Saturday, January 22, 2011

You can't go at it alone: appreciating others' help

There is no good way that I know at the moment to close up the India chapter of my blog, and to begin a new one that's not as travel/culture-focused. I think it can be hard to put the final touches on anything, because you are afraid you are going to forget something. I'll never "do justice" to the "How was India?" question, but I'm going to keep trying until I feel it's time to stop.

Anyways, I never took time to sit down and write about the last two weeks I was "away," so maybe doing so now will help me to figure out how to wrap things up.

My brother DJ, who's 23, took two weeks off from work over his Winter Break to travel through India with me. Before he arrived, I felt tired of traveling, yet knew that the two weeks would be one of the most spectacular periods I'd ever get to spend with my brother, the middle child who adds so much joie de vivre to everyone who interacts with him. On December 18, I arrived at our hotel near the southern tip of India after a long night's train ride to find Deej as peppy as ever with a coconut the size of a soccer ball in his hands. Any remaining doubt of our trip fell to the wayside upon seeing this goofy clownboy.

Slowly, but steadily (we had to get to Mumbai by a specific date to make our flight to West Bengal), we made our way up the Arabian coast by bus and train; oh!, now did we have some fun using those low-cost transport methods! (If you know DJ, just say the words "cockroach" and "train" next time you see him, and see what you get.)

One instance, we were trying to move from northern Kerala to Goa, and the son of the hotel owner assured us that when we got to the station, we would find that our train ticket would be moved from "wait list" status to "confirmed" status, that we would, no-questions-asked, have places assigned to us for sleeping. At the station, so small and aged it could have come out of the Colonial times, the manager said there was "no way" we could be confirmed, and sold us tickets in the common car, which no one I know has ever taken on an overnight journey, as people are squished. My bro tried to warm up the station manager with a little green stuff, but the man refused (maybe that sign in the office saying something like "people with integrity are not corrupt" rubbed off on him), though he hinted that the "TT's" (the ticket-takers) might be able to help us. So we jumped on a random sleeper car, and sought out TT after TT, lugging our baggage through the narrow aisles, racking up looks of annoyance and confusion. DJ was getting pretty pissy, as he had a terrible stomach ache caused by the seafood at the theme village we stayed at the previous night (though we enjoyed joking that the real cause of the ailment was overindulgence, as was the staunch belief of the hotel owner, who said "bedrest" was the best remediation). We had nearly exhausted the options for TT-fleecing (something I am normally opposed to, though I guess my true nature came out when the situation was uncomfortable!), when the last blue-blazered guy with a clipboard came through. Oddly, he gave us the one sleeper berth he had for himself, and would not accept any money (though he told us the other TT might like some), saying that what he was doing for us was a "service" (what that means, I still don't know). This honestly was a type of miracle, as the TT could have ordered us straight to the common car. Anyways, the bro had worked his wonder, and had stretched out on what was supposed to be our slab of leather-covered metal in the five minutes I took to complete my bedtime routine.

As I was trying in vain to find a position I could fall asleep in on the edge of the berth, one of the Indian guys sleeping on the adjacent berth offered me his berth; can you imagine?, giving out your bed and forgoing an entire night's sleep so a stranger could sleep comfortably?

Perhaps I am not properly developing the point of this story; what I want to get across is how affected we were by the some of the Indians we came across, those selfless, giving, people who felt obliged to make foreigners comfortable and safe. As another example, on one of the other train rides we took, I had introduced myself to a couple of people (one lady who spoke impeccable English and who was married to the postmaster general, and a young professional man), and when I cut it close getting back on the train after a quick stop at a station, they confided to me how they had rushed to the window to make sure I had gotten back on the train! I had just met them, yet they were worried about me. (I know that in one of my past entries I expressed feeling overlooked by some of the students at school when they pushed me aside at the sandwich/smoothie bar (it sounds trivial now), but that was but one piece of my experience with Indians in four months.)

Anyways, back to the first train...I discovered a berth in the same car that only had someone's

In one of our other adventures, Deej drove us from south-central Goa to north Goa on a rented motorcycle to check out the famous beach party scene. DJ had learned to drive a motorcycle the previous day, and there we were, traipsing around a new place with no cell phone on Indian roads! After stopping for the best Chinese food in the Portuguese-infused state capital of Panaji, we headed farther north, only to find an Indian parallel of CancĂșn or San Padre Island. I found a couple of Indians who invited me into their crazy little dance circle, but Deej had to remain grounded due to his continuing stomach issue. On the way back to our hotel in the south, DJ made a little comment about not realizing the gas gauge was so low. It was really early in the morning, and we could not find a gas station; finally, about five km from the hotel, the bike shakes. Coming to a stop in front of a budget hotel, the night watchman asked us what happened, and we tell him. He got the owner out from the hotel, and they kindly agree on our stupidity ("there was a gas station just up the road, didn't you see it?"). The owner, however, proceeds to suck gas out of his own vehicle with plastic tubing and transport it to a water bottle, which he then hands us, before making sure we understand how to get to the closest gas station. My bro offered money (which was refused), and "thanks" after "thanks," after which the dude told him to stop thanking him. "Enough thanks. This is the Goan way," he said. Back at the hotel, DJ and I could not believe we had made it back uninjured. We went to sleep so happy, but in just a few hours, I would find DJ face-down on the marble bathroom floor, begging me to go find him a doctor...

On returning from our Goan motorcycle adventure; don't think I've ever felt more relieved to have made it back unscathed from a nighttime escapade.

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