We are down to business. After an enormous India breakfast of papaya, pineapple, yoghurt, roasted halved tomatoes sprinkled with herbs, South Indian rice pancakes with chickpea curry and soup (the names elude me), steamed vegetables, French toast, cappuccino, tea, toast, and more.
We begin our meeting over breakfast but are quickly chased out of the dining room by the staff who tell us breakfast is over. When we don’t respond quickly enough, one waiter starts banging the lids of food shut. We shut down our computers but papers are scattered over the table. So another waiter starts dusting the window screens then the columns that run down the center of the room, creating gray eye-itching clouds that force us to flee. Quickly this time.
We head to a side room but it is in the same space as the manager of the dining room. A few looks of displeasure lead us outside to the porch.
Making good use of our verandah ‘office’ at the entrance to the Narain Niwas Palace (hotel), Sophia, Ben, Annie and I settle into the wicker chairs, computers and papers strewed out on the round wooden table. Paul and Sam join us and designs are passed around. Hedieh who runs Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan joins us at the end of the evening, having flown in from Kabul. A handful of the students had trained at Turquoise Mountain. She was in town to check in with them and spread her otherwise constrained wings a bit. From what I gather in our conversations, life in Kabul is highly restrictive for women who have to cover up and be accompanied everywhere. There are few restaurants and even fewer shops. It is also dangerous not just as a woman but also as a foreigner. Hedieh is grateful to bare her arms, throw on a sexy red dress and let out her (shampoo-commercial grade) long, brown hair.
Thank goodness for the enormous breakfast. Our morning meeting runs on till 7pm (I am not kidding). Thank goodness too for the granola bars stuffed into our bags from America. We are so focused and time-pressed that lunch is forgotten. Then as night falls, the owner of the hotel invites us to dinner, offering up a spread of Rajasthan dishes to fill our hungry bellies. He suggests dessert. I take him up on it. A bowl of creamy vanilla ice cream arrives. As I dig in, my spoon hits what appears to be a thick, rich, caramelized doughnut hole at the bottom of the bowl. Succulent and divine.
Meanwhile, just before dinner, Chris leaves for Delhi where he will meet with the project’s Indian bookkeepers to audit the accounts. Sambu, our Clark Gable lookalike driver, takes him back to the apartment where he’d spent the night so he can collect his suitcase. Just after dinner, Sophia realizes that Paul in his haste has taken the apartment key with him to the airport. Too late – the flight has long left. She calls the owner who lent her the apartment. He does not answer. Indian cell phones do not have voice mail. Its now close to 11pm so she throws up her hands and books hotel rooms for us. We have nothing but the clothes we have been wearing all day but what else is there to do? The bath towel serves as a toothbrush, the toiletries suffice. We are so exhausted from the all-day meeting that Annie and I fall into our twin beds, brain-dead and bloated.
(Note how long this couch is – there are two in the hotel’s ‘living room.’ Note too how high it is – my feet are a foot off the ground!)