I am Joanne Laird, normal girl from Strathaven, South Lanarkshire.
I was brought up in a wonderful loving home with one brother, completed my studies but always strived to find something else and to see as much as possible, and in November 2012, that very opportunity came up to go to India. Here is my journey, and what happened when West meets East.
My journey started on a business class flight to Chennai, India, from Glasgow with the sort of excitement in my belly I can only relate to Xmas Eve as a child. The unknown lay ahead other than the 5* accommodation, corporate project I had sweat blood and tears over, and an all-expenses paid three month trip which my company had sent me on. This was my first trip to India but turns out would not be my last. I am a 33 years old and i hold a fantastic position in a large telecoms communication company. Never in my wildest dreams when I started working in a call centre 10 years ago did I imagine I would end up on a journey which would take me to the exotic land of India.
Before joining me on this journey I can only attempt to put into words the extreme emotions, contrasts and life changing moments I have had the pleasure of experiencing and continue to do so within this blog. Full of ups and downs, my emotions parallel the extremes of humanity I witness every day.
My initial trip was only a taster of what was still to come in my life over the next 12 months...to mirror Gregory David Roberts of Shantaram fame it all began in a hot city with an exotic Indian man.
He was tall, dark, handsome, exciting, interesting and completely different from any man I had ever met, but this chapter is for my next blog .
Landing in India is something I will never forget. Walking through the arrivals and handing the extremely stern gentleman my visa documents I wondered whether he was actually going to allow me into the country due to his severe head shaking. Luckily I have come to know very quickly that the head shaking is a national trait of agreement and something I have managed to pick up.
Gathering my severely over weight bags packed with unnecessary clothing for the trip I hauled them onto a wonky trolley and scuttled out to feel the severe heat of the Chennai sun hit my face and the humidity hit my lungs. I wanted to strip my travelling clothes of straight away and dive head first into the first pool I could find. Unfortunately I had a long way to my hotel before that was possible.
The next task was to find my designated driver, now without a word of a lie there must have been over 100 Indian men wearing white shirts and trousers holding signs with names looking for their taxi clients so like a complete amateur I had to walk along the row feeling the most insecure and western I've ever felt in my life, until finally I came across a sign saying Joan Lard - not quite my name - surely that must have been me so I took a deep breath and approached the driver and I think to his delight we were a match.
Leaving the airport I couldn't get over the smells from the air like a mixture of spice, food, sewage and dust. Eau de Chennai we now refer to it as, but I loved it. I couldn't get enough of trying to guess what each whiff was. My senses were a mess because not only did I have the smells, I had everything to look at and the noises were over whelming.
The amount of people and traffic everywhere was simply unbelievable not to mention the cows on every corner getting more road space than the auto rickshaws. Immediately I fell in love with India, the colours and hustle and bustle on every street was beautiful. I had once visited Epcot in Florida where they have different areas of the theme park dedicated to different countries, one being India. I was now in the real India, full of men with moustaches, women with saris, kid's bare foot by the roads and horn tooting nonstop for no reason. Cars, lorries, auto rickshaws, bikes all beeping their horns not in anger as there is nowhere for anyone to move but only to say hello to each other. Go figure.
I felt like a child of four asking the poor driver whose English was embarrassingly good in comparison to my Tamil (the local language of Tamil Nadu region) what things were. What they were for? What was happening? What people were doing? The only thing I did not need an explanation for was the blatant urinating in the street by men, which I have still not gotten used to. My driver laughed and told me "in the streets mam, its ok to piss, not too kiss" which initially was funny but later confirmed my now understanding of what a weird and wonderful world India is dominated by men with so many billions to control certain things just cannot be monitored or controlled.
There were skinny dogs running everywhere. Beggars tapping the taxi windows gesturing to their mouths looking for food. People leaning on your cars at the lights as they hang off their motor bikes. I kid you not, I saw a motorbike with an entire family on it including dad in the front driving (of course), mum behind side saddle holding a tiny baby, a child behind her gripping to the back handle for dear life, and a small boy in front of dad practically balancing on the handle bars. Dad being the only one with a helmet on! Shocking!
Arriving at my city centre hotel I was greeted with bomb detectors, metal detectors, deodorant detectors - it was more secure than the airport in Glasgow. I couldn't believe the contrast from the rubbly dusty streets of Chennai to the flawless gardens and driveways of the hotels entrance. The lobby was dripping with gold, flowers and ornate Indian art work and I knew after sipping my warm honey and lemon tea, and having the traditional flower garland placed round my neck matching the red bindi placed on my forehead as a welcome, this was going to be a very comfortable and luxurious home for the foreseeable future.
As I was shown around the hotel by the manager I had to remind myself I was not royalty but only a meagre business woman from Glasgow, but as I stood on the pool top terrace looking out across the smoggy sky of Chennai seeing temples, I certainly felt like a princess and couldn't wait for my next experience in India.