Day Four - I woke up miserable. I took a Sudafed around 4am and a Claritin-D around 8. Nothing seemed to work. Even the internet. I carried the laptop in to the bathroom to ask Ryan for help. (I know…it was a bit excessive on my part) Frustrated and dripping wet, Ryan turned the shower off while I held the laptop in front of him. Finally he said, “I’m sorry I’ll have to come look at it in a second - after I finish my shower.” It was working last night but it wasn't working this morning. I knew I was going to spend a lot of time by myself in this hotel room and the internet was a huge part of staying in touch with my world. We went to the trouble of bringing the magic jack and a phone so we could call home for free and I didn't want to miss the news that my sister was having her baby. I needed my internet!
Ryan got ready for work and we went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. He explained how he just called the front desk last night and they sent an I/T guy to the room. He had been emailing and checking facebook last night while I was enjoying my Benedryl comma so we knew it worked at some point. The I/T guy would fix it.
I kissed Ryan goodbye and called the I/T guy just like he told me. The second I hung up, the phone rang again. It was Saroj. She was incredibly difficult to understand over the phone but I got “shopping” and “Shivani” and “send my driver”. I agreed that 1:00 would be fine and then I hung up the phone. Yikes...no idea what just happened.
The I/T guy arrived and sat at our little hotel version of a desk and made noises and shook his head for about 45 minutes. I was sitting 5 feet away from him, trying to watch and see what he did, should I need to replicate this process. And I think (I think) he got annoyed with me. He answered his phone several times while he was there and in his soft little voice, he said something in Hindi to the guy on the other end. I heard that guy laugh so I assumed he said something like, “Yeah…I’m in a hotel room right now with a dumb American girl who is too dumb to figure out how to connect to the internet” and then the other guy laughed because they have a shared disdain for dumb American girls with dumb laptops who know NOTHING about computers. Dummy.
Eventually the guy completely gave up and told me to try the business center on the 2nd floor. Okay. So it wasn’t just me. I showered and got dressed, then carried my laptop to the business center, thinking I could just plug it in somewhere. The process of explaining, “my laptop won’t connect to the internet in my room and there was an I/T guy up there earlier trying to fix it but he told me to come here” just made the girl at the desk blink, like in a cartoon. Then she asked, “Internet broken?” to which I replied, “Can I use a computer?” She motioned me over to a little corner where there were two desks and two computers…my home for the next 4 days.
Around 12:45, I took the laptop back up to our room and debated whether to wait in my room or wait in the lobby for someone who may or may not be the same girl I met at dinner on Sunday night. Again…NO IDEA what I’d agreed to. I just heard “shopping”. I decided the lobby was my safest bet. There was only one entrance and I had a good view from my futuristic white leather chair. Eventually, a very sweet girl from the front desk strolled all the way over to me and said, “Are you Miss Ashley?” I said “yes! I am!” she said “Miss Shivani called your room but you were not there. She asked if you were in the lobby and I thought you might be, so I am to tell you that she is 5 minutes away.” “Oh, Okay! I wasn’t sure where to go so I came down here and… (oh my god. Shut up. Why are you explaining any of this? She doesn’t care.) Great! Thank you!” “You are welcome, Miss Ashley.” And sure enough. Five minutes later, in walked the girl I recognized from dinner. I’m still not 100% sure her name is Shivani, but we hung out all day and when we were done, I didn’t want to say, “So, what’s your name again?”
We decided to eat lunch in the hotel restaurant before heading out to shop. Ryan and the guys from his work showed up just as we were sitting down, so we switched tables and all sat together. I could tell that Ryan was a little more comfortable with the work guys, but they clearly weren’t a chatty group. I had to smile a little at the way they just sort of stared at him following everything he said. Later, Ryan said, “yeah…there’s lots of staring. Lots of awkward pauses.” Poor guy. His India experience was turning out to be quite different from mine.
Riding in the car with (I will continue to call her) Shivani was much more laid back than the rides with Saroj. We had the same driver (Saroj’s driver) but Shivani asked for the radio and she wanted him to crank the a/c. We sat in the back while she sang along to some George Michael and we talked about her 4-year old son who is starting preschool next week. She and her husband just moved back to India from the U.S. about 3 weeks ago. They lived in Chicago, LA and Las Vegas where she attended dental school and he worked for some financial company for the last 10 years. I didn't ask how old she was, but I guessed we were roughly the same age.
She took me back to the flea market from yesterday so I could buy the elephant quilt that I SHOULD have purchased the minute I saw it. (1,000 rupees is like $20 and I have no idea why I was trying to get a better deal.) I knew exactly where to go – bypassing all of the stands selling blue jeans and “Little Miss” t-shirts (so weird). They even recognized me when I walked up to the tent. “Ahhh…elephants!” and pulled it right off the wall. I had my money ready. There was no bargaining. Then we went around the corner to the stack of scarves I remembered seeing yesterday. I looked at Shivani’s face and asked “it’s a good deal, right?” and she sort of looked at me like, “ummm…I would not buy those” so I got nervous. Then she said, “there are many more shops” so we kept walking. I asked about the little Ganesha statues and she took me in to a place with a wall full of brass. I said, “What about marble?” so we went to the shop next door. Basically all of the same stuff, but I saw my little Ganesha right away. He was about 3 inches tall and made of white marble. “I’ll take it!” and paid the guy 300 rupees ($5). I bought some more bracelets too – figured a girl can’t have too many bangles.
I was still fixated on finding some colorful scarves, so we found a shop that stopped Shivani in her tracks. It was an authentic dress-maker’s shop with beautiful embroidered saris and salwar kameez (the long tunic shirts with coordinating pants that look like pajamas). The walls were shelves with stacks and stacks of colorful, hand-made garments, ready to be fitted. It was all of 5 feet wide and 3 feet of the store was a giant futon-looking mattress where employees sat cross-legged facing a single row of benches. A second “tier” of employees were given instructions in Hindi and they returned with stacks of more stuff in clear plastic bags – all folded and pressed. I guessed that the people sitting on the futon were the store owners while everyone else just worked for them. While I looked at silk scarves, Shivani looked at clothes. And when I say “looked at” I mean that we sat on benches and said “yes” or “no” while everyone else ran around and brought us stuff. It was the least amount of effort I’ve ever put in to shopping.
I picked out 8 scarves in a rainbow of colors (gifts) and I paid the guy. He handed back 250 rupees and asked me to look at some embroidered tunics “so pretty…hand made…I give you. You take one home.” Umm…you are GIVING me one or you want me to BUY one? I didn’t understand. But why would he just give me one? Because I spent so much money in his store? Because I looked like a nice girl? I laughed at myself for even questioning his motives. He gave me some money back so I would buy more stuff. Duh. I thanked the guy for his help, then got up to sit next to Shivani. She was sitting in front of a heaping pile of clothes and the tiniest, oldest Indian lady I’d ever seen. I almost didn’t see her. They continued to pull more and more outfits off the shelves and display them in front of her. The outfits were gorgeous. Hand-embroidered in thousands of colors. But the entire time, I was thinking what a pain that would be to have to fold all of those back up. I also debated long and hard about what colors I would pick if I were to buy one, or if I would ever have an event in my life that would require such an outfit. They looked really comfy and of course they were amazing, but I realized it’s the equivalent of going to Jamaica and having your hair braided. I didn’t want to look like the weirdo who was trying way too hard.
Eventually, Shivani narrowed it down to two and apologized to me for taking so long. “Oh, I don’t mind at all. I could sit here all day.” She asked something in Hindi and suddenly a guy showed up with a measuring tape. They were going to measure her and get the fit exactly right. The tiny little Indian lady pulled out a giant leather book (seriously, she could barely see over the top of it) and wrote everything down as the guy shouted out numbers. Even the pen looked giant in her tiny little hand. While Shivani paid and explained where they could deliver her outfits, I watched the heaping pile of clothes get transferred over to a sitting/waiting group of second tier employees who quickly began folding and re-packaging all of those outfits. It became clear why they weren’t hesitating to unfurl every single outfit in their shop. They weren’t the ones who had to clean it all up.
We left the shop and checked out some bags, shoes, blankets, scarves and marble elephants. I asked if there was anywhere around to buy a swimsuit (planning out the next few days in my head and liked the looks of the outdoor pool at the hotel!) She called the driver (still have no idea where he goes or what he does while we shop, but he was there in a few minutes) and he whisked us off to a shopping mall in Ghaziabad.
The mall looked like every other mall in America (complete with giant Hannah Montana banner hanging in the atrium) but we went through security to get in and we found far more silk carpet and sari stores than back home. I enjoyed listening to Shivani asking everyone where we could buy a “swim costume”. I immediately pictured myself in a little flowery swim cap like the synchronized swimmers in the Olympics. We finally found a Puma store and the last two swimsuits were sadly hanging on a rack in the back. They were both one-piece “racing” suits and I figured if I was going to hang out by myself in a country that still treated women like housewives from the 50’s I might as well go with the one-piece. I tried it on in the dressing room and was satisfied. It actually sucked everything in pretty well – made me feel kinda skinny! (it also helped that I’d had diarrhea for the last 24 hours and was losing tons of water weight from sweating so much…India is a great diet if you don’t mind feeling like you’re dying the whole time.)
I paid for the “swim costume” and figured I should ask about razors (which makes me wonder why every swimsuit doesn't just COME WITH a razor. I mean...they go hand-in-hand, unless you're one of those women who pays to get her legs waxed every week, a bathing suit necessitates a touch-up). We walked all over the mall and found a second wing to explore, but no pharmacy or anything close to a place that might help women groom themselves. Shivani called the driver and we waited outside – awkwardly standing in silence. We’d sort of run out of stuff to talk about. And regardless of how many times we talked about the U.S., I was surprised that she continued to refer to our life in Minnesota. I was like, “I gave you a Hallmark ornament - which I explained was in Kansas City - where I work…you lived in the United States for 10 years...I know you looked at a map at some point…how do you still not know that Minnesota and Kansas City are not the same place?” But then again…I still didn’t know her name.
Shivani asked the driver if he could take us to a pharmacy, so we drove around and around – even stopping for gas one time and taking an off-road adventure that nearly popped a tire. We did not find a pharmacy but I learned that the swastika was originally a Hindu symbol of peace. It was painted all over buildings and cars so I had to ask. The response I got from Shivani was basically, “Hitler changed it”. Fair enough.
We got back to the hotel and I had the feeling that Shivani didn’t want to go shopping again tomorrow. I don’t know if she had something against malls, or I'd said something to offend her, or she was tired from the heat, but we were both clearly done. I thanked her for hanging out with me and she said, “No problem. I would not have done so if I did not have my own errands to run.” Ummm…okay. I’ll see you around.
I immediately took a shower and endured 3 more hours of diarrhea. I flipped through a thousand channels of bollywood and cricket to find an old episode of Friends – followed by a show called Psych that made me laugh out loud. I was not in the mood for dinner so I just sat there in the cool, comfortable bed for the rest of the evening. Ryan got back to the hotel around 10:00 and ordered room service. He also pointed out that the TV was still making that loud, annoying humming noise and we should just switch rooms. With no desire to deal with it tonight, we agreed we’d do it first thing in the morning. I fell asleep with the hope that our new room would have internet access! A girl can dream.