Monday, July 1, 2013


More of my journal

6/30 – At the Oberoi after the scariest car ride

We literally just arrived at the Oberoi Grand Hotel, and it is magnificent to be “home” after days of travel.  I am just waiting for the staff to bring up my bags so that I can shower off my days of travel. 

My first introduction to my city has been unreal.  As we were landing, it was clear that about 5 airplane hangers had about waist high water.  The planes were immersed up to the top of their tires and some men were wading through the water around them.  The terminals were on higher ground and we were easily able to disembark and make it through immigration.  My experience with the Kolkata airport is one of seemingly endless lines that just lead to more lines.   And my approach to lines is not exactly the same as the approach that many others were taking.  The rule seems to be that if you leave a little space between you and the person in front of you, someone will squeeze into that space and you will wait a little longer.  Note to self – get comfortable sharing personal space if a line is involved. 

continued 7/1 after returning from the American Center where we made appointments to register our visas

Well, I didn’t really get a chance to record many of my thoughts yesterday as we were very busy with meetings and shopping to try to avoid the realization that we hadn’t slept much and need to adapt to a new time zone.  I managed to stay awake until about 11 last night.  I did wake up around 3:30 in the morning and had some trouble falling back asleep, but when my wake up call came in at 7:30, it had to rouse me out of a deep sleep.  I should say that wake up calls here are quite phenomenal.  First the phone beside your bed rings.  You answer and say good morning.  Then about 40 seconds later, your doorbell rings and a man brings in a tray of tea and cookies (or whatever else you want to request the night before when you arrange your wake-up call).  Obviously this is heaven. 

Back to my first impressions of Kolkata and the weirdest car ride ever

Once we made it through immigration, we waited at baggage claim for a solid hour to retrieve our bags.  I was feeling extremely sleepy so I looked around and found that the only bench in the area was free.  I claimed it and had been sitting there a few minutes before a man approached me for directions to customs.  I obviously couldn’t help him except to direct him to a man wearing a lanyard walking past.  I had decided that lanyards meant you worked at the airport.  I was sort of wondering why he asked until I noticed that the table in front of the bench where I had taken up residence was an information desk.  I had unwittingly been passing myself off as the director of information.  I decided it would be a good idea to join the others in my group. 

Once we made it through customs with our bags, we met with a representative of the hotel who had been sent to drive us (or so we thought).  He patiently waited as we exchanged currency and used the bathroom.  Then we walk outside with all of our carts of luggage, and we are greeted by a row of Oberoi employees each holding a sign with our names.  That is right, we each had our own car and driver.  What?!?!  I wish I had thought to take a picture, but I was not really thinking.  So my dear driver loaded my luggage into our sweet black SUV and off we roared.  Yes, roared, not rolled.  Apparently our 10 drivers were on a mission to get us settled into the hotel as quickly as possible.  They zoomed down streets where there were no lines or organization that I could discern.  And they beeped constantly.  Presumably to let others know they were driving.  In order to cope with the sheer terror of being surrounded on all sides with vehicles driving any direction and speed that they chose, I decided to try to decipher the codes of the beeping.  I think that I determined that for my driver two short beeps meant “I am about to hit your left side, move.”  A longer blare meant, “I am going to dart around you to the right regardless of how close that puts me to the barrier, and then I will cut you off.”  It seemed like a complicated language to me, and I am pretty sure there were different dialects because some other drivers seemed to give long blares when they were attempting to squeeze by us on the left. 

All of the roadways were overwhelming.  In addition to all of the cars, hand pulled carts, small little taxi-ish wagons, crowded buses, etc., there were also hundreds of pedestrians.  The sidewalks were full of people selling goods or standing around, so people trying to walk to anywhere also used the road.  On top of that, there were also dozens of stray dogs and cows on the streets.  I actually only got to see 5 cows and only one of them gave us a disgruntled moo as we whizzed around him.  I honestly have no idea how people can stand to drive here.  It is madness.  Even in the streets right around our hotel, there are just throngs of people and cars bully their way through with lots of beeping and dependence on people to value their lives enough to get out of the way.  Caitlin told us that around 11pm the police but barricades around most of the roads so that the cars have to slow down and avoid hitting the people who use the sidewalks as home.  These barricades are apparently like speed bumps.  We returned from the market around 10 and the streets were still bustling at that time. 

The view at the airport.  These hangers have worse than usual flooding according to the staff.

A few of us waiting for our luggage.  

A street near our hotel.  This was taken on my first walk which was made in an attempt to stay awake until an appropriate time to fight jet lag.  

Notice that it seems improbable that the car won't hit something.  

My hotel room - the bathroom

My closet and tea making station

My bedroom

My amazingly comfortable (or am I just the most tired I have ever been?) bed

Shopping for salweer kamiz and kurtas at the market.  A man from the hotel went with us to teach us to barter and choose clothing.  Poor guy.  I am sure that he was humiliated to be with such strange women.

Sporting our new looks to go to the American Center and American Consulate for orientation and dinner with our  mentors and principals.  

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