So the only problem with letting you guys know what I’m going to write about in advance is that then I actually have to follow through and write on the promised topic! I will, but I’ve thought of so many other things since my last post that I could write about. Plus, I’m still hoping to have a montage of my experience shopping for punjabi suits and saree (or sari, if you prefer).
Arrival in India
Upon my arrival at the Bhubaneswar Airport, I was deplaned onto the runway. The 48 degree Celsius heat hit me immediately and a haze from the heat lingered in front of sun, blurring the horizon. As I took in my surroundings, I walked across the sparse runway toward the airport entrance adorned with Hindu statues and a welcome sign which read, “Atithi Devo Bhavah.” This Sanskrit phrase translates into “The guest is god.” I considered this for a moment and applauded the Indian Ministry of Tourism for an effective ad campaign (it has stuck with me so far as well as Dublin’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply” campaign, which is saying something–because Ireland is the motherland!). As I walked into the airport and waited for my bag in the one-carousel baggage claim, I was happy to be out of the over-packed New Delhi Airport terminal and comforted by the fact that I had reach the end and probably most challenging part of this journey–which was of course navigating through the Delhi Airport!
I’ve always wanted to be picked up at the airport by someone with a sign with my name on it. You know, the people you see whose bags are carried by someone else to the car with the engine running and driver waiting. Not, mind you, all the time…just once. Well, arriving to sign with my name on it was only the beginning of the hospitality that’s been shown to me since I arrived.
Even in the expansive New Delhi airport, the couple at the food court table next to us began a conversation. Where are you from? Why are you visiting? Where all are you going to visit? I know someone who works in the USA. I’ve been on a trip to the USA. and so on… It’s as if we’re the guest of not just our host organization, but all of India. (We were also probably the most foreign looking people in the domestic terminal and definitely the most western dressed of the women…even more so once we arrived in Odisha). They, too, were our hosts and welcome committee.
The apartment we’re renting was not quite ready when we arrived, due to the death (here they say, “the expire”) of our host’s mother-in-law who resided with them. They had relatives in town, mostly staying with them, and the mourning process/rituals last ten days after the passing. So they graciously took us to a nice hotel and set us up for the evening. We had our bags delivered to our room by the bellhop and ordered room service for dinner (in addition to getting picked up by a coworker with a sign and having a driver): chicken curry, the only thing recognized on the menu.
The morning breakfast buffet provided us opportunity to chat with women that were visiting the city while their husbands were here on business from Punjab. They asked us pretty much the same questions as the couple in the airport (Where are you from? My boss’s niece works in New Jersey, etc) and then we bonded over two universal experiences: a love of shopping and laughter. Again, they were our hosts, welcoming and glad to have us.
Settling in to our apartment, we’ve had kitchenware provided, linens, clean drinking water, and an incessant offers of further hospitality, in case we have any need. We’ve been taken to eat, had lunch cooked for us every day at work, and taken shopping (more of that to come…food and shopping!).
Whether it’s an ancient Indian tradition or a revived Sanskrit verse to attract tourism, it’s certainly true: “Atithi Devo Bhavah.”