I’m writing this issue from thirty thousand feet above the earth, sitting in a chair in the sky
. Clouds are beneath me, as they tend to be on planes. There’s a man rocking a restless baby in the aisle—oh, it’s a dog. The flight attendant is announcing that not wearing a mask “between bites and sips of food is a federal offence”… 0hkay. I’m feeling nauseous from the coffee this morning. So, all is well.
Of all in-flight safety instruction videos, United Airlines must take the cake for being the worst. It’s so bad
. (Also, you put in an aerial stock shot of Taj Mahal, get brown people to play Holi on a tacky set, add generic sitar+aalap music. Why the thaka-dhimi-thom would you leave out Bharatnatyam? What is this? 2021?! The french did theirs so well
Now for some grim recounting:—
This past week—my last in Mexico—has been downright wretched. There’s no other way to describe it and it had nothing to do with the place. Sara
and I reached the capital, Mexico city, this Tuesday (17th) afternoon. She’d been feeling uneasy that morning; we didn’t make much of it and thought it must be from the terrible shrimp pasta the previous night (recommenced by the looney waiter, apparently his favourite.)
But at 2pm she was feverish and by evening she was running a temperature of 102℉ with chills, body pain, et al. We feared the worst, that it might be an obscure infection called Covid-19. Since I showed no symptoms—and Sara has had both doses of the vaccine while I’ve had only one
—we decided that I would shift to a different room and she would self-isolate.
It was one thing to stay in quaint Zipolite
for a month, get familiar with the tiny town, its bylanes, its people, all of which gave you a sense of safety; and completely another to reach a big city showing symptoms of a raging pandemic. This was only made worse by the fact that I had absolutely no knowledge of the local language: Spanish.
Sara’s situation got worse by the passing hour. We had chosen an airbnb that had no attached bath or kitchen since we were going to stay here only for the night and fly out of the country the next morning. But here we were, back to communicating on our phones, like we had been for a year and a half, not knowing what steps to take next.
As we tried to make sense of the situation and played it by ear, it was time to eat. I was wary of leaving Sara by herself and stepping out. So I decided to order in. I opened google maps for the first time since leaving India. And was in for a rude shock. Everything was in Spanish—names of establishments, every lane, every restaurant, menu, food items, every ingredient. (Of course it was! Whatever was I thinking.) I hadn’t expected that.
I then opened Uber Eats. All Spanish. I called a few restaurants—again, no one spoke any English. To add to this all, I knew of no comfort food that I could order. As an Indian who has spent all his life to the south of the Vindhyas, the only food I know to make for someone unwell is ganji/pej
Even though this aribnb had a small kitchen which was common, we had no ingredients. Every soup I saw on the app (and managed to translate online) seemed to have red meat in it. But my search ultimately led me to something familiar—thukpa
. I’ve never ordered anything faster. It turned out to be from a restaurant called Lord Buddha.
As luck would have it, the app took 90 minutes to get my order ready. After waiting forever, Sara messaged me that she was beginning to feel lightheaded. That was my cue to dash out and get food by hook or crook. I flagged down a cab, jumped in and told him “just go!”. I opened the map and showed the restaurant and was shocked to see that it was only five minutes away. As I reached Lord Buddha—a tiny kiosk in a mall—the owner, Krishna, looked at me as he smeared dosa batter on a hot tawa. I said: “Hindi?”
He replied “Haan, bolo bolo.” (Yes, tell me).
It felt like I could breathe again. “Arre sir! dedh ghante se order ke liye wait kar raha hoon!!!” (My dear sir! I’ve been waiting for the order for the past hour and a half!!!)
“Arre, woh gaya na abhi Carlos khana leke? jaldi jao nahi toh woh cancel kar dega” (Carlos just left with your food, go fast or else he will cancel your order.)
I open my app and see a message from Carlos—'I’m at you door’. Great! Everything that could go wrong was going wrong. I rushed back in the same cab which I had kept waiting because I didn’t even know where we stayed.
I reached my place to see Carlos waiting at the door. As he tried to hand over the packet to me I backed off dramatically, and I insisted that he put it down. I could tell he felt insulted. I tried to gesticulate that I might be the one having Covid. No use. He left without eye contact.
I then dashed to the kitchen, poured the contents into a bowl, ran through the weird construction, making my way through five inconvenient doors to reach the first floor—the only way to get to our room. I kept the plate outside her door and left.
I had turned lunch into dinner. I was gripped by guilt—“all she wanted was soup and you took three fucking hours to get that to a patient with 102℉ fever. Wow!” I hadn’t felt as helpless in a long time. But there was some relief in knowing that she could now pop a pill and bring the fever down.
As I lay awake in bed, in a room just above hers, the only thing that flashed before my eyes was terrible news footage from India’s second wave
. I was panic-stricken as I tried to put on a strong front. All I could think of was my family, her family and she getting admitted to a hospital in a foreign place. I was convinced she had caught the delta variant. We cancelled our flight and decided to stay on for a few days in Mexico. We didn’t know how many yet.
The next morning we did a Covid test and, surprise surprise, she was negative. Her symptoms started to fade too. But this was a rapid antigen test; we thought it must be a false negative. I, too, had started to feel feverish. So we did a fancy PCR test.
Needless to say, every lab, pharmacy and hospital had people speaking only in Spanish. Translating via Google every time in a critical situation like ours was a pain to say the least. But we found more helpful people than we found a-holes, along the way.
Also, I, an avowed de-googler, had to install Google maps, Google translate, Chrome and grant all permissions to these apps (let them track me and my data) so I could get things done faster. This has happened every time I’ve been in an emergency. I’ve come to feel both—an awe for these companies and their ultra reliable products, and a keen sense of worry about where this duopoly (Google and Apple) is headed with every single detail of my life. Privacy is not even a privilege at this point.
When the PCR results were out the following day, we were surprised to find that we were both Covid negative. After four negative tests, we were convinced it wasn’t Covid.
But our celebrations and mini walks in Roma Sur
were short-lived, as Sara’s symptoms returned.
We finally had a doctor come over. After having weathered two days of this mystery disease in a foreign land, Sara reached out to a friend’s friend who she recollected lived in Mexico; Arjun spoke both English and Spanish, and he was Indian. He was a godsend. Upon learning our situation he promptly sent recommendations to nearby pharmacies and also an Uber full of home cooked food by an Indian aunty in Mexico. Of course.