Friday, June 17, 2011

Namaste & Vannakam India!

Packing out seems like a distant bad dream. It has been a while since I wrote and I think I am long overdue. Since the last time you tuned in, the following things happened: we packed all of our things and three separate groups of our stuff left our apartment. We put kitty into a minimum-security prison for cat crimes she did not commit and will all be (hopefully) reunited in India on Saturday. My husband and I attended his sister’s wedding at Martha’s Vineyard and left on our deferred honeymoon in Spain. Spain was gorgeous and we got to see Seville, Granada, Cordoba, stay in a little town on Costa del Sol, drove terrifying mountain roads to Malaga, Cadiz, and Ronda. We ended our wonderful vacation in Madrid, where we got to experience a natural phenomenon I don’t anticipate in India – feeling cold in the rain. All in all, the trip turned out wonderfully

After a minor skirmish with Lufthansa over not having a paper ticket – does anyone travel on paper tickets anymore – we left for Frankfurt. In Frankfurt we boarded another flight bound for Delhi. The crew called for people in need of special help to board, followed by first and business classes, and then we waited and waited as the crowd by the boarding counter swelled. This was no organized line with individuals and families standing neatly behind each other, it was more like a mushroom cloud made up of people shifting and jostling for a space a few inches ahead of each other. We watched the anxious crowd too tired to join. In about 30 minutes however we said to each other, “well we won’t be the suckers” and joined the surging crowd. About ten minutes later general boarding was finally called and the remaining 5 passengers stood up to board.

In Delhi, we stepped out of the Indira Gandhi International Airport at a brisk 1:30 AM, into what felt like a blow dryer set on high. I had a similar feeling in Eilat, although I think it wasn’t as humid. So, no real chance of feeling cold for the next two years! Delhi was oppressively hot, I mean look I’ve been to places where I sweated my share, but the heat was pretty intense. We were in Delhi for tow days, Sunday and Monday. On Sunday we went sightseeing and on Monday both my husband and I met our respective new bosses.

A friend, who just arrived for a job in Delhi a few days ahead of us, joined us for some sightseeing. We booked a car with a driver and AC. The AC worked, but I think it was no match for midday heat. Every time we passed by a traffic police post, our driver strapped his seat-belt across his lap, stopping just short of clicking it in place. We arrived at the Red Fort during the hottest part of the day and encountered a snaking line as far as our eyes could see. On a side-note, entering the museum compound we all went through metal detectors – they were turned off. So yeah, back to that line, enormous. As the three of us faced each other in the midday heat we exchanged the same thought, standing in this line we will drop dead before we reach the fort gates.

We brought tickets at a hugely inflated price for foreign tourists 25 times the cost of a regular ticket. Funny thing, people with diplomatic IDs pay local prices for admission to museums, while diplomatic passports do not grant the bearer the same cost of admission, makes sense right? I actually don’t mind spending more on museums as I see this as a donation for upkeep. With tickets clutched in our sweaty hands we proceeded to go down a lane leading to the entrance of the fort, which had no line - it turned out that we were walking in the “ladies” section of the security line. Nearing the entrance my husband was waved into the men’s security line as we proceeded through another set of switched off metal detectors. Why? I really could not tell you.

The Red Fort, built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor and served as the residence for the Shah’s family. The Fort and its gardens are gorgeous, while the complex’s mosque was closed for renovation; we had plenty of ground to explore. There were not that many western tourists, they were probably smart enough to stay away at 1 PM in 115 or 120 degree heat, but there were lots of Indian families hanging out, resting in the shade and picnicking. As we wandered around the complex, a family on vacation invited us to be in their snapshots. I think I caught some Tamil words, so they might have come to the North from Tamil Nadu for vacation. It was sweet and we were flattered. There was quite a bit more staring, not of the pleasant variety. Some teenage boys kept taking pictures of my friend and I, which was a bit annoying, but maybe they have yet to discover the internet in all of its exhibitionist glory, who knows?

On Monday, we headed to the airport once more. Passengers started boarding our Air India flight to Chennai before the flight was actually announced. As passengers spotted someone in a wheelchair taken on board, they surged to the boarding counter. The flight was on time and uneventful, my favorite kind of travel. Sadly, the duration of the flight was too short for us to see the ending of a Bollywood rendition of Back to the Future. I did not even catch the name of the movie, which was deliciously over the top and had a number of well choreographed dance numbers. Bleary eyed and viciously jetlagged we arrived in Chennai at 12:30 AM. I went to the bathroom, which I rate as pretty clean for the late hour and public space. I entered the first stall and did not see toilet paper and went to the next stall, where I saw my old friend, the squat and hover toilet. Its been a while old friend, we have not met since Kyiv.

My husband’s social sponsor met us at the airport with a rather large van and driver. For those of you that switched schools, the social sponsor is your school assigned buddy; someone that shows you around the new place, explains about how things work and answers your questions. The family that sponsored our arrival is really nice and have been showing us around and letting me use their car and driver during the day for errands.

So far I really like India. I’ve had great food, it is not a problem to find veggie options on the menu and I do not need to explain what does not belong in my meal. I keep kosher and since there are no kosher restaurants and butcher, I plan to stay vegetarian occasionally eating fish. Prior to my arrival, I received a written offer to work as an economist for an economic consulting firm. The bad news is that I can’t start working yet. I need to receive my diplomatic ID and then apply for a work permit. The dip ID takes at least 3 weeks and work authorization from 1-6 months. So for now I am just hanging out and hoping against hope that the administrative process will not take too long.

I have been unpacking and making things neater around our fabulously large apartment. After grad school, housemates and our 600 sq ft apt in NOVA, our new place is big enough that if we wanted to we could roller skate from room to room. Our first shipment is supposed to arrive sometime next week while the large shipment will probably come at the beginning of August. I have been trying to set things up around the house, but was surprised to learn that I actually cannot put in maintenance orders or set up our home internet service. “Madam cannot place orders. Madam’s husband must come and speak to me in my office and then send a confirmation email with request.” Hmmm, ok but here is the catch, madam’s husband has a day job with, you know meetings, and trainings, and such, and at the moment madam has the time to take care of these things. Thus far the aforementioned argument has not worked. Recently, our really nice and friendly downstairs neighbor offered to share her wireless with us until we get out internet hooked up and I accepted the offer enthusiastically. Having access to internet feels great. Last but not least, currently in rolling blackout mode, I am quite grateful to our landlord for electrical generators.

On Monday, I leave to attend the wedding of a dear friend S. S. held one of our chuppah (wedding canopy) poles and has been a wonderful friend. I am honored and overjoyed to share her wedding celebrations. I arrive with ample time to see other friends and family. Hopefully, shortly after my return I will hold my brand new and shiny dip ID in my sweaty hands. Speaking of schwitzing, my beautician in NY was absolutely right, humidity does wonders for one’s skin, helping us fight mother - nature and banishing wrinkles for just a little longer. Cheers from India!