Philadelphia: First Impressions

I stand on the train platform outside of the baggage pickup area and it is QUIET. There are 3 other people on the platform, even though it is only 8:30pm. The train pulls up and people migrate on and off in an incredibly ordered fashion. The other people on the platform are at my elbows corralling me and my huge backpack forward, but still maintaining a certain distance. I get on the train and very easily find a seat. In fact, I find 3, one for me, one for my backpack, and one for my shoulder bag. Oh space, how I have missed you. The conductor comes over and I ask him, in complete English sentences, 1. How much the fare is to 30th street and 2. If I can get a transfer to the Market/Frankfort line. And he responds, in English! No semi-confused look, no repeating the questions, no breaking the sentence down to it’s basic elements of “30th street?” (and I would have NO idea how to ask for a transfer in Hindi or even broken English so a non-English speaker could understand). And I pay $8.00 to go from the airport to 30th street.

I maintain my full bench seat on the basically empty train all the way to 30th street, relishing my free lap and elbow room. And the lack of stares. No one is staring at me for the first time in almost 3 months. In India I got used to the fact that staring was going to happen, but I never got used to the staring. I get off the train and onto the street. The city is so silent! There are few if any people on the streets, and the streets themselves are almost void of cars. There is no honking, no motorbikes, no one peddling beads or wooden snakes or fake Ray Ban sunglasses, no one sitting in the street or on the sidewalk, no cows, no goats. It almost feels like I am in one of those movies where the protagonist wakes up after Armageddon to an empty world (almost).

And there is money on the streets! Literally! On the 12-block walk home I found $0.15 in nickels and pennies, or 9 rupees, which is almost enough to take the Delhi metro halfway across town (almost. Not quite). I walk past known coffee shops and pizza joints and bars. I walk past closed street vendors and think “Oh man, I can eat that food and I probably won’t get sick!” What a reassuring feeling, especially after 6 days of GI “excitement” and a loss of 15 pounds from some funky Paneer Masala in Munnar.

Even 2 weeks later the re-entry to life state-side has been overall positive. I really enjoy not being stared at and being able to communicate without being somewhat confused and excited that things happened to work out. I am able to drive my car, walk by myself even at night, wear whatever I want (although, like Mary, the “near perfect clothing” Kurta has become a wardrobe staple), and feel like an independent and capable Woman with endless opportunities and options. It is awesome.

I absolutely miss many things about being in India, and if given another opportunity to visit I will not pass it up. I feel so privileged and lucky to have been able to embark on an adventure and experience like this, and I also feel so privileged and lucky to be able to come back to a place like the one I call “home.”

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