Friday, April 5, 2013

Expat Diaries

Okay so when I get on blogger there's a feed of the new posts of the all the blogs I follow and I totally saw someone participating in the "Expat Diaries" link-up and I was like "yes! I've been looking for something like that!"

So yes, I am still posting for Adoption April later today, but for now I want to do my inaugural post for the expat diaries link-up.

Now, I'm a lazy blogger a lot of time. (Okay, probably not so much lazy as easily distracted by new ideas.) So I've actually never told you guys the story of my move... at first I was just overwhelmed at arriving in India and not in a mood to blog, and then I was dealing with culture shock and then getting married and wanted to blog about that, not the past. Well today I am still not telling that story, because I want time to do it justice. But I'm making a commitment that next week I'll be doing that.  This week I'll just give a general overview of why I moved to India, and how it's been since I got here.

Ryan and I
It really all started when I met Ryan, my future husband, in June of 2010. We met online on a Christian dating site ( and I tell that amazing story (it's so much more interesting than 'we met online' seriously) up on the tab saying "Our Story". Ryan is Indian, and lives in India.

At first when we'd talk about a future, it was sort of assumed he'd move to America. But the truth was, it didn't really make sense. I was one of the one in five people in my age group that were unemployed (according to the 2010 census) and I couldn't sponsor him. I couldn't even get myself on my own two feet, living with my parents, how was I supposed to support him? Plus, we looked at the fiance visa process. It is so difficult to bring a foreigner into America, especially from India. (It's not that hard from say, European countries.)

our garden here in India
The first time I said to Ryan, "why don't I move to India?" he actually cried. He'd been engaged in the past (I had too, actually) and she was also American and he'd tried to get a visa then and had been denied (due to not enough evidence, according to them) and when that happened, well, she cheated on him. The idea of her moving to India had never occurred to her. This also made me feel better. I trusted Ryan, but my family and friends didn't. They were afraid that he was trying to get a green card, so knowing that he'd consider me moving to India assured me their fears were unjustified.

I'd never actually been out of the country. It sounded like a great adventure at first. We reached this conclusion in spring of 2011, I think, that when we tried to move together I'd move there. We were still hoping at that time that he'd come to visit me once before hand.

local market
And we prayed about it. And it was in my praying, over the summer of 2011, that God confirmed
to me without a doubt that I was meant to go to India, and that He has plans for me over here. That was thrilling, and overwhelming. And that's about all I can say in a blog post, some things are private.

Ryan left his job that he was in at the end of summer 2011 because we wanted to get married and he wasn't making enough to support both me and him, since the biggest hurdle to the Indian process is that I can't legally work here until he and I have been married a year. So he knew he had to find a job that could support both of us. He was also living with his parents, though that's typical of unmarried people in India, so he'd not really bothered to be ambitious about his paycheck before. He prayed before leaving his job, and was confident he'd find something right away.

view of homeless from back of autorickshaw
But he didn't. That's not to say he didn't get job offers. The Indian job market is much greater than the American one. But they weren't for enough money. It was six months until that happened.

And once he got that, the saving up for my move began!

Because of this six months where we were both unemployed (well really five months, I worked for a month in there as a cashier during the Christmas season and was able to save up for my passport) we had to drop the dream that we'd meet in person before the move. But God had been so faithful to prove to us that He intended us for each other that we didn't really need to meet in person.

I'd never been outside of the US.  Ryan had lived in California from when he was 10 to when he was 16, so he was somewhat versed on America (though I am totally east coast so it's been funny when sometimes his idea of "American" is really west coast and so I shock him.)

My passport (which was ridiculously hard to get, they flagged me and I had to send in paperwork
Ryan and I at India gate
including childhood yearbooks. Yes, you heard me right) came through in April 2012, I think. Then we applied for my visa in October, because we had the money for the ticket. We wanted to give me the most amount of visa time after arrival. As soon as I got my visa, we bought my ticket, and suddenly I was leaving America in three weeks.

My family freaked out. I had told them about this the whole process, they had driven me to apply for my passport and visa, but still somehow they seemed to think it wasn't happening.

My mom forbade me to go... that didn't last. The last few weeks were a whirlwind while everyone close to me took me out to lunch or dinner, saying goodbye. I remember with love my last day at my church when they prayed over me to send me on my way.

Indian mall at Christmas time: any excuse to sell stuff
And then I hopped on a greyhound (which was taking me from South Carolina to New Jersey) and said goodbye to my parents. I'll tell that story, the story of my trip, next week.

After arriving, I found Ryan to be exactly who I thought he was... except a half inch shorter. (We were supposed to be the same height, but I'm just a tad taller!) And there was indeed chemistry.

The first two weeks I was in happy vacationer mode.

Then the culture shock set in.

It hasn't gone away. It's changed though. I guess it's less of a shock and more of a slow, steady upset. It's frustrating.

Don't get me wrong, I don't really think my issue is with India so much as with Ryan's family's expectations on how I should react to India.

local park
The paperwork has been crazy. I wanted to sit down with his family and discuss our marriage plans
the week I arrived... Ryan said give it a few weeks. Then the holidays and culture shock rolled in (I arrived on November 29th) and we really didn't get to talk about it until late December, and even then we talked more about the actual paperwork.

Ryan had looked into the process. Here in India getting married by each religion requires a different "Marriage Act" and then there is the "Special Marriage Act" which is secular and basically getting married in court. That one was the recommended one for expats because of, well because the Indian government is strange and unpredictable.

street in our neighborhood
My culture shock was overwhelming me. I felt unsafe everywhere. I'm not talking paranoia like I think India is vastly unsafe (that's what his mom thinks, and Ryan to an extent, I have more confidence that God will protect me) but that socially and emotionally I had no "home." The absolute most stressful place is where I live  because relations with in laws you just met who have an only child (very protective) and who are very, very, very particular about every aspect of their life, where every action or inaction on your part is scrutinized and usually from a negative lense... well that's stressful. And while getting out in day to day India is definitely less stressful, (and can be fun) the social rules here don't come naturally to me (I'm getting more used to them) so I was embarrassing Ryan because people will stare. And that caused fights between Ryan and I. So unsafe at home. Unsafe away from home. I was ready to explode, and did. Once.

And then Ryan's mom had a heart attack. Yes. Within twenty four hours of the one time I lost my
temper with her. Yes. Seriously. She survived. She has very uncontrolled diabetes, and that had caused high blood pressure... which fighting with me made worse. But she's never followed a good diet (and still doesn't.) I'm pretty sure Ryan's dad has disliked me every since, and I'm not sure that will ever go away.

Ryan and I in the back of an auto rickshaw
Buying the plane ticket and visas and all had wiped out our savings (Indians don't make as much per month as Americans) and then we found out that getting married in court would cost NINE TIMES what we thought it would, so we didn't really have giant wedding fund money. So we decided to have a quiet at home reception after the court ceremony and then probably in the summer have a church wedding where we could invite everyone.


It was awful, we fought for a week. Finally, we gave into them because we figured that we'd be happy anyway because we were getting married, but if they were unhappy because we had our way they'd put a damper on the occasion  Plus, we were scared of his mom having another heart attack (which she is quick to remind us of every time we do something that she doesn't like. Which is daily, because she'll threaten a heart attack over shoes being in the wrong place or an unmade bed.)

Ryan enjoying pizza at a food court
It was a lovely reception they threw for us at a local hotel. It was still pretty much the same crowd we would have invited to the house (about 30 guests) but much more formal. And I enjoyed it. But I admit it's not what we wanted because a) it raised the standard for the church wedding because we'd be BLESSED to be able to afford something as nice for it, and honestly I don't think we'll be able to do it! and b) lots of people who couldn't make it/weren't invited were upset because they thought this was the big to do and they couldn't be a part of it.

We still haven't exchanged vows, that wasn't part of the court marriage. We did exchange rings,
and they prayed blessings over us, but that's all. There is still a wedding, hopefully, in the future.

But since then, relations with his family have gotten worse. They are very closed people, so they probably don't like that I'm blogging this now, and so I won't go into any detail. But we are all in agreement that Ryan and I should move out, the sooner the better, in order for us to have any relationship in the future.

nearby high rises
Unfortunately this haste means we're having to spend every dime as he's earning it, getting stuff together for our new place. Ryan has never lived on his own, and I only moved here with two suitcases. So we have no furniture or appliances, no pots and pans or dishes, nothing.

We received a few wedding gifts (notably dishes, salt and pepper shakers). We received some cash, but we got sick on our honeymoon and were too ill to travel, so that money had to go to buying another night at the hotel.

Ryan's parents have been generous in this, they are giving us some furniture and an appliance. And one of Ryan's friends has a spare stove we can have for a while. But we still don't have a water filter (the water here is unsafe directly from the tap) or a refrigerator.

But we can't move out until I get my entry visa. I came here on a tourist visa (which is the right one, there is no fiance visa for India) and now that we're married we have to convert it to an entry visa. On Wednesday we had to go to Delhi to drop off paperwork, and now it's a waiting game. We were told that we should hear something in 30 days... but we only have 19 days until my tourist visa expires!

us dressed up for our wedding celebration
In addition to this, when I came my parents insisted I have a return ticket, since I had never met Ryan in person or been to India. That return ticket is scheduled for next week, and there's a large fee to move it, but not as large as buying a new ticket in the future would be... my sister is getting married later this year, but hasn't set a date yet. So I wanted to move it so I could got to her wedding, and we would only have to save up for my return to India ticket... But since she still doesn't have a date for us, now Ryan and I are talking about maybe we aim for Christmas and see if we can save up money for Ryan to come to the USA as well. Which would mean missing my sister's wedding. So we don't know.

In the midst of this, we still need to actually pay for our own apartment, and we haven't given up on the church wedding, but the relations with his parents are making that seem impossible. I don't mean to totally vilify them, they are his parents and they are being helpful. But everything I do they take the wrong way so that I feel like I'm walking through a minefield on a daily basis.. there may not be any explosion, but there's the potential for one at any moment. It's extraordinarily stressful.

I haven't done a lot of expat musings because I get kind of down, and normally I don't post this
picture of me from Easter... enduring
kind of post because I'm afraid it will get back to his parents and they are so unpredictable and hard to live with, I just couldn't handle that. I do know that a few friends from India read my blog, but I ask you to just keep this to yourself, out of compassion. I've been too used to my blog being a place I can talk about the stresses in my life, I've been trying for months to keep this in, and I just can't hold back any longer. Indians seem to be much more private than Americans, but I'm American and I just can't do it.

Ryan and I are clinging to God, so that's probably why this is happening. And God has been faithful to reveal to me some of His Will for me in the midst of it. But spiritually, I am malnourished compared to what I had in America. I am struggling to find true fellowship and "meat" not "milk." And our efforts to reach out on that front have not only been denied, but often in rude and unkind ways, so we've been praying about what to do on that front. I've been put places before by God to uplift other Christians, but always He's provided for me spiritually in another part of my life at the same time, so that I'm not withering. I feel sort of wither-y.

Sorry, I wish this was feel good. But I also wish my life was. I'm not saying it's awful. Ryan is wonderful, this is certainly an adventure, and I know I'm in God's plan for my life. But there is so much on us right now, not enough money, and the potential at any moment for it to explode. And it's really hard because I'm home alone pretty much all day, and my American friends are sleeping and the few Indian friends I've made are working. And I don't know enough Hindi to get out on my own.

Well I guess that's just my life right now as an expat! (And PS. I'm told by people who used to live with their in laws that this will all improve drastically as soon as we get out... I hope so!)


  1. Big hugs!!! I could never live with my inlaws, and I´m really not fond of having them come visit overnight, so I can only imagine what it must be like.

  2. Pam, I am really proud of you for standing up and saying "yeah, this is how it is." No sugar coating, no pretend make-believe everything is castles in the sky. That took guts.

    I think you guys working together to move out and start your life as husband and wife, not husband and wife and extended family is a wise idea. You are right- it will be tough. In the future, when you are in your "forever home" surrounded by your children, you two can laugh about how you started married life with nothing but a tomato plant growing in a bucket and a hot plate.

    You two have each other. And you have God. And as long as you continue to cling to him and to Him, and work hard, and make those sacrifices, you WILL be rewarded. Stay strong. Stay positive. And know that out there in internet land there are total strangers who keep you in their prayers.


Thanks so much for comments, they delight me! Please keep your comments civil and while I read every comment, I reserve the right to delete ones that are especially negative. Thanks!


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