Monthly Archives: July 2012

My Summer Camp Theory

I was never unrealistic about my expectations for living abroad. I knew there would be ups and downs of all kinds and I acknowledged that I had NO idea what to expect in either direction. But the one thing I wasn’t worried about? Homesickness.
See, when I was 10 my parents (finally) let me go to sleep away camp with my big brother for the first time. Though the session was a month long and my only opportunity to see or talk to my parents would be a few hours on visiting day, I wasn’t concerned. 

The way I remember my first day, it went something like this:

On a late June morning in 1996, I was crammed into the backseat of my family’s car on my to summer camp in upstate New York. It was my brother’s third year, but my first. I’d been begging to go for years, but my parents were still nervous I wasn’t ready.
Their concerns weren’t exactly unfounded. Even at the advanced age of 12, many of big Bro’s first letters, two years earlier, had been filled with bargaining tactics hoping they’d let him come home. He ultimately settled in and eagerly returned the next year. Although homesickness wasn’t a player that second summer, he arrived home at the end of the August session the proud owner of a certificate that read, “I survived puke-fest ’95”. My parents weren’t so sure I was ready for all that. I was sure I could puke with the best of ’em.

By the time we finally reached the Mennonite  farm at the entrance to Camp Road, I was completely restless.  My father had insisted on driving the speed limit the entire way. The farm’s owners, dressed in traditional garb, were out working in their corn fields and waved enthusiastically as we drove by. I was sure that we’d been driving SO slowly that we’d actually gone back in time.

Several hundred years later, we arrived in the village I was to call home for the next four weeks. Before the car had even stopped moving, I flung myself out the back door and into the cabin with my name on it.  Within seconds I was completely immersed in the very serious process of picking a bed (top bunk of course) and already chatting away with new friends.  When it was time for my parents to leave, the counselor had to remind me to say goodbye.

My empathy skills were still a tad underdeveloped, and I really couldn’t understand why so many of my friends were having such a hard time.  The only tears I shed that summer were on the final day of camp when my cruel parents dragged me home, kicking and screaming. I went back for 9 summers, each with the same story.

And that is why I was POSITIVE that  though I fully expected to encounter all kinds of struggles here in India, homesickness would surely not be one of them.

I was wrong.

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a very belated apology to my dear bunkmates. I get it now. I’m sure that, “You miss your parents and your bed? Well just stop missing them and you’ll feel better!” probably wasn’t helpful advice.

This morning I woke to find my Facebook newsfeed overwhelmed with updates about the final days of the July 2012 session of camp, posted by my lucky friends and former campers who are still able to return as staff. The photos are filled with children and teens grinning from ear to ear- not out of obligation but out of pure, unadulterated, unmatched, uninhibited joy. There is no. doubt. in. my. mind. that many of those same campers spent the first many days of July crying, and missing home. Many probably thought that they’d never make it through the month, they’d never have any fun, and they’d never come back a second summer. But they did and they will, and their beautiful smiles are proof.

And I will get over this too, and I’m sure that on my final day in India Tal will have to call my parents for tips on how to get me to leave.


Nevermind NYC, If I can make it here…

This is the story of how I ended up eating Pizza Hut alone in my Pjs on my first Friday night in Bangalore.

The plan was to meet Tal & his co-workers out for dinner at a place called BBQ Nation.  Late in the afternoon, when I mentioned my dinner plans to my team at work, they not-so-subtly suggested other options in the same neighborhood. When Tal ran their ideas by his peers, they said they’d rather stick with BBQ Nation, as it was closer by. This should have been my first sign.

One of my coworkers agreed to drop me off on his way home. We were running 15 minutes late because it was pouring (it’s monsoon season, and often rains in the evenings). I couldn’t believe it was possible, but the traffic actually gets worse when it rains. When we arrived, I made my mad dash (sans umbrella) across the street in record time, but still arrived in the restaurant soaking wet.

I totally look JUST like this girl when I get caught in the rain.

Tal had sent me a text earlier to let me know they were seated on the third floor. I got in the elevator, and was puzzled, but not terribly alarmed, to discover that it only went up two floors. Sign #2.  I couldn’t find Tal on the top floor, but it’s a really big place so I called him and asked him to meet me at the entrance. Five minutes later, he called to ask where I was. 

We were both standing in the entrance of BBQ Nation, only, he was in a neighborhood called J.P Nagar and I was in a neighborhood called Indira Nagar.  We both asked around a bit, and learned that  it would probably take me an hour to get to where he was, given the traffic.  This really didn’t seem worth it to me, so I decided to simply call a car service and head home.  I called the number we’ve been using, but learned that due to the weather, their drivers were booked thru 10pm. It was only 7:30.  

That was the precise moment when my iPhone withdrawal kicked in.  Without my scrappy sidekick Google, I figured my next best option was to ask the woman at the front desk of the restaurant if they had any numbers for car services.  No luck.

My only option was to try to hail an ‘auto’.

Dear New Yorkers, you can all stop complaining about trying to hail a cab in the rain, because compared to trying to hail an ‘auto’ during a monsoon in Bangalore – ain’t no thang.

Not only was I going to have to hail an auto, haggle for a price, and direct the driver to our apartment by myself, for the very first time, but as it turned out I first had to cross three streets to get in the right direction.  Somewhere around my 20th unsuccessful minute of standing in the rain, a couple walking by  dropped this bomb on me; because of the intense traffic drivers will only go in the direction they’re already heading, so it’s up to the pedestrian to get properly situated.  They also told me that they were pretty sure, that there might be a bus that would take me to my stop, but they weren’t sure where or what number. I decided to wander in the direction that there might be a bus. Ten more minutes went by, no bus. But finally, an auto! The driver didn’t really speak English, and my pronunciation of neighborhoods and landmarks is absolute garbage. But he was there, he didn’t drive away,  his price was reasonable, and he was my only option. My well thought-out philosophy? At least if he was going to kidnap me, I’d be out of the rain.

It took about 20 minutes and a near run-in with 3 motorcyclists who decided that THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD was a great place to stop, but we finally rolled into a neighborhood that was familiar looking. I started to see signs and stores that I recognized and I finally felt like I could relax and stop praying. So of course, it was at this point that my driver asked me to point him in the right direction.

Nora: Ummmmmm
Auto Driver: WHERE WHERE
Nora:  Well…I think…
Traffic behind and around us:  ANGRY BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!
Auto Driver: PICK PICK
Nora: Straight?
Auto Driver: *Head bobble*
Nora: *Resumes Praying*

But guess what!?! I DID IT!!!! Within a few seconds I knew I’d picked the right direction as my neighborhood appeared in the horizon. 

By this time, it was almost 9. I was soaked, hungry and  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit shaken.  While there are tons of places near our apartment to get food, the only one I knew for certain to be reliable* was Pizza Hut. (*You have to be very conscious of food here. Neither Tal nor I have gotten sick yet, but from what I hear it’s only a matter of time.)

So despite the fact that it’s been at least 7 years since I’ve had Pizza Hut (or really any other fast food…) I found myself ordering a Tandoori Paneer personal pan, and heading back to my apartment to ring out.

On the bright side, when my coworkers ask me on Monday morning if I did anything interesting this weekend – I’ll finally have a good story to tell!!