Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Last Moments on Terra Cognita

So my last few days have been filled with a vague panic over finances. Important suggestion to anyone pursuing this program: get these details worked out early.

I think I was trying to be polite when I didn't force anyone into firm answers early on about who would be paying for what and how, but this politeness isn't being reciprocated with a happy outcome so far.

Even though I am going to India, the expenses I will incur are considerable. It seems they are learning how to cash in on the oodles of western business people making their way through the country, and I can't blame them.

I, however, am left in a bind. I don't have the cash to pay for everything up front, and that is how the guest house where I am staying would like payment: cash. They accept MasterCard for the lodgings, but for my driver who will be paid by the hour the whole time I am there, they tell me they want a lump sum payment upon checkout. My estimate is that this lump sum will be around three thousand American dollars (times that by forty to calculate the rupees and the sum sounds even worse).

So here I am, four days before I take off with no way to pay for this venture.

Finance here is trying to come up with solutions but there is so little time (especially because the Forth of July holiday is now approaching), that the possibilities are limited.

They've asked me if I can rent a car instead of hire a driver. They've asked if I can stay somewhere else, and I am hard pressed to answer any of these questions. For help with any of this, we need to contact India, and that takes 24 hours since they are a full ten and a half hours ahead of us. They're gone for the day by the time we start working.

So my last few days are a bit harried, wondering if I should push back the trip if we can't get this worked out. My fear is a vision of myself in India at the checkout desk with no way to pay, getting handcuffed and dragged off. I wonder if an Indian prison is anything like an ashram. I would have a lot of time to get some good meditation in.

I should have started getting down to specifics sooner, but there was a necessary progression that took some time: find the place I'd be staying, identify the dates, assemble a cost estimate, etc., etc.

Still, somewhere early on in that list should have been the checkbox: contact Finance and start asking them all kinds of questions.

I'm assured this will all be okay (and thank you to Finance for the assurance), but lots of people are doing lots of last-minute scrambling that could have been handled much better if we had more time for these phone calls and emails to make their way around the world.

Under the fog of the finance question, I am also making other last-minute preparations. I had to get a "vacation override" at the pharmacy so I could take three months of my prescription drugs with me. I have to stop at the bank in downtown Iowa City to exchange some cash so I can hit the ground in India with a decent stash of rupees hidden somewhere on my body. My sock, perhaps? Those money belts are just so ugly.

Otherwise, I need to start packing for keeps. Since mid-June I've been picking things up and casually placing them into my suitcases, then taking them back out when I need to use them (nail clippers, for instance). But I need to get serious and actually start thinking to myself, "This is all I'll have with me when I get there. What do I need?"

I've set all my bills up so I can pay them online, and I've settled the outstanding accounts with doctors and chiropractors that I knew were still pending.

I'm lucky because my husband will be taking care of the house while I'm gone, so I don't have to make any additional arrangements for lawn care or pet care, and I don't have to forward the heaps of junk mail I'll get so it catches up with me in New Delhi.

I've downloaded Skype so I can communicate over the computer for free. Anyone wanting to do the same can visit:

I've made sure my husband is on my checking account so he can pay any stray bills that may filter in while I'm gone.

I've participated in the creation of a Vicki Tracking Device at my office: a paper chain with a link for every day that I'll be gone. Each day, a link gets removed so the chain always indicates how many more days until I return. It's an awfully long chain right now.

And that's it. My shots are done. The airline tickets are purchased. The reservations are made. A driver will be holding a sign with my name on it at the airport when I get there and will take me to the Ahuja Residency where I will sit down after two straight days of travelling and likely melt into a gelatinous puddle of human being.

I leave Cedar Rapids on Sunday morning at 9:20 a.m. and take a 55 minute flight to O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Then I have a layover there until 7:15 p.m. Fortunately, my family lives about ten minutes away from O'Hare, and I can visit with them during the layover.

The 777 that leaves O'Hare at 7:15 on Sunday night will arrive at Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi at 8:35 p.m. on Monday night, after being in the air for 14 hours and 50 minutes and crossing enough time zones to create a ten and a half hour time difference.

As I wonder how I will record this travel time on my timecard, I am besotted by the fact that my high school math teacher was once again right: I will use trigonometry in real life.

Not sure I'll post again before I leave. Next time I write, I may be able to describe for you what fifteen hours on a plane feels like. I'll have to pack some really good books.

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