We arrived in Mumbai at about 1:30 am local time but we didn’t get out of the airport until about 3:30, what with baggage claim, customs, immigration, changing money, and hiring a taxi. I think I will always remember that early morning taxi ride across town; my first glimpse of India. We hired a non-AC taxi and the windows were open for part of the ride. The air was thick with something—smoke, dust, smog, incense? Maybe all of those? It was humid, heavy, and actually smelled rather pleasant, which was a welcome surprise. Preparing myself for the worst, I had expected strong smells and lots of poverty. And I was right about half of it. Immediately after leaving the airport grounds, the taxi driver pulled over to register our trip. A woman approached the car, pretending to hold a swaddled baby, but actually just holding a bundle of cloth. (I once successfully smuggled a dachshund all through Ikea Minneapolis by pretending it was a baby. Please. Don’t play a player.) At the same time, two little girls–about the ages of my nieces Hannah and Abby–approached my side of the car. They deftly opened up my window and four little hands reached into the car to “pet the baby.” My mama instinct kicked in and I squished Simon as far into the middle of the car as I could. A second later, my mama guilt washed over me and, for the first of what I expect will be countless times, I questioned how our world could have become so upended that these two girls, perhaps 6 and 10 years old, were begging at a taxi way station outside the airport at 3:30 on a Wednesday morning. “They should be asleep,” I lamented to Joel in a whisper, realizing as I said it that this probably didn’t even rank on their list of problems. “I know,” he responded, and I think he understood what I meant.
The taxi driver returned just then, shooshed them away, and off we went on an exhilarating ride across Mumbai. The sites were numerous and confusing. Photos would not have come out, and I understood so little. Shops upon shops. Rickety little apartments, 8 stories high but with a footprint smaller than my own house. So many people. A moped, a smoky fire, and two men asleep atop a large pipe. “Maybe they’re travelers, asleep on the roadside for the night?” I suggested to Joel. Seeing similar scenes along the way, I’m now guessing that they were guards at construction sites. But who knows? A carnival. Apartments and shops decorated with vertical strands of lights, reminiscent of the Cambria building on Highway 169. A garbage truck, its contents dumped on the side of the street; people sorting through it. A man driving a buggy with a team of two oxen, their own horns wrapped with large, decorative horns. Autorickshaws, everywhere, dashing down the highway. Oddly specific signs. “Cheap! Furniture repair! Office chairs ONLY!” Stray dogs; stray cats; a rat as large as a considerably large cat. A dozen men walking down the street carrying huge (at least 4-ft diameter) wicker baskets, empty. Why? Why are there a dozen men carrying huge, empty wicker baskets down the street at 4am? Do they do this every night, or is this a one-time thing? Of course there’s a reason, but I’ll never know.
Finally, we arrived at our hotel and checked in without any trouble. The room is simple, with a big bed, A/C, and room for Simon’s Peapod. Oh, and a flat-screen TV nicer than our old dinosaur at home. We fell into bed at about 4:45am local time, almost 48 hours after we met Lois for our drive to Minneapolis. I awoke for a quick continental breakfast and then went back to sleep. The boys slept straight through until we all got up at about 4:30pm and ventured out onto the streets for the first time.