May 21, 2012

Indian deja-vu

Oh ya, i remember this! I remember how to find an alternate guest house when the one I booked online has moved, changed names, and won't answer the door at 2am. I remember how to come out of a cold bucket shower at 2:30am and stand under the paddle fan to let evaporative cooling do its thing. I remember how to use bottled water for tooth brushing, and how to use the bucket of water instead of toilet paper for the squat Indian toilet

I remember how to connect naturally and respectfully with people. Friendly but not over-engaged or condescending greetings. Choosing the roadside food stand with the friendliest bunch of men all standing with plates in hand, happily using their fingers to scoop up maandazi and white-paste patties with mystery sauce, and happily teaching me the names of the mystery foods they're indoctrinating me with. Sitting on the roadside near but not too near others, letting them smile and approach me as i drink in the passing scene. Bargaining with the three-wheel-motorized-taxi driver just enough to earn respect but still comfortably overpay.

I remember the universal kid English greetings - How are you, I'm fine thank you, What is your name? And how to say it with the wide open-mouth accent that's more universally understood. And how to communicate without assuming that everyone speaks my language (I'm actually surprised that more people don't speak English, atleast beyond a very basic greeting and directions level - one of many pre-conceived notions I'm quickly shedding.)

I remember how to cut down a quiet side-street, passing women sweeping the dirt in front of their charcoal cookers, kids running barefoot or naked, families quietly emerging from their makeshift shelters to greet the day.

I remember not to be overwhelmed. Mostly I'm surprised that it's not wall-to-wall people, that i can walk fairly safely along the roadside, that the noises and smells are just a gentle chaos of character. I don't have to be afraid of the police, wary of people walking behind, annoyed at constant attention. It aint the Cowichan Valley, but it also aint Kiburu slums in Kenya or crazy Egyptian taxi drivers or packed Kinshasa streets at midnight. It's just a full, alive, but oddly gentle India welcoming me this first morning.

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