Home, sweet home! Last Friday I had one last day in Madurai, then a long, sleepless trip home and I’ve needed a few days to recover before sharing.
Friday morning I was in a flurry of packing when the phone in my room rang, scaring the beejezus out of me. I answered and the man at the reception desk asked if I had called for a rickshaw. I hadn’t. It was very confusing. And then he said “Pondy is here for you?” and suddenly I knew that Amma had sent him to get me. I threw some things in a bag, abandoned my packing and rushed downstairs to Pondy, who grinned ear to ear when he saw me. He drove me home to Amma and Achie who both gave me huge hugs and were so excited to see me. After catching up a little bit and promising to spend the afternoon at the house, I left with Pondy to go to a tea shop he knows of in downtown Madurai. On the way back to the hotel, he pulled over to buy me another coffee. What a sweetie.
With only half an hour until check-out left, my leftover packing was disastrous. I tend to be a very meticulous packer, and with the amount of stuff that I had, the nature of my backpack and the fragility of some of what I owned, it was a complicated job that would probably have taken me two hours under ordinary circumstances. Instead, I had to go with the “jam it all into the bag as fast as you can” method of packing, which caused anxiety throughout the day as I failed to remember where little things I needed had gone.
Back at Amma’s house, I re-settled in and met all of the new volunteers, who are great. They are all relatively new (since they’d all arrived after I’d left two weeks before) and had lots of questions about living in Madurai and my travel experiences. The new volunteers had yet to visit the local ice cream shop, and asked if I knew where it was, so we all went out for ice cream. It was a nice afternoon. While the others took naps (still a big jetlagged) I finished my book so I wouldn’t have to carry it all the way home and spent some time with Gifty. At six o’clock, Pondy showed up to take me to the airport. It suddenly started to sink in that I was leaving. A big lump developed in my throat.
Amma has hosted over two hundred volunteers over the last several years. She’s had over two hundred goodbyes. The first time she cried saying goodbye to a volunteer was when Fahad left at the end of June. And then she cried when I left. Knowing that I was a high score made it incredibly difficult to say goodbye, though I was still fighting my reflexive “I’ll be back” feelings, since I’d already had one set of goodbyes. Pondy piled all of my things in the back of his rickshaw, and I climbed in. We waved goodbye until we turned the corner at the end of the street. It was a long, sad ride to the airport. It’s amazing how well you can get to know roads in just a matter of months, and I swallowed back tears as I thought about how I would probably never be on those streets I knew so well again. Just before we turned onto the airport access road, Pondy pulled over to buy me one last coffee.
We pulled into the airport at sunset. Pondy refused to let me carry my own backpack, and went on an excursion to find me a luggage cart. He loaded my things up for me, and wheeled the cart all the way up to the main door, where only ticketed passengers can continue. He pulled out a notebook and asked me to write my name in it. And then I went through the doors, taking one last breath of Madurai air (which is really not good air, but felt it at the time). I turned to look back out the doors one last time before I turned a corner and saw Pondy still waiting. We waved goodbye one last time.
The flights home were pretty uneventful. Madurai to Chennai, Chennai to Brussels, Brussels to New York, New York to Boston. I tried to sleep, but managed to only get about two cumulative hours. On the flight from Chennai to Brussels, I had a mission to check under seat 36E to see if there was a note for me. Siri and I had the same flight from Chennai to Brussels, and as an experiment, she tucked away a note in a place where we thought it might be safe. What she hadn’t anticipated though, would be how difficult it was to get back there! Row 36 is almost at the back of the plane, and about twenty rows behind my assigned seat. Swimming upstream in a plane is difficult, though I did finally manage to get there. No note. Oh well. In Brussels, I had to change my rupees back to dollars. Ideally, I would have done this in Madurai, but I got my deposit from my SIM card back too late in the day, and there were no currency exchange places open in either of the Indian airports. But because I was in the European Union, in order to make the exchange I first had to change my rupees to euros, and then the euros to dollars, paying commission on both exchanges and losing a lot of money in the exchange from euros to dollars. But I suppose that’s better than having a few thousand rupees in the US.
In New York, I learned that there were weight restrictions on my flight to Boston, and they were offering a travel voucher to anyone who could take a later flight. I figured that after thirty hours of traveling, another two hours of sitting in the airport couldn’t hurt, so after counseling with my dad/chauffeur I went up to volunteer to take the next flight, two hours later. The voucher increased from $300 to $500 while they looked for more volunteers. It was thrilling. I had already mentally spent my voucher. And then a big party of five never showed up, and they ended up putting me on my original flight, no voucher in hand. I should have been happy about it, but instead it left me grumpy. I wanted my free trip!
In Boston, I found my dad, and he drove me back to Brattleboro. It’s nice to be home. I actually haven’t been jet lagged at all, so I’ve settled well. I weighed myself the morning after I got home. I felt like I had maybe lost three pounds, but it appears I lost more than that, at about eight pounds. I think re-assimilation to my Western diet will fix it. It’s been really nice to things like vegetables and cheese that I missed in India.
Now I’m settling back into life in Vermont. It’s been good to reconnect with my friends, and coming home has made me feel hugely popular. My pictures are up on Facebook, my laundry is done, my bags are unpacked. Now all there is to do is plan for my next adventure!