It’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep. It was tough on the street today, yesterday, whatever day it is, I don’t even know anymore. Karen had spent the morning on the computer with a copy of a the local guidebook plotting a route to various places, a safe restaurant, a better market, etc. I studied the Google map a few times and tried to reorient myself to the neighborhood, and rally some enthusiasm for the adventure. I really did want a few provisions so I could eat something in my room besides power bars and chocolate.
We headed out in the direction of our mental maps since there is no printer. About 15 minutes later we arrived at the crossroads of two extremely busy streets. Now these streets dwarf what I explained last time- these were streets on steroids! It was an Indian Highway and it was moving faster than anything I’ve seen since I’ve been here on “Indian time”. Indian time has been a hard adjustment for me because it requires patience. In other words there are no written instructions for how or when something might happen, you just arrive and it happens when it happens. I feel my itchy first world habit of needing to be doing something all the time, pull out that cellphone and text Laura Mae, oh that’s right, the cellphone doesn’t work here.
The highway was about five lanes wide in each direction and full of motorbikes, cars, rickshaws, and thankfully, no dogs. The road split and there was a huge overpass and a gas station. It was hazy and hard to breath. The monsoons have shielded us from the brunt of the air pollution so far, but this morning was sunny and hot and the fumes were rising right back up into the atmosphere. We regrouped and decided to continue up the highway until we found the restaurant so we’d know where to go later. After negotiating the sidewalk/highway some 15 minutes we came to a place we recognized! This has never happened before, perhaps we’re learning our way around? But we never passed the restaurant so we knew our memory maps were off.
Eager to leave the noise and pollution we decided to explore a road we had seen the day before, that according to memory map, would lead back to our area. Karen had been reluctant to explore yesterday but we were more confident today. About five minutes down the dusty road was an unlikely group of animals off to the side in a heap of trash, a couple of goats, some chickens and assorted birds, and of course dogs. In a moment of levity I said, “This is the petting zoo I told you about.” This is particularly funny since I am normally neurotically clean and cautious, and my doctor in Denver had said just last week, “Stay away from animals.” I do as I’m told, but it was such an odd sight, I had to surreptitiously take a quick photo. I try not to be insensitive or take photos like a western tourist on safari, so the quality is poor, but the picture is below. We continue down the road and within minutes I realize we have made a grave mistake. It suddenly feels like we are walking into someone’s living room or living area. A teen-age boy and girl make a lewd proposal in broken English which I brush off with my primary defense mechanism- talk and laughter. But it’s too late to turn back, it would almost seem rude now like crashing someone’s party then leaving in disgust because there wasn’t your favorite drink. So we forge ahead, me talking and gesticulating while my confidence in the mental map melts in the sun. I try to be nonchalant and polite and several young children smile and wave and say “Hi” and “Bye” as we walk past. I smile and wave and say hi and bye. I notice a brick wall behind their huts with rusty barbed wire prison-style on the top. Behind the wall is a large apartment building. On the side of the road there is a make shift bed with a skeletal elderly woman lying on her side, a light sheet to keep off the bugs clinging to what remains of her, a woman or friend is stooped on the ground nearby. More chickens. More gesticulation. It was one of those moments filled with so many competing emotions that I just wanted to burst and evaporate in the sun.
Moments later we see the end of the road and the now familiar traffic circle near our home. I stop at the stand where I’d been eyeing some flowers yesterday, my favorites, Tuberoses with their strong sweet pungent smell. These will fill up my empty room.
The bird cacophony is beginning outside my window and morning is on the way. My windows are open, thankfully with screens, to the park, which has enormous trees and is quite beautiful. I walked through it once our first night to get to the Institute. It’s a haven for birds, I wish my dear birding friends from home could be here to help me identify them. Where are you Sandy, Karel, Marian? Today I can hear the faint chanting from across the street at the Hare Krishna center. My alarm just went off. I don’t want to snooze. I want to get up. Today’s my first class and anything is possible in the morning If I just get outside. How difficult that has become.