Yesterday Maddie and I went to Commercial Street without any expectations or preparation. I figured it would be a street filled with busy markets, but I didn’t anticipate the chaos and packed alleyways, nor the people trailing behind us yelling, “ma’am, look here, ma’am,” every minute, trying to get us to buy their products.
The moment we got out of the car I could feel my anxious heart underneath my damp t-shirt (I wasn’t sure if I was sweating because I was hot or because I was nervous from the large crowd. Probably both, let’s be honest). My nose was welcomed by the pungent smell of sweaty bodies, delicious food, animal feces, burning incense, and stale water mixed with chemicals. It was a smell I’ve grown accustomed to having been here for two weeks, but it hit me faster than usual. The sun was beating down and I was trying not to get hit by the rickshaws, cars, and motorcycles pushing their way through the roads filled with shopping pedestrians, barefoot mothers holding their babies across their chests, limping locals with bony legs, and the occasional out-of-place tourist.
Crossing the main road was like the last level of Frogger. I had to plan my route carefully without getting hit. By the time we zig-zagged our way through the maze of people and cars, I thought the craziness would subside. But it turns out people drive through alleyways, too. Maddie kept grabbing my arm and pulling me aside to save me from getting run over by the unapologetically aggressive drivers that whizzed past us, inches away from squishing our toes. I must have been in a stressed-induced daze because I was really struggling to pay attention to my surroundings. Maybe it was the shock of how easily the locals were walking around, indifferent to the disorder. Or maybe just my fear of being trampled.
The frequent stares, whispers, and shouts thrown our way left me feeling uneasy, but at the same time I understood. I was a fish out of water and I knew I was going to be treated like one. We pushed through the crowd, moving from side to side, jumping across muddy puddles and wide cracks in the pavement, surrounded by tents of vibrant saris and street food being cooked in large tin pans. The aromas grew more intense as we got deeper into the residential streets and the amount of people trying to sell us things lessened. As we walked across a narrow sidewalk covered in dust and sleeping dogs, we heard music blasting outside of a family’s home.
A man waved at us, suggesting we come join them as they danced in front of a Ganesha statue. We obliged and walked past a woman who was stirring a boiling (and huge) pot of beans over a fire and towards the music that was blaring through their speakers. People popped their heads out of their windows and watched us through their doorways and balconies draped with vines. The group of young men huddled around the Ganesha started to dance for us. Smiles stretched across their faces when they saw we were video taping them. I never felt so willing to join a group of strangers for a dance party in my whole life, nor so welcomed. As I danced my way out of the alleyway, the man who waved us in asked me if I got the pictures and videos I wanted. That’s one thing I’ve begun to notice about many of the locals here–they enjoy when you document their lives and country. Some will even ask you to take photos of them as they sit on a mound of cut up fabric and will happily allow you to photograph their sons as they feed their sheep:
Nonetheless, Commercial Street was an experience for sure. Maddie and I ended up leaving early and empty handed, ready to relax and recharge. I’m sure we’ll go back, but maybe next time we won’t go alone or at least won’t go without preparing ourselves for all of the chaos.