Sunday, October 23, 2011

In the Land of Yoga: This White Girl Sweats (Profusely)

As some friends observed to me recently, I have been rather stingy on the posts. I apologize, life got hectic and sadly blogging fell by the wayside. I am trying to make it up, hence the flurry of posts. Currently, I am in a reflective mood - possibly because we are working out the details of a trip to Kerala aka G-d's Country coming up with two wonderful friends serving in the Gulf. In 2 weeks, when we see them, it will be about a year since our eyes welled up seeing them off to their respective destination. Our friends, posted in the Gulf miss greenery and us, of course - so they are super excited to explore post-monsoon Kerala. This will also be our first venture into G-d's Country. Additionally, my parents arrive in just 6 short weeks and I am in charge of planning our extended foray into the North of the country. My boss is not amused at the moment - I am taking more vacation days than the company allows - but who are we if we are not surrounded by the love and warmth of family - sad, lost souls.

Right, this white girl discovered Ashtanga Yoga. Following in the footsteps of a few foreign service spouses that joined this, for now lets call it "studio," I discovered a wonderful fitness routine. The Orion Health Centre is my happy place, the place where everyone knows my name - in four short months, mainly because the instructors admonish me on forgetting the sequence of my routine - my peaceful place, my balance restoring place, and the only place where I have been able to shed my New York OCD frame of mind. I love going to  Orion and am so grateful that a spouse that recently departed India for an onwards assignment discovered this wonderful space.

The Orion Health Centre does not stray far from the usual business structure - one can get their dental checkup, get an ultrasound and cardiogram, get their blood-work done, and finally get their yoga routine at the very top floor of the complex. This place is not your yoga studio in the Western sense - organized classes with instructors calling out each move, while monitoring how the students move - Ashtanga Yoga at Orion is a place where people go regularly, not so regularly, drop in and out, and people are comfortable sharing recent aches and pains and health issues with the three instructors. You find very few ex-pats at Orion. What you find is a sense of chosen family. Although, I remember VERY few things from Hebrew school, I remember this proverb "G-d chooses your family, but to make up for your lack of choice in that respect G-d lets you choose your friends" - please don't quote me, but this is the gist. I feel this way about Orion - the three people running this place create an atmosphere of comfort, acceptance, and family. I don't know how to explain it exactly, but I tell you whatever they are doing works!

Since I am an economist, I also look at pricing. I've dabbled in yoga in the US, but the price tag of this type of routine is high. In DC a 16 class card costs your $200 USD per month. In NYC you will pay $460 for a 30 day class card - if you go 5 times a week this covers 6 weeks. Now that I started going 5-6 times a week for the month I pay a mere 3000 INR ($ 60 USD) - this buys be 20-24 classes a month. Hot yoga - all the craze in the US - since there is no AC - no extra charge. For 60 USD you get access to three wonderful yoga instructors, who watch over you like hawks or if you want to be less dramatic private teachers. For example, I sweat profusely - someone told me it takes about a year to get used to a different climate - at first this made the instructors nervous - so they would make me lie down and nap for 10-20 minute increments - just to make sure that I don't collapse and hurt myself.I still sweat profusely, but the yoga instructors got used to my dripping form, which does not serve as a precursor to passing out.

Benefits? The 12 unattractive pounds that I put on working comparatively long and sedentary hours in DC as a consultant are now history! I feel more energetic and focused at work - I go at about 7:15 AM every workday - and I feel stronger and less out of breath walking around Chennai. I look more toned and am happier.

P.S. My husband voluntarily - don't let him fool you into thinking otherwise - joined me for yoga on Saturday mornings. I observed a serious temperature difference between coming at 7:15 and 9:00 AM.

Samantha needs no yoga for balance

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Working in the local economy - not impossible and rewarding

So here I am, on Saturday following in my mother's footsteps - I am using amazing Trader Joe's Brownie Truffle Baking Mix to bake. I am not sure TJ's will appreciate this, but my mom made some substitutions. A few years ago my mother one of her moments to brilliance and replaced butter with Disaronno which resulted in out of this world fluffy, light and delicious - sadly not kid friendly - brownies. Thanks mom! Unfortunately Disaronno is unavailable in our commissary I had to substitute with Baileys and am experimenting with adding little pieces of pineapple for a little zing. While mixing the brownies I found myself musing about where I am and what it all means.

While my browser is open to about 20 different Indian microfinance articles - the subject of my next past - I want to step back and think about my life. When my husband decided to join the foreign service, I was rather apprehensive. We were getting a great life - my husband his dream job and we both would get a chance to explore the world in ways that many people cannot even fathom. Great! So here is the hitch, my own job prospects and earning potential would plummet as we crossed the border. You think unemployment in the US is bad - as far as I remember from my spousal orientation session out of all spouses and partners that want to work, about 45% actually succeed in securing jobs. However, I make up a tiny positive part of that statistic, because I am part of the tiny minority that works in the local economy. When asked about local employment, most people sigh and say that finding a job is impossible and working in the local economy turns out to be more difficult lower paid than its worth.

I am here to present the opposite case. Working in the local economy has its tradeoffs and is not for everybody. Personally, I feel I traded pay and vacation for my dream job. In the local economy you don't get both local and US holidays. Your pay, will likely not much lower than you are used to. I mean hell, I think I make less than a pimply teenager flipping burgers in DC. However, in my opinion, if you are willing to look at working in the local economy the payoffs, are tremendous. You can find your dream job, you can reinvent yourself professionally and your education and skills if you are outside of Western Europe - lets get real how many diplomats get to serve in Western Europe - are in high demand!

When I worked as a consultant in DC, I met with my former employer's India expert. She condescendingly informed me that my job prospects were severely limited. According to her, the best I can do for myself in India; teach English and write press releases for a company with business interests in the West. I was devastated, but when I got over the ego blow, I thought logically. I have a MA in international economics from a top tier US graduate school. English is one of two of India's languages of business, surely more opportunities exist in addition to teaching English? I worked really hard. I got out of my shell and networked like a crazy person. I spoke to anyone willing to listen and think about job options in India. I learned about the local job market. I learned about bilateral employment agreements - especially the one between India and the US. I bugged the local mission about work permit procedures. I went on informational interviews.

Finally I hit my professional jackpot - I was connected with a SAIS alum at a DC economic consulting firm and he passed on my resume to the firm's office in Chennai. The alum and one of the senior staffers from the India office interviewed me in DC and offered me a job - as an economist! This all happened before my arrival, so I advise; fulfilling your professional dreams takes time so its never too early to start. While the spouse trains in DC, the capital of networking - talk to people, think about your options, contact your mission's community liaison officer and local US trade representative. I love that I get to get out of the community to do something both challenging and rewarding. I am growing professionally and am satisfied with my choice.

With that said, I could not have done it without a few wonderful people. First of all my loving, supportive and patient husband - he was there cheering me on even when I felt completely insecure.  My wonderful co-worker from my DC consultancy - who is now getting his MIPP at the Kennedy School at Harvard - who connected me with a SAIS alum at my current job. The SAIS alum that made time for me and passed on my resume to the firm's Chennai office. The US Department of Trade officer and his spouse who both pointed me in the right direction, provided me with local economy information, salary levels and negotiation options, and took me step by step through an Indian employment contract, and supported me in my endeavors - even though they knew me via email. I could not have done this without kind and supportive people that I met in my journey to Chennai.

My point - don't give up your dreams and ambitions and settle. Look at your choices and frankly weigh each option's pros and cons. Don't let people tell you that you are not good enough and finding what you want is impossible. You have choices as a diplomatic spouse and choices outside of the mission might be more interesting and rewarding than you expect.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

India in photos - Bangalore September 2011

I accompanied my husband to Bangalore - he went for work - I went to network and explore the city. Ahh, the first place in India where I felt a - gasp - chill, for the first time in 4 months. Here are some pictures:
Beautiful university campus
If you are a male politician and you want to get elected - you kind of need a mustache...
State Assembly building

patriotic steps
a bit disconcerting - and we could not figure out where he was pointing
...just in case you really needed to...spit
Virgin...keeping it classy
Bull temple
Bangles and prayers
looking at this photo - it somehow felt wrong
Mr. Idlee - healthy and delicious - competition at its best

India in photos - Hyderabad August 2011

In August we flew to Hyderabad for the weekend and we absolutely loved it! Hyderabad is gorgeous, the food is amazing and it was so much fun to ramble around for a few days. Here are some of my pictures:
Golconda Fort - gate
we made some friends
Tombs of the Nizam kings
an old hospital
the Charminar - so beautiful
view from the Charminar
Makka Mosque
Makka Mosque up close
State Supreme Court
Tombs of family close to the Nizam rulers - check out your Planet guidebook - this complex is really hard to find, but really worth the search.

State Assembly building
Buddha statue after the rain
Hindu temple complex
view from our hotel room -  The Park