Where to even begin?!
I will begin where I left off, which was landing in the New Delhi airport. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was very nice and modern. It was air conditioned except for in the bathrooms. I got through customs just fine, in fact the customs officer didn’t ask me a thing. Then I walked out through the crowd of people waiting for their family members or assist travelers to an open area just before the airport exit. My friends from the airplane at that point met their contact and so we split ways, saying good bye and promising we would stay in contact through Facebook and maybe later meet up again in life if our plans coincided.
Never fear! I was not alone for long! There was a coffee shop right near the exit so I decided that since I would be waiting for another three hours until 1:30-2:00am for M to arrive, I could use some caffeine…after all, I had no one to watch my bags. The cashier was on the phone when I went to order and he made me wait for several minutes until he finished his conversation. I wasn’t sure if that was because I was female or if it was because there was no competition, but I eventually ordered an iced coffee of sorts which turned out to be what seemed like three shots of espresso (stronger than US) and a few ice cubes. Now, I was at one point a barista and I definitely can handle caffeine but that was so strong that I got a little shakey! And I was wired.
At the same time I was paying, a very tall Asian guy in his 20’s with trendy black thick rimmed glasses and a hiking backpack came up to the counter and tried to ask the cashier if there was Wifi but in the middle of his question the cashier just walked away. I guess it wasn’t just me! So I started talking to him and said there was no wifi. He looked disappointed; he was going to try to blog. He just barely had some sort of accent I could make out but sounded almost like he could pass for American. All the seats were taken in the shop so we sat down on the ground and I used my suitcase as my chair. His flight wasn’t until 6am so we had time to kill.
It turns out that he was an English major in Japan and taught English there. He had an around the world ticket and he was hoping to get into Columbia University in some sort of post graduate English teaching program and then go back to Japan to teach. He was extremely good at speaking and that explained why he barely had an accent. He said, “I’m gonna go grab something to eat.” I smiled and said, “You are good at using American slang!” He bought two muffins and shared them with me while I did an impromptu English slang lesson and helped him sound as American as possible. He had this thing that he did with the long “o” sound that made him sound British, which I actually thought sounded nice, but I helped him shorten it like Americans do and I’m pretty sure we were amusing (or confusing) to the onlookers.
It was was time to start watching for M. My Japanese friend was tired so he went up to a lounge to sleep. I waited a while for M, watching the stream of people, but she wasn’t there. I went outside to the pillar where the driver was supposed to meet me and he was there in a few minutes. A worker offered me his stool and I used that while driver went back to his taxi and I waited some more. Finally she came through the crowd. She was a little taller than me, fair, with light brown hair and blue eyes–easy to spot! We hugged like we knew each other and she thanked me for waiting. Little did we know we were going to fear for our lives several times together!
Our driver, Mr. K, is an excellent driver…because we didn’t die or get in an accident somehow. On the roads there was usually someone two inches away in the other car and if there was the slightest opening, a motorcycle would slip through. I couldn’t make sense of when was appropriate to use your horn because it seemed like everyone just slammed on it all the time. People routinely step out into traffic as well.
We made it to the YWCA which is in a nice area of town. I should mention it was probably in the 80s at night. We were escorted to our room which consisted of a bathroom, single bed with sheets and an optional comforter, and a TV. It was very clean. There was a unit air conditioner right over my head when I laid down. I kept it on for a while and then got too cold amazingly. I hardly slept at all because it gets light here at 5:30am and there were all kinds of sounds like the birds, insects, and traffic noise. I think that espresso was still working, too!
I got up early and showered. I had to turn the water heater on and got through about half of a shower with hot water. People regularly take bucket showers so that’s how I finished up. M was still asleep in her own room down the hall so I decided to venture to breakfast on my own (I had already read the Indian newspaper that was slipped under the door at about 7am). There were two men eating in the well lit dining hall and three men serving a buffet style breakfast (which is too many so they just stared a lot). They didn’t speak too much English so I tried to figure out what to do. It seemed kind of humorous to me that I would have trouble just fixing breakfast. You really do have to keep your sense of humor.
There were were four bowls, one had butter, another jam, another some pickled vegetables, and the last a red kind of sauce. The server put in one slice of white bread to toast. I took two slices of naan and a little of each topping, as I wasn’t sure what was further down the buffet. The rest was a hard boiled egg and a white porridge. I chose delicious tea over coffee. I liked everything except the spicy pickled vegetables and figured out which condiment to use. Again, I felt very strange being female among all the men and by myself but I just ignored it and drank my tea as I looked out at the tropical plants.
After M ate, we were taken to the main office of our organization. I never would have found it alone. We walked down a series of dimly lit hallways and got on a very very old lift that went up several floors and we were in the heart of New Delhi. It’s like the kind of scene in a movie where the drug deals go on…but apparently this is just normal. The office itself though is very nice! There we met Mr. A who was very very stern so as to convey all bad things that could happen to us because he said safety was his biggest priority. M and I had moments that we questioned if we had made a mistake coming after we spoke with Mr. A.
We were going to be going on a 24 hour train ride during which time we would need to buy chains to lock up our luggage. I had to exchange a good amount of money there, too, and I was glad I had a way to conceal it. Mr. A was not happy with our amount of medicine in case we had diarrhea and now I realize that 24 hours on a train with uncontrollable diarrhea is why he sternly made a shopping list for us before we got on the train. I had cipro with me, but he added norflox 400mg, and immodium.
At the train station we had ten minutes to inhale some Indian McDonald’s…it was the only food guaranteed to be safe to eat. Again, residency training helped out: I got a spicy McChicken sandwich, fries, and a Fanta down no problem! People were everywhere. Many people were just laying on he ground. There were countless number of big blue trains. We had to walk over a bridge to get to the far one and as one of the cars jam packed with people sweating in he sun and 90 something degree weather with their arms hanging out through the bars on the window pulled in, Mr K said something about that being our car. Then he looked at me and laughed, saying he was just kidding. When he said that to a previous doctor once, the doctor flat out refused to go. M and I were mentally prepared for pretty much anything, or so I thought.
It turns out we were pleasantly surprised in that we were in an air conditioned car where we could store our luggage beneath the seats. We would be sleeping in the bottom bunks that were converted from the bench. Eight people would be sleeping in this small area of maybe six feet by eleven feet in width and length. M and I were on the bottom. There were two more bunks over our heads and two across a little hall. The only awkward thing is that they were all men again, about middle aged except one who was probably in his early 20s. The men basically ignored us, which we were glad for that. The younger one was from Rauxal so he helped translate sometimes.
By this point I was so tired, I could sit with my back straight, as the bench forced you to do, and fall asleep. We couldn’t fall asleep too much because we still had to chain our bags. The train took off a little after 5pm and we got ready for bed around 8. It was hard to believe it has only been yesterday I was in Ohio. Both my legs went numb from falling asleep sitting straight up and I really wished I had more padding for my behind, but I shifted around as much as I could. M and I didn’t say too much, as we wanted to remain private and inconspicuous. Later we got more comfortable. We chained our luggage and slept lightly.
In the morning I was pretty sure my kidneys had failed…or that I was just terribly dehydrated. I hadn’t urinated since leaving the hostel so that was about 24 hours. I had rationed my water on purpose though so as to avoid having to go but it was time to face it. I chugged a bottle of water, as I could feel a headache coming on and went back to sleep. As dawn came about, I went to the squatter. I was already fearful of falling when I wasn’t on a moving train. This was a whole new level! The hole was open to the railroad below and I had to place my feet on either side of the hole while the train was rocking. I had joked earlier with M that the train would probably stop while I was in there, which of course it did. I grabbed onto the railing in front if me and steadied myself. I had taken off my purse but still had my other money concealed on my person so I had to hold that up and I tried to not let any of my pants touch anything. Trying to not touch anything is really difficult. This area of the train is also not air conditioned. I was breaking into a legitimate sweat and I was wondering how non-physically fit people do this. Part of the issue was that rather than giving into gravity and doing a full low squat, I kept trying to half way squat because I didn’t want to fall backwards into the water that was pouring down the wall behind me. I also had a large shirt on that came down to mid thigh that I was worried would fall down into it. There was a moment where I told the germaphobe me to stop and just do my best. Somehow a little bit of my pants got wet, I don’t know how. I did my best to clean it in case I had inadvertently peed on myself. Next time I would do better. The train lurched into motion; I lurched into the hallway. I made my way back to my sleeping area and rested some more. We still had 12 hours on this train to go. I just hoped I wouldn’t have to use the bathroom again.
Late morning and all our bags were still there. M and I shared our food. We had bought bananas and oranges. We were told not to eat anything from the train or take food from strangers in case it wasn’t clean or they tried to drug us. There is mostly petty crime here so you have to just be cautious and alert.
The city turned into countryside with lots of green fields of crops that I didn’t not know the names. People were farming and swimming or bathing in waterholes alongside the cows. I saw blind men at the train stops running their fingers along the train. I saw children who were malnourished. I saw beautiful women in lovely bright clothing.
We arrived in Raxaul and a man came up to us with a badge that said our hospital. He said “Please.” And motioned for us to follow him. We got in the car marked with the hospital name and three more people jammed in with us. Then we drove down unmarked dirt roads with shacks and stalls all along it into a compound of the hospital. It was probably a 15 minute drive. We were escorted to the guest house. M and I share a room. I’ll try to take pictures. We met a woman from Canada who works here and she told us what to do. Tomorrow is a holiday. We will go with her to the market to buy traditional clothing.
We had a warm meal of some sort of meat, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and some kind of green bean. It was very good. We had not had much on he train. Then for dessert we were given frozen coconut sorbet (homemade) and I was so full that it hurt. Dr. Christo came and said hello. He said it was a very busy time for OB. A few days ago they had 36 deliveries in one day and range from 25-30 typically and 6,000 per year. There is a German OB here right now for the next few months.
Time to rest. I still haven’t set foot in the hospital yet!