Born in Belarus, Tatsiana Chykhayeva was only 15 when she first experienced a life of an expat in England, as a student. Since then, she’s lived in Switzerland, China, Dubai, and the Bahamas, for six years, before moving to India. Though having a background in hospitality, she decided to switch careers and got a certificate as a life coach. This was about the same time she decided to visit a friend in India, now husband. Unafraid of the challenges of living in India, in spite of her husband’s concern, she moved to Delhi and loved it here.
What were your first impressions about India?
I just loved everything. The first time I came here was in 2013; we just went on a trip. Every day started at 7 a.m.; we were doing many things – buying sarees, attending weddings. Everything was so exciting! I think people may get a little lost and confused during their first time, so I was happy that my husband was showing my friend and me around.
Now, three years later, do you still feel the same?
Three years later, I still like India. Certain things were a bit challenging to get used to, but overall it is a good place to be. It is amazing how India can be so different for different people. Some love it, while others find it difficult to manage even after ten years of residing here!
In my opinion, there is something special about the country. It can teach us a lot, as well as “brings out the worse” in us. Let me explain. Many foreigners shared their personality shifts after living in Delhi for some time. When before, they found it difficult to say ‘no’ to people or point out the wrongdoing when someone is cutting into a line in front of them; after some time, they developed certain aggression that they didn’t know existed. Of course, it is not a bad thing. I think many of us can use to be more assertive in certain situations, and Delhi gives us a chance to improve it. Simply, because there are so many people everywhere, so the chances of someone to cut the queue or ask you for things that you don’t need are much higher. You get to practice communication skills more often.
How did you start your blog Life Talk Delhi?
I’ve always liked to meet new people, and the idea came to organize events so people can come and socialize. My husband has a restaurant by the name Roadhouse Café, so the venue was decided right away. The location is perfect; a lot of expats live nearby (GK1).
Of course, to start something new is challenging. So it took some time to spread the word. The blog had started at the same time. I just had a lot to say about the place I am currently living in. Plus, I kept on hearing so many interesting views from other expats, so I decided to start sharing it. The response was great, so I continued doing it.
Now, the platform also allows many foreigners and locals to join us in the projects for social good. We organize charitable events in the slums, orphanages, and elderly people’s homes. For those who might not be able to join, we write about various social challenges in India. We touch subjects of homosexuality, elderly abandonment, slum life. It is very interesting and not always match the stereotypes we hear when outside the country.
India is well known to be, on the more negative side, not very friendly to women, and this is an issue that has come up several times in our interviews with expat women. What is your view and experience with this?
Yes, I agree. The reputation, especially of big cities like Delhi, is not great. However, I do not feel unsafe. I know people who are terrified to travel alone in the cab or walk on the street as soon as it gets dark outside. Well, I don’t allow the fear to stop me from doing what I have to do. I believe it is essential to be aware of where you are, who you are with, and take precautions.
Do you have any advice for women who are planning to move to India because a question we always get is, “Is India safe for women?”
My advice is to take the time to adjust. Don’t trust the first person that you meet.
Of course, read as much as you can about the place, but be selective. There is a lot of information online, and not all are true. You can always check out Facebook Groups for expats, blogs, websites, and, of course, Life Talk Delhi page! If there is something you want to buy, but don’t seem to find it in the nearby store, don’t worry. You will find it somewhere else. Delhi is a huge city, and it has pretty much anything, you just need to look for it.
Another advice is to get out and explore! But do it in the right careful manner. Metro, for instance, is very clean and easy to figure out. My husband was a bit concerned the first time I traveled alone. But hey, now he doesn’t worry as he knows I can manage.
India is incredible, there is so much to see,
but you cannot get to know it by only looking outside your window.
However, sadly, some people were warned so much that they are afraid to step out. That doesn’t make anyone’s life exciting and fun. Safe, yes, but not worth it, in my opinion. India is incredible, there is so much to see, but you cannot get to know it by only looking outside your window.
One more advice, don’t expect to get to know and see everything right away! Despite my desire to explore, I also did not visit the slum area on my first days of staying in India. It took me some time to get to know people, places, and what was safe and what wasn’t.
What are the best and the worst things about living in India?
I love the variety and contrasts that India offers. Some days I visit the slum in the mornings and later in the evening going out to dine in a 5-star hotel. One day I shop at a crowded local market; the next day, I am in the fancy mall looking at world-famous brands. The city has it all, and it makes it exciting.
India is a very spiritual place. Even though I am not much into yoga and meditation, I think there is a certain energy here. This place teaches us a lot and gives experiences that one can get either pissed off about or learn from it and add to his or her personal growth.
There are always good and bad sides to everything. Overpopulation also has its bright side. In Delhi, it is so easy to get lost. Not direction wise, more in terms of personal liberation. I’ll give you an example. People in my country are very self-conscious about what they wear and what they look like. I know it is good in many ways, but it also adds a lot of pressure. Here, in Delhi, it is so easy to get lost in the crowd. If someone notices that your shoes don’t match your bag, they have approximately 2 minutes to formulate their judgment before they lose sight of you. Sometimes they don’t even look at you as it is best to look at the road and where you are going. The cars, scooters, and people are everywhere!
Delhi has also changed significantly since I moved here three years ago. It became much cleaner. My friend from home visited me recently. It took us four days to see a cow on the street. She was very surprised as all the travel guides, and documentaries about India are pushing that image of the city where holy animals live side by side with people. Well, the reality did not match the stereotypes. Some parts of Delhi now are very different from what one might think.
What about the top three worst things?
Pollution. It is bad here. It is very unhealthy to be in the city for at least one month of the year. Unfortunately, it hasn’t improved much despite the issue being raised by everyone.
I think the attitude toward cleanliness also has to change. Yes, Delhi had become much cleaner recently, but not everywhere. It seems some people don’t want to contribute towards their society, making progress slower. It is not always about education or social status. Sometimes you see fancy cars driving down the road when suddenly the window opens, and garbage is being thrown outside right in the middle of the street.
India is developing, but there are a lot of challenges the society is facing. The country is opening up as much as people’s minds. However, there is yet a long way to go.
Whenever you need an escape from Delhi, where do you go to?
We like to go to Rishikesh. No, we don’t go for yoga or meditation, just to chill at a resort. We found our favorite spot up on the hills. They have wooden houses, beautiful grounds, waterfalls, and best of all, they allow us to bring our dog. However, I came back with dengue from the last trip, so we might take a break from Rishikesh for now.
What are the other places close to Delhi you would recommend to go away for a weekend?
There are many options. You can go to Gurgaon and stay at a farmhouse. It’s a great way to escape from the busy city with only an hour’s drive away. Horse riding is also available there.
If you are up for some cooler experience, you can go to Greater Noida and play in the snow (one of the malls there offer such experience). You can try out the Sky Dining in Noida. That’s definitely on my list.
Otherwise, there is so much to explore in Delhi itself! The challenge is to find out about the things to do. The best way to do it is by talking to others. Online sources are not very reliable. First, you never know what quality you will get, and there is no one centralized platform to learn about it!