It is 5:00pm on a Saturday, and I am crushed between an elderly Robari woman wearing a traditional ludi (black veil) and a young woman with a ponytail, t-shirt and jeans. We are some of the thirteen people crammed into a Chokdra (shared rickshaw) riding from Kukma village (the closest village to KHAMIR, where I work) to Bhuj. I am supposed to be meeting Matt, Vrunda, and Binuta NOW.
“What country?” The young woman turns and asks me.
“New York or California?”
“Minnesota. It is between Chicago and Canada, up in the North of the US,” I explain, and immediately realize she has no idea what I just said.
I desperately wish, for the nth time today, that I spoke Gujarati. As it is, I have the “what country?” conversation pretty often: with people passing by on motorcycles, vendors at the market, kids skipping next to me as I walk to catch my morning chokdra. It usually ends after “U.S.”, so when someone exhibits further interest I get excited.
The young woman smiles uncomfortably and starts speaking to me in Gujarati. I nod and smile to hide the slight disappointment I feel at my own linguistic inadequacy. At the same time, I am relieved at the distraction. When we finally arrive at Jubilee circle, I leap out.
From down the street I can already see the target group thanks to Matt’s head floating above the crowd. I dash towards them and by 5:10 we are in a private rickshaw winding our way up the mountain outside Bhuj. When we get out at the Bhujia fort (after which Bhuj is named), we wander along the dirt path towards the stone wall, precariously climbing the stairs paralleling the fort walls.
And just as the sky turns red, we arrive.
It is a delicate moment: the sun burns scarlet, shooting rays of light across the sky, just starting to slip behind the horizon. The fort itself looks black against the explosive canvas of red, and we sit with our legs dangling over the side of the three hundred year old wall watching as the light fades over our new home.
I am pretty relieved that we made it in time to see the sunset, but the show isn't over yet.
We pull out our picnic dinner of peanut butter, bread, fruit, and snacks and eat as we watch the moon rise. Slowly, a shadow starts to pass over it, a nearly imperceptible arc that I would assume were clouds if I didn't know any better.
According to Matt, this is the last full lunar eclipse for the next seven years. This is a pretty stellar place to watch it.
I am surprised at how big Bhuj is, now that I can see it from above. While I wander the streets of the old city, I feel like I am in a big village. From up here, it looks like a real city. As the street lamps alight, dotting the dark landscape, it seems the stars are extending downwards.
The moon is dark, and we decide it is time to make our own descent. We climb down the narrow stone steps to meet our waiting rickshaw below.
As with any race, we end with a victory meal. At Uncle Sam's Pizza, of course.