There weren’t any blankets (or top sheets) and I was sharing the room with an infiltration of giant lizards and swarms of mosquitos. I sat there and cried, feeling utterly alone, talking to my mother on the phone 9000 miles away.
Kindra and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
It all began, unintentionally, with A, a girl from my program in India last semester, who is now studying abroad in Kathmandu but who went home to CA for the winter break. She, incidentally, was looking for a place to live and Amanda offered up her place until A found one closer to her school. However, as these things usually go on this side of the world, the flight to KTM was late, A didn’t have a phone, and mine wasn’t even picking up her calls! She finally contacted me on FB from someone’s iPhone at the airport and I got back to her, told her to tell the taxi to take her to Byasi Bus Park in Bhaktapur, etc. However, he misunderstood and they ended up at the wrong bus park, with me waiting for her, shivering, in my roommate’s too-big house shoes, 3 blocks away from our house in the middle of the night. Eventually, she made it to the bus park and we had our lovely reunion, chatting away until 2.
However, by 7am the next morning, after a night of terrible sleep and frantically packing at 6am, I was ready to go…but my ride wasn’t. He didn’t show up until 8, landing me at the airport at 8:45, barely an hour before my flight was supposed to leave. But again, as these things go in this hemisphere, my flight was delayed another hour, giving me an arrival time at my connection in Delhi of 12:10pm – THE SAME TIME I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BOARDING MY FLIGHT TO CHENNAI. I scrambled through 5 rounds of customs and immigration, literally running 75% of the time, to get to the next place – had items confiscated (hair mousse and cough syrup) that hadn’t been confiscated my entire trip up until then, and was then led (i.e. was made to run) by an airline assistant, who in return for his weird shortcuts expected a hefty tip – which I gave him…in Nepali rupees, which I later found out are basically useless and un-exchangable anywhere but in Nepal.
The FINAL “final call” for the flight (and my name on the loudspeaker) was just being announced as I ran down the causeway to my plane, making it in the nick of time and arriving, out of breath, pink-faced and totally exhausted, to find that my window seat was already occupied by two middle school aged Indian boys from Tamil Nadu, excitedly crammed against the window, waiting for takeoff. Thank God they were so adorable, otherwise I might have regressed to my 2 year old self and thrown a tantrum. We lifted off quickly but were again an hour late when we arrived in Chennai, where I got in 2 wrong lines (they thought I was with the French touristing group) and waited another half hour unnecessarily – apparently there was an entirely different line for those with visas…which was unoccupied by workers. Anyway, I moved along and frantically called the taxi I’d arranged – a very nice man who would later become my savior.
The taxi was expensive but oh so worth it, one of the few things that brightened these 24 hours in hell was the drive along the East Coast Road from Chennai to Pondicherry – particularly stunning with the sunset going off behind the palm trees and the crescent moon rising above them.
So here’s the deal: why I’m in Auroville, mostly by accident, supposedly on purpose, with nothing to do –
2 months ago, when I was planning my winter break, I wasn’t really planning my winter break. Instead, I was hemming and hawing, trying to make up my mind about anything going on in my life at the time. I was considering a million and a half options but FINALLY made up my mind to do the Nepal thing – immediately, I emailed Amanda on Helpx.net, got everything arranged, and then had most of my break planned. However, I was unsure of whether I really wanted to spend my entire break there, and figured that since I’m already on this side of the world, I should explore it! I honestly had no idea where I wanted to go though and was throwing so many possibilities around – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, The Phillipines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka – it was too overwhelming! I finally decided to choose, out of all these….none of them. I had also been thinking about going to Auroville and when January rolled around, I knew I had to make a decision. Auroville suggests sending a volunteer request at least two weeks before you arrive, so I did! Exactly two weeks before I would arrive, I sent a request to help work in the Youth Centre Kitchen, thinking that with my background in working with children AND with cooking for large groups, I would be a shoe-in. I didn’t get a response within a week, so I sent a follow up email, asking that, if possible, the process be expedited, so that I could buy my flight before the very last minute. When I didn’t receive a response within a day, I took my chances and bought one anyway, arranging, I had thought, for a space in the Mitra Youth Hostel in Auroville.
It turns out, when you’re processed as a volunteer and your space confirmed, your volunteer center books your room for you. None of this was mentioned on the website though and when I called the day before I came to Chennai, they said they didn’t have me in their system and I shouldn’t have even been able to book through that website at all. So I tried a different guest house, one that was off the beaten path, only required a 1 day minimum stay, etc. – since I didn’t have internet, I was unable to know whether it was confirmed and when I showed up the night I arrived, they didn’t have anything for me. We drove around, my poor taxi driver and I, looking for a guest house with space, before finally returning to his company’s building where his boss called everyone with a guest house he knew. I finally arrived at a small (3 total rooms) home stay guest house, without an office or anyone that spoke English, and settled in, after being promised that there was a better home stay that would open up that the taxi driver would take me to the next day. It was decent, with hot water, but there weren’t any blankets (or top sheets) and I was sharing the room with an infiltration of lizards and mosquitos. I sat there and cried, feeling utterly alone, talking to my mother on the phone 9000 miles away and having a minor mental breakdown.
In the morning, after a hot shower and 12 hours of sleep, I was feeling back to semi-normal – still not sure why I was here or what I should be doing, but at least not feeling desperate or disturbed. I walked around the complex, looking for the nonexistent office so I could ask if there was anywhere I could go for breakfast within walking distance. The only thing I found was a group of teenagers, 5 guys and 1 girl, college aged, all piled onto one bed in Room 2. They looked at me confusedly, and now I know why – I had wandered straight into their kitchen. What I had thought was common space was actually part of their room. Embarassedly, I quickly asked them if they knew of anywhere to find breakfast close by, to which they said no, I would probably have to go to Pondicherry, and I should probably get transport there – it wasn’t close enough to walk.
Dejected, I walked back to my room, started packing and thought about when I should call the taxi to come get me, when there was a knock at my door. R and S, the couple on the bed from earlier, introduced themselves and asked if I wanted to maybe catch a ride with them into Pondicherry, where they were going for lunch. The rest is history – my day was turned completely around, spent laughing and joking and eating and talking and going to the ocean, instead of wallowing in misery. They left on a bus for college in Kodaikanal and I arrived here, at Raji’s Guest House near Auroville, a beautiful, idyllic place – 2 floors of beautiful rooms, gardens all around, the sounds of birds and crickets and roosters keeping me constant company.
I am now wrapping my time up here, staying for a few more lovely days by myself before heading back to the madness of Bangalore, to meet new people, to reconnect with old friends and to begin the last leg of this 3-part year here in the Eastern Hemisphere. Having this time alone was vital – I feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Though my roommates have been fantastic all the way along, I was unknowingly, desperately craving time to be alone, to be by myself and write and journal and think, without the pressures of constant everyday interaction. I look forward to this semester with a ready mind, an open heart and a treasure trove of memories. Cheers!