Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My first Ganesh...

“Shuklaambara Dharam Vishnum, Shashi Varnam Chatur Bhujam,
Prasanna Vadanam Dhyaayet, Sarva Vighna Upashaanthaye…”

("Lord Ganesha, who wears a white garment, who is all-pervading, who has a bright complexion, who has four arms, who has an ever smiling face, upon that God, I meditate for removal of all obstacles…")

Ganesh (or Ganesha) is one of the most worshipped gods in Hindu religion (and they have quite a bit of them!). Easily recognizable for his elephant’s head, Ganesh is considered the ‘eradicator of obstacles’ and the ‘god of beginnings’. He is the first god to be addressed in prayers and rituals, but also at the beginning of ventures, such as before buying a vehicle or starting a business, as he supposedly grants success and protection against adversities.

Having noticed that every home, every shop, every desk in offices has an image or a statue of Ganesh (and having learnt why), I could not therefore get out of entering my new home without having a Ganesh. During Diwali I therefore went around markets in search of him, my Ganesh, until I found it. And now at the entrance of our apartment, on the best piece of furniture of the whole house, there he sits, my first Ganesh.

“Lord Ganesh … I meditate on you who can remove all obstacles…”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Have you ever seen (or have you ever imagined it could be possible to see) an Indian matron moving and swaying her hips at the rhythms of latin, hip-hop, and rap music? Well, that’s what I witnessed last week...

In the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Indian-Colombian bilateral relationships, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Embassy of Colombia in Delhi organized a series of commemorative events. Among these, the concert of the ChocQuibTown Band, an Afro-Colombian group that fuses Hip-Hop, Rap, Reggae and popular Colombian rhythms from the Pacific coast, obtaining a very enthralling mélange.

We definitively liked this band*, which, by bringing together different sounds, rhythms, and musical traditions from all around the world, well represents our ‘globalized’ generation - and we will definitively recommend going to one of their concerts, if you will ever have the opportunity.

(*) Here the link to the song with which they were nominated to the Latin Grammy 2009: and a video of the concert they did in Bhubaneswar two days before performing in Delhi:

In a way it was strange to listen to a Colombian concert in India (but we are in a globalized world after all). But it was even stranger to observe Indians moving, dancing, waving, shaking, twisting at their songs. Another piece of evidence that, contrarily to the stereotype of “Brahman” all focused on meditation and spirituality, Indians are in truth a quite sanguine population...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Padma is the name of a river that rises in the Himalaya and runs to the Bay of Bengal through India and Bangladesh. In the Hindu mythology, Padma is often mentioned as a Goddess.

But Padma is above all one of our best friends in Washington, and Mathilde’s confident, healer, and... “Yang”. Met by chance in the corridors of Dorchester House when we used to be neighbours, Padma immediately conquered the trust, confidence, and friendship of Mathilde, until becoming Mathilde’s bridesmaid at her wedding.

Delhi made us thinking of you: come and visit us soon!!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Matteo has a Vespa!

... or, better, a ‘Honda Eterno’...

Now the challenge is to stay alive in Delhi’s roads. Certainly I won’t be fined for passing a queue of cars standing at a red traffic-light...

Back to reality

Not even one month here in Delhi. I must probably be still in my ‘romantic’ phase: everything is new, everything is interesting, everything is exciting, everything has to be discovered... So, I have to confess, I am a bit surprised when, discussing with people that have been here for quite a while, I notice tired expressions and catch sentences such as: “Certainly Delhi is not easy”, “Indians are rough and rude”, “Can’t wait to leave”, and so on...

However, I didn’t have to wait too much to have my first experience of how rude and unpleasant Indians can be. First day in my new neighbourhood, Defence Colony, and first day of grocery shopping: Saturday morning I went to the local market. Just to set the stage, the market of Defence Colony is characterized by a multitude of small shops that sell more or less the same things, from food to toiletries, etc.: the classic ‘Pakistani shop’ that you find open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in every corner in London.

“Wow” I thought among myself, vaguely recollecting of my classes of microeconomics at university, “this is the perfect example of perfect competition: an infinite number of sellers offering the same goods. The market price should equal the marginal cost!” (That is to say, in other words, that the price should be the lowest possible, as if one seller set a higher price, buyers would go to another seller, and the first seller would soon be out of business).

But how to be sure that the economic theory works in reality? “Well - I said to myself - I am going to ask the price of the same goods in each shop, and if the theory is correct, the price should be the same everywhere. If the theory fails, well, I’ll do my grocery in the shop that gives me the best price...”

And so I entered the first shop, and I started asking how much was this, how much was that, etc. At the third or fourth question, the owner of the shop, a fat and greasy Indian, came to me and asked me:

- Are you just asking prices, or are you buying?
- Well - I answered - I ask prices, and if the prices are good I am going to buy
- You are wasting my time, get out of my shop and go to ‘ask prices’ somewhere else

Which, in fact, is what I did.

Well, beside all the considerations on the fact that - in theory - the customer should always be right, on the fact that - of course - I will never go back to that shop to do my grocery (but, sadly, this won't be enough to push that shop out of business), or on the fact that - once more - economic theory proved never to work in the real world, this episode in a way sanctioned the end of my ‘honeymoon’ with India. Of course I knew that my image of India in these first weeks was a bit naïf and influenced by my positive mood. And of course I knew that the reality had to be different. However, used to the (sometime excessive) African politeness, I was somehow hurt by this behaviour.

However, if I want to see the positive side of this episode, I can say that this incident helped me to enter a bit more into ‘India’. It reminded me, for instance, that India is not Africa (as sometimes, for a strange mental process, I tend to believe), that Indians are not Italians (as perhaps I wish they were), and that living in a different country and discovering a new culture is enriching, exciting, but also tough...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Settling in...

Washington DC, February 2005

New Delhi, October 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bye-bye Riccardo (and Kusuum)

Tonight I moved to my new home. My warmest thanks to Riccardo for his hospitality, and to Kusuum for having spoiled me during the last two weeks. As for characters in novels, Riccardo and Kusuum's portraits should remain unrevealed, so that readers could keep on imagining them as they wish them to be ("... gli eroi son tutti giovani e belli..."). However, at great request, let me disclose Riccardo and Kusuum's identities. Ladies and gentlemen...

Riccardo, la bestia (photo Facebook)

Kusuum, the "vegetable maker"
(she looks a bit like Beula, don't you think so?)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


After 10 days of intensive search, 33 houses visited, 4 agents consulted, and after 5 long days of tough negotiation, today at noon we signed the lease agreement. From tomorrow you can come and visit us (the apartment has a spacious guest room with independent bathroom) or send us postcards at:

Block C-478 (2nd floor)
Defence Colony
New Delhi 110 024 (India)

Some of you may wonder who won the "poker" game. Above, a picture with Mr. and Mrs. Sikka (left and center respectively), Surinda (a bit behind), and me (the tall one on the right) just after having signed the contract. From our faces, you can imagine who got the best deal… (of course the agent).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Request for customer's feedback...

In several restaurants here in Delhi you are given, at the end of the dinner, a “customer’ satisfaction form” in which you are asked to provide your feedback on the dinner: quality of food, quality of service, the ambience, the quality/price ratio, whether you would recommend that restaurant or not, etc. etc.

Kusuum didn’t want to be less than them...

The 'Indian miracle'

Sunday eve

Monday morning

When I was in Ethiopia we used to witness a strange phenomenon, which we called the ‘Ethiopian miracle’. No-matter how dirty we left our kitchens, how many dirty dishes we left in the sink, how much in disorder we left our living rooms and dining rooms, in the morning when we woke up everything was clean and in perfect order. Indeed, it was a true miracle...

A similar phenomenon happens here in India as well. Look at how I left (Riccardo’s) kitchen on Sunday eve, and look how I found it on Monday morning. The Indian version of the Ethiopian miracle...

The Indian miracle has a name: Kusuum, Riccardo's 'mamita', or, better, 'maid', as they call them here. And from the day I entered in Riccardo’s home, Kusuum started taking care of me as she did with Riccardo.

So, mamma and Mathilde, don’t worry: I am well fed, clean, and spoiled...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In gioco... (At stake...)

Cricket games, the national sport here, may last several days. In a way, I also started, on Friday, a sort of 'cricket game', which - after the break on Diwali - continued today, and, hopefully, will conclude on Tuesday. I officially made an offer for an apartment.

I don’t want to give too many details, because, as all good Italians, I prefer “not to say ‘cat’ if I don’t have it in my sack” (macaronic translation of an Italian saying made famous by the renowned football trainer Trapattoni).

What I can say is that, as all the most recent experiences, this experience is also helping me to understand a bit better India and the Indians. More than a cricket game, however, this seems a poker game, in which everyone is playing to understand what the others on the table have, and who is bluffing and who is not. Four players are sitting at this table: Mrs. And Mr. Sikka (the owner of the house and her husband respectively: difficult to understand who takes decisions between the two), Surinda (my hopefully trusty agent: he gets a percentage on the deal), and I. The game is: to wring the best deal.

On Friday it was a preliminary hand, mainly to study each other. Today we went a bit further, and we started placing bets. On Tuesday we should show our cards and conclude the game, hopefully with a good deal, and hoping that nobody leaves the table before the end of the game.

Will keep you updated...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Luci a Delhi: Diwali

Europeans have Christmas. Americans Thanksgiving Day. Indians celebrate Diwali.

Diwali is the most celebrated Hindu event in India. It celebrates the return of Rama
, the legendary King of Ayodhya (in Utter Pradesh), to his home town after a 14 year exile and after he killed Ravana, a powerful king who ruled in Ancient Lanka (the present Sri Lanka). But from a more spiritual point of view, Diwali is the celebration of the “awareness of the inner light”, a central concept in Hindu philosophy that can somehow be compared to our western concept of “soul”.

Diwali is an extremely colourful and joyful event. People dress their best clothes, decorates their homes and shops with orange flowers, purchases sweets and gifts, and reunite with their families in the late afternoon to pray and exchange presents. And at night houses and shops are lightened with twinkling fairy lights and flickering candles (beautiful!), and people shoot fireworks and firecrackers (i nostri raudi)...

Today it was Diwali. I spent my Diwali wandering about markets in Delhi to breathe and enjoy the atmosphere of the eve of the feast. It was a very nice feeling: you could easily detect the excitement in the air: everybody was busy with the last minute preparations and decorations, everybody wished ‘happy Diwali’ to each other, everyone seemed genuinely happy...

In the evening I joined a group of colleagues (an interesting mix of Finnish, Germans, British, Indians, Sudanese, and Maldivians) who had a nice terrace on the top floor of a building - and from there we watched the fireworks and firecrackers. I don’t know how to best describe the sensation, but do imagine a 16 million city shooting uninterruptedly for five hours (from about 8 pm to about 1 am) fireworks and firecrackers... Well, let’s say that if I didn’t know we were celebrating, I could have easily thought we were under bombing...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Surviving FRRO, the Foreign Regional Registration Office

I remember during my times at university when I used to go every year to the Questura di Milano (the Police Headquarter in Milan) to renew my passport. I remember the endless queue of Africans, North-Africans, and Balkans, packed outside one of the entrances of the barracks, with their covers and sleeping bags (most of them were sleeping outside not to lose their place) waiting to have their working or resident permits approved, renewed or regularized.

I remember very well this image because it was accompanied by two strong (and somehow opposite) feelings. First, the empathy for these people: far from home, probably not speaking Italian, waiting and fighting to have a piece of paper. Second, the (perhaps selfish) relief for having the luck of not being among them. I didn’t know at that time I would have had to experience a similar experience myself a few years later...

“Registration required within 14 days of arrival in India”, my Indian visa states. And so, with the trusty Satish (below a picture), I went today to the FRRO, the Foreign Regional Registration Office, to register myself. A Dantesque hell is the best image I can think about to describe the situation I had in front of me. A jungle of people, of all races and ages, crowded together, pushing each other and elbowing their way forward, shouting at the FRRO employers while waving pieces of paper, and insulting each other. ‘Now I understand the chaos theory’ I said to myself...

In (only) one hour I managed to get a number, written in pencil on a torn piece of paper. That number supposedly indicated my turn. That conquer, in a relatively short period of time considering the premises, should have instilled hope in me. But looking at the jungle around I felt more lost than anything else. But while half discouraged and half in despair I was passively waiting for the divine Providence, trusty Satish took my papers and disappeared in the crowd. About ten minutes after he suddenly re-emerged from that crowd and made me a sign to follow him. Without really understanding how, I found myself in front of an FRRO officer who was asking me, severely staring at me, questions in Hindi - to which Satish was answering. Without seeming too convinced, the officer took a few stamps, singed a few papers, wrote down a few numbers, and before I realized it, she handed me my Registration Permit.

I still wonder what happened, and how Satish managed to get all the papers done. But - I learnt - that's also 'India, incredible India', and the most important thing is that, starting from today, I am officially a ‘foreign resident’ in this country...

Officially 'Resident'

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Amici in New Delhi

Where would two Italian friends who meet in New Delhi go out for dinner? Elementary: at ‘Amici’, wood fired pizza oven & café…

The story of Emanuele and me seems to run on two parallel paths that sometime cross and overlap each other. We met in 2000 in Turin, at the JPO Induction Course. I then went to Ethiopia and Emanuele to Kenya. During our years in Africa we met a couple of times in Nairobi and Addis, always by coincidence. We re-met each other in Washington in 2006, after we had missed each other in London by a few months only: I was there in 2003-04, Emanuele in 2004-05. For three years our lives overlapped, but - interestingly enough - while I was envisioning myself in DC for the next couple of years, Emanuele was offered a position in Delhi. Well, you all know how it ended… End of the story? Of course not: I will probably see him more in the next months than I saw him in the past years. Emanuele has in fact missions scheduled in India in October, November, December, and January! Well, if I were Laura or Mathilde, I would probably become jealous…

And so, while on the one hand I am engaged full-time to settle down (with all the strain that this effort requires), this dinner relieved me a bit from this fatigue and brought me back, for a couple of hours, on well known lands. The atmosphere with Emanuele is always of great confidence, human warmth, affinity… in short, for a few hours, I felt (back) home.

And by the way, the pizza at Amici was not bad at all, on our own word…

Sunday, October 11, 2009

White tiger

Today, between a visit to a house and another, I took a couple of hours of break and visited the Delhi zoo. Among various species, the zoo hosts the very rare species of the white tiger. It is believed that white tigers bring good luck. Well, if this is the case, I hope that this visit will help me finding a house soon…

Saturday, October 10, 2009


One of the aspects of the expats' life is the strong sense of solidarity that exists among expats. Sharing the same kind of challenges, expats tend to fraternize and support each other - more than it would happen in other circumstances. The expat community is usually extremely open and welcoming towards the newly arrived, and, in a sort of positive ‘nonnismo’ (‘caporalisme’ in French - sorry, I don’t know how to translate this word in English) the veterans take care of and mentor the newcomers, who, in their turn, will take care of and mentor the new newcomers once they become veterans…

So Riccardo, JPO at UNIDO, got to know about my arrival from an email that circulated in the past days among the young expats to introduce me. Riccardo, who is about to finish his second year in Delhi and therefore can be considered a veteran in all respects, is currently on vacation in Italy. However, as soon as he received the message, he immediately contacted me: “Where are you staying? Hey, I am out of town for a couple of weeks, but do call my maid, ask her my keys, and feel free to stay at my place…”

And so I moved to Riccardo’s over the week end, and have to say that staying in a home is much better than staying in a hotel. Having not met Riccardo yet, I have been trying to imagine how he could look like: have looked for a picture of him at home, but could not find any. So I googled his name, and (surprise surprise) I found him on Facebook - but remained half amused and half disappointed when I saw his profile picture (above). I’ll have then to wait two weeks more before meeting personally Riccardo…

Friday, October 9, 2009


Taxi in the morning...

... and taxi in the evening.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

News from the new world

I realized the last posts have been a bit Matteo-centric. But would like to reassure everybody that Mathilde is fine and living very enriching experiences as well.

Currently in Brazil, she will be in France next week, then back to DC the following one, before finally coming to India.

Matteo and Mathilde will re-join each other on October 31st. Counting the days!

Karva Chauth

Yesterday night Delhi celebrated Karva (or Karwa) Chauth. Karva Chauth is a traditional Hindu festival during which married women fast one entire day to favour long, safe, and prosperous life to their husbands.

The ritual represents extreme love and devotion of women to their husband, as evidenced by the wives’ willingness to suffer for their husbands’ well being. Indeed, it is an extremely romantic ritual:

Women start fasting the previous night, after the appearance of the moon. On the following day, they dress their best clothing, adorn themselves with jewels
and henna, and wait until the new moon-rise to break the fast. At the appearance of the moon, women pray and offer water to the moon, and only after having seen it, they look at their husbands, who are close to them. The husbands then offer the first bite of food and the first sip of water to them, and shower them with gifts…

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Matteo has a mobile!

It took me three years to get a mobile phone in Washington. Only three days to get one in India.

A sign of times that change. And that for Matteo - as for Kenya, as for China, as for India, ... - a technological jump is not only conceivable, but also possible!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


In every resettlement, there is a step, a process that to me is at the same time very exciting and very stressful: the search for a new accommodation.

Exciting because it is the first step towards really discovering the new city not as a tourist, but as a prospective resident. You’ll visit areas and neighborhoods that you won’t necessarily visit anymore in the future; you’ll start learning the roads, directions, distances and geography of the new town; and you’ll deal with a multitude of local people: landlords, landladies, intermediaries, plumbers, electricians, candidate guardians, candidate gardeners, candidate cleaning-ladies, etc. Stressful because the search is usually affected by numerous factors (the need to find something in a relatively short period of time, limited knowledge and information about the town and the market, limited budget, etc.) that will make your choice necessarily sub-optimal…

It is in addition a process that, in a way, helps you to know yourself better, as it forces you to think through, prioritize and make choices on what really matters to you. Better a home close to work or in a green area? Bright or quiet? Furnished or unfurnished? Safe or in a lively neighborhood? With reliable electricity or in an area that doesn’t suffer from water shortages? Recently maintained or with a trusted landlord? Of course you would like to have them all, but you know you can’t…

With all these feelings and questions, I began my search today. Surinda, the ‘agent’ I have been recommended, picked me up at work and brought me with his motorbike, zigzagging in the Delhi traffic, in neighborhoods with exotic names: Sundar Nagar, Nizzamuddin East, Jangpura, Lajpat Nagar, Defence Colony, Safdarjang Enclave…

The first day of the search didn’t produce many results, but it contributed to instill new life into my spirit: I discovered new places, interacted with new people, I was forced to think quickly and take decisions… I felt surprisingly alive.

Stay tuned, updates on how the search goes soon!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

First day in Delhi

I decided to spend my first day in Delhi just wandering about. No maps, no targets, no asking for information: just walking around following people, my curiosity, and nothing else. Just to get the taste of this new city.

And while walking around, various thoughts were overlapping in my mind, and I was thinking at how these streets, these places that today are so unknown and alien to me, will soon become familiar and part of my daily life…

And while roaming, I ended up to the tombs of Humayun and Isa Khan, the second Mughal Emperor and a XVI century nobleman respectively. Humayun’s tomb (below), particularly, became the inspiration for the more famous Taj Mahal.

In short, as the CNN commercial would say: India, incredible India…

Saturday, October 3, 2009

First contact with Indian taxis…

For those who know me well, well, you all know my ‘love-hate’ relationship with taxi-drivers. You would probably remember my adventures with taxi-drivers in Ethiopia and all around Africa. You may also recall my ‘not-always-smooth’ relationship with taxi-drivers in DC and neighbor states. Time has probably come that I experienced taxi-drivers in South Asia as well…

Although I had probably preferred to postpone my first interaction with Indian taxi-drivers to a later stage of my Indian experience, destiny wanted that I had to be put to the test with them from the very first moment I touched the Indian soil. Although, in fact, I was expecting a shuttle from the hotel to pick me up, there was nobody waiting for me at the airport. Without worrying too much, I then went to one of the stalls of the taxi-companies at the airport (grazie Emanuele). Here in Delhi in fact you tell your destination and you pay your trip directly to the taxi-stall in the airport, and you are given a receipt which you bring to the taxi-driver outside the airport. The taxi-driver will then drive you to the address you have previously provided. ‘Good’ I thought ‘so I don’t have to bargain with the taxi-driver’, knowing that this is always one of the major sources of conflict. I had been in addition pre-alerted of the superior bargaining skills of the Indians, and preferred not to be tested after 20 hours of travel…

So, I approached the first taxi-driver in the parking:
- Good evening, I need to go to the Jukaso Inn, 50 Sunder Nagar…
- Ok
- Do you know where it is?
- Yes-yes… Jukaso Inn, Sunder Nagar… yes-yes…
- And how long does it take?
- Half-hour
- Ok, let’s go…

After about half-hour during which we risked our lives a couple of times, during which we discussed a bit of all the things you discuss with a taxi-driver the first time you arrive in Delhi (the subway under construction, the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the traffic, etc.), during which he tried to convince me to go to another hotel a dozen of times, Mr. Kumar (that was his name) stopped the car and asked me:
- So, where do we go?
- !!! What ‘where do we go?’ ??? I told you, Jukaso Inn! You told me you know where it was!!!
- Yes-yes (in a half-apologetic and half-offended tone), don’t get angry, I know, I know… Just let me ask…
- !!!

After Mr. Kumar confabulated for a couple of minutes with another taxi-driver, he came back to the car…
- So, you know where to go?
- Yes-yes
- So, how long does it take?
- Half-hour
- !!! What??? You told me ‘half-hour’ half-hour ago!!!
- Yes-yes, don’t get angry, you are my son… 10-15 minutes… (pause) … half-hour…

And so, half-hour later, after having risked our lives another couple of times, here I was - finally - at the Jukaso Inn, relieved to be still alive and happy by the perspective to be soon in a bed, but somehow concerned that I would need to retrieve all my African patience if I want to survive with Indian taxi-drivers as well…

Le Indiane - The arrival: first sensations, first images...

Whenever I go to a new country for the first time, I always try to pay particular attention to the very first sensations, the first images, the first smells, etc. of the new place, and imprint them in my mind as mental pictures.

My first contact with India has been… in Frankfurt, in the boarding area of Air India. And the first feeling was… ‘diversity’. Knowing that for a strange mental process we tend to make uniform to our eyes the faces of the people of an ethnic group different from ours - and so at first sight the Chinese, the Ethiopians, the Senegalese all looked a bit alike for us - I was impressed on the contrary by how different from each other the Indians that were waiting with me for boarding looked to me.

But to be fair, I should describe the first feelings at arrival. I have to confess that 20 hours of flight have anesthetized a bit my receptive capacities. But if I try to recall the sensations that accompanied me from the moment I left the luggage area at the airport until the moment I reached the hotel, these are well synthetized in the image above. The first words that come to my mind are: crowding, over-crowding, mass… and incessant honking. In brief, India seems not to be the place for agoraphobics…

Friday, October 2, 2009

La quiete dopo la tempesta (The calm after the storm)

Odo augelli fare festa… The past weeks have been emotionally and logistically hectic. First, the decision on whether to accept to move to India - thus leaving our friends, our jobs, our hardly conquered routine in DC, etc. Then, the run against time to organize our move: find someone to lease our apartment, someone to take care of the Vespa, update the vaccinations, get the visas, get the tickets, cancel our subscriptions, pay our bills, finalize our deliverables, decide what to bring and what not, prepare our luggages, take leave from our friends and colleagues…

In short, a true storm.

But as always - after the rain, the clearness comes. And so, after several frantic weeks, now that the decision is taken, the luggages prepared, friends have been said good-bye, etc. I finally feel in peace. And look forward to being on the plane to sleep 20 hours in a row, before starting this new chapter of our lives...

Thursday, October 1, 2009