October 15, 2007

DAY 49 - CHENNAI, INDIA

Today was the longest day ever - worked an extra shift during immigration. Tried to plan out the next four days in Chennai.. I'm hoping to go to Mother Theresa's church and orphanage, buy a sari, a new nose stud and silk bedding, and enjoy lots of Indian food and culture with Brett & Jignesh's families. I'm also trying to fit in a drive through Mallaparum and add one more to my list of gorgeous coastal road trips.


Today was intense.. (warning: Dear Sue & Zaide, don't worry ok)


I went out for a couple hours with two students. We tried to go to the orphanage but the language barrier was too much and we were sure we weren't going to be taken where we wanted to go. So we decided to just go to one of the bigger shopping centers in Chennai, a name all of the rickshaw drivers knew. We bargained with one guy and were about to get in his auto-rickshaw when one of the Customs Officials came over and started yelling at him - we have no clue about what, whether he was going to rip us off, or take us somewhere else, or just wasn't supposed to be in that area (it was really close to the port where most aren't allowed). And the Customs Official hits him upside the head. We freak out and start walking away. Turn back to see that the Official has dragged him by his hair into the empty lot alongside the road we were walking on. Then we notice that he had parked his rickshaw there. He was driving the rickshaw now and the exit from the lot was in front of us and we assume that he's coming back to pick us up. We feel terrible about what just happened so we get in the rickshaw. As he drives away, the Customs Official runs after the auto-rickshaw, hits the guy upside the head again (we jump out of all sides of the rickshaw and start walking away again, freaking out, all near tears). The Official pulls him out of the rickshaw and throws him on the ground, punches him in the face and kicks him over and over. I'm kind of ashamed to say we never turned back to see what happened. No idea what the conflict was about - whether the guy was about to put us in danger, whether he had done something wrong to the official, or whether (as it seems) there is just a longstanding conflict between the officials and the rickshaw drivers. It was terrifying, and I hope to have so many more memories of Chennai other than this one, but it was one of the most vivid experiences of my life and I wanted to share it with you guys.

We did make it to the shopping center, and we found some great stuff, but we were all definitely shaken by what had happened earlier. On the way home I had an amazing auto-rickshaw driver named Raja, who I will probably use for the next few days. He spoke pretty good English, was nice and funny and so curious about my life as an American. He also told me about his family, which was very cool.

That's one thing I haven't gotten used to yet - the idea of us being something foreign and fascinating to someone we meet. Today one of the immigration officials on board, an older woman (it was so cool - she was wearing a white sari but with her stripes (during the day i wear an all white uniform, and stripes are those shoulder stripes you wear depending on your rank)).. anyway, she wanted to take a photo with me. And she told me about how as a person growing up in India you read all of these stories about Americans, young American girls, and you see them in the movies, but to spend time speaking with someone - it was like a character from a book coming alive... which is such a weird way to think about yourself - as an incarnation of something forty years in the making in someone's imagination. It's so interesting to have people admit that they see you as foreign and interesting and different as you sometimes seem them.. and then of course as you talk you find more and more in common, and differences become less and less and (it's a cliche but whatever) there is actually so much that is the same.

COOL OK It's been a long day I'm rambling.. early morning tomorrow. Time to clean my room (things never change) and go to bed.

Namaste,
MR

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

From Dad,

Missy - I can't read your blog and look at your pictures and not think that what you have experienced in the last 7 weeks is more than what the rest of us experience in a lifetime. Thanks for sharing everything with us. Love Dad

linor said...

Hey Melissa
I am glad that you are having fun..
I've got the Tshirt- thank u! its gorgous!
love & kisss from Israel
Linor

Anonymous said...

Hi Missy, I've been following your travels at home in my family room. What an amazing experience! Only next time your cabby gets beat up, don't get back in his cab! But I guess you know that now. Life is a learning experience. We're getting ready for Halloween here, the leaves are turning colors. Abby is going to be Kenye for Halloween; she's wearing blingy sunglasses and a big gold (plastic) chain.So where ever you are now, do they do Halloween? Do you get a taste of American holidays on the ship? Have Mom save you a Reese's cup! Anyway, I am very much enjoying your travels. Keep having fun! Love, Anna