Published: October 1st 2011October 1st 2011
Well, I did it. I made it back to India just about a year and a half after I was last here. It feels deliciously comfortable and right, with just a touch of "Oh my gosh PINCH ME am I really here?"
In true "Shannon Travels Abroad" tradition, I arrived fresh-faced and perky in Delhi at about 5:30 a.m., although without my luggage. Again. I am really curious to know what it feels like to arrive somewhere and have my clothes arrive at the same time as me - hell, I would actually even be ok with my things arriving AHEAD of me! But no, I spent the first 2 hours of my time here with Jet Airways personnel filing a lost luggage claim. I could use some possessions-finding good thoughts and vibes if anyone feels like throwing them my way! There were only a couple small tears of frustration this time, which morphed into a few more frustrated tears when I realized that the hotel pick-up I had so responsibly arranged was not there at the airport to fetch me. I then spent the next 20 minutes at a phone booth trying to contact the hotel, and the frustrated tears turned into joyful tears as the phone-booth wallah welcomed me happily to India. I was home.
The next 2 hours saw me verbally sparring with taxi drivers who for some reason drove me to an empty lot and were trying to get me to change taxis as they changed out of their uniforms. I stormed off angrily, not sure exactly where I was headed as it was only about 7 a.m. and I was in the cargo-loading area of the airport property. I, lugging the piece of luggage that did make it (a duffel bag of toys generously donated by Lancaster House, my employers (let's please note the joy in the fact that a bag of street-childern-bound gifts makes it, but a change of underwear does not)), hauled myself across the parking lot amidst the catcalls of dubious taxi drivers, managed to locate a nice security guard who got me set up with a legitimate taxi driver who listened to me when I said that I did not want any other male passengers, nor did I want to stop en route to Paharganj, where I find myself now.
I spent my first day here acclimatizing, which means eating thali and drinking chai, shopping for peasant skirts and ali-baba pants (I need them! Seriously! I have no clothes!), and napping, After an early night, I woke up at 5 a.m. yesterday and began my day by hanging off of the rooftop patio of my hotel and watching Delhi wake up. People begin boiling milk for tea, women purchase strands of flowers for their morning puja (prayer offering), about 17 children climb onto the back of a cycle-rickshaw to begin their journey to school, and sweeper-men prepare the cafes for their first patrons. The man who takes my money at breakfast blesses me (and the cash) for i am the first customer of the day. My conversations are no longer centered around asking people what they want on their burrito, the minute and agonizing details of my romantic life, or letting people know that they are registered for the latest labour law conference; I now spend my days informing shopkeepers that yes, I am sure that their price is the very cheapest, but I really don't need a spork, smiling at the children who cry out "Good morning! From which country?" when I pass them, and haggling over the price of a half-kilo of oranges.
Truly, it feels amazing to be back, almost like I never left; actually, exactly like I never left. I had some anxiety before boarding my plane that India would have somehow changed while I was gone and that I would not easily slip back into the peace and comfort in which I found myself last time I was here. Instead, i have found that while of course there are changes, for nothing remains the same for long, that the patterns have remained similar and that the familiar spirit that inhabits this place has been waiting for me the whole time. My soul has experienced that whisper of comfort and joy as I whipped down the crowded streets in a rickshaw, dodging buses and cows, like the whole country is saying to me "Welcome back".
I spent yesterday on a tour of the city with the organization I will be working with, the Salaam Baalak Trust. It is an NGO that works to get children off the streets and into shelters or back with their families. The tour itself was fascinating, led by a former street child who now works for the SBT, who told us his story of how he came to be on the streets at the age of 11 (he had an alcoholic father who beat his whole family) and how he was able to change his life. It was shattering and uplifting, all at once, and I am really looking forward to working with these people for the rest of my time in Delhi. I will be working partly with the doctor and also partly with the boys' shelter teaching English, and I start on Monday - more on that as I actually begin my work!
Finally, in one formidable coincidence (or God-wink, as my mom would call it), I ran into a man I met in Varanasi last time I was here. He stopped me on the crowded streets of Paharganj and we spent the evening talking about our lives, and how we came to find ourselves back in India. It was amazing and a perfect affirmation that yes, this is where I should be right now.
Until next time, loved ones, I think about everyone every day and am holding you all in my heart here in Delhi.