|Here is the team- I will explain later where this photo was taken.|
L to R: Louanne, Heather, Megan, Brooke, Michael, Junior Panda, Andrew, Roshni
The past ten days have been an adventure to say the least. I had a wonderful time in India, but I am so thankful to be home. I have been so encouraged by all the thoughts and prayers that I have received from so many people. You will never know what they have meant to me and I am so appreciative that I was upheld before the Father through your prayers while I was away.
We finally made it back to Birmingham around 10:00pm last night after 20 hours in flight, 9 hours of layovers, and 4 very long hours sitting on a plane in Paris while necessary maintenance was preformed on the plane. Thanks to Bethany, Jessica, and Megan O. for surprising us at the airport- even though we were 5 hours late getting there.
Sitting down to write this blog, I am a bit overwhelmed at how to best share my trip with you. Since I was unable to blog the entire time that I was gone, I have decided to take the next week and share some of the day-to-day activities and experiences of the trip.
If I was asked to describe India in one sentence, it would be this- "India is an assault on the senses."
From the moment my feet touched the ground in Delhi, it has been an adventure. I have been severely pushed outside my comfort zone both physically and mentally. Everything is a new experience in India, the people, the smells, the weather and the culture.
We arrived in Delhi around midnight on Saturday, May 12. We met Andrew Gurkin there at the airport and headed to a hotel for the night in Delhi. Andrew is the India coordinator for NeverThirst and also served as our primary interpreter while we were there.
Walking out of the airport, two things hit me: (1) was the heat. Even at midnight it was hot, and the weather in Delhi is rather dry, so it reminded me of being out west. (2) was the amount of people that were staring at us. Louanne (our team leader) tried to prepare us for this, but it was still rather surprising to feel the numerous pairs of eyes on us. After the four flights it took to get us to India all we wanted to do was take a shower and fall into bed.
|Hotel EuroStar in Delhi- our last A/C of the trip|
Sunday, May 13
Sunday morning we awoke in Delhi and headed back to the airport to fly to KolKata. Delhi is situated in the middle of the country, while Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal in the eastern part of India. The Republic of India is divided into 28 territory states. Everyone in India is required to learn (3) languages: English (for business), Hindi (the national language) and your mother tongue. The mother tongue varies by state and what language your mother speaks. The mother tongue of West Bengal is Bengali and most people use it primarily. Understandably, the further we traveled from the major cities the fewer people spoke English.
The flight to Kolkata took 2 hours on Sunday morning and then we were at the airport meeting Andrew's wife, Roshni, and Yuna, who works for Andrew at the NeverThirst office in Kolkata and served an our photographer for the week. Andrew had arranged for two taxis to drive us three hours east of Kolkata to the village we would be staying in.
|Lunch in Kolkata|
We first stopped for lunch at an Indian Restaurant (maybe you don't call it an 'Indian Restaurant' if you are in India, haha). We let Andrew order for the table as we had no idea what anything was, even though the menu was written in English. We had delicious barbecued chicken that was pretty spicy with rice, and lamb covered in a spicy green sauce. After lunch we piled back into the taxis and headed towards the village. This is the point in the trip when we realized just how crazy Indians are behind the wheel of the car. Getting into a motorized vehicle with a Indian driver might just have been the most dangerous thing I did the entire trip. I tried to take a few videos on my camera while we were driving, but they do not do the craziness justice.
"What makes driving in India so dangerous?"
Let me count the ways.
(1) They drive on the opposite side of the road- which can be a bit disorienting.
(2) Lines on the road are only a mild suggestion. If no other cars are coming the driver will straddle the center line of the road. Only when someone is coming head-on will they veer back into their respective lanes at the last possible second.
(3) They also seem to have a complicated system of communication worked out that involves flashing their lights and blowing their horns with abandon. I never did seem to get a grasp on what was going on. I was primarily concentrating on trying not to gasp out loud or throwing my arm across the person beside me every time we almost collided with another vehicle or pedestrian.
(4) They pass each other with very little space available. Imagine standing in a crowded room and trying to weave your way to the exit on the opposite side of the room. They do the same thing in a vehicle, driving over 40km (60 mph). Brake pad and tire replacements must be a booming business in India.
That first three hour car ride to the village was probably the worst ride of trip. Thankfully, I do not suffer from any type of motion sickness, but three of the girls on the trip do. Thankfully, they were already taking motion sickness medicine from the flights over, and continued on the car ride. About an hour into the car ride, I even started getting a little sick from the constant braking and swerving. My solution was to take a nap to avoid the sickness and the constant image of losing my life in a head on collision in the middle of east India. That decision was win-win as far as I am concerned.
When I woke up we were pulling up the church compound where we would be spending the week. The building was designed as a compound, a concrete structure with a metal gate for the cars to enter. In the center was an entire courtyard with two story rooms and walkways on all four sides. We had electricity (thanks to a generator) and indoor plumbing (with Western toilets-yay)!
|Where we met our meals at the church compound|
|Compassion kids during their morning lesson|
|Bath in the courtyard- government handpump|
|Kids washing dishes from the morning breakfast|
We met Pastor Panda, who pastors the local church and surrounding villages, and his family and some of the other families that lived onsite at the church compound. One of the main functions of the compound was to serve as a Compassion International Child Development Center. You may be familiar with this program if you have heard of child sponsorship. Compassion International is one of the largest organizations that matches sponsors with orphan children. Local orphans in the area lived at the church compound and went to school at the local school where we spent our mornings each day.
We were the first group of white people to ever stay at the compound, and most of the people seemed very shy and nervous when we arrived. The feeling was probably mutual, as we were trying to be cautious of cultural differences. Women do not smile or make prolong eye contact with men in India. But after a couple of days we all became at ease with one another and things went really well. We were able to figure out who could speak a little english and then we were able to talk to those people and they could translate for the others.
We were welcomed with coconut waters (straight from the coconut) when we arrived. I believe this was the first of 20-25 coconut waters that I drank over the next week. Every time we went to a village, the villagers would greet us with coconut waters in welcome. While coconut water is not the best tasting beverage I have ever tasted, they are extremely high in electrolytes making them nature's Gatorade. I was thinking about the coconuts a few days later when we were at a village meeting. The villagers were talking about how their government hand pump had broken and that the pond has dried up in the current summer heat. Michael asked where they would have gotten water if the NeverTHIRST hand pump had not been installed before the dry summer season.
'We would drink only the coconuts.' replied one one of the villagers.
And while this is not the ideal solution for all the village water needs, the thought that crossed my mind was the sovereignty of God as Creator. In a harsh climate like West Bengal, India he provided coconuts which supply our bodies not only with fluid, but natural electrolytes (potassium and salts) to quickly restore our bodies from severe dehydration.
After we settled all of our things at the compound, we walked about 15 minutes to St. Mary's, the church and school, for evening worship service. Michael shared about the conversion of Paul. We originally thought that the service would include people from the local villages, but the majority were that children from the school, the teachers, and Pastor Panda's family.
After church, we rode back to the church on the 'Harley Davidson'. This was our first of many experiences on the Harley, but this trip was a little unsettling after our first car rides and the fact that we could not actually see what we were riding on. We had 11 people riding on the Harley, and Yuna actually tumbled off as we were rounding a corner at one point. Thankfully, everyone arrived back at the compound unhurt.
|11 people rode on this at once. Thankfully after Yuna took a tumble off we started taking two Harleys|
We were served a delicious dinner of spicy curried chicken, rice, and mangoes for dessert. They served mangoes with almost every meal, and it was probably my favorite part of every meal. Needless to say, we fell into bed quickly after the long day. We were just about to climb into bed when the biggest cockroach I have EVER seen flew into the room from the open window. It was at least 4 inches long. After I killed it, we debated whether dealing with the heat or the critters was worst. We decided to deal with the heat and shut the panels on the windows for the night. Maybe not the best idea...
***Hopefully I will have my Online album of Photos loading tonight or tomorrow, and I will provide a link to them for everyone to see!***