Category Archives: Hyderabad

Team Greg

Hillary Clinton wrote a book called “It Takes A Village.”  Moving to a place where you don’t speak the language and don’t understand the customs, makes you appreciate the sentiment all that much more.  A couple weekends ago, I was out and about with my expat friend, Keith, and another expat, Joe who works with Keith.  Keith has been in Superbad for over a year now.  Joe is more of a newbie – he’s been here since the beginning of the year (I think).  We were chatting about different things like our apartments and so forth, and he coined the phrase “Team Greg” as we were talking about the help we have hired.

In India, almost everyone has domestic help of some kind or another.  The day that I moved into my place at Jayabheri, there was a woman that was doing the final cleaning of my place.  Her name was Lahksmi.  Immediately Lahksmi asked if I needed a maid, and although I told her that I worked a later schedule, she insisted on coming at 7am.  I moved in on a Saturday, and sure enough, Sunday morning at 7am my door bell rang and it was Lahksmi – on a SUNDAY at 7am.

On Monday, I went to the management office to discuss with the building manager and I told her that I liked Lahksmi, but I couldn’t have a maid come in at 7am every morning.  After a little back and forth (as it always is when I have something to discuss with someone from India) I found out that Lahksmi also worked for Jayabheri starting at 9:30am each day which is why she needed to come at 7am.

The building manager and I decided it would be best to get a different maid that could come at a later time of the morning.  In walked Maryma.  I escorted Maryma back to my place to show her around and introduce her to my boy, Mac.  I decided that I wanted to be able to sleep in on the weekends, so I told Maryma that she only needed to come Monday thru Friday.

Just a little perspective – What I pay Maryma to come 5 days a week for entire month is equivalent to what I paid a maid to come once every two weeks back in DC!  She cleans the kitchen and dishes each day, she does laundry, sweeps and mops everyday and can help coordinate with the maintenance staff if I need something addressed in my flat.  Her English is not great, but she knows the basics.  She’s very nice and sweet and always has a smile on her face.

(side note – cats and dogs are not common household pets in India and my experience has been that most people are actually afraid of cats.  But not Maryma.  She took to Mac very quickly.  In fact, one day she came to clean and I was already at work.   I came home for lunch and got a call from Maryma, almost in hysterics, as she thought Mac had gotten out of the apartment.  It was so nice of her to be so concerned about him.  Turns out he was sleeping in the wardrobe and she had shut the door without knowing he was inside.)

In a lot of cases, a maid will also cook for the family they work for.  Unfortunately, Maryma is not a cook.  So the search for a cook continued.  I worked with the building manager, Jyothi, and she was able to recommend a woman that had cooked for foreigners before.  A few days later, I met with Patricia and her sister Helen.  They both cook and clean for families, and amazingly their English is some of the best I have heard, even among my professional colleagues.  I hired Patricia to cook for me.

We agreed that she would come to my place twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays – and she would make a few different dishes that I could reheat throughout the week.  The following Monday, we went to the grocery store together so I could know what it is she needs.  From then on, I have been in absolute heaven.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I am more of an “eat to live” (versus a “live to eat”) type of person.  I don’t enjoy cooking.  I definitely don’t enjoy cleaning up from cooking.  I’ve also been working crazy hours, so the thought of making food after working a 15 hour day is about the last thing in the world I want to do.

I can’t even begin to explain how awesome it is to have a cook.  She makes Indian food – usually a paneer curry (or two, cause I love paneer), a chicken curry and sometimes a prawn curry.  Sometimes, she’ll just grill the prawns or the chicken with garlic and other spices without the curry.  She makes side salads, like a cucumber yogurt salad, or a potato, carrots and green bean salad.

She speaks and writes English – so when she comes, she leaves me a note to let me know what I need to get from the grocery store.  She even uses text messages, so when I forgot my list one day and was at the grocery store, I was able to text her to ask what I needed to get.

The last member of Team Greg, so far, is my yoga instructor, Krishna.  I knew when I moved to India I wanted to take up yoga.  I wasn’t sure how I was gonna do it – I didn’t expect I would have my own, personal yoga instructor, but it’s funny how things work out.  I met Krishna through Grindr (if you don’t know Grindr, google it! ;-).  We chatted about yoga and he offered to give me a demo class.  After the demo, I decided it would be great.

Krishna comes to my place 5 days a week and we have an hour-long private yoga session.  We do breathing exercises and stretching.  A big part of our class each day are sun salutations and then we do some asanas.  I’ve become an expert at cobra (and it’s a great stretch for my back).  I’m learning head stand (very tough) and many other positions too.

He’s usually here when Maryma comes to clean, so he’s been helpful in communicating with her and has also made some calls to maintenance for me.

So, that’s the team – Maryma, Patricia and Krishna.  The only other possible addition to Team Greg would be a driver for errands on the weekend.  I haven’t focused on that yet – and not sure that I will.  But the current Team Greg is doing great and helping me make it through my transition to India, day-by-day.  It takes a village!

Puzzle Pieces

Today is actually my 2 month anniversary in Superbad (I didn’t actually realize that until I sat down to write this post).  2 months, already.  I have very mixed feelings about my first 2 months in Hyderabad (in all seriousness).

I think I am trying my best to feel like I am enjoying this adventure so far.  Now, that’s obviously a loaded sentence, right.  “I am trying”  “to feel like”  “I am enjoying this adventure”  But, that’s about right.  I want to feel like I am enjoying this adventure.  But, I am not sure I am actually enjoying it.  But, I am also not sure I am not, not enjoying it either. See.  Not so easy.  (and a lot of “buts” in that paragraph too!).  No comment, TJ, my family reads this blog too!!!

As I talked about in a previous post, communication is so much harder than I ever expected it to be.  It’s difficult and it’s frustrating.  And I think that has had a bigger affect on me than I had thought.  Tonight, for instance, is a perfect example.  I need to find a mini-DVI to HDMI cable to hook my Mac Mini into either a computer monitor or TV.  There are no Apple stores in India, but there is, what I like to call, the “Fake Apple Store” – or the iStore.  They have a fake Apple store in the mall that is about 2 miles from my house.

In order to get there, I would have to get an auto rickshaw (a “rick” or an “auto”).  Getting a rick is a chore because you have to bargain with them.  Everyone does.  But white guys, definitely.  They call it the “foreigner surcharge” – when an Indian colleague walks up to a rick and asks them to take them to Inorbit Mall, the rick driver might start at Rs 60-70.  The actual price should be no more than Rs 40.  But, when me or one of my expat colleagues walks up to a rick, the starting price is Rs 100.  Now, we may still get down to the same price of Rs 40, but it’s a lot more work for me.  In the end, we are seriously talking about a dimes’ difference.  But, in a way it’s the principle.  And more importantly, it’s just not easy.  It takes energy.  It takes patience.

And, you’ve also got the issue of explaining to the guy where you need to go.  I mean, Inorbit Mall is pretty easy – but so should be the Westin Hotel (just around the corner from Inorbit too!).  But one rick driver I had took me past the hotel on the way to another neighborhood.  I even stopped him and told him he passed it.  But he kept going.  We had to turn around when he got to where he thought he was going and then I somehow was able to get him to go back.  Anyway, at the beginning of the trip, before you even get in, you negotiate price.  He and I had negotiated Rs 50.  When we finally arrived at the Westin (after going to Gachibowli and back and getting lost in the little area where it’s located) he wanted Rs 100.  I told him “no” (but I needed change, all I had was a Rs 100 bill).  When he wouldn’t show me the change (never hand the bill over until you see the change) and I kept saying “50”, I walked away.

The guards at the hotel gate decided to come over and see what was going on, so I explained, we had agreed on Rs 50, he refuses to give me change, I told him Rs 50 or nothing.  So, they talk to him in Hindi or Telugu and look at me and say, “sir, he said that you went all the way to Gachibowli on the way here, so it should be Rs 100”  I almost lost it, but calmly I said, “the only reason we went to Gachibowli is because he went the wrong way.  I even stopped him and told him he was going the wrong way, but he went anyway.  I am not paying more because he got lost.”  They talked to him again, and again came back to me and said, “sir, you should pay him Rs 100”  I told them absolutely not, he either gets Rs 50, or I walk away.  In the end, the driver accepted the Rs 50 and it was all over – but again…a headache that I neither needed or wanted!

Then there’s the issue of explaining to the guys at the fake Apple store what it is that I need.  And, being able to understand whatever their response might be.  While their English is going to be much better than a rick driver’s, I’m still not confident that I am being completely understood, or that I understand what they are telling me – or most commonly, BOTH.

All that, along with post-thunderstorm, didn’t make didn’t make riding in a rick seem all that exciting or interesting even.

So, those kinds of issues have definitely hampered my willingness to do somethings because when I look at what it will take to do “the thing”, I think, “ugh, I just don’t have the energy” or the patience.

I’ve also posted that my job can be quite overwhelming at times.  The work hours have been beyond obnoxious (a 25-hour day at the extreme – but 16-17-18 hour days have been a common occurrence.)  But, work itself has also been frustrating.  They definitely do document review differently here than back in the States.  I am actually pretty impressed by a lot of the processes that they have in place.  Some of them go a little too far, but for the most part they (being the Company) are on top of every aspect of a project.  Which, as you can imagine, can be just as bad as it is good.

You know how sometimes you feel like it takes longer to fill out the form about the process than it did to actually do the process thing?  There’s a lot of that going on, definitely.  But, I think the most frustrating part of the process is the fact that the company does not have any formal training program.  I’ve basically been thrown onto projects and it’s been the responsibility of my colleagues to really just teach me the process.  That may not sound all that bad – but when the company is under-staffed and we are working on rush projects, everyone just wants to get the work done (me included), but without any formal training, it becomes a burden on the whole team.

This is not in anyway to disparage the people I have worked with and what they have been able to teach me, but it’s quite frustrating to be thrown in and expected to perform within a system that is completely foreign to me (pardon the play on words) without a real training.

So, after you take out these two main factors – communication and work – it hasn’t left much time, energy or desire to do a whole lot more.  I have yet to spend any time being a tourist in my new city.  My excursions have basically been to the mall or other stores/shops around this area of town.  I’m really hoping I can do that soon.

But anyway, those are the big pieces of the puzzle I am trying to put together of my time living in India.  Right now, I am struggling to get the right pieces in the right places.  But as with most puzzles, start on the edges and then move in.  And, usually it’s getting just one big puzzle piece that makes the other pieces fall into place.

Let’s hope this isn’t a 1000 piece puzzle!  I’m sure I will have more posts about some of the different puzzle pieces to come.

Thanks for reading!!!

How Difficult is it to Communicate in India?

This is my first post about what’s it like to live in India.  As you can imagine, packing up and moving to a completely different side of the world can be quite daunting – for so many reasons.  And, I never thought it was going to be easy, but, I also never thought that communication would be so difficult.  First, a lot of Indians know English.  Our office, even, is considered an English office.  Most people know, at least, the basics (much more than we Americans know of any other language!)

Let’s add to it that I have spent A LOT of money (none of it mine, mind you) on an education that focuses on communication.  As I like to say, “I have an undergraduate degree in Political Science, a masters degree in Communications, and a law degree.  I am classically trained in the art of bullshit!”  But, I am also trained in communicating.  So, when I moved to India, I did not think that communicating would be my biggest challenge (a challenge, mind you, just not the *biggest* challenge!).

Honestly, the biggest challenges are actually what you might think are the little things.  While many people here know and understand English, it’s the vocabulary that causes most of the problems.  Here’s a perfect example – “turn around” versus “U-turn.”  Many of the roads here have medians so you can’t just make a turn where you like (more on Indian driving to come in a further post).  So, in many cases, you have to tell the person driving to make a U-turn, or to turn around.  Either one would be perfectly acceptable in the States – tell a cab driver to turn around is probably, actually, more common than telling him to “take a U-turn.”

But, not here in India.  Most drivers know “U-turn” and that’s it.  The first few times I was out and I was telling a driver to turn around, they looked at me like I was crazy (which I may be, but that’s beside the point).  I kept saying, “turn around, turn around” with hand motions and everything!  Then, one of the drivers said “U-turn?” and I said, “yes, yes U-turn – turn around” and from then on, I realized that “turn around” was just not gonna work here in India – and I would have to adjust to “U-turn.”

Okay…so that’s just the first example – and part of the frustration.  You never quite know – until you’re in the thick of it – what the magic “word” is going to be in order to open the gates to a clear conversation!

Like I said, I knew things would be tough – but I didn’t realize how tough it would be to communicate.  I might just need to look into Hindi lessons here soon!

Shifting to My New Home

This weekend was the big move – or “shift” as they like to say in Hyderabad.  It was a fairly easy affair – about 10 suitcases and a couple of boxes of stuff.  Got most of it done on Saturday and then spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday cleaning up and running errands.  Still lots of work to be done, but it’s coming along – and I am really enjoying my new home.  I think Mac is too!  At first, he spent some time under the bed in the third bedroom – but now he’s treating the whole place like home.  I even converted the Pooja Room into his very own hang out.  I put his food and his toys and his little bed in there.

I promise to do more updates more frequently now that I have internet at home.  Oh, I also have cable – and they show American TV.  I realized that I can catch up on the Voice and some other shows.  Last night I watched 2 episodes of the Practice!  Oh, it’s nice to have TV back in my life!

Ok.  More updates to come.  Along with pics.

Greg, Tell Me! and I Have Doubts!

I’ve passed the two week mark.  First, my apologies for not updating the blog much so far. The biggest reason is because my only internet connectivity right now is through my phone – so writing an extensive blog update is a little difficult on an iPhone/iPad.  This weekend is our company’s anniversary celebration at the Marriott in Hyderabad.  I just checked in and low and behold, I have regular internet, TV and a comfortable bed! 😉

The second reason I haven’t written much is because I have been working crazy hours the last week and a half.  Talk about getting thrown into the fire!  I began on a project immediately and it is one of those doc reviews that has an almost impossible deadline – but thank god it’s a quick turn around.  The past week and a half, I have worked no less than 12 hour days.  I think Mac is wondering not only where the heck he is – but where the heck I am, most of the time!

Some quick highlights of the first 2 weeks …

“Greg, tell me!” and “I have doubts”

My favorite Indian phrase so far is “tell me”.  Whenever I call for the car to pick me up to take me to work, I say, “Hi, this is Greg.” and I get back, “Hi Greg.  Yes, tell me!”  Everyone says it.

My second favorite phrase, coming mostly from the people I am managing is, “I have doubts.”  “I have doubts” is used in the same way we would use, “I have a question” – but my colleagues use “I have doubts.”  It makes me chuckle!

After this week, my focus will be on finding a permanent home here in Hyderabad.  I’ve been looking around at a few places.  You definitely get a lot of space for the money here  – but the quality of the apartments can range dramatically.

Also, I know people are looking for pics – and I promise – once I am able to get out and about, I’ll definitely post some pics.  In the meantime, I am doing well.  Mac is doing well.  It’s a lot to get used to all of the differences living in another culture – but all is good!

I hear DC went from snow storm to summer in about 10 days flat.  Oh, how I don’t miss the temperature swings.  It’s been consistently 100 degrees (and above) here in Superbad!  And it is a dry heat (thank goodness).

That’s all for now.  More to come soon.