…..I landed at 9:45 p.m. on Friday, January 22nd, New Delhi time. I was prepared to not only go through Immigration and Customs, but a health check point as well. There is a form you fill out on the plane regarding H1N1 and they normally have you go through a screening to make sure you don’t have a fever, runny nose, etc. I was prepared and took Tylenol and some cold medicine about an hour before landing. Better to be safe than sorry. I mean, who wants to spend their most likely once in a lifetime trip to India under quarantine? I went through immigration and got my passport stamped, breezed through customs as I had nothing to declare and walked out the door. Out the door! No health check and no collection of the two-sided H1N1 form I had completed. The area that was set up for that was empty. I guess those employees had the night off…or they were out with the flu.
I wasn’t able to see much on the ride from the airport to the hotel as it was dark out, but I walked smack dab into major culture shock the next morning. Paul and I saw there was a Ruby Tuesday’s and a McDonalds down the block from the hotel we were staying at. (Paul is working in Navi Mumbai a/k/a New Bombay; so this was his first trip to Delhi as well.) We decided to take a walk and check out what else was nearby. There was an open plaza type of area next to and behind the McDonalds with some shops bordering it; most selling cell phones, computer stuff and ink cartridges. Nothing of interest there; but the people? No, not just the people, but the children. The children we encountered were all barefoot and dressed in dingy, raggedy clothes and very thin; and once they spotted us they started begging. We had no coins on us at the time which we were later told was probably a good thing, because if you give to some, there will be more…and more. I diverted my eyes and kept walking but one little girl followed me until we got through the plaza area and turned on a street before finally giving up. I’d normally throw in some type of joke about Sally Struthers and how you could feed a village of children, for a year, if you threw her in a dice-n- slice and made her into stew, but really? Most Indians are Hindi which equals vegetarian. And honestly; the truth is once you see this poverty up close, it’s not funny, nor should it be made the brunt of a joke; so just scratch that last lame attempt at humor.
The street we ended up on had buildings on one side and a fenced in area on the other. Within that fenced enclosure were tents and shelters made of whatever materials were available. These were homes to people. It was heartbreaking to see but common in India. We were foreigners, and white, and stuck out like a sore thumb, but strangely I wasn’t afraid. I was just shocked. The reality of it was just staring me in the face. It wasn’t a picture in a National Geographic magazine at the doctor’s office anymore.
We decided to get a taxi and go to Priya market, which Ellen had emailed me about. There is a movie theater there, a couple of restaurants and several stores; including two with grocery items (read: beer, soda, snacks, beer, bottled water and beer). We purchased some chips, cashews and diet Pepsi for the hotel room…oh, and beer. A 12 oz. bottle of Corona at the hotel was about $8.00 U.S. We bought a 12 pack of King Fisher (an Indian beer) in 16 oz. cans for the same amount as that one Corona. Our purchases were placed in a box, which someone working there picked up in order to carry to our taxi. We thanked him, but said we could handle it and left. Paul called our driver on his cell to let him know we were ready to leave (It seems like almost everyone in India has a cell phone. I’m not sure if I heard correctly, but I think it cost less than a penny per minute.) On our way back to the hotel we arranged to hire the same driver, whose name was Dalip Singh, for the entire next day at a cost of 800 rupees; which is about $17.00 U.S. When we got back to our hotel, Dalip was ready to carry our box into the hotel. Paul thanked him, but said he could handle it. Once in the hotel lobby, a doorman went to take the box from Paul to bring up to our room. Again, Paul said ‘thank you’, but he could handle it. One small box of grocery items and three offers to carry it; I’d like just one offer at home when I get back from the grocery store.
We ate lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s (the only Americanized food we ate all week with the exception of the complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel and room service one evening) and then I crashed. I took a four hour nap before Paul made me get up. I could have easily slept through the night with the jet lag and all, but I got up and showered and watched some TV. There are a few English language movie channels there, one of them being HBO. And? All of the shows that are normally in English are subtitled…in English. Go figure.
That pretty much sums up my first full day in India. It was fairly uneventful, save that major culture shock during our morning walk. Well, that and the drive to the market. Driving in India is insane, but I’ll save that for another post.