I would go back to India in a heartbeat, despite the fact that I was pretty miserable during much of my trip. But I will never again travel alone – anywhere.
When I was by myself, each obstacle seemed insurmountable. As you probably guessed, my 3 p.m. flight on Thursday, the one I felt so grateful to land, turned out to be an illusion, as Gob Bluth would say. I was on my way to the airport Thursday afternoon when I got a call from Sarah.
“Don’t freak out,” she said. “But they canceled your flight.”
For no apparent reason. In the middle of the (clear! safe!) day.
“I think we should be done with Spicejet,” she said, to which I responded with a resounding “fuck Spicejet.”
She suggested I head to the airport anyway and try to book an earlier flight in person at the ticket windows with a more trustworthy airline (apparently Air India has pilots specially trained to deal with fog? who knew?) But when I got there, everything was an even bigger mess than the night before, and I had no one to help me negotiate the crowds or watch my bags or even say, “hey, this is f-ing insane.” A lot of it is about that actually, I think, just having someone to acknowledge that the situation you’re in is pretty crazy and that things in this country are much, much different from home and that you’re not crazy for having a hard time with it.
Take my land transportation experiences, for example. (You know things are bad when you have to divide your transportation disasters into land, air and sea.) I had two, um, “driving incidents” that week, the first being that Sarah’s driver was rear-ended while we were heading into Delhi from Gurgaon. If you’ve ever sat in rush hour traffic in Delhi, I’m sure you can imagine the scene; if not, think LA rush hour traffic + cows + NO RULES + fog + us stopped in the middle of it all. Anyway, when Bjinder got out to start yelling at the vehicle that hit us, which more resembled one of those Oregon Trail wagons than an actual automobile, I was left in the backseat freaking out. In the states I would have at least texted someone, someone who would appreciate the absurdity and hilariousness and of course this would happen to me aspects to this situation, but here it was just me, marinating in my thoughts and worries, blowing each situation out of proportion in my head.
The day before, though, I had another “driving incident,” which was arguably scarier. I was sitting in the back seat with Lena, attempting to get to some Ghandi memorial (Smitri? Indira? Not sure, the driver didn’t know how to get to either) when the driver got out to ask directions. Everything seemed pretty normal, until the car started rolling. Down the street. I mention as much to Lena – “um, are we moving?” – and she quickly lunges into the front seat head first, slamming the break with her hands. I run out of the car, open the driver’s side door and slide into the front seat, replacing her hands with my feet and putting the car in park. And then we start laughing. Because when you’re not alone and there’s someone else to reassure you that, yes, that just happened, but hey, we’re still alive!, things are much easier to deal with and accept and move on from, and turn into a funny story to tell your friends when you get home.
Unfortunately, though, during most of my trip – at least most of the stressful parts – I didn’t have Lena or Amruta or Sarah by my side. There was no one to find the humor in the delays and angry airport mobs and affirm that I wasn’t a horrible, cursed human being incapable of seeing the world. Because honestly, standing in line trying to book my third ticket to Bombay, with people screaming and pushing all around me, that’s how I felt.
When my tears (c’mon, you knew it was coming) and elbows finally got me to the front of the lines, I was told there were no flights to Bombay available for the rest of the day. None on Kingfisher, none on Jet Airways. By this point I had turned into the only thing that sticks out more than a white girl in an Indian airport: a white girl hysterically crying in an Indian airport.
The tears at least helped me practice a new skill I had picked up the evening before – asking random people to use their cell phones. This was another really hard part of being alone and without technology – every time my flights got delayed or canceled (and trust, the fun doesn’t stop here), I had no way to contact Sarah or Amruta and tell them what had happened. So I took to borrowing people’s cell phones, dozens of them: from a mother of two, from a diplomat, from a businessman who eventually had to awkwardly approach me again and say “I think your friend is calling.” (Thanks, Amruta.)
This time, I called Sarah, who immediately had Bjinder come pick me back up. I was so lucky to have that resource – especially because Bjinder was one of the only drivers who could actually drive where you asked him to – but it didn’t change the fact that I was still alone, in this strange city that I was supposed to have left 24 hours ago. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I went back to Lodhi Gardens.
And watched the people.
Even the balloon man.
And the schoolchildren.
And then remembered I was still in Delhi.
And threw myself a pity party.
Seriously. Like, poor children would come up to me begging for money and I would literally give them this look that was all, bitch, please. I’ve had two flights canceled today.
And then I would stop and think about it a little bit and the itty bitty sane part of my brain that was still functioning on one hour of sleep would realize, hey, maybe this isn’t that big of a deal. Poverty, going to bed without food in your stomach, without a parent to tuck you in – that’s a tragedy. This? This is an inconvenience.
So I dealt with it. I had Sarah – lovely, calm, mature, responsible Sarah – book me a 6 a.m. flight the next morning on Air India, with their supposedly trained pilots. And I, once again, called Lena – a friend of Sarah’s I had met the previous weekend – to say, for the second time, surprise! I’m still here.
You know what’s a really easy way to annoy a new friend you don’t know that well but are trying to form a relationship with? Consistently say that you’re leaving, do the whole goodbye thing, and then show back up. Repeat. And insist that they hang out with you because, honestly, you have nowhere else to go. Except hang out with Bjinder in the Honda.
Lena is either a super awesome person or a super awesome liar or just felt super bad for my pitiful self, but for whatever reason she kept letting me tag along with her. At one point, she even let me crash a dinner that she had already scheduled with a professional colleague. (I know, how annoying am I?) After dinner – where I felt the need to share my sob story with almost everyone in the restaurant – I went back to Sarah’s and slept another 45 minutes in preparation for my third attempt to get the fuck out of Delhi.
And lo and behold, the third time was the charm. Things weren’t looking so good when I first showed up to the airport – the TV was playing some news program that featured this massive graphic saying “FOG HAVOC” swirling across the screen in bright red letters. Not so reassuring. Nor was the fact that we sat on the runway for three hours, with frequent announcements involving the phrase “zero visibility” – but eventually we had the 125 feet we needed (yes, I know all the lingo now) and we took off and I felt the need to start clapping. Like with my hands. And yes, being the white girl clapping for no apparent reason attracted almost as much attention as being the white girl hysterically crying. But I didn’t care. Because I was finally – finally! – in the air, on my way to Bombay. With 17 whole hours to see the city.