Another day of working with the children, helping to educate and inspire and being equally inspired by them. Quitting time came early and the volunteers headed back for cold showers and fancy dress. Fortunately our executive suite provided us with more than a modicum of civility by offering up hot water and comfort in which to prepare for the gala evening.
Candice had canvassed all of the available options and settled on a buffet dinner, drinks included, at the Taj hotel. At 12 km away, it was to be just a quick hop, skip and a jump from our point of embarkation. One and a half hours later, we arrived at the appointed destination. Our trip to the Taj included a pit stop for gasoline (we were amongst the lucky ones – most of the cars completing the odyssey to the pumps were pushed the final few meters, gas tanks totally devoid of petrol). There were also long line ups of congestive traffic. When I say congestive I also refer to the state of our lungs from breathing in soot, carbon monoxide dust and general pollution. A trip to the Bhopal Spa was probably next on the agenda.
Driving through Chennai, with the exception of one newly constructed overpass that was right out of the Jetsons, is a lesson in patience and fear management. Lori noted that the drivers are probably expert Tetris players since they move their vehicles in much the same fashion as the players who guide their pieces on the computer screen, particularly the last second horizontal veer move to sidle into position. The major difference is that in India, there is no reset button and a wrong move can end you up at the morgue.
Bottom line (a veiled Tetris reference), we arrived alive and ready for fun. We were ushered to a table in the overly air conditioned and otherwise empty main dining area. The table was adjacent to the dance floor and situated directly in front of a loudspeaker. Realizing that this would not do at all, I politely requested a different location from the maitre d’ who was seating us. Despite the look of critical consternation that showed up on my beloved’s face, who was prepared and resigned to live with whatever sot is thrown her way, we ended up seated outdoors next to the pool, palm trees swaying, full moon overhead, attentive staff only too eager to ply us with liquor, and fun loving groups all around us. Even Lori had to admit it was the move.
Food was buffet style but most importantly, I managed to bag the elusive Gin and Tonic; and then a second one just to confirm that I wasn’t drinking a mirage. By the third or fourth I was convinced. The meal was the finest tasted to date in India. A wide assortment of starters, fresh fish (ummmm); and turkey made up the main course. As good and plentiful as the main meal, the true bounty was found in the deserts. Nicole, one of the Global Volunteers, is a 23 year old Korean student at American University in Washington D.C. Aside from mastering conversational English in 2 years, complete with idioms, colloquialisms, keen socio-political insight, and a vocabulary that puts most Americans to shame. She lives on a shoe string budget and has co-opted a unique style of dress that incorporates traditional Indian garb with sneakers and jeans and pulls it off like a fashion model. She also has the greatest posture and walks with a style and grace befitting a runway model. Forget all that stuff, though. Her greatest attribute for which I deeply admire her for is her unabashed love of ice cream and deserts. We’ve become ice cream pals and have snuck off together to the local market to feed our addiction. Nicole nearly lost it when exposed to the plethora of deserts available at the buffet. There were mini puff pastry swans, chocolate in every form known to man, lychee shooters, Bailey’s Irish Creme and white chocolate sandwiches, fruit parfaits, jam filled tarts. That was on the first of five desert tables. We enjoyed the bountiful harvest.
To help offset the caloric catastrophe that was befalling me, I acquiesced to Candice’s incessant nattering re: dance and offered myself up. In no time the 9 female and 2 males GV’s were up there on stage shaking our respective booties. Needless to say (so why am I saying it?) the womenfolk attracted a gaggle of locals who, seeing the opportunity to horn in on a situation, were all too accommodating when it came to dancing with the western women. To the point of trying to edge Matt and I away from the women and off the floor. Needless to say (there’s that stupid phrase again), they were fighting above their weight class and were promptly relegated back down a few classes with some well placed elbows and shoulders. Realizing that aggressive brute strength was not going to work, they adopted a conciliatory approach, befriended Matt and I (to the point where it seemed they were more interested in scoring with Matt than the girls), and joined us when they realized they couldn’t beat us. The rest of the night was spent dancing, improvising steps, photo opping and generally just clean fun. Except for one of the interlopers who couldn’t keep his hands off one of the girls’ boob and was promptly ejected by management. The eating, drinking and carousing continued until 1 AM, broken up by the occasional door prize draws. Fittingly and deservedly, Candice was the lucky winner of a box of Nestles products which she generously shared with the volunteers and the kids. By 2 we were back at our hovels, a most unique, successful and fun New Years Eve that most of us ever had and one that none of us will ever forget. Happy 2010, everybody.