Saturday, October 14, 2006

8th October, 2006 –Voyage to India

I left for India at 9:30am on the 8th of October, from terminal 3 of London Heathrow Airport. The plane ride was lovely, as there were only two of us in the middle four seats where I sat. I fell asleep even before the plane took off, and slept for almost three hours. The airline was called Jet Airways, and it was a pretty lovely trip. The food was amazing, and got me even more excited about going to India. Their movie selection was also pretty good, and after I woke up I watched a documentary about a trip Aishwarya Rai, who is one of the leading actresses in India (and the lead in Bride and Prejudice), made to visit Indian soldiers serving on the cold, mountainous frontier with Pakistan. That was fun. Then, I watched Jennifer Aniston’s new movie “Friends with Money,” which was an oddball comedy if I ever saw one. It was pretty funny and sad at the same time. I finally gave in and decided to watch “The Da Vinci code” but did not get far into it as we were getting close to Mumbai. I must admit that although there were a number of Indians on the plane, I still saw a lot of Caucasian people on the plane, and was totally unprepared for the sight of many Indian people at the airport. As we walked into the immigration desk, there were transit rooms on our left, and I saw one black person sitting there waiting. I had only noticed that I was the only black person on the plane a few minutes before we disembarked, so I was quite happy to see a fellow black, although she didn’t even see me.

At the immigration desk, the officer asked for my passport and disembarkment form. After checking my passport for a while, he called another officer to come and check it out. They would look at me, and then at my photo, and then back at me, and back at the photo. Then the second officer called another officer to come take a look at me. It was a bit funny, but I was too tired to find it funny. Besides, I had a few other things weighing on my mind, so I had a pretty down disposition. The third officer finally asked me to sign a piece of paper so they could compare signatures. I then offered them a look at my ISIC card, and they looked at it. I think my signature convinced them, and the third officer commented that I looked happy in my passport picture but was not smiling at the moment. I told him that I had been traveling for a while and was a little tired. He then said that I wouldn’t need my red jacket while here, and then they let me go. Everyone else from my plane had already passed through and I was the last person to leave the immigration station.

I got my luggage with very little hassle, and set off for customs. At customs, we had to have our bags screened again. There, one of the officials questioned me about my laptop, and wanted to know whether I had more than one laptop. I said I didn’t, and that it was just some wires, and they let me go. From there I changed 45 pounds to get Rs. 3690 (rate is 1 pound = Rs. 84). To leave the hall, I had to give a customs slip to an officer at the door. I stopped at a booth to ask directions to the domestic terminal.

I had to take a left to get into another hall, where my luggage was screened again, and then I was able to check in. I needed to use the bathroom after this, and I decided to go right then since I didn’t know where I would find the next bathroom. Once I entered, these two women, sensing (obviously!) that I was a foreigner, basically ripped me off. One of them jumped up to wipe the toilet seat (which wasn’t dirty), and when I finished using the toilet, she pressed the soap dispenser for me, and gave me a paper towel to use, all things I could have done myself. I knew she expected to be paid, but what shocked me even more was that the other lady who had just lain on the floor the whole time also stretched out her hand for money. They said they wanted English money. Ha!! I told them I didn’t have any, and asked how much they wanted. They just kept mumbling to each other and stretching out their palm. I finally gave them Rs. 50, and went back into the terminal to wait for a coach that would take me to the domestic terminal. ($1 = Rs. 44.8).

It was on the coach that I broke down and cried, because everything felt so foreign, and I felt so conspicuous and alone. In retrospect, I think I was the only black person on the plane. It shouldn’t have mattered, but at the point in time it mattered a whole lot. Once I had composed myself, I started observing my surroundings. We drove around a cargo yard, with big containers and boxes. The driver was skillfully maneuvering through all of them.

I got to the domestic terminal without incident. The security gates weren’t open, so we (the other passengers and myself) sat down wherever we could find. I sat on the tiled edge of a flowerbed (pretty wide edge). I struck up a conversation with a guy called Sachin, who had come on the same flight from the UK with me and was waiting for a domestic connection to another town. He had just completed a two year Masters Program in Computing at the University of East London. He was planning to move to the US to find a job. I asked him for tips on surviving here in India and how to not get ripped off.

We later moved to quickly grab some seats that had just been vacated, and I did a bit of knitting. I struck up a conversation with a couple due to my knitting, so that was fun. As the morning dawned, people on my flight were asked to proceed to the security gate. I got checked out, but as my backpack went through the screening machine, they tagged it, and asked a female official to search through it. There was no hassle after that, and I proceeded to the seating area, where I waited for about three more hours before my flight was called and I got on the bus. Quite a long day!

1 comment:

nii adom said...

You can't say you got "checked out" without giving details ? Who did the checking out and what where there checking out ? ;)
I know - i have a dirty mind.