by Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach
Going to India on a regular basis to spend time with family is a habit for us. We been going every year since we were married. Many NRI's (non-Resident Indians) living in different countries often visit their families on a regular basis. Preparing for regular visits abroad can be a lot of work. Do you also visit India regularly (or have your family visit you abroad)? How is your experience of readying for the journey the same or different from ours?
Some may wonder how preparing to go abroad is ‘fun’. Wouldn’t the fun come once the travel begins, or better yet, once landed and settled into the exotic location? For us, for me, every step of the process is fun!
Applied for and received my ‘entry visa.’
With an entry visa, when I land in India as an American citizen married to an Indian citizen, I can have my passport stamped with what is considered a ‘spousal visa.’ This visa allows me opportunities over a tourist visa because with a tourist visa if I happen to have to stay in India longer than six months at a stretch, I’d have to leave and come back. With a spousal visa, this is not necessary. I am sure there are other benefits, which I am eager to have revealed to me.
Note: This entry visa was not what I was told it would be by the visa officials. I was told that with an entry visa, once I landed in India, when going through immigration, I should tell the officials that I am a spouse, show my marriage certificate and they would change the visa, stamping it with a spousal visa. Nothing was further from this truth, and wouldn't that be just too easy? But, of course I did not question them at the time, and believed them. What this entry visa turned out to be was a six month single entry visa. Once stamped, it cannot be reused, so even if I left India within that six month period and wanted to return, I would need another visa. I still am unclear how the single entry visa has any advantage over a simple tourist visa. That being said, luckily the visa 'bozos' did not cancel my ten year tourist visa, which expires in 2016, so when I did reapply for a tourist visa in 2009, they sent it back saying you had two valid visas at the same time! What dumb luck! So, what is a spousal visa for a foreign spouse of an Indian citizen and how does it differ from a tourist visa? And, wouldn't the application procedures be a bit more rigorous (such as interviews, background checks, etc.) than simply getting a visa pasted in a passport? If you have any thoughts or experience on this, do let me know by e-mailing me. Thanks!
Purchased flight tickets.
We prefer Emirates, because going via Dubai, the experience can’t be beat. The bathrooms are what I rave about- so clean you can see your reflection on the bathroom floor. With the ‘Indian style’ and Western style toilets in one bathroom, who can go wrong?
Prepared homemade pickles.
I enjoy eating homemade lime and lemon pickles, and make a batch every year. It seemed to be good weather around here the last few months, though chilly, we have had plenty of sun, good for curing the tasty treats.
April and May:
Making lists and purchases.
It is this time that we collect lists of wanted items, mostly through e-mail. This year I also requested them to visit their favorite store websites (Payless Shoes, Old Navy, etc.) and send me back links to specific items they would like. In addition to clothes and shoes from these stores, Banana Republic and Aeropostale are also on the list. In addition to wardrobe needs, other items desired are cosmetics, dollar store reading glasses, flannel back table clothes, plastic clothespins, and other small odds and ends. Though many of these items are made in India and sold in US (in fact some items I purchase and take to them fall right into this category), some may not be sold in India.
Making my handmade soaps.
Actually this is an on going process. But, since I hooked them on it, I am sure my chettan* won’t let me within a 1,000 yards of the house without the soaps!
I, like the millions of Desi women traveling back and forth to India, find it much more easy to pack up my silk saris and dry clean only Indian dresses and take them to India for this service. It not only actually saves money, but the worry of American dry cleaners understanding how to handle these dresses. I have tried to dry clean salvaar kamiz in the U.S., and the dry cleaner ruined it completely!
Stitching to be done
Along with the saris old sari blouses and saris are collected for donations in India. Sari blouses are taken to the cut-piece shop before donation to match colors for taking and getting new sari blouses stitched. Yet again another task I tried to do here, through an Indian tailor, but the cost was too high to try that again!
The dreaded packing takes place at this time. Heaps of gifts are found throughout the living room, along with small piles of our own clothes and a few shoes. We take few toiletries as we end up buying things when we land there. This leaves more room for gifts! So, when packing all these gifts, the weight of the boxes (suitcases) increases at alarming rates. Over the years, the airlines have dramatically decreased the weight that is allowable for check-in baggage (check with your airline as sometimes it varies), so we weigh our bags after packing. We used to put this on a bathroom scale, but that did not work out very well. A travel tip we stumbled on a few years ago was using a weighing machine that weighs bags by hanging them, the gravity calculates the weight. We have found this weighing method to be accurate and a lot less cumbersome and awkward than a bathroom scale. On our most recent trip, we decided to take it to India and leave it there. We have noticed that we can pack a lot more items in America within the same weight limits than in India. This is because in many parts of India, the humidity (moisture) level is high. Everything is saturated with moisture, and no matter how dry clothes and other types of fabrics may seem, they do accumulate some weight by the humidity in the air. We were surprised in our last trip, when we packed in Kerala how many less items fit in the suitcase. There was so much empty space in there compared to when we packed in America. So, though the clothes gain weight, they do not gain bulk, it appears they lose bulk but gain weight! Interesting irony, huh. Anyhow, if you're curious about this weighing machine, I have linked to the exact one we used to the left. Check it out and let me know how it works out for you!
Another Kind of Preparation…
These materialistic preparations are nothing new for most people traveling to India to see family. However, there is another type of preparation required by some, who like me did not grow up in extended families, or those living away from India for quite some time- the mental preparation of staying for weeks in an extended family situation. This is especially important piece of information for non-Indians wanting to marry an Indian from India. When going to visit family in India for any length of time, hotels and resorts are rarely used as a place to stay- one generally stays in the family home. (The exception to this rule is by my estimation if tours are planned while in India, such as honeymoons or excursions away from home.) This is also true when the situation is reversed and family from India come to visit U.S. or other foreign countries.
As for me, I don’t mind this at all. I would find not only a dearth of family experience by not staying in the home with them, but a lack of understanding of how life works in this other culture on a daily basis. This kind of interaction is not understood by staying in a hotel or even in other types of accommodations meant for travelers.
I’d be interested to know your experiences in preparing your travel to India in the comments below. Thank you for reading.
*Chettan means Elder brother in Malayalam. This is how I refer to my brother-in-law.
** This Fun Friday is published on Saturday because I had way too much fun on Friday to have time to publish it!!