people not places
Let me tell you about the incredible people in India.
(warning. This is not a so much a travel post as it is a people appreciation post.)
Today, I mailed home two packages full of stuff I had packed for Zimbabwe. Due to some eerie events that surrounded my zimbabwe trip, i made the difficult decision to cancel. (I might go into further detail on why i made the decision i did at a later date, but for starters, the air egypt flight that crashed a few weeks ago was the exact plane making the exact itinerary I had been assigned (paris to egypt, where i would have switched planes for one zimbabwe bound). i got notification that my flight in July had been canceled exactly 24 hours before news broke that the plane crashed. they're suspecting terrorism as the cause, too. there's so many more eerie things surrounding the situation. it's like God is telling me not to go. so i'm listening.)
but back to my drabble on humanity.
If you think U.S. post offices are stressful, Indian post offices are like stressful times 50 plus 1,500 to the 20th power. Lines are nonexistent here, so who gets served next at the post office window is a matter of who pushes up front most successfully. And let it be known that 1. I am not a talented pusher, and 2. I'm especially not a talented pusher when I'm playing the balancing game with two boxes.
20 minutes in, and a kind old man blocks off the rest of the pushing line and makes room for me to squeeze in. I could have cried tears of joy. He bid me adieu with a sweet smile, and was out the door.
I felt accomplished for all of 30 seconds before I realized that I hadn't written a mailing address on the packages. If that isn't the biggest Sydney move of all time, I don't know what is. On top of that, I literally wrapped both packages entirely in tape, so writing on the packages themselves was going to take a miracle.
I wouldn't have been so angry with myself if I hadn't traversed to two different post offices before finally making it to the third. tuktuk drivers have an incredible ability to take you everywhere except where you need to go. Granted, if anyone is at fault, it's me because my Hindi vocabulary is so small. And a small Hindi vocabulary is the last thing I wanted as I stood helpless at the post office.
1 hour later. Ethan was sitting patiently playing games on his phone while Bri and Rebecca had left to go home. I felt so bad that it was taking so long, but I was helpless waiting in line.
Enter hero of the day.
"Ma'am, paper. You need to write your address."
I wanted to hug him, someone who spoke English and saw that I needed help! As I learned later, his name was Sonu. His reason for coming to the post office: he had just graduated and was mailing his application for a civil engineer job in Sector 1.
Sonu went above and beyond to make sure I was taken care of. He helped me get paper, a pen, and held my place in line as I wrote out my address and return address. We later realized I had to fill out customs forms, and he helped me with that too. He was both my translator and my sense of reassurance that I was going to leave the post office with my wits about me. We shared a laugh when Sonu attached the customs papers and had to use his teeth to cut the tape.
"Your turn!!!" He said, giving me the last side of tape. I shook my head and laughed.
Sonu stayed to help for an entire hour. we jumped through every post office obstacle imaginable. He even verified that I wasn't being overcharged for shipping (that happens a lot because I am a foreigner). I can't even begin to imagine what I would have done without his help. As the employee handed me back my change, I noticed Sonu leaving through the front of the store. I offered him a gracious smile and a wave (to which he reciprocated). I wanted to tell him thank you, to give him money for his help- something- but just like that, he was gone.
Although I had thanked him multiple times throughout the process, he left without waiting for a thank you or any final words. This selfless, kindhearted soul is exactly the kind of person I strive to be each day. If nothing else, it's a testament to how we should serve others when we see them in need. Sonu didn't have to step in to help me, and he certainly didn't have to stay an hour to see everything through. Yet he did, and he did so without seeking any praise or affirmation.
Thank you, God, for people like Sonu, and may I be a Sonu to many other people in the future.
If you've got time and want to feed your cultural curiosity, i've added a ~bonus~ bit below. I wrote this on the plane to india, but forgot to post it. I'll paste the whole thing below-
* * *
Have you ever been absolutely certain that you have more time than you do? Particularly in an airport?
With about two and a half hours to spend, my layover in Chicago was the last thing on my mind. My ticket from Chicago to Delhi was missing the terminal and gate numbers, but there’s only so many places an airport can stick a plane. The stressful part for me was over-I had heard people were missing flights right and left in Atlanta and other big airports due to outrageous security lines. With the security line in Atlanta conquered, my concern for missing my connecting flight in Chicago was basically none. To be honest, I was more preoccupied with thoughts of lunch than finding my next gate.
Total rookie move.
Not only did I have to identify and locate my gate, but I would have to navigate to the international terminal, which proved to be a feat in itself. I putzed from Terminal B to Terminal C, waited patiently (and too assuredly, I must admit) as the United customer service representative informed me that I was in the wrong terminal building all together. “Take the train to terminal 5,” he suggested, “that’s where international flights depart.”
I followed his directions to the train and I took my time doing so. Taking the steps down to the platform, then I watched the train pull away away beneath me. I waited in the company of an airport employee before gradually being accompanied by a few other families. The whole airport was dead. Time? Not a concern.
By the time the train spit us out at the international terminal platform, I had decided on something fresh-esque. Salad sounded great, and to my excitement, it appeared that this Terminal 5 boasted a wide array of restaurants to chose from.
The minute I crossed into the terminal, I died (literally). Apparently the airport seemed dead because everyone and their brother and third cousins were crammed into this international terminal. And fun fact that I found out upon reaching this terminal: every international flyer must go through security (again) before boarding an international flight- the first round of security at the departing airport doesn’t cut it.
So with two hours to go, I squeezed my way through the ocean of the most diverse collection of people i’ve ever seen until I had smushed myself in the “line”. I say “line” because it was absolutely a rectangle, and a large one at that. There were so many people that I was literally arms length from the back wall.
At the hour mark, I started sweating it. I still had to show my boarding pass, go through security, and locate my gate. In typical me fashion, I picked both of the slowest lines, which didn’t make things better. By the time I had passed through security, I had 40 minutes. Just enough time to grab food and exchange my USD for Rupees.
Again, by the grace of god, I put off buying food in favor of exchanging my money. I was starting to breathe normally again. Just as I handed over my ID and $60, the intercom sounded “paging passenger Sydney Elizabeth Estill. Please make your way to your gate immediately.”
there’s something about hearing your full name- whether by your mother when you’re in trouble or by AirIndia when you’re apparently about to get left behind that puts you in panic mode. I thought I could wait a minute as the lady finished my transaction, but literally 20 seconds later, my full name accompanied with an urgent message flooded the terminal again. I literally freaked out and asked the lady to finish my transaction while I ran to my gate. A few strides out, I gathered my senses and ran back to the currency exchange kiosk, grabbed my money and my ID, and literally ran as fast as possible to my gate. I have never gotten so many stares in my life, and I doubt it was because I was one of the only non-foreigners there.
So I made my flight. But barely. Another thing that warrants stares? A breathless and heaving white girl bouncing between the rows of a predominately non-white flight. Ha, it must have been a sight. The takeaway? I’m definitely not as incredible with airports and layovers as I thought I was yesterday.
My luck turned after I found my seat (Well, actually after I got myself unstuck between my window seat and the seat in front of me—curse big backpacks). I had the immense blessing of sitting next to the most wonderful Indian man. Trying to discard all the stereotypes the internet had enforced in my head, we talked… and then talked… and kept talking. I told him my plans and he gave me advice. He read over my volunteer placement booklet with me and gave me additional advice from what the packet said and then some.
Literally, this angel of a human went through 40 pages of size 12 font with me out of the goodness of his heart. He even wrote down additional notes on my paper, and his wife contributed what she knew, too. I have an expanded list of sights to see and places to visit. When they brought around the dinner trays (traditional Indian cuisine), he laughed and explained to me what was what when I asked him questions (“wait, so pepper instead of salad dressing??!” Or, “you mean that’s dessert??!!”).
Both he and his wife are sleeping as I am writing this-I have quite taken to them. Any fear I had going into India has vanished. What a special experience to have on a plane with someone who went completely out of his way to make me feel less scared and more confident in my trip. Tucked under this Indian style blanket and sipping on Indian tea, the night sky has saturated the inside of the plane, and I think I just might get some sleep.