The first month in India we drove through several towns in the southwest of the country, each very similar in their (lack of) general infrastructure. On poorly repaired streets cows competed for dominance with tractors, over-sized trucks and sedans that were packed with families. In the downtown areas tiny homes with corrugated roofing leaned against crumbling buildings; everything seemed to be in a general state of disrepair. And there were people everywhere, in the road, sleeping in truck beds or lounging on top of moving vehicles. It felt like life was on the edge of chaos – the crowds, the traffic, the poverty were overwhelming.
Every time we left for a new city I would think, “OK, this next city will be different. There will be fewer people, better roads, more development.” But that never really happened and after a while I lost that sense of expectation and became accustomed to India. Not just accustomed, we joined in, becoming active participants in a life filled with constant stimulation.
Gradually we developed an ever-present state of preparedness – we were constantly ready to face the onslaught of traffic, prepared for the crush of humanity that you face while getting on the train and geared up to fight off the touts, the vendors and the beggars. We became numb to the sorry state of garbage disposal, readily accepted the abject poverty and eventually enjoyed bargaining for each and everything we purchased. Instead of all the insanity, we simply saw why ‘India is Incredible!’ and enjoyed the ride.
And then we left.
Our flight landed in Dubai, one of the wealthiest cities in the world. We stared at the gleaming marble floors, the crisp reflection in the spotless mirrors and the heavy sense of quiet. Instead of talking in normal tones, we whispered, uncertain of the rules in this pristine new environment. In the hotel we marveled at the hot water and called the front desk to learn if we were allowed to flush toilet paper in the toilet (yes, you can).
Outside we were faced with a resounding lack of car horns, no one was proudly inviting us into his store, or gazing up at us, motioning for food. No one pushed against us to rush out the door or crowded us at the ATM. Where were the people, the animals, the LIFE?
Suddenly, we deflated. We went into withdrawal. The adrenaline that kept us pumped for months drained away leaving a shell of exhaustion. We acted like accident victims who could only look at each other and say, “Did that really happen!?”
Yes, I believe it really did.