Tuesday, February 16, 2010

14,934 Miles Traveled

Feb 11, 2010
Delhi, India
Clear, cool

“What did you think?” the customs official asked me, hovering the stamp over my passport. “Of India? I loved it!” I lied.
India has been so insane. It has tested my patience, my ability to control my temper, and my compassion. And in the last week and a half, all of those things have failed at least once. I don’t know what to say about the country other than what I have already written. Checking in and going through security in the airport today was horrible. We arrived well ahead of schedule, and had to wait for the check in desk to open. The employees sat there and stared at us, and the clock. At exactly 4:10, we were allowed to check in.
Becky and I are on a different flight from Colombo to Male, and I tried to ask if we could get on the earlier flight with the rest of our group. True to his culture, the man completed all of the required tasks and ignored me until he had finished and was about to put tags and our bags and send them off. As an afterthought, he asked, “And what did you want?” We tried to explain again, and he said, “No, no, no. You must go to the help desk, where they will help you in ten minutes.”
We walked the five feet to the help desk, where a “helpful” official was lolling about. He refused to make eye contact for several minutes, until I got his attention. I explained the issue, and he said, “No, we cannot do that here. You must do that in Colombo.” I asked if he could just check on the computer to see if there were seats available on the flight, and again he refused. Another man at the other check-in desk said something in Hindi to him, and then the helpful man replied, “It is oversold.”
They could have told us that fifteen minutes prior, but are either too lazy or too bureaucratic to simply check the computer and tell us the answer to begin with. Then we went through security. There are lettered security points, and each flight has to go through a particular checkpoint. Even though there were ten other open security points, we had to go through the particular one for Sri Lanka. Then I had to go through the particular screening point for women, and then I went to collect my bags.
The security guard would not release my bag. I asked if he had to search it, and he shook his head. I tried to pick it up again, but he grabbed it from me, turned it over, and shook it a few times like my dog would shake a stuffed animal. “What? What is wrong?” He just shook it again, and finally Becky said, “I think you need a tag…”
Apparently, there are tags at the check in desk that you need to attach to your carry-on luggage. Those tags need to be stamped at security. The security guard sighs, and says in perfect English “Fine, I’ll give you this one,” and hands me the appropriate tag.

Part of the reason why India is so challenging is because it is an example of what I fear will happen to the United States if we do not change the way we live. I worry that our infrastructure will fail and nobody will care. We went to the Indira Ghandi memorial right before we left Delhi, and even though she was a great leader and completely gave herself to India, she could not do enough to fix the hopeless poverty. And now, as India is part of the rapidly developing “BRIC” block, there are still gigantic problems to fix. I don’t write this to place America on a pedestal; this is not a manifesto of western superiority. Rather, I feel like there is a hair-thin line between us. We have a façade of functionality, but for how long?

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