One of the hardest things to me about living overseas is trying to find “a tribe:” a group of people with whom I share relatable interests and a similar thirst for adventure. Trying to put this group of people together before they leave town for good–or we do–only makes the search for friends feel more urgent.
Sometime I feel like the Embassy newsletters should post personals ads for people to match up with their best chances for best-buddy-ness. Mine would read: Wanted: girlfriends who like trying new restaurants, exploring cultural sites, and talking food, photography, current events, books, India issues, work and a little bit of Mamahood. Should be willing and ready to travel around town with kids in tow. Parenthood is optional. “Game for anything-ness” is mandatory.
Amidst the people who hate India so much that they try their darndest never to see it, and the non-working people who love the 24/7 on call childcare so much that they never see their kids, I know there must be other people like me–people who both love India and who generally love spending time with their kids whenever their work schedule allows. It’s just sometimes hard to find them.
For reasons I do not yet fully understand, most organized, non-school-related, social activities here in Delhi are surprisingly adults-only–both at night and during the day. It’s not just that they are events meant primarily for adults–it’s that those of us who cluelessly bring our kids often face a great deal of social pressure to never ever make that kind of mistake again.
Which is really sad. Most moms who work outside the home don’t want to have to get a babysitter every time they want to socialize after being away from their kids all day. Most moms who stay home don’t know where to go to meet other moms who also stay home and instead rely on random run-ins with people at the commissary and on the street to insert a little bit of adult conversation into their days.
I don’t understand why this happens. I’m a mom, yes. As long as I’m not working, I generally want to be spending time with my son, yes. I do not want to send him to playgroup or music class with a nanny when I am around to take him myself.
But that doesn’t mean I’m “just” a mom. I’m also a person who likes good food, good conversations and exploring new places. I’m interested in what is going on in the city and country we live in. I want to go to museums and cultural events in any way possible with Will in tow (and perhaps, occasionally, not). I want to go to brunches and dinner parties and I like talking about things that have nothing to do with my kid–current events, food, even just where to go for a weekend trip in Northern India.
But am I so crazy for wanting the option of doing these things without having to leave my kid at home with a nanny? I’m not an extremist, I don’t think kids should accompany their parents to every single place or event. I’m all about awesome, affordable childcare for working parents, for the occasional special event, or even simply for a weekly date night or lunch date with girlfriends. Still, most days, I’d rather have my conversations interrupted by a diaper change or a toddler meltdown than have to leave Will at home every time I want to socialize.
I think I cannot be the only one, nor is this a problem for people with very young children only. On the Enclave grounds, all of the daytime loneliness and isolation tends to come to a head as the fiery heat of the sun wanes in the late afternoon and the school day ends. From about 4:30pm to 6pm, the sidewalks and green spaces comes alive with kids on scooters, Mamas with babies, Mamas with babies all grown up and riding scooters, dog walkers and worker bees coming home after a long day at the office.
We all stroll slowly around the grounds together, people splitting off and joining up here and there, to go home and start dinner or go pick up so-and-so from school. We follow the random patterns of toddlers toddling and first graders wielding light sabers until darkness falls or daddy comes home from work–usually around the same time, lately.
Talking to these women, so many of them say how lonely they feel, how they wish there were baby activities and playgroups where they could meet other parents. They talk about how cooped up they feel, how frustrated they feel that so many of the cultural, social and dining activities here are just not conducive to participation from people with kids in tow. Many of them have school-age kids who are old enough to get something out of exploring, but perhaps still too young to stay out very late or for very long.
And I wonder, why are we settling for this? Why, in a city full of cultural organizations willing and eager to share their skills, are we not organizing our own showings of classical dance and music and other shows in front of a kid-friendly audience and at a more kid-friendly time of day? Why aren’t we throwing open our doors to one another to have our own happy hours and brunches and dinner parties in which kids are welcomed to run in and out and babies can be taken upstairs to nurse and toddlers can have meltdowns without anyone freaking out about it? Why aren’t we organizing monthly “Ladies Night Out” for us to leave the kids at home with Dad for a night in exchange for a “Guy’s Night Out” once in a while?
I’m hoping to work part-time here doing some freelancing mostly from home, but I’m beginning to think I could easily make a second part-time job here as well out of simply organizing things to do for those of us too kid-bound to socialize and explore via the traditional adults-only Delhi channels.
How are you doing making friends where you are? Do you feel helped or hindered in your quest to find friends by the social norms in the place you live? Are you the ring leader in charge of making things happen?