“Here,” the driver said to us, tipping his head to his shoulder in the Indian version of a nod.
The three of us looked out from beneath the black top of the tiny vehicle and quickly searched for the “Pantaloons” sign. Not seeing it immediately, we got out of the rickshaw, paid the fare and started to walk down the street looking for the green logo we were told to find.
Only a few minutes before, one of the program employees, Kelsey, had hailed it for us. She dipped her head down to talk to the driver and told him which store to take us to before waving him off with the three of us in tow.
Inside our first rickshaw we had held our breath and tried not to squeal each time we had a close call with a car or pedestrian. With the dirt and smoke blowing in our faces it was surprisingly easy to keep our eyes open in the face of terrifying oncoming traffic.
Now, frantically searching for the store in an entirely unfamiliar part of town we started to get a little panicked.
It was only our first day in Pune and we didn’t even have the name of our hotel to get back to if it turned out we couldn’t find the store. We kept walking along the block–hoping the store might come into view at any moment. As the only white people and the only women on the street we attracted the eyes of every single person we passed. Keeping our eyes locked ahead, trying our best to look like we knew where we were going, we reached the end of the street and had to turn around.
Clearly the driver could tell when he picked us up that we didn’t know where we were going. And he thought to himself, Hey, these girls don’t know where the heck they’re going. I can drive them as far as I want and they’ll pay for it and get out. They won’t even know the difference.
And he was right. We were those stupid American girls.
Spotting two Indian women in the sea of men, I dove for them and asked if they knew where “Pantaloons” was.
“Oh, it’s just a ten minute auto ride back that way,” they pointed back in the direction we came.
“Thank you,” I replied, overjoyed to finally have an idea of where to head next.
Standing in the same place we had left the rickshaw 15 minutes before, I stuck my hand out to hail one on my own for the first time. This time, telling the driver where I wanted to go and looking like I knew where it actually was.
Ten minutes back in the other direction we overpayed the driver in our haste to finally get into the store and meet up with the other students.
“O my god! I’m so glad you all made it!” Kelsey yelled when we got into the store.
Us too, and now with the newly acquired ability to hail and direct a rickshaw on our own.
Today we got to test out our skills again and arrived back at “Pantaloons” on the first try. Even though I’ll never look like I fit in here, the new clothes and rickshaw-hailing ability certainly make me feel more at home.