishes it has to offer. Most people are worried it will be too spicy, but "spicy" doesn't have the same connotation it may mean in other countries. Usually it implies that the food is heavily spiced with delicious ingredients. My favorites are butter chicken or chicken tikka masala, and garlic naan. Yum!
What are your go-to sources for learning about the culture or things to do/experience while you’re at your post city?
I am fortunate enough to have a driver who has excellent English. He is my go-to person for anything related to the Indian culture. He has taken us to different festivals and historical sights, and is often our tour guide.
Besides my driver, I often rely on the experience of other expats or locals to give suggestions on things to do. I use the website www.indiamike.com, as well as tripadvisor. It's important to get a foreigners perspective on a restaurant to ensure the hygiene is up to par.
A local website I recommend is Zomato. They have a great iPhone app and it allows you to see restaurant menus along with reviews and directions. It's great if you're like me, and love to browse the menus before deciding on a restaurant.
Most difficult about living in Jaipur:
One of the challenges of India is adjusting to the fact that everything is done differently than I am used to in the United States. I've had to work hard to adjust my mindset to understand that just because something is done different, doesn't mean it's done wrong.
The first time I experienced this was the first week we were here, setting up our apartment. I was waiting for our mattresses to be delivered, and I was expecting a delivery truck. I was quite surprised when a man pulled up on his bicycle rickshaw carrying our two large mattresses!
Biggest adventure at post?
One of my favorite adventures in Jaipur has been riding an elephant. We rode one to the top of Amer Fort inside the Pink City. It was surprisingly uncomfortable, but a once in a lifetime adventure!
When did you realize you were far from home?The first time I really grasped how far I was from home was when I had to use an Indian toilet, or a "squatty potty." This is something that requires a great deal of flexibility and balance, both of which I do not possess.
What’s the most important thing about re-creating your home at post?India can be an overwhelming place. With crowds of people and blaring horns, I don't get much privacy or peace and quiet. It is very important to me that my apartment is a place that is calm and private. One way I have attempted to do this was by planting several dozen plants along the hallway of my apartment, as well as in my balcony. This is something that all the residents in my complex do, but having plants that I take care of (despite my lacking green thumb) allows me to have some control over my environment.
Three things you can’t live without at post?
Air-conditioning, my driver, my iPhone map
One thing you thought you couldn’t live without but have had to?
Cheeseburgers and beef in general. India is a largely vegetarian country, and the only meat options are usually chicken, prawns, and mutton. I am not a big fan of mutton, and I am seriously sick of chicken! Eating a big fat cheeseburger is on my to do list when I visit the United States.
What’s the best advice someone ever gave you about the diplomatic or expat life?
The best advice I have gotten about expat life, is that if I try to fight all the daily challenges, I will quickly be defeated. Even though everything takes longer and daily life can be very frustrating, I have to accept it and go with the flow in order to not drown or burn out.
What’s your daily uniform?
My wardrobe is still something I struggle with even a year later. It is important to me that I am abiding by the cultural standards, so I never wear shorts and usually have my legs almost completely covered. However, it is excruciatingly hot here so I need to also make sure I am comfortable. I usually spend most days in my gym clothes - a t-shirt and spandex capris. It's not the most glamorous, but I'd rather be comfortable and not draw any unnecessary attention to myself.
You’re having guests over on Saturday night, what’s on the menu?
Since our kitchen is very tiny (the counter tops are so short that my husband sits in a chair to wash the dishes!) and there's not air conditioning in there, I usually try to cook something that is quick and also is a comfort of home. My current specialties are pasta with chicken meatballs and homemade sauce, or my version of tacos. There are many ingredients I cannot find here because Jaipur is much less modern than other Indian cities. Sometimes I substitute cannellini beans for refried beans, and an Indian yogurt called Dahi for sour cream. I've learned to get creative!
Dream post for next assignment? Why?
If Matt and I were to take another expat assignment, I would love to be anywhere in Europe, but I'd especially love France. I think I would enjoy the fact that I would have access to so many nearby countries just a short train ride away. I could also eat crepes to my heart’s content.
One thing you wished someone had told you before arriving?I wish someone had told me how difficult it would be to put my career on hold. Previously being a full time elementary teacher is one of the most important things that defined who I am. I went from working every day to volunteering part time, and it is something I am still adjusting to.
India is a place that is completely overwhelming to the senses - it is very loud, very hot, and very crowded. However, it is a place that is truly like nowhere else in the world. I hope people can visit to gain a new perspective on life.
What are three of your favorite posts on your own blog?Indian Weddings