Life has been a whirlwind; 4 days after returning from India, Bryan and I left for Europe (Switzerland, Salzburg, Prague). We are still there now – riding the train from Salzburg to Prague. With both trips, I’ve been keeping a journal of cultural observations and memorable experiences on my iPhone. I want to share a few while I have the time. Beginning with my initial impressions of arriving in India (over 2 weeks ago):
– The onslaught of culture at 3AM: My two co-workers and I flew into Bangalore Airport in southwestern India, and as soon as we walked out, each of us struggling to pull two suitcases behind us, we were confronted with the loud sight of humidity, sweat, and many many Indian drivers with signs in a variety of languages.
– Almost all tourists to India hire a driver. Why? Driving is near-death experience around every turn. There are no speed limits, no one follows the lines, and the motorcyclists just do what they want (without helmets!). It soon seemed less death-defying but not necessarily comfortable. I often kept my head in a book from crying aloud at the inches between us and the oncoming traffic.
– Chai Tea incident: That morning we first arrived, I was determined not to fall asleep in the car with a complete stranger (our driver), so I asked to stop for coffee. The closest we could find at that hour was a tea stand on the side of the road. Satisfied, I purchased two espresso-sized thimbles of Chai and was so excited to drink them – my first taste of India! As I turned to walk to the car, one slipped out of my hand and all over my arm, scalding me before I even knew what was happening. The kind tea stall owner refilled it for me and was very concerned for my arm (which, admittedly was quite red), but I assured him – mostly out of embarrassment – that I was fine (while secretly wondering if I would be at a hospital less than two hours in to arriving in India). On my second try, walking with two cups was much improved. However, shortly after settling into the car, I was suddenly slapped on my elbow by Vanessa. Ouch! It burned my arm yet again! “Sorry,” she exclaimed, “there was a mosquito!” It was a moment when you could do nothing but laugh.
– Littering in India incident: Completely oblivious to the cultural traditions of India, I asked my driver where I should put my small paper cups and he immediately rolled down the back window, “yeah yeah, just throw!” At a loss for what to do – and with significant goading by our driver – I tossed the two paper cups out onto the Indian side streets. He was pleased, but I still feel guilty for contributing to their trash problem (there are piles of trash everywhere; clearly our driver is not the only one who does this … India is working hard to change these littering habits of their population and I did nothing to help).
– Bathroom in India incident: To conclude our first few hours in India, I asked to use the restroom. At our first stop, the driver got out to purchase a snack and I followed. There were signs for a toilet around back … only all I found was a pitch-black room with no way to turn on the one lightbulb inside. Listening to my urgent need to pee, I stepped onto a plastic grate in the concrete floor, and discovered that was the bathroom. That was also the moment I realized toilet paper is a Western concept. Yep.
– No Walking in India: I brought my Fitbit, anticipating lots of walking across the crowded markets and wide-ranging expanses I imagined existed all over India. However, I soon learned (to my great disappointment or relief, I’m not sure which) that we do not walk a lot – it is too dirty and crowded and slow. We are driven (hearts racing, breaks pumping stop-go) to where we need to be.
– Saris are distinctive and ubiquitous among Indian women. I quickly began to envy their gorgeous colors and free-flowing comfort. This, I had to purchase one myself (pictured above with Vanessa and Jeanne).
I leave more memories – especially the ones about the children – for another day.