Trip Start Apr 23, 2009
14Trip End Oct 16, 2009
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After my 30 hour flight (layovers included), I have arrived in Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh India. My flight had me leaving Detroit at 5PM on Thursday, connecting in Newark and Mumbai, and finally landing in Hyderabad 30 hours later and on Saturday. While in Mumbai, I had a 9.5 hour layover, which lasted overnight. My domestic flight within India was with Kingfisher airline and thankfully they provided a free shuttle bus service between the international terminals to the domestic terminals. While waiting for the bus, I was in a room with a TV showing a cricket match. I sat down to watch but noticed that the only people sitting in this room were airport employees joking around with each other and watching the cricket match, hardly any travellers. I became a little unsure if I was in the correct area and if I was able to take the shuttle bus.
Suddenly, all of the airport employees quietly got up. I was just about to get up with my luggage and follow them, but they scattered every which way like disturbed pigeons in a park. A man had entered the room, which was their boss... Overall, at the airport, there were so many employees sitting or laying down, while few worked. I'm assuming that this is due to the ridiculously cheap cost of labor and the fluctuations of workload for a construction company. It's more convenient for them to keep many workers on staff in case they have a huge increase in workload. The Indian infrastructure is badly underdeveloped that some of these construction workers could have full-time employment, but they are homeless. They probably have the money to live with a roof over their head, but that roof has not been built yet.
As mentioned, my early morning domestic flight was with an airline called Kingfisher, which is also a well known brewery in India. In order to get to the correct terminal, I had to take a brief 5-10 minute walk to the correct terminal, which was an adventure. The first step outside the airport, I was hounded with taxi drivers telling me the terminal was too far to walk, that they could give me a ride, men convincing me that I should stay at a hotel they know rather than wait in the terminal overnight, and finally young boys trying to take my bags from me to carry in hopes I would tip them. I made it to the terminal alright, but the airport doors were closed for the night. I was getting prepared to wait outside until the airport opened, but luckily there was an Indian businessman there who was unhappy about having to wait outside and sweating in the heat the whole night. He requested to see the Mumbai airport manager and within minutes, there he was to let us into the airport . I was surprised with the ease it took him to get the Mumbai airport manager. I cannot imagine it being that easy to talk to JFK airport's management.
The Kingfisher airline and flight was very nice and had me landing in a new Hyderabad airport with 100 plus degree temperatures outside. After receiving my luggage, my manager, the bank CEO, was there to greet me. He was very empathetic and understood the culture shock I was experiencing. He has worked in Paris, London, Uganda, Tanzania, among the many other places within India. He requested the driver to drive slow because he wanted to ease the introduction to Indian driving, which in my opinion is the craziest I've seen yet. There are lanes, but no one drives in them. There are motobikes, people walking, cows, buffalo, monkeys, pigs, tractors, cars, trucks, rickshaws, etc. Along the side of the highway were all sorts of farms with mango and guava trees, as well as chicken houses. Also, there were remnants of fatal crashes that were weeks and months old; the wreckages were yet to be cleared. I was surprised to even see cars and trucks parked or broken down in the middle of the highway. With all this chaos on the road, it requires drivers to constantly honk their horns or flash their brights to warn others of their whereabouts. It is required by law to have a working horn and the backs of semi trucks request people to "Please Sound Horn". Some of these horns are incredibly loud and complex, with tunes. I cannot imagine having to go to the car repair shop to get the horn fixed, but it is required here.
Sunday May 10, 2009
I've settled in nicely in Mahabubnagar. I am staying in a nice simple apartment near the bank for which I am working, Krishna Bhima Samruddhi Bank (KBS Bank). Mahabubnagar is a city of about 130,000 people still searching its identity. There is no main industry that dominates and simple trade amongst the people sustains it economically. Moreover, the spelling for this city is something that hasn't been settled. I've seen numerous combinations, like Mahbubnagar, Mahabubnagar, Mahboobnagar, Mehbubnagar, Mahbubnager, etc.
The weather here has been quite hot, reaching above 100 plus degrees everyday since I have arrived. Everyone asks me what I think about the weather, expecting me to complain, but it is fine. Seems everywhere I've gone, people love to find some sort of flaw in the weather. Since the heat can be unforgiving, people are constantly giving me strategies to escape it. What can add to the heat is that I was told not to wear shorts, due to conservative religious reasons. They have advised to stay out of the sun from 10 AM until 4PM, to drink plenty of water, and lastly to watch the food I eat. Some foods can be heavy and dehydrating and should be avoided. People carry around hankies to wipe away perspiration and protect their face from the heat. Most places do not have air conditioning and at night it can be quite hot while going to bed. Fans do help some.
The food here has been great. There was about a week adjustment period for my stomach, but now I am enjoying some great foods. For breakfast, I eat things like Puree, Idli, Masala dosa, which are dipped in various sauces. For lunch and dinner, I either have a chicken, veg, or mutton biryani or roti bread that can be dipped with an assortment of sauces. The drinks offered are usually water, bottled water, mango juices like Mazaa or Slice, Pepsi, Coke, Sprite, 7UP, or an Indian cola bought by Coca Cola called Thums Up. Indian tea or Chai is everywhere and delicious. Some other observations are that sandals (or slippers as they call them) are taken off by many while eating, even at restaurants, also most people do not touch their lips to the glasses while drinking. Some days are Veg days and others are Non Veg days and it depends on the God they worship. Some people also promise not to cook Non Veg food when they agree to move into an apartment.
Everyone here is concerned with my eating habits that they always make sure I eat each meal, they caution with the peppers, they advised that I should chew the food more to really enjoy the taste, and they want to make sure my stomach is feeling well. Apparently previous visitors must have had great problems with the food, because that is one the first question people ask me here, "How is the food?". Andhra Pradesh is supposed to have some of the spiciest food in India and the world. Some eat hot chili peppers like apples, but I haven't ventured to do so. So far, I have handled it well, but I'm also sure that the spiciest foods have yet to be served to me. Indians eat without utensils and with their right hand. It takes some practice, but I am getting proficient. One cleans their hand before eating and after a waiter will either serve a hot water dish with lemons and limes to make the hands smell fresh, or one goes to a sink to wash their hands again. Many people do not use their left hands to eat because this is used to clean their behinds. After done eating, fennel seeds with sugar are served to help with the digestion of the food and to freshen the breath. In Mahabubnagar, there are only a handful of restaurants to eat at and most meals will cost 50 - 100 rupees, or $1- $2. Tips given are tiny. For large bills a 10 - 20 rupee tip is more than sufficient. I have often seen Indians give no tip or 1 - 5 rupees. On the streets, there is a wide assortment of fruits being sold, most notably mangoes.
The language in Andhra Pradesh is Telugu. India was divided into states based on language, so each state will have a different local language very different from one another. The English and Hindi languages are what bind the country together. Sometimes the language combinations do not work and it can be difficult for some to communicate. Before coming to India, many had told me that practically everyone speaks English, but this is not the case. There are many in Mahbubnagar that only speak Telugu, with no English or Hindi. I am quite dependent on other people to translate. I would like to learn some Hindi and have brought some books from the US, but the people here begin to read it and laugh, stating that this is old formal Hindi and that it isn't what you hear on the streets. They laugh even more when I tell them how much I purchased the books for in the US. English to Hindi books can be easily found for a dollar or a bit more.
Safety and hygiene are poor when compared to the US. It is not uncommon to see a rickshaw with close to 10 people trying to fit in, motos with 5 people holding on, cars packed, tractors pulling trailers of people. People can be holding on to the outside of cars, buses, or autos, even on the highway. Wires are all over the place. Trees might be holding wires up over the street, or existing wires will be used to hold other wires up. When driving people are constantly passing one another and if there is a bad judgement and traffic is oncoming a simple honk of the horn or a flash of the lights is used. Traffic lights can be disregarded, as well as police traffic controls. In a recent visit to Hyderabad, our car hit a motorbike, knocking it over along with the potatoes they were carrying. There was no confrontation, no helping of one another or care of safety, the motodriver simply rushed to pick himself up and get back on his way. In Mahabubnagar, there is trash everywhere. If there is an open lot, not being constructed upon, chances are the people will throw their trash there. The tree just outside my apartment window is full of trash bags. People in higher floors of the apartment are too lazy to properly dispose of their waste that they throw it out of their window into the tree. Furthermore, people will simply throw any trash they have on the ground outside. Waste management here needs some development. You will find people, monkeys, pigs, buffalo, and cows picking through the trash looking for treasures, food. Plates and hands are often washed with only water. Some Indians have told me there is a positive to the trash everywhere and the lower hygiene level, they claim that their immune systems are much stronger as a result. The bathrooms are different. Bucket baths are taken and the toilets are different, holes in the ground that flush. As mentioned above, a waterspray hose is used in place of toilet paper. Many Indians that have never travelled outside of India do not believe the country is dirty or unsafe because it has become culture and habit.
The hospitality has been unbelievable and I am treated like a celebrity. People will give me the best of whatever is available, leaving themselves the scraps. People will pay for my meals and when I insist on paying, they become extremely unhappy with me. The children like to follow me around and say "Hi" to me and take pictures. Many adults stare at me and sometimes it is uncomfortable. They will get inches away from me and just stare at me, I try to ignore and eventually some coworkers will help to have them stop. They usually want to know where I am from and what I am doing in Mahabubnagar. The children want to know why I am so white and so tall. During a village visit, a man asked me for my autograph. I tried to explain that I was no one famous, but he became displeased that I was turning down his autograph request, so I decided to go through and sign his notepad, which gave him a huge smile and made his day. At the office there are servants and assistants to help with requests. There is a company car and driver to drive people places.
In Mahabubnagar, there is not much to do. When you ask anyone what they like to do for fun or in their free time outside of work, you get the same response. "I like to relax, chit chat and socialize with friends." Many complain how hot it is and that they would like to go take a nap. As far as sports go, cricket is king and really has no rival. I have gone to play a few times, which has gone well. I feel like some baseball talent in the US that does not make the Major League could try out cricket and become famous cricketers here. The Indian Premier League (IPL 2) is going on now and the local team, the Deccan Chargers look like they will move on to the playoffs. There are only 8 teams and the games this year are being held in South Africa because the country elections coincided with the games. Apparently the government was worried that cricket would interfere with the outcome of the elections and had all the games moved to South Africa. Pakistani and Bangladeshi players cannot partake in the league due to security concerns for the player's wellbeing. The other sports that I have seen being played have been volleyball and badminton.
The other big activity in Mahabubnagar is going to the movies. Everyone wants to take me to the movies to see a Tollywood film, which is the second biggest film industry in India behind Bollywood in Mumbai. It is called Tollywood because the films are in Telugu, the local language. These movies are at least 2.5 hours long with intermissions. There are many dance sequences and often they have a "hero" or a "heroine". When an actor or actress becomes popular they gain this status, which is godlike. Many of these actors go on to become politicians due to their fame. I have never had so many television channels in my life. Every hotel has nearly 100 channels and my apartment has about 300 or so channels!
India is the most competitive country I have seen. On the playground, playing cricket with friends, there are constant breakages in play to argue score, outs, no balls, etc. When boarding the bus, people push each other out of the way in hopes they will get a seat. At work, you can feel the fear from employees. They will do whatever it takes to keep the manager happy and they fear losing their jobs because they know there is someone that could easily step in and take their job and finding another good job might be difficult.