Arrival at Bhubaneswar airport
My volunteer assignment is in Bhubaneswar (boo-bah-NESH-wahr), the capital city of Orissa, a northeastern state. Itâ€™s known as the temple city of India, at one time having thousands of them. Iâ€™m about an hour west of the Bay of Bengal, across the Bay from Myanmar and Bangladesh, and about four hours south of Kolkata (aka Calcutta).
My supervisor took me from the airport to the hostel where Iâ€™m living; he talked to the proprietors in Hindi, gave me no clue what he was talking about, and motioned me upstairs to see the room.
When I looked out the window, heâ€™d driven away. I didnâ€™t know where the bathroom was, and my attempt to say â€śtoiletâ€ť in Hindi was met with blank stares. I literally had no idea where I was, when I was supposed to show up at work, how to reach anyone, if anyone would be coming back, where I could get food and bottled water. I promptly burst out in tears, emotionally exhausted and going on day six with three hours of sleep. About an hour later a woman from my office showed up, clearly having been sent to help me settle in. She asked the proprietors to get me some fruit (peel-able, of course), crackers, and water. She also peppered me with questions about my parents and siblings, which thankfully I'd been prepared for as part of the Indian custom of focusing on relationships, and understood it to be her way of welcoming me. She described herself as having "chosen" not to get married. Interesting.
Anyone read Hindi? Hello?
By 8pm jet lag reared its ugly head and I couldnâ€™t keep my eyes open, so I got ready for bed.
Five minutes laterâ€¦ a knock on my door; someone was here to see me. In conservative India thereâ€™s no going downstairs in your robe, so I got dressed and talked with a co-worker who had been sent to see if I needed help going out to get food. (Fruit and crackers can make a delicious dinner.) Take two, back upstairs, in my pjs, bednet finally hanging properlyâ€¦ and another knock on my door. Out of sheer exhaustion, more tears. I got dressed again, went downstairs, and talked to my supervisor, who also came to check on me.
I did eventually find the toilet
Hysterical, frustrated, annoyed (at well-intentioned people!), worn out, and wondering what the hell I was doing here, I had an Eat, Pray, Love crying-on-the-bathroom-floor-in-the-middle-of-the-night moment: This way of responding to stress canâ€™t be good for my emotional and physical health. Am I doomed to have this Pavlovian response for a lifetime? There has got to be another way. Just breathe. So maybe this is one of the reasons Iâ€™m in India: Work on learning how to stay present and calm. Though something tells me Iâ€™ll still be working on this one waaaaay after this trip.