In India, you have to expect the unexpected. Ten minutes before the start of class, the location will move to a building 15 minutes away. One person will get their entire meal at a restaurant before another is even served their drink. But somehow, things always work out in the end. A recent adventure during our 10-day epic travel week across Southern India taught me that you just have to trust that the system will work.
Traveling with 18 people is difficult in any scenario, but India makes things particularly challenging. With bureaucratic systems for practically every task, getting everyone on the same page is a feat for which our program manager deserves a medal.
We were about to leave Bangalore to catch our night train to Coimbatore. By some miraculous act of the travel gods, all 18 backpacks were ready to be loaded onto the bus and everyone was ready to go when 8 p.m. rolled around. So what was the holdup this time? The laundry, of all things. Although our hotel had promised to have it ready to go at 8 p.m. when we had turned it in that morning it was nowhere to be found. After prodding the manager several times, he assured us that it was on its way and gave the standard “10 more minutes” reply. Those 10 minutes ticked away, followed by another 10 minutes, and another.
I thought about what would have happened in the U.S. I imagined the manager offering a frantic apology and a complimentary night’s stay as the dirty clothes were returned or perhaps an offer to mail the clothes back to our home and a complimentary bill. But it seems that Indians hate to admit defeat or mistakes. Even after 30 minutes of waiting, the manager still assured us the clothes were on their way and we would make our train, even if his face and frantic phone calls in Kannada said otherwise.
Not about to toy with the idea of having 18 people stranded in Bangalore for the night, our program manager left her assistant at the hotel. We boarded the bus to the train station with promises from the hotel staff members that they would transport both the assistant and the laundry to the train station in time for our departure.
About five minutes before our train was scheduled to leave, the assistant appeared, but with an angry porter instead of a sack of laundry. The laundry, she explained, was going to meet us at the next train station. The porter was our human collateral. He uncomfortably sat down on the assistant’s bunk, head in hands, probably wondering how he had been so unlucky to get this task added to his undoubtedly long day.
The train left the obligatory 10 minutes late, and at the next station, the porter all but jumped off the moving train, probably more thankful than we were to see a man waiting with our laundry. A cheer erupted as we all received our clean clothes, perfectly pressed and wrapped in brown paper.
When in India, as crazy as the odds seem, you just need to trust the chaos.
Alison Pease is a senior in the School of International Service and is studying abroad in Manipal, India. She writes a monthly column about her abroad experience.