exiting the haze

yesterday was a bad day.  i arrived in bhubaneswar after many hectic hassles at airport (go to counter to check in, please go to that counter over there to pay for your extra bag, then come back here, then go through security, take a tag for every bag you are carrying onto plane, forgot to check pocket knife, so go back and pay for another bag at cashier counter, then check in bag, oops- too late, flight has closed, go to that counter to get special permission, etc).  A man waited for me with a sign that said “JESSICA” in nice handwritten letters.

I am staying at a flat that belongs to my adviser’s sister.

It’s fine. 

The furniture in the living room is quite nice. 85% of my room is occupied by a giant bed- king size in the USA.  The frame has a thin mattress- maybe 3 inches thick and dense – covered by a sheet and thin blanket.  There is a bathroom attached to my room with a toilet, sink, and shower head.  It’s a pretty awesome lavender coordinating design- sink and toilet are lavender. There’s a modern TV in the living room and a red rusty fridge from approx 30 years ago. The kitchen is the scariest room in the flat.  It has a certain smell that is hard for me to pinpoint- might be asafoetida, which is an Indian spice I have a strong aversion towards.  There are fruit flies and open bags of grains.  When I took a plate to eat I discovered it hadn’t been washed, at all, but was put back in the plate rack.  The apartment has a water filter that allows me to forgo buying bottle water by the bushel, which is wonderful.  The caretaker prepared two pitchers of water for me, and also purchased a pack of arrowroot biscuits, some bananas (of a type we do not have in America), Kellogg’s corn flakes and milk.  One of the pitchers and the biscuit container are orange tupperware, which is a wonderful reminder of home, although these have dusty dirt settled into tupperware’s textured surface.

I went to find a 3G wireless modem for my laptop, and came back emptyhanded after 3 hours of dogged searching through a very Indian market.  To say I was dispirited would be generous. 

The otherness had overwhelmed me.  I found people colder and crueler seeming that usual.  I missed the congeniality of staying with friends in Delhi, and my slight familiarity with that city.  I had no internet.  I sat in the apartment and remembered that in my excitement to return to India I undervalued the price of the experience – pollution worse than I remembered, ubiquitous dust, heartbreaking and undiluted poverty everywhere, not understanding if I’m insulted in a foreign tongue while others smile and laugh, stomach problems, cold showers, showering out of a bucket, fear of malaria, missing the people I love, challenges to exercising, feeling unable to have an impact on the problems around me, different sanitation standards. 

I remembered the goodbye party A threw for me, a farewell dinner at my adviser’s house, bro and E helping me pack, and my parents meeting me at the airport on my layover.  I sat in a haze, a stranger in a stranger land, overwhelmed, reconsidering, dark.

But now things are better.  Talked with friends and family on the phone, toured some ancient temples, got a vegan coffee drink, and relaxed into the situation a bit more.  Details and pics in another post…

But my sad day in Orissa made me think long and hard about how easy it must be for foreigners in America to feel isolated, and how I must work harder to make people feel and know they are included. 

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