I think that what you are looking for is me…

4 07 2008

Bombay. The city is bizarrely familiar to me. I had heard so much about how different and exotic and crazy India is that I am still slightly surprised to walk around this city and feel, more or less, at home. It reminds me of Morocco in many ways, so much so that I am having twinges of loneliness for my friend Abderakhman in Marrakesh. As we traverse through the city, I keep having flashbacks to the day Abderakman and I met, and I’m half-expecting to run into him again in the same way.

I didn’t really have a choice about meeting Abderakhman. I was completely lost in the medina in Marrakesh, a labryinth of stalls that proved impossible to navigate. My fellow teachers and I had been in Morocco less than a week, and we were not yet comfortable with our French, with the chaos, or with the feeling of not knowing exactly how each day would end.

Enter Abderakhman. As we turned down a narrow passage filled with rug sellers, searching for some sort of exit, he stood up in his stall and waved. “I think,” he began gently, as he walked out to greet us, “that what you are looking for is me.”

The rest was history. He laid down a rug, prepared a tagine, and entertained us for hours that night. We sat in the medina after all the booths had closed down, laughing, eating and reclining on rugs and pillows. I remember thinking that I had found my first home in this very foreign-feeling world, a world I described then “as a place I could never have imagined, even if I had tried.”

As I walk around Bombay, I miss him for the first time in years, and I find myself looking for him inside shops and booths. Or, maybe I’m just looking for that same feeling, for someone or something to say, “I think that what you are looking for is me.”

The first juxtaposition….it’s all familiar and not familiar. People have told me this is the land of opposites. So far, I’ll concur.

Take yesterday, for example. I walked by a sweet Indian dad taking a picture of his family. He was looking at me with that leading eye, the one you use when you are silently asking someone to take a picture for you. I approached him and offered to take his camera, and he nodded emphatically. However, as I reached for it, he backed away quickly, and his family surrounded me on all sides.

“Move in closer,” he demanded. “No, you, get in the middle!” The instructions continued. “Let’s do one more!”

A bait and switch, and the photo shoot began. After that, Indian after Indian lined up to take another picture with Bonnie and me. We managed to shut down the photo-taking business quickly, as it was for everyone’s own good. I mean, come on. You don’t want us in your pictures. We frankly don’t look that good. We’re sweaty, sticky and still jetlagged. Trust us. We are no Bollywood stars.

Or take the Indian buffet we had today. Contrary to the States’ version, we just sat, and a variety of waiters came by and loaded up our plates with dish after dish. Bonnie and I tried our best to keep up, but we were no match for our attendants. They looked fairly disappointed in us when we held up our hands in defeat. One shook his head when passing us the dessert, as if he didn’t think we had yet earned the right to end the meal.

It’s our last day in Bombay. Tomorrow, we’re heading south, off to a world that I cannot yet imagine. I’m not even going to try. But I will let you know when I find my next opposite, or better yet, my next Abderakhman.

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