The romei, the mist of the Mizo hills, made for a turbulent landing. And with memories of Malaysian paradise lingering in stark contrast with the renewed challenges of Mizoram, our first week back was just as turbulent as our touchdown.
We were back in our tiny, two hundred square foot, concrete room. Back to brushing our teeth with bottled water. We were back to an inescapable cold that chills our bones, even with our two Bajaj electric heaters contributing their best efforts to warm us. We were back to immersion water heaters and bucket baths, oatmeal and instant noodles, lumpy mattresses and backaches. The Synod Conference Centre Guesthouse did not even provided bedsheets or pillowcases to greet us — not for days.
We were back to getting sapped. Even in our own home. One of the biggest bumps that first week back involved an unsolicited fake shutter sound of a smartphone camera a mere foot from my face as I was climbing our guesthouse staircase. I felt objectified and angry.
I also felt like sneezing. In the Kolkata airport queue days earlier, a man in a green, collared shirt turned around to face me and coughed a big, billowing cough directly into my mouth. So I got a cold.
For months we had been actively trying to find a proper house to live in. One with a kitchen. One that wasn’t the Synod Conference Centre Guesthouse. We had people on the ground, sending signals through kinship networks and social networks. We had an ad in the Vanglaini newspaper. In return for answering the ‘five questions’ Mizos are wont to ask, we always probed for any knowledge of a house vacancy.
But families build houses to live in on land that they inherit. They don’t traditionally let properties. If they did, it wouldn’t be to foreigners whose grandfathers they don’t know the names of and whose fathers’ occupations are a mystery.
This, in addition to a mass, economic migration of Mizo villagers to Aizawl — the big city — rendered all of our house-hunting efforts fruitless. Leads in the last three months ended in shared washrooms, filthy kitchens, prospects of major renovations, and distant locations.
So, when Kyle’s friend, Taia, emailed him while we were in Kuala Lumpur, with news of a vacancy, Kyle and I were completely filled with doubt at the chance of it working out this time.
It was within that first, turbulent week that I tagged behind Taia and Kyle, begrudgingly dragging my snotty, sneezing self out of our heated room and down the potholed hillside to look at the house. Taia introduced us to his friend, Hzuali, who had found the place.
We climbed up to the top floor to meet the owners. In front of their door sat five cats, sitting patiently, waiting for the sun to set. They turned their heads to look at us in a coordinated motion of passive curiosity, and I cracked one of my first smiles since our return to Aizawl. The owners escorted us to the floor below — our potential new home.
It was perfect. The suite was brand new, never before lived in. It had a living room with huge, patio windows that slid open to reveal a patio lined with potted petunias; a large office; a master bedroom with an attached ensuite; a storage room; a small room and washroom for the future Domestic Help (common practice for wealthy folks in India); a guest washroom; and, most importantly, a kitchen. It had everything. And everything was sparkling a fresh, clean white. It was also almost entirely furnished, featuring a bed, mattress, and linens; a gas stove and cookware; a kitchen table and chairs; built-in water heaters for the kitchen and bathroom; and even a washing machine!
The location was favourable too. The house was situated down the hillside in a quiet area, the sounds of singing Cicada insects filling the air. It was also only a fifteen-minute walk uphill to the market, a fifteen-minute ($1.20) taxi ride to my office, a thirty-second walk to Aizawl’s oldest and most famous bakery (the late founder was trained by the British and Welsh missionaries, themselves), and a two-minute walk from the nearest shop that sells eggs, oil, Lays American Style Sour Cream & Onion potato chips, and Aircel phone credit top-ups.
Even the timing was perfect. In July — the month in which we plan to return home — the house will be occupied by the newlywed son of the upstairs owners. In fact, the house wasn’t actually for rent. Hzuali had just convinced them, somehow, that they needed tenants to break the place in for the newlyweds.
The five cats sealed the deal.
When we went upstairs to drink tea and negotiate a price, Kyle and I had already decided to take the place, no matter what. We awkwardly tried to discuss an offer with Taia (mostly forgetting that everyone in the room could speak perfect English) and his eyes nearly popped out of his head when we suggested Rs. 20,000 ($356) per month. Too little, we assumed. We felt embarrassed. Taia suggested we ask Rs. 8,000 ($142). Impossible. So, at Taia’s request, we suggested Rs. 8,000 to the owners and they countered at Rs. 10,000 ($176). We suggested Rs. 9,000 at which point everyone giggled and we settled for Rs. 10,000. $176 per month! A third less than the cost of the Synod Guesthouse for so much more. The monthly price would even include electricity and water. And a kitchen. Elated, we waved goodbye to the owners and to the cats and looked forward to seeing them all again soon.
Two days later, on Valentine’s Day, we moved into the new house. We shifted with the help of Hzuali, her dad, her husband, Ding Ding, and their cars, and then spent the day with Taia, buying spices and mini fridges. Our home-cooked meal of rice and dhal that evening was simple but symbolic. It was a wonderful Valentine’s Day present for both of us.
(Pleased to say goodbye to the Synod Conference Centre Guesthouse.)
(Taia installing the gas cylinder he had just had filled for us.)
We have since been enormously enjoying our new home, though with the move we’ve had to make some new adjustments. We learned that, since our former Guesthouse home is the property of the Presbyterian Synod — one of the most powerful institutions in Mizoram — we were privileged to have had an exceptional power supply. Now we have joined the rest of Aizawl in dealing with constant power cuts, six or seven times a day, sometimes lasting minutes, sometimes lasting hours, and always starting at 7:30am as we all get up to get ready for work. Kyle and I have made a game of it, recording on our kitchen chalkboard the highest time the microwave clock reads before inevitably being set back to 12:00 noon again. Right now the chalkboard says 16:13.
(Cooking in our new kitchen during a power cut.)
We’ve also learned that the lower your house is on the hillside, the worse internet you get.
However, power cuts and bad internet are easy trades for our ability to fry up Betty Crocker pancakes, make garam masala chai with milk on the stovetop, and boil baby pumpkins; or for the joy of befriending a talkative gray and white cat that never stops kneading, even when she’s walking on tile; or for the comfort of a mattress that doesn’t leave me sore in the morning; or for the luxury of sitting in a morning sunbeam on the patio, eating warm, fresh-baked bread from Hmingliani Bakery, smothered with cold butter and enjoyed with a cup of freshly-brewed coffee shipped just for us from South India.