Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written an update. My apologies to my loyal, long-suffering readers. With such a gap, you would think much has happened – and you’d be right. So if you really want to take this ride with me, grab a drink, maybe a snack, and settle in. This one’s gonna take a while. In fact, I’ve decided to break this up into several different posts, just to keep from overwhelming you.
After posting my last update, I had a pivotal day in my adjustment to being here. I was feeling worse than ever on Thursday morning, but was determined to soldier on. When the time came for our scheduled departure to work, I went down to the lobby to wait for Mike. Imagine my surprise when he showed up in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops – not exactly his standard work attire.
“You’re on your own today,” he said. As it turned out, he had a lot of issues to deal with in anticipation of the next leg of his trip, and he knew he couldn’t attend to all of them in time for his 7:30 departure to the airport if he spent the afternoon with me at work. As soon as he delivered this news, I immediately felt a negative surge of energy, making me feel even dizzier and less healthy. That was when I realized that my unhealthiness was, as they say, all in my head – a product of jet lag, culture shock and plain old anxiety.
What choice did I have though? I got in the car with our driver, Kumar, and set off for the long journey to the office. I immediately began to feel worse, and even had thoughts of having to be evacuated from the country in some sort of emergency medical transport. I wondered who would take care of me and if they would give me ginger ale. I was completely out of my head – and also, way too far in my head. As we passed a group of Christians, protesting the recent church attacks in Karnataka and the state government’s lack of response, I pulled out my iPod and closed my eyes to block out the overwhelming sensory input I couldn’t otherwise control. Rather than the honking horns and strange voices, I chose the Wheel – not exactly upbeat, but the sound of Nathaniel’s voice always soothes my soul. I think I nodded off for a bit, which made the trip go a bit faster. I woke up near the dairy center and decided to play some games on the iPod to keep my eyes off the bobbing and weaving of traffic. By the time we arrived at the office, I was actually feeling a bit better.
The day of work mostly comprised people presenting their accomplishments to me, as if I’m some kind of big cheese/grand wizard/high and mighty judge of all that is worthy. I found the presentations very engaging and had lots of questions, for which there were interesting answers. However, at points during the presentation, I was aware of my heart racing, my breathing growing shallow and a strange ache in my right arm and my legs. “Is this a heart attack?” I asked myself. “What are the signs supposed to be again? Is it your right arm or your left arm?” I decided that my ability to have such an active internal dialog about this was further proof that the whole thing was merely anxiety-induced, and that I needed to just calm the hell down. The serving men came into the conference room with sinfully aromatic coffee, and I accepted one, then immediately realized that coffee is not exactly a cure for panic, so I let it grow cold.
After all the presentations were over, one of my hosts suggested that we all go out for “a juice.” I had no idea what that meant, and I’m definitely leery of fruit juice here, but I needed the walk and the fresh air. When we reached the juice stand on the campus, I saw a sign that said, “Cane-O-La,” and realized that it was sugar cane juice. There were many flavors to choose from: lemon, ginger, salt-and-pepper, chat masala (like chai spices) and others. I chose a potentially calming combination of lemon and ginger flavors. As I drank the sugar water, I began to feel better almost immediately. I had a fascinating chat with a guy who works there about the fact that he’s currently fasting for 30 days. He’s part of the ever-dwindling-yet-phenomenally-successful Parsi population in India. They’re actually allowed to eat after sundown, but can consume nothing during the daylight hours. He’s not even supposed to swallow his own saliva. And here I was, sipping a completely superfluous, sugary treat. As we talked and I drank, I could feel my confidence coming back and the anxiety receding. I was going to be ok. And it definitely wasn’t a heart attack.
While all the presentations were happening, my hosts had arranged a new hotel for me in the busy central area around M.G. Road (that’s Mahatma Gandhi to you). They also advised me that Banerghatta is nothing more than a zoo, and not worth my time. I’m grateful to them for all their help, though I’m not so sure they did their best on the hotel, for reasons I’ll explain later.
After wrapping up a few things and saying goodbyes, I was back in the car for the slow struggle back to the hotel. The traffic was particularly bad, so I again took refuge with the Wheel. When I finally made it back to the hotel, I was exhausted. I called Mike, gave him an update, and wished him well in his travels that night. I had a wonderful video chat with Sophia, and then I took a long, hot shower. When I got out, Michelle was on video chat, asking me if I was ok. She could tell I was not well, and we had a good talk about it. I realized that if I was going to feel healthier, I needed to take a brief holiday from both caffeine and alcohol, and try to rest. I needed a full day of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. It was a good talk, and I was reminded for the billionth time how lucky I am to have such a caring friend.
As I was talking to Michelle, I realized one of the most overwhelming aspects of my India experience so far. Sure, there are way too many people, way too many cars and way too many horns on those cars. There’s a lot of noise, pollution and noise pollution. And people often talk of the striking coexistence of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, and it’s true. But more than that, I think what’s so striking about a place like Bangalore is the simultaneous coexistence and collision of multiple historical periods. On a stretch of road, you might see people living in roughly the same way that their ancestors lived – camped out, cooking over open fires, eliminating on the roadside, speaking their native tongues (in these parts, it’s Kannada). And next to them, you might see a man in a Western business suit, speaking in English about software development on his iPhone. It’s disorienting, appalling and, yes, overwhelming. That was my revelation.
After this revelation, I went downstairs to the buffet restaurant, in hopes of having a low-key meal. I have no idea what I ate, but it was very tasty, and I had neither caffeine nor alcohol. Afterward, I went back to my room, took a Benadryl, applied some “Sound Sleep” essential oils (they come with the room) to my neck and pillow, and tucked in for a good night’s sleep.