After more than a twenty-four hours of planes and layovers, I’m finally in Madurai with Gaby and Diana! Thanks to Aparna and Professor Kapur for some serious finagling with the consulate.
My first impression of Madurai is a city atmosphere with all the noise and bustle but without the infrastructure. There are no towering skyscrapers, but there are always dozens of people on the streets and roads (and of course, the crazy driving). Then there are the sounds that are completely out of place. The first night, I woke up in the middle of the night because I heard ducks. It sounded exactly like the iPhone alarm, and I bolted up because I was so confused as I didn’t remember setting that as my alarm. But the most interesting (and a little frustrating at times) is the chanting a few times a day that Gaby and I can both hear outside our windows. So a little bit after the ducks, I wake up to chanting that sounds like singing coming from what must be a nearby mosque or temple, and it’s kind of eerily beautiful the first time. Then I realize it’s around five in the morning, and I pass out again.
Then we come to my first Indian mall! Living next to King of Prussia mall almost all my life, I have this image of malls as giant, sprawling monstrosities with hundreds of stores. Of course, the mall in Madurai was nothing like that. It was about five stories tall and circular, reminding me a lot of Huntsman except with stores rather than classrooms. I’ve been to malls in China, which are built in a similarly vertical fashion; only those malls are fifteen stories or more tall, more winding, and always packed with people. Vishaal d Mal was a lot less crowded, especially when we went on an weekday afternoon, and much easier to navigate. It definitely made shopping easier than I expected, though. Sometimes in China, I’m far too intimidated by the amount of people to even bring myself to buy anything, so the quieter experience was perfect for some quick shopping.
We’re the youngest people staying here in the hostel, but everyone is super friendly and has done an exceptional amount of traveling. The others staying here all ridiculously impressive with degrees on degrees and quite a lot of life advice. When I told them I was interested in oncology, they decided I should be an ophthalmic oncologist, and seeing as the best in the world are at Wills Eye in Philly, it’s perfect (Christina!). We had dinner with them at one of the rooftop lounges last night, and it was amazing just to hear about what they’re doing, what they’ve done, and everywhere they’ve been. One of the fellows we’ve met comes from Cameroon, went to medical school in Germany, worked with WHO in Switzerland, trained in surgery in Kenya, and came to be a fellow at Aravind, working in the Retina clinic.
We’re at a bit of a standstill with the project, waiting on doctors’ approvals and translations, so it’s let me ease into Aravind a little easier as I slowly meet the people Gaby and Diana have known for weeks and kind of catch up on some sleep I missed from the somewhat hectic day before. Of course, I’m still terribly jet-lagged, and after that first night, I wake up with the chanting every morning around five and can’t go back to sleep. But it’ll pass!
I’m so glad I’m finally here, and now we can start all our traveling adventures!