Monday, September 4, 2017

Four Countries in Four Days and One Unsuccessful Golf Outing

Saturday: MACEDONIA. At the end of my month-long Macedonian trip, Mom drove in from Bulgaria to spend a couple of days with me in Skopje and drive me back to Sofia. After a liquid and tearful goodbye with my Macedonian crew on a Friday night, on a blazingly hot Saturday, Mom and I drove slowly away through Macedonia and later that night arrived in Sofia. Now, let me see if I can explain my travel plans so that they make some sense to you. Originally, I was supposed to stay in Sofia until Monday afternoon in order to see my family and friends, and then fly to India to meet the Diplomat and Son, who had just flown in from Washington, DC to visit the In-Laws for a week. I was supposed to fly Qatar Air and arrive in Chennai around 2 am on Tuesday, then spend 3 quality days with the In Laws, and fly back to Sofia with Son at 3 am on Friday. The Diplomat would stay in India two more days and fly back home on Sunday, and I would do the same, but from Sofia, while leaving the excited child with Mom/Grandma for the rest of the summer.

Sunday: BULGARIA. To my utter dismay, however, on Tuesday before I left Skopje, I received a cryptic email that my flight from Sofia to Doha the following Monday had been canceled and that I now had to fly a day earlier, on Sunday, instead (or, as the Indians would put it succinctly - my flight was "pre-poned"), stay overnight in Doha and continue to India as originally scheduled. What should have taken 13 hours was now going to take 28. No amount of threats and pleading and requests for some money back or business class upgrade to compensate me for the inconvenience helped. I was livid - I had such a short time to see my family that the last thing I wanted to do was spend it gallivanting in Qatar.

I spent Saturday night and Sunday morning in Sofia, seeing as many relatives as I could, and climbed the plane to Doha on Sunday afternoon in as surly mood as you can imagine. After a pleasant 4 hour flight (and two movies), I stepped off the plane and was hit with the 104F degree humidity of Qatar  at 1 am - folks, I have lived in two hot, tropical countries, where it is scorching during the day but at least at night, it lets up a bit. Not in Doha. I had never experienced desert heat like that before, and it was surreal.

Monday: QATAR. And so was the rest of that night. After I got off the plane, I lined up at the endless line at the transfer accommodations desk where eventually I was told that I was being given a hotel downtown because the airport one was full (meaning, I wasn't going to bed any time soon and it was approaching 2 am). Then, to top that, I was given a meal voucher - at the time, I didn't know that, but it was a voucher for ONE meal only and it was up to me to choose whether it was for breakfast or for lunch the next day. I guess Qatar didn't think I should eat on their buck more than once, despite extending my journey time by 15 hours). Or perhaps I did appear somewhat fatty to the airport clerk, who knows. Exhausted, I found my way outside and began looking for the shuttle to the hotel. It was so intensely hot and humid that my glasses turned practically opaque with fog and firmly refused to clear up. As a result, I couldn't see where I was going and ended up being told to go back inside the airport where some undefined person would find me and take me to the hotel shuttle. Back inside (it was now 2.30 am), I could see no one who even remotely suggested to be from the Movenpick hotel until I overheard a skinny man mention the word shuttle to some woman. It turned out to be the guy I was looking for. I yelled at him for good measure (and because I was so exhausted and irritated at the whole situation), asking him how was I supposed to find him - infuriatingly, he told me that he usually waits for passengers with the hotel sign in his hands, except for now. Throwing one last self-righteous and indignant, "You are terrible at your job!", I got in the bus and eventually made it to the hotel. I slept until 11 am the next day.

The next day, I had over 8 hours to kill before my next plane, so I decided to go explore the city. My phone suggested that it was 114F degrees (45 Celsius) outside, with some solid humidity to make it even worse, but I decided to go for it anyway. A quick taxi ride later, I was strolling in the midday haze at the Souq Waqif (the market), admiring the architecture while trying to cram some of the scorching, stuffy air into my lungs. The market was truly beautiful. In the span of 40 minutes, my light cotton dress was completely soaked with sweat (which made it pretty much transparent to the delight of all shopkeepers) and I was getting more and more dazed surrounded by the endless sandy color of the walls and the blinding whiteness of the outfits of the stern Qataris passing by. After a prolonged examination of the bird part of the market (there was an astonishing amount of pigeons for sale), admiring a couple of falcons and a tall Qatari in a snow-white thoub carrying a fierce-looking sabre, I went back to the hotel, where I wrung out the sweat from my dress and proceeded to dry my underwear with the hairdryer.

Tuesday: INDIA. A couple of hours later, I was back at the airport, climbing another plane bound for Chennai. Two and half movies and a delicious chicken tikka masala later, I landed in India. It was 2 am, a Tuesday. I was rather exhausted and all I wanted was to see the Diplomat and Son whom I had not seen for over a month. But before the sweet family reunion, I had to pass Indian immigration. For those of you who are not Indian nationals, and have not been to India lately, I am happy to report a a positive development in the face of visa on arrival. You apply for it in advance, get approved and then go to a special (very short!) line at the airport. And so, quite excited, I showed up at the special desk and looked at the immigration officer. Unlike me, the man was in no hurry. For some reason, he was sweating so profusely that it was like rain pouring from inside out of of him. He produced an enormous checkered cotton handkerchief and slowly wiped his entire face and prodigious mustache with it. After that, he meticulously wrung it out and we both watched (me, in quiet horror mixed with disgust; he - with immense satisfaction) the sweat that dripped out of it on the floor. He sighed with content, folded the wet garment and tucked it in his pocket, wiped his wet hands (sort of) off his pants and motioned for my passport, shrugging his shoulders. He then looked it carefully as if seeing some rare artifact, went through all of its 52 pages one by one (not sure why as my pre-paid internet visa was printed on a sheet of paper, which  also gave him). After what seemed like 3 hours, he finally took an enormous stamp from his desk and gently (and somewhat lovingly, it seemed) pressed it onto an empty page. He finished by writing a small novel on top of the stamp and then finally handed me back my (now rather moist) passport. I was in! It only took 45 minutes.

I spent the next couple of days visiting various members of my Indian family and enjoying home-made food. On my third and last day there, the Diplomat decided to take us to play golf at the Chennai golf club. He had packed me a golf outfit, which consisted of a lovely skirt and a collared shirt. Thus clad, upon arriving at the club in our car, we were surrounded by a small mob of random men whose job and general purpose was unclear but who took a lively interest in me and my intention to play golf (a most unorthodox thought, apparently). We were brought to the pro shop (where we were asked to remove our shoes), and a few quick minutes later, the pro showed up himself, all smiles. We spent some quality time exchanging Indian pleasantries and getting set up to tee off, when he looked at me apologetically and told me that I absolutely and positively cannot go on the golf course with that shirt. The problem - it was sleeveless. It had a collar, it was designer golf ware for women, it matched my skirt perfectly, was sleeveless. Dumbfounded, I wondered what to do and without noticing, agreed to buy a large, misshapen Burberry knock-off shirt with giant sleeves in order to play. Then he remarked on the length of my skort - it was about 5 fingers above my knees. He decided to let it go but advised me to pull it down a bit when we go to the starter - like THAT was going to fool him. We then proceeded to look at rental clubs and buying water, and almost 30 mins later, we were finally ready to pay and go play golf. And then none of the Diplomat's credit cards would work on the flimsy card machine. So, we did not play golf after all.

That same night, Son and I flew back to Bulgaria (finished the half movie from the previous flight, watched 3 more), where I spent exactly 24 hours before boarding more planes to go back to DC (4.75 movies). The Diplomat also flew back from India that same day, and we met at Dulles airport to begin our annual one month of a child-less honeymoon.