Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Last Ride from School: India Reflections

School has ended. Lots of hugs and goodbyes, adding in phrases such as "keep in touch on Facebook." After four years teaching at the American International School in Chennai, it was time to move on to yet another chapter of my life. An autorickshaw driver took me on the familiar path back to my apartment, now empty of my belongings. We scoot past the road in front of school, its one side still a long ways from completion, despite over a year and a half of construction. Once on the IT highway, we pass by modern complexes housing various software and IT companies. The light in front of us is red, causing an immediate backup in traffic. The autorickshaw driver wiggles his yellow contraption through the space between a city bus and a produce truck; a motorcyclist squeezes between that. Immediately the heat and humidity hits inside the still vehicle. Concrete walls are painted with colorful slogans of the current movie star-turned political leader of the state. People congregate in an unmarked area for boarding busses. A bullock cart hauling potted flowers ambles by. Cheap sandals are sold next to a cart overflowing with fresh mangoes. Incense from a Hindu temple momentarily intermingles with smells of the street. Now past the strong odors of a poultry shop, we turn on the street where a sari-clad woman picks out select produce, next to a man sitting on the sidewalk repairing shoes, and a coconut seller after that. Turning at the next corner, the driver pauses momentarily to let a truck pass through the narrow space remaining from an unfinished pipeline project. Following the entrance to a Pentecostal missionary, we arrive at the spot I hate most about my neighborhood (and actually India as a whole) –garbage. This eyesore is a perpetual sight, strewn about in front of an apartment building. At least the goats are enjoying themselves there. Having turned onto my street, I glance at one of several apartment construction projects going on, transforming the neighborhood from its primarily single-dwelling homes. Spotting the small convenience store I had frequented for basic supplies over the past 2 1/2 years of living in this neighborhood, I motioned the driver to stop. My last ride in these yellow 3-wheelers –my primary mode of transport– was over. I presented one last doctor's prescription at the tiny pharmacy and watched as one customer searched through a selection of phone recharge cards and another eagerly grasp a small glass bottle of Coke presented from behind the counter. It took the manager a bit longer than normal to find the diminutive packet amongst the myriad of small boxes labeled with several meds each, but thankfully he was successful. To the right of the pharmacy was a small Hindu shrine, with its jasmine garlanded idol inside. Although I didn't yet see the local who dutifully tended the shrine and swept up around it, he cheerfully waved at me minutes later as I walked towards my apartment. Spotting the cluster of bamboo in front of a building, I knew mine was next. Soon I would be transferring this tropical scene for a Midwest American one.

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