Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Six-seater 101.

First, I will say the name "6-seater" is so misleading. They should seat only 6, but I've seen them squeeze in as much as 10 people. The driver makes the same fee from every person, so of course he tries to push in as many fares as he can. I had never taken one into town before, but I knew I needed to learn how it all worked, we wouldn't always have the campus car and driver available to us.

Charlotte (also a French expat here on campus) decided to go into town for some shopping and asked if I wanted to go. Since we're still new here there are many things we need for our apartment. We decided to take a 6-seater into the main hub of Hadapsar and take a rickshaw from there to the shopping center. Since campus is actually pretty far from Pune, about 30-50 minute drive (depending on traffic), we have to take the 6-seaters into town, then a rickshaw. We walked from campus to where they pick you up on the main highway. It was hot and sweaty standing there in the sun, and people stared at us like we were freaks (still something I am not used too). Charlotte finally hails the 6-seater and I notice there are people inside, she says, "Yes there is always people inside, hurry hurry, get in!" For some reason I imagined them like cabs, you hail your own. But no, and it was then the name "6-seater" was making sense. So I squished my big American ass in-between the smallest little Indian men. I took up about enough space for two of them. They squished over to let me fit in and Charlotte sat opposite squished between 3 others. I was really shocked, I had no idea we'd be riding with people and the uncomfortableness of this for me was almost unbearable. Along the way the driver kept stopping and picking up more people, I wanted to shout "Come on!?" But I didn't want to call any attention to myself...but seriously! We were packed so tightly and the drive is already a long, bumpy, and uncomfortable one as it is.

The pollution was so awful. Most Indians where masks or wrap scarves around their nose and mouth when in rickshaws or riding motorcycles to block the grime. I wasn't prepared, even Charlotte had a mask. So I used the hood on my sweatshirt to cover my nose and mouth. The pollution was so thick, my stomach was beginning to turn and I was praying I would not throw up. Dirt and debris were flying into my eyes and I was grumbling to myself the whole way.

The way back wasn't as bad. This time I knew what I was getting into at least. I smiled at the people in the 6-seater I shared with and they were very chatty and funny. When we first got in and were having trouble squeezing in, one of the guys said "Let the English woman sit!" They continued to call us English women the whole way and we didn't correct them. By the time we were getting closer to campus, the monsoon started, it was pounding the roof of the 6-seater and water was leaking in everywhere, the funny man across from us laughed and said (I think) "This is India!". The leaking roof was the least of our concerns, once outside of the 6-seater we had a long walk in monsoon rains back to campus! We arrived home completely soaked, but I had a nice hot shower and felt immediately better. The thunder from the monsoon was so booming it actually rattled the windows of our apartment!

It was a good day though, I was glad I learned how to go to town with the 6-seaters, should I ever need too. The pollution is what got to me most, I could barely handle 1 day completely immersed in it. I know Remi would hate it too, especially the part where crap flies into your eyes (literally), I kept imagining my eyes becoming infected eventually. I know, I'm paranoid. I do hate to sound prissy, but I care about the health of my eyes & lungs while I'm here. From now on I will probably stick to cars and use 6-seaters and rickshaws as a last resort.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our arrival in Mumbai. It was 11pm and both Remi and I were nervous and exhausted from our flight. . This was our first time together somewhere completely new. We may have well just arrived on Mars, for this is exactly how it felt.

The Mumbai airport smells exactly how you would expect it too. Like curry, or to be more precise, Indian spices. The floors were a dark stained burgundy color, and the airport pretty much looked like it was stuck in some 70s time warp. Even though this is a huge international airport, I could count the amount of white people I saw. Even in the airport, we were a noticable minority. Stepping off was a tad scary, a man with one of those guns that detect temperatures was aiming at everyone, as well as people with masks asking for our "H1N1 Virus forms" we had to fill out on the plane.

Once through the virus patrol we were onto the customs officers and passport checkers. Relatively easy we moved forward, there were no people movers in the huge airport and all the walking needed to be done by you (which is a lot). It took us a fair amount of time to finally reach the exit. If we'd thought the difference from airport to airport was huge, imagine our expressions upon walking outside. Even at 11pm it's warm, but in a sort of warm tropical hug way. At least that's it felt to me. It felt really amaizng to be outside, and I couldn't help the big smile on my face. Our driver was in a hurry, he grabbed our cart of luggage and began weaving in and out of people. Remi and I had to start jogging to keep up.

Nothing can ever prepare you for Indian driving. Sure I've had Indian friends tell me not to drive in India, always use a driver. Traffic is bad, etc. But I assure you, I can probably not even fully describe how truly insane it is. There are traffic lights, but those apparently are only for if you feel like using them. Same goes for the painted lines on the ground to tell you what lane your in. There are no lanes. Pedestrians walk everywhere, in front of speeding motorcycles and buses. I couldn't believe my eyes, the minute you get to any decent speed a car pulls in front of you or an animal struts into view. And by animal, I mean all kinds. Cats, dogs, cows, especially cows. Cows in particular don't seem to mind the traffic at all, they're completely at ease in sitting in traffic.

Our driver was a master of the road, weaving in and out. In the beginning I felt surely someone or something will get hit before my very eyes tonight. However, all the drivers work in some sort of unison. It's like they're in this gigantic school of fish, though all independent hey somehow swim perfectly together like some massive organism. Nobody shouts at each other or gives any rude hand gestures. This is just how it is, and somehow...it works for them. You just sort of let go of any fears and let him do his job.

We were in that car for hours, around 4 hours to be precise. This is how bad traffic is, even at 1am. The distance between Mumbai and Pune is minimal, and probably close to the same distance as Orange County to San Diego, but imagine L.A. traffic the whole way. We're so exhausted when we arrive that we're not even coherent anymore. I didn't see much of Pune during the drive as it was dark (2am!) and I was in and out of consciousness.

We are greeted by an Indian man, he is balding and has a wirey mustache and bad teeth. He is some sort of warden of the building I gathered. I don't remember his name, I only remember he never looked at me nor shook my hand once. Which was quite the opposite for Remi, who probably received nearly 10 or so handshakes from the man. "Hello Sir, Mr.Marchand Sir, this way please Sir" in his heavy accent. The security guys at the door to the building open it for us as we walk in. They immediately take our bags for which I feel bad because they're extremely heavy and they were actually carrying them. Before I could try to explain the handle that pops out so you can roll it, the warden begins explaining stuff to Remi. I understand Indian accents better, obviously...English is my language. Remi squints hard as the man talks to him, a sign I know from experience means he has no idea what the man is saying. He is explaining where the canteen is for eating, afterwhich I say "Thank you." But he basically ignores me. We're shown to our apartment, on the 4th floor (I was excited about this, less mosquitos make it up that high). It's a nice apartment, the floors are shinny, a common floor style here. They take off their shoes when they come inside to show us around, how to work the lights and the air conditioners. They all wear sandals so they're barefoot walking around, I sort of giggle to myself because I find it very cute that these security gaurds in their fancy uniforms (looking like British infantry) and here they are barefoot in my house!

Once they finally leave, we take a look around. So, I'll say this in regards to the actual apartment. Upon closer inspection, it is sort of poor quality. Now, of course by Indian standards (*Note: By Indian "standards" I am addressing the majority of India, not the upper/middle class who use the internet and perhaps may get offended by that comment) I am living in a dream apartment here. So to be fair, this is high quality. Don't get me wrong, I love the apartment, I am completely happy with it. But everything is finished badly. There are paint stains on the new floors, the toilets flush so violently they splash water onto the seat. The showerhead for example is old, it already has some lime deposits on it. The door frames are black, but when they painted the white walls hey got paint all over every single door frame, looks like a child painted it, the light sockets are unstable and almost pull off the wall when you take your plug out. The list goes on, but it's all unimportant stuff. Stuff Remi and I can either rectify ourselves or work around.

We have a small British style fridge, in our huge kitchen (we've never had this much space in the kitchen before). With all the lights on and people gone I realize there are bugs around. Tiny beetles and ants. Not lines of them, but everywhere you look long enough you see one or two walking by. I'm strangley OK with this because I can see them on my floor. If it were carpet, I would feel a definite uneasiness. But, I smash them as I walk, not much I can do. We will definitely need a broom soon though, the little bodies are already building up. The bed is kingsize and hard as nails, we take the other mattress from the extra room and place it ontop of ours, it helps very little. Without much conversation we wash our faces, brush our teeth, and crawl into bed for our much earned reward...sleep.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Well 2009 has been a long year for us, a lot of planning and waiting. This idea started back in January and here we are, all the way into August and we're finally going to set foot in India.

We're beyond excited of course. We've been in Lille (pictured here) for nearly 4 weeks waiting on our Visas to come through, and now that they have it's a huge relief.

Today I am mostly packing and cleaning. We've been living at Remi's Dads house for the past week alone and we've been little pigs I must say. It's always hectic the last day, making sure laundry is done, scrubbing the floors we mucked up, and then packing...ugh. I've started my bag, which is in pretty decent order anyway because I never really unpacked everything when I arrived 3 weeks ago. Remi on the other hand has been here almost 2 months and his stuff is scattered about the house. I've been collecting everything and bringing it to our room to sort out in the final hours. For now, I am focusing on laundry and cleaning.

Remi went in town to have his tooth checked out by a friend who's in destist school. Yeah I know, weird thing to do on the day before leaving but we thought might as well get it all checked out before we go. Would be awful to have some sort of dental emergency in another country.

Anyway, next you hear from me we will be reporting from India!


Mary's Travels (so far!)