Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Holi hai! ...among other things

The metal rings of my belt, much like my social life, simply have not been the same since I find myself running into the Bay of Bengal. It’s only been about a week since my last post, but it’s been a busy one.

First and foremost: Holi!! I’ve enjoyed mini celebrations of the Hindu festival of colors in the past, but nothing could compare to celebrating in its home country. To be fair, the festival is little observed in the south, but a group of north Indian girls from the hostel pulled me in for our own celebration, beach style. Piling into three rickshaws, four or five in each, we made our way to Elliot Beach in Besant Nagar, smaller than Chennai’s famed Marina Beach (which is second longest in the world) but notably cleaner. Cameras and cell phones were shielded in plastic baggies, then everything else was fair game for a color dousing – including willing passersby and a stray dog. Douse in color, dip in Bay of Bengal, repeat.

The next day, Eureka welcomed loads of children from across Tamil Nadu for their state level science competition, held on Saturday. Friday’s welcome, however, necessitated another beach – this time Marina – as we loaded the kids onto a public bus (now there’s an entertaining challenge for you) and headed out for an evening of singing, games, and getting our feet wet as the sun set on the busy shoreline.

Later in the evening, a fellow Holi celebrator found me enjoying the breeze on the hostel roof, and we naturally fell into conversation, which of course led to a joint Saturday outing in search of a good lunch, gelato, and harem pants. Having successfully located all three by the end of the afternoon, we headed back to the hostel and parted ways until dinner (which, American readers should note, is after 8pm), for which I joined her and a group of 4 other north Indians, all in Chennai as they work towards Masters degrees.

The combination of people worked out so well that I was summoned for a late Sunday night outing, this time finding myself with two of the guys from Saturday, plus one of their fellow MBA students. It’s times like that – sitting at a rooftop bar with three Bengali fellows and swapping stories over tandoori chicken, fries, and beer – that I can’t help but sit back, shake my head, and smile. My first full weekend in Chennai, it was an incredibly promising one, to say the least.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

And so it begins: fresh off the boat in India

Let the record show that this morning, I walked to the bus stop, caught and paid for the correct bus, and walked from the bus stop to the office entirely by myself and without taking any wrong turns. There was momentous inner triumph when I arrived at the gate at 9:57am, a full 3 minutes early and the first there. There may even have been a silent fist pump.

This triumph is, of course, because you find me in Chennai, India, having arrived late Friday night and recent conqueror of jet lag (10.5 hours. Gah.). I will be partaking in the ongoing do-not-melt challenge until the first of August, volunteering a bit with Eureka Child (via AID India) and seeing a bit of the country in the meantime. Equipped with camera, kurtas, a yoga mat, the massive Lonely Planet guide to India, and a few phrases of Hindi, among other things.

My general rule of thumb: no country updates until at least a few days in, as the first bit is always the trickiest – and India has certainly lived up to its somewhat chaotic reputation thus far. I am writing in the midst of the scheduled power cut (but hey, points for its being scheduled), and mosquitoes have attacked my appendages like a fat man on cake. My one suitcase for the five month stay also took its time in arriving, landing me in a kindly escorted tour of the airport yesterday afternoon following its arrival from Delhi. The trip back into the city, however, wins the opportunity to serve as my first tale from India. Note: the entirety of the story takes place while weaving through the hectic traffic found only in the metro areas of developing countries (or Italy, I hear. heh)…

When someone winks at me, I smile/laugh. I can't help it - but it's a problem when the person winking is a fellow on a scooter riding alongside my cab. My laughing reaction encouraged him to triumphantly tell his friend (driving the scooter), who then burst into song and proceeded to follow alongside the cab. "Where are you going? Should we have a date?" which point they were forced to drop behind and the cabbie turned, somewhat perplexed, and asked "Date? He was joking, yes?" A minute or two later, my open window is confronted with "What's your name?" *laughter* "Are you serious?!" ...and in steps the cabbie to rebuke them in Tamil. They respond, continue alongside for a bit, then blow me a kiss goodbye, leaving me to my barely contained laughter and a well-tipped cabbie.

And we’ve only just begun. More to come later, likely including why those few phrases of Hindi will get you nowhere in South India, and might actually offend some of the friendly Tamilians surrounding you – many may be at least a foot shorter than myself, but I’m willing to bet they’re scrappy and feel no need to test it as a young Western woman fresh off the boat.