1. Destination India, First Impressions (21 July 2004)

In July 2004, my husband and I moved to Bangalore, India.  He was posted as the Regional Representative for Norwegian Church Aid, one of Norway’s largest NGOs.  I went along for the ride.  Here are some of the letters I sent to friends and family in 2004 about our strange life in Bangalore. 

Arrival in Bangalore

We arrived safely, after a 7-hour plane trip from Amsterdam to Delhi, an overnight in Delhi and a 2.5-hour trip from Delhi to Bangalore.  We were met with a warm welcome from our colleagues at Norwegian Church Aid (NCA).  They have been extremely helpful in our logistical needs.

Our first full day in Bangalore was a very tiring administrative day.  It took four hours for me to get our personal effects out of customs.  And would you believe that, in the end, the customs officials UNPACKED everything that we had so carefully packed???!!!  It was a Kafkaesque experience that I will write more about when I have the energy (and the sense of humour) to relive it all.

Hans Einar spent the day in the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) office…he got off easy!  All he had to do was to learn about all the business of NCA in Bangalore while I was traipsing back and forth between people whose names I couldn’t pronounce, whose English I couldn’t understand and trying to figure out what all the different signs on their foreheads meant.  The miracle of it all was that I had Mouli, the NCA administrative officer, with me.  He slid through the bureaucracy like a pro…but it was, nevertheless, Indian bureaucracy at its worst.  I hope I don’t have to deal with much more of it…but I’m sure I will!  I read something about this before coming.  The advice was to keep a sense of humour and relax.  I tried to keep that in mind as our personal belongings were strewn about on the floor of the Bangalore customs warehouse by men who held up boxes of Tampax, asking what they were, and waving a cheap plastic soup ladle around asking if my kitchen utensils have really been used…

It was, needless to say, an “interesting” day.  We are both quite tired.  I guess we’re recovering from the small time difference, lack of two nights’ sleep and the culture shock that is India.

When we arrived in New Delhi on Monday night, we watched a bit of TV in the hotel room.  I said to Hans Einar that I would feel comfortable in India if I could watch “24” and “Judging Amy”.  I no sooner said that then we switched channels and there was 24!  It’s about a year behind but it’s still here.  Then, last night, I was flicking through channels and there was Judging Amy.  The cable TV has about 70 Hindi-language stations with fantastically melodramatic movies and soap operas and several Indian versions of MTV, a lot of English-language channels and good old French TV5.  American sitcoms are everywhere and they even have Oprah.  India seems to welcome some aspects of globalisation…

The food is excellent, as you can imagine, and I am delighting in the mainly vegetarian fare here.  If there is meat to be found, it is only chicken.  I took two people out to a full lunch today.  We had a typical southern Indian meal: 8 different vegetable curries and sauces with rice served on a banana leaf.  Followed by dessert.  Total cost: Rps. 268 (USD 5, NOK 45).  A 650 ml bottle of Kingfisher beer costs Rps. 75 (USD 1.75, NOK 11) (Norwegian smugglers, delight!)

Some first impressions:

  • Understanding Indians speaking English will take some getting used to.
  • Understanding Indian driving habits will require some out-of-body experience.
  • Understanding that cows have more road rights than pedestrians will take some hours of meditation.
  • Understanding that a car horn is a means of communication, all day and all night, will take some good ear plugs and a cold beer.

That’s it for the first installment of news from Bangalore.  Both Hans Einar and I are healthy, glad to be here and excited for the adventures to come (Indian bureaucracy notwithstanding…)

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