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It’s after 5:00 a.m. local time and I’ve finally, FINALLY arrived in Delhi after a (mostly) excruciating 36 hour journey from the hotel in Austin, Texas, through Dulles International Airport in D.C., and through Frankfurt, Germany, where we endured a five hour long layover before departing for the final leg of the journey to India. I’ve never been motion sick in my life, but apparently something was going on with me during this trip (though it could admittedly have been complete and utter exhaustion and lack of decent sleep for hours and hours on end). I’ve been nauseous for the past 25 hours or so, since halfway through the flight to Frankfurt, and the airline’s hot meals (though the ravioli with marinara and the Indian-style vegetarian meal of palak paneer and basmati rice still tasted pretty good for airline fare) apparently didn’t agree very well with my stomach. Both of our international flights were on monstrously huge planes with either seven or ten seats across in the economy section and with ridiculously posh first class accommodations that we had to slowly parade through and eye longingly whilst shuffling like lemmings to the cliff of economy class sardine-dom. I have NEVER seen first class seats like these! They had real pillows with real sateen sheet pillowcases, mini white down comforters, 20 inch TV screens (for each seat) complete with remote controls to be used from the spacious lazy-boy style leather recliners while resting your feet on the complementary matching leather footstools. I count that little tour as cruel and unusual punishment, especially because the seats seemed to get smaller and smaller (and at one point I was behind a dude who had a conveniently broken recliner button that meant I was staring at the back of his head wondering if he wanted me to braid his hair or something!
Okay, enough about the downsides of international flights (and let this be a lesson for you, Mom, that you do NOT want to travel to India, just in case you were about to book a trip, because I would NOT have wanted to see you sitting in the sardine can while we idled on the scorching runway without air conditioning for half an hour)! The one really cool part of the flight itself was seeing Ireland at sunrise from the air (my very first glimpse of Europe!). It was ridiculously lush and green, and there were these wisps of white mist clinging to what looked like the hedgerows between fields. It was beautiful! Landing in Germany was also interesting, especially considering that a large part of my genetic makeup came from that part of the world. Apparently I look very German, too, in case anyone had any doubts about my origins. Most of the airline personnel started out by talking to me in German before trying their English, while they started with English for most of my traveling companions. I think the red glasses and my funky haircut completed the true German look, because I saw several women in Frankfurt who fit a variation on my physical description. It was bizarre, because this older lady with short blonde hair and funky glasses kept looking me up and down like she knew me from somewhere. . . . It makes me want to know more about my family tree.
. . . . And after all of that (and hours of trying to sleep sprawled on airport floors and balanced precariously on rows of airport chairs) we FINALLY arrived at the gate in Delhi! Most of my colleagues were very excited to arrive at our destination, and I have to say that I was more than relieved to step off of the plane after so much time spent so cramped and stuffy (and SMELLY. . . . gross!). After leaving the gate I had my first encounter with the infamous Indian toilets, which I have to say are NOT designed at all for those of us with less-than-stellar knee strength. Basically, for those who don’t know, they consist of a porcelain-lined (in the case of the airport) hole in the floor surrounded by cement with two footprint spots on the sides. The idea is that you squat and pee in the bowl, and then you are supposed to use a little faucet (and your left hand) to rinse out your “junk.” They don’t really do toilet paper all that often here, unless it’s in the westernized, touristy spots, and I’ve been told that culturally TP is seen as being a little gross (like, why would you want to put paper up your butt?). This is why it’s impolite to serve food or shake with your left hand, and why those types of jobs are (thankfully) reserved for the right.

Dark (but descriptive nonetheless) photo
of an Indian toilet (this one's in a school)
Anyway, enough about the lavatory! When we passed through customs we were greeted by the folks from USEFI (the United States Educational Foundation in India) who very thoughtfully brought us all bouquets of daisies! We watched a group of Sikhs in robes and turbans greet an arriving dignitary by touching his feet as he walked from the gate with his luggage cart while we waited for the rest of our group to get their luggage, clear customs and assemble (everyone’s luggage made it this time. . . . yay!). It was after 3:00 in the morning when we left the airport to board our buses to the Taj Mahal Hotel. We were given really nice bags with nametags, articles and schedules along with bottled water (because we’re not supposed to drink the water here, though I oh-so-brilliantly in my sleep deprived and jet-lagged stupor managed to use tap water to brush my teeth). The half hour bus ride to the hotel was interesting as I got my first glimpse of India. The streets were fairly empty of traffic, though I did see a few police cars (antiques by our standards) here and there, as well as groups of auto-rickshaws parked by the road for the night with their drivers gathered talking or sleeping on their seats with their legs hanging out of the cabs here and there. There were also occasionally people sitting outside talking in those white plastic lawn chairs that are ubiquitous in the summertime anywhere, and there were guards here and there sitting or standing with their rifles. I also saw my first glimpse of the poverty India is (unfortunately) known for, as there were scattered groups and individuals laying sleeping on the dirt here and there on straw mats or just covered with a single dirty blanket (no shopping carts of goods or cardboard box forts around here that I can see). I’m interested to see how my response to poverty changes as I travel here. I’m trying to see it, to some extent, through the religious lens through which most of India’s Hindus view it, which is to say that poverty in this life is reflective of one’s path through his or her last incarnation, and he or she can ascend from that position into a better one in a future life. We’ll see how this little philosophical exercise goes!
Anyway, we arrived at the opulent Taj and were treated to fresh watermelon and orange juices and had red powder pressed into our foreheads by a beautiful woman in a gorgeous red sari for prosperity. Finally, Elizabeth and I (she’s my roomie for this leg of the journey, which is nice, since we’ve known each other for a good 10 years by now) sauntered sleepily up to our posh room (where they actually have a ten-item PILLOW MENU, among other things). There are fresh flowers on the desk, chocolates and fruit and down comforters. I’m about to (finally) collapse after I post this, and I’ll be up in another three and a half hours to start attending lectures and the opening reception. Wish me luck!
Hope all’s well at home!
Love and butterflies,
Callie/ Ms. Cook


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2013 12:49 pm (UTC)
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Feb. 12th, 2013 11:53 am (UTC)
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