Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Awkard Americans

I recently attended a conference with about 100 attendees where there was an American woman on the panel. She had worked extensively with the Indian group on a long running initiative and this conference was the launch of the next phase. She gave her speech and then started tearing up and told us she had two sons at home. One was “homegrown” (her words, NOT mine) and the other adopted. We all sat there uncomfortable trying to figure out where she was going with this. Then she said “I love them both the same.” She proceeded to compare India to her adopted son and implied that she loved the country for “adopting” her. The tears started flowing and next thing I knew all the Indian men on the panel were also crying as the whole group hugged. Did I mention that this was at a conference? On a stage? With 100 people in the audience? Yeah, leave it to the American to make things incredibly awkward.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Things I miss about the U.S.

Walking down the street completely unnoticed. Anonymity.

Central Airconditioning.

Getting in my own car and driving myself wherever I want to go.

Traffic Rules.

Sidewalks and Crosswalks.

Knowing where and how to buy anything I want.

Understanding overheard conversations.

Listening and engaging in conversation without conscious effort.

Tank Tops.



Fresh Air.

Rinsing my toothbrush with running water.

Bad tv shows I'm too embarassed to admit I love.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What to Wear?

This morning I decided to go for a walk. I wanted to get outside before it got too hot, get some exercise, and figure out if the yoga studio was really within walking distance. So, I put on my knee-length exercise shorts, sneakers, and a t-shirt. I was in traditional, frumpy, workout wear. I headed out the back gate and started walking briskly down the hill.

I'm used to being stared at here. I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. None of these things are common in Southern India. However, after passing about a dozen people, I realized my mistake. The neighborhood behind mine is Muslim. Here I was walking around with my arms and legs exposed and my hair in a ponytail while I passed women in Burkhas. EVERYONE stared at me as I pumped my arms and started to sweat.

Did I feel exposed? No, not really. My knees have nothing to hide. But the eyes following me told me otherwise. I cannot explain the odd sensation of feeling completely comfortable and modestly dressed and yet being seen as a woman without morals. I decided to ignore it and continued with my walk, all the while with eyes on me. Nothing about my outfit was immodest by western standards. In fact, it was rather frumpy. However, the stares I got made me feel otherwise. I imagine this is how traditional Muslim women feel when they move to a western country. They're comfortable and happy in their hijab, but people stare at them like they're a freak.

Will I wear something different tomorrow morning for my walk? Yes, I'll probably wear long pants instead of shorts. But there is no way I'm wearing long sleeves in the 90 degree early morning heat on my way to yoga class.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I’d like to turn their story into a movie starring Eva Green and Hrithik Rashan

About 15 years ago Iz moved to India. Iz is a French woman who didn’t speak any Hindi, Telegu, or English. After her husband died suddenly she was left as a young single mother; she took up a friend’s offer to live with her in Hyderabad for a change of scenery and to start anew.
Vi is an Indian man from a traditional Hyderabadi family. As most educated Hyderabadis, he spoke Hindi, Telegu, and English. Fifteen years ago he was a bit of a playboy and was struggling with a business partner who was driving their pharmaceutical company into the ground.
During Iz’s first week here she joined a running club where she met Vi. While they couldn’t communicate directly, Vi managed to ask Iz on a date through a translating friend. Their date was spent with an English-French Dictionary serving as translator. At the end of their date, Vi turned to the E section. He pointed to three words: Episode, Epilogue, and Epic. Iz chose Epic.
Vi adopted Iz’s daughter and they now also have a son. Iz used her first husband’s life insurance benefits to buy out Vi’s business partner and to build a family home. Iz and Vi now run their own company and are very successful. They live with Vi’s parents like a traditional Indian couple and spend their summers in France with Iz’s family. Iz and Vi can now speak both French and English.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Party Time!

This weekend I attended my first party- Hyderabadi style! It was quite entertaining although quite different than U.S. style parties. Check out some pics below.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wedding Bells!

The other day I spent a long time in the car. This means there was lots of one on one time with the driver. We were chatting and he asked me what my plans were and if I want to “settle down” in Hyderabad. I told him, “No, I plan on going back to the States where my family is.” To which he replied “Oh, so then you’re here because you want to marry and Indian.” I laughed awkwardly and he said “If you want to marry an Indian let me know and I can arrange your marriage.” Good to know that if all else fails, I can have an arranged marriage to an Indian.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


My father has requested some photos of ASCI so he can get a better sense of where I am everyday. So, here are some shots of the beautiful ASCI campus:
The rose garden:
The croquet lawn:
The main lobby:
The central lawn:
The palm trees by the main building:
The path to the swimming pool, tennis courts, and croquet lawn:
It is quite a beautiful campus.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Weekend Tourism

This weekend my coworker E took me around Hyderabad to see some of the sites. Now I can share the sites with you!
First we went to the Shiparamam Crafts Village where there were lots of bangles and beads:
Here's E and S with a lovely elephant there:
This is the goddess Durga. She's an incarnation of Shiva's wife and represents female strength:
There were lots of terracotta crafts at Shilparamam:
Then we went to a promenade on Hussain Nagar, the lake in the center of Hyderabad. In the distance you can see the famous Buddha statue in the center of the lake. When it was originally constructed, the boat taking it out to its pedestal tipped and the statue spent many years at the bottom of the lake. Finally, they dug it out and put it up. Oh and what's that? Yup, another rainbow....

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Legacy of Caste

I and V own a pharmaceutical laboratory here in Hyderabad. They are very safety conscious and trying to raise the standard of cleanliness and precautionary measures taken in their lab. They provide safety goggles, gloves, special shoes, etc. to all of their employees to ensure that their employees are kept safe. One of their constant struggles here is getting people to use the safety equipment that is provided for them. Yesterday, I broke down in frustration and yelled at the lady who cleans the bathrooms for not wearing the gloves and shoes provided for her. The cleaning lady started crying and replied, "but ma'am, I am clean."

The Point at Which My Parents Have Heart Attacks and Beg Me to Come Home...

This is the street I cross each day to go to lunch...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why Does Democracy Work?

Today at lunch my Indian colleague, an urban planner, asked me how I like the roads here in India. I told him they were terrible and I didn’t understand why there were no rules and nobody followed the ones that did exist. “Because the penalties are very low here for breaking the rules; I think in the U.S. you have very high fines.” I responded that yes, the high fines were definitely a deterrent, so why doesn’t India just raise its traffic violation fines? That way we won’t be risking our lives every time we cross the street to go to lunch. He told me that traffic violation fines can’t be raised because India is a Democracy and the people will protest and the official who raised the fines will be voted out of office. Really? Raising the fines for people breaking the law will cause someone to lose an election?
Surprisingly, this is not the first time I’ve heard this argument made here. I am currently working with a water board whose mission is to become financially self-sufficient. While it seems like common sense to me that a government agency should aim to recover its costs, this is a huge change for them. While the agency is technically bankrupt, they have always relied on Delhi to bail them out. Now, in their goal to become self-sufficient, they need to reduce inefficiencies and revisit their tariff structure. Having done the analysis, our recommendation to them is that they must raise the water tariff. They simply cannot support the cost of cleaning and providing the water without a tariff increase. But no, raising the tariff is not an option. “If we try to raise the tariff, the politicians will replace the district commissioner. People won’t stand for higher water rates.”
Ok, so yes, tax hikes aren’t popular. We know that. However, in the U.S. there doesn’t seem to be THAT big of a link between who we vote for and independent municipal agencies. Also, we seem to understand that penalties have to be sufficiently high to have order on the roads and that someone has to pay for the cost of the water we use. We don’t often protest and throw people out of office for implementing effective and necessary cost-recovery measures. Or do we? Am I just completely oblivious to local politics? Have you ever voted against someone for balancing the budget? While you may not like getting a $400 speeding ticket, do you recognize that you earned it? Do you ever think about that ticket when you enter the voting booth?
Why is it that Americans seem to accept these costs of living in society while Indians don’t? How do you decide who to vote for, or rather, who to vote against? While we could argue for days about the recent effectiveness of U.S. Democracy, there is no doubt that it is more effective than Indian Democracy. Why? What is it about our culture and democratic process that makes it work?
Please leave comments or email me about your ideas… getting people to change their thinking and action about these types of issues is the only way we will ever be able to increase the quality of life in this country.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Emotional Turmoil

I’m sure that based on the heading of this post, you expect it to be about culture shock or homesickness or something else related to the fact that I now live in India. Well, it’s not. It’s about my friends--the same ones who have been causing most of my emotional turmoil for the past 7 years. On Monday night I received the following email:

Ummmm, you guys? I just got this email... What should we do?
---------- Forwarded message ----------

Hi M,
I'm writing because I have a huge favor to ask of you.I know this may come as a surprise, but I'm going to propose to D. Please don't tell anyone because I want it to be a surprise.I need your help because I don't know what kind of ring to get her. Do you have any suggestions?Best wishes,

D and M are two of my best friends. Obviously this was a big emotional shocker since it meant that the first of my best friends was getting married. However, that was just the beginning. On Tuesday morning, I received this email:

Hey guys,
I'm having some relationship trouble. I don't think I like K anymore. Plus, S wrote me a message on facebook, and I think I have some residual feelings for him. Sure, he used to stalk me. But he was so sweet. I am considering breaking up with K and maybe seeing S soon. But I am going to wait until after graduation to break up with K.

Oh shit. Total emergency mode now. K wants to marry D and D is going to dump K. But oh wait, it gets worse…

Actually, I have a confession. S came up last weekend (he told me, he didn't just show up) and I had dinner with him. It was really nice.

So now K wants our help proposing to D and D has confessed that she’s cheating on K with S. Could this be a bigger disaster? Needless to say there was lots of frantic emailing going back and forth about how to handle the situation and many discussions about the nausea, heartburn, and need for alcohol this was causing. How do we tell K to postpone a proposal? How do we react to D cheating on K? Can we tell D that K wants to propose so she realizes she has to tell him about S? There were about 2 hours of constant 2, 3, and 4-way emails across 3 different continents about how to deal with the situation. Then, right as I was on the verge of trekking out in the middle of the night in search of bottle of wine in dry-India, I get this email:

D & M

Thanks guys, thanks.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Green Business Center

Since I've been in Hyderabad, I've spent quite a bit of time at the Green Business Center ( This building is the home of the Confederation of Indian Industries in Hyderabad and was the first LEED Platinum rated building in the country (for more on LEED ratings, go here: They work to integrate environmentally friendly practices in business in India and have been quite successful. They also do a lot of neat international networking such as the Indo-Swedish Workshop on Sustainable Urban Development & Environmental Technology (yes, my colleague and I were the only white people there representing India). Below are some photos of the center:

This tower uses condensation and wind energy to create a cooling system for the building:
There are lots of solar panels on the roof:
Through the tent you can see a small boggy area where there are special plants that remove solids from wastewater as step one of cleaning all their wastewater in order to use it for gardening purposes.