an expat “indian summer”

This has definitely been the year of “firsts”. The first year I have run a guest house (in India, no less) and the first (and hopefully, last) time I got married. It’s been a grand roller coaster and adventure. How this eternal nomad ended up in this new life, I’m not quite sure….but I’m pretty excited about it.

Since July of 2013 my husband and I have been running Maria Guest House & Restaurant in Palolem Beach – a small, but lively, fishing village that is truly a tropical paradise and a holiday destination for people around the world during the months of November to March each year.

It was learning experience for sure….you think traveling in India is challenging? Running a business here as a foreigner (both my husband who is from Varanasi in North India and myself – an over eager gal from the States trying to get things done on schedule) has been trying…to say the least. But, we survived our first season catering to our guests every needs and attempting to create a welcoming and comfortable ambience at Maria Guest House. I guess our hard work paid off since we earned a ranking of #3 on Trip Advisor. Job well done, I think, for the first year that we ran the guest house.

I was never the type of girl to dream about a big wedding and I guess my dream came true. After months of waiting for papers to arrive from the States legally proving that I am a “Spinster” (as India refers to being single) and countless documents forged to show a consistent date of birth for my husband (which, by the way, are inaccurate dates) AND a long string of bribes to push all the “legal” papers through….Rahul and I were married in the Civil Registrar office in Canacona, Goa with 4 senior witnesses arranged by the owner of the guest house on March 17th. Why “senior” witnesses you ask? Yes, since I am an OLD (45 years young) spinster, we had to have senior witnesses just to add one more complication to the marriage process. Mamma mia! We said our “I do’s” and confirmed that we were not “brutally forced into this companionship”. How romantic is that?!

Well, it may not have been the most romantic day but it all makes for a good story!

Rahul and I getting married

Getting Married – Rahul and I at the Civil Registrar Office with witnesses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling a bit beat up after the year of “firsts” and completely drained by the rising temperatures and humidity in Palolem as well as dwindling customers at the guest house, we decided to go Varanasi for April to June. Time to see the family as the new bride in the family, take care of some more paperwork and start some new projects.

Goodbye short skirts, tank tops and little dresses….hello salwar kameez (the traditional outfit consisting of a colorful tunic top, baggy pants and billowy scarf) and wifely adornments to be worn everyday….. bindi, color worn at the hairline, wedding necklace, bangles, anklets and toe rings. Thankfully, I love these clothes and accessories that the women wear throughout India. I think they really beautiful and elegant.

Goodbye Goa. Hello Varanasi.

Varanasi is located in North India in the state of Uttar Pradesh and is the cultural, religious and spiritual epicenter of India that will rock your world! It is India to the max… times ten. Sadhus, babas, cows, monkeys, dogs, pilgrims, tourists, locals, motorcycles, honking and pungent aromas attack your senses and you either love it or hate it….there is no middle ground when it comes to Varanasi. I love it! It is starting to feel like home. This is where I met my husband when I was traveling alone in India for the first time in 2013 and now it is my new family home. It is where my new Indian family is. In the photo above I am with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law doing for a special day of festival.

Tradition dictates that the new bride comes to live in the family home but I chose to break tradition (a bit to the disappointment of my husband) and we stayed in a nearby guest house in Meer Ghat for the 3 months we were there. Not being a vegetarian and not being able to walk around in my skivvies in the privacy of my own home during 45+ temperatures, made the thought of living in a joined household too uncomfortable and restricted for me. I am a woman who has lived the majority of her life independently, as is the norm in the States. Thankfully, the family is open-minded and University educated so they understood my dilemma.

The whirl wind of being showered with saris, bangles, gold earrings, anklets, toe rings and congratulations ensued and didn’t really stop until close to the end of our trip. I am the “American bahabi” and all the ladies are very to happy an “American bahabi” (sister in-law) in their family circle now. I don’t speak Hindi and that’s a bit of a problem but a fair amount of charades usually got my message across. While I pride myself on being pretty good at learning new languages, I am having a hell of a time wrapping my head around Hindi. I thought it would come naturally but it just does my head in and I think a formal class will have to be in my future. Charades can get old pretty fast.

Doing anything “official” in India can be frustrating…..what will they say this time, what will they say next time, how long will it take and (my least favorite) how much will it cost? These conflicting answers to these questions makes my frustration level rise with every moment. Inconsistency in information and abnormally long times to get the simplest things done is so confusing to me. Viva India! I had two things to accomplish before leaving Varanasi and I wasn’t sure it would get done.

Mission #1: Change my Visa from a tourist visa to an “Entry” Visa which allows me to stay for one year without having to leave the country. The first step before I get a PIO card (Person of Indian Origin card) which allows me to live here and work in India full time now that I am married to an Indian Citizen.

Mission #2: Get a passport for my husband.

I’m not above admitting when I am wrong…..and I was wrong. In both of our missions, the system was efficient, honest and fast. I received my new Visa revision within 3 weeks and Rahul received his brand spankin’ new Indian passport in about one month. Way to go India! I like surprises like these.

I am so glad that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time running around taking care of business as temperatures began to creep up into the 40’s in May, making it pretty unbearable to be outside during the heat of the day. Hot as it was in Varanasi, the air is drier than Goa where humidity can reach 80%. This makes the heat much more manageable. But as June arrived and temps were at 47 degrees Celsius (116 Farenheit)….I gave up and just stayed inside the room with my best friend – the air cooler – and worked on  building and updating multiple websites between power cuts. Even at night, outside you could feel the heat rising from the concrete streets and the steps of the ghats. Some were physically too hot to sit on at night without cookin’ your backside!

The heat became so much that even eating became a chore…where to go to get something cool, what to eat that wasn’t too spicy and what’s close enough that I can walk to without breaking a sweat. Fruit sustained me for these 3 months while spicy and hot foods just didn’t seem appealing. Mango season was in full swing and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten a whole trees worth all by myself. They are so sweet and juicy, they saved me during these hot months. I’ve had mangoes in many different countries and I think these are my favorite.

Apart from barricading myself in my cool room, I did get to hang out and drink an occasional chai with some of my favorite people in Varanasi that have become my uncles, aunties, brothers and sisters comprised of family, local shopkeepers, tour guides, boat runners and hoteliers. Their generosity really inspires me. Many of these people have so little yet never hesitated to offer me a meal or sweet. It’s really very endearing.

Varanasi is a magical place, but it is not always an easy place. The dark lanes can be intimidating, the noise can be overwhelming and the smells and cow patties are sometimes off-putting. I had spent 6 months in Varanasi with Rahul prior to us moving to Goa to run the guest house. While everyone really looked out for me and helped me get around, I still felt uneasy and out of sorts much of the time, never feeling totally relaxed. This time was different. This time I felt like I belonged somehow. Nothing was frightening me or startling me. It’s been two years that I’ve been in India, maybe my skin has thickened up a bit. I’m not quite sure what changed but I felt at ease and at home in Varanasi for the first time, even though I had been gone for 9 months. Maybe the fact that I am married now to someone from Varanasi gives me kind of a grounded feeling.

Nevertheless, the summer was a whirl wind of doing official papers post-marriage, being toted around to nearby family members so they could meet the “new” bride, hiding from the 45+ heat,  and the everyday battle to feed myself….and the grand finale – a root canal in India!

Let me just start by saying that being sick away from home sucks….being in agonizing pain and facing the knowledge that I needed invasive treatment to fix my throbbing tooth was too much to bear. It’s terrifying enough in the States where everything is sterile and done by power tools and a masked and gloved dentist, but what was going to happen here in India? Fear got the best (or worst of me) and I was downing Ibuprofen like mad to avoid going to the dentist…but to no avail. My tooth ache wasn’t going away. I wasn’t alone though, two friends were suffering the same affliction as I was. They went to the dentist and got treated and their faces didn’t fall off! So I followed suit and went and got myself all fixed up. It was a strange experience to say the least but my dentist was competent and got the job done – root canal and crown – and my face hasn’t fallen off! Cost in India – 6,000 rupees ($95 USD). Average price in the US for the same procedure is $2000 USD.  I guess there really is something to be said for “Medical Holidays”. Now I get it.

As a person who has lived in multiple countries, I have multiple places I can call home. Varanasi treated me well these last 3 months….I am happy to call it my home.

I am back in Palolem Beach now, enjoying the cool monsoon rains and breeze. Looking forward to my second season running Maria Guest House and some exciting new projects I have in the works as well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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