Monday, January 25, 2010

Good-Bye India...

It feels pretty strange to think that I’ll be leaving my Indian home tomorrow morning. It’s been a rough week since I came back from Bangkok. One of my elderly aunts' fractured her arm when she missed a step down the stairs. Then one of my cousin's damaged her back during another fall. And yesterday, my 15 year old niece and her friend collided on their bikes with a public bus. Apart from being shocked, my niece is fine, but her friend died on the spot as he was directly run over. I feel like I'm abandoning everyone here at the wrong time.

This afternoon I saw the aftermath of a stray dog fight in our building parking lot. It was a ghastly sight. The weakest dog was left in a terrible state, he was all bloodied up and I could see some of his insides falling out. Awful.

It’s my last night in Ahmedabad, so I’m trying to just think of the good. The past few days felt a bit like my first few days in this city. I ate out as much as possible at the inexpensive yet delicious restaurants available all over town. The family and neighbours were acting sentimental, as was I. I inhaled as much of the desi air as I possibly could to savour the smell of India and all the memories that came along with it. I’ve grown to become quite comfortable in my environment here, if I do come back, it’ll be so much easier for me to get around.

There’s so much left for me to discover in India, I barely touched the surface, so yes, absolutely, I will be returning. In retrospect, everything that I had hoped to happen here, did. I wanted to find work in print or broadcast and I accomplished that; I also made friends I could connect with; I reconnected with some family and found a great-uncle who has a lot in common with me (no longer making me the odd ball in the family); I gained some weight (okay well that’s not a plus for me but my Amdavadi family’s sure proud of their accomplishment!); and I learned a whole heck of a lot about why people are the way they are here and why my parents are the way they are in Canada.

I’m not sure of what the next step is for this blog as I’m no longer on the “road to Mumbai.” I’ve made some great work contacts here (even just through waiting at line-ups at the airport) and I do see myself coming back for work experience. So let’s wait and see.

I leave for Mumbai tomorrow morning. I'm getting there by taxi as I have a lot of luggage and catching a domestic flight there is hefty - costs have tripled due to India's Republic Day coming up. There’s extensive security everywhere as there’ve been more terrorist threats for the big day. I hope I’ll make it to London safely.

Some of my last few, extremely random thoughts while I'm still in India:
- The “rick” in rickshaw must derive from the term rickety-rackety, or so I believe so
- India’s got the bravest and most patient drivers in the world (drivers are completely zen as they swarm through oncoming traffic, aimlessly walking cattle, stray dogs, goats, etc., all whilst pedestrians and cyclists try to squeeze in some of their own space on the beyond busy roads
- Never have I seen drivers enjoy honking as much as people do here
- The caste system is nowhere near being abolished – I’m sceptical that it’ll even happen in this lifetime
- Prohibition of alcohol consumption in Gujarat - come on, seriously? Seriously?
- Skin-lightening creams are here to stay

Good night Yaar!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I nearly missed my train ride from Ahmedabad to Mumbai last night. It normally would take me 20 minutes to reach the station but that night there was so much traffic on top of the usual traffic. There's a kite festival coming up in India on the 14th of January. So one of the main streets leading up to the station had turned into an overnight kite market. It was chaos. People were running left and right to try and buy the best kites. There's going to be an international kite-flying competition in Ahmedabad on the 13th, which I'll be missing.

Anyhow, I reached Mumbai safely around 5am and suddenly got scared. I met a young woman on the train who told me I was crazy for traveling to Mumbai alone being a woman. And then a few Uncles' I spoke to prior to leaving were very concerned about my well-being. So I got off the train regretting my decision - what was I thinking?

I headed towards the closest rickshaw stand and told myself all I needed to do was get a ride to the international airport - easy. But the drivers at the stand were all looking me up and down. I didn't want to get in with any of them. I took my time negotiating a fixed price with some of them, but really I was trying to get a vibe for which one of them would be decent enough to take me directly to the airport. An Uncle had warned me that when he got into a cab in Mumbai one time, the driver left him stranded on a deserted street and demanded he empty out his wallets.

All the drivers were telling me they'd take Rs 250 to get to the airport, but I got the price down to Rs 150. I chose a driver that seemed the least sketchy out of the bunch and pretended to give out his rick and employee number to a pretend person over the phone.

Long story short, his rickshaw suddenly "broke down" about 5 minutes from the airport. He asked for his Rs 150 and conveniently his other sketchy friend drove by who said he could drive me the rest of the way up for Rs 50. My driver didn't even attempt to restart his engine, I knew something wasn't right, especially thinking back on my Uncle's story. I wasn't scared as I had noticed a police officer standing about a block away. So I got out of the rick and told my driver I'd go ahead and find my own rickshaw to get me the rest of the way up. The two started asking for more money and tried to intimidate me by getting closer and louder. Without even thinking about it, I just started yelling at the two men as loudly as I could in English. I was so upset and at the same time knew I had to get some attention going. How could they pull a prank like this on a woman traveling alone?

Everything happened so fast. In the end I only paid my driver Rs 100 for getting me as far as he did before they sped off as they noticed the cop I had seen earlier approaching. The cop asked me if everything was okay and waited until I found another rickshaw.

At the airport I was four hours early for my flight and still nearly missed it! Jet Airways was having so many technical difficulties. When it came time for check-in everything was a mess. No one knew which line to wait in and staff members weren't explaining or directing anyone as to what was happening or what passengers should be doing. I was re-directed to a different line four times.

Alas, I've made it to Bangkok safe and sound. I made a friend on the plane who was a total gentleman and insisted he help me find a proper cab driver. That wasn't too difficult as the airport deals with an official taxi service called AOT and keep tab on where passengers are being taken. I've made it to my very luxurious abode, which I have to remind myself is only temporary; it's conveniently located in central Bangkok. Let's see how the week goes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beautiful Bodali

I am so happy. My stay in Bodali was wonderful; I got spoiled rotten by my friend's parents. And the villagers in that area are extra friendly.

There were NRIs everywhere, many of whom have come to look for an Indian life partner. I had to make up an elaborate lie once again about why I can't be set up. Some still encouraged me to check out some guys anyway, explaining that if I don't want to take the marriage seriously I should at least do it for the money (people are willing to spend their lifetime savings just to get that green card). Canadians have built an extra bad reputation for accepting money, but apparently New Zealanders are not too far behind anymore.

I just reached Ahmedabad and have to prepare for another train ride to Mumbai. I leave for Thailand tomorrow afternoon. While my village escape was quite relaxing, the travelling in between is exhausting. I'm tired and need to squeeze in some time for a quick nap before packing.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bodali - Here I Come!

Call me crazy but I'm off to a Gujarati village again. It should be fun though. I'll be staying with my best friend's parents and do some shopping with them in the nearby city, Navsari. I've been shopping like crazy for my family - they're ordering a lot of wedding wear. My suitcases are packed to the max already, I have no idea how I'll be taking everything back with me.

In just a few more weeks I'll be back in Canada. I can't even think about it, I'm so excited it's making my heart ache. There's so much that I miss. But I'm not looking forward to facing certain realities, such as my empty bank account! Besides the lovely reunion, it'll be crunch time for me.

Am off to bed, gotta catch the train at 7am.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Buffalo Hit and Run

A few weeks ago my cousin witnessed a hit-and-run on her way to work. A speeding Jeep hit a large buffalo that was crossing the road. The driver sped off before anyone could react to the accident. The buffalo didn’t die instantly and slowly bled to death as the hours went on.

There’s an emergency hotline to call for all roadside accidents but no one responded when my cousin called in. On her way back from work she said a large crowd had gathered around the dying buffalo as the word spread through the community.

People think the driver sped off to avoid getting beat up by the owner or his posse (the owner wasn’t even around at the time of the accident). Most cattle owners are known to be extremely violent when they lose one of their animals this way. The driver could’ve also sped off to avoid paying a hefty fee - cattle-owners are known to demand anywhere from Rs 10-20,000 to cover their loss.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! It's hard to believe we're in the year 2010 now. I got to celebrate with some of my new friends living in Anand, Gujarat. Anand's a pretty quiet town. It's known as NRI-town as a lot of Indians from abroad have invested in homes or businesses here. I haven't spoken to any of them but I seem them walking around everywhere. So even the Gujarati NRIs have formed their own little territory here.

I don't have much else new to report. I caught some type of flu since I got back from Kerala so am trying to get as much rest as possible. I could easily buy some antibiotics from one of the "Chemist" shops as that's what everyone else seems to do here. But I'm choosing the Canadian route of getting lots of sleep instead.

I've decided to head off to Thailand for a week before I go back to Canada (that's right, it's official, I'm going back and cannot wait!).