A Travellerspoint blog

A Kidnapping???

A Strange But True Tale

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Laura and I have returned from a fabulous beach weekend in Goa, and I'll write a full update on that soon just to make you all jealous. But until then, here is a quick story from one of our colleagues. Please note, the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty).

Sanjeev is an Indian-American volunteer for the Clinton Foundation, working in a state in South India. A few weeks ago, he went to the airport along with another American volunteer, Chris, to pickup a shipment of 200 HIV testing kits. The shipment was so large that they had to rent a small truck in addition to the Jeep that they came in, so Sanjeev rode back in the Jeep and Chris in the truck. A few miles down the road, the police pulled over the truck and began arguing with the driver. This is not entirely uncommon, as the police are generally on the corrupt side and merely seeking a bribe. Give them a few dollars and you can be on your way. Unfortunately, neither Chris nor Sanjeev spoke the local dialect, so they had no idea what was happening. After exchanging words for a few minutes with the driver, one of the police officers hopping in the truck and directed the driver down a side road with Chris riding shotgun.

Sanjeev, riding in the Jeep, began to get a bit nervous. He decided the best course of action would be to call his mother at home in America, just to inform her of the situation. He promised to call her back as soon as the situation was resolved, and followed the truck in his Jeep. Soon the policeman stopped them at a police station, took a small bribe, and sent them on their way - no harm done. The problem was that Sanjeev forgot to call back his mother.

His mother conferred with his sister, who, in a panic, called the Harlem office of the Clinton Foundation to apprise them of the situation. The Harlem office, which is unaffiliated with the HIV/AIDS Initiative, called the Quincy office, who promptly called Rajesh, one of the global heads of the HIV/AIDS Initiative and based in India. To make matters worse, somewhere in this little game of telephone the message got changed and Rajesh was informed by the Quincy office that one of his volunteers had been kidnapped by the police along with 200 HIV-positive KIDS.

Rajesh frantically called the country director, Ameeth, who immediately telephoned the state coordinator to ask what in world was going on. The puzzled state coordinator began updating him on the status of his meeting with several pediatricians. Ameeth stopped him and demanded to know the status of the kidnapped volunteers and the HIV-positive kids. This, of course, was met with even greater puzzlement, since Sanjeev and Chris were sitting on the other side of the room, perfectly safe, and decidedly not kidnapped.

Word was sent back up the chain that everything was fine, and a valuable lesson was learned by all - when you are in trouble with the police in a foreign country, don't call your mother until everything is resolved.

Posted by djreidy 16:07 Archived in India Tagged business_travel Comments (2)

Goin' to Goa

A Much-Needed Vacation

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That's right, Laura and I are taking off and getting out of town. This weekend is Diwali, the biggest holiday on the Indian calender. It's sort of like Christmas in that everyone gets off from work, every office is closed, and the prime thing to do is to go home and be with family (unless you're Jewish, in which case you go to the movies and the casino like my Nana). But it's Christmas with a dash of New Years thrown in, since everyone is constantly lighting fireworks and firecrackers (bursting crackers, as they call it) and a pinch of Channukah, since it's known as the "Festival of Lights" (I'd call them copycats but Hinduism came first) and people hang lanterns outside their homes. Regardless, the important aspect is that nobody is working, which includes me!

So early tomorrow morning we are hopping a flight to Goa and staying in a cottage on the beach for the next 3 nights before taking an overnight bus home on Monday. If you want to be jealous, do a Google image search for "Palolem Beach, Goa" and imagine Laura and I sitting there sipping cocktails and watching the sunset. Not that I'm bragging or anything. Now that I've built it up, I certainly hope it's a good weekend, and worry not because I'm sure Laura will send more pictures than you ever wanted to see when we return. So until then, enjoy your weekend and hope that we get good weather!

Posted by djreidy 17:31 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Brief Update

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Thanks to all of you who have written to see how I am. I'm sorry I haven't been responding and that I haven't updated since I told you all I was sick. Ever since I got out of the hospital work has been crazy. Laura and I were on a whirlwind trip around Maharashtra to meet with our partners, and now I'm in Delhi for a few days for national-level meetings. As soon as things settle down I'll write a real update, but until then I just want to let everyone know that I'm back to feeling normal. The malaria is gone, I'm finished with all my medications, and I feel great. I even managed to lose some weight!

Posted by djreidy 12:00 Archived in India Comments (1)

M-A-L-A-R-I-A

My super-fun two weeks

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Well for once I have a valid excuse for not having updated my blog in far, far too long. I've been in the hospital with malaria, and let me tell you there isn't anything more fun than that.

It all started last Thursday, October 11, when I woke up with a headache and feeling queasy. I went to work, but by afternoon was running a fever and felt miserable. I went home around 5, got in bed, and didn't get up until the following morning. That night I was so feverish (103.5 degrees) that Laura called Sameer, our boss (and a doctor) for advice, which was take some Tylenol and try to sleep it off. The next morning I was just as feverish and ill, so Sameer sent us to his father-in-law who has a practice not too far from our apartment. He ran some blood tests and the like, which came back negative for malaria, typhoid, and all the other scary tropical diseases. He gave me prescription-strength fever reducer, vitamins, and some antibiotics, figuring it was either a viral fever (very common in Mumbai) or a stomach parasite of some sort. I took my pills and rested all through the weekend and on Monday, but didn't feel any better. Every evening and every morning the pills would wear off and my fever would return, and bring with it the chills and all sorts of other fun.

Finally, on Tuesday, we went back to the doctor, who ran more blood tests and, upon observing that my blood count was low, recommended that I be admitted. He gave me a bed in the small hospital/clinic he runs and started me on an IV. He also decided that even though my malaria tests were still negative, I exhibited all the signs and symptoms and started me on anti-malarials and a host of other antibiotics and IV injections. The only thing they all shared in common was their remarkably similar taste, which was sort of a mix between bile and chalk. And yes, I'm still taking them, and yes, I am bitter about it. But not as bitter as the taste.

My room in the clinic was clean, small, and that's about it. It was my hospital bed, a small cot for Laura, and an IV. Luckily it had an attached bathroom, but unfortunately it did not contain a shower. I also didn't come prepared with a change of clothes, so needless to say that after a few days I started to smell kinda bad. In fact, really bad. There was also no AC, and this being India, it was kinda hot. On the plus side, it was clean, most of the nurses were very nice, and the medication was potent.

I was in the clinic from Tuesday evening until Saturday afternoon, after which time I had taken my full anti-malarial course and my fever had vanished for 72 hours. So here I am now on Monday afternoon, still at home and sick, but on the road to recovery. I no longer have a fever or any of the associated symptoms, but I'm still very weak and exhausted and spend most of my day sleeping. I have a few more days of antibiotics, and a follow-up appointment with the doctor to get more blood work done, but hopefully by the end of the week I should be back to 100% and annoying you all again with inane blog postings.

Posted by djreidy 12:46 Archived in India Comments (4)

1,001 Things I Love About India

As Well As Some I Hate and Some That Boggle My Mind

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1) Horn OK Please: This phrase is written on the back of every vehicle larger than an economy car, and I’m still not entirely sure what it means. The current most popular explanation is that it is a request to use your horn to alert the driver before attempting to pass; but that is hard to verify since every driver honks ever 10 seconds, regardless of the traffic situation. To make it even better, all large trucks are painted bright colors and covered with decorations, and HORN OK PLEASE is usually in a flowing script and decorated with stenciled flowers. The icing on the cake is the sign on the front of every truck, in similarly artistic block letters, which proclaims “Goods Carrier.” It’s a cargo truck, of course it carries goods! What kind of goods? For whom? The world may never know.

2) Back-up Music: At home, only large trucks emit beeping noises when in reverse. Here, nearly every vehicle is equipped with that technology. Except they don’t beep, they play music. It sounds like a really loud cell phone ring, and you can get any tune you want. I actually heard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” coming from a hatchback in a parking lot last week.

3) Cricket: See the previous blog post. What can I say, I miss baseball and this sport is addicting.

4) Indian Food and Ghee: With the exception of paneer, which is Indian tofu, I have yet to find a dish that I don’t like. I’ve even fallen into somewhat bizarre eating habits, such as munching raw red onions sprinkled with lemon juice as an appetizer. I also decided that I liked my food cooked with ghee, even though I had no idea what it was I just liked the taste. Then I found out that ghee is butter, which means that I just like my food to be cooked in huge gobs of butter.

5) Indian Eating Times: Most restaurants close their doors between 6pm and don’t open again until they start serving dinner at 7:30pm. Laura and I often eat at 8:00pm and are the only ones eating. I feel like I’ve retired to Florida and am getting the Denny’s early-bird special at 4:30.

6) Bureaucracy: This deserves an entire post of its own. Nothing can be done until approval is given by a supervisor, at least 10 unnecessary forms are signed, and the supervisor gives approval again. As Laura says, this can be a great country to be a tourist but a horribly frustrating one in which to work.

7) Booze: It’s hard to find, and where it does it exist it is at western prices and taxed at around 70%. And after dealing with bureaucracy all day, sometimes I really need a stiff drink after work.

8) Trains: There’s nothing quite like seeing people clinging to the OUTSIDE of a train as it rumbles by because there is no room inside (thanks to Drew for that superb link). Just another day in the life of a Mumbaiker commuter. Needless to say, I don’t ride the trains to work. Instead, I take…

9) Mumbai Taxis: Officially called Premiers, they are actually 1950s Fiat knockoffs. How they are still on the road is inexplicable. Yellow-roofed with black bodies, they are unmistakable, omnipresent, uncomfortable, and always stuck in endless traffic jams. The meters are at least 30 years out of date, so you need to use a conversion chart to determine the actual fare. Taxi drivers are experts at running up the meter, lying about the conversion rate, and displaying fake charts that double the price. If you don’t want to take a taxi or the train, you can always turn to…

10) Auto-Rickshaws: Three-wheeled motorcycles with a small cab enclosing a bench that comfortably seats two, autos are usually seen swerving in and out of traffic while carrying at least five people. They are so skillful at making traffic jams into traffic nightmares that they are banned from downtown Mumbai.

11) Cows: It’s cliché, but unceasingly amusing, to see a cow munching garbage and standing in the middle of a crowded road while Indian drivers, who are as a rule aggressive and obnoxious, wait patiently. The cows rule the roads, the sidewalks, the alleys, and anywhere else they decide to roam.

12) Hotels with Bedbugs: Definitely don’t like them. Bedbugs suck.

13) Falling Into the Sewer in the Slum: Since Laura did it, and didn’t get hurt, I consider it hilarious. If it had happened to me it wouldn’t be nearly as funny. Slum sewers are gross.

14) The Head-Waggle: A uniquely Indian gesture, it involves pivoting your head from side-to-side. It can mean yes, I understand, I am listening, no, maybe, I agree, I disagree, or anything in between. A good head-waggler resembles a bobblehead doll on steroids. I like to practice at home in front of the mirror.

15) Mr. Pai: This man deserves his own entry. He is our office assistant, an expert head-waggler, and he features one of the coolest moustaches I have ever encountered: it is long and thin and he has a wonderful habit of stroking it like an old movie villain. My favorite part of Pai is his constant disregard for the fact that Laura and I have work to do. Instead, he likes to sit and chat with us about all manner of offbeat topics. Today he asked us what brand of toothpaste we use and proceeded to launch a ten minute sermon on how Indians used salt and the ash of dried cattle dung before the British arrived. Not exactly conducive to working, but at least it’s amusing.

16) Indian look-alikes: Do you ever see someone and think to yourself, “wow, that guy looks just like so-and-so except taller/shorter/different hair/etc”? Well I’ve found several people here who could be the long-lost Indian brother or sister of Americans. My favorite is the doorman at the Punjabi restaurant around the corner who is unquestionably the Indian Paul Newman.

17) My Blog: Simply because I can title a list as “1,001 Things” and then only list 16 items. I’ll add more later.

Posted by djreidy 04:14 Archived in India Comments (3)

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