India Trip, part 2

Day two started with continental breakfast at the hotel with a shuttle to Dulles Airport following. When we got there we were able to brighten an information booth guys morning by asking him where we check in with Emirates Airlines, he was so happy to help us, his friendliness made an impact on my morning there at the airport. Going around the corner of the kiosks for checking in, we see this long line of mostly Asian looking folks, that was our first experience of being the minority on our trip, there were many more to come.

We stood in line for half of an hour during which I decided to use my free time and grab labels from the Emirates display rack and label all of our luggage, that took me about 10 minutes, filling our names, address, phone, and email for 6 luggage tags.

When it came to our turn to check in for our flights, we walk to the counter, passports in hand as well as my printout of my e-visa confirmation, the lady checks David in, no problem, then she’s looking at my sheet, and my passport and says that we have the wrong paper, we needed to have printed out a different email. I start searching on my phone for the email, it was too far back on my list so I had to log onto the email site… boy, my phone seemed to be working really slowly. I almost had it when David says “I’ve got it!” He was able to give her the numbers she needed, she checked me in and we were able to check all our 6 suitcases through to Delhi, because they did luggage by weight, not number of bags.

Getting through Security was interesting. There was more than one set of metal detectors to go through, removing shoes, jackets (hoodies), and electronics as usual, and we had to keep our tickets and passports available for multiple checks just trying to get to our gate. I’m thankful we both had pants on that had pockets on the side of the leg so we could store our papers but still have quick access to them. We made it through security and walked toward our gate, with a stop at Starbucks of course, we sat at our terminal to wait for the boarding to begin.

The plane that was taking us to Dubai was a two level plane, just huge! We were impressed with the size of the seats, the inflight entertainment options, and the amazing food selection for lunch, breakfast, and snacks. We had 15 hours of flight time to kill, our goal was to try and get our bodies on India time so after lunch and a movie, we went to bed when it started to get dark, with the help of some Tylenol PM. I had the window seat, so I put the blanket and pillow up against the window and dosed off. After an hour I woke up thinking, “oh I should put my hoodie on so I can stay warm and cozy and sleep better.” After digging around in my backpack, I came to realize that I had left my hoodie while going through security. That was a bummer of a moment, because the hoodie had been an anniversary gift from David on our 4 year anniversary.

David and I were seated next to a native Indian gentleman who was going home for a week of weddings to attend. When we got closer to Dubai I asked him if he had some suggestions for us to battle against jet lag. He said that he typically tries to stay awake after he arrives at his destination until it’s a reasonable bed time, and then he sleeps and stays in bed until his family starts their day.. He also said that for him it is much harder to come back to the states and get over jet lag than actually going to India. He’s useless for 4-5 days after he returns from India. (Since we’ve got lives to live back at home, we’re hoping that’s not the case for us!) “Don’t drink the water” he warned us before we parted.

When we arrived in Dubai, we went straight to our gate, no having to go through customs or go through security again. For this connection we didn’t have to wait long to continue our trip.

Our seat mate for this second leg of our trip was a young Indian man who lives in the UK and does Virtual Infrastructure Design for a supermarket chain, he was pretty stoked to meet and chit chat a little with David, and when I, very proudly, shared about David’s VCDX status, he was taken aback that he sat next to someone on an airplane who knew so much about VMWARE!! While we were chatting I asked him if he could tell me in layman’s terms what BREXIT was all about. He was happy to share to the best that he could with very ‘colorful’ language what it was all about. He also apologised to us for our election results in November. HA HA HA!! He was also cautioning us about drinking the water while in India.

On arrival in Delhi we had to go through customs. I stayed in line with David for a half hour only to be told that I had to go through a different line because I had an e-visa. So I move to another line while David went to a currency exchange counter. This line that I was in was so lonely. There were many other people there, mostly Asians, there was a group of American’s ahead of me, but they were their own group, so I didn’t say anything, and not knowing if the others around me knew english I just stood quietly. Instead of playing a game or listening to music on my phone I decided to listen to the customs counter people. I noticed that they did not smile. They barely spoke. So I made up my mind that when I got up there I was going to be this cheery red-headed-american and try and bring a smile to whomever was helping me. When I was motioned over by someone I went up to the counter, big grin, cheery disposition, passport and e-visa paper in hand and said a happy “Hi! How are you?”

Nothing. Not even a smile in return from the customs officer folks. Everything he needed me to do, he motioned with his hands. I wasn’t asked why I was coming to India, I wasn’t asked where I was coming from, I wasn’t asked what I was bringing into the country. All the prep and worry in the hotel two nights before seemed not to be needed. After my turn ended I passed by him with a smile, and went on my way. I was stopped again for another passport and visa check before I got through to baggage claim with David. THAT guy responded with a smile and a “Welcome to India!”

David met me at the baggage claim after only being able to exchange $80 american dollars to Indian Rupees. We then walked out of the airport where we were met with a smell of spices and herbs. I can’t really explain it. The air just had this smell to it, and it wasn’t a bad, smoggy smell; you can get close to the experience if you go into an Indian grocery store. I loved it right away.

Outside we were expecting a van from Holiday Inn Express to be there, just waiting. We were wrong. I should have made arrangements with the hotel before we left, you know letting them know our flight number and arrival date and time. But since I didn’t, David had to brave our first experience with being a minority in a foreign land, not knowing the language, he had to use a payphone, and by payphone I mean a man who was standing next to 3 phones who would dial the number for you, wait for someone to pick up on the other end and then hand you the phone. David told me about his experience, not being able to hear the person on the other end because they were speaking very softly combined with the noise of being right outside the airport. I asked if he was sure he passed along the message, and he wasn’t 100% confident that he had. Then a gentleman from inside the airport motioned us through the windows that someone would be there very soon. So I guess David’s message got through to the right people!

The hotel was less than a mile away from the airport so it was a short drive over. Once arriving our luggage was scanned (all 6 bags and 2 backpacks), and we had to go through metal detectors to even get into our hotel. After all that hubbub, we were checked in and our stuff was taken to our room for us. David tried to get more money exchanged at the hotel, but they were only able to get us about $30 to Rupees.

We got to our room and my brother is so excited to have us in the same timezone, so he started texting David hints to help with jet lag… “Don’t sleep.” ha ha ha!! It was 4:30pm Local time and we had been awake for nearly 30 hours by that point with little bits of sleep on the flight over. I thought to myself “Just give me 2 hours, then we can do dinner and watch something, then I’ll be good.” David didn’t let me fall asleep completely, so I actually got up at 6:20pm and I was grumpy at him for not letting me sleep.

We went down to the beautiful dining room and were told that the dinner buffet wasn’t being opened until 7pm but we were welcome to wait. So we just sat watching the cooks and waiters, we had some bottled water. The buffet was amazing and I was so excited about all the different types of Indian foods available, except my tummy wasn’t on Indian time yet, so I didn’t eat as much as I wanted to because I felt wishy-washy.

When we were finished eating, we paid the bill and just enjoying small talk and people watching. David asked the waiter if there was a way he could get a Coca-cola can to take back home, the waiter said he’d see what he could do. A few minutes later he came back bearing 2 cans of coke for us, David asked how much he owes, and the waiter said “My gift to you. Thank you.” We were both very thankful. Then headed back to our room for some mindless TV and sleep.

We didn’t make it watching TV, we crashed, until about 5:30am when we both started stirring in bed because our bodies were telling us it was time to be up. We fought it until 6:30 then we decided that it was time to get up and going, we’d do better being early at the airport anyway. So we both showered and packed our stuff, and headed down with our luggage for breakfast. The breakfast was a great combination of Traditional Indian breakfast foods, and american and european style pastries. With our tummies still off, we had a small, light breakfast with one of the BEST little cups of coffee we’ve had in our lives. WAY better than our weekly Starbucks, by far!

We were driven back to the airport and had to have our flight information and our passports available to the security guy to look at before we were even allowed into the airport. I’m glad that David had made copies of all of our travel documents before we left the states! Once inside we found the Air India check in counter and stood in line again. After about 15 minutes we were called to the counter but this time we could only check 4 out of 6 suitcases, because of the smaller plane or something. We left the line and were headed to security when David realized that he had left his Leatherman in one of the suitcases we decided to keep with us, So he went back to the check in counter to try and catch our luggage before it went through, but he was too late, so we had to arrange for another bag to be checked, which we had to pay for. While he went and did that, I looked over at the line for security and noticed that it was just getting longer and longer, so I went over and moved up with the line until I was a few people from going through then I just stood there, letting people pass me until David walked around and under some barricades to meet me in line.

Making our way through security once again started with our tickets and passports, then on to the metal detectors. We were shuffled to the end line with several other men who kinda just shoved their ways passed us and cut in line. We didn’t know enough to say anything, and we weren’t running late so we just kinda went with it. But then someone native spoke up after we had like 5 guys in a group just try and shove their way through, putting their stuff on the conveyor belt right in front of our stuff and standing there. We then became part of the group of complainers because someone had said something about it. HA HA HA!

After we made it to the front of the conveyor belt line with our stuff put on it, I had to step out of this line and make my way to a different line that was for women. This line and the women in this line weren’t any better, there was cutting and pushing here too. I stood in this line for nearly 30 minutes before I got to walk through the metal detectors and then be waved over with a wand in a little booth set aside for women. Men were able to be ‘wanded’ (is that a word?) out in the open and so their line went really quickly. Our line was backed up because airport personnel would just bring in grandma ladies in wheelchairs and cut right in front, and since those ladies weren’t traveling alone, their travel companions had to go through the detectors right after them.

Again, me being an american, and not knowing an ounce of their language said nothing, I let the older ladies pass and their helpers without complaint. Then I looked at my watch. We were to start boarding soon, so I became a bit more bold. I stopped letting people in, and I stayed as close to the lady in front of me so no one could ‘cut’ in front. David had grabbed my backpack and headed to our gate by this point, so he could ‘hold the plane’ for me if needed. After I got my turn, I greeted the lady in the booth, she asked where I was from and chit chatted a little while she waved me down. That was a nice change. Once done and out of the booth, I started to run to my gate. I got there, and they had changed the gate to the next one over. I was so set on this being my gate that I didn’t see David dancing up and down the aisle to get my attention. HA HA HA!!

I walked over to him, out of breath, and he said “do you want a coffee?” I was all “wha!?” He said “you passed a Starbucks on your way, should I get us some coffee? It doesn’t look like our plane is even here yet.” (Does the man even have to ask??) So he strolls off down the walkway leaving me, panting, and I kid you not, less than 5 minutes after he leaves I hear them announce the beginning of the boarding for our flight! I’m thinking it’ll be okay, they just started the boarding, David has at least 15 minutes. Another 5 minutes pass and the guy comes on the intercom and says “Last boarding call for…” I kinda took a double take at the guy at the counter. Seriously? Last boarding call? You just started boarding!! He made the announcement again, so I walk up to the counter and say “My husband is here, he’s just getting coffee.” they ask for his number so they can call him, I respond “his phone doesn’t work here.” So I just stand there and every minute or so they ask, “Is he coming?” I just shake my head and say “not yet.”

Those were some worrisome minutes for me, afraid that they were really just going to have us miss this flight and be delayed getting to our family in Bagdogra another day. Finally I catch a glimpse of this crazy white guy carrying 2 drinks and a bag in his hands running to our gate, I said “I see him, he’s right there.” and laugh. I show them my boarding pass and start walking down the ramp carrying both of our backpacks.

You know what? We weren’t even the last to board.

We had finally boarded our last flight before I got to see my family. I was so excited! Our seat mate this time wasn’t talkative, he kind of just bunkered down to dose off for the 2 hour flight. Since we didn’t have on board entertainment, David and I watched a movie off of his phone. We were shocked to be served lunch on a 2-hour flight, we’re so used to american flights where you are lucky to get drink service on a flight that short.

We soon landed in Bagdogra, and my heart starts pumping fast. I feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning to come so I can finally see my gifts. HA! The airport itself isn’t big, so the plane that we had flown in on had to ‘park’ away from the gates and we had to walk. We walked in and straight to baggage claim where, on the other side of the metal barriers were my brother, and family. I got to give hugs to Aida and Tekoa right away but my littlest niece, who was just 4.5 months old when they left and only having seen me on a screen, wasn’t so sure about me. But after David collected the luggage, she was smitten with him.

We walked out of the airport, no customs, or security this time, and to their parking lot. We loaded up all of our luggage and then loaded into their vehicle. When we got into the car, Layani was comfortable enough with me to sit on my lap for a few miles, but then she moved to “Unca David” for the rest of the ride. While Chris drove, Monica warned us that we may see people using the side of the road for doing their ‘business’, so be ready to avert our eyes. We didn’t see any, thankfully.

Being driven around in India is JUST like you see it in the movies. Cars, buses, rickshaws, cows, bicycles, and people all trying to get somewhere at the same time. No one is afraid to push through or pass you when you don’t think there’s enough room. For some reason I wasn’t afraid while being driven around, maybe it’s because I kinda expected it because of having conversations with those who had been in the middle east and experienced it.

We made it back to their house, and lugged all of our stuff inside. Aida had given up her room for us to stay in while we were there, so we took our bag and backpacks up and left the other 5 bags down stairs for they were full of stuff for the family. We got some water, had a cup of coffee and talked for a few minutes to decompress from our flights. Next thing I know we’re in the living room and the opening of the suitcases has begun.

It was like Christmas morning, and the saying “a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Family and friends from America sent gifts and needs for my brother and his family. David had packed them all well into the suitcases, but we didn’t keep track of what was in each, so he’d pull one up to open it and sometimes to kids would be super excited, but then other times it was just full of clothes.

After the fun and chaos of opening the stuff had subsided, Monica made us Indian Broccoli Chicken and rice for dinner. We then started a game of Monopoly and Monica started helping Tekoa build one of his lego sets. After a while she left and I continued helping him build on his set, while playing monopoly with Aida and having Layani brush my hair; I was in Aunt heaven being able to spend quality time with my nieces and nephew without them or I being pulled away by my own kids.

We looked at the clock and called it quits at 10:30pm, I think I was kinda zombied out. We found out as we were putting the kids to bed that Monica had gone upstairs to use the baby doppler that was sent over from her sister to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. That was exciting for all of us. Sending the kids off to bed with a giant squeeze made my day. We made it to bed by 11pm that night.

It felt like home.

To be continued…

*It was such an honor to be able to take all of the gifts over to them. The love that people here in the states have for them in India is so moving that it is a continued encouragement to my heart for them while they are there.

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