An Unexpected Helping Hand- Porbandar, India

Just when I didn’t think I could take the stench any longer, we turned out of the port toward the main part of the city. There was still a lot of poverty to be seen but the smells were markedly less intrusive. I couldn’t believe how many cows were wandering around, sleeping on the road and generally acting as if they owned the place. Well, in a way I guess they do. In India, cows are sacred. In fact, you won’t be finding any Big Macs around here. The billboards sport a lovely ad for McAloo Tiki which is in essence a potato burger. Still won’t lure me anywhere near the establishment, I’m afraid.

The curly swirly Hindi writing on all the signs was no help to me so I had to deduct by the wares what they were selling. There seemed to be lots of little specialized tiny shops housing services like tailors, barbers, and tea sellers, to name a few. The stores which lined the road were filled with every color of sari and the fruit carts were piled with apples, pineapples and pomegranates. There were a lot of people just hanging around in small groups sitting on the street curbs or squatting froggy style chatting. It was a very relaxed atmosphere.

There were lots of auto-rickshaws zooming around and just as many bikes weaving in and out. It was organized chaos. There seemed to be some kind of horn language. The different number and length of honking seemed to mean various things. Somehow, though there was a lot of beeping and tooting, there were no accidents and didn’t seem to be any angry road ragers. There was one dilapidated ancient bicycle being ridden around by just as aged old man. They kind of glided along the dirty roads cruising slowly…it was quite a peaceful contrast to all the hustle and bustle around them. I wondered where he was going? Then I realized, probably no where.

Just before we pulled up to the lot where the bus was letting us off, I felt something funny between my toes. I looked down only to discover that my flip flop had broken. My heart sunk. My favorite footwear I have had since Laos had finally seen their day. I thought about getting them fixed and decided I would do what ever came easiest when I got off the bus. As I hobbled down the road, I felt like a gimp and was embarrassed by my dragging foot.

After some seraching, it was clear there was no cobbler around so it was clearly time for a new pair of favorite flipflops. There seemed to be no shops in the area selling anything shoe-like so I ended up tying a shoelace around my foot and the sandal so I could walk better. I amused the young mother in the tangerine colored sari holding her gurgling baby by performing some MacGyver action on my shoe. Once it was good and snugly secured to my foot, I gave a satisfied nod and she beamed me a smile that concurred.

Merely fifty feet away, I discovered Ghandis house. I decided I should stop in for a minute, since I was right there. I encountered my first serious beggars here. It was intense and quite disturbing. The elderly frail senior just kept repeating the same thing and would not let up. I saw some British cruisers obviously distressed by the pressure just give in shoving currency at the persistent street people. It didn’t seem to quell the beggars but just encouraged them to press for more and more. It was really sad.

As I went to enter the three story structure where Ghandi was born in 1869, I learned I had to remove my shoes. I chucked to myself as I unlaced my makeshift shoething. I wandered around the white marble courtyard but wandered right back out minutes later. I am not sure if it was the hoards of tourist crowding the space but I just wasn’t feeling it.

I made my way up and down the streets and alleyways finally discovering a shoe solution. I ended up with a brand new pair of plastic sandals for 45 rupees. I gave the man 50 (one dollar) and he seemed really surprised and grateful when I refused the 5 rupees change. With a new spring in my step, I explored the streets with a new lease on life. It’s amazing how the little things can really make sure a difference.

I was hanging out with Lee and he wanted to find an internet place but after a while, he realized it just wasn’t going to happen. This was not the most advanced area and we were lucky to find drinks that were even cold. They pulled bottles of 10 rupee Slice (mango drink) and Thumbs Up (cola) out of a cooler with ice blocks. It wasn’t all that cold but it wasn’t warm so I gulped it down. I politely refused seconds knowing that finding a toilet would not be a pretty picture.

During the excursion through the colorful streets selling all sorts of everything you could ever want, I made a point to connect with the people. At one point, I bought balloon from the young girl on a bike and later gave it up to a spirited boy in his school uniform.

I was chatting with some shopkeepers when I heard a loud parade passing by. We decided to join in the hundred or so people following the marching band. I had no idea where we were going or what we were celebrating but somehow it didn’t matter. Everyone seemed really excited that I was there and that was enough for me. We ended up in a very obscure alleyway at some tiny shrine in the wall. I was slightly lost as to what I should do but realized I had no idea where we actually were after having being led around for a good 20 minutes.

After some time, we finally found our way back to the original shuttlebus drop off location. I was relieved as my feet were killing me and my bladder was starting to whine. All I could think about was getting back to the ship and collapsing on my bed after a much needed biobreak. Well, that relief lasted for about two seconds. As I looked around, I didn’t see any of the shuttles, any fellow passengers, or any of the guides. In fact, the whole area was dark. I scrambled around frantically looking for some sign of a bus to come. But my efforts were in vain. There was nothing.

Lee wasn’t much help either as he wasn’t taking this whole thing very seriously at all. Frustrated with his lack of preparedness more than once on this trip, I guess I had reached my breaking point. He just kept saying casually that we could just get a taxi back to the ship. No problem, he said confidently and nonchalantly downplaying the situation . Finally I asked him flippantly where the ship was and he looked at me with a blank stare and said nothing. “Exactly!” I snapped at him furiously. I felt the night getting darker by the second.

We were lost for a plan when a young man of about 20 on a motorbike stopped in front of us. “Can I help you?” he asked with a kind smile. I explained him the situation as he listened intently. He thought for a second and told us he knew where “your friends” are. He gave us some directions and we thanked him and tried going that way. After about 15 minutes of walking in exactly the opposite direction, I was getting more and more uneasy. I convinced Lee that we should turn back. If there was a shuttle bus, what if we missed it! I was SURE that was where it dropped us off. And how does this kid know who our friends are anyway?! It was too weird. So we turned back.

We found the vacant lot still empty and no tourists anywhere. Even the locals were becoming more sparse. I was just about to sit down on the dirty curb and cry when our friend on the motorbike showed up again. He sensed my anxiety building and calmly reassured me. “Don’t worry, miss. I’ll take you to your friends.” I searched his eyes for some truth and realized that no matter where he was taking us, it couldn’t get much worse than this. So we piled into a tuktuk and he led us through the streets on his motorbike. Lee said something positive and I dryly muttered a half hearted “yeah” as I looked sullenly at the passing stores which were closing up for the night.

Suddenly we turned a corner and there seemed to be a lot of people and markets in full swing. He hopped off his bike and gestured his hand towards a lot full of buses. “See? Your friends!” he exclaimed proudly as he pointed out our ships logo pasted on the front window of one particular bus. I could have kissed him, I was so relieved. Then, as if saving us wasn’t enough, he paid the tuktuk and absolutely refused to take anything from us except for our email addresses. He even gave Lee a bag from the store he worked in.

I was so touched and blown away by the generosity and kindness of this angel in disguise. I felt bad for having doubted him. More so, I chided myself for losing faith. I, of all people, should know that things always work out. I guess I had forgotten that the travel gods do have ways of making themselves known at just the right moment. I guess somehow I thought my luck had run out. Then I remembered, it has nothing at all to do with luck.

Grateful for guidance.

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One Response to An Unexpected Helping Hand- Porbandar, India

  1. hardwiredhacking says:

    They don’t have shoe repair shops, they have dudes on the corner surrounded by shoes and tools. They are called mochi, like puffed Japanese rice, but in India it means cobbler. Find one and you will have your flipflop fixed for 50 cents, and it will be a good job.

    I’m very excited for about your India observations. It’s very nostalgic for me.

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