Saturday, July 18, 2009

“My country won’t like it if I don’t return home” (Driving through strike territory on the way to the airport)

So, just before getting into the jeep to make the 3-5 hour trip (depending on just about everything), to the domestic airport to fly back to the capitol city, the local leader of the mission here said, “So, there is a strike going on today…you may have some trouble on the roads, but you will probably be okay. We put a sign on the jeep – “VVIP,” so hopefully they will let you through.”

I wasn’t too concerned, because I’ve been through a strike or two before. Once the airport was closed, and flights were cancelled, but otherwise, nothing too traumatic.

We started out, and there was nothing for about an hour. Then we entered into the next state over, where the strike was actually taking place. The next few paragraphs describe the events that followed.

1) “Change your clothes.” - We came up to an intersection, and guys with orange bandanas and a few sticks, and a scowl on their face came up to the jeep and demanded that we stop. “You aren’t going any further.” The driver, and the guy from the mission who came with us, got out and went off into the crowd. Various passersby’s looked in the jeep window to see the foreigner. I wasn’t phased at all, having been through similar situations. After a while, they came back. “Okay, if you want to keep going, they (the political party causing the strike) will have to sprinkle water on all of us, and we have to change our clothes and wear the orange dress that represents the political party. Then we can go through without any problem.” I wasn’t sure what to do, but within about 15 minutes, it seemed like that idea changed (perhaps through a bribe), and we were on our way again.

2) “VVIP” – About 20 minutes further down the road, we came to a bamboo barricade, and actually a bunch of kids were yelling for us to stop. We stopped. They made us back-up about 10 feet and stop again. The driver was amazingly calm during this. He got out and went to talk to the leader of that area, explaining that we needed to get to the airport. After a while, I realized things weren’t going anywhere, so I got out, and went over. The conversation went something like this:
Leader: Do you know what VVIP means?
Me: (silence- just trying to let him talk).
Leader: It means, Very Very Important Person. Do you know who that sign is for?
Me: (silence again).
Leader: It is for our president, parliament members, prime minister…
Me: What about your guests to India? Are they important?
Leader: Well, yes, you are…but….um…you just wait for 3 hours, and then we will decide if you can go or not.”
Me: Sir, if you could decide before three hours, that would be good, because my flight leaves…
Leader: humph….
After another 5-10 minutes, they all of the sudden decided to let us go.

3) “Her country will cause problems for you” – Back on the road again. About 15 minutes later, we came to another block – logs pulled across the road. All this time, there were no other vehicles on the road, except ours. A somewhat angry group of men came up, and just waved their hands, and refused to even listen to us. We scanned the area, and noticed, the leader of that town off to the left. We got out, and walked through the mob over to him. He listened, was very kind, and lead us back out into the middle of the mob and the highway. He said, “Listen, they just need to go to the airport. She is from outside (she’s a foreigner), and if you cause problems for her, then her country may cause problems for you.”
Again, all of the sudden we were allowed to go through!

4) “My country will not like it if I don’t return home.” – So, at the next stop, we got out, and this leader was very forceful, and firm.
Leader: You are not going anywhere. Didn’t you watch the tv today? Don’t you know there is a strike? Didn’t you listen to the radio? No, you aren’t going anywhere.
Me: Please sir, we respect you, we don’t want to do anything wrong, we just want to go to the airport.
Leader: I have strict orders from my authorities, I cannot let anyone go through. I will get into trouble if I do.
Me: (Remembering the quote from the previous leader…) – “Well, there may be trouble for you if you don’t let me through because if I don’t return home, my country will not be very happy.”
Again, within about 10 minutes, the council met and decided I could go through!

5) “I want to have a good memory of India…” – About half an hour later, we came to another block – this time a bullock (buffalo) card was pulled across the road. Again, the leader was extremely firm.
Leader: You aren’t going, the airport is closed, the road is jammed, you aren’t going anywhere.
Me: Please sir, even if it’s closed, it’s still important that I go. (not really knowing what to say at that point).
Leader: How can I let you go, I cannot let you go. No, you are not going.
Me: Sir, I really want to have a good memory of India when I leave…please let me go.
Leader: Hmm…..
Again, we were on our way.

Besides these 5, there were about 8-10 others, although they each didn't care as much as these particulair stops. Anyway, it turned out the airport was OPEN, and it was the shortest security lines ever, no problems there.

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