Monday, April 30, 2012

The Wet Washroom

The most asked about topic since coming to India relates to the Indian "washroom." The month of May will mark the 1 year anniversary 2 rolls of toilet paper entered my flat, and as you can see, they are alive and well, and mostly still whole. I thought now would be the time to introduce you to what is referred to as the "wet washroom."


When locating most public washrooms, you'll typically see a sign hanging the door stating whether the washroom is "dry" or "wet."  A "dry" washroom means you'll find toilet paper and no sprayer or bucket of water/cup (although sometimes they are there and the "dry" just means you'll have the TP option). "Wet" generally means no toilet paper and instead, a sprayer or a bucket with a cup. Now, I can't say I'm a bucket/cup fan. Using that option generally means needing to strip from the waste down, because you WILL get water on your pants. And many times it can be tough to find a "dry" place to hang your drawers in such a washroom as the folks before you might have splashed around a bit. Not to mention, a certain amount of friction might be required to properly clean certain areas.

So when I was deciding what my flat HAD to have, I went with sprayers (and as you can see, Western toilets). These are the types you find attached to kitchen sinks in the US. Each washroom has one sprayer next to the toilet. This is used after you do the business in place of toilet paper. It's considered to be a much cleaner option. Not to mention Indian toilets aren't meant to handle large quantities of TP nor is the sewage system that sophisticated.
 Additionally you'll see that there is no bathtub or shower stall. You will however, find a showerhead mounted on the wall. This gives a while new meaning to the term "wet" washroom. After your shower, you can squeegee the floor and things will be pretty much dry instantly. Additionally you'll notice a tank above the toilet. That's known as the Geyser (pronounced Geezer, like an old man). It's essentially the water heater. Please note the size. There's a switch on the outside of the washroom that you flip on 10 mins or so before you take your shower, which buys you like 20 gallons of hot water. That means getting wet, turning off the water, soaping up, turning the water on, rinsing off, etc. It also means you know how to take a very efficient shower if you want to take a hot one. Generally the ground water is warm enough to where I don't bother turning it on in the first place. You can achieve a "warm enough" shower without it.
Additionally in the washroom you'll notice an orange bucket, and inside that - a cup. This bucket is essentially a wash bucket. It's used when the water is turned off (which is frequent in the summer due to a mass water shortage) whether you're using the toilet or needing to shower. It's a scant supply of water, I can promise you that. It's imperative that whenever the water is turned on you fill the bucket. Keeping the buckets filled at all times is vital. You don't want to be in a precarious situation without water handy. Trust me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Visa Misconceptions

There's a widespread misconception that marrying someone of a different nationality grants instant permission to go between the two countries for any reason at any time, or that somehow immediate citizenship is granted for both parties in the country their spouse is from. I can assure you this is not the case.
As I approach the one year anniversary of my arrival in India, it was time to renew my Employment visa and my Resident Permit. The Employment visa is the only visa India offers that allows me to work and be on Indian payroll. As I don't have the option of sitting home without income, I had to renew.
The renewal process was as daunting as the initial visa application process. The following documents were required:
1.      Original Passport with employment visa;
2.      Original Residential Permit issued by the FRRO;
3.      Six passport size colour photographs;
4.      Personal signed request letters to the FRRO from you;
5.      Two copies of the visa extension form duly signed and photo affixed on each copy
6.      Copy of your passport bio page and employment visa;
7.      Copy of your FRRO residential permit;
8.      Original lease deed (in case the FRRO officer asks this for cross-verification); - Please carry old as well as renewed (new) lease deed
9.      Copy of house owner's proof of residence and PAN card;
10.  Copy of duly executed Addendum to Offer Letter (Employment Contract);
11.  Copy of duly executed original Offer Letter (Employment Contract);
12.  Copies of your pay slips from June 2011 to March 2012; - Please print each salary slip separately and make sure that the text is legible.
13.  Copies of the tax statements you sent us - Please carry all the tax statements you have.
14.  Copies of TDS challans from the month of July 2011 to March 2012
15.  Copy of company Articles of Association and Memorandum with certificate
16.  Original signed visa extension request letter from company
17.  Original signed No Indian available certificate along with a copy of your updated resume
18.  Original signed authority letter in the name of law firm affiliate
19.  Original signed Undertaking letter from company
20.  Original signed proof of address letter from company
21.  Original signed Monthly salary certificate from company
22.  Original signed Annual salary certificate from company
23.  Original signed TDS deduction letter from company
24.  Copy of HR representatives passport or PAN card or Election card as proof of identity and copy of her residence utility bill as proof of address (being the guarantor
25.  A Demand Draft drawn in favour of "DDO, SIB, Hyderabad" for Rs. 7500 towards visa extension fees to be paid to the FRRO.
     The above list is what is required to simultaneously renew both the visa and the permit for one year. It allows me to work in India, to live in India, and most importantly to remain with my husband. Without the approval, I can't be here. There is no instant citizenship just because I'm married to an Indian. Subsequently, had the documents not been approved, he wouldn't be able to jump on a plane and return to the US with me. It doesn't work that way. It's not that simple. 
      Prior to coming to India we had looked into obtaining a Fiancee visa for him, which is a 90-day visa that is granted for foreigners to come to the US and get married. We were told the process of approval takes 180 days. Six months just to obtain a 90 day stay in the US! Does that sound like an easy process? Even once that's granted and the marriage happens only then the greencard or other visa process can begin. It's not easy and it will surely result in time spent apart.
      After discovering that, the only logical option was for me to come to India. While it hasn't been easy, I'm with my husband, which above all is my only objective. We'll start investigating visa options for him now, at least so he can come and meet my family, but it won't be quick and easy and just because he's married to a US Passport holder does not grant any assurance that it's a guarantee. Regardless of the time it takes or the challenges we face, we are together and that's as much as I could ever ask for.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rest In Peace

This week we lost another mother. This one from a throat/lung cancer combo. It's the fourth parent my small office team of 20 or so associates has lost in the past 6 months. We have another dad, facing his second round with mouth cancer who is likely to be leaving us within the next month or so. The doctor's say there's nothing they can do. It's tragic. It's incredibly sad, and it's completely inexcusable. While I have yet to face the loss of a parent, it doesn't seem right that so many, at such a young age are facing such a situation.
It lead me to believe, and wrongly so, that India somehow had a higher than average mortality rate. So I researched it. According to the CIA World Factbook (, India experiences 7.48 deaths per 1000. It surprised me to learn that this is less then the rate experienced in the US at 8.38/1000, the UK at 9.33/1000, and Germany at 10.92/1000. The same countries claim the following at birth life expectancies: India at 66.8, the US at 78.37, the UK at 80.05, and Germany at 80.07. Indians can expect to die more then a decade before many in countries with even higher mortality rates. Maybe that's why I'm seeing a concentration of it impacting my young team.
I've heard many claims about the Indian medical system. A US friend had appendicitis and subsequently required surgery while travelling in India. At a follow up visit, her US doctor told her that if you have to have a laparoscopy anywhere, India's the place to do it. Elective centers are on every corner, specializing in cosmetic surgery, weight loss options, and fertility treatments, yet we can't keep our parents alive long enough to see their grandchildren grow.
Indians are dying every day from seemingly preventable diseases such as Malaria, Dengue, Typhoid. Diabetes, Cancers and heart disease are going undetected due to lack of affordable health care and as a result, the belief that symptoms can be controlled through self medication and natural/traditional healing options, without proper diagnosis.
Here, you can just walk up to a medical shop and get everything from laxatives to thyroid medication. What used to require me to go to the Endocrinologist twice a year for lab work in order to squeeze a prescription out of the doctor, can be procured by walking up to the closest medical shop (there are four on my street alone) and asking for the drug by name. If you don't know the name of the drug, you can just explain the symptoms to the person behind the counter, which results in them handing you an often unlabelled strip of tablets. No dosage info, no ingredient info. The only numerical information on the package that anyone seems to heed is the expiration date. Exchange the unknown strip of tables for a few rupees and you're on your way. No prescription required.
I don't know if it's the cost of consultation and treatment, the cost of procedures, the self medicating option, or genetics/environment that are forcing us to lose our parents early, but I don't accept it. I can't. My great grandmother lived to be in her nineties. My grandmother (her daughter) turned 87 last week and still lives on her own, drives a car, and works part time because it's a nice way to get out and meet people. I wish I had half the energy she does. Yet I see folks much younger, twenty years younger in fact, that are dying at an age that I just can't comprehend. I refuse to accept it. While my heart is breaking for those I know dealing with the loss of a loved one, I find myself incredibly angry that it ever had to happen. People here just accept it. It's all they know. Why? Why does it have to happen? Why is it acceptable just because this is the way it's always been? Somethings gotta change.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bottle It Up

The concept of turning a blind eye is an art form in India. Let me give you a few examples:
Public urination - Traveling just a few kms down any road and you'll spot at least l person, any time day or night, relieving themselves. That's a fact. If you don't see one, your eyes are closed.
Bathing in public - You gotta be clean right? No matter who's watching you soap up.
With an estimated 2011 population of 1,189,172,906 people are makin' babies....somewhere, at some time. 
Comparatively, in the US: 
We close the door to our private bathroom when we need to go 1 or 2. Well....most of us. I even know a few folks that will hold it until they get home to use their own bathroom because the thought of going into a public restroom, complete with latching door, is more exposure then they can fathom.
The shower curtain industry is alive and well. I'd venture to guess ALL homes in the US have either a curtain or a door on their shower.
Fewer babies are conceived per capita, with the US population somewhere around 311,800,000 in 2011. Western prudish ways, including indecency laws, prohibit public procreation.
So that brings me to my point. Things happen here. In public. People see no shame in letting it all hang out. No one looks around sheepishly if they experience a bodily function in a crowd of people. Very few apologize for letting out a loud belch, or other gastric murmurings within earshot of others.
Additionally, what many US citizens would only say/do in the privacy of their own home, or at least behind closed doors in frantic whispers, is done in wide open spaces here. Or at least the space that's left after you crowd 1,189,172,906 people into a single country. I have been appalled on a few occasions to witness parents whooping their children, husbands whooping their wives, men whooping one another, verbal whooping between day laborers, you name it. Daily I'm a whooping witness.
While many people fantasize about having that public catfight and really calling someone out in the hopes of humiliating them in front of a crowd, I see it here ALL THE TIME. Yet no one seems to care. If I hear shouting going on outside my door, I go stand out and watch the action. And everyone else just passes by. Auto's just simply drive around them. No one stops. No one seems to notice.
I don't know what shocks me more, the fact that people feel it necessary or acceptable to carry out such behavior in public or the fact that none of the public seems to give a damn. Perhaps it's my prudish Western mentality that finds it so disgraceful. I feel the need to control myself in these situations because my instinct is to tell them to shut the hell up, or at least  to carry out their business in private.
I have been trying to convince myself that perhaps this is a better way. Get it out there. Air your grievances. Make sure there are several witnesses...let off some steam. But I just can't shake my prudish American instincts of feeling that it's demonstrating a lack of class, education, and is just down right rude and disrespectful. Not only to the person you're shouting at, or those passers by, but disrespectful to yourself as well. I couldn't look my neighbors in the eyes of they overheard between myself and ANYONE else like I've seen/heard too many times to count. Bottle it up.