Thursday, July 10, 2008

India and Mimi!

We landed in Mumbai (Bombay) and got off last because we had a five hour layover. This relaxed approach began a downward spiral of events, beginning with a failed attempt to navigate our way to the customs counter, beginning with a five mile walk in the direction people pointed.

The hall rapidly looked less and less like an airport, carpet gave way to dirt, windows boarded up, ceiling tiles created works of art on broken bits of stone. We found a man in uniform, who pointed back the direction we came. Eventually we figured out that passengers are supposed to turn at the poster of the giraffe surrounded by skyscrapers, then go down 67 stairs and around a corner to find the throngs of people approaching various desks and lines to immigration.

Following immigration, our passports were checked by not less than 16 people in uniform, not one of whom could tell us how to find customs. We wove our way through another construction maze and decided since our bags were checked through, we must somehow not need to clear customs. We followed some signs for domestic flights and, unexpectedly, a bend in the maze revealed the luggage hoard. We fought toward our bags, nabbed them, and looked in vain for the transfer belt. No one had any idea what we were talking about when we asked, and motioned us outside into humidity that poofed my hair to 4 times it's normal size. Did I mention we had two carry ons each, and a pillow, and now luggage as well?

We wandered past men on piles of sandbags, sitting with shotguns on their laps, towards a bus that looked as if it belonged to the airport and were then motioned to another bus. We hurried to get on. And then sat for 40 minutes while they waited for the bus to fill past capacity. Then, we started off to the other terminals. And the bus stalled. And then it stalled again. And then again.

Then, we started off towards the other terminals, past the barbed wire fences and the tractors carrying luggage and the planes covered in scaffolding and huge empty buildings without electricity and then we stopped. For another 25 minutes. Then, the driver began honking at a parked truck and we took off again and eventually got to a terminal that they said was not ours, but everyone else exited. Then, we continued to the terminal they said was for our flight. Contrary to that belief, the guard at the door looked at our tickets and said there was no flight for us.

So, we stood in line at a counter. Have I mentioned the luggage and the fact that we have now traveled for 20 something hours and it is 4am and Sarah is half asleep? At the counter they said, yes, there is a flight even though there is not one showing on the tv screens, and we are actually on it, but it is at the other terminal.

A nice man with a taxi service said it was very far and no busses went there and I said we would find a bus and eventually a man in a uniform said hmmmmm, and then another man said yes, you can walk, just go down those 456 stairs over there and it's there, about 5 mummmverestn. So, I'm thinking it's five kilometers or 5 miles after the 456 stairs that end in a massive marble atrium that sure seemed grand enough to have elevator access, but it really wasn't that far. It was actually in a place we could walk to, as long as we didn't mind weaving through the scaffolding and behind the taxis and sleeping off duty drivers and though the road area that wasn't lit, which we did and it was good.

I discovered I can't read my watch, and thought we had 10 minutes to board, but then realized we had almost two hours, so Brian went to call Laura, which is when we found out that the money exchange is in the international terminal. So, we sit, coffeeless, munching wasabi crackers I brought, in some nice cafe chairs near our gate, which is a door to a drive on which the busses appear. Brian, as in every single situation we have been in this trip, somehow managed to meet some really neat people while we were in wait mode, so we also have new friends now.

Update: Sarah and I got on the bus and then realized Brian had vanished. We were worried, but I thought we should probably go to the plane anyway. Once on board, the plane filled up and Brian eventually appeared. He had been yanked out of the line behind us for not having a proper stamp on his backpack and told to go back to security. But, he made it, which was good because I didn't know our hotel name, though I figured it couldn't be too hard to find somehow when we arrived.

I was so exhausted on the plane I didn't get my camera out, which I really regretted when we started descending into Orissa. The farmland looks different than at home. At home and in most places I've flown over, you see big square fields or round watering circles. Here, it was like a map of the United States – all different sized and shaped fields meandering over the landscape, like an abstract painting of fish scales. The trees looked different, too, some seemed like giant ferns viewed from above. The landscape when we drove, minus the amazing temples, was much more like the Dominican Republic than any other place I've been, but much, much hotter. Brian commented as we walked from the plane to the airport that it felt like we were baking, and I had to agree.

We got to the lovely, restful hotel and, while they arranged our rooms, they gave us free tea and coffee and hot chocolate and a milkshake for Sarah and cookies and then pancakes for Brian who was strarting to need food to stay awake.

We got into the rooms an hour or so later and then called the orphanage to figure out a plan to get there. I talked with the guy in charge of cars at the hotel and discovered that all the money we saved getting a great hotel rate will be eaten up in taxis and internet. We did get a car and then drove the 40 minute or so trip to the orphanage to meet Mimi. Sarah fell asleep as the taxi pulled out of the hotel. I think back home it was around 3am.

The driver stopped and asked directions multiple times, and with much pointing and talking, we would back up the car and re-route. Brian actually recognized the building from some photos, which was good. We asked the driver to leave and headed in to meet Mimi.

He didn't actually leave, but we didn't find that out until four hours later. Mistranslation, or intentional misunderstanding at the cost of $10 an hour? Who knows. Brian wasn't thrilled with the driver because he hit someone in the parking lot at the airport and a yelling match ensued – the guy was walking, but after the loud thud, he was limping. I liked that the had clean windows and that made it easier to snap photos, but I ended up rolling my window down anyway after reflections bothered me more than my desire to be polite.

We must have arrived at lunch, because we kindof wandered around lost for quite awhile before anyone would claim us. Then, we were ushered into a cool, dark office to wait. I was not expecting anyone to get little Mimi, so the video camera was not rolling when she arrived. But, I did have a still camera on Brian and managed to snap his face when he realized she had just been brought into the room.

A more adorable child you have never seen. She walked in, all eyelashes and big eyes and lacey dress, with painted fingernails and hands and bangled bracelets and bows in her hair. She is ten times more precious in person than in her photos, and I know that is hard to imagine. We were awestruck. She carried fresh flowers and presented them to Brian. I heard Sarah say “ahh” and echoed it with all my heart. I'll write more about the next few hours spent Mimi and the other precious children, as soon as I catch up on my sleep. For now suffice it to say, Brian and Laura and Max are one blessed family, and Sarah and I are honored to play a small part in this incredible experience.