I Feel So Broke Up, I Wanna Go Home

by Ekua on May 1, 2011 in India

India didn’t just let me go home with ease. A formidable and unpredictable trip doesn’t suddenly become simple because its almost over. That wouldn’t make sense.

To be fair, the last barrier to leaving was not another challenge India presented, it was England’s snowy weather. Much of Europe was frozen over and it was causing delays around the world.

A Pleasant Last Day

I had a 3:30am flight so it hadn’t seemed logical to book another night at my hotel. The hotel lobby looked fairly comfortable and I was planning to head over to the airport a little earlier than I needed to. After my morning auto-rickshaw tour of Delhi, the hotel staff let me keep my room for a few hours beyond check out.

I spent the rest of the daylight hours wandering through the streets of the Karol Bagh neighborhood I was staying in and picking up last minute gifts at the market. I lounged around the hotel’s dining room and lobby at night. They kindly let me watch American sitcoms of my choice (Who knew that Modern Family was so funny?) and use an empty room to change and freshen up before I left for the airport at midnight.

The Airport Frenzy

I arrived at the airport, and aside from the modernity of the space, the chaotic scene wasn’t all that different from what I’d experienced at the train station in Varanasi. The impending delays were palpable.

I reached the British Airways check in counters to see that my flight was delayed by at least three hours. I’ve always found the British Airways staff’s polite, but firm method of dealing with travelers to be pretty efficient. But in this situation, they were clearly having trouble managing the mayhem of India’s more arbitrary queuing style combined with travelers who were all nervous about missing connections at Heathrow and wondering how they were going to spend the next six hours or more.

I joined the ranks of anxiety and waited in a constantly shifting and unmoving line. At times, I wasn’t sure if I was even in a line.

Do You Really Need All That Luggage?

As I stood there, I noticed that the insane amount of luggage people were carting around was adding to the chaos and the indiscernability of the lines. An international community of overpackers was bumping me from all sides with gigantic suitcases and luggage carts piled high, weighed down by stuff. I’ll be honest– my backpack was overstuffed like it usually is, but it was still dwarfed by the luggage around it.

When a British Airways agent moved the ropes to open a new line and picked me to start it, I took it as a small reward for being the most mobile of the bunch with my low maintenance luggage. I have to say that I felt a little smug as I left my position in the back of the “line” and went up to the counter.

I spoke to the airline agent about how I was going to miss my connection in Heathrow. She deflected and neutralized my uneasiness with her calmness, a quick change of my second flight, and an honor of my request for a window seat. I’d assumed I would be stuck in London, but everything was resolved in a matter of minutes.

You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Sleep

Past security, there were waiting areas that had a mix of uncomfortable chairs and slightly more comfortable reclined seating and couches. I snagged one of the few remaining chairs and kept my eyes open for people who were leaving their makeshift beds. Each time someone would get up, someone else would swoop in out of nowhere to claim the bed.

Finally, I saw a family getting up from a little couch that had a footrest pushed up against it. As soon as they began to pick up their bags, I ran over. As I set my stuff down, a middle-aged woman ran over to join me. It was no problem because it was large enough to share, but she immediately started rearranging.

She pulled the footrest away from the couch. The hard pleather seating was already uncomfortable, and she was making it more uncomfortable by leaving a gap between our upper and lower bodies for our midsections to sink into. I was perplexed.

What annoyed me more was that she did it without acknowledging that I was there. When I addressed her, she essentially told me that she didn’t think it was necessary to talk to me about it even though we’d be sharing the space.

Hers was a mentality that had manifested itself in different ways throughout my trip: through the excessive line cutting, through the large groups of young men who almost trampled my group while we waited to get inside the Taj Mahal (a story I have yet to share on here), through the man who’d insisted on sitting on my bed on the train from Varanasi to Agra when he had his own bed to sit on. I was fed up with the daily disregard.

After trying to reason with her about arranging the shared space, her ultimate answer was, “Why should I ask you?”

With her dismissal of me in mind, I stopped talking. I pushed the footrest back against the couch and laid down.

Westward Bound

I wavered in and out of sleep until I heard an urgent announcement that my flight was about to board. It was a hurry-up-and-wait scenario. At the gate, I found out that our flight had yet to arrive and we still had an hour or more before boarding. They gave us sandwiches and chips to appease us while we waited and dozed off as much as one can with regular loud intercom announcements.

I can’t tell you what time we finally left. I was too sleepy to check. But the sun had risen. What I remember most was flying over the strange and beautiful terrain of Afghanistan, a country my country has been occupying for almost ten years. It had previously existed only in the news for me, and just to fly over it was an indescribable feeling.

It was a relief to arrive in London. My next flight was wonderfully empty. I chatted with the man sitting behind me while our flight remained grounded and we waited for more delayed passengers to make it on.

He was Indian, but born and raised in Fiji. He currently lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was his first trip to the homeland and he had struggled through the country just as much as I had.

We exchanged stories and I felt slightly relieved when he conceded that he hadn’t enjoyed traveling in India either. Like other travelers, I get caught up in feeling like I have to love everywhere I visit, and that’s just not realistic. At times, I wondered if I was being flexible or understanding enough. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. But regardless, the reality is that there are going to be places that just don’t work for you.

As we began to back away from the gate, it was confirmed that I’d hit the economy seating jackpot. The two seats next to me were going to remain empty for the ten or eleven hour flight.

I arrived at SFO on a Friday evening. Before going back to San Francisco to resume my regular life, I spent the weekend in the comfort of my home-home. And never before has it felt so sweet.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jillian Logee May 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Nicaragua was the country I realized I didn’t like. It was so hard to come to terms with that I went back a second time. At least now its affirmed that I don’t need to go there again.

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Ekua May 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Funny that you should mention that because I’ve also been wondering about whether or not I should return someday and see if I enjoy it more the second time around when I know more what to expect. I’m definitely curious, but if I did go back, it probably wouldn’t be for quite sometime because there are a lot of other places I’d want to visit/return to first!

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Candice May 1, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Yeah, I guess you don’t have to like everywhere. 🙂 Sounds like an awful final few hours, especially with the lack of sleep, but don’t you LOVE when you find out you’re seated in a big empty row on the plane? Ahhh, alone-time.

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Ekua May 2, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Definitely wasn’t fun and I had the nastiest jetlag I’ve ever had. But I was just one of thousands in the same situation! That row to myself was so amazing… coming and going without waking up and laying across the seat to sleep. Sooo nice.

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Herbster May 1, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Your travels in India are about what I would expect. Your honest insight is welcome and why I read your blog. Thanks.

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Ekua May 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Thanks, Herb. It’s good to know that my honesty is appreciated!

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Mandy May 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Wow. You just gave me permission to admit that I don’t like a place, even though so many people I know love it. That’s rather freeing. Thank you.

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Ekua May 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm

It’s not easy to admit this in a travel blog setting… I’ve definitely felt more self-conscious than normal when publishing posts on some of my less enjoyable experiences in India. But trying to mask it would have been much more stifling!

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Shey May 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I’m glad you don’t feel like you have to rave about every place you visit.

Traveling is no different then basic things in life. somethings you like, others you dont

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Ekua May 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Good point – I think there is an image of travel as a grandiose thing, but on an average day of travel for a person on a budget, it isn’t. I’ll hit up the well known “picture worthy” sites when I travel, but more than that, I seek out the basic, everyday aspects of places I visit. Those little things are what make me love a country or sometimes, as it was in the case of India, they make me want to run away from it.

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Oneika the Traveller May 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm

I agree with the posters above. I appreciate your honesty!

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Ekua May 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Thanks!

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Sunee May 4, 2011 at 3:29 am

Out of curiosity, if it weren’t for the wedding, would you have visited India otherwise? I have a good idea of which countries I probably won’t enjoy – even if I’d love to see them for myself, such as India or Egypt – and have rather visited places more agreeable to me instead. I know one sometimes needs to step a little ouf of one’s comfort zone, but should it be at the cost of enjoying the experience?

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Ekua May 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm

India is a place I’ve always been curious about, so I probably would’ve visited it eventually regardless of being aware that it can be challenging. I don’t typically go on a trip with an “I’m on vacation” mentality, so this may sound a little strange, but liking a destination is not imperative to my travels.

I feel like I take something away from each trip, even if it’s as simple as having seen place and knowing how it works just a little bit better. I definitely have times when I prefer to stick to places I think I’ll like, but even with that, there are no guarantees!

I think there are so many (contrived) ways of stepping out of your comfort zone, but there’s something a little deeper about the all out challenge of visiting a place that tests you every time you step out of your hotel… that’s a topic I might write a wrap up post about and elaborate on!

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jamie - cloud people adventures May 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm

even though you didnt enjoy it, im sure youll look back in a few years and realize what an incredible experience it was.
like the others said, appreciate the honesty! a lot of people seem to feel the need to talk up everywhere they have been. maybe its just a way to convince themselves that the trip wasnt a waste of time / money.

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Ekua May 6, 2011 at 6:12 pm

I actually felt that way as soon as I got home! While I didn’t enjoy the country very much, that doesn’t negate the fact that I had some pretty amazing once in a lifetime experiences there. When it comes to destinations, you can’t win ’em all but there’s always something to take away.

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Rebecca November 15, 2011 at 4:00 am

I did not like India the first time that I visited it either. Then I realized that there are good and bad aspects of every country and that I would enjoy visiting India more if I chose to focus on the good things. But to be honest, the only reason that I returned to India two more times and have another visit scheduled soon is because my husband is from India and it is important to both us that we maintain strong relationships with his family. There are so many other places in the world that I want to explore and although India has a lot to offer, I have already traveled to many states of India and agree with you that it can be quite challenging for a visitor.

And I think I may have been more put off from India if I was African-American like you. Most Indians I have met are overtly racist towards blacks and I am white and have been on the receiving end of racism from Indians too. Sadly there are many misconceptions about foreigners in India and xenophobia seems to socially acceptable.

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Ekua November 17, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I don’t have that kind of connection with the country so I have to honestly say that though there are good and bad aspects of any country, there were so many glaring issues in India beyond the cultural ticks that made it challenging as a foreigner. I don’t really “vacation” per se, so the purpose of my trip is not necessarily to love everywhere I go and have the best time. I took the bad with the good, but in India, it just so happened that for me, there was more of one than the other and I really wanted to leave by the end. I definitely made it a point to share the ups and downs of that trip honestly. Although it wasn’t an easy trip and I can’t see myself go back there willingly, I’m glad I got a chance to have the experience.

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