We've officially gone into singe-digit territory with 7 weeks to go until we touch down in India! This week in NJ we are getting ready for the holiday season which, in our house, starts with Thanksgiving Day this Thursday. Historically, we celebrate by cooking and consuming mass quantities of food, reflecting on all that we have had to be thankful for in the year, then retreating to any location which will be conducive to lounging in a sybaritic, bloated state. It will be interesting to see whether or not I aspire to recreate this holiday in India. I'm not making any predictions, though I think by November I'll start pining for turkey. We'll see!
This year we're hosting my parents, Marc's parents, his brothers, and their significant others. I started prepping yesterday by baking pumpkin and apple pies and after work today I switched gears t in full-on Turkey Day mode! We have a lot of cleaning, cooking, and prepping to do between the two of us, but it's all worth it. I'm really looking forward to spending this holiday with them and can't wait to feast!
As far as relocation updates go, this week we sent our Employment (E) and Entry/Dependent (X) visa applications to BLS for processing and tried to demystify the process of getting Stella into India with us. Once the visas come back to us, we'll book our plane tickets, get Stella's preliminary paperwork, and set a date for the packers to come and load everything into the ocean container.
Finding information on taking Stella to India has been like searching for a needle in a haystack. I had to weed through horror stories of lost and dead pets, years-old information which has since become irrelevant, and discussion groups which were rife with interpersonal bickering, only to end up as confused and as lost as when I began. There is so much stuff on the internet and, as we learned, the regulations regarding pet import change quite often. We ended up calling a bunch of pet relocation companies and piecing together recent blog postings from other expat sites to get information on the paperwork required. We can't afford to have her relocated by a company (the estimates were above $3000), so we're going to do it by ourselves. Once I'm confident we've got everything we need, I'll write a post on it. In the meantime, I'm just going to stay overwhelmed on my own ;-)
One thing we are sure of is that we're flying Lufthansa. They're pet-friendly and Stella will be on our flight as Excess/Accompanied Baggage. Originally we wanted her to be on the plane, but the crate regulations are too small for her. We'll have a connecting flight in Frankfurt, where airline staff will take her to the pet hotel so she can recharge before boarding for the second flight to Mumbai. Hopefully, everything will go smoothly.
So now, we're just waiting on the visas. After that, we're official, and can start getting all the wheels in motion for the relocation. In the meantime, there's a turkey leg with my name on it!
My sister and her husband, along with my mom and dad, have just announced that they're moving to Florida as a result of my sister's promotion at work so, instead of just us moving now, it looks like we're all moving. How exciting!
Here at our house, things have been picking up speed as we are enjoying some of our last social events and trying to manage increasing workloads. I have 27 business days left as a working woman (I'm horrified about this), which are completely packed since the company that I work for just launched a new product. Furthermore, we returned from a week of India's dry, warm air on a freezing cold Friday morning in Jersey, and by Sunday evening I was back on a plane for a three-day product launch meeting where I was expected to be alert, energetic, and engaged with my colleagues from 8am to 9pm. It was fun, but I am happy to finally have some down time and a few minutes to recollect our first India trip!
We arrived on a 15-hour nonstop flight from Newark to Mumbai at 10pm. The next flight to Pune was in the morning and driving the Mumbai-Pune Expressway was not safe during the evening, so we were advised to stay at a hotel by Marc's employer. I say "stay" and not "sleep" because, unlike Marc (who slept like a bottle-drunk infant all night), sleep was not something I actually enjoyed until the night before we left. Instead of sleeping, I sat on the windowsill, clutching my tourist-friendly bottled water and watching the night turn into day. Slowly, the cadence unfolded, and signs of daily life in Mumbai appeared. The sky lightened slightly, and the stray dogs sauntered off, away from the trash heaps in the road. Black birds began to gather on rooftops and I saw a thin veil of haze in the air which seemed almost opaque in the ambient light that precedes sunrise. Muslim prayers commenced on loudspeakers and the soothing rhythm of Arabic chanting, bell ringing, and singing concluded just as the sun flooded the street. I saw children walking to school together quietly in their uniforms and heard the sound of a lone auto-rickshaw motor passing by. Gradually, Mumbai's people, cars, motorcycles, cows, and businesses joined in the crescendo and all of a sudden, the city was open and bustling, like the grand finale at a fireworks show.
After a traffic-jammed ride to the airport, we took a 30-minute plane ride to Pune where we were whisked away with surprising efficiency by our hotel's driver. Along the way, I got my first glimpses of life. Construction sites with rows of steel sheds for temporary worker housing, streets filled with shops, roadside food stalls, stray dogs laying motionless under shade trees, modern shopping malls with connected parking garages, young friends walking hand in hand, men spitting paan juice on the street, beggars tapping on car windows with babies slung on their hips. So many new sights and sounds, it was like Christmas for the senses. Then there was the smell.
I have always associated memories with smells, so it is not surprising that even now as I'm writing this, I'm almost craving the saturated air of that city. At times it burned my throat and lungs, like when we were in one of the auto-rickshaws, or autos, as they're called locally. It was heavy with particulate then and rich in diesel fumes. Some folks tie scarves to cover their foreheads, noses, and mouths as they zip around traffic on their motorbikes, but either way no one escapes the aromas of burnt plastic, sulfur, fried food and spices, dust, diesel, and (at times) raw sewage. Not even indoors. In fact, that smell followed us in our luggage and on our bodies all the way back to the states.
While Marc spent most days at the office, I was taken by our relocation agent to several apartment complexes and homes, getting a feel for what to expect. A few apartments were in Kalyani Nagar and Koregaon Park (aka "KP"), desirable neighborhoods close to shopping and social activities. They were on the smaller side and in older buildings, but the streets are quieter and tree-lined, and living there means we'd be close to everything. Across town near a neighborhood called Camp we saw some 3/4 bedroom apartments, locally known as "3BHK or 4BHK" which were large and well appointed, but a bit further out of the way from "life". The big sell for us here would be the modernity of the apartment community and the amenities: a parking garage, outdoor patios, a kitchen with an American-style oven, walk-in closets, Gold's gym membership, pool, and ample storage space, to name some. I was also shown a 6 bedroom, 3 story home near the airport which was interesting, but I don't know what we would EVER do with that kind of space. In the end, though we did fall in love with two of the properties, we are unable to settle on any one apartment since we're moving in January and it's too far in advance to sign a lease. That means we're going to have to figure it out when we get there. In the meantime, Marc's employer has said they'll put us in corporate housing while we choose a home.
After Marc finished meeting his future colleagues at the Pune office and I wrapped up my marathon apartment viewing sessions, we were able to do some touristing, which included a guided trip to Laxmi Market, where one can find anything from eggplants to bangles to oil lamps to temples to cell phones and more. There, as a respite from the mid-day sun, we enjoyed our first fresh glass of sugar cane juice which was pressed right in front of us. I took our guide's suggestion to sprinkle a little salt in my serving, and it was like heaven! Later on, she took us for a traditional lunch of Maharashtrian Thali, which was such a delicious experience I almost wished I had three stomachs.
At the end of our trip I was sad to leave, but ready to be home. I was mildly nauseous from the malaria prevention medication, I missed my dog, and was running out of clean underwear. It will be good to have everything coming with us next time, and even better once we figure out how to get Stella there without issue.
Then, all will be well :-)