Saturday, November 30, 2013

Don't You Dare Send Me Back to Washington

When we landed in Chennai it was almost two in the morning. By the time we corralled all our luggage and car seats, went through security to get out of the airport, successfully navigated the throng of Indian men willing to tote all of our luggage on their heads out of the airport, and drove home, it was after two. We arrived at our new home in the middle of the night. Of course, we couldn't go right to bed. We explored our new house in all its palatial enormity (There are several rooms we have no idea what to do with). By the time every one settled down and went to sleep it was close to five. 

I awoke at 7:30, showered, put on a necktie and went to work.

I grasped my leather attache, a hand-me-down from my father-in-law, but an item I already know will serve me well for the duration of my career, and I stepped outside. It was morning, and in the daylight, I saw India for the first time. 

Flower petals drifted to the ground from the green canopy of trees that shaded our house. Parrots darted overhead, and sunlight filtered through the trees. 

I walked to the gate and stepped outside onto the dirt street in front of our house. Soon, a driver, Raju, that had been sent for me swung by. I climbed in his small van, and he whisked me off to work. We weaved through the tree-lined streets of our quiet neighborhood. Giant banyan trees shade the roads here, and our sprawling modern megalopolis is more like a village, sometimes sleepy, most times noisy and frenetic, but rarely intimidating. Older men in polo shirts and sweat pants were on their morning walk. A few ran. Without sidewalks, they shared the street with bicycles, tuk-tuks, and cars. There is an interesting vehicular hierarchy here. Size does not matter. Cars defer to tuk-tuks. Tuks-tuks defer to motorcycles. Motorcycles defer to bicycles, and bicycles defer to pedestrians. All stop for cows.

The minute we pulled out of our quiet neighborhood and forced ourselves into Indian traffic, I felt something familiar and exhilarating, something I hadn't felt since we left Brazil. I felt at home. I felt like I was where I belonged. 

Traffic in India deserves a blog post of its own, but as we drove past dogs sleeping in the road, curled in piles of sand, long-horned water buffalo cows harnessed to carts or left to their own devices, beside scooters zipping around cars and bearing entire families of four, among and around swarms of motorcycles and tuk-tuks that darted around us like hornets, I immediately felt a familiarity and comfort that had been lacking since we left Brazil. 

I think the kids feel it, too. We live in different countries spread all across the globe, but my work buys all its furniture from the same vendor. So even though we are several continents separated from Brazil, I think everyone--Elise and myself included--immediately took to our new house, because the tile floors were familiar, the parrots were familiar, and most of all the Drexel-Heritage furniture was familiar. 

Of course, they are out of sorts, and the jet lag was staggering. For a week, we found ourselves waking up in the middle of the night, coming downstairs for a snack, watching some television, before falling back to sleep at dawn and sleeping in until almost noon. 

During our second night in India, Elise and the kids were up. I slept, having gone to work that day. They were about to come downstairs when they noticed droppings on the stairs. Elise paused, and Sam suggested they wake me up to investigate. To paraphrase Elise, I think he said something to the effect of, "I don't want to face that thing. Do you? Let's get Dad." I expected to see a lizard. Elise, holding Clementine, and I crept down the stairs into the dining room and were greeted by the most ginormous rat I have ever seen in my life. I am not exaggerating when I say this thing's body was easily a foot long. I followed it to the electrical "cabinet", a wooden fuse box with a bundle of wires I discovered to be completely open to the outside. 

 I don't care if you are moving to London from the States, the first 24 hours are going to be hell and the first week is going to be only slightly less challenging. There are so many unknowns. Everything is harder in those first few days. Especially when you move to a land where you can't use the water out of the tap to brush your teeth and the fruits and vegetables need to be rinsed in bleach. The mosquitoes have been are biggest nemesis. They feast on Clementine as though she were her namesake sweet orange. They bit her on the thin skin of her upper eye lid, and it swelled to such a size, her entire eye squeezed shut. 

It has only been a little over a week, but we are finding India, and Chennai in particular, immensely fascinating, exhilarating, and endlessly interesting. Naturally there are moments when we all cry and say we want to go "home", back to America.

The other night I had a dream that my work said my assignment to India had been a mistake and I would have to go back to Washington for a year. We were all devastated. We didn't want to leave. I am not sure if this is more a testament to the merits of Chennai and India or more a referendum on Washington, D.C.


Anonymous said...

Bleach?!!! You never wash the veggies in India with bleach. Use a very diluted potassium permanganate solution instead (dilution is important and I've forgotten the exact ratio). No raw vegetables outside the house, no tap water anywhere, and wash, change, and if possible shower off all the grime after you return home. You'll be fine.

eliseandpaul said...

We would love to know your qualifications if not your name to override the suggestions of the consulate at the very least. Until then we are new to this as you've read and are taking the suggested precautions.