Monday, December 11, 2006

The journey begins

Well, the journey actually began a while ago, in early 2005, when I took my first, very tentative, steps along the road to a Fulbright Scholarship. Since then, I’ve had to negotiate various hurdles, which finally brought me to the day, December 4, 2006, when I left the United States on my way to India.

I flew out of South Florida International Airport. A couple of days ahead, I had driven down to Cape Coral, Florida, along with my wife, Marilyn, the dogs, and a small mountain of luggage. We traveled in convoy down to Cape Coral. I led the way in the Subaru Outback, on top of which I had loaded a car-top carrier so that the dogs would have the lion’s share of the space in the back—our dogs always travel in style. Marilyn followed in the Subaru Imprezza. There were some tense, if not scary, moments, especially for Marilyn, when we hit heavy traffic on the beltway around Washington, DC, and when we ran into the occasional heavy downpour. But otherwise the trip was routine—if tough going for Marilyn, who is accustomed to being chauffeured on long trips like this.

Aside from the fact that I was anxious, post 9-11, about going to India, it was especially hard to say goodbye to Marilyn. This will be the longest period of time we’ll have spent apart since we got married 26 years ago and I didn’t want to let her go. After I’d cleared security and turned back to wave goodbye for the last time, I got teary-eyed, especially when, finally, we just stood there looking longingly at each other, neither of us wanting to turn away. But I’d come too far to not do this, so with a last waved kiss and a hand on heart gesture to tell her that I loved her, which she quickly reciprocated, I turned around and disappeared into the mazy time warp of international travel, a maze made more nightmarish since the events of 9-11.

But I didn’t mind the added security one bit; I even smiled to myself when it was announced over the intercom that the security level had been notched up. This sense of well-being was reinforced when, in Hyderabad, India, where my plane landed to off-load passengers and to take on others en route to Tirupati, a couple of military guys walked through the plane checking that any baggage left on there belonged to someone sitting in the plane. “Hey, you can check my bags any time you want, bud, as long as you get me to Tirupati in one piece.”

It surprised me that, of the various airports in which I spent some time, the least well-designed and well organized was the one in Frankfurt, Germany. Indeed, I’d have to conclude that that proverbial Prussian persnickety attention to detail is in decline. The lines were unnecessarily long, people were allowed to push in ahead of you, the bathrooms were minuscule and not easy to find, and one fatuous official created a scene which had us all—mostly Indian, by the way—rolling our eyes, as if to say: “What kind of a country is this!?”

In India I rediscovered my belief in angels, but I’ll tell you all about that in another post.

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