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1800 Miles to Black Rock City was nothing

September 9th, 2007 · 1 Comment · 9to5, Stories, Travel

Bangalore Trip Diary: Day One
or: “How the hell can you call it Day One if you depart on a Saturday and arrive on a Monday”

Friday night I ate a bunch of stowaway playa dust while we unloaded some things from the trailer we used to haul our schtuff to Burning Man. After that, we went home and I did a little bit of packing, but was too tired and sick to get much done. Saturday morning I woke up and frantically packed the rest of my stuff. B took me to the airport while I called mom/dad/other-important-people to let them know I was leaving the country.

B dropped me off at DFW gate D10 and I told her she needed to make sure to spoil Grace while I was gone and pick her up like a baby when she whines. She whines a lot. She misses her daddy a lot. Or maybe it’s just that I’m the one who feeds her most of the time. Penn & Teller would probably have you believe the latter, but I like to fool myself into believing the former.

Checking my bag at the Lufthansa desk was a breeze. Then I walked around blowing my nose for a half-hour, killing time. I sat down at some not-so-Bennigansish Irish pub (can’t remember the name) and had some chicken soup and a Caesar salad. The soup helped a lot with my cold/allergies, but only briefly. The 3 jack-and-coke helped a bit more permanently.

The rest of the waiting was kind of a blur. I read Harry Potter a bit, then closed my eyes a bit, then read some more. The plane boarded on time, and I was surprised to find an elderly Egyptian woman sitting in my assigned window seat. I was really looking forward to seeing as much of the transatlantic flight as possible through the window, but this sweet old lady was too immobile and too large to sit in the aisle and try to move every time I got up to pee.

Ms. Askar spoke no English. She was noticeably frightened during take off, muttering “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar” over and over as she looked out the window and around the cabin. The dingbat limey Lufthansa flight attendant was certain she was from Iran (“EER-in”, as she pronounced it) and that one of our “Iranian-speaking” passengers could help to communicate with her, despite my informing her that the language Ms. Askar spoke was definitely Arabic, and that trying to get a Farsi-speaker to translate Egyptian Arabic was ridiculous. OK, so she wasn’t a total dingbat, and she was nice most of the time. I just find it odd that someone who has obviously worked for an international airline for quite some time would be so ignorant about languages.

After building a rapport with Ms. Askar through a series of grunts, laughs and gestures, I was a little less nervous about being her escort to Frankfurt. It wasn’t until we were flying over Lake Michigan that I noticed she had a set of index cards safety-pinned to her mu mu. I pointed to them and she moved them so that I could read them.

Whoever wrote them had about a 3rd grade grasp of English, which was just enough to get the message across that she had a connecting flight in Frankfurt to Cairo, but not enough to give us any indication as to why she was flying alone or who had sent her. After a while she appeared to be uncomfortable and was fumbling through her purse for something. Swallowing my linguistic ego, I approached another lady who appeared to be from somewhere in the middle east and asked if by any chance she spoke Arabic. She was Syrian. Bingo!

Ms. Syrian (I never got her name) had a little trouble with Ms. Askar’s Egyptian dialect, but was able to determine that our friend needed to go to the bathroom. While Ms. Syrian and another lady helped her out of her seat (the flight attendants were too busy spanking each other and laughing in the back to help, I kid you not), I asked her if I could see the other index cards in her purse while they took her to the bathroom.

Ms. A’s handlers had provided her with some fairly useful cards for “please take me to the bathroom” and “please bring me some water”, but had neglected to put any Arabic indexes on them. So, Ms. A had no way to choose which card she needed to show us and when.

The rest of the flight was quite pleasant. Ms. A and I managed to communicate enough to have some laughs. At one point I realized she was fumbling to retrieve her shoe from under the seat in front of her. I crawled down to get it for her and she grabbed my arm, patted it several times, and kissed it like my own grandmother while I put the shoe back on her foot.

When we reached Frankfurt, Ms. S and I made sure someone from the airline brought a wheel chair and took her to her connecting gate. In hindsight, I wish I had traded information with Ms. A and Ms. S so that we could make sure she made it home safely, but I trust that she did.

I had a brief but long overdue conversation with two-thirds of one of the awesomest families in the world while waiting in the tiny confines of the secure Frankfurt airport terminal for my flight to Bangalore. I don’t know yet how much that conversation cost me, but I don’t really care either. It was comforting to be in another country and speaking to a good friend who was only a short drive away from me in case something went wrong and I ended up staying in Germany longer than planned.
But all went well in Frankfurt am Main, and after paying something like 6 dollars for a bottle of water and a Red Bull, I was on my way to India. My row-mates were Bangalore natives and excellent company, but that flight was long and very uncomfortable. I tried to get up and stretch my legs as often as possible, but I’m still in pain from all the sitting. For most of the trip I was too congested and irritable to read or sleep, but I did get to watch Ocean’s Thirteen and a couple of terrible Bollywood flicks.

Getting through customs in Bangalore was a breeze. However, I learned a lot in the short time it took me to get my bags and leave. Two Indian guys approached me and grabbed my bags, and indicated that my ride was waiting for me. I tried to carry my bags myself, but they insisted. When I got outside and found my ride, I learned that, no, these guys just spotted an American and were hoping to get a tip in USD rather than rupees. My contact grinned when he saw them carrying my bags. He reluctantly pulled out 50 rupees and handed it to them.

It took about 30 minutes to get to the hotel. I put up some pictures on Flickr, you can get to them via my previous entry. I’m about to get about 6 hours of sleep, and then wake up to eat and get picked up at 9:30. My agenda for my first work day:

  • Get some local currency
  • Learn when and when not to tip, and how much
  • Learn how to get around on my own
  • Learn where to buy things, what to eat, what do drink, what not to eat, what not to drink
  • Rack and stack the servers already at the office.

I’m sure I’ve left out some good stuff, but I’m too tired to think straight. The good news: My cold or allergies or whatever the hell it was appears to have disappeared altogether. Here’s hoping I don’t drink some bad water and start shitting/puking everywhere.

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