Friday, November 14, 2014

I Think I Pissed My Pants

We hit heavy turbulence. Not the "driving down a gravel road" kind but the "holy shut I think I'm going to die" kind where you drop hundreds of feet out of nowhere.

Intellectually I know turbulence is pretty harmless. But my balls don't seem to be aware because they burrowed up into my esophagus seeking safety.

It's now about 6:30 - success!!!  I've had 4 beers (my strategy for passing time in the Mumbai airport). 4 coffee &  bailey's (my strategy for staying awake) and 4 glasses of wine (my strategy for falling asleep). Not even buzzed which just isn't right.

One of the quirks of my personality is that I recall the "shape" of things but not really the details. I have a strong sense of the feeling of Mumbai and India but as time goes on the specifics will fade.

Mumbai was all chaos and a jumbled mess. A city in constant motion with no discernible rules to my Western mind but one that obviously is internally consistent. I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around it. I am going to need to read a bunch about that city because it's fascinating, confusing and deeply sad all at the same time.

In the US neighborhoods are segregated by class for the most part. You can look at a part of a city or neighborhood and get a sense of its rich, poor, middle class. In Mumbai is all spread like peanut butter. Obviously middle-ish class high rises rise in the background as tent cities and shanty towns spring in the foreground. Professionals stride down the street weaving in and out between homeless, shysters and street urchins all melding together naturally in a way that just doesn't feel right to my American sensibilities.

The huge shanty towns with a satellite on every roof is so confusing, but was ubiquitous.

When we arrived in Mumbai airport from Hyderabad we had to take a bus from the plane to the domestic airport (don't ask me why we landed at the International Airport. I have no idea). The bus traveled along the perimeter of the property within spitting distance of the razor wire and machine gun armed guards that surrounded the airport.

Built up along this imposing barrier due the entire 10(?) mile journey was shack after shack. People have built their homes in such an inhospitable environment. Yet it didn't have a feeling of desperation. Clothes were hung outside to dry. There were blinking multicolored Christmas lights everywhere, people were socializing and enjoying meals together.

What, to me, should be an environment of desperation and despair was normal. Routine. It almost causes me embarrassment.

After we got our luggage we needed to travel back to the international airport (no really). We were supposed to have a private car waiting for us but someone dropped the ball. Some random guy said he would take us.  As we approached his car my spidy sense started going haywire - I convinced everyone else to forego that idea and hit the official taxi stand. The guy followed us, hit a little over insistent and perhaps a little belligerent. I stopped and looked him in the eye (I'm also a good 8 inches taller and 100 lbs heavier than him) and informed him that we were well aware that we needed to take a taxi to the international terminal. That we were very capable of arranging a ride through official channels. And that there was no way in hell that we were going to get into his car or any vehicle that didn't have a companies name and official stare license sticker plainly visible). That cowed him briefly but he followed is a ways and when we stopped to strategize about our next step he approached and started to make his case again. I turned around puffed or my chest and may have had a look that could kill because he immediately shutup and walked away.

We found a prepaid taxi stand and while standing in line were approached by no less than 20 people offering taxi services (all pretty slovenly, no name tags of official looking presence which isn't saying much. But the dead give away is that they only approached western looking folks line and not any one obviously native)

So we got our cabs (we needed two) and they tossed out luggage on the roof. Then off we headed for our 20 minutes cab ride to the international terminal. Every 3 minutes the driver would own his door (whether we were moving our not) and would spit. His teeth were blood red. Then I noticed what he was chewing - the heads off of matches. I shit you not. He grabbed two stick matches while I was in the car and bit of the heads and chewed them like tobacco.

And as we made our way slowly to the terminal motor bikes often with two passengers would pass within inches of our vehicle. All the while I'm thinking that there would be nothing that we could do if one of them decided to grab or bags and just drive away. And then there were the street merchants. Often women with infants or little kids trying to sell plastic airplanes. Or simple begging. For some reason the windows were down and at one point we were moving very very slowly and they would just walk along side the car telling us to buy a plane. At one point she stuck it in my ear!!!  No money I said (which was absolutely 100% the truth I didn't bring any cash). Then she held up he baby making said eyes and said 'hungry'.  My heart dropped to my stomach. "I don't have any money". 'no paler money just English coin '. I had to look away ashamed. I didn't have anything of value to give.

When driving from the office to the Hyderabad airport we hit a stop light and two little urchin boys selling cotton candy (I think) started knocking on our windows.  We all shook our head no. He sat down pouring counting his 5 coins over and over. Our driver opened his window and offered him a bottle of water and said "from him" pointing his thumb at me. The boys face lit up like you would not believe and gave me a big thumbs up. I almost started crying - how miserable we are yet have so much.

In the final turn before entering the airport we sat at a busy intersection chaos everywhere. People walking bikes weaving in and out. Honking from all direction huge trucks with their "honk OK please" signs painted in the back. And on the far corner was a mom with two toddlers baked from the waste up. One of them squatting to piss on the street with a small pile of belongings beneath a ratty blanket tied between two posts. This was their home. Amidst the nose and confusion this young mother decided that this was the best option available to her. How can I appropriately demonstrate how fortunate I am that this is not a choice that I will ever have to make?

Part of me would like to say that this was a life altering experience - but we all know better. In weeks or perhaps months I will find myself complaining that the pizza place forgot to put extra sausage on my pizza. Or that I was mildly frightened in my business class swat cause things got a little bumpy and I spilled a bit of my free wine.

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