Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Long Road Home, Part I-- Mainz

After catching a plane from Delhi to Mumbai, where I landed at nearly 2am and finally got to bed at 6am but would spend less than 24 glorious hours, I caught a plane to Zurich and connected onward to Frankfurt, where I would spend the first night of my epic journey home-- quite possibly the longest in frequent flyer history.
My dear friend Jessica and her two handsome and quickly growing boys met me at the airport in Frankfurt. I had caught an earlier flight in an attempt to spend more time with my friends so there was some time for me to get accustomed to being back in the Western world.

It was there that I quickly realized just how much I had changed over the past few months, as Jessica, who had seen me just five months prior, hardly recognized me as I walked by her and the boys. In fact, I was told by many people since that they only recognized me due to my eyes... but all have had raving comments about my new look and slimmer trim.

It was also at this time when I realized that I was already starting to have reverse culture shock. As we drove into Mainz, I couldn't believe how quiet, clean and orderly everything was. The streets were as soft as a baby's bottom, the air was fresh and clean, and the cars were massive. It was as though I had never been to Germany before. I couldn't believe my eyes or, frankly, all that I was seeing. My mind was just beginning to play tricks on me.

Jessica thought it would be a superb idea to surprise Andre, Jessica's husband, with my new look. We stopped by his work but he had already left for lunch, so we hunted him down using his colleague as our knowledge base. After some quick thinking, we found the restaurant, an upscale Italian joint nearby. I, being clad in my trekking/Indian garb and having not yet showered after the long flight and a hot time in Mumbai, of course, did not come close to fitting the restaurant's typical dress code. The man at the door shot me a glance and looked me up and down as I shot him a quick response-- "Ich suche nach einen Freund von mir." (I'm looking for a friend of mine.) "Uh, huh" was his response.

I noted Andre right away then got into my character.

It is widely known that India and Nepal are two of the most impoverished countries in Asia, so I, of course, encountered quite a few beggars during my tenure there. I thought, given the circumstances and my appearance, that now would be a good time to use what little acting skills I had to impersonate one of them to surprise my friend. I looked the part for Western standards, so I gave it a go.

As I approached Andre's table, his colleagues all began to scurry about, not really knowing how to comprehend a person of my meager stature in such a setting. I tapped Andre on the shoulder as he was talking to a colleague. As he turned to me, gazing onto me for the first time, I could see the shock behind his eyes. His comfort level was deteriorating quickly. I mimicked as a beggar would-- I didn't say a word, placed my thumb against all four cupped fingers of my closed right hand and brought it quickly to my mouth and then followed it with a praying gesture.

Andre suddenly turned away in utter embarrassment.

I tapped him on the shoulder again.

He turned to me in complete disgust as I mimicked the same motions again.

This time I could see his face turning red, in a loss for words, and I reckon, I quick signal that he was about to call the waiter over.

He turned away again in disgust.

I quickly said "Hey, Du (you)... Andre."

He turned immediately and wondered how on earth I knew his name.

It was then when I saw him peer deeply into my eyes that I knew he knew it was me.

His face light up like a Christmas tree and he broke down into laughter as he sat in awe of my new look.

I told him that it was Jessica's idea, and we chatted briefly before I left he and his colleagues alone to finish their lunch.

Jessica, the kids and I then went back to her place so that I could freshen up and catch up.

Later in the day I met my friend Burcin, who I met in February during Fastnacht, in the Domplatz for a quick lunch. We went to one of Micha's favorite cafes and caught up on the past few months. Burcin loves to travel and was really interested in hearing all of my stories, as she sat in amazement of my new look. Apparently, it was quickly turning into a good look for me!

Naturally, as great conversations do, my allotted time with Burcin quickly came a went... running into my time with Joerg and Matthias at the Eisgrub.

I showed up nearly and hour late and, hoping that they were still there, I ran into the patio area and quickly glanced about. I couldn't see them anywhere.

Then I heard a voice say, "Ist das C.J.? Das kann nicht sein... aber der sieht ein bisschen wie C.J. aus..." (Is that C.J.? That can't be... but he looks a little bit like him...)

I turned and saw Matthias talking to Joerg about me. As I made eye contact with Matthias his jaw dropped and he began yelling at the top of his lungs, "NO WAY!!!"

Neither could believe just how much weight I had lost or how much hair I had accumulated over the course of five months.

We drank many fantastic brews and caught up, as good friends do, well into the night.

Neither, however, could stay up late with me.

There was one last person to see-- Micha-- who was presently residing as best man in a wedding.

I called Micha several times throughout the night to check on his status, anxiously waiting to see my good friend again. I walked nearly all of the Altstadt and took in the pleasant weather. At about 4am Micha appeared from his car at the Hauptbahnhof. We had two hours to catch up, and we intended on using it!

I hoped in the car and we scampered off to Micha's family house, where we hunkered down for a good conversation until 3o mins before I was to leave for the airport. Micha hoped in the shower, and I dozed off to sleep.

Thirty minutes later, at around 6am, I reckon, I was gathering my things and heading to the airport, in a daze and onto my next stop-- Montreal and my new good friends, J.P. and Nathalie.

Micha and I enjoyed our final moments together; all 6'6" of him gave me a a huge bear hug; we exchanged "Ahhhs and Ahhhooos" and I was off for my seat and to an immediate night/day's sleep.

My friend Burcin and I at the Domplatz in Altstadt of Mainz.

A close-up.

Matthias, Myself, and Joerg at the famous Eisgrub Brauerai.

Taking a photo with the local "connoisseurs."

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