Terminal, Je t'aime, I love you. Terminal, Bella mia.
Honestly, I was scared of the whole airport terminal situation. I had not been to one in years and again, never alone. My anxiety wore off a bit as soon as I saw that everything was going quite smoothly. Check-in, X-ray screening, duty-free and off to the gate. At the gate I met three girls who were on the same flight and planned to continue from Delhi straight to Leh; a high desert city in the Himalayas. Their plans weren’t very helpful for me since I was starting my trip in Delhi.
On the plane I got an entire row to myself, which would have been great if it wasn't for the men in the row in front of me, who couldn't stop mumbling about their business plans in India.
When the flight attendants started to deliver the meals, I was a bit confused. The meal looked fine and everything, but … it wasn't Kosher. Yes, I'm Jewish, and it doesn't even matter because I'm not religious and I had never kept Kosher before. It's just that it was weird because my parents always made sure to order Kosher meals whenever we traveled somewhere. Part of their knowing, doing, planning-everything–in-advance life style. But I wasn't with my parents and I had to face the fact that from now on if I wanted something done, I had to do it myself. Anyway, the food was fucking delicious so I'm never ordering another Kosher meal again.
The flight had a connection through Turkey, and when we landed in Ankara, I started following those three girls, as I had told them I would. I felt like a baffled duckling who needed to follow her mother in order to know where to go. Though it was pretty obvious, since everyone went in the same direction.
In the Turkish airport, I encountered another girl who was on her way to India. Her name was Lara and she was planning to go to Delhi like me. She was ten years older than I was and it was her second time traveling in India. I couldn't believe it, but the only thing she’d brought with her was a small sized backpack. Thinking on my huge bag, I kept wondering where did she put all her medicines.
The five of us continued together to the airport security check. The security guy opened Lara's bag and threw away the only things she had, which she had just bought an hour earlier, a shampoo and a conditioner. You can imagine how pissed she was. I, on the other hand, almost managed to forget the shopping bag with my magazines, pens, and snacks from the last duty-free. The only reason I remembered it was thanks to one of the girls who successfully left her phone at the same spot.
When it was time to board to the aircraft I was very nervous thinking I would be sitting next to a complete stranger. It might be even one of those Indians with that relentless eye contact. It would be quite hard to sleep if I can't blink for six hours. All of this daydreaming was interrupted by Lara: "Jane, do you want me to arrange for us to sit together?"
"Oh gods, yes! Can you do that?!" I couldn't disguise the excitement in my voice. She just saved me from a six hour staring contest.
The Indian airplane was crazy huge. Every seat had a screen in it and a remote where you could play games, movies, and music. That was truly amazing for me back then. Lara and I had an entire row to ourselves. She used it to get some decent sleep. I was too excited and couldn’t blink an eye. (Apparently I didn't need anyone's deep gaze for that).
We landed in Delhi's airport at about four AM. The date was August 8th 2012.The big halls were decorated with beautiful statues of Indian hand gestures.
Against all my expectations, the airport was clean and shiny. You have to understand that my 'advisory board' had created quite a buildup to my arrival. In the restrooms, we ran into squat toilets for the first time. These are toilets used by squatting, rather than sitting. It maybe doesn't sounds like a big deal, but I got to tell you that you have to develop a basic set of skills in order to use them properly. My Achilles tendon was very thankful for this experience later, during yoga practice.
We filled security questionnaires, afraid to write something wrong or insulting. One of my friends back home told me about this genius she knew, who thought it was funny to write himself down as a spy and got himself arrested for a few days. And then he was invited for a dinner party with the Prime Minister of India. I guess the Prime Minister had a great sense of humor.
At the passport counter, the officer was a bit flirty and complimented my hair. In the spirit of not doing anything wrong or pissing anyone off, I figured it was best to cooperate. It's quite hard to flirt back when you're stressed out. Which probably explains his troubled look in response to my toothy smile.
Lara and I departed from the group and went to pick up my oversized backpack. The bag felt like it was getting bigger from one stop to another. Afterwards we needed to change some money to the India coin I’d heard so much about, the famous rupee. Lara changed some cash money quite easily, while I struggled to withdraw money from my credit card, adding stress to my already stressed out day. After I was done playing mind challenge with the ATM, we were ready to hit the road.
Outside the airport, I used my bargaining skills for the first time with a taxi driver. Bargaining is an essential survival Method for those who wish to keep their hard earned cash (and pride) in India, for more than a week.
My bargaining skills did not help us much, as I learned later on when I actually figured out the local rates. But it always fun to waste time and energy haggling for something you don't really need, and then find out you got duped.
So we hopped into the cab and the driver asked us with a distinctive Indian English dialect: "Where are you wanting to go, madam?"
"To the 'Hare Rama' " we said unanimously.