Sometimes it’s easy to forget that not everyone has grown up living in America. But at the very least, you’d think that most people in the world would be familiar with escalators and Western toilets. But that’s not the case at all…So when you cross seven Indian ladies, a bowling alley, and KFC, you get a seriously hilarious afternoon.
Since we are approaching the end of the month, our team wanted to do something special for the ladies that we have built relationships with in the Red Light District of Mumbai. We found a bowling alley at the top of the mall only two train stops away from their district, which seemed perfect. Not only would bowling be fun, but it would center the afternoon around an activity which conveniently avoids the awkward silent moments when you can’t speak the other person’s language. Little did we know that language was the least of the cultural differences that we would encounter, turning a fun afternoon into one of the highlights of my year. I wish you could have been a fly on the wall during our outing – but allow me to attempt to depict the chain of events:
It started just as many all-women’s outings go – with each woman making the difficult decision of what to wear. In America, there have been countless times when I have tried on dress after dress while my girlfriends finally settle on the perfect outfit for the evening. But in India there is one slight difference – while dresses have specific cuts which accentuate different parts of your body, Indian saris are simply one looong piece of cloth that is rolled round and round your body. Saris, I hate to say, have absolutely no form or shape. So, as each of the women went back and forth to their home time and again trying on different outfits, what I couldn’t figure out was how they determined which sari was most flattering. Just as I was getting impatient, I reminded myself that this afternoon was not about me, and then we were off – five of us World Racers, seven Indian ladies, and Hoinu, our contact and lone translator for the afternoon.
We strolled to the train station, then hopped on the train as usual. Over the course of the month, our team has deemed ourselves to be expert train riders, and as the train began picking up speed, Meghan grabbed hold of the pole and stuck her head out, hair flapping in the breeze. One of the women gasped, yanked Meghan inside and gave her an unintelligible lecture which concluded by a hand motion that looked like breaking a corn cob in two. Translation: If Meghan sticks her head out the train, her head would be chopped off. So we conceded to ride the train conservative Indian-style for the rest of the journey.
About ten minutes later, we arrived at Vashi Mall. The bowling alley was on the top floor, so our team casually hopped on the escalator, thinking nothing of it. Foreign chatter erupted behind us, and I wish I could have captured the look of shock and amazement that I saw on their faces. For many of the women, it was the first time they had ever seen an escalator. A few brave souls finally ventured aboard the strange metal moving stairs, their hands grasping for dear life onto the railing while their bodies clumsily followed two stairs behind. Despite our reassurance, two women insisted on ascending to the third floor via the staircase.
After surviving the escalator, we arrived at the bowling alley, where two staff members were practicing their bowling skills in an empty lane. Suddenly it dawned on me how absurd bowling must seem to these women who have barely ventured outside their neighborhood. Throwing giant heavy balls down a wooden lane to knock down little white pins: Are we crazy? But I already knew the answer to that question. The answer is yes. We Americans are definitely crazy.
Katy then gave everyone a brief demonstration on proper bowling technique, and one daring woman stepped up to the line. Rather than pulling her arm backward to generate momentum, she twisted her hand side to side and then released – straight into the gutter no more than one foot beyond the line. We cheered anyways. The next woman got a gutter ball too. And the next. In fact, probably 90% of all the balls that were thrown that afternoon were gutter balls. But every single time that even one pin was knocked down, the loudest cheer erupted from that bowling alley in the middle of Mumbai, India. I wish you could have been there. We had a blast.
After bowling, we stopped for a quick bathroom break. You’d think that would be simple enough. Nope! We entered the restroom, and one of the ladies opened the stall door. She gasped, then uttered exclamatory remarks to her friends that I wish I understood. We figured out that she was afraid of the toilet seat. Imagine being twenty-some-odd-years old and never seeing a Western-style toilet! We assured her that it was safe, but she said that she would rather wait until home, thank you very much.
Our final stop for the afternoon was the food court’s Kentucky Fried Chicken. If you’ve traveled abroad at all, one thing that will never cease to amaze you is the strange assortment of American restaurants in foreign countries. The best thing about Mumbai’s KFC is their cheap soft serve ice cream – at only 24 cents each, it’s one of the best deals around and a favorite evening treat of ours. What we didn’t realize is that dessert in India is actually a very odd occurrence. After we had all finished our cones, one of the woman asked if she could get some chai. I smiled, then explained that no, they don’t serve tea at KFC. That erupted another round of Hindi gabbering. What kind of restaurant doesn’t serve chai, they asked. I didn’t really have an answer for that. I considered our options, then remembered that KFC probably served cold coffee. Out came a frappuccino, which she tasted and declared positively disgusting. At least we tried.
The hilarity of the afternoon came to a close on our way back to the train station. As we said our goodbyes, we saw Sunita, one of the ladies’ 14-month-old daughter, turn around in a circle, then pull down her pants and squat down over a crack in the ground. Yep, that’s India for you – anytime and anywhere is a good spot to relieve yourself.
Seven Indian ladies + a bowling alley + KFC = A little awkwardness. A lot of cheering. And an abundance of love.