That’s the only word I know. It means hello and goodbye. I said it to the ticket man on the bus to Pondicherry after he gave me my ticket, mistaking it for “thank you” which, more or less, is pronounced, “thank you.”
So I’ve arrived in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, “Pondy” after much scrambling, sweating, the kindness of a stranger, and a long bus ride.
My good goddess, I’d forgotten what an ordeal Asia is. When I got off the plane I was a little concerned – it being 4am – and the airport was dingy with the smell of piss. It felt like a dream. I walked to the baggage claim and waited forever. Long enough to start to doubt whether my pack was coming at all.
And then this Indian fellow named Benjamin, whose been getting his MBA and living in Texas, took pity on my white ass and asked me about my travel plan. After chatting briefly and doing introductions, he offered to make sure I got on the right form of transportation. We spent an hour in the airport lounge, where he paid for me to get into as a “guest” since I didn’t have an existing flight. The coffee was spectacular, maybe because I’d been traveling for 24 hours. We shared stories, and then he guided me to a bus directly from the airport to Pondicherry (he paid for my coffee and the bus – what amounted to around a $7 gift, so I didn’t have to change money and get scammed at the airport).
The bus took around 3 1/2 hours and was a stuffy and very basic type of transport. Once I arrived, I haggled a taxi which took me to a guesthouse I chose out of the Lonely Planet book. It was an Ashram Guesthouse, which many foreigners studying and doing yoga choose for budget accommodation, peace and quiet. It was full. I walked to another one. It was raining. Maybe I should have bought that rain cover for my pack, after all. The other ashram guesthouse was also full. I was jet-lagged and sweating and near tears. A doorman, seeing my dismay, recommended a different place, a block or so away.
Did I mention it was raining?
I walked to it and got a room which was in my price range but less than ideal in terms of cleanliness. The guy who runs it is nice, and I got an air-conditioned room for $10 a night. The bed looks – I wish I had a sleep sack. I should have sucked it up and bought a sleep sack. I sprinkled the bed and pillow with lavender oil. The bathroom looked like it hadn’t seen sponge or soap. I took a shower and filled a bucket full of water which I splashed all over the bathroom and toilet. I needed to take the Metamucil (my digestive system feels like it’s been through the wringer already) so I bought bottled water but found myself with no glass. I watched them wash a glass in a dish tub and hand it to me wet. I debated whether such a glass was safe to use. I took the glass into my room and thoroughly dried it off, then poured the Metamucil and bottled water into the glass and bottoms-up-I-hope-no-sickness.
Now I am clean and sitting at a French café, adapting to my surroundings. I’m lonely and exhausted and feel a little crazy. I’m going to try to find and buy a cheap sarong to sleep on tonight. I’m sure a good night’s sleep will give me some perspective…