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Leaving India

15 Feb

Well, after over 150 days in India, we left the same way we came in, with a crooked taxi driver. It seems fitting that it ended this way and we were so used to it that it didn’t even phase us in the least.

We got our taxi from the Bandra area of Mumbai, where we were staying with our friend Hana. Hana’s housekeeper went out and got the taxi herself, telling the driver that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. He quoted her a price of Rs. 250 which is a rip off, but we didn’t really care, we just wanted to get on the plane and get home. Once we got outside with our bags and the driver saw us, we knew we were in for a long trip. Hana’s housekeeper made sure to repeat that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and that we shouldn’t pay him more than Rs. 250.

The beginning of the drive was decent enough until we reached the turn off for the DOMESTIC AIRPORT where the driver asked (in broken Hindglish of course) if we were going to the domestic airport or the international airport. We told him again that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and he mumbled something about the price which I didn’t hear. As we approached the turn to the international airport he again asked if we were going to the international airport. We said, “YES! Challo! Now!” he smiled and made the turn. If you’ve been reading out blog, you know what comes next…He said that he thought the housekeeper said domestic airport and that the trip to the international airport was now going to cost us more. We called his bullshit and said, “No, take us to the International airport NOW. You get no more money.” As we began driving toward the terminals, he suddenly made a right turn and went down another road. We yelled at him to stop and got out of the car and told him, “You get no money now!” As we began walking toward the terminals, the driver backed up against traffic and began following us. He demanded that we get back in the taxi and that we pay him.

Astrid noticed a car full of police driving by and waved them over. I saw them too and did the same. I explained that the driver was playing a game with us and was trying to get more money out of us. The police officer got out of the car and beckoned the driver over. What happened next shocked us, in Hindi, the police officer began yelling at the driver, all I could understand was the word “tourist” and the word “rupees.” The driver taking everything in stride went to lean on the police vehicle and immediately had his arm slapped by the policeman. The policeman began yelling even more loudly and then slapped the driver across the face twice before dragging him by his ear to the taxi so the driver could read the meter to him. The officer then dragged the driver back by the ear and told us that “You pay this man nothing, not one single paisa.” We thought okay great, let us go so we can walk to the terminal. Then the officer told us to get back in the taxi so the driver could take us to the terminal…”WHAT? get back in the taxi…with the man you just beat in front of us?” I said, “Get in this taxi?” and the officer said, “Yes, we will follow you.”

So we piled back into the taxi, the driver wouldn’t even look at us and we got a police escort to the terminal with an officer riding in the front of the taxi. As we left, I offered to pay what we agreed to to get there. The officer just looked at me and shook his head. We got out of there as fast as we could and into the airport. I have no idea what happened to the guy after we left. It’s better to leave it to the imagination.

Feeling some sense of relief that that part of the ordeal was over, we settled in to wait for our plane which ended up being a hour and a half late. We knew as we boarded that we were probably going to miss our connecting fight in Heathrow to JFK. Well, we did and since the flight left from Mumbai, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t take responsibility for late departures. They also don’t put people up for the night in a local hotel nor do they give food vouchers. Our only option was to spend 69£ or $140 USD for a room for the night. We also lost out on a prepaid hotel room in JFK. Well we decided to sleep in the terminal instead and it was cold- really cold, but we found a space heater and huddled around it and got at least a few hours of sleep before the flight out at 9:30 am.

At least we got out of Heathrow in time and we made it back to the US at 12:30 pm. Only a day late…not bad. I called the hotel and they honored our reservation for that day. Now to get used to the Western world again…we’ll let you know how it goes.

Cheers!

Anthony and Astrid

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

9 Nov

…Goa a couple of days ago and I wanted to share it with you.

We flew from the east coast of India to the west coast to avoid a 48-hour train ride before we begin to head south toward Puducherry and Auroville.  We flew SpiceJet, one of India’s new low-cost carriers. The seating was less than generous, but perfect for the average Indian flyer. As Astrid and I squeezed into our seats, I looked at the empty aisle seat next to me and hoped that no one would sit there so I could move over. Things were looking good until about five minutes before the plane was about to leave when a man as tall and as wide as me sat down next to me.

No one in our row was comfortable and the air conditioning system was not operating very well. The sun was coming in through the window with the shade drawn and heating up the interior of the plane. The man next to me fell asleep and kind of slumped toward me. After about a half hour, I became very uncomfortable and began squirming in my seat, trying to get some legroom or part of an armrest, which the man next to me was taking. Astrid asked me if I was okay and I told her that I was just hot and uncomfortable.

At that point the man turned to me and asked me if he had done something to offend me. I said, “No, did I do something to offend you?” He replied, “You know what you did.” But I actually didn’t know what I did. The man then said, ” I can ask the flight attendant to move me to another seat if you want.” I replied, “I don’t think that is necessary, but feel free to move if you want to.” We didn’t exchange another word during the rest of the flight.

45 minutes later, as we prepared for landing, the man turned to me again and apologized for acting the way that he did. He told me that he was tired, uncomfortable, and had been travelling all day.  He told me that he had nothing to say for himself and that he should not have treated me with disrespect. It was a rreally vulnerable thing for him to do and I accepted his apology with tears in my eyes. He said, “Enjoy your time in Goa.” I shook his hand and we disembarked the plane. I saw him once on the bus to the terminal and then we got our luggage and left for our hotel.

Fast forward to the next day, Astrid and I were walking around Panaji, looking at the Portuguese-inspired architecture, and remarking at the cleanliness. We walked across a very busy avenue, dodging cars and motorbikes the entire way to start walking along the riverfront promenade. As we got across the street, we both heard the sound of “It’s a Small World.” You know, the Disney song. Anyway, we walked about fifty meters and I heard a car honk at us. I turned, half expecting to see a taxi trying to get a fare, what I saw instead was a man in a small red car with his son. He was pointing at the building next to us and waving, so I looked at the building, which was nothing spectacular.  “Wierd,” I thought… I decided to ignore the man who was obviously crazy and we continued to walk. We got about 50 more meters when he pulled up next to us again and began to honk and wave at us. I looked closer and saw that he was the man from the airplane!

We walked up to the car and he asked us how our time in Goa was and told us that he still felt upset about treating me so poorly on the plane the day before. He introduced himself as Adolfo and asked us if he could take us out for a cappuccino that evening. We agreed and he said that he would pick us up at our guesthouse at eight p.m. As he drove away, Astrid and I both remarked that we had heard the song “It’s a Small World,” and when Astrid heard it, she thought to herself, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we saw the man from the plane right when this song was playing?”

A little after eight o’clock, the man showed up and whisked us off to the café where we talked about our lives and learned that he was a Presbyterian reverend from Brazil and  has lived in Goa for the last ten years with his wife and son. We began talking about his son and his son’s problems in school, his teachers call the family at least once a week and call the boy a dreamer and say that he has mental problems- even though he has been seen by a specialist. Astrid asked if he was artistic. Adolfo said, “Yes, in fact he carries a drawing book with him wherever he goes.” This boy’s school life was so close to my own, his teachers were trying to stifle his creativity and imagination and turn him into a smaller version of themselves. I told Adolfo as much and said that I too was an artist.  I told him that what mattered most was that he let his son know that he could do anything and be anything.

Adolfo must have agreed with what I was saying, because he quickly asked if we would come to the auditorium nearby where his wife and son were so I could meet them. I thought about it for a second and agreed to go with him. We arrived at the auditorium to find that his wife and son were attending a Christian revival meeting, complete with a preacher, prayers to the Baby Jesus, hand waving, miracle healings and everything. Adolfo told us that he didn’t agree with this, but as a respected reverend in Goa, that he was there as support for the churches. It was so surreal to see Indian people praying in the Christian way and waving their arms and yelling “Amen.” It was surreal for me as well, as I haven’t stepped foot inside a church for a service in decades.

After the service ended, Adolfo introduced us to his family, his son David, and his wife (whose name escapes me at the moment.) We exited the auditorium and went to find a seat outside to talk. David would barely shake my hand let alone look at me until Adolfo told him that I was an artist too. When he heard this, David asked if I could draw anything. I said, “Yes” and he asked me if I had any paper with me. I didn’t have any materials with me so he went to play with his friends. I told Adolfo and his wife about how strange it was that we met again and the way that “It’s a Small World” was playing when we saw him earlier that morning. His parents and friends were all going out for pizza and asked us to come along as their guests. We agreed.

We ended up at Domino’s, the only pizza place in town and ate pizza, talked, and David somehow found me some paper and a pen and asked me to draw something for him. I asked what he wanted me to draw. He said, “A cat.” I drew a lion. He asked me to draw Spiderman, I drew a cartoon version of the superhero, he asked me to draw a dragon and I asked him what a dragon looked like. As he told me, I drew what he was imagining. There was something very powerful there for me and the boy, and David responded by completely lighting up. I began to realize that the altercation that happened on the plane had nothing to do with his father and me, but had everything to do with me meeting this boy.  Adolfo could see how much his son lit up when engaged in art and had an idea for me to visit a school for homeless and poor children and draw with them for a couple of hours. I agreed, but we’ll see if anything comes of it.

We left the restaurant at 11:30 ready to be taken home and go to bed. As we backed out of the parking space, we heard the song again… “It’s a Small World” was coming from his car- it was his back up indicator! Astrid and I yelled in unison, “THIS IS THE SONG!” Adolfo had no idea that the backup indicator song was the song we were talking about earlier!

Instead of going straight back to the hotel, we drove around Panaji for another hour looking at all of the Narakasur (demon) statues that were being set up to be burned for Diwali later that evening/ morning. We got to take a short tour of the city and see Hindus out partying it up to fight the darkness. 

We found new friends in Goa- not Goans, but Brazilians!

Cheers!