Walking into an Airport Gate Fresh and Spicy…For a Lesson in Buddhist Philosophy
While packing for two months in India, I crowded my lone suitcase and backpack with about seven hundred pages of Buddhist philosophical texts. For those unfamiliar with Buddhist philosophy, it in part teaches that nothing in life is permanent, and as such we must shed attachment to all physical and mental things, states, and objects, for attachment leads to suffering. Insofar as we shed attachment to these things, we can be fully present in any moment, and appreciate the beauty around us at all times. (Why, yes. You're welcome for that mini-sermon)
When our plane landed at London's Heathrow airport this past Monday morning, I figured that I would be on the ground in Mumbai the following afternoon: with my checked bag, and meeting three of my fellow cohorts. My flight to Mumbai was supposed to leave 9:20pm on Monday. At about 8:30pm, after sitting at the originally listed gate for an hour, an announcement informed the passengers that the gate was switching. Okay, I thought. I had seen the flight crew, and everything is running just fine. I was feverishly walking to the new gate, but not before I spotted some Dior cologne at one of Heathrow's ubiquitous duty free stores. A French sales associate spotted my eager eye, and sprayed some Dior cologne for me on a tester stick. I nodded approvingly, and let her spray some on my neck. She gave me three spritzes, the third one causing me to cough and tear up. She then informed that this fragrance was one of women's' favorite Dior fragrances, a very fresh and spicy one. Lovely. When did a French woman's accent ever mislead you? I strode towards the gate, took a seat there, and anxiously awaited the announcement to begin the boarding process. The time was about 9pm, and another announcement said that the flight would be delayed until further notice, due to a luggage carrier damaging one of the plane's wheels. As such, all passengers would have the option of a free nights stay in a nearby hotel. *I fretted on the inside just a little bit. * After being shuttled to a hotel that was already full two hours later, at midnight I was now just checking into the Hilton next to the airport. I was not told when I might be flying to India. I decided that I would wake up the next morning around six, head to the airport, and get on the next possible flight to Mumbai. I got to the airport around seven the following morning, and was told I might be able to get onto a flight 9:30am, as a standby passenger. At 8:15am, I was told there was a seat available, but my checked bag might not come until the following day. I just wanted to finally touch ground in Mumbai. I got my ticket, hurried through security, and made it on the plane. Once we were in the air, I thought that nothing could be as stressful as the last night. Sipping some Johnny Walker Red Label on the plane later didn't hurt either.
Once the flight landed, I went to my airline's kiosk at Mumbai's airport, and was told that my luggage made it to Mumbai! Having not seen it on the baggage carousel, I was then told that I would get it Wednesday or Thursday night. Thursday night turned into Friday at two or three in the afternoon, to four or five, then eight to nine. I hadn't worn my own clothes for three days, while my roommate allowed me to borrow his clothes. When my luggage had finally arrived, on Shabbat, I hardly missed it, nor was really excited. (Maybe I was a bit happy that received it). Not wasting any time, on Shabbat morning I dressed in my finest clothes, that I had yes, kind of missed: red Chinos, white button down shirt, Cognac dress shoes, and a red patterned tie. From there we went to the Chabad rabbi's and his wife's flat in Mumbai for another lovely hosted meal hosted by them. (They had us over for Shabbat dinner the prior night) While we were there, we were given a sobering reminder of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, one of which was committed at the Chabad house there. In one of the rabbi's closets, were Jewish texts ridden with bullet holes from those attacks.
Although glad to have finally had my luggage by Shabbat morning, I noticed that I was almost not expecting my suitcase to arrive. I also felt a sense of calmness that I didn't have much in my possession. (At least I had my violin in the room in which I stay). But not having my clothes didn't seem so bad, when seeing the pervasive poverty in Mumbai, and the countless people living on the streets. While we are staying in suitable conditions, and have visited a couple very affluent areas, our group is within a few minutes walk of such poverty. As my twin brother, Paul, can attest to in Rio de Janiero, Mumbai is also very much a city of seemingly two worlds: the very poor, and the wealthy. I began composing this blog post sipping a Frappuccino in a Starbucks next to the Taj hotel. My Frappuccino cost 240 Rupees, or about four dollars. For comparison, 12 percent of Indians earn less than 1.25 dollars per day, and near the guesthouse in which our cohort stays in Byculla, is a shopping mall with stores like Gucci, Chanel, and Canali, where a man can buy a suit jacket for 90,000 Rupees, or 1,500 USD.
Anyways, the purpose for our trip here is soon to be realized. Our cohort begins volunteering in the slums this Wednesday. There, we will be giving children classes in English, math, and science, with the idea that if we teach them these basic skills they lack, we can provide the children with an opportunity to surmount their poverty by providing them with the skills for better paying work. We also have opportunities to teach classes at the local J.C.C., where I have volunteered to teach a Hebrew class, and Torah class, each of which meets once weekly. So not only will our cohort be volunteering with underprivileged children, but we will enhance our connection with the local Jewish community. I can promise in the next post, that I will most certainly not be walking into anything fresh and spicy, for the temperature is climbing into the 90's right now, and my face is glistening with sweat.
DISCLAIMER: The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee