How did it get so late so soon? ~Dr. Seuss
I can hardly believe I have been living in India for a year already! Somewhat Ironically, I crossed the year mark back in the US on a business trip. On arrival in Pune in 2013, I was a bit nervous which is understandable being that I was venturing into the unknown. A year later I can honestly say it has been and continues to be quite an amazing experience.
Unlikeliest of Expats
As I talked to a colleague over dinner one night during that business trip to the US, we laughed at how, in 2006, when the project I was leading was slated to pioneer offshore development in India for my operating company, I was adamant about not taking a trip to India.
I was excited about the prospect of working with a different culture but I had no desire to fly 24 hours, no desire to eat local food, no desire to spend all day every day smelling curry (curry was my illusion of India based on living in an apartment complex permeated with the smell of Indian cooking. ). At the time, India was probably the last country in the world I wanted to visit. If I had had a bucket list India would have been outside the bucket.
Now, here I am loving that I am living in India and, to top it off, having the greatest work year of my life and an amazing personal year as well. The only modification I would make would be to bring my fiance to this country to live with me but not until I was six months in and had exorcised the demons preventing me from fully entering a relationship with her. Having her in India with me would open travel and growth opportunities to us not easily accessible from the US.
My First Teacher in India
I had been to India four times previously and was somewhat familiar with Indian life. However, when walking around my neighborhood for the first time, I realized I had never crossed an Indian street without a colleague to guide me. The insanity of the traffic ensured I always crossed the street with a local adept at navigating the cars, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, cattle, carts, etc speeding along the streets (and sidewalks, sometimes going the wrong direction) blaring their horns in warning at all. When possible, I walked between two colleagues to protect me from traffic coming from both directions simultaneously.
I was headed for a coffee shop which required crossing a street replete with the aforementioned traffic conditions. I felt like I was in the Monty Python movie where the knights came to the bridge guardian and were asked, “Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see?” The crux, answer all three questions correctly or a horrible death would ensue.
My questions came in the form of vehicles flying by, violating every traffic rule or safety practice I ever learned, while other vehicles entered and exited the flow with the drivers seeming never to look left or right to determine if there was a gap in which to enter. Each car and motorcycle was it’s own question. Each truck a potential exclamation point on which I could be an insect smashed and bloodied in it’s grill of teeth. The bridge guarding, by comparison, only asked three questions. I was confronted by hundreds of questions all at once!
I wanted my tea. I wanted a warm brownie topped with ice cream. Both wants required crossing the street of death. At this point, I hadn’t learned the trick of the magic hand. The magic hand is an arm extended, palm turned toward oncoming traffic gesture. People do this believing traffic will part, similar to Moses parting the Red Sea, and simply walk across the street. It took me almost a year to learn and gain the bravery to attempt the magic hand methodology. Surprisingly, it works!
I still hadn’t learned the trick so what to do? I noticed a street dog approaching the same intersection. It dawned on me, this street dog made it to adulthood unscathed and had to cross many a street. So, I simply used the dog as my guide and followed it across the street. Thus, I gained enough courage to cross on my own on the way home.
My Work is Joy Filled
I moved to India for work. My ambitious goal is to facilitate the transition of a product from the US to be fully developed in India. This may not seem difficult but looks can be deceiving. It’s a complex product with millions of lines of code that requires that requires quite a bit of domain knowledge. For 5 years they company had been attempting this transition with, at best, mixed results. So, the company decided that, to make this work, someone needed to be on site.
I became the chosen one….partly (primarily?) because I was the only one to volunteer for the assignment in India. My assignment stated succinctly is, make this work or bring the product back home. And, by the way, we are not going to guarantee you a job on your return. The overt reasoning to the non guarantee is that no one is guaranteed a job in the company. The read between the lines reason is we don’t want you back if you fail. I am a confident individual and enjoy a challenge so, despite the risk, I agreed to accept the assignment.
The thing about me that made me an unlikely choice is that I don’t write software, am not a good tester, and my writing ability is freestyle whereas technical is needed for the product. All three skills are what corporate views as the necessary requirements to transitioning a product.
So, what do I bring to the table? A proven ability to work effectively with people from other cultures. A track record of successful projects. A knack for developing people especially the elusive leadership skills I considered fundamental to the success of the entire proposition. In a nutshell, get the right people on the bus in the right seats, add a healthy dose of hard work, point the bus in the right direction, and things will take care of themselves. Plus, just enough arrogance to believe I could make this work.
Another key factor in making this work is the local work force. They are intelligent, hard working, eager to learn, and enthusiastic. Fact is, I have never worked with such an enthusiastic group of people. They exhibit an eagerness to learn and, when combined with their appetite for success, is helping ensure that, this time, the transition will finally be successful.
I am enjoying my work so much that I feel like I have not worked a day in the past year. I look forward to being in the office on Monday morning.
I have opted to not have a TV while living in India. This has turned out be one of my best decisions. I have the physical device in my flat but have not purchased a television service. This, despite the fact, that a month of cable TV in Chicago would pretty much cover a year of similar service in India. I opted to not have a TV so I wouldn’t get sucked into mental silliness and wile away the hours while my brained turned mushy.
The result, many hours available for reading books (I have even delved into some of the classic Russian authors), writing my blog, and snapping various pictures which has morphed into it’s own blog with a daily picture posting including a brief description. The past 12 months has proven to be one of the most creative seasons of my life. The creativity has extended to my work life where I have come up with creative ways to help grow my team.
One way I learn about myself is through my writing so a great deal of much needed introspection has helped me understand myself, exorcise some of the demons of doubt that plagued my pre-Indian life.
All is not perfect living abroad. My loved ones are still back in the US. I tend to be softhearted and sentimental. I adore my family. Not seeing them on a regular basis is a challenge.
I finally came to the understanding that I want to spend the rest of my life with a special woman. This led to me getting engaged during my November 2013 trip home. Yes, being away from my fiancé is quite challenging for both of us. Without this trip where I cleaned my attic, I would have likely been nagged by doubts as to whether or not I was making the correct decision. I am happy to say doubts are no longer a problem.
The difficulty of being away is mitigated somewhat by internet communication. A big Thank You to the creators of Skype!
I can’t say enough about the opportunities to travel. The relative inexpensiveness of traveling in this part of the world, when compared to the US, has allowed me to make a number of journeys. I have been to Goa, The Philippines, Thailand, and have toured several cities in India. My goal for my remaining time here is to go somewhere once a month. In fact, I write this as I am relaxing in seat 8D on a plane heading to Kathmandu, my May destination. A business trip to Switzerland will piggyback onto this trip keeping me on the road for a week and a half. I’m loving it!.
June doesn’t have a plan yet. But a little bird whispered we have a friend in Singapore into my ear which suddenly made opened a door of possibility. July will find me sleeping above the trees in a forested area during the monsoon season. August will tentatively find me heading to Sri Lanka.
September will provide me with another Buddha encounter when I go to Bodh Gaya to sit beneath an ancestor of the tree where The Buddha found enlightenment. During October, one of my children will be visiting and we will take a tour of India.
The months after that? I had considered returning to Thailand or possibly to Myanmar or Bhutan or Cambodia or Viet Nam or…or…or….well….life frequently detours from carefully laid plans.
Sometimes the Best Laid Plans…
Just prior to returning to the US for the March business trip, I found out my work in India was being shortened by five months. What was supposed to be two years living abroad has been reduced to 19 months. I have mixed feelings about the reduction. I will miss this amazing country and the amazing travel possibilities and the people I work with every day who have become friends, in some ways, an extended family.
However, the game is not over. I do plan to plant a bug in the ear of the big boss that I want to work somewhere else in the world, possibly Switzerland, when I see him on the Swiss leg of my trip. This, I will tell him, I want to do after a couple of years in the US so I can get my affairs in order including finally getting married to my fiancé.
On the plus side, a major plus side, I will return to loved ones and home. Home?
What Is Home?
They say, home is where the heart is. What if your heart exists in multiple places simultaneously? Are all those places home?
The answer to where my home was used to be a no brainer question. Now it has a much broader, much richer definition than when I left the USA 13 months ago. Then it was essentially confined to one country (USA), one city (Chicagoland), one street, one house, one family. My thinking simply could not grasp being at home anywhere else in the world. I planned to live there until my dying days. I no longer envision that as my future.
My mind was trapped by tiny thoughts, thoughts that bound my imagination like the feet of Chinese maidens, rendering my mind unable to grow beyond it’s previous restrictions, self-imposed limitation. The binding, in my case, was my lack of experience with living any place other than my birth metropolis. Binding is painful. Binding inhibits growth. Binding can leave one crippled…if the binds aren’t loosed. My are more than loosed. They have been shattered. My understanding of life that was stunted by lack of experience now sees limitless horizons.
I liken it to lifting weights. I could only lift lightweights because I had only lived in one locale. Living in India has been a full on workout growing my experience in a huge way enabling me to lift weights at another level. It’s a process which, if continued, will continue to yield growth even considerable growth.
I find it rather sad that it took me over 50 years to learn this valuable lesson. It’s also fortuitous that I found it out before settling into my grave for the long haul.
Today, I consider India to be home. Not my only home but one of two homes. I have become somewhat accustomed to the Indian way of life, the ebb and flow of the seasons, the cycle of celebrations and festivals. I have learned to navigate the chaos called traffic in this part of the world on my recently purchased motorcycle.
I now believe I could live anywhere in the world (though I prefer a warm climate to the Winter bitterness of my US home city) and be content, be happy, easily make it my home. Potentially, I can have many homes located in various countries across the globe by planting a little bit of my heart in those places in which I have the good fortune to live.
As much as I have loved my life in my birth country, I no longer see myself being content living there for the rest of my life. I have a severe case, possibly a chronic case, of wanderlust, an affliction that can only be managed (there is no cure) by wandering the world over and exploring all the amazing people and places that gives richness to planet earth.