The rain is barreling against Ann's living room window. The wind is whipping the blue tarps anchored to her balcony railings to keep the rain from coming in their front door. On the street below you can hear the endless beeping of car horns. I begin to make coffee and head towards the sink, wrong way I remember, "don't drink the water Alisha" I remind myself, and reach for the bottles on the counter with filtered water we filled last night.
As I sit down to write my mind is on Houston and the images I've seen of it's catastrophic flooding. My mind is also pondering the Uber ride that Ann and I took last night to the paper store. I wanted to see the exquisite hand made paper that is crafted here. We rushed into an uber to take us into south Mumbai as soon as Ann got off work. The rain was pouring down like it is now, relentlessly. On a workday leaving Bandra to head south around 4pm in the afternoon it takes about an hour to go 10 miles. We pass the heavily built up streets crammed full of traffic and people, many streets are lined with tarps and under the blue tarps with three sides open to the elements are masses of people. It isn't just momentary shelter from the rain, under these tarps live hundreds if not thousands of families. They are quite literally living on 2-3 slabs of concrete side walk, only 3 short feet or less away from incessant honking, pounds of toxic car exhaust, and millions of cars speeding past. Looking into the tarps at eye level you see mothers and small children. Do you remember your mom telling you not to play in the streets when you were a child? That now has new meaning as I can't help but watch these children from my dry seat. I note that many of these children are playing and smiling seemingly oblivious to the rain and cars. My uber hurtles forward.
Finally to the paper store we walk in shedding our umbrellas and leaving them with the doorman. Most buildings and stores here have doormen. Our clothes are soaked through from our feet to our knees as a result of our short 3 block walk and I'm starting to worry I might drip water onto this beautiful hand crafted paper but no one seems to bat an eye at our sopping wet state.
I write so many letters that I feel like I'm single handedly keeping the U.S. Postal service in business. Today I'm on the hunt for stationary, this store has lots of cards and large sheets of paper I imagine you'd use for wrapping, but their stationary is limited. After we leave that paper store we have one more on our list. Ann pulls up google maps, we pop up our umbrellas and venture back out. I'm behind Ann as we walk and I can see that her work pants are soaked wet almost to her waist like litmus paper. We head in one direction for a while only to find out that google maps got it wrong after 30 minutes of walking in the rain, filed in closely with massive groups of other people all holding up umbrella's, for naught. The other store closes in 30 minutes and we don't have enough time to walk there before it closes. That's how things go in India many endeavors here feel pointless. Everything, even a simple task of going to two paper stores blocks away from each other and other seemingly simple errands take hours and might not yield what you're looking for. An almost 4 hour trip, in monsoon rains and soaked through clothing all for a few cards to write on. Can you imagine the disappointment if we had been looking for a necessity?
Back in an über at 6pm it will take us an hour and a half in pounding rain to go 10 miles. The unyielding honking and traffic is starting to wear on me. I don't think I'll ever get used to the feeling of being inches away from city busses looking like they'll plow into our car, or being wedged into the street with cars careening from all directions and this is not an exaggeration in the least.
My cell phone is in airplane mode in an attempt to save money using only wifi. Instead of looking mindlessly at my phone I look out the window while driving home. I have no distractions; I watch the never-ending rain as I’ve been doing for days. My mind returns to Houston thousands of miles away and the videos friends have been posting. I feel numb to the tragedies, people loosing their homes, the picture of the older women in a nursing home sitting chest deep in water waiting to be rescued flashes into my mind. I think about how horrible it all is without feeling it. Digesting that and India at the same time is impossible. At home I'd deal with these feelings by going out for a run, here that's impossible. My stomach has been upset the past 48 hours and I realize that when we foreigners get sick here it's most likely because we don't have the tools to emotionally digest what we see. As a result our bodies create a physical reaction to what our minds can't process. If our minds can't purge the pain at least our bodies will.
It's now just past noon in India, I've been writing the better part of the morning. The rain keeps coming down harder and harder, some of the kids and faculty at Ann's school are being sent home due to flooding in south Mumbai and I can't help but think about Houston.