MORE PHOTOSEver wonder what it's like to live overseas for the U.S. Department of State? Here's a blog entry by Tara Rigler, a civil servant working as the Deputy Press Attaché at U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.
Greetings from New Delhi! I have been here almost 9 months, but it seems like only three -- there is never a boring moment in Public Affairs. Over the summer, I had four weeks of work-related trips. The first week of July, I took some Indian journalists out to the U.S.S. Nimitz via the Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) flight. We departed from Chennai, flying almost 480 miles to the ship while it was still off the coast of Sri Lanka. The members of the press that accompanied me were great. (despite some of them getting sea sick!) Prior to the trip, most of the stories in the Indian press were focused on the nuclear weapons on board the ship and protests staged by the left who are concerned about growing cooperation between India and the United States, particularly in the area of military-to-military relations. The visit ultimately produced a number of stories about the men and women on board the ship and their mission. Our departure flight off the Nimitz was exciting as we went from 0-150 mph in 5 seconds! My type of launch! Also while in Chennai, I took another group of journalists out to the Nimitz when it was docked 3 km from the shore. The water was very, very rough, and three of the journalists lost it on the ferry ride out. Good thing I have a strong stomach. Though I heard about the protestors staging a rally near the port, I didn’t see any of them. I did see a lot of happy shop keepers who more than welcomed the almost one million dollars the two-day ship visit brought to the community. I had dinner with the Admiral, the Captain, my PA colleague Kate, and some of the senior crew of the Nimitz on July 4th (my last night in Chennai), which was really fun -- what a great group of people!
In August, my boss sent me to Kathmandu to help out in the public affairs office at the Embassy there. I was supposed to stay 10 days but ended up staying 20. Kathmandu is surrounded by mountains and is far more manageable than Delhi as it has only a fraction of the population. Sadly, there has been a population boom in the city due to the Maoists driving people from their farms and villages to the city for protection. It was spooky seeing the Maoists burning tires, throwing bricks at cars (fortunately not at my car) and waving communist flags in intersections. My office sponsors William, along with his wife Margot, were my weekend site-seeing buddies. Visited temples, monasteries, went on a Hash run, and went hiking. We also saw several Maoist rallies, fortunately all were peaceful.
Last week, one of the Deputy Assistant Secretaries from DoD was in Delhi on an “Official Visit.” The next two weeks will be consumed by the visit of NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams. Though Sunita was not born in India and is an American astronaut, as far as the Indians are concerned, she is an Indian. We’ve got a number of media appearances for her planned.
After a busy summer of ship visits, military exercises, and the excitement of the 123 Agreement (India-United States Civilian Nuclear Agreement), Fall will bring visitors, visitors, and more visitors! The Embassy will have visits from members of Congress, Cabinet members, and various other officials all converging on Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. It will be crazy, but we will survive.
Work is consuming at times, but not all encompassing. I’ve worked some long hours, but I’ve also had the opportunity for personal travel. India’s terrain and sites are just as diverse as its people. I visited Leh, a city that sits at 12,000 feet in the Himalayas, Chennai in southern India, Darjeeling in northeastern India, and of course the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Plus, I spent a rollicking week in Bangalore for the largest air show in India. America had an impressive display of hardware at the show with the F-16, F-18, the C-17, and the C-130 J on display. We also arranged to have one of the most influential men in India, Ratan Tata, fly in both the F-16 and F-18; pretty gutsy for a senior citizen (69-year-old man). And all of this happened with the civilian nuclear agreement looming over us. J I don’t know if 20 months will be enough time to see India and other countries in South and East Asia.
Living in Delhi is certainly an adventure. I’ve been surprised how difficult it can be to accomplish the smallest things. Traffic in Delhi is a nightmare; between the cows, bicycle rickshaws going the wrong direction on the roundabouts, and killer buses, there is never a dull moment. At no time of day can you expect to make it to your destination with ease or on time. I just hired a car and driver, but before that I took taxis to and from work; that was a royal pain. I got tired of the daily battle trying not to get cheated by the taxi driver or having them take me on a long, confusing, and pricy route to the Embassy. Air conditioning also became a must, something that taxis lack. It takes 15 minutes to get to work in the morning and about 30 minutes to get home at night. It's safer but more expensive to have a car and driver. My driver’s English is somewhat limited, so our drive is usually spent with me trying to make him understand what time to pick me up, drop me off, and take my housekeeper to the market.
Keeping healthy is another challenge – makes you look at food in a different light. Basic sanitation is difficult to maintain. I have a water distiller that the Embassy provides and my housekeeper maintains it. I do not brush my teeth with tap water and I am careful never to open my mouth in the shower, as ingesting the water could lead to Delhi belly. Been there, done that, do not want a repeat. Constant hand washing in this country is a must.
The overwhelming poverty that can be found in the country is difficult to accept at times. However, it is a country on the move and in rapid transition. Look forward to sharing more in near future.