We got stymied.I would usually find a place to live on Craigslist (for a large or medium sized town or a city), through the newspaper (smaller towns but big enough to support a paper of their own), or from posting boards at places like supermarkets (any of the above, but especially small towns).
Craigslist was a bust for us in Kerala. We found two things – the guesthouse in Varkala and a house in southeast Alleppey. Neither one of them worked out. But still that was more action than we were getting from our other venues!
Before coming to India, I ran searches on rentals. I found one site in particular that seemed promising – with a fairly healthy number of listings in the Rs. 1000-3000 range, it made me think that once we were here, we’d be able to find things for even less. That hasn’t worked out at all – there’s not a hot community gossip forum with all the dirt on good homes for cheap…or at least not one speaking English. Riiiiight. The language thing.
I can forget sometimes how limited we are by the need to find people who speak good English. For simple things, we’re okay. When we walk up to a hotel reception desk, they already pretty much know what we want – the conversation is about AC or non-AC and price. Still, we’re having this check-in chat in English. A little better at a restaurant – if they understand “veg”, we’re usually happy with what we get. Also, the only words we know in Malayalam are food words, so we can request specific dishes – thali, masala dosa, paneer, chapati, naan, vada, idli, garam (or masala) chai. If they start asking us about other things, we have to revert back to English – rice, spicy, more, water – and if they hand us a menu that’s in the Malayalam alphabet, we’re lost.
Okay – so we’ve established that the language barrier could be blinding us to housing opportunities.
Also, we only want to rent a place for 6-8 months. It’s not really any different here from other places – landlords prefer long-term tenants. There are a serious number of options made unavailable to us right there.
And then there’s the fact that this place is cell phone crazy, but not as excited about email. Totally capable, and most people I’ve talked to have had email addresses, but they prefer to transact business via phone. Here’s a quote from the standard email I’m sending in response to online ads: “If you prefer, I can call you, but I have an easier time communicating by email because I do not speak Malayalam and have not gotten used to the Keralan style English yet. Once I learn Malayalam it will be much easier! I’m sorry for the difficulty in communicating on my part.” That’s me trying to admit that I came to a place I wanted to live without learning the language and take responsibility for any misunderstandings. Then when I did call one guy, I didn’t realize that it was Rs. 1 per minute, and I got cut off 60 seconds in…
Now for the up-side. We just in the last couple of days found a few good websites. Here are two that seem to be giving us good possibilities: 99acres.com and magicbricks.com. I started out liking pathcity.in, but I can’t figure out how to contact people about the properties. I mark that I’m interested, but that doesn’t give them any info about us and our needs…
So now is the perfect time to gush about Anandalaksmy. It’s a restaurant with free wifi. That’s what drew me, and that’s what keeps us there for hours (7 1/2 hours today…crazy!). But since we’ve been going there, we’ve watched locals eat some great thing in metal (did you read the one about the thali?), some great thing on palm leaves (sadya, anyone?), and much more. In watching, I was able to feel comfortable about ordering and digging in with my fingers – I knew that everyone did it! Really, though, it’s the people who have made us welcome, drawn us back again and again and made us feel as though 8 hours is not too many! Several times, the guard (or doorman?) has surreptitiously flipped the Closed sign to Open as we walked up. And I’m almost sure that they actually close between lunch and dinner – exactly when we’ve spent the most time there! And it’s a newish building, clean, simply decorated. Even squeamish Europeans should be able to eat in (emotional) comfort.
But back to the housing…we are going to see an apartment just south-east of the zoo tomorrow at 5pm, and then a house about 10km from the center of town (northwest) Sunday morning (no time set – he’ll be there all day). The property I was most excited about was a fully furnished 3 bedroom near downtown – of course they rented it while we were still on the train heading this direction. Sigh. I hope to get more responses from the dozens of messages I sent – there’s another fully furnished place with a washing machine (swoon!) that seems perfect, though I didn’t reach them when I called. Sent two messages…we’ll see.
So what changed? Well, partly it was our budget. We were really really into the idea of spending $200 US per month and getting everything we needed. Now it’s looking like about twice that. (Still great compared to even an inexpensive place to live in the US.) At this rate, we could still stay for over 2 years, but I’d rather not get busted right down to nothing at all…especially if we have to go back to the US for some reason after here. (Some reason would be something like failing to get work permits in the places we’d rather go next. The US definitely offers us that – the ability to work.)
Now it’s just more of the same – asking people, sending messages, hopefully looking at places. Actually, in my dream world it’s not more of the same. I’d much rather get a place rented this weekend and move in by Monday. I’m tired of hotels and definitely tired of carrying all my worldly possessions around (though James has been taking more of the load over since I hurt my foot).
So wish us luck!