Friday, June 29, 2007

The Costs of Relocation

I started the vet certificate yesterday, so I officially have 30 days to arrive in Calcutta. I cannot arrange their travel until 14 days prior to departure. I am still waiting on my son's passport which should have been here already and company paperwork to start the visa application. I had word this morning that the paperwork is being fedexed today.

My budget for moving is $6,000. It looks like it will cost around $3,000 to move the animals on British Airways, so we'll probably be taking Air India. I love both airlines, but seriously, the cheapest flight I could find on BA was over $2,500 each. Judging from the schedules, it looks like we can make the July 22nd arrival date, by leaving on the 20th. The animals will arrive at 5:05 AM; we will arrive at 12:50 PM. Our tickets will cost just under $2,000 together and I can purchase them now...

The other $1,000 will provide money for the shipping of the non-replaceable items in our possession. The quote from UPS was $750. for one 125 lb. box... The other $250 will pay for our transport to the airport on July 20th.

The pod for moving everything home will be arriving on July 5th. We have until July 9th to fill it. I have to buy a lock, and mail the key or email the combination to mum. The cost from was half of PODS' at $1,300. Mum is paying for this (thanks, mum - if you weren't covering this cost, I'd have to leave my pets behind. I am very grateful.)

Vet costs, so far, are $200. Will's passport renewal cost $190. We're waiting to do the vaccines until we arrive in India because they will cost over $1,200 for each of us to get what I think we should have: Yellow Fever, Typhoid, all the Hepatitus vaccines, Gamma Globulin, Polio booster, Tetanus, Cholera, Smallpox (I think I discussed others, but those were the biggies). The price seems absolutely ridiculous. Last time I was in India, I had 14 shots. This time I can get away with a few less. I've been told that no vaccines are required at the moment to enter the country.

I still haven't sold much of my stuff on craigslist - people just don't bother showing up. I may end up freecycling a bunch of stuff, but the electronics and appliances have to be sold.

Everything looks like it is falling into place. We went to a Chinese restaurant last night and the fortune in my fortune cookie read, "Traveling to the east will bring you great rewards". That's a good sign :-)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Things Are Finally Moving Forward

Yeesh. All I need is Will's passport and the paperwork from the company to get my visa done. Still haven't been able to get through to a live person in the consulate, but I have a call in to British Airways who are considered the best when it comes to live animal transport to India. They have been super nice and very calming. I can't have my pets harmed in any way - I would be devastated. We have a call scheduled for 2:15 PM today, and right after that, I will make the appointment with the vet.

Apparently, if we want to accompany the pets on British Airways, we can't do our airline tickets until 14 days prior to departure.

This is actually happening. The waiting game is coming to an end.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Craigslist is just okay.

I put up a huge list of things and lots of people have emailed me. A lot of people want me to sell a brand new Bosch gas dryer for which I paid $1,300 only eight months ago for $200. Others come out after agreeing on a price over the phone only to start haggling all over again. Others just don't show up at all. Ah well. I have time. I'll just relist stuff every week until it's all gone. I have other places to list, too.

Today, I have a big list of things I need to do.
1. Email my contact in India - I need the name and address of the pet location people and need to agree on a price in order to go to the vet and start the International Health certificates. I also need the exact street address of the office and two references' complete contact information to complete the forms for the visa. I also still need an ETA on the paperwork.
2. Mum's going to pay for the shipping of all of my stuff that has to go back home (thank you, thank you, thank you). We were quoted a price of $2800 to get a pod from Aurora to Boston, but I found a company called that can do it for half that. I need to email her to find out when it will arrive.
3. I need to get through to the consulate. I still need to confirm the rules for importing pets, the employment visa, and any vaccines that are required.
4. I have to contact Will's school (again) to get his school records. I emailed the Calcutta International School to get more information about the process. They started school June 15th, so I'll need to know how we manage the transition. Haven't heard back.
5. Cash out my 401Ks and pay the big penalties.

I'm not sleeping well. All this turmoil and change hasn't been good for Will or the pets either. Sometimes I get so filled with self-doubt about making this decision, I feel like I'm going to have a panic attack. But I'm able to reason my way through - our standard of living, ease of travel once we're established, the dream job with the very big challenges, the great school with an amazing record of excellence and a culturally diverse student body... it will be great for everyone. It's just the move itself and the time it's taking that is stressful, plus the sadness of leaving friends and family. My finances are hitting a critical point now, too. I don't know whether to buy my tickets now or wait until everything has come through. There are so many balls in the air, and I feel like I'm juggling with one hand...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Craigslist Rocks.

I started listing items for sale on craigslist and I've gotten 15 responses so far mostly for the Sony TV and my Bosch appliances. I started filling out the visa application and pet health forms. At least I feel like I'm accomplishing something for a change.

Barcamp is tomorrow - a huge techie event, and most likely the last I will attend in Chicago. It goes all night and we're building a mashup plus a lot of other interesting stuff, plus exchanging ideas regarding new web 2.0 stuff. I'm looking forward to taking my mind off this move and back on web stuff.

The vet called. I posted things for sale. Mortgages.

It seems like it's more of a challenge than I thought. I need to print out anything regarding pet health regulations, then make an appointment to bring both animals in to see him. He fills out some papers, then has to send them to a Federal clearinghouse which then reviews, approves and issues that actual certificate. He said it could take up to 90 days... This could be a real problem.

I sent up a list of all things for sale on craigslist, cwnetwork (Chicago Women), and asklizryanchicago. The list was far longer than expected:

MOVING OVERSEAS - Everything Must Go. Prices are negotiable - Cash Only:

Sony Trinitron Flat Screen TV WEGA Model KV-24FS100 with Manual
2 Smaller TVs
Linksys Cable Modem
Linksys Wireless Hub
Computer Speakers
Micsellaneous Computer Parts from Dell - hard drives,
Wrought Iron DVD storage
Wrought Iron CD storage
CDs & DVDs
Kitchen Pots & Pans
Krups Coffee Machine
3 Collapsible Black Wire Storage Units
2 Wrought Iron Collapsible Ateliers
1 Wrought Iron Butterfly Chair with Beige Leather Cover
Brand New Bosch Gas Dryer with installation kit (Still in package)
Older GE Washer
Sharper Image Steam Wizard Handheld Steamer #SM240 with manual
Sharper Image Deep Kneading Massage Cushion for Chairs and Car Seats
Sharper Image Emergency Radio & Spotlight #YW631 - uses solar power, hand crank and/or batteries. with Manual
New Bosch Dishwasher (Must disassemble)
Large Entertainment Center in fair condition
Blue & White Dansk Dishware and Serving Pieces
Dansk Champagne Flutes (utility - not crystal)
Dansk Teak Carving Platter
New GE Microwave with Manual
Lots of video tapes
Iron & Ironing Board
Twin Size Futon & Black Metal Frame Comes with Beige Couch Cover (For use when the futon is setup as a couch)
2 Broken Black Metal Full Size Futon Frames (I think they're out of square) with Futons
2 Gunmetal Grey Couch Covers for Use with Standard Full Size Futon.
2 Black Fabric Futon Cover for Full Size Futon
Large Ex-Pen for Large Dog
12" Head of Buddha - Silver tone
Candles & Candlesticks
Sprint Compatible Treo Phone
Sprint Compatible Camera Phone
Office Supplies
Secretary Chair with Black Seat and Leopard Fabric Back (looks cooler than it sounds
4 light wood storage cubes, 3 with drawers, 1 with shelves
7 dark wood storage cubes, 2 with drawers, 1 with door, 4 with shelves
(Take all 7 and we'll give you two matching wider, deeper storage cubes for free)
2 Sony Playstation 2 consoles, one with DVD software (both are loaded with it already). have one Manual and original box, DVD Remote control
Some Playstation Games
Playstation EyeToy Accessory
2 Playstation Memory Cards
2 Plastic 3-Drawer Storage Units on Casters
Some Playstation Games
Unusual Board Games
About 1,000 Books - Decorating, Cookbooks, Architecture, Art, Reference, Culture, Literature (Classics, not NYT Bestsellers), Poetry, Philosophy & Eastern Religion)
Vintage Leather Luggage, one with shoe storage fair condition
Black Desk Lamp
Brushed Steel Torchier
Small Wood Desk fair condition
3 Cheap Bookcases 6'
Hand Tools, Screws, Nails, etc.There's everything from electrical to plumbing stuff.
Electric Drill
Vintage Skateboard Missing a Wheel
Lots and lots of Paint and tools.
Vintage Christmas Tree Decorations (from 30's 40's & 50's) plus some new unusual ones.
Hamilton Beach Emmie Food Processor
Yan Can Cook Electric Wok with Accessories
Bodum White Plastic Electric Mini-Kettle with Manual
Medium Brown Leather Ottoman
Stackable Black Storage Crates with Angled Opening
Blue Chest of Drawers Sized for a Child's Room
Chrome Bath Parts: hand towel ring, towel bar, shelving unit, toilet paper holder, soap holder, toothbrush holder, 3" x 6" oval holder for other items (probably had 2 glass bottles in it...)
Yellow Ceramic Bath Parts: Soap Dispenser, Soap Holder
Electric Drill
Foldable Footstool (2 steps)
6-foot ladder (plastic and metal)
Small Cooler
4-man Camping Tent
Sleeping Bag
White Ladies' Schwinn 10 Speed Touring Bike
Red Boys Mongoose Flatspin Next Bike with Front and Back Pegs with Manual
Men's Mountain Bike
(If you buy all three bikes, we'll throw in a cable lock, Schwinn 16 function mini-tool, tire sealant,helmet and whatever else we have for the bikes.)
JVC GR-SV3 Compact VHS Recorder with user manual and battery

I didn't realize how much stuff I had. And these are just the big things.

I think I will have to allow the mortgage companies to foreclose on my townhouse. I am pretty much out of cash until I sell this stuff. Freelance work isn't coming in, except for one small project, so I don't have much of a choice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

No one is calling me back.


I called the vet and he hasn't called back.

I tried calling the consulate 10x in order to make sure I know exactly what I need when I bring my visa application in...busy every time.

I called Frankie, my greyhound rescue's advisor, and discussed my dog's move. She's concerned about it, too, and gave me a number of someone who does a lot of travel of greyhounds cross-country. She was helpful and recommended an international greyhound listserv. I'm having trouble accessing it, and I have a feeling this was the list that I had trouble with last year. I have spent all day on-line looking for anyone with experience moving a dog, any dog to India, and the search has been fruitless. I am also not finding any American expat clubs in Calcutta. Mumbai, yes, Bangalore, yes, even Chennai, but not Calcutta. There doesn't seem to be any forums, websites, etc. I can't find any decent web sites that even show decent photos of the city, let alone decent photos and floorplans on apartment rental sites.

I should probably clarify. There are numerous beautiful sites with artful photography of the city, but none that show different parts of the city, the shopping centers, medical facilities instead of colourful and artistic street scenes, etc. I think that this will become something I will do once I get there for people coming after me. It would really be helpful.

It seems like I'm stuck in a vaccuum. Most relocation services only work for the company and not with individuals, plus I'm not willing to spend $5,000 for someone to basically tell me what to do. I'll need whatever money I have just to get us over there, never mind the rest.

I have to go make a list of the items I can sell on craigslist.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Moving Animals to Calcutta

Well, today, I called the vet and it looks like I may be able to just pick up the health certificates without paying $600 for my cat to be petted for five minutes, and my dog weighed. I still haven't gotten a quote on what it will cost to get them transported. I still don't understand how it will work. How do they walk her? She's a greyhound - are there any special considerations for these types of dogs? My cat HATES change. How's he going to handle it... I'm going to need to call the greyhound rescue group to see what they say about it. Knowing them, they'll freak on me and want her back.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I got my offer today

My new boss came through as promised with both a generous compensation package and a challenging job description. I am very excited. I emailed him back accepting his offer. Here's the checklist of things I need to do:
1. Find a lawyer to hire to assign as my power of attorney to manage the sale of my house and personal property left behind.
2. Find a live animal relocation service to ensure my greyhound and siamese cat make it to Calcutta
3. Find an agent in Calcutta to help me find suitable housing, a housekeeper, cook, car and driver, plus a school accredited in the U.S.
4. Track my son's passport renewal process. Once received, apply for employment visa at the consulate in Chicago.
5. Go through everything in the house. Divide into deep storage (ship to mum's house), sell, pack, throw away, and freecycle. Organize corners in living room to piles of each.
6. List sales on all listserves and craigslist.
7. Limited to 300 cubic feet of material to go to India. Considering bringing just what I'd miss in a fire and replacing everything else. The estimates are typically around $3K USD, so each cubic foot is costing me $10. Use it wisely.

I'm thinking of re-naming my son Lay-Z, "Lay-Z is in da house, dawg". He hasn't touched his room. I am pretty overwhelmed myself. I am also very excited.

I made a new email address on gmail that I can access anywhere; previously I have been using my phone service and my cable internet service for email, both of which will end when we move.

I also opened up a Skype account so that my family and friends can call using VOIP for free. This will also help Will stay in touch with his friends here. Being 13, the culture shock will be even more severe for him, since attitudes toward sexuality are so different from the U.S. and my sensibilities. Once he figures out a rubber is just an eraser in India, he'll be so disappointed :-).

I feel like I'm making progress. Slow, but progress nonetheless...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Suggestions for Your CV

I lived in India years ago, and with the economy booming, it made sense for me to look for a job there. Here is the way I did it. Many countries are looking for a CV instead of a short resume, so I had 8 pages of data:

Objective - Include the reasons why you want to move to the country of choice and why being an American would be an asset to an organization there.
Experience - Typical resume details
Education - Typical resume details, including seminars, coursework and certifications
Addendum 1 - Awards
Addendum 2 - Technical skillset (software experience, lifecycle experience, e.g. email marketing campaign management, traffic analysis, etc.)
Addendum 3 - Web Sites has microsites for a number of countries. Use your search engine to learn more about in-country job sites.

The Year Is 2007 and I'm Returning to Calcutta

My name is Jeanne. I was 16 when I left India, vowing to return as soon as possible. I am now 46 years old and the single parent of a 13 year-old son. My life has taken numerous twists and turns but I'm back on track. I left my full-time job as a Marketing Director for a computer forensics firm in Chicago and I've been doing freelance work while looking for full-time work. I met a colleague while in that position who had a very similar life experience, including life in Asia. His wife was from Pune, just south of Mumbai. I immediately bonded with them. He went back to India months ago and highly recommended moving back. The economy is booming and jobs for people with my experience were in high demand. I put my CV up on India's job board. I was inspired by Jason, but didn't think I would ever make it happen.

One day, a gentleman called me and introduced me to his company. After many calls and emails, he offered me a position at his company in Calcutta. I immediately accepted and called Jason. He is leaving to start a position the first week of July in Chennai. I am hoping to leave by the 22nd of July.

I expedited the renewal of my son's passport Monday, and contacted relocation services for my stuff. I've been investigating relocation for my greyhound and cat.
My offer package should arrive on Thursday. Until then, I'm just planning, envisioning, dreaming and smiling. I am finally returning to a place I love. A place I had promised to return to 30 years ago. I am finally finding my bliss.

India 1976 - 1977

I left for Bombay in June, 1976, along with two traveling companions, Mary Madison and Fred Thompson, two other exchange students going to Bombay. The funny thing was, they had both wanted to go to Europe and were puzzled by my choosing India as my first choice.

I told them about the Bharata Natyam recital I had seen as a little girl which I had always remembered. Mary said that it was a silly reason for choosing India, didn't I know that there were poor people there and that it was dirty, and I replied...And you think that can't be said about Europe? As you can tell, I was already making friends.

The trip overseas was long and arduous. We stopped first at Heathrow, then took a puddle jumper to Amsterdam, where the entire planeload of passengers were escorted off the plane at gunpoint. Don't ask me why. No one would tell us. We were all put into a plain, windowless room and left there for hours. We were so bored, but nervous, after all, we had barely started our journey and already things looked a little bleak. Our plane had already left Amsterdam and none of us knew what was to happen. It became uneventful after 16 hours, when we were told we were free to go, never being given a proper explanation. We went straight to the Air India counter where they put us on the next plane (another 2 hours, which turned into 6 hours). We finally left Amsterdam, having seen nothing but the airport.

Our next stop was Cairo, where we were able to disembark and head into the city. What a noisy, busy place. We had a few uncomfortable situations as Mary and I were wearing jeans and t-shirts with the guys...but as we didn't understand the cultural differences, we didn't have a clue as to why they would follow us and touch us and make comments we couldn't understand. When we tried to get something to eat in a shop, we were told women weren't allowed. Again, I didn't make any friends.

I loved the sounds of Cairo, the music from the transistor radios in the shops, and bustle of so many people, the smell of the city. It was so foreign to me, but it felt somehow familiar--I don't know why. We didn't have a lot of time left, but before we caught the cab to take us back to the airport, we heard the mezzeins singing the call to prayer. I liked the sound of it. We got back in time to catch the next plane which would take us to Teheran.

Teheran was a beautiful city. The people we met were very friendly and we met a couple of teenagers who showed us around. One of them had gone to school in Delhi and told us about what to expect when we got to our destination. We had even less time here, but were able to get a cup of very strong coffee and a bite to eat (some kind of turnover with a spicy/sweet lamb filling that I really loved), then back to the plane and India.

Our plane went straight to Delhi, then we took another small plane to Bombay. Personally I was glad to say goodbye to my two traveling companions, which had been boring at times, short-tempered at others, and decidedly bigoted at most times. I wondered how the hell they were going to handle a country as complex as India. I dragged all my bags up to the customs agent, glad to have finally arrived. I was curious to meet my foster family and looked forward to my adventure. I was not paying attention to the agent as I was looking for any sign with my name on it. He finally interrupted my thoughts. "Und dees ees your tep recoder?"

"What? Oh, yes, yes it is," I replied.

"Und dees are your teps?"

I looked in my bag. My mum had purchased calculators, which were a large sum of money back in 1976, for me to give to my foster families. They were wrapped in bubble wrap. I should have kept my mouth shut. I was looking around for any sign of a person that could be looking for me. "No, they are calculators."

"Por what may you be needing so many calculators?" he asked.

I was irritated. I was tired. I wanted to be somewhere, where I could unpack and take a long nap. I explained that I was a Rotary exchange student, that I was going to be going to Sir. J. J. College of Architecture, and a Mrs. Gandhi was supposed to meet me at the airport. I had no address, this was 1976, hippies were a big problem in India, and the country was under Martial Law. I was in big trouble and I didn't even realize it.

I was escorted to another room with no windows (I was beginning to see a pattern). All my stuff was laid out on a table. They asked me over and over again about my passport and visa, which they said did not match. "How can you be chilt of Indyan national?" I tried to explain that I would be living with foster families, and they were gifts... They didn't get it. They told me that smuggling was a crime that carried at the very least deportation, at the most 25 years in prison. As I had spent the last three days traveling and my brain had pretty much turned to mush, it took about five minutes for their last statement to sink in.

"Wait a minute," I said, standing up. "You think I'm some kind of smuggler? What the hell are you talking about? I told you why I have these. Call Rotary. Find this Gandhi person. She'll explain everything." Little did I know that Gandhi was as exotic a name as Smith is here. I was left alone in this little room in despair, thinking my year in India was either over before it started or I would be spending the rest of my life pinned to some woman name Leela.

Apparently Mrs. Gandhi was working her way towards me during these hours from the Air India counter to the customs agent to the head of customs trying to explain my situation. While I dozed in my chair exhausted and starving, she was getting my name cleared and getting papers stamped. Finally, the door opened and I awoke with a start. The head of customs came in and explained my situation. He had a very thick accent and I had difficulty understanding him. He made no sense...he said that since I smuggled the calculators into the country...

I interrupted him. I said, "No I did NOT. When your man asked if they were tapes, I told him they weren't. I never lied or committed any subterfuge." I don't think he understood what I said because he answered me saying, "My men aren't allowed to accept payments and is a crime." I looked at him quizzically. He continued. "You have no address. You show no income. How do we know you don't plan to sell these on the black market and be living off the money and buying drugs?"

"I'm only 15. I've never taken any drugs. I came here to go to school. I am a youth ambassador to this country, and to tell the truth, I don't feel very happy about this any more. I don't feel very welcomed here in this country and this has been a dream of mine since I was seven. Now it is a nightmare." I began to cry once again. I just wanted to go home. I was tired. I was hungry, and I felt so very alone. He stared at me, cleared his throat and then left the room. The other two men left with him. I cried even harder.

Another man came in the room and explained the situation. He told me that Mrs. Gandhi had been found and she confirmed my story. They would release me, but the calculators were to be confiscated. Fine. Just let me go. Fuck you.

We got into a cab and took off. The first thing I noticed about India was the aroma... a smoky, woody, spicy smell. I wasn't sure if I liked it. It was very strong. I breathed in deeply, closed my eyes, and began to relax. When I opened them again, I noticed how different the colour of the earth was. It was a deep, rich red ochre that seemed to match the scent of India. I watched the people walking on the side of the road as we sped by. I noticed that men held each other's hands as they walked together. This was a custom that would take some time getting used to. People of the same gender were the only ones allowed to touch one another, a very different custom.

My first family was the Dunjibhoys, the owners of a wealthy import/export business. They had two children, Ayesha, a 17 year-old young woman, and Homi, who was a rather heavy-set 13 year-old boy. They had a great deal of wealth. The children went to the best schools. I was introduced to my servants and shown to my room, which I would share with Ayesha. The kids were okay. Ayesha had two english speaking albums: ABBA and Bay City Rollers, which she played over and over again. Homi developed a crush on me as the days went by. I enjoyed living with the family.

We went to the Bombay Cricket Club or the Mahalakshmi Racecourse nearly everyday for tea. We spent weekends in Poona during racing season as the family owned thoroughbreds. We also went to the beach house in Marvay on the Arabian was pretty damn comfortable. I wish I had appreciated it.

The family was Zoroastrian, a religion I had never heard of. They consider air, water, fire, and the earth to be sacred, so what do you do with your dead? After all, you can't defile what is sacred... This is how it works: They put their dead in a Tower of Silence, on a slab where the kites and vultures pick all of the meat off the bones. Once the bones are bleached dry by the sun, they are laid in a pit of lime to dissolve, and eventually whatever residual materials remain, they are washed out to sea. The only trouble with this solution was that the Tower of Silence in Bombay was on Malabar Hill, where all the embassies were. Sometimes you would be walking along the streets of the area, and a piece of human flesh would drop from the sky. I never actually saw this occur, however, there were many people who swear they had seen it. The temple where they worshipped did not allow non-believers, so I was never able to experience that part of the Dunjibhoy's lives.

Soon after I settled in, the monsoon started in earnest. I had never realized the power of the rains until then, nor fully understood the danger. The water would suddenly fill a roadway that seconds before I had just walked down. I'd watch bicyclists attempting to cross these with huge loads across their shoulders. I'd be riding in a cab when suddenly the road would simply wash away beneath us. And the torrents of water that would come down would simply destroy your umbrella. Once school started the first week of July, I took the commercial buses to school, but first I had to learn the Hindi numbers. I learned quickly, but the thing that made my foster mother give up on me was my inability to remember my umbrellas. I lost nearly one a day the first few weeks, so she began sending me with a servant who would accompany me back and forth to school holding the umbrella.

I found the college fascinating. Obviously, everyone was much older than me, and I was the only American in the school. The girls in my class, seven out of 65 or 70, didn't really know what to do with me at first. Here I was, bold, dressed in tight jeans and a jean jacket covered in patches and funky embroidery...t- shirts with no bra... I went out to the courtyard, one of the first days of school, to eat my lunch. No one else was out there. I thought it funny that they did not eat outside, but attributed it to another custom I would have to get used to. I sat down under a tree and got out my lunch, a sandwich, and turned to open a book to read while I ate. The next thing I felt was a rush of wind and a tug, and woosh. The sandwich in my hand had been scooped up by one of the kites that frequented the courtyard looking for unsuspecting students with food. The other students on the walkways found me very amusing as I screamed and ran. I guess it made me more approachable because after that, the other students came up to me and began to talk to me much more than before.

About a month into school, I saw the most attractive man while on the bus. I had never seen a young man so gorgeous...he had sort of reddish brownish hair, with a beard and mustache, along with greenish hazel eyes. He was tall and slim, and well dressed in western clothing, jeans and a t-shirt. He kept glancing at me, and I kept looking at One stop prior to mine, he got up, looked directly at me, pointed to me, and motioned me to follow him. I was shocked. I must have gasped. My servant looked at me with concern. I looked back at the man, and shook my head "no." I continued on to the next stop and went to school, but my mind was on that man.

A couple of days later, as I stood on the 2nd floor walkway of the school, looking down into the courtyard, I happened to look down the hall, and there he was-the guy from the bus! When I asked Swati who he was, she said his name was Ratan Batliboy. Wow---was he yummy. Now I understood. He had recognized me because no one else at the school looked like me, but I hadn't met him before. He had just wanted to show me a shortcut to school. Bummer. I wanted more than a shortcut from him. Nothing ever happened with him, but I made a fool of myself quite a few times before I got the message.

I spent my days going to school, feigning interest in physics and more math than I could stand. I eventually made it into the second year history of architecture course, which was very fascinating. Looking at architecture from the exotic viewpoint of Indian architects was a little like looking at South American art history taught by a Mayan. It was profound how different cultures present the same buildings, although there was more focus on Asian buildings, which made sense. The perspective of people more familiar with the culture of the indigenous people, made the architecture not exotic, but sensible. These same buildings discussed in American schools were treated very differently. I really looked forward to the course. My attendance in this course eventually enabled me to travel with the class through middle and North India.

The second family I moved in with was the Kolas. Homi, the dad was very cool. He listened to classical music, rode a motorcycle. Their son was in college in England. His wife was a sour bitch, who hated me being there. We lived close to Chowpatty Beach and we had a ball doing stuff together. While living there, I joined the ICCR, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, where I was asked to be the American Team Leader for the Darjeeling expedition. There were about 60 college students from all over the world who were going there including most of the Rotary exchange students: Jonathan Haas from Indiana, Ramona Materi from Vancouver Canada, Mary Madison from New Jersey, and Nancy Jackson. I was in charge of them.

I remember getting a phone call from a Nimu Shah asking to meet with me prior to departure, and he came over with Jack Juggesur and Ashok Moloo to my home where they asked me to be team leader. Then Nimu asked me to come to a Diwali party at his place. I accepted and Jack picked me up for the party. I remember fireworks going off because of the festival. The fireworks were definitely more memorable than Jack. Nimu, however, became a fast, dear friend, who wrote poetry and taught me many things about myself. He stands in my mind as a mentor of my spiritual growth.

The trip to Darjeeling was very interesting. We left from Victoria Station in Bombay, on the Delhi Mail train. We were packed six people to a section, in bunks three high on both sides. We pretty much had one train car to ourselves. The students were from all over Africa, the Indian Ocean islands like Seychelles, Madagascar, and Mauritius as well as the Pacific Islands like Fiji, Indonesia, and Maylasia. Plus our six from North America.

We made up the largest coalition. Traveling in such close quarters with each other made us talk about our homes, our values, religions or lack thereof. We smoked a lot of dope and hashish during the trip. It took about five days to get to Calcutta. We passed through Madyah Pradesh to get there. I was never so glad to get to a shower. Then we went north on a tiny railroad, only two seats wide up and up through the hills of the Himalayas. I have since learned that this tiny railway was dismantled. (I've heard rumors that the World Heritage Fund has or is restoring it.) It was a most frightening part of our travels, but I am sure that any buses or trucks attempting the climb would be even more dangerous. The train never went very quickly...

I was awestruck by the natural beauty of Darjeeling and its people. The Nepali and Tibetan refugees, with their chubby pink cheeks and ever-ready smiles were so endearing and such a joy just to look upon. We stayed at the youth hostel at the top of the town. We would go down into the town, to the ShangriLa Hotel for drinks and Chinese food. The first morning I woke up, and tore open the curtains and revealed Kachenjunga, the Three Sisters, the third highest mountain in the world, taking up the entire window, blinding us with its whiteness. It took my breath away.

The next morning, we had to get up very early, I think it was 4 am, to take a jeep to Tiger Hill. We were going to watch the sun rise on the Himalayas...on the ceiling of the world. There was something very spiritual about Darjeeling and the Himalayas. As I waited and watched the sky lighten, just making out the shape of the mountains, I thought about everything I wanted to do in my life, the things I stood for, what was important to me, to my soul. I watched the mountains turn a deep shade of purple, and I was barely able to pick out Everest two countries away. I had been seeing Ashok Moloo during my journey and had grown to love him. As I stood beside him, I knew that this instant in my life had changed me, deep into my core. As the colour of the mountains changed to a deep orange, I felt my spirit expand...I never felt such joy. I knew this man would be a part of my life, had already changed my life forever. He took my hand just as the summit of Everest burst into a bright gold, then flashed a blinding white. My soul was freed of any bonds right at that second. As I sit here writing this down almost 22 years later, I can still vividly remember this episode of my life as if it had just occurred only moments ago.

Ashok Moloo became my lover, my fiance, my husband in a ceremony performed on the Arabian Sea later the next year. It was just the two of us on a deserted stretch of beach where we told each other that our bonds would never break, that our love would last forever, and the connection we shared would never die. I still love him to this day.

After such an unusual experience, returning to Bombay seemed very low-key. I began to spend a lot of time in the Hanging Gardens with Ashok, or visiting Nimu listening to his poetry. I had completely given up on my studies, now concentrating on my Bharata Natyam sessions with Sudha, or visiting the American embassy or having tea with Mrs. William Peters, wife of the Deputy High Commissioner for Great Britain. I loved listening to that woman tell her stories about their lives around the world. She was one of a few people who called me Jeanne-Elise. I went to tea at the High Commission on Malabar Hill as often as I could.

I was never seen at Rotary lunches, I never saw the exchange students, I neglected all of my responsibilities to seek out the experiences that fed my soul... the Bharata Natyam... the bhang... Hindi movies like Sholay...I moved through two more families fairly quickly... I wasn't fitting in to the culture because of my independent ways. I was more mature than my age in some ways, but far behind in others. I began to lose track of my life in India and felt a deep need to return home. I felt anger at things that could not change in India.

At my school, they sent out a flyer for an architectural expedition that would go from Bombay to Ahmedabad to Fatehpur Sihkri, Agra, Rishikesh, Dedrahdun, Delhi, Kajuraho, Chandighar...oh, it sounded too wonderful to pass! As I had fast been becoming disenchanted with Bombay, this would give me the opportunity to see other parts of the country. Only a couple of people from the freshman level were going, but a lot of the second year students were going. There were quite a few guys in second year that I had become good friends with. This was a real problem for me. The culture of India does not allow fraternization between the genders, and the only good friends I had were had all sorts of sexual overtones for them that simply weren't there for me.

Raju Halankar and Sanyal Shubankhar were my best buddies, and Sanyal and I had a sweet innocent relationship. I grew to care for him, but Ashok was waiting for me back in Bombay. Shubho (Sanyal) and I would stay up very late and he would listen to me talk about my life, what it was like in the states, what I wanted to do...

He eventually followed me back to the States, attending M.I.T. for his Master's Degree. It took many discussions to convince him that he could do much more to change the world by returning to India and using his knowledge to help others.

The train was even rougher than the previous trip. We ate a lot of train food, which was pretty sub-standard. But the places we went to were amazing. Ahmedabad introduced me to Mahatma Gandhi's ashram. Nainital proved to be quite a challenge and forced me to realize my lack of ability as a horsewoman, having gotten on a horse which I could not stop. Kajuraho introduced me to the concept of divine love, although I still don't quite get it.

Agra showed me the Taj Mahal in ways no photo could ever show. Actually, I had been pretty bored all day looking at old buildings ad nauseum, and was ready to back to the train. At one point, late afternoon, at the Agra Fort, I listened to the guide discuss Jehanghir, and how he had imprisoned his father, Shah Jehan, in this room of mirrors. Apparently he had taken pity on his father and placed him in this room, which, from any spot in the room, you can see the Taj Mahal across the river. A mist was rising from the Jumna river. I looked at the wall and gasped. I turned my head and inhaled this vision of the Taj...covered in mist, changed to a lilac colour, the marbled facades of the main building and it accessory buildings glowed as the sun began its final descent behind the city of Agra. I had never seen such a vision. It didn't look real. It looked like something out of a fairy tale. It seemed to shimmer as if the slightest breath or movement would make it disappear like a rainbow. I will never forget my first sight of the Taj.

I spent so much time in India being attacked by sundry and various animals. I was licked by a cow on the steps of the Ganges, I was bitten by a snake at the Maritime Academy on Nhava Island, I had a monkey throw a banana at me when we were in Dedradhun, I was forced under a donkey's saddlebags, spilling my cup of tea all over my trenchcoat, in Mussorie, I slept with a rat in my bed in Bombay...the cockroaches scared the hell out of me at different times, and this doesn't include my close encounter with the kite at school.

India changed my life in so many ways. I began to look at life differently. I saw America through other's eyes. I learned that most of the world doesn't live the way we do. And I learned that spirituality is something that comes when you are ready, when you seek it. You cannot be born into it, you need to define it for yourself, find it on your own. India helped me accomplish this and I am changed forever. I consider India my spiritual home, my spiritual center, and I can be there anytime I close my eyes.

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