Thursday, November 5, 2009

Color Commentary

The Royal Habitat, I learned, had one of the nicest bathrooms I would find on my trip.

I woke up to the thickest air I’ve felt in a while.  Hot, humid, dewy air must have infiltrated the room after the A/C unit mounted high on the wall shut off.  I didn’t just wake up because it was strangely warm though.  A man was calling something I couldn’t understand outside the hotel window.  ”pAAAAAAAAAYpah.  (pause)  pAAAAAAAAYpah.”  Dogs were barking.  I jumped when I heard a second voice: “mEEEEEEEEhlk.”  A new calling man joined the clash of sounds outside.  ”mEEEEEEEhlk.”  Hundreds of horns were sounding, indifferent to the fact I had just spent (pause for time difference calculation) 29 hours traveling: from Phoenix, to Los Angeles, diagonally northeast up and over North America, over Greenland, diagonally southeast over Europe and part of Russia, into the Middle East city of Dubai, then due East to India.  ”mEEEEEEEEEhlk.”

This chorus of noise outside was enough to cause my nerves to snap to attention.  This was far more effective than a traditional alarm clock.  This was Bangalore’s good morning wake-up call to me.  And I was scared to death.

“pAAAAAAAAAYpah!”  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I swear that guy was yelling that terrorists were coming and we were all doomed.  The dogs barking were probably communicating in dog language that very same sentiment.  *gulp*  I felt dizzy, hot, and completely disoriented.  Past news stories of the Mumbai terror attacks flashing through my head, I knew it was time to take action.  I woke up my brother, who was sleeping in the other bed.  (back story: we got in from the airport at 5am, Bangalore time, exhausted, after driving for at least an hour at no more than 35-40mph to the small hotel where James was staying.  In India, it’s not uncommon to share rooms with friends or family when traveling.  Besides that, the place was full, so we ended up sharing a room for the few hours we had… which I ended up being so glad about, because these noises outside were too much for my naive ears.)

“James, what’s that guy yelling about?  Are we safe here?”  To which I got a muffled, polite but cautionary reply: “The world is not a safe place, Jenn.“

I wanted to cry.  I was tired, hot, and facing certain demise.  I could envision him rolling his eyes at me, even though his face was smashed in a pillow.  Well, he would know.  He’s been around the globe.  As for me, I was always happy with my seemingly safe, clean little corner of the planet.

I got out of bed, the clothes I wore on the plane, which I had fallen asleep in, were rumpled from the short nap.  My ears were able to start dissecting other sounds from the mesh of noise. Different dog barks.  Children.  Diesel engines.  Birds.  People carrying on strange, rolling-sounding conversations.  Hindi?  Probably not.  Most likely, it was Kannada, the language specific to Karnataka, the state in which Bangalore is found.  Aside from the language barrier, there was another challenge that I was not looking forward to, and I was standing in front of it: the bathroom.

There was a shiny hose positioned dutifully by the toilet.  It looked rather imposing and purposeful in its deliberate location.  What was that hose for?!  Why was there a bucket?!  I unzipped my suitcase and dug for the 2 rolls of toilet paper I brought on recommendation from my brother.  Oh boy, this was going to be a long 3 weeks.

. . . . .

View from the terrace of "Royal Habitat"

Funny though, 3 weeks went so fast.  Writing now at the end of my stay, I realize how quickly we can adapt to unfamiliarity – if we choose to do so.  In my case, I felt like I had very little choice, but a choice, nonetheless.  Which was good…no…invaluable for me.  I also realized my need to differentiate fear from unfamiliarity.

I learned that the strange men calling out “paaaaaaaaaypah”  and “miiiiiiiiiiiiihlk” were not yelling about death and destruction.  They’re actually street vendors, who wheel carts every morning through the narrow back roads, calling out to residents that they have for sale the morning paper and milk.  ”Paper.”  ”Milk.”  I get it now.  And yes, when I learned that, I felt, at the very least, sheepish.

I discovered that people in India drive by honking their horns.  A lot.  (more on this to come in a future blog)  I found out dogs are everywhere… and I actually met a young woman who makes it her mission to rescue street dogs and find them homes, when she’s not working at the country’s top business management university as an event coordinator.

I also was schooled in the ways of Indian bathrooms: the bucket is for bathing.  People bathe from a bucket, as to not waste water.  The hose is stationed dutifully by the toilet, because over there, they don’t use toilet paper.  I do.  I did.  And just for your reference, in case you’re going to India anytime soon… 2 rolls is perfect for 3 weeks.

Well, I am proud to share with you, reader, that this was one trip I am so grateful to have experienced.  My life is much richer, having seen so many interesting things, which I plan to share with you as I finish these half-written blogs of mine from India (the internet is rather dicey over there – deciding in the middle of my browsing sessions to simply quit).  That said, here’s to new experiences… and remembering to be thankful for the small, yet significant comforts we enjoy everyday.

-Jenn Burgess

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