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.

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