I stuck out like a sore thumb on this flight. It was quite an entertaining experience to say the least. There was a HUGE family traveling together that literally took up 1/3 of the plane who played musical chairs for about 20 minutes. When they finally sat, their appetizer session began. Snacks started coming out of their pockets, clearly emptying a convenience store at the airport. They passed around Indian snacks, nuts, chips, candy and as the food cart came by, the curry filled the plane with its piercing scent. As they started to argue about who would pay, money was being pulled out of pockets and arms were going up! I attempted to rest as I knew it was game on when I arrived.
I closed my eyes and my nose started to twitch at the smell of Aqua Di Gio (yes I am very familiar with this cologne). The men across and next to me had a bottle and literally dumped a handful into their hands and rubbed it all over their clothes and proceeded to practically wash their face with it!!!! Oh the beautiful combination of cologne and curry, NOT! Soon we landed and just as we touched down, a group of men a few rows up unbuckled and stood up, AS WE WERE STILL TAXING!! They even proceeded to bring their bags down and I was dying thinking of what would happen if they were in American! Lastly, I happened to chat with a girl from Thailand visiting her boyfriend in India who decided to share with me all the incidents that have made the news about solo females being attacked and raped in Kolkata and I wanted to cry. Not a bad introduction eh? Hello Kolkata, goodbye confidence!
As I stepped off the plane, I couldn’t help but smile, as I smelled burning incense lingering throughout the airport. Although I’ve been in India before (the south) and knew what to expect, it takes a bit of time to adjust to it all again. I was immediately swarmed by men, which made me panic. I wasn’t ready for this yet! I exchanged some money and found a pre-paid taxi stand and all I had was an address. My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding. I got into the taxi after showing the man the address I had written down. “Please just make it there!” The journey was classic and we meandered through insane traffic, swerving around the dogs and kids walking barefoot in the street, begging for money which always breaks my heart. About 45 minutes and several stops, I made it!
My first night, I locked myself inside and tried to drown-out the non-stop noise. I wasn’t ready and strong enough to hit the streets. The following day I found a tiny bit of courage and spent the day figuring out my surroundings/where I could meet other people, where to eat, etc. This included getting grabbed by mothers holding their baby asking for money and other beggars who lined the sidewalks, grabbing for my legs which put me back in panic mode. The few recommended places were booked with large groups and the rest of the places (I looked at 6 or so) were so bad that I wouldn’t leave my goldfish in a bowl ( if I had one) in some of the rooms! I needed a place that would serve as my sanctuary knowing I would need it!!
**This project, unlike the others where someone picked me up from the airport, set up the housing with other volunteers, transportation to/from the project site and meals. I was totally on my own and had to set it all up. I knew that I had orientation on Wednesday (the day after I arrived) at 3:00pm and just an address to get me there.**
**Notes to self:
Obviously, dress conservative and avoid tight clothes. Wear sunglasses and avoid eye-contact. Walk with a purpose even if you have no idea where your going, put your “game face” on which usually takes several days to build. Don’t make small talk with local men and be inside no later than 8:30pm to avoid trouble.
Next line of business, get an Indian makeover: buy some traditional clothes, bindi’s, bangles, eventually get some henna and cover my hair as these are simple things that make a HUGE difference on how you are treated and respected by locals AND helps me better blend is which is the most important.
Bring it on!