Celeste in India

Nov. 19th, 2016

I do think I am the luckiest girl in the world! I mean, I still can hardly believe that it's ME who's going to be flying in an airplane and going to India.

I didn't really panic, and by around 3:00 yesterday I was pretty much done and beginning to get restless. Today I am completely ready, and we'll head to the airport around 1:00.

Just for fun, here are some of my predictions about the trip:

I will feel like a seasoned flier, but I won't get tired of it.

I will be challenged to do more for God with more of my time and more energy.

I will take fewer pictures than you might hope, but more than I've ever taken in my life before.

I will be frustrated with the comforts of home, when so many are living in poverty.

I will be so happy to see everyone again I won't get over it for weeks.

I will feel like I missed Christmas.

I will be so enamored with Indian dress that I'll be drawing it for weeks.

I will get the feeling that I don't want to be a missionary after all.

But I will feel the call of God stronger than ever and will hopefully have the courage to obey.

So Goodbye everyone, and pray that I don't fall out of the airplane with excitement!

 

(my Diary)

Nov. 19th, 2016

Little book, you are flying through the air in a metal cylinder. You are on an airplane, one of the most thoughtful, powerful, instrumental tools in the 21st century. Let me tell you how we got here.

 

When I woke up this morning, having slept in on the day of all days - what Mercer says would be the second most monumental day of my life after my wedding day - everyone was jittery, myself included. We knew that not everyone would able to be at the airport, the boys being at hockey until too late, but we worked out how and when I would say goodbye to everyone.

 

I showered, packed my inventory lists, a battery charger, a touque and a red pen into my luggage, put on my shoes and sweater and did my hair, and then I was ready.

 

I drove Avril to hockey and took Phoebe and Takis back, and then, having done everything possible on my blog editor, and emptied my inbox for the first time in weeks, I shut my computer down and went with the boys back to hockey.

 

There I said goodbye to Dad and the boys and whoever else was there from church and gym, and as soon as Avril got undressed, raced back home, where Avril showered and I had a bit of lunch.

 

Then, at 1:12, Mom and I and the three little kids (not a typo, Avril) pulled out and drove to the airport. We parked in the parkade, and each of the kids got to wheel a piece of my luggage in. We waited on the second floor, watching eagerly for Ruth-Ann, whom we needed in order to even check in, since our flights were on the same ticket. Uncle came by and said that he and Auntie were already all checked in and that they would go through security and then wait for us. Still Ruth-Ann did not come. Then there she was, but she said that on the way in, her dad had fallen. We quickly checked in and printed our boarding passes, and I sent my suitcases into the abyss of airport movings, and then we went back to where Ruth-Ann was talking to a first responder in the entrance of the second floor. Her dad was in a wheelchair and they were questioning him and had called an ambulance. Ruth-Ann said she did not want to leave until she heard if anything was wrong, so she made arrangements to fly direct to Montreal tomorrow. I said I was fine to go on alone, and Mom got a pass so she could go through security with me. We told the kids to stay in the waiting area, and went on, through the red tapes and through security. The bracelet that Ginger gave me set off the metal detector, so I wrenched it off, bending it horribly, and went through again. Then I gathered all my stuff, and we went on. The first thing we saw was Auntie, pacing the hallway and looking nervous. We explained to her why we were late and what had happened to Ruth-Ann, and she and Uncle were greatly relieved, although sorry, of course, about her dad.

 

When our 'zone' was called, we lined up to get our boarding passes bleeped, and I said goodbye to Mom. Then we went out of the main building, and into a little hallway that stuck out of its side. Before I realised quite what was happening, we had come to where the hallway joined to an open door in the side of the plane, and I was on an airplane. It was a little bit like getting on a Beaver Buslines bus. We bumped along an extremely narrow aisle between the seats, Uncle, Auntie, and I, and shoved our carryons onto a shelf above the seats on either side. At first I went down the wrong side of row eight, but the lady helping us got me switched, so now I was across from my carryon, and on the left side of the plane. I sat in the window seat, and the seat beside me, being Ruth-Ann’s, was empty. A man was in the seat beyond that. There was a high humming noise and the floor trembled slightly.

 

We sat there for a long time, while more and more people got on and settled. Then, at last, the little hallway that looked like a leech sucking on the front of the plane moved away, and we backed slowly up, with a guy waving an orange wand walking beside us. Then we drove, the whole big plane, with the big wings jouncing slightly, through the various roads and lots of the airport for a long time. I could see very little and after a time lost all sense of direction. It went on for so long that I got quite used to the sensation of moving about in so large a vehicle, only it was about twice as high up as in the van. At last we got to a promising place, with lots of lines painted on the pavement and more blinking lights than before. Sure enough, we stopped completely, and a plane came zooming in, right in front of us. Just after it passed, we turned onto the runway it had used and began to speed up. Faster and faster we went, roaring louder and louder. Then, smoothly, we tilted up and the ground began dropping away beneath us. That moment, with the rushing and the sinking feeling of rising in the air, was the most exciting moment of my life. I was so excited I could hardly think. We climbed steeply, and every second I felt like I was getting shorter by inches at a time - my stomach dropping to my feet and my head travelling down through my shoulders. I was surprised at how quickly the ground took on the fields-and-mile-roads grid, and how much it looked like a map. When we flew over some suburbs with a few cul-de-sacs, it was like map of Elkhorn resort. The window was close to the seat in front of me, so I had to lean forward, but I kept my face glued to it until the ground was completely covered with clouds. Only then did I notice something very vindicating.

 

I had always thought the blue of the sky looked like it was a blanket - a tangible point in the air -  not just our perception. Now I saw that below us it was white with clouds, and above us it was whitish too, but in between there was a blue hazy streak - the blue of the sky. I was right!

 

There was a constant roaring, and every once in a while the plane would bounce and shudder as it hit some 'turbulence'.

 

It got dark very quickly, and then I couldn't see a thing out the window, so I could write with more focus, although I loved to peer back as far out the window as I could and see the lonely wing-tip, lit up by a blue light.

 

At some point the lights in the plane went out, and then the man showed me how to push a button right above my head and turn my light on. Once there was a town below us - all twinkling lights in a grid. Too soon the plane began to descend and last call for bathrooms was made. We came lower and closer to the clouds, and then they were like mountains billowing around us, and then we were in them, and the red and blue lights lit up the fog when they flashed. At last, faintly, I saw city lights below us - a patch here and a few there. Then we came clear of the clouds and all Toronto was spread out beneath - a bed of glittering, beady golden lights. We circled the whole city and I saw squares marked out by bigger roads and darker patches that must be water. When we got lower I could see white and red snakes flowing past each other on the freeways, and parking lots with cars lined up in them, and then we got so low that at last, like Jill, I could see the tremendous speed at which we were traveling. A river flew underneath us and the runway slipped in behind that. As soon as we touched down, the roaring increased, and we slowed down and drove to where another sucking leech waited to suck us off again.

 

Nov. 20, 2016

I met up with Uncle and Auntie in the hallway, and we took a while about arranging our bags and zipping up our jackets, and then set off in quest of the Chackos, who had come to pick us up. Never was there such a trek. We went up escalators and down stairs and along moving carpets, and up ramps and down escalators and down long hallways, always following the baggage signs. We had got all hot again by the time we descended one last escalator and saw Caleb and Priya and Mrs. Chacko waiting with two luggage carts. We picked our suitcases up off the baggage carousel -  we had been told in Winnipeg that we wouldn’t see them again till Mumbai, so we were relieved - and headed out the sliding doors into a bitterly cold and slightly snowy Toronto. After a short wait, Mr Chacko's uncle arrived, and we loaded in the luggage. Then Uncle, Caleb, Priya and I got into his car bound for his house, where Uncle, Auntie and I were to spend the night, and Mr. and Mrs. Chacko and Auntie went in their rental car back to Mr. Chacko's parents' house to pick them up and bring them to Mr Chacko's uncle's as well.

 

It was a long drive through Toronto, and I caught up goodly with Caleb and Priya. They had spent the week with family and friends that they hadn't seen for several years and there was a disagreement  over whether the house we were going to was in the suburbs or the country. One things was for sure: it was beautiful house. When we came in the door, blinking a little and looking around at the shiny floors,  fancy lights and spiral staircase, we had our coats taken from us and were immediately and enthusiastically introduced to Mr. Chacko's parents and aunt. Now, at last, I had met the whole team, and if Ruth-Ann had been there we would have been all together for the first time.

 

With much further ado we were ushered into the kitchen, and chatted, and washed hands, and laughed, until at last everyone was together and we could start eating. We had picked up plenty of delicious Indo-Chinese on the way over.

 

It was now nine o'clock, and the last thing I'd eaten was some chocolate cake on the way out the door, so that food had lots of hunger sauce, but I think it would have been good even if we weren't so hungry and eating at a glossy table in a spacious dining room with a glittering chandelier over our heads. It was an interesting meal, because six of the people spoke animatedly in Malayalam about things we could not guess. Mr. Chacko knew enough to tell us what they were discussing, and he could keep a running commentary on it while they yakked on, taking no notice of us.

 

After supper was over, at about ten o'clock local time, we gathered downstairs for a team meeting. And now we finally discussed what Caleb had been pushing for for months - how to address people. In the end we decided that for me, at least, I would call everyone by their first name with a suffix of Uncle or Auntie. So the original Uncle and Auntie are Alex Uncle and Leela Auntie, Mr Chacko’s parents are Abraham Uncle and Mariamma Auntie, Mr. and Mrs. Chacko are Jerry Uncle and Paula Auntie, and Ruth Ann is Ruth-Ann Auntie (or Ruth-Ann Chaychee [sister], whichever is more culturally appropriate- we'll see when we get there). If we continued the rule, then Caleb and Priya would be Caleb Chachen and Priya Dear.

 

At eleven we adjourned, and, plenty of arrangements having been made for the morrow, Jerry U., Paula A. Abraham U., Mariamma A. and Caleb left, leaving Priya with us to make sure someone knew the schtick. Then we crammed a whole whack of team stuff into my suitcases, forever curing them of being too light, and were shown our rooms. Our hosts' daughter, Ashley Chaychee, arrived, and she and Priya and I talked. In the end, we got to bed around midnight, but slept excellently.

 

We figured we had to leave for New Creation Church at 9:30, but at about 7:00 we were roused by the hearty voices of our hosts calling good morning and taking orders for chai or juice. So we roused ourselves and dressed, always conscious that these were the clothes we would both go to church in and fly in - three times, one being twelve hours - and arrive in Mumbai in, two days later local time.

 

When I was still doing my hair, our host called through the rooms: "Hurry up! Hurry up! Breakfast is ready!" (I felt like I was at home….Avril)

 

Breakfast was a glass of orange juice, two slices of toast with peanut butter and jam, and a croissant. When it was over we had plenty of time before we were to be picked up, and relatively nothing to do, having all the suitcases in order.

 

Nov. 21st, 2016

This is the shortest day of my life. I haven't yet calculated how many hours long it will be, but we are just over halfway through a twelve hour flight on a very luxurious jumbo jet, and I think I just slept for about three hours - or tried to - so calculating is not my highest function at the moment.

 

We got to church half an hour before start time (welcome to the Chacko world) and who should be waiting in the hallway but Ginu, Jerry U.'s sister. She was very sweet and friendly, and everyone else was happy to see her too when they came.

 

After church we spittled out of there and headed for the airport with a whole entourage

of cars carrying people and luggage. Toronto airport is very nice and everything, but

I pretty much had terminal 3 memorized by the time all the bags and boarding passes

were sorted out and we went through security. Then there was a long wait at gate 20,

during which Ruth-Ann joined us. She had got the flight that morning from Winnipeg

and her dad was fine. We got Tim's for some semblance of a late lunch.

 

The plane to Montreal was smaller than the first one, there being only two seats on either

side of the aisle, and we were informed before we flew that we would be taken to the de-icing staion - it had been snowing thickly ever since we left church. We arrived in Montréal about an hour and fifteen minutes delayed, and immediately upon entering the main building found a man in a burgundy outfit calling, "Doha! Everyone going to Doha wait over here! Qatar! Doha!' We gathered and waited, and a wheelchair was brought for Leela Auntie, and then we followed the man for a long ways and found ourselves in a line-up for another lady in a burgundy suit - matching cap too - to set us up. It was so cool - all the Qatar people wearing the same handsome colour they wore at the Olympics, when Mom and I had said, "Qatar? Where in the universe is that?" And now I will be in Qatar and see it - well, the airport at least - for myself.

 

The lady gave us a whole whack of paperwork to use when we got there, and made sure our luggage was in sync with us. Ruth-Ann's had a complication, so the rest of us set out to find gate 55 and some supper, leaving Paula A. with her.

 

There was a point, I think, when we were all together at gate 55, eating pizza and watching the burgundy-coated people setting up, but it was brief. I ended up boarding with Ginu, and you could tell right away that this was a bigger show than before. There were two aisles, with a three/ four/ and three set-up, and a screen on the back of every seat. I was row 30, so I bumped past many sections of the plane before I saw some of our people.

 

Priya, Caleb and I sat in a row of three on the left side, with Ruth Ann, Jerry U. and Paula A. in front of us, and the two other sets of Uncles and Aunties beside them, in the middle section.

 

On every seat there was a pillow and blanket and - well, I never looked at it all, so I don't know what else there was. We began fiddling with our screens, checking out the movie selection. Caleb and Priya launched into Finding Dory, and when I, after staring out the window over Priya’s shoulder for a while, actually let the words "what the heck" run through my mind as I began to look for a movie too, it became more and more clear that there was an unusual delay. We drove around the airport - huge thing, this Jumbo Jet -  and had a long de-icing session. Nothin' quite like a gigantic car wash. The delay stretched into hours, and Jerry U. began to wonder if he should cancel our first night at the hotel in Mumbai - missing our flight would mean long delays, and we were only planning to get there at two o’clock in the morning anyway.

 

Finding Dory was finished, and my Wizard of Oz would have been too if I had not paused it every time the plane moved to look out the window, when finally we moved onto the runway and began to speed up. It took a lot longer for such a large craft to lift off, and when it did, it was harder to tell. It was like what Eustace describes: ships so big you wouldn't know you're on a ship. I can't remember, but I hope one of the characters asked him, "well, what's the point then?"

 

It was not near so exciting a take off as the smaller planes were. Two and a half hours delay, but we were in the air at last!

 

Like I said, I just spent the previous three hours trying to sleep, so don't expect any brains from me. We are now 7:28 into the flight, with 3:49 to go. We're about over top of the Europe /Asia dividing line in Russia, at 35,000 feet.  We are travelling at 885 kilometers an hour, and the outside air temperature is -59 degrees last I saw.  We are set to arrive in Doha at 6:55 local time.  I don’t know how that fairs with our connecting flight.  It is around six o’clock in the morning back at home- 5:00 world time.  (Ha ha.  Not so world sounding any longer.)

 

Nov. 23rd, 2016

At the end of the flight to Doha, Caleb and I played one game of chess, which he won handily, but oh! - before that I watched Monsters Inc. - very funny and well done.  While we were playing chess, the cabin crew came by with another meal, and called it breakfast (it was about 9:00 at home and sometime in the evening local).  “Breakfast?” I said.  “What time is it?”  The lady laughed and replied, “Breakfast time.”

 

The Doha Airport was amazing.  As we walked along a long, high, soaring hallway, I said to Caleb and Priya, “This would be worthy of having a light sabre battle in.”  It looked a combination of cloud city, Naboo, and Coruscant - not kidding.

 

We were in time for our flight- also a very lovely jumbo jet, and it took four more hours to get to Mumbai.  I watched a couple of Charlie Chaplins, slept some, and ate another meal, but by that time, everyone was getting restless.  The night was clear, and all the faces were drinking in the first sights of India.  We landed and were sucked off the plane, but unfortunately at a different door than Ginu and Abraham U. and Mariamma A., so went a long ways, always thinking they were ahead of us.  In the end, they came up from behind just as we were busy filling out foreign arrivals forms for customs. Up until then it had been long hallways with low ceilings and brightly coloured patterned carpet, but the next doorway we went through brought us into a large room, full of people waiting in line for customs and with decorative panels on the walls full of a tear-drop pattern in lights.

 

We got in line, laughing over how I was an honorary Chacko cousin for this part, but with a nervous tension building as we came closer and saw a room marked “secondary questioning”. The refrain, “Tour group. Visiting.” ran through everyone’s minds.  There was not another white person in the room - I would soon learn that to be the rule - and Paula A. remarked that people would be very surprised to see my blue eyes.  Everyone else in the team - group - had brown.

Customs was fine. They got us one by one to look at a little camera while - we suppose - they compared what they saw with our passport photo. We all met up again on the other side and continued to the luggage pick-up. It was an excellent, beautiful airport. When we had got all our luggage off the carousel and onto carts we were quite a large operation. But all the suitcases had come through - praise God - and we got moving at last, only to go down a ramp, park, and wait for another hour or more while we attempted to exchange some money. You must remember that this was 4:30 am local time. Depending on which way you sliced it, we had missed one and a half or two entire nights’ sleep, with only three hours at the most of make-up for anyone. We were just about dropping.

 

At last the mostly unsuccessful money exchangers gave up, and Jerry U.’s cousin, Jason, showed up. We made the short trek out through the doors and we were outdoors in India. There were lots of palm trees and it must have been 25 C. We loaded into three taxis and drove to the hotel.

 

Driving is so much fun! The driver sits on the right, so they drive on the left, but there are no lanes, so how they keep each direction on its side of the road I have no clue. There’s no signalling, no shoulder checking, no lights. It is a lot more like walking in a crowd than driving. If you see an opening that might be big enough, by all means go for it. And when you are a smaller item - on foot, scooter, even auto rickshaw - you have a big advantage and can weave in and out like nobody’s business. I sooo want a scooter ride sooo badly! Motercycle rides are fun, but on a scooter and right through the crowded streets of India - ahhh!

 

Even when we found the hotel and hauled in our luggage we still sat in the lobby for an eternity, checking in. There was a newspaper in English - everything is in English - and the glass doors stood open, letting in the warm night air and the odd sinister mosquito. At last, after more passport checking and signing, we were assigned rooms two at a time, and went up the elevator to claim them.  At the last minute, Ruth-Ann went with me and Paula A. went with Priya so as to have an adult in each room, and Ruth-Ann and I rode up to the top floor.  I know that I liked the view out our window… I didn’t take a picture of it… I could later… and I was in bed.  Sleep, sleep. Jerry U. and Caleb came in and said it was around 6:45 and that breakfast started in half an hour and went until ten o’clock - we could decide when to eat.

 

Honestly, when I woke up, I thought we were in time for some breakfast.  Ruth-Ann said Jerry U. had just come to the door and said we’re meeting in room 1003 right away.  It was one o’clock in the afternoon!

 

We met in Abraham U. and Mariamma A.’s room, since they had a living room of sorts, and were told that the task for the day was firstly to stay awake until eight or nine that night, to get our circadian rhythms on Indian time, and secondly to find a mall or something to exchange money and shop for some salwars.  This took a lot of discussion and google mapping, during which I ate a little snack I had in my bag and Jason from last night - well, this morning - arrived.  It was good to have the opinion of a local on our side, and at last we settled on Phoenix Mall and called a taxi.  The ride, again, was a blast.  This time there were lanes, but they didn’t mean much, as you could change lanes anytime (just move over and see if anyone honks) and straddle the lines as much as you liked.  We got to the mall - me, Ginu, Paula A., Abraham U., Mariamma A. and Caleb - and went in through security.  After hanging about the main entrance for a while, we set off in search of first bathrooms and then Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  

 

The mall was so high-end and fancy we didn’t even feel like we were in India.  As we sat and ate our doughnuts, we watched the costumes go by to see which ones we liked.  I so want a saree but I don’t think there are very many that cover you all up.  How they have so much fabric flowing all around, wrapped here and there, and still manage to have their whole waist exposed is beyond me.  And anyway, the salwars can get plenty fancy enough, especially with a scarf over the shoulder.

 

Ginu was in touch with Jason - funny, two people who are not on our team running things - and they eventually showed up by Krispy Kreme.  By the time everyone had had their doughnut and been to the bathroom and to see the model dinosaurs and come back, it was five-thirty.  We agreed to meet back at Krispy Kreme at six-thirty, and set off in quest of salwars.  But everything was above what we knew we should pay, and in the end we decided that the very high-endedness of the mall was working against us and we should look somewhere else.

 

While half of us were waiting by the original entrance for a taxi back to the hotel, a group of six -  three girls, a couple teenagers and a lady- came up and asked if they might take a picture with me.  I of course said yes and all six of them got one.  All right, I thought, we’ve begun.  We’re here. This is really happening to me.

 

During the drive back, which took an entirely different route but was almost as long, we were stopped at a light (a rare occurrence) and two tiny girls came through the vehicles begging for food.  “Oh,”  Paula A. said in despair, “I’m not sure I’m ready for this.”  We averted our eyes as they tapped on the window.  One was carrying a baby boy.  That was hard.

 

When we got to the hotel we went up to our rooms, having ordered supper to Abraham U. and Mariamma A.’s, and I went down to Paula A. and Priya’s room to see if I could email Mom and Dad.  They were in the Team Chacko inbox saying there were about a thousand people wanting to know if we’d made it.  I gave them the quickest, juiciest tidbits I had, and had to sign off when the supper came.

 

Supper was delicious- but we didn’t eat half of it, because whatever was not cooked might have been washed with contaminated water.  We don’t even use the tap water to brush our teeth.  We set a plan for the morrow and went to bed by around eleven.

 

The email:

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016  8:45 pm  Mumbai, India  

 

I've already lived Tuesday--it's pretty good; you'll enjoy it. I actually lived a lot more of Tuesday than I wanted to. I can't believe it's me that's here and it's India that I'm in. Imagine everything you've ever heard about India, all the pictures and movies you've seen: that is exactly what is out my window.

 

We are here and we are safe and everything did go surprisingly as planned. We landed this morning at 1:58 am and got to our hotel and to bed by around 7:00. I slept right through breakfast and was woken in time for a team meeting at 1:00. The job for the day today is to stay awake until 8:00 or 9:00 so we can go to bed and get on Indian time. We spent the afternoon at a fancy shopping mall--way too fancy. We didn't even feel like we were in India. Everything was quite expensive so we didn't load up on salwars (Indian clothing) like we were planning to. 

 

Then while we were waiting for our taxi on the way out, a group of six came up and asked if they could take a picture with me. All six of them got one, one at a time.

 

The driving is so fun! There are no lanes, they drive on the other side of the vehicle and road, and to change lanes there is no shoulder checking--you just move over and see if anyone honks at you. Honk, honk, honk--I am in Paula Auntie and Priya's room, and I can hear the constant honking in the street below.

We are about to have supper (8:45 pm Mumbai time). The last meal I ate was at midnight on the plane from Doha. Oh! Flying! Flying in an airplane is the most fun there can possibly be. The twelve hour flight was rather too short--and I haven't done anything but write it seems, for entertainment, since whenever there is something to see, I have my face glued to the window.

 

I was thinking of you all the time, and just dying to tell you what was happening.

 

Pictures hopefully coming soon!

 

Lots of love,

 

Celeste Chaychee

Once I woke up, I could not go back to sleep again - we slept with the room light on - and got up this morning with plenty of time to shower and journal before breakfast, which was just as good as the others had told us it was.  Now we are back in our room, ready to move out and get to our apartment, but Jerry U. and a few others are off banking again, so we wait.  The plan is to visit the VR headquarters this afternoon, after we are settled in the new place.

 

Later.

At some point I went down to discuss kids' ministry with Priya, and we got a few craft ideas and looked at a few skits, but didn’t get much done and had way too much fun about it.  As soon as the banking was done, we all hauled our 29 collective pieces of luggage downstairs and outside, where we called for a couple of Uber drivers.  When they came, we crammed and squished but still had to call for a third.  I was on the second one, and we took forty-five minutes to not get to a place that was five minutes away. The others had gotten an impromptu tour of the city in this way yesterday on the way to the mall, and I was a little bit jealous at the time, but we got our full share of lostness this time, and we were squished in tight with our carryons on our laps.

 

When we finally arrived at the apartment the others were getting pretty worried.  Then it took another long time to get our suitcases and people up the elevator, and it was unbearably hot.  We were in rooms 1101 and 1201- Ruth-Ann, the Chackos and I got the eleventh floor one, while Uncles and Aunties got the other one.  By this time it was 1:15 and we were getting hungry again, so we basically took a u-turn and went out on the street with a plan to get something to eat and then catch a rickshaw ride to VR.  

 

It was the first time we had been out in India on foot.  We found a tiny, close, crowded store with chains of packages hanging from the ceiling like the branches of a weeping willow tree.  Some of us got an ice cream cone, and ate it quickly so as to not let it melt in the heat while we figured out the rickshaw business.  In the end we got four auto rickshaws and I gave my camera to Priya, hoping to better my chances of actually getting a picture of me in a rickshaw.  It was way funner than a taxi, only windier and a lot smellier.  This time all four of them got to the right place on the first try, without any false moves. We were surprised and relieved, resolving to do rickshaws whenever possible, much to my delight.

 

We were beside a couple of garage-door looking things with “VR: Impacting with Compassion” emblazoned across them in red and black.  The gates beside them swung open and a lady, Holli herself, came out and introduced herself and her Indian husband, Vinny.  They took us around headquarters, and told us generally what they do.

 

Their principle, they explained, was prevention through education.  When a child is in school, they are kept track of, kept busy, and fed one meal a day.  There is way less chance of them falling into human trafficking.  So they remove barriers that stop a child from going to school.  They help the fathers with their addictions, train mothers in a vocation, and go around in buses giving kids a forty-five minute taste of school so they will be more inclined to go if they have the opportunity.

Nov. 24th, 2016

I’ve got henna art all over my hands!  Today was our first day of working with VR, and we left the building to catch a rickshaw there at 8:00.  The ‘showers’ in this place mean getting the entire bathroom sopping wet, and there are no places to put anything while you’re in there.  I slept on the floor bed, and we woke up at 5:45.  Breakfast - cereal and orange juice - was upstairs.

 

We arrived at headquarters half-an-hour early, and got to see all the staff arrive.  Ruth-Ann did the devotional with everybody, and then we divided into two groups of four - Jerry U. and Mariamma A. were going to spend the day banking and grocery shopping.

 

We went with the teams on the buses to do 45 minute school sessions in the slums.  On the way, we saw a truck as big as a grain truck full of heaps of green bananas.  There were men riding in the back with them.

 

We parked in the slum and set up a handwashing station.  All the kids washed their hands before they got on the bus and sat down.  Then the teacher taught them using mostly call and response.  It was a bus-school!

 

While that was going on the others invited us across the street to what they called the community centre, where Rani A. was teaching the preschoolers.  They were so cute, sitting barefoot on the mat, repeating everything they were taught.  I began to use my recorder liberally today.

 

Then we went upstairs by climbing up through a trap-door in the ceiling, and saw where they were teaching women sewing and henna so they could make money.  They offered to do some henna on us, and Paula A. and I got a beautiful paisley design.  Mine is all over the back of my hands and running up the first finger.  We had to wait for it to dry for a while and when we got back to the bus, they had already fed the kids and were ready to move on.

 

We stopped for lunch in a hot side street, and we washed off the globs from our hands, leaving a bright orange two-week tattoo.  They said it would darken into a nice brown by the evening.

 

Then we moved up the street a short distance and did the program over again.  This time I helped with the hand washing.  They had a jug of water inside the bus, with a thin clear tube running out and pouring by siphon over a garbage can type thing with a sink-like cover and a red bar of soap.  The first child sucked on the end of the tube to start the siphon, and then I held it, plugging it with my thumb in between kids.  This time the preschoolers were on the mat just beside the bus, and they all brought a metal bowl to carry the food in later on.

 

When the kids on the bus were done the lesson, the teacher called me on and I taught them the B-I-B-L-E.  Then we gave each of them four slices of bread with a sort of lentil soup on top, and a banana.  I shook lots of their hands, and they showed me their special handshake.

 

At about 4:00 we got back to headquarters.

Nov. 26th, 2016

 

I apologise if my writing is short, undetailed and stuffy. I am trying to write everything we do, and accurately and politely without complaining or painting too rosy a picture. Besides, when I write I am mostly dropping with sleep after a long day - and it is always dreadfully hot. -There I am complaining again. See?

 

No really, so much is happening during the day that I wish the nights were a month long. Even just the view out the window is enough to make me want to tell stories for days. We don’t ever tell stories to each other here. It is too busy and structured.

 

The thing I am most surprised by is how little I am surprised. Everything is so exactly just like everything I have seen and heard about India that I constantly have to remind myself that I am here in person and the things right at my feet and before my eyes are the real thing and no movie or missions report has more authority. The whole experience - flying and living in India - has been surreal. I can nonchalantly say we took a Rickshaw to the market this morning, but the fact is, we actually did, and it was just exactly as real and exciting and loud and dusty and dirty and hot and smelly as it should be. Yee-haw!

 

I am learning to make small talk in Hindi: “Thum hara nam kia heh?” is “What is your name?” (familierily), and, “Meri nam Celeste” is the reply. “Awp caseh hoh?” is “How are you?”

Nov. 27th, 2016  

I would like to just ramble like I did last night but I think I shall instead go chronologically first and reward myself at the end (if I get there).

 

On Thursday evening, when we were dishing up supper, Jerry U. goes, “heads up:  you’re on for devotions at VR tomorrow morning.”  So I took some time to write out some verses and work through a thought progression that night, looking forward to speaking through a translator for the first time.  In the morning, I was a little nervous, but I swear the fact that we had the worst time getting rickshaws yet and ended up being too late for the devotional had nothing to do with me. :)

 

The plan for the day was to make the drive out to the DC - just to see it at last and pray over it. I should say that the moment we first walked into VR headquarters, and began meeting the people we’d been hearing about and corresponding with, was the most amazing thing.  We finally felt like we had accomplished the great task of getting here and were now going to make the impact we’d been aiming for with this whole thing.  Furthermore, as we saw the facility and were all of a sudden surrounded by fellow believers with a common goal, we saw their calm and in-control confidence and began to have a spark of hope; that something was being done and these people were busy and happy as they worked with God and each other to battle the evil.

 

This feeling increased as we spent the time with them on Thursday and got to know some of them better.  As we drove out through Mumbai on our way to the DC, I knew that I wanted to be like these people - sold out for God and completely content because they know they are doing all they are called to.

 

We saw a completely different part of Mumbai (say “Moombai” so you don’t blatantly label yourself as a foreigner) on the way out, and many beautiful architectural wonders right alongside mind-blowingly atrocious living conditions in the slums.  The wackiest thing about India is the utter blend of fancy and filthy, western and Asian, rich and poor, clean and dirty, privileged and desperate. The streets are packed with the latest technology in cars, rickety grain trucks, the swarming rickshaws and tattered bicycles with tattered people on them. Beside the roads are huts made of ripped tarps and other people's garbage, but they are framed by skyscrapers with fancy glass and modern architecture - a very strange Indian version of architecture, mind you, but a stark contrast nonetheless. The people, too, are a weird mixture of stunning embroidered sarees and the latest western fashion, and dirty rags worn every day.

 

Anyway, we got out of Mumbai at last - although it was hard to tell - and took a halfway pitstop at the nicest McDonald’s I had ever smelled.  It was snazzy!  Like I said, it’s a real mixture, but it seems to me we’ve been seeing mostly the western parts of the country so far. :(

 

Back on the road again, we finally got to a place that could fairly be called rural.  We saw mud huts and cows and passed people with gigantic bundles of sticks on their heads.  At last Vicky (the VR guy in our car) said, “There!  That’s it up ahead!”

 

Finally we were actually looking at the DC - it was right in front of us.  It was a long low building of red and white concrete stucco finish.  It had been built in four stages, so it was kind of like four blocks stuck together.  It looked so bright and cheerful and homey.

 

After care - helping trafficked girls rehabilitate and reintegrate into society - is not VR’s main function or focus, but a few members had a dream of building a place for the girls to come and be cared for, and the DC was born - I mean, slowly, as construction projects often are.  The first block was completed in 2012, and the others followed quickly after, but now they were stuck.  They still needed a permit from the government so they could begin the process of admitting girls.

 

We walked in through a doorway and up a few steps and to our left into the first room.  Everything was musty and there were cobwebs on everything.  Ashwin Uncle, the main driving force behind the project at the moment, said he had cleaned the place many times, but all you do is leave it for a month, and a window breaks or a pigeon gets in, and it is dirty again.  We were greatly impressed, though, with the set up and the thought and the work behind it.  The first block was a room for up to eight girls, and an adjoining room for the matron, with bathrooms behind that.  There were four such blocks on this side of the centre hall, and Ashwin U. said there was the ability to build four more on the other side.  Above the main hall (kitchen and dining/multi-purpose room) there was a balcony and several guest accommodations.  Next time a team comes they’ll be able to stay at the DC!  Above that was the roof - terribly hot.  From up there we could see for miles, and it was a view!  Lush mountains, huts, mosques, and the lovely trees.  I have seen coconut, almond, cashew and mango trees that I know of.  I don’t think I have seen a pepper field yet.  I suppose that day will come.

 

Right beside the DC is an elementary school, and the children, dressed in their school uniforms, looked up at us shyly and a few had the courage to wave at the foreigners on the roof.  One of the teachers called, “Come to school!”

 

At some point we trooped down again and prayed over the building and the project for a long time.  I have a hard time keeping my balance with my eyes closed, so I memorised the floor of that room.  I can see it now. :)

 

Then, after a last picture-taking session and a quick look at the as yet unused baptismal, we set off for Mumbai once again.  This time we stopped at a seafood restaurant and had a sit-down meal, laughing over the menu choices and trying to learn the rules of cricket by watching the TV.  I opted out of the prawns in curry - I know, same offence as the no pizza-burger - and had chicken kheema with biryani rice instead.  I love getting familiar with the names of the food.  There is chai, of course, the everything drink that you have every chance you get, even if you are boiling hot.  There is sombar, a very thin orangish sauce with big chunks of nobody-knows-quite-what-probably-squash in it, very spicy.  Then there is chutney, a spicy white paste made apparently of coconut.  These last two sauces we have when we order masala dosha - a spicy potatoes-and-herbs mix wrapped in bubbly sour-dough-type thin bread. Absolutely everything is spicy - there is nothing that is not - except, sometimes, water.  When we were at this restaurant, Vicky made us try a special drink that was, he said, a good digestive aid.  I tasted it, much to my chagrin.  When he listed off the ingredients, I understood why it was so awful.  Coconut milk, wild gooseberries (it was kinda pink), plenty of salt and some spices.  Bleh!

 

Poor Leela A. had been feeling sick to the stomach the past few days, and she wasn’t able to keep the McDonald’s down from earlier.  We have been put to it to find things she can handle.  The food at this restaurant wasn’t that great for her either, and on the rest of the drive home our car ended up quite a bit ahead.  When we were nearing Sun Heights again, Mrs. Chacko in the other car called Mr. Chacko in our car saying they were offering for the three of us teens to go to youth group at Gateway Church, the church that most of the VR people attend. We thought, “Are you kidding me? Now? We were supposed to get to bed tonight!” But we ended up opting to go, having been told it was our last chance and that it would be good to meet some of the people before Sunday. So we got out of one vehicle and right into another and were off to Youth Group on a Friday night in Mumbai.

 

The drive there, being over an hour through conjested roads, made us late and our driving time for the day into five hours.

 

Nano, whom we had met at VR on Thursday, and Ranok, Ashwin U.’s son, were with us, so they showed us up to the thirteenth floor of the building and into a very dark, very loud room with a group of young adults gathered around a white board on one side and Vinny(Holli’s husband)’s voice calling a pictionary game over the sound system. We joined right in and had a blast. It might have just been my sleepy brain, but I figured that was the first time I’d been to an official youth group.

 

When it was over at nine Jerry U., Paula A. and Ruth-Ann came to pick us up, having grocery-shopped at D-mart on the way over, and we Ubered back together, laughing and jolly. The six of us downstairs enjoy hanging out, as do the four of them upstairs, so we all get along capitally.

 

Now, to Saturday. Saturday is our down day (no mission work) so we slept in and took a long time about breakfast and devotions. By around eleven we had finished preparing a craft for the kids at church on the morrow, and Ginu and Jason arrived. A whole wack of us took Rickshaws back to D-mart for more grocery shopping. Ruth-Ann had described it as a dollar store/Walmart on steroids, and that was exactly what it was. And it was crammed with people. I enjoyed the experience; for the people who had to think it was a nightmare. Especially the checkout lines - completely nonsensical. I can’t even describe it. When we were finally all out agian with our carts full of bags full of food, we each took a snickers for the prevention of fainting, and rickshawed back.

 

During some more Masala Dosha for lunch, random Chacko distant cousins began arriving, and eventually, Ruth-Ann and I were punted downstairs while the Chackos visited, although they confided that to sit in a room with Malayalam flying back and forth was not their favourite way to spend the afternoon.  We had been planning to go shopping and even, if we had the time, to see the gateway of India, where Ghandi first landed 100 years ago.  But as the afternoon wore on, and I could hear chairs scraping above and the Chackos were not released, our options slipped away.  I emailed feverishly, not stopping to look around or think until I realised the room was quite dark.  At around seven the Chackos finally came back, glad to be out of there and still wanting to go shopping.  Ruth-Ann and I were eager to go as well.  A couple of Great-somethings that had been upstairs had offered us a ride to one of the closest markets, but there was no place to park, so we drove on to a very nice sort of outdoor mall beside a big fancy round-about.

 

The night was warm, and there was a party atmosphere - “out shopping the open market on a Saturday night in Mumbai,”  Jerry U. said with relish.  There were shops lined up on either side of a nicely tiled walkway- tiny shops with most of their wares on display in front.  (We learned later it was Hiranandani Gardens.)  There were tops and pants and dresses and toys and games and food and jewelry.  We moved through them at an impulsive pace, us girls exclaiming over the clothing and bangles and the guys coming behind discussing culture and pretending to offer good advice on what to buy.  We had been hoping to buy some salwars - matching sets of a long shirt, pants and a scarf - but everything seemed to be sold separately for 900 rupees (about $18 CDN) per top or so.  But even though the options were a little frustrating, the experience was amazing, so we all enjoyed ourselves immensely.

 

At every clothing store- there were plenty- we would stop and glance through the selection hanging on a bar in front.  If we thought the style looked promising, we would spend a bit more time at it, and if we found and identified the name of the shop, almost hidden behind its own and the next shop’s wares, and it looked promising, we would pull open the glass door and go in.  We were reluctant to engage the man at the counter, because he would start pulling tops galore off the shelves, ruthlessly unfolding one after another to show us.  If we so much as asked what size or price one of them was, he would yank out the different plastic-wrapped versions of the same one, ripping open the packaging to let us compare.  By the time we were finished the whole counter would be heaping with lovely dresses and tops and pants, all in various stages of crumpledness.  Then we would say no, shake our heads sadly, wave our hands “no thanks”, and tear ourselves away, having known from the beginning that everything in the store was too expensive for us. :(

 

We did buy a few things - sandals for Caleb and a top for Paula A.  At one of the racks, Priya pulled out a bright red top that I barely even glanced at, but immediately I knew I liked it.  It had a pattern of many different colours that looked like a city with lots of palm trees.  In order to buy it we had to go in and subject ourselves to the unwrapping and suggesting process.  “Look,” the man said, shaking out the most brilliant yellow dress I had ever seen.  “It’s a beautiful colour.”  “Yes,” said I.  “Very beautiful.”  It was hideous.

 

In the end, Priya got a black and red top, and I got some white leggings to go with my city one. The guys had vanished by the time we got out, and we connected with them by phone to meet up. There I go using all-Chacko terminology. :)

 

It was quite late by now, and my only opinion about food was something quick.  We deliberated and deliberated, knowing we wanted KFC but trying to think of everything else first.  Paula A. and Ruth-Ann found a little restaurant on the top floor of an indoor section of the mall, and got seated and asked the waiter about the menu and each other about what they thought Leela A. and Abraham U. could handle, ultimately decided to do KFC.  That took a long time, with many phone calls across the street to where the rest of them were sitting to figure out what people wanted and how we would pay.

 

The cash situation everywhere is desperate.  With the recent discontinuation of large bills, no one has enough cash and the banks run out within a few hours of opening.  Our Visa card has had a glitch, and Paula A. couldn’t remember her pin for her mastercard, so pretty much everything we did had to be in cash.

 

Finally we were all done and we rickshawed back.  It felt rude to show up at the room upstairs and demand that everyone come eat, in bed yet, or no, but it was the only way to get everyone supper.  We laughed over the Indian bite to the chicken, and went, sleepy, to bed.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
Nov. 1st, 2016
I am going to India! On November 19th, Team Chacko will meet in Toronto and embark upon our great adventure. We have been preparing, meeting and fundraising for over a month now, and are hitting the home stretch, with our departure looming up later this month.
Please pray for energy and effectiveness as we encounter many new experiences and a different culture all at once. I will continue to post updates, and when I come back, I'll tell the whole story here on the Century Times.

Nov. 3rd, 2016

This is how the whole thing started:

Back in May, I think it was, I was offered an opportunity to go and be a mother’s helper to the Kims, who were now settled in Indonesia and were starting to homeschool. I looked at flying by myself for the first time, and being so far away for a whole semester, and decided that it was a little too much all at once. That very day I heard that the Chackos were going on a mission trip to India, maybe even with a team. We knew the Chackos mostly through CHTN, a teen network that they ran. Mr. Chacko was Heath’s flag football coach, and Caleb and Priya were his teammates. I decided almost right away that I wanted to go along.

 

Other people that they knew signed up to come as well, so in the end our team consists of ten wonderful people, whom I’m sure I will come to know quite well. I will introduce them all to you a little later.

 

At 4:30 on Sunday the 20th we fly from Toronto, to Montreal, to Doha, Qatar (12 hour flight spanning 24 hours), to Mumbai, arriving at 2:00 a.m. of the 22nd local time. We will spend two weeks in Mumbai, working with an organization that helps girls who have been rescued from human trafficking. Then on December 6th we fly from Mumbai to Chandigarh, which is in Haryana state, close to New Delhi. We stay there a week, doing various activities with the local people and encouraging the pastors up there. Then we travel to New Delhi (hopefully by train) and do a few days of tourism. From there the rest of the team fly to Kerala to spend Christmas with family, while Ruth-Ann and I fly the whole thing backwards, arriving back in Winnipeg late on December 16th. Wait until the next morning to call me, okay?

Nov. 8th, 2016

The closeness to departure really hit home when I took my first malaria pill yesterday. The side effects are moodiness and nightmares. I haven't experienced anything but excitement, but if I do feel depressed, at least I'll have an excuse, y'know.

Let me introduce you to the team.

Jerry & Paula Chacko are the ones running the whole thing, and so far they are doing a great job of it. They are hands down the most organized people I have ever met, and that is perfect. Mr. Chacko's parents came from India, and they still have family there, in Kerala. Their two kids are

Caleb (one of seven Calebs that I know), who is a little older than me, and in whom I seem to finally have found someone who likes to play chess, and

Priya, who is a little younger than me, and a very pleasant companion. She and I will be roommates when we stay in hotels, which I couldn't be happier about. Then there is

Ruth-Ann, a very sweet lady with whom I will also have to get along very well, seeing that it will be just the two of us all way back to Winnipeg from New Delhi. It should be fine. :)

Uncle and Auntie are not really related to anyone, but everyone calls them that out of respect. In Indian culture, anyone of an older generation is Uncle or Auntie, while someone of your generation is Brother or Sister (if they are older than you) and --dear (if they are younger).

Mr. Chacko's parents I will meet when we get to Toronto. Jeff Chacko, Mr. Chacko's brother, has been sort of representing them at all our team meetings. He, unfortunately, will not come on the trip with us, but he'll join the rest of them in Kerala for Christmas.

Oh, and then there's me. Mrs. Chacko and I are the only ones with no Indian bloodlines. I have never flown before, and they are all excited about introducing me to the experience. I am also the only one, besides Mr. Chacko's parents, who doesn't go to Church of the Rock, although it feels like I've been there more than my own church over the last month and a half, what with all the team meetings.

Nov. 11th, 2016

I am at the top of the world! I expect that I will come crashing down at some point, just hopefully not while the plane is in the air. :-0

No, but I really am quite excited, especially to fly. I've always loved the packing process, and when I am packing to fly, and buying various things I will need, it seems to be really real at last. I traced my path on the map once more this morning. I will be flying over places most of the people I know have never seen. And certainly India is an exotic place.

I started packing on Thursday, and though I am far from done, it all is doable, I think, with time to spare, even, by the end of next week. And then, away!

Nov. 14th, 2016

Lists. I love lists. If I think of a few things that go together, I'll make a list of them. I have a whole little notebook full of lists--random lists like all the possible nicknames for Elizabeth, or good titles for a book, or interesting things people say. 

And when one is packing, lists are a must, if one intends to enjoy themselves while away. Making a list also helps one to feel they know everything that remains to be done, and therefore to keep calm and on top of things. The problem comes when you make lots of lists on paper, and then you lose them and forget how many you have, never mind what was on them or how important they were. Enter google drive, where, unfortunately, nothing ever gets lost, but I can at least keep all my lists straight and in one place.

Last week I had a list of all the things I still needed to pack into my suitcase. Phoebe brought it to me with a smirk and said,

"Celeste, is this a list of what you need to take?" I took it and saw, written at the bottom of it, "Phoebe" in blue pen. 

"Yes, it is. Looks like I forgot you." She insisted this morning at breakfast that she could easily fit inside my largest suitcase. I think we should put you in a ziplock bag, Pheeb, so if you fall in the Atlantic Ocean you'll float 'till we can come pick you up. :)

I realize I am very lucky to have an honest plane ticket to India.

Nov. 15th, 2016

For those of you who have not yet cornered me and given me your advice, you are running out of time. Four days!

I had my follow-up Twinrix shot today (Hepatitis A & B). The first time was back in October, and I got MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) and Tdap (Tetanus, Pertussis, Diphtheria), plus the first Twinrix. I had only ever gotten one shot before, when I was 4. That time both Mom and the doctor asked me why I only cried afterwards. I honestly didn't know. This time I got up on her little bed and rolled up my sleeve and waited. All of the sudden she throws something away

and says, "That was the Twinrix." I hadn't felt a thing! The other two shots were much the

same--just a little sore and tingly the rest of the day. Today I wasn't so lucky, but it was

just one.

Nov. 17th, 2016

I think I've thought of everything. I feel like everything's under control. The stuff I'm going

to pack today is still strewn all over my bedroom floor, and my recorder is in limbo, not

quite sure what's on it and what's off. My Master To Do list is still getting things added

to it faster than they're being crossed off, but none of it's impossible. I'm not panicking

yet.

Nov. 18th, 2016

Okay, now I am! There are way too many things to be done, and not nearly enough time

to do it all in. I'm not even sure I'll be able to fini

 
Asha teaching the kids a song - Bus school
00:00 / 00:00
 

Nov. 30th, 2016

   Not only are our clocks messed up, but our calendars feel switched as well. I don’t understand how people can vacation during the winter and not feel all wrong.

 

To the chronology again. I need to journal every chance I get, so I can get caught up and have time to ramble.

 

Sunday was a great day. Everyone was up and showered and in their new clothes (Priya and I, at least) and upstairs for breakfast by the time the Uncles and Aunties were even out of bed. As we were eating Mariamma A. could not stop exclaiming about my dress, and Jerry U. explained that she had such an obsession with the colour red that He pretty much wore nothing else for the first four or five years of his life. We all had a good time with that, and also the fact that Ruth-Ann and Paula A. couldn’t keep straight which apartment was up and which was down. Eventually this mix-up became common, and now I can never get to the stairs without having to think about which way to go.

 

At supper the night before Jerry U. had explained to us the new food program - teams of three would take care of food for each day. The menus were already set, and breakfast, courtesy of Ruth-Ann, Priya and Alex U., was hard boiled eggs and toast.

 

We taxied to Gateway Church, hoping to be in time for the break between the Hindi service and the English one, arriving, Chacko style, in time for the entire Hindi message.

 

During the break we checked the kids’ rooms, and discovered we’d have to make our paper snowflakes sitting on the floor with no table or chairs. We’d just have to play pick-up at the end. We also talked to some of the people we’d met on Friday, and were introduced to Saku, Pastor Biju’s wife. They said Pastor Biju was here as well. We were surprised. We’d thought Pastor Biju wouldn’t be back in Mumbai until next week or even after we left. He was the one who had the Vision the Rescue is named for, the one Jerry U. first heard of from Ginu, bringing us to contact VR, and he was the Pastor of Gateway church and the one everyone at

VR looked to for example and guidance.

 

“Oh,” Priya said, “I think I’ll be nervous actually meeting Pastor Biju himself.”

 

I got Ruth-Ann to record his message with my recorder while we were teaching Sunday School. That was lots of fun. Priya and I taught the five to twelves, and they were engaged, cooperative, and smart. After it was all done we started a google hangout with Sam, whom we’d met on Friday, and met any others who came up. Then someone told us the rest of them were talking to Pastor Biju, and we hurried to meet him for ourselves.

 

Of course, any time the team is introduced to someone, the mystery of me has to be explained. We like to say I’m adopted, the short answer is I’m a friend, and if they really want to know we say we know each other through homeschooling. P. Biju mentioned they were thinking of homeschooling their youngest son for convenience, and right then and there he got the whole spiel on how homeschooling was the only way to go from Jerry U., at the same time as his wife was getting the soothing he-can-read-when-he’s-ready one from Paula A.

 

We talked to them and others until almost everyone else had left, and then Vinny U. and another guy from VR helped us to get Rickshaws to Oberoi mall, another very western place, where they showed us to the food court and took their leave. We looked around at several restaurants, but decided in the end to set everyone loose in the food court to do what the liked with Rs. 500. A bunch of us got noodles from Zoodles - Paula A., Ruth-Ann, Caleb, Priya and I - and we spent some of what we had left on some delicious mango ice cream. Tons of things are mango, and it is all with a good pulpy flavour.

 

On the way out, headed back to the apartment to rest and hang out as a team the rest of the day, Jerry U.’s phone died just as he was calling for an Uber, so we had to wait while he charged it. We talked to a couple of the girls working for a google iphone display, and one of them, Zara, could not get over our ages and our unscocialmediad homeschooledness. She said I was the very first person she’d ever met who did not own a smart phone. She thought Caleb was 23, and they told me later on that when they first met her she heard that their Mom was white and thought I was she. :(

 

We were very loud and rambunctious on the way back - the six of us in 1101 - but the Uber driver said we were not the rowdiest crowd he’d had that day.

 

For the rest of the afternoon and evening we all journaled furiously, deciding not to order supper and instead just eat snacks and go to bed.

 

Every time we eat anything, in order to not eat something I have to refuse it emphatically over and over again. First the room will be asked, and then everyone individually, and then they’ll exclaim over how much they know you want it and need it, and if you still refuse they’ll then wait five minutes before asking again.

On Monday, Nov. 28th, 2016

 

We went back to VR for another day on the buses. This time there was no need for Jerry U. and Amachi to go to South Mumbai/Navi Mumbai/New Bombay/CST/Train Station/Shopping Centre for banking, so we would all be there, and there was a chance that some of us might get to go on the third bus; the one that was a jeep ride away and went all the way out of Mumbai. We had worked it out with Bob and Asha - each the teachers on their buses - that we would teach the kids how to make a flower craft that we’d brought supplies for from Toronto. So with someone at least needed on each bus who knew how to do the craft, and various people all wanting to go on Asha’s bus so they could see the community centre (and get some henna), we had a hard time working out who was to go on each bus.

 

Having gotten to headquarters late on Friday we did not want to make the same mistake again, so the morning was hurried. We all made sure to have a full water bottle, although we did not intend to drink much, there being no bathrooms while we were out. The tissue paper, coffee filters, and pipe cleaners for the flowers were divided into bags of 50, and the people briefed on how to teach it. Several also got a bag of balloons just in case, and Caleb and Priya admitted to not knowing how to tie a balloon, but there was no time right then. We went down the elevator and caught four Rickshaws to the Mahatma Phule hospital - we were getting better at it.

 

The morning was already warm when we strode through the gates at headquarters and up to the main building, greeting Neethi heartily and rubbing Snoopy behind the ears. We felt a little bit more like we belonged there. Since we had lots of time before devotions I blew up a red balloon, demonstrating how to tie it, and we played keep-it-off-the-ground with Nano while the day grew warmer and the rest of the staff arrived. When we tired of batting the balloon around we tied it onto the scrubby fir tree growing just outside the overhang, thinking it needed a Christmas ornament. With about ten minutes to go until devotions Jerry U. told me I was doing them. He assured me they would not mind if it did not line up with the week’s theme. Good thing I had my unused notes from last week with me!

 

I got more and more nervous while the others chatted and drank chai - even though it was already hot and sunny - and the man who drove the ambulance washed it by flinging scoops of water at it, and poor Leela Auntie suffered from an upset stomach. At last everyone gathered into the kitchen and it was up to me.

 

Even with the translation delay I was always concentrating on what to say next, but I noticed out of the corners of my eyes that some of the heads were nodding at the English and some at the Hindi, but all paid attention when I was speaking and looked at me rather than the translator.

 

When I was finished Neethi addressed everyone in Hindi - something about the day - and then everyone lost no time about getting to work, and the place was abustle for the next ten minutes, before everyone left with their various vehicles headed for all over Mumbai and beyond. If you wanted the bathroom, which everyone did, you had to watch it like a hawk, but while you were waiting you could take in the goings-on. Paula A. was discussing with Asha and Bob how the flower thing would work, and someone was explaining who we thought could go on each bus. There was constant through-traffic as people went back and forth, and the food - big tall two-handled pots of rice, and dal, and hardboiled eggs - was being loaded onto a cart for transportation to the buses. Ginu had arrived just in time for devotions, so she had her chai now and caught up with Mariamma A. in her cultured, affected voice. I hoped she’d be on Asha’s bus - I was locked onto that bus because Paula A. wanted me to see if I could give my testimony at the community centre. Kaitlyn was there; she was from Kansas City and had been working with Vision Rescue for the last four months, but was leaving the next day. She was on Bob’s bus. And one more white person - an older lady from London with a big camera whose name was (with a British accent) Caroline.

 

We barely had time to run everyone through the bathroom before it was time to go. As the Asha’s bus people came out the front gates the Bob’s bus people came up as well and said that Bob’s bus was broken down and everyone was coming on Asha’s. That was going to be a lot of people on one bus - the whole team, Ginu, Caroline, and the Vision Rescue workers - so Jerry U. and Abraham U. went with some men on the addictions bus, and at the last minute Paula A. and Caleb went on the far bus.

 

So the group of us continued down the dirty, garbage-strewn sidewalk to where the young man helper (I never learned his name) was slinging the pots of rice and dal into the big Vision Rescue bus. He always wanted us to try lifting the heavy pots, but I never could. Making sure we still had the right number of flower supplies, we climbed on and found seats. When the last of the food had been loaded up, and the driver on and the bus started, we set out, Uncle and Auntie and Mariamma A. already talking animatedly with Rani A. in Malayalam.

 

I enjoyed driving in the bus very much. The windows had bars rather than glass, letting in the heat and smells and traffic noise. Since we were such a large vehicle we had to be a little more patient and wait for bigger spaces, and the engine rumbled like a tractor’s, roaring when we sped up. Horror of horrors, we had no horn, so the man would sit up front beside the driver, sandals off and dusty bare foot sticking out from under his leg like all the Rickshaw drivers, and hang his arm out the window to slap the side of the bus as an alternative signal when needed. I was still fascinated with Indian driving, but pulled my face away from the window after a whole busful of people passed us, all of them staring in shocked amazement.

 

Inside the bus, Ruth-Ann and Priya were exclaiming over a dainty pink rose Rani had just twisted out of petal-shaped pieces of crepe paper, curling the edges very realistically. She borrowed a pipe cleaner for a stem, and we had to admit she had us beat. Everyone laughed over how big and clunky our tissue paper example looked in comparison.

 

When we stopped in the first slum, a crowd of children had already gathered, a few with parents hanging around, and they waved and screamed when they saw us. When we had got turned around and pulled up beside them all, everyone but Leela A. got off and was greeted by the cheery cries of “Good Morning Teacher!” coming from those bright, smiling faces. We knew what they were saying because we expected it, but the first day it had taken a little bit before we realized they were speaking English; it was the only English they knew, taught to them by Asha, and they used it liberally.

 

While they were washing their hands we decided we would teach the craft first thing and then go to the community centre. Asha did call us on almost right away. I, being nominated to teach the thing, quickly handed out to Ruth-Ann, Priya, and Mariamma A. the supplies, and sent them down the narrow aisle in order of what we’d need first. As I took apart my example to show them what to do I thought fleetingly, “camera - pictures of this,” but there was no time.

 

As I demonstrated how to make it, a simple step at a time, I talked in English to keep myself on track, but the information they were getting from me was completely without words. Really, there was nothing lacking. They might have thought there was, not knowing what I was saying, but they were understanding perfectly everything I wanted them to do. It was so much fun. When everyone was excitedly waving a big gaudy flower over their heads I showed them how to stick it in their hair - and told the boys it would look a little more manly if they would move it down to their button-hole.

 

Then we were done, so we got out of the way, and, when we’d all gathered again on the ground, we headed over to the community centre. I pointed out the same three cows eating the same pile of garbage as we’d seen last week.

 

We only watched Rani A. teaching the preschoolers for a brief moment before heading upstairs. It was basically a ladder up through a hatch in the ceiling, but it turned halfway up, and we had an anxious moment when Mariamma A. lost her balance and swung out in space before catching a bar and hanging on.

 

The girls were very excited to have us back - Nicole had come out to the bus to beg us over - and we sort of got to know them; less wordless communication can be done with adults than with children. Priya and Ruth-Ann got some henna - Ginu already had lots from the weddings she’d been to - and we watched them learning to sew a Kurti. As I was standing beside a couple of sewing machines, watching Priya get her henna, I noticed two of the girls whispering and glancing at me, and was confused until they motioned to another girl to check out my weird eyes.

 

When the henna was dry we headed back down and picked our way back across the slum to the bus, a little annoyed at the beating sun. Stumping his way across a pile of garbage was a man whose legs were thin and crumpled. He walked on his hands, with sandals on them.

 

When we stopped for lunch the hot sun came in the right-hand side of the bus, and even with the thin purple curtains drawn we still felt the warmth coming through. I paced myself with the proportions of rice and dal this time, and could finish it even without the help of a soothing banana. But eating spicy food made us hotter than ever, and many of us sought the shade and chance of a breeze outside the bus on the broken sidewalk. Priya and I journaled, our hands making damp patches on the paper, but eventually we too got off the bus for some relief.

 

Three little kids came along the sidewalk, and we ‘talked’ with them, giving them a balloon and waving as they continued on their way. At the end of the lunch break Rani gave us all a piece of blue construction paper and told us to draw and cut out a flower to decorate the bus with, but she had very little luck getting what might be called flowers from any of us.

 

When we drove up the road to the second slum and got out we were distracted for a time and didn’t mind the heat so much. There were too many of us - we had to fight over what jobs there were - and the kids got more help washing their hands than ever before. When the hands were washed we sat on a little stool or leaned against the bus and just watched the goings-on.

 

It was a serene and yet tragic setting. Between the road and the houses was a space of brown, dusty earth, trodden dead by many bare feet. It was strewn with colorful garbage, lying in drifts against the walls, and even they looked garbagey - chipped concrete long ago painted with various advertisements and since then graffitied many times over.

 

Going into the slum was a lane of sorts, overhung with various tarps extending from the roofs on either side. Women sat on the doorsteps, watching and flicking at flies broodingly. Men hung about, probably with a child or sibling on the bus. Half-clothed children not in the program stood by staring at us and carrying their little siblings so their feet would not be hurt be any sharp rocks. The sun broiled everything relentlessly and the chanting of the children on the bus could be heard by everyone.

 

When it ceased and Asha A. called us on we were ready for the craft, but not quite ready for the smothering heat we would face on the bus. The sweat ran down in little tickly rivers, and our shirts were re-soaked. How desperate to cool itself down must your body be, to sweat so profusely when you have not been drinking water?

 

“Thank you teacher, thank you teacher,” rang out throughout the bus as we passed out the materials, and when they had made their flowers they wanted me to see them and approve, and “Teacher! Teacher!” they called from every direction, waving their colourful creations for inspection. When we had finished Asha taught them a new song - presumably to do with flowers - and we decided to use the remaining materials on the considerable number of children who had gathered outside the bus.

 

To try and do a craft with an uncontrolled and unregulated group of kids in India means you must be ready for chaos - and embrace it - in order to succeed. We were surrounded by tugging hands and asking faces on all sides, and the supplies were disappearing rapidly. These little girls would make a flower and then give it to one of us as a gift, and we would give it, in turn, to a little boy who didn’t get to make one, provided we thought the original giver was not by. There were some older boys who had somehow gotten a flower - probably pinched it off some little kid - and one of them offered it to me, smirking a little. I took it, distracted with helping a girl make one for her brother, and another boy snatched it away and offered it again, saying something at which they all laughed and the men lolling around grinned and looked at each other. That made me uncomfortable. The first boy grabbed it from the second, and, dropping one knee a little, held the flower up and said, “I looove you,” in a sing-song voice. I laughed but refused the flower, turning to find new company.

 

There was a refreshingly honest little boy who showed me his most prized possession - a little yellow disk which he flipped inside out and after a few seconds it would jump and flip right side out again with a little popping sound. It was an incredibly simple toy, but I’ll bet it never left his hands - I don’t think he had any pockets. The first time it popped I pretended to be very surprised and perplexed, bringing an appreciative chortle from all those around, and each subsequent time I gradually ‘overcame’ my fear, until I was brave enough to hold it myself. He was delighted.

 

By this time the kids on the bus had been let out, and the feeding had begun. At first I had thought the extra large and chaotic crowd of people around the bus was because of the flowers, but they told us afterwards that they always got more people on egg day. To keep things orderly, they kept the rice and eggs on the bus and filled the bowls that were passed in, only giving some to those who had brought a bowl. They could then go to where the driver sat with a pot between his knees and have the dal poured in on top. There were, again, far too many of us, and Rani sent the helper man to fetch most of us onto the bus to be out of the way. She let some of us take a turn scooping up the rice and dumping it into the tin bowls and plates, after which she would crack a hard boiled egg with one deft motion and add it in, and the bowl would be passed out to whoever owned it.

 

I watched this process for a time and then slid over to the left side and slipped an arm through the bars to shake the hand of any child brave or tall enough and to wave at the ones that weren’t as we packed up, started the bus, and drove away.

 

The first thing we did was pull out into the wrong side of the street, bringing a few voiced worries from those who had not seen this process before, and the man, on the ground, waved the driver around the boulevard to go back the way we came - another good use for a human horn.

 

We continued to sweat helplessly, and the air through which we all lugged an empty pot from the bus to the kitchen at headquarters was thick and humid. The others were already there. Paula A. exclaimed over the new henna, and asked if I’d done my testimony. I explained that there’d not been a translator and asked after Bob’s bus. Someone announced that they’d gotten it running in the end and gone out as usual. A cold shower was mentioned fondly, at which Ginu and Caroline were horrified, but I, at least, had just that as soon as we got back to the apartment.


 

Tuesday, Nov. 29th, 2016

 

The other organization we had wanted to come alongside while we were in Mumbai was International Justice Mission, and our time to meet them was at a presentation they gave back at Gateway Church.

 

They worked much more exclusively with human trafficking, in fact that morning they, with the police, were doing a raid to rescue a girl they had received intelligence about. It was a horrifying and yet encouraging presentation, and we all came away saddened but glad that something was being done.

 

We went to Oberoi mall for lunch, joking that this was becoming an every-second-day thing. We ate at a Chinese place, and I learned to actually pick something up with chopsticks at last, but had to switch to forking in order to eat as much as I wanted to as fast as I needed to.

 

That afternoon we had no engagements, so we took the opportunity to prepare a few crafts and think through what we’d need for up North. The bookmark-cutting factory got in full swing, and the various parts of an angel were carefully drawn and redrawn and tried out on a popsicle stick before mass production began. The climax came when Ruth-Ann held up a winged popsicle stick with a face and asked what sort of clothes we thought an angel should wear. I took a strip of blue paper and wrapped it around the angel like a saree. That cheered us up for days.

 

That evening we went back to Hiranandani Gardens (those of us that were feeling well enough) and had some pizza at Papa John’s and got some soup from another Asia’s Kitchen for Leela A.



 

On Wed, Nov. 30th, 2016

 

We had another slow morning - Jerry U. went to someplace near Oberoi mall to meet with P. Biju, and the rest of us stayed in and began working on writing a little blurb about each day.

 

But after lunch we all took a couple of Ubers down to the shopping centre in South Mumbai. IJM had emailed us the ages and genders of the kids in their children’s homes, and the task was to buy the supplies for a Christmas goodie bag for each of them. This was a different sort of shopping - all bargainable for one. We split up and targeted certain items with each group. About half-way through the afternoon Jerry U. called and said he’d found a Thomas Cook that would do foreign exchange up to Rs. 5000 per person. We all headed over and spent the next few hours waiting in that beautifully air-conditioned room, and got beautifully stocked up with cash. And they gave us a good exchange rate, too - 47 for Canadian and 64 for U.S.

 

It was getting dark by the time we got out, and we finally found little girls’ dresses like what we were looking for, and employed Abraham U. to bargain down the price, but only ended up getting a buy-seventeen-get-one-free type of discount.


Alex U. and Leela A. had been sitting at the McDonald’s to save walking, and we all ended up there as the niche shopping continued, playing “I’ve Never” until it was time to head back.

Dec 1st, 2016

 

It’s Christmas! I will have twelve more hours of Christmas than everyone else. Those twelve hours will be spent on a plane over the atlantic, but, y’know.

 

I am dreadfully behind on journaling. I shall skip ahead to today and describe Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday sometime when I have a chance.

 

Today we finally had the opportunity to actually meet some of the rescued girls in an aftercare facility. We were picked up by a small bus at eight thirty, and drove for almost three hours, picking up Pastor Phillip, the man who owns and runs the place, on our way out of Mumbai.

 

We drove a long way in rural India, and saw our full share of cows, dogs, rice fields, villages with heaps of fruit and nuts and vegetables laid out on mats for market day, and women with gigantic bundles of sticks on their heads. I recorded Pastor Phillip telling us about the facility - they are renting it from some nuns, and it has six occupants.

 

When we pulled up to Shanti Nivas, through the gate and down the short driveway under pink-flowering trees, only the matron came out to meet us. We stepped across the wrap-around veranda and into a wide, cool room with a shiny tile floor. It had a TV set in one corner, a blackboard on one wall, and a few sewing machines placed out of the way. On a couple of mats in front of the TV sat the girls, who came forward shyly to meet us. They were all majors - over eighteen - but they were tiny and looked much younger. But they were bright and smiling, and trailed around after us as we were shown around the yard.

 

They each had a rose bush in front, and in back there was a little cobbled walkway bordered by mango trees, cashew trees, egg plants, a drumstick tree (don’t ask) and a huge well that filled during the monsoon and kept them supplied for the rest of the year. They had a dog, Tina, tied on the shady side of the veranda, and we were shown the bedrooms with bunk beds and the kitchen and dining room. Lunch was not quite ready, so we went back to the first room and did the coffee filter flower craft with them, and then had lots of fun about drawing a world map on the blackboard to show them where we came from. They realized how far it was with an “oooh” when I flew my finger across our flight path.

 

Then it was lunch time, and they ate in the kitchen while we had our rice with dal and egg curry in the dining room. P. Phillip told us some of their back stories, and it was heartbreaking to hear. What with the Corrie Ten Boom play before we left, I couldn’t help thinking that these girls were like Holocaust survivors - and real time, right now, with others still dying in the camps.

 

Hard it was and strange to then go back to the room and meet their eyes and know how much they had been through. We got out the colouring therapy books and pencil crayons and lay on the floor colouring till it was time to go.

 

The ride back was long and jouncy, and it was dark by the time we stopped in at P. Phillip’s place to see his wife, Shanti, who had been cook, matron, counselor, and mother to those girls for the first few months, to the neglect of all else, including her own home and 15 year old youngest son. She was a hero to us by this time, and we were all pleased to meet her.

 

When we finally reached Sun Heights, most of us having slept on the last leg in the cold bus, we were far too tired to think about supper, and ate some snacks and went to bed.

 

I haven’t mentioned this yet, because I thought it deserved a grand announcement: today was the day I have been wondering about for the past four or five years. I have finally seen a pepper plant! It was a broad-leafed vine climbing on one of the trees in the yard of Shanti Nivas, with little green peppercorns in clusters on it. I can clearly remember the day, in the year of the missionary decision, when I held up a peppercorn and asked Mom, “What kind of a plant does pepper grow on?” Nobody knew, and I said I would very much like to see a pepper field some day - if I had to travel the world to do it. Mom said I probably would. I could see myself, a lady missionary having seen many things more exotic than pepper, standing at last beside a pepper plant. Now here I was and this was the place and now was the time. India! Of course they would grow pepper here. I got a picture of me holding a bunch of peppercorns, and Amachi picked one for me - a tiny green ball that would dry black and wrinkley. I have it yet.

Dec. 2nd, 2016

 

I have seen two different bumpers that said, “India is Great,” and it is true. Amachi said on Monday morning when we were trying to think of some way to get more cash, “This is India. Forget it.” It is a good tagline for living here. The cash situation means that the banks run out within a few hours of opening, and if you do get cash it is in Rs. 2000 notes, which no one ever has any change for. We laugh about being here just now, and I see everything going digital and hear the heavy tread of the beast.

 

I think most of us have finally learned how to tell someone where we live. There are no addresses, so everything is described by its proximity to some other well-known location. Our apartment is part of Sun City, in Powai, just off the Gandhi Nagar flyover, and the particular building is Sun Heights, beside Trikutta Towers. Vision Rescue is in Vikhroli East, and we just say Mahatma Phule Hospital and then tell them to go further up the road.

 

Jerry U. has said many times how our presence here is like a penlight in a big dark room. I agree, but I think it is just as dark if not darker in Canada. We should not put blinders on, even if we are looking at poor underfed abused Indian girls.

 

So far I have been running on adrenaline like coffee. At home we can go to bed at nine and I still can’t get up at seven, here we’ll be out doing things and eating supper until eleven thirty and waking up at six thirty after a terrible night, and I do not feel tired or slow - I am still energetic and alert. Sometimes if we are not doing anything in the evenings I will get sleepy, and the last few days I’ve had to marvel when I am giggly from overtiredness and I just woke up. :)

 

A couple nights ago I looked up and figured I probably shouldn’t sleep right under the curtain rod if it was as precarious as the one in the living room had been - we finally just took it down so it wouldn’t keep crashing and scaring us. So I flipped around and slept the other way. It is still up, so who knows? I might get rewarded yet.

 

On Tuesday I gave my camera to Priya, seeing that she liked to take lots of pictures and there was a higher chance of getting ones of me if we went to the same places. So far it has worked out well and is lots of fun.

 

Today was our last shopping day before Haryana, so we split up and hit the train station and Hiranandani again. We bought lots of supplies for Christmas gifts for the children at the orphanages run by IJM, as well as stocking stuffers for the Shanti Nivas girls and gifts for the missionaries up in Haryana.

 

Now those of us who were at Hiranandani are back and about to start stuffing the childrens’ packages, and the South Mumbai people are yet enroute.

Dec. 5th, 2016

 

Our last day in Mumbai! The time has flown by. In one sense I am desperate to get back home and see my people and tell the stories and experience Christmas, in another I want to grab ahold of the moments as they slip away and make our India time last for another year.

 

We are used now to living in Mumbai - so much that on the ride home yesterday we all slept, irreverent of the India flying by the window that anyone else would have been glued to.

 

Still, whenever we ride in a bus, I see guys turning their heads to look as we pass. I don’t suppose India would ever get used to me.

 

On Friday evening we finished packing what supplies we had into the bags, and when the others did not come, ordered and ate supper - I was pleasantly hungry for the first time and enjoyed the singapore noodles and spring rolls very much - and went to bed, feeling bad that they should be out so late.

 

We had been planning to visit a childrens’ home in the Red Light District in the evening on Saturday, but a couple of kids had infections and they told us not to come. So we had all day to do what we liked - the last of that kind. At breakfast Jerry U. said that when we went to P. Phillip’s church in the evening on Sunday we were responsible for the whole service - for about an hour or so after worship (singing). He asked if we had a skit ready, and we said no. “Okay, I’ll tell you one. Celeste, you’re the devil, Caleb is Jesus, and Priya, you’re the sinner.” Everyone laughed at that, but he was not joking, and we spent some time that day practicing - it was good fun.

 

Some people went shopping again, but the three teens and Auntie stayed in all day. I tried everything in my power to log in to celestebakescakes but in the end had to go through teamchacko.

 
Atma Re - Gateway Church
00:00 / 00:00

This was our hands-down favourite Hindi song, sung at Gateway church. I only started recording halfway through, so I apologize.

The words of the chorus are:

Atma re pavitra atma re

Jeshu ki shirti ko la

Atma re pavitra atma re

Tri ek upastiti la.

Jesus Loves Me - Shanti Nivas
00:00 / 00:00

We taught them Jesus Loves Me just before we left.

 

Saturday, Dec. 3  (by email again)

I realise you just want to hear what I have been doing and seeing, so I will tell you in short as best I can. Right now everyone but the three teens and Leela Auntie are out either shopping or banking - again. Basically all our time has to be spent banking because of the cash shortage. The four of us at home, however, get the day to do whatever we like - a very rare occurrence. We shall make sure our testimonies are ready and stuff the rest of the gift bags with the salwars we bought yesterday, and then most likely watch Mr. Bean's Holiday on TV and play some chess or cards. This is a good missions trip.

 

So as I write this, I am sitting at the table in the living room, eating Chinese that we ordered from the place down the road. The sun comes in through the sadly uncurtained window, and the fans are constantly on to battle the heat.

Here I am with the girls in the community centre that the organization runs. (You all know the name of it, I just have to be sensitive.) On Thursday, Nov. 24th, our first day of work, we went out on the education buses to see what they do. They visit slums and do a 45-minute teaching session and then they feed the kids. While this was going on we climbed to the top floor of the community centre and saw where they were teaching women a trade--sewing and henna art. They gave me some. It is almost all faded by now, but it looked handsome while it lasted.

Here we all are at the after care facility. This is on the balcony on the second level. Caleb had just said, "Okay, I'm not going to sneeze this time," and then guess what he did.

 

From left to right is Alex Uncle, Leela Auntie, Paula Auntie, Mariamma Auntie, Me, Priya, Caleb, Ruth-Ann Auntie, Abraham Uncle, and Jerry Uncle.

​This is on Monday, our second day on the buses. All the kids are being fed, and one little boy had been showing me his toy that popped when you held it. I wanted to try.

Why don't I tell you briefly what we did each day? 

 

On Wednesday, Nov. 23rd, we moved to our apartment and met with the organization for the first time.

 

Thursday we went on the bus schools.

 

Friday we drove the two hours to the after care facility--sadly empty but cheering nonetheless. In the evening the three of us went to youth group at our organization's church.

 

Saturday we did a lot of shopping and I got myself a lovely red top.

 

Sunday we went back to church, taught Sunday school, and had lunch at Oberoi mall--great mango ice cream.

 

Monday we were on the buses again, and taught the kids a tissue paper flower craft.

 

Tuesday we went to a presentation on trafficking by International Justice Ministries in the morning, and prepared for our time in Haryana in the afternoon.

 

Wednesday we went shopping for Christmas gifts for the children in their homes.

 

Thursday we actually got to meet some rescued girls. We went to an operating after care facility and spent the day with them.

 

And yesterday we spent all day shopping again.

 

Today we stuffed the bags and practiced a skit for church tomorrow--and watched Mr. Bean. :)

I emailed doggedly while I was eating lunch, but quit when Mr. Bean’s Holiday came on. All you ever need to make any day the highlight of the week is a good dash of Rowan Atkinson.

 

After that we packed the rest of the bags with the salwars they had got the day before, and when the shoppers came back some of them went for a walk to the top of our hill, but I stayed and finished emailing.

 

Then when the walk fell flat, we trooped upstairs to play games and wait for supper. It had been a good day - beginning with trying to convince Ruth-Ann of the importance of reading aloud, and ending with a delicious supper of I-forget-what-it-was-called, but we all looked forward to a busier tomorrow.

 

Since church would be in the evening, we took the morning on Sunday to see the Gateway of India, where Mahatma Gandhi first landed when he came from South Africa in 1916, the Taj Hotel, and the surrounding shops.

 

One of our Uber rides took 20 minutes to arrive, so we learned one to ten in Hindi while we waited: Ek, Do Theen, Char, Banj, Cheh, Sat, Ought, New, Das. Of course that is not how you spell it, but now it is. It seems there are as many ways to spell and punctuate things as there are places to write them.

 

When we got to the gateway we had to fight through thick crowds to locate those of our group who had been in the first car, only to have them tell us that the gateway itself - the big brick arch that marked the spot - was completely blocked off. We carved out a pocket for ourselves in front of the barricade and took pictures with what we could see of it, and then walked down beside the road and looked down at the Arabian Sea below. It reminded me very much of Charleston, South Carolina in that it had the funny trees and the old, fancy houses and the water on one side.

 

After a time we crossed the street - always a tricky business that puts a big ‘foreigner’ sign over our heads - and walked up to the Taj Hotel. In front there was a roofed-over area where cars could drive up and drop off guests, and many bellboy type men about, helping. We went through security and up the wide marble steps and in through two sets of revolving doors, finding ourselves in a cool, dim, quiet room; spacious, with a low ceiling and many chandeliers that were reflected in the marble floor. It was a stark contrast to the hot, dusty brightness of outside.

 

There were people standing about here and there, and in the middle of the room a carpeted area with easy chairs and a gigantic bouquet of pink roses. We walked about, looking at everything and taking pictures.

 

We went down hallways with windows showcasing jewelry and dresses and and black-and-white pictures of past guests: Queen Elizabeth II, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama. We saw red carpeted staircases that led to balcony above balcony which the room doors opened onto.

 

Ruth-Ann asked, and they said it was Rs. 15,000 a night with breakfast. Not too bad for a honeymoon.

 

The Chackos had to meet with family starting at 1:00, so too soon we emerged back out into the heat and noise of downtown Mumbai in search of some lunch.

 

Picture you are standing on the sidewalk in front of a row of stores somewhere in Winnipeg on the very hottest day of summer. Now bring the fronts of the stores right smack against the sidewalk and add a bunch of booths selling scarves and phone covers and bangles on the street side. Cover it over so the whole thing is in close, sweltering shade, and pack every nook and cranny with people, and you have the market behind the Taj Hotel in the tourist area of Mumbai. We struggled single file through the crowds between the stalls, and when we stopped and huddled to one side, waiting for Jerry U. to decide what to do next, a man came selling bamboo flutes. He played it beautifully and when the price dropped dramatically I took interest and bought one, but in my rush agreed on a price I didn’t have change for, and ended up holding the group when we wanted to move on. That brought a lecture when we were together again.

 

We ate at the Leopold cafe, and pretty much everyone was rebellious and got fish’n’chips - delicious, and I got alongside it a Maaza, a bottle of mango juice. I love the amount of mango here. I have not actually had a mango, but I’ve had mango ice cream and mango candy and lots and lots of mango juice, and we haven’t yet broken out the mango jam.

 

When we came out again we gathered in a place where the Chackos could call their Uber, and I finally bought a drum off the man with the white hat and the orange beard who’d been pestering me ever since we first got there, having made up my mind to go for it at Rs. 300. Again, mango wood.

 

The four of us non-Chackos stayed behind to keep shopping, and I bought some cashmere stoles - it was hard to do in the hot weather, but I knew they would be beautiful as soon as we got home and even up in Haryana.

 

At some point it was only Ruth-Ann who was still looking, and the rest of us tagged after her. I was swarmed by people trying to sell me things; a lady who looked like a peacock herself selling peacock feather fans, another flute guy with his wares stuck in a pole like a tree, two more drum guys (it seems word got around that I’d bought I a drum), small girls and beggar mothers with babies on their hips selling fragrant strings of Jasmine flowers, and a man with a pack of enormous balloons - he kept batting about the gigantic example. They would start by playing or calling out their wares, and then tell you it was a good price and beg for you to make an offer, which I soon learned not to do, for once you let a number out of your mouth there is no lowering it. If you ignore them, keep walking, and shake your head sadly, the price will drop quite rapidly, although they are pushingly in your face the whole time. At one point my way was blocked by a flute in front - “very nice flute, ma’am, good price” - and completely hemmed in behind with more walking shops, and I found a lady actually tying a string of jasmine on my wrist. I think they target foreigners. One of the drums dropped by hundreds at a time from Rs. 900 to Rs. 150 ($3) so fast that I was tempted to buy another one, and realized how much of the art they had down pat. Everywhere you go as a customer you are being read like a book - and it is almost comforting to be in the hands of such a professional. :)

 

In the end I saw the orange-bearded drum guy again and was glad I had bought it from him - he looked so cool.

 

When we were finished - and pouring sweat - we called the Chackos and they called for the Uber and called us with the details, and boom! he was there so fast we almost missed him. It was cold, cold in the car, and smelled beautiful - the same smell from the hallway at our accommodations in Washington, D.C. - and it took a long time for me to stop guarding my bags from pickpockets and hearing everything Ruth-Ann said with the “no thank you, it’s fine, I don’t want it, in fact I already bought one” refrain playing in my head. :)

 

In the evening we all got gussied up and drove through the dark streets to the hotel where was P. Phillip’s church. We sang Christmas songs, and it was sort of like a replacement Christmas program for me; to be sitting nervously waiting to go up, and then to act in front with bright lights, and to be congratulated afterwards.

 

Shanti said that when she had been at Shanti Nivas the day before the girls could not stop gushing about their day with us on Thursday. We felt a little better, because up till then we had not thought we did much while we were there.

Later.

 

I received a prophetic word from God today. I am very pleased with it. I’d better explain in full.

 

Jerry U. has spent all week in and out of touch with a certain Vasu, who, we hoped, would be able to take us to some childrens’ homes in the Red Light District. Finally we agreed to spending Monday (today) with him, sacrificing one last chance to go on the buses. We said the day was his until 3:00, when we must get back to VR to say our good-byes and give them the supplies we’d bought.

 

No one knew quite what we were actually doing, and when we got on a very luxurious 30-passenger bus we were a little concerned as to the cost. It was nice, however, to not have to worry about transportation for one day - but Priya and I were looking forward to one last Rickshaw ride home from VR.

 

When we pulled up at the side of the road and were told we’d arrived we were a little confused. A man in a pink shirt introduced himself and led us up a hill, and then up a flight of stairs on the side of a building, and then in a door on the balcony and we found ourselves in a hall that opened out into a room filled with sewing machines and at every one a girl working. We were introduced to a Kieth and Ramona, whom Jerry U. seemed to have talked on the phone with, and were offered water or chai and asked to contribute to devotions, which they had held for us.

 

So after a bathroom-and-chai break (there are a lot of those), us and the girls and the staff gathered and sang with a guitar (very refreshing after weeks of Youtube videos) and Priya did the devotion.

 

Then the girls went back to their work and we sat down at a table in the hall, closing a door between us and them, and Kieth U. and some others told us about the place: Chaiim Foundation (Hebrew for life but they pronounce it Ka-eem).

 

It wasn’t aftercare per se but more like caring employment. The girls came there to work and were paid a wage, but they were loved and taught the Bible and had counseling available.

 

We were not to have lunch with them, so when the meeting was done we had a short time to shop the shelves of things they had made and then had to go. I bought a cloth-covered notebook and a foldable shopping bag with one of the Rs. 500 notes I got as change yesterday. It was a busy few minutes, with some of the girls acting salesman and all of us with our arms spilling and cash fluttering.

 

When everyone was finishing up their purchases and having one last bathroom break Kieth U. came to me (on his rounds of the group) and said, glancing at what I had bought and at the girls still selling things, “Thank you for coming to see us.” “Oh,” I said, “Thank you for having us! We enjoyed our visit very much.” “You will come back,” he said. “I received a prophetic word from God that you would be back here.” “Oh, well thank you. I’m glad,” said I, and, “so start getting ready,” he said as he moved away.

 

I was excited and a little bit shaken. My thought had always been that I liked Mumbai and that the work that was being done was good, but it was not my place. To have a promise of coming back, now that was awesome!

 

We all signed the guest book and then took our leave and walked back down the hill to the bus. As we drove to our next location, hoping it would include meeting Vasu, we swapped stories, and he had gone around giving Caleb a prophetic word too and just simply begging Ruth-Ann and Priya to return.

 

I looked at Mumbai differently when I knew I would someday be back. A good-bye would not be so final.

 

We stopped at another place where we had no clue how to find the actual centre, but Jerry U. called our contact and he said to come to the third floor of the building we were beside. Again we were admitted and found ourselves in a room full of sewing machines and girls working at them. A certain Amos introduced himself, and he and his friend led us a long way down the street to a very nice - air conditioned - restaurant. I forgot all about coming back over lunch - they told us the story of their organization - Somerset Exports - a factory that makes professional athletic gear for sale in the States.

 

We heard the story of one particular girl, P., who had been in the Brothels for fifteen years and was about to die of AIDS when they rescued her.

 

Lunch was good but it took a long time and we wanted to see the girls again and get back to VR.

 

I wish we could have taken pictures of the girls, because you can be as horrified as you like at human trafficking and realize the atrocity of it, but when you actually meet a girl - a room full of girls - and see her smile and think of someone who looks like her and feel the excitement at meeting people from Canada and the nervousness at talking to them, she becomes a real soul just like yours that no one should ever dare commit any crime against, much less the horrible evil she has been through. We saw P. She smiled and said a few words through a translator. It was a strange moment for all of us.

 

But we had to hurry away if we were to get to VR HQ by the time the buses came back. We waited on the sidewalk for a long time - the bus had parked somewhere far away and took a long while about getting back. I looked at the store front we were standing under and thought, “Oh. They left their Christmas lights up.” We laughed at me for that, and Priya groaned when I said with relief that I would at least have cold and snow for my Christmas. They are not too happy about missing it.

 

We fell silent, and I looked forward to seeing the VR people again and getting a picture of them and captioning it for my people back home. We had not spent much time with them at all really, but we liked it the best and HQ had felt like home. Still the bus did not come. At last it showed up at our intersection, went through, pulled a u-turn up the road, and came back. We all got on quick and drove away. But alas!

 

We had waited for too long and there was no time to go to VR. We would drop off the bags at IJM and send the stuff for VR through Ginu. I was horrified. Not see everyone again? That time after the buses was our last time seeing Asha, Rani, Neethi, Vicky, Kaitlyn, Nano? Even Holli and Vinny - gone. I wasn’t even sure I had pictures of them all. And no more Rickshaw rides? It bothered me that I could not remember exactly when our last one was. Tomorrow we would fly away and VR would be lost to us - we were never coming back. But wait! I was coming back! I would see Mumbai again, visit VR again, see the people again and ride in a Rickshaw again. It was not over - I owned another chance. I was comforted with that thought.

 

Dec. 6th, 2016

 

We did get to see the IJM people again, and had a few anxious moments when the bus got wedged and had to go the wrong way down a one-way and then did a fifteen-point turn right across the middle of the street and almost got wedged again.

 

We got back to the apartment and had a busy evening, packing and packing and settling all our affairs and trying one last time to finally meet Vasu. Ginu and Jason came, and Ginu ended up helping us to pay for the apartment - we hadn’t paid at the beginning because of the cockroaches and now the geckos.

 

Oh! Did I never write about our critters? Almost right away we had tiny white bugs on the kitchen counters, and then the adult cockroaches began to show themselves to a scream here and there. The caretakers came in and drenched the whole place in poison several times, coming back in the morning to clean up the dead. We had got used to them.

 

Then when I was already in bed Sunday night Paula A. screamed and there were sounds of “get back, get back - what is it? Oh it’s a gecko - it scared the jeepers out of me.” Everyone crowded into the kitchen to get a look at the large, grey-green lizard sticking motionless to the sliding doors to the laundry. I think it scared the jeepers out of everyone when Jerry U. tried to open the door and it scuttled too quickly across and up into the top cupboards and disappeared. We joked about waking up with it on your face, and I think a lot of prayers were said that night, but they were all answered and we were first woken by a scream from Ruth-Ann when she saw it in the bathroom. Oh it was lots of fun.

 

No more geckos were seen, however, and we all got over our fears in some way or another.

 

I finished packing, and stood on the balcony for a long time, looking again at the people walking on the floor of Trikutta Towers and the people plodding along the footpath below and the boys playing volleyball in the dark and the martial arts class right below me in the Sun Heights parking area. I could hear the pigeons cooing and the commands to punch and take a stance called out and the occasional honk in the street. I looked up at the moon and thought of the other people who could see it - but I knew I would be back and was glad.

 

We are now about to land in Chandigarh. Things will speed up. I’ll probably only write next on the plane home. See you again, Mumbai! Hello Chandigarh, Haryana, Northern India! How long we have looked to this day!

Hear what you're reading - South Mumbai
00:00 / 00:00
God is good - Chaiim Foundation
00:00 / 00:00
 

 

Dec. 7th, 2016

 

So much for not writing again.

 

We landed in Chandigarh and enjoyed the perfect weather - not too hot nor too cold, warm, breezy, and fresh (well, except for the smog.) The airport was plain and spare but clean and it ran well. How pleasant it was to be met by the same Pastors we had expected to see, to have them tell us where to take our bags and to be shown to a 12-passenger bus that was to be our constant transportation and to have a driver who not only spoke English but was a Christian and good friend of Pastors Regi and Sugi. They did not wait for us to ask what we were doing but took charge, and most of all we liked the fact that they would be right with us most of the days and doing all the admin. We were in good hands at last.

 

The drive from the airport to the hotel was greatly enjoyed by all of us, because we were cold and taken care of and in Chandigarh and all together.

 

We pulled into the hotel parking lot, and I observed an interesting phenomenon. The hotel lobby was nice and well thought out, but as we were unloading there was a wedding party arriving and mingling and laughing and taking pictures. The presence of these fancy people - and Indian wedding attire is Amidala-worthy if anything is, I can tell you - made the whole place seem more high-end, authentic, even exotic and full of potential. When we were through security in the Mumbai airport and on our way to gate 87B, we passed a lady in a beautiful saree and shiny hair, and I thought, “Now she belongs here.” She fit right in to the colossal surroundings and added to the feel of it. We, however, with our travelling clothes, sleepy faces and backpacks, were out of place and took away from the effect of the facility. I loved the hallway from security to gate 87. It was so stately and there were many artistic displays set up along the walls. I actually sprinted along it from the bathrooms to where all our stuff was to get my camera. I never thought I would be as comfortable as that in a place such as that. Really, I wasn’t comfortable. But in heaven I would be. And in heaven I would add to it. In heaven I will belong in an airport.

 

We unloaded into our hotel rooms - four of them, so the same roomies as before - and headed down to the in-house restaurant for linner - it was about 3:00. Sugi U. and Regi U. and the driver ate with us and told us the general program for the next three days - I don’t think any of us will ever have it straight and it changes, so I shall only tell you what we do after it happens.

 

That night we went to a church service at Grace Church. We were told the dress code for the week was to be as Indian-looking as possible, at which Ruth-Ann and I looked at each other guiltily. I hauled out one of the scarfs I had bought intended for gifts, glad now of its cashmere warmth. On our way out of the bus Sugi U. said I looked sufficiently Indian, but I laughed and said it was pretty much hopeless. After some songs were sung in the small upstairs room we were called up to the front and introduced and then sat at the front for the rest of the service. We had to think quickly and notice that everyone had their shoes off and all the ladies had their heads covered.

 

We gave a couple testimonies and did our skit and Jerry U. gave the message on Psalm 23 from Sunday. At the end we prayed for them one on one and from there started talking and chai and cookies went around.

 

A little boy came to me and said a lot of things in Punjabi and I tried to talk to him in English, to which he replied with great difficulty, “I am not a Englishman.” He moved away, but came back a little later with something prepared: “You - are a. Good? Actor!” “Yes!” said I, “That was exactly what you wanted to say. Good job!” From there, with a little translation help from one of the girls, I got him to teach me Punjabi and we had lots of fun. I think we all enjoyed our time with them very much.

 

Paula A. had stayed back at the hotel with Abraham U., who was feeling sick again, but he felt better in the morning, and we all got gussied up and drove to Karnal, Haryana for a memorial for Pastor P.K. James (Regi U.’s father-in-law) and an ordination for his son. We sat in an all-Hindi service for four hours, all of us struggling to at least look awake. Jerry U. and Paula A. were called up to sit at the front almost right away, and they told us afterward that they had to keep nudging each other and pinching themselves and ended up yawning once in awhile. At the very end Paula A. gave a testimony and Jerry U. prayed to close it out.

 

We had lunch standing outside - chickpea curry, paneer, and rice. It was cut short when we were called to meet with 25 missionaries from the area, back in the room where the memorial was. They were all men sitting in a circle, glad to be together but obviously serious about their work. We pulled up chair behind the circle, and Jerry U. did the raised eyebrows and head nod that meant, “you’re up for testimony.”

 

They introduced themselves to us by region: Haryana, Punjab, Himachal, UP, Delhi. We heard the stories of a few, and it was good to be on the other end of the translation for once, to see how they all felt and how much was lost. Then they conducted business in Hindi, and it was cool to see them discuss plans for the next month and appoint leaders for projects and tell stories and laugh at jokes, although we had no clue what was being said.


 

Dec. 9th, 2016

 

I want Christmas very much. It can never be completely Christmas here.

 

When the missionary meeting finished they asked Jerry U. to close it out in prayer, and he said he’d like to ask for one thing first and called me into the middle. I came and stood before them all, hands clasped, and waited. Jerry U. said I would like to be a missionary in the future and asked if they would pray over me, which Regi U. translated to the group and they did. There was not another woman in the circle, and I just looked at the floor to keep my balance and didn’t see much, but Jerry U. said later it was a little alarming to see all those men rise and close in and to begin to lose sight of me.

 

Everyone asked me afterward how I felt about it, and I told them the truth - that it felt a little constraining to promise missionaryhood and get prayed over in India when I could end up somewhere else or even in Canada.

 

We took a picture of everyone, and then drove the two hours back to the hotel in Chandigarh.

 

The plan for the next few days was to leave Chandigarh and spend three days and two nights in five places, travelling in the bus with limited space for luggage, so we all packed what we thought we’d need in our carryons and sent the suitcases to Regi Uncle’s.


 

Dec. 10th, 2016

 

Writing at the back of the bus on the way back to Chandigarh from Amritsar.

 

I have enjoyed our time so far with the Uncles three very much. Let me describe them at once.

 

Sugi U. is calm and is the one running our agenda. He has a sad, worried face and always looks like he is not sure at all if things will work out, and like he knows we’re foreigners but we sure just missed that cultural cue. His English is functional but imperfect, and when you suggest something to him or ask him a question he will ‘do the head nod’, which is an adorable head-wiggle exactly in between shaking and nodding. It can mean I don’t know, I don’t understand, Whatever you like, I don’t care, I can’t tell you, Yes, No, Maybe, Let’s see, I’ll find out, or I’ll answer as soon as you’re done talking.

 

Regi U. is always completely unconcerned and kind and ready to explain. He understands what we want to know in any given situation and is an excellent translator - quick, elaborate, and sympathetic. He made us feel a little underdressed at first, because he always looks very put-together with a nice collared shirt and sharp felt vest. Best of all, he is my favourite character in the story - the friendly and personable figure that makes you feel important, but when you are at an event they are shuttled to the front and greeted respectfully and you realize how important they really are. We all feel honored to have these busy men giving us their full time and attention.

 

Arun U. (the driver) has very little English, but he is watchful and clever and always ready to help. His hair-do reminds me very much of Han Solo. His job description is Evangelist - he’ll engage the waiters at the restaurant and give tracts to the tollbooth people. He has a high, ernest voice and will laugh often - almost as often as Regi U.

 

Dec. 14th, 2016

 

I am so behind because I always figure I’d do better sleeping instead of writing so that when I do pay attention to what’s going on I can keep my eyes open enough to see it.

 

I shall try to finish by the time the plane touches down in Winnipeg - I have day-by-day notes to help me remember. Bear with me as I write it all after the fact.

 

On Thurs, Dec. 8th, 2016

 

We were up early and had a perota breakfast in the restaurant again. Then when the bus with the Uncles arrived we loaded it up with the remaining luggage and drove, all thirteen of us, through a quiet, chilly, foggy India the three hours to Ludhiana, Punjab, where we were running a youth conference for about 200 13-30 year olds.

 

Jerry U. and Caleb had discussed a few things we could do on the way to meeting with Pastor Biju on Wednesday morning our last week in Mumbai, and to test our ability to teach Rock, Paper Scissors we taught Uncle and Auntie at supper the night before. Hoping the teens would be quick learners we figured we had a shot at a game of snake. The other game they thought of was sit-down-if-you’ve -- until the last man standing, so the teens thought of have-you-evers at the back of the bus while Jerry U. gave Sugi U. and Regi U. a run-down of the smart enough/rich enough/pretty enough/man’s approval identity talks we had planned for the afternoon to make sure they were well-placed culturally.

 

The conference was supposed to start at 10:00, but when it got to be 10:30 and we were still driving through congested rural highways we were told they’d start without us. Well, at least we wouldn’t have to play games while people were still showing up.

 

Driving here messes with your brain in more ways than just the strangeness of it. When you are driving at home you have a general idea of how far it is and even if you go to a part of the city or province that you’ve never been to it still looks familiar and you mostly know what to expect, so you feel confident when you’ve got there. Here we rarely know how long or far it is, and every time we are in a completely new and strange place, with new queer sights to see, new funny signs to read, and new sounds and smells all around. Then we never know how to recognize when we actually get to the town or area we’re aiming for, and if we read a sign or one of the Uncles tells us where we are, then we still have no clue where the actual venue is or what to expect when we get there. We’ll be driving along, all of us glued to the windows looking at everything around us, and then we’ll stop and Arun U. will turn off the bus, and it looks to us like we just pulled to the side of the road somewhere, but Sugi U. tells us all to get off and we assume we’ve arrived.

 

At 11:00 we stopped the bus in a back lane of sorts with walls on either side. We went through a break in the left-hand wall - it was pinkish and had a raised design - and gathered in a small paved courtyard. In front of us was a white building and the first thing we saw was a big colourful banner above the door that said “YEESHU SANG YOUTH RETREAT 2016 LUDHIANA Main Speaker: Jerry Chacko and Team -” and “USA” had been replaced with “Canada”. We were offered chai from a little dispenser on a table to the side, but all we wanted to do was go in and make up for lost time. We climbed up a steep stone staircase to the second floor of the white building and joined an auditorium full of people singing - the ladies on one side and the men on the other. We sat down at the back but were beckoned to the front row, and once again noticed just in time that all the ladies had their heads covered. While they were singing - blasting loud, the speakers - a complete drum set was being brought and set up piece by piece on the side, Regi U. and Sugi U. were talking as best they could to whoever knew what was going on, and all of us were madly thinking through what we had time for before lunch.

 

When that song was done a couple of guys spent a long time setting up their skin drums and big accordion-like things with mics on the stage, and then they were introduced and we sang a very long song - long enough that we could almost sing along by the end. When it was over Regi U. and Sugi U. and one by one the whole team was called up and clapped for, and we were decked out with big gaudy red-and-yellow puffy necklaces. When that was done and we all sat down again the program was given over to us. In the hour before lunch Jerry U. got them to write their secret questions and drop them in the bag to be answered later, and began laying the groundwork on the identity talks.

 

Lunch, after some confusion and trying to line up with the rest, was brought to us special at a table, and we discussed how the morning went and laughed over how Team Canada was well-laureled right off the bat. We ate steamed rice and vegetable curry and dal and some really good deep fried dough like a pillow, and when Caleb asked again if I surely would miss the food I had to admit it wouldn’t be hard to miss vegetable curry like that. Up till then I was certain I would be only too glad to get back to meat and potatoes, which Jerry U. constantly warns me will be unbearably bland in comparison.

 

We had to employ the help of Sugi U. to sort the questions into Punjabi and Hindi and then to read and categorize them. There were quite a few children, so Priya and I helped Paula A. to prepare to do a craft with them on the side. We went down to the courtyard to see if we could do it there, but a wedding was just getting ready to start and we were mobbed by people wanting prayer from Leela A. and a picture with me. Eventually I headed back upstairs and sat in on the first two identity talks.

 

Jerry U. had the content, but as Regi U. translated he really got into it and took ownership of the material. We were all grateful for his lively engagement of the audience - sometimes hard to do with the translation delay.

 

Then Ruth-Ann gave her testimony, and us teens did our skit - getting better and more into it with every performance - and Jerry U. made the last two points on identity. As we hurried out and on to the next thing I was thinking in Hindi - or at least in Regi U.’s rise and fall and tone, with -heh at the end of every sentence.

 

Our next stop was a childrens’ home run by Pastor W. and his family. We had shopped to fill 24 Christmas bags for the kids when we were in Mumbai, but we heard a disconcerting rumour as we pulled up that there were 30. We had not had time to stuff the bags beforehand, so some of us stayed on the bus and did that while the others went in and confirmed the number, reporting back that there were indeed six more than we’d planned for. Scrimp, pinch, divide, multiply and give up on having them all equal.

 

It had been light when we arrived, but by the time we finished and went in it was pitch dark. We sat on chairs and couches in the small multi-purpose room and were served chai. At last the children were called down and we sat on the stage they used for church and they sat on the floor facing us and were coached by Regi U. and Pastor W. through the process of standing one by one and stating name, age, and class (grade). High school in India ends after grade 10, and is followed by plus 1 and plus 2. We learned that early on so we could tell people we were in plus 2.

 

After that we introduced ourselves to them, and had a song exchange - they sang a couple of theirs for us and we taught them a couple of ours. Then we brought out the tissue paper and coffee filters and pipe cleaners and everyone made a flower. I think it made everyone’s day when they then proceeded to sing one of the songs the kids had sang on the buses in Mumbai. We were so excited at hearing it we were jumping up and down (at least I was).

 

Then we handed out the gift bags and talked and laughed with the kids and reveled in their excitement.

 

Regi U. gave us a tour of the upstairs, and we were all touched by the sacrifice the Pastor’s family was making. This was no orphanage. This was their own home and their own family life crowded with these kids. The youngest ones slept in their bed with them. We came away deeply impacted by the story and seeing it happen.

 

It was a short drive from the home to our hotel. There was another wedding going on in front, with a loud brass band playing and the groom up on a fancily dressed horse with a parasol held over him.

 

It was a nice hotel - Best Western - and we laughed for a long time over the fact that there was a telephone beside the toilet. We ate supper in the restaurant downstairs, and while the food was coming everyone had a terrible time keeping their eyes open. Uncle had fallen asleep during the youth conference, but insisted that he was praying, and ‘praying’ became code. Supper, when it came, was veg biryani, butter chicken, and naan, and I became sure that I would, in fact, miss the food after all.


 

On Fri, Dec. 9th, 2016

 

We drove the two hours to Taliwandi, Punjab for our first medical camp, held at the slum school. We must have been tired, because we all slept on the way there. When we walked up to the gate of the school, opening into a back alley-way, the Pastor and his wife and two daughters were there to meet us, and the girls sang a sweet welcome song for us that had obviously practiced much, and the wife gave us two bouquets of flowers. Things like that always us feel special, yes, but it also puts a certain expectation on us and we don’t feel that we will live up.

 

We were led inside, across an open area from which one could see through doors into the classrooms, in a doorway and down two steps, and finally into a small, dim office where we sat and were served chai and cookies. When the doctor arrived Paula A. and Leela A. began helping him to set up, but the rest of us were a bit at a loss as to how to occupy ourselves, until we were told that in twenty minutes all 145 school children would be in our care and entertainment. There was a park nearby we could take them to. We consulted Karuna, the Pastor’s oldest daughter, to find out what they might like to play, but since she was obsessed with football to the exclusion of all else we got a narrow opinion from her. When the time came to head to the park we brought what supplies we thought we could use and split the kids into four groups by age and took them to the four sections of the park. Priya and I had the youngest ones, and we realized just how complicated a game hot potato is to understand, especially as we had no Hindi and the teacher had no English. We had a little more success with hide-the-ball and freeze tag, but musical pieces of masking tape was hopeless, even with the older kids.


But a lot of fun was had by all, with volleyball, football, sponge relay and Indian Tiger (a.k.a. British Bulldog) going on in the other quadrants. We ran around until 2:00, when we gathered and sang a few songs, and they said their prayers before heading back.

After that there was not much to do again, but we hauled out our trusty coffee filter flowers and made some with the people waiting in line for the doctor. While we were doing this Regi U. came to us and showed us where to go for lunch, and we managed to slip away and get to the room where it was. It was good, but spicy - homemade food is always spicier than at a restaurant - and afterwards we managed to chat a little with the ladies who had made it, with some translation help from Karuna, who had been marvelous in that way with the kids at the park.

 

As the day drew to a close we took a bunch of silly pictures in front of the beautiful red curtain in the yard, and Karuna and Suzanne showed us up to the roof. You could see quite a bit from up there, but the whole thing was paved with cow plaster, and we didn’t spend much time, aside from a few rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

 

Then when we were about to go Caleb was urged to try on one of the Pastor’s old punjabi outfits, and told to keep it in the end.

 

That evening we drove to Amritsar. When we had heard earlier in the week that we would be in Amritsar itself we were excited, for it was there that the Sikhs had their temple, and it was regarded as a kind of holy city.

 

In the bus on the drive there Rock, Paper, Scissors came up, and we just had to teach it to Sugi U. and Regi U. Oh yeah, I remember - it was to determine who got the last two Snickers. The Uncles had a hard time coordinating, and we had lots of laughs over that tournament. Priya won, but when the prize was tossed back to us it vanished completely.

 

We were quite surprized to this time be greeted by a hotel with no wedding going on, and no anticipation of loud guests in the wee hours.

 

After dropping our stuff in the strange hotel rooms - ours had blue accent lighting and a terrible showcase light over a picture on the wall and no other lights in the room - we ventured out into the dark, slightly chilly streets, following Regi U. to a resturaunt he knew of. It was a very nice restaurant, crowded, with mirrors everywhere and good food. Regi U. floated the idea that since we had a slightly later start in the morning it would be a chance to see the Golden Temple if some of us would like to. A few of us said why not, and met at six o’clock next morning in the lobby, and Rickshawed to the temple. The Rickshaw driver sold us each an ugly orange head covering, and we enjoyed our time very much, despite a little confusion over socks and shoes at first. We checked them before going in, barefoot, through water.

 

The pictures do the place justice; I won’t describe it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned out we could have slept a little longer; as it was we got back at ten to eight and I fell back asleep again in the interval before devotions. Breakfast was perota, but we were not yet tired of it, so it was enjoyed.

 

The medical camp for that day was in Amritsar, so a short drive brought us to a small walled-in area with a roof over one side and curtains - left over from a wedding by the looks of them - strung up for some privacy. It was quiet and sunny in there, so that after a while you were glad of the shade from the tree in one corner.

 

Again, Paula A. and Leela A. helped the doctor, but before they even began the work kids began arriving - random children from the area. We tried out our Hindi/Punjabi on them (it was hopelessly jumbled by this time) and when we had a crowd of fifteen or so, brought out the dart board and were hard-pressed from then on to keep some semblance of order. By the time we brought out the bookmark craft materials there must have been forty of them, and it descended into complete chaos. If you had, for example, the snowman stickers, as I did, or the cards, as Ruth-Ann did, you were mobbed mercilessly by kids begging for one. I enjoyed the busyness and happy banter of the kids, but for anyone with a Chacko brain it was awful. There was a group of thirteen year old boys that made me and Priya a little uncomfortable, especially when they would say things in Punjabi and all laugh, and we weren’t sure if the joke was at our expense. They kept on coming up with “I love you” written in various ways on their bookmarks, and by the end Priya and I were only too glad to get on the bus and away from them - especially Priya, who had been asked for “one kiss please” as we left.

 

We just went a short way up the road to eat lunch at the Pastor’s house. When we were done eating a whole bunch of people showed up and there was a big award-giving ceremony, with lots of pictures and clapping. In the end we only got on the road by 4:30, with 4 hours to drive back to Chandigarh.

 

On the way we discussed plans for the next few days. We would leave Chandigarh the next morning and spend Sunday and Monday in the Himalayas (or Hi-MAL-ias, as Regi U. calls them), so we would have to do a quick switch-out of the clothes in our carryons. Regi U. reminded us that he would not be with us anymore, because he had a court hearing on Monday which he could not miss. I had known that someone had been charged with unethical conversion, but I didn’t know it was Regi U. So we were losing him then. And oh - I sure hoped his court hearing would be okay.

 

On the way in through Chandigarh we dropped off Jerry U. to stand in line at an atm and try to get us some money, and continued to the hotel and had some supper. It was strange to be back in the same rooms and restaurant as before, having missed two nights and with the possibility of anyone having stayed in our room in the meantime.


After supper Regi U. took his leave, and we all said a heartfelt good-bye, knowing we would probably never meet again on this earth - we were leaving to Delhi by train early Tuesday.

 

On Sun, Dec. 11th, 2016

 

We were told to dress warmly and comfortably, for the church in Solan would be okay with more casual. We felt very grateful to Arun U. for doing all the difficult Indian driving - especially as we ascended into the Himalayas and it got very precarious. It was a long drive, so everyone had brought something to do, but we were all much more interested in the Himalayas themselves going by out the window - the little houses perched on the edges of cliffs, one on top of the other, the scrubby trees and sheer drops right beside the vehicle. All cameras were already out, but when we began seeing monkeys we got the picture taking business down to a science. I on the right side and Ruth-Ann on the left side would scan the road ahead for any sign of the scamps, while Caleb perched with the camera out the back of the bus with his finger on the button. Every once in awhile one of us would call out, “Monkey! Sitting on the barrier - oh and it’s got a baby! Right about….. now - can you see it?” And Caleb would have enough advance warning to get some decent pictures.

 

The drive up to Solan was a long one, and we stopped about two thirds of the way through at a small cafe with somewhere to sit down and - most importantly - western toilets. Arun U. showed himself to be very amused by picture taking, although we weren’t always amused by the poses and expressions he caught us in. There was a good mountainous and vegetative background, so we took some face shots of me and Priya before we had to go.

 

When we stopped in Solan Paula A. asked as we were getting off the bus, “Where’s the church?” realizing immediately afterwards that one should not flippantly let things like that out of one’s mouth in a place like this. Sugi U. vanished, leaving us by the side of the road until a man came up and introduced himself as one of the church people and invited us down a very steep, very narrow staircase between several buildings. About halfway down we started to hear the sound of singing; by the second last step it was clearer, and at the bottom you could finally see the crowd of people sitting cross-legged on mats inside a small, low building.

 

Sugi U. was there, and we took off our shoes and, when the song was done, were insisted up to sit in the chair section on the side. I kinda wanted to sit on the floor with the other women but decided against trying to explain that.

 

The service was fun, as there was lots of singing and enough English to keep us interested - and we were following Hindi well enough now to understand the general ideas. There was one song that I knew every word of, and I was very excited about it.

 

Every once in awhile someone would make a reference to “Jerry Chacko” or “Canada Team” and at some point we were given time to share. We did our skit, despite having very little room to move around, and a couple of testimonies. When it was over we talked to the people - most of them had a bit of English - and they mourned the fact that we weren’t on facebook or whatsapp. I felt a little better when they admitted to not being on email. Who would have thought: email getting old fashioned.

 

Then we put our shoes back on and commenced the tricky business of getting back up the stairs and got back on the bus. No - I forgot: the bus was parked a ways away so we walked down the hill and then up a side road to where it was. On the way Sugi U. passed us riding behind the Pastor on his scooter, and I was like, “Hey, no fair! I want a scooter ride, and you live here!” I never did get one. I suppose I shall have to come back.

 

Lunch at the Pastor’s house was fish curry with rice, and we ate sitting on the floor with our plates in front of us. It was delicious but the bones were frustrating.

 

After that we drove the rest of the way to Shimlah, where we would be for the next day.

 

Shimlah, and especially our hotel, made us feel like we were in the Swiss Alps or at some little ski resort. To get to the lobby of the hotel we had to climb up many staircases, all of different lengths and turning every which way. Everywhere you went in Shimlah was either up or down.

 

In our hotel room Priya was rummaging through the snacks and poured herself some orange juice from a can, saying I could have the rest. A little later I came by and picked up the can, asking, “Can I suck on this?” Both Ruth-Ann and Priya stopped dead and stared. They were incredulous that I would say something like that. “What did you say?” Priya asked, almost not wanting to know. “Oh, I just asked if I could drink from this can,” said I, and, “Did you say, ‘can I suck on this’?”, Ruth-Ann asked with a laugh. I guess we say that all the time in our family and I never thought it would sound weird.

 

My bed showed up; since we are sleeping three in a room we always have to ask for another bed, and I have gotten quite used to standing sleepily by in my pajamas while the boy makes it up for me and asks if I want a pillow or not. Ruth-Ann looked at the rock hard pillow and thin comforter and said, “I think you”ll want to put on all the clothes you have, just for warmth.” I swear it was she who first suggested it. Right then and there I put on every scrap of clothing I had in my suitcase and sat in it with the rest of the stuff in my lap - just for fun. It was nice to do something silly and impulsive without thinking about it.

 

We went down at the appointed time to the hotel restaurant - a tiny little room just off the front desk area with three tables, clothed in a lumberjack pattern, and homey wooden chairs. The food was a long time in coming, and while we waited we looked at pictures from the day and laughed over how much Arun U. liked to find stop animation-type combos where you could make people go back and forth, back and forth by flipping between pictures.

 

We had a big discussion about when Jeff would be flying on Friday, and if he’d be in the air at the same time as me and Ruth-Ann, and if so, when we should wave. Paula A. asked who we were talking about, and I said, “Jeffypapen.” That is what Caleb and Priya call him, so that was what came out. The place erupted. Everyone was stunned, and then incredulous, and all talking at once. I had to backtrack quickly, but they were mostly amused. Mariamma A. (I’ll just call her Amachi :)) said, “only three weeks and Celeste is just like an Indian, ah?”

 

When everyone had calmed down again we heard from Sugi U. the details of Regi U.’s court hearing. He said that this kind of thing had happened before, and it was almost always bumped to a later time and eventually dismissed because of not enough evidence.

 

Church that morning was brought up, and Sugi U. said that when we got off the bus there were police around, and he had been very nervous that we would draw undue attention, what with us being foreigners and especially the white people. That made us think. Really, we had had no clue as to the risk, and were probably a frustration for them.


 

Mon, Dec. 12th, 2016

 

Was our last day of ministry. We were already in Shimlah, so there was no need to wake up early, and I opted out of an early morning walk to to sleep in. When Ruth-Ann and Priya came in I sent my order for breakfast down with them, and when I showed up everyone wanted to know why I had not gotten a drink and were sure I would need one. It is most uncomfortable to have to defend an on-the-fly decision that is really quite simple but perceived as unnecessary. I had veg cutlets for my breakfast; it sounds disgusting but it’s really just a big hashbrown. Everything is categorized as veg or non-veg, and it took all of us a while to get used to saying non-veg to mean meat.

 

I stood on the balcony above the stairs for a while, looking down the valley at the early morning sunshine and the people walking on the winding road just below. A couple of girls, in their school uniform and backpacks, went by, and one of them looked up at me and then whispered something to her companion, who, after a bit, snuck a glance back to see if it was true. I felt like some sort of Queen.

 

Our event that day was another youth conference, but as it was final exams they anticipated a smaller and later turnout. Instead we would do womens’ ministry before lunch. We had heard beforehand that it was to be held in a graveyard, which was true. The graves were down below and a carpeted, tarped-over area of concrete was the venue. It was already full of women sitting and singing, and after introductions the men removed themselves to a room on the side while we taught them and made bookmarks together.

 

It was a good time. We were all a little sad and lingering over our last few hours of work, but we had to still be quick and pay attention. When it was time to eat lunch we scooped it quickly down and reemerged to see the room about half changed out, with some of the women left and some new ‘youth’.

 

Caleb and I were on for testimony, being technically the last ones who still hadn’t done ours, and we met the pastor and his family on the fly. His daughter, Nancy, had been translating for us before, and did again. In between the testimonies we did our skit for the last time, and at the point when I was standing on a chair behind Priya, playing her like a marionette, I didn’t realize there was a beam above me, and crashed into it when I tied her up. Concentration broken.

 

The very last thing I did was give my testimony, hyper-prepared and now finally delivered, in that chilly, drafty room, with everyone listening quietly and me with lots of time to think during translation. My favourite moments of the whole trip were when the translator stumbled over a word and the whole room would call it out. We would have no idea there were that many English-speakers present. This time Nancy hesitated over ‘responsibility’, and only her Dad and Brother helped her out. It made me wish I knew two languages, so I could listen to a translator and understand both sides and be right with them mentally.

 

By the time we were done all of our feet were almost numb, and we quickly put on our shoes and hurried away, with a 5+ hour drive ahead of us back to Chandigarh. Arun U. drove rather too fast for comfort, so we made it in less, even with a stop at the same bathrooms again. Arun U. kept sneaking pictures of us when we were not looking, and we had lots of fun.

 

I had overheard some disconcerting mentions that sounded like we weren’t going on the train to New Delhi after all. It made sense, because we thought they wouldn’t let us bring all our luggage, in which case the bus would be going anyway. I very much wanted to go in the train, but didn’t say anything, and we left our options open. Jerry U. asked if we’d like to try and meet with Regi that night, to which we said yes if it was at all possible.

 

Back in the same hotel again, Ruth-Ann’s and Priya’s and my room smelled funny - funnier than before -  so we moved into 101 up the hall.

 

Regi U. and his wife and two girls joined us for supper in the restaurant downstairs, and it was a lively meal of stories and jokes and confidences. Regi said he was going to Nepal a few days after we left, and when asked if he would be home for Christmas he said, “I hope not.” We were confused until he explained that Christmas was actually a hinderance for them, as the Hindus viewed it as just another religious feast.

 

A little later he saw us trying to imitate the head nod, and said, “Yeah, isn’t it funny how we do that?” “What does it mean?” I asked. “Oh, whatever you want it to mean.” It’s hopeless.

 

After supper we took pictures of various combinations of people, and said good-bye to Regi and his family before hurrying up to bed, knowing it would be an early-early morning - 4:00 - and we’d be heading for the train station by 5:30.

 

Dec. 13th, 2016

 

There was no wedding that night. It was a silent, black, foggy morning that said farewell to us. I felt just like Laura Ingalls Wilder, going on a train for the first time, so I pinned up my braids and wore a long skirt. We brought down all our luggage by the elevator - there was less of it by now, for we’d left some of the ones with gifts in the places we’d given them. Arun U. and Sugi U. arrived, and we loaded up the bus in the dark. A car drove up, and who should step out but Regi U., come to say good-bye to us!

 

It was difficult, but with some people already sitting in their seats at the back and a few suitcases piled around them, we could fit everything in. Then a few of us were left alone in the vehicle while the rest said good-bye to Regi outside, and then everyone got in and we waved to him until long after he couldn’t see us anymore.

 

We drove to Kalka, the end of the line, in hopes of a better chance of getting all our luggage in, and hauled it all in - some of it got taken on a one-wheeled cart. The train station was quiet except for the occasional announcement, and a few people were sleeping here and there. Ruth-Ann and the teens were in car 2 at the back of the train, and the rest were up ahead of us in car 5. The luggage worked out fine. We said good-bye to Arun U. on the platform - Sugi U. would come with us to Delhi and catch another train from there to his home in UP (I think).

 

We got seated, almost the only ones on the train, and after a time began to move - Arun U. had to get off quick. It was completely dark at first and I couldn’t see a thing, but as the sun rose it got lighter and more interesting.

 

Imagine you are riding in a car. Now take away the noise of the engine and the other cars on the highway and instead put only the occasional screech of metal and a faint thubbadub. And take away the bumping and swerving and instead put only smooth forward motion with a slight swaying back and forth. And now imagine that you are not riding across Canada or even the U.S., but right across India, with its waving palm trees and playful monkeys, zipping by the smallest of villages, slowing down through the larger ones, stopping in the largest of all. It was a wonderful ride.

 

On the way they served us first all the elements of Chai for us to put together ourselves, and then, when we’d picked up a few more people, breakfast. The Chackos had found out that they were distantly related to Sugi, so they took a picture of him with his coded family-tree number for the project back home.

 

When we arrived at the train station in New Delhi it took a while and lots of phone calls to finally meet up with first each other and then our guy, Pastor Benjamin, who was to help us navigate New Delhi.

 

We said good-bye to Sugi in the train station, and then followed four guys who carried eight of our heaviest suitcases on their heads through the train station for a long ways at a breakneck pace. It was up stairs, down stairs, up ramp, down ramp, up escalator, down escalator, and with most of us still dragging a suitcase, we nearly lost some people.

 

When we came clear of the up and down and crowds, we had made it out of the train station and to the bus we’d hired for the next day, when we were going to Agra. It was almost like Arun U.’s bus, but a little nicer, which meant it didn’t have as many seats and we had to squish four in the back.

 

We drove to the New Delhi YMCA, where Paula A. had stayed when she was here at eighteen, and when we had got checked in, me and Priya finally roomies, we came back down and had lunch in the cafeteria. This time the fresh lime soda came in all its separate pieces, and so I got to try plain soda water. Almost as bad as the gooseberry drink, but not quite.

 

After lunch we left Uncle and Auntie in their room, thinking it would be too much walking for Leela Auntie, and followed Benjamin on a tour of the shopping area in preparation for the shopping day on Thursday. The best exchange rate for American that we could find was 60 to 1, while we knew it should be at least 64, so I held out for a better rate, regretting it afterwards.

 

We debriefed back in Jerry U. and Caleb’s room, and over supper, and went to bed, still undecided as to what to wear for the big day tomorrow.


 

Dec. 14th, 2016

 

It was a 3-hour drive to Agra, and we’d been sitting in the vehicle a lot lately. When we got to Agra we picked up the guide, and he warned us not to buy from the vendors that would mob us as soon as we got off the bus, and we explained to him that three of us had dual citizenship, which he assured us would be enough to get the Indian price of Rs. 50. The price for foreigners was Rs. 1000. Complimentary water bottle, indeed! While he was buying the tickets we discovered that you also had to pay to go to the bathroom. Somehow giving us a “free” water bottle sounded very appealing on their end.

 

The Taj was beautiful. The pictures do it justice.

 

Our guide was good, and he knew how to get the best shots, but he rushed us through it and we all would have loved a bit more time there.

 

Over a buffet lunch we discussed what we thought of it, and I said that since it had been so easy to just come and see - and this goes for all India - and we didn’t have to make long trek or hack it out of the brambles when we got there, it was sort of devalued for me. I felt like it was already discovered and anyone could come see it whenever they liked, so it wasn’t near as special as it should have been.

 

We also saw the place where they replicate the methods of embedding precious stones in marble, and make all sorts of beautiful items. Nothing about the Taj is painted - it’s all inlaid gems.

 

Then we went to the Agra Fort by the red light of a setting sun. This I liked way better, because people actually lived there. A tomb was never meant to live in, but a fort! It was amazing. I wish I could time travel. I also wish we’d had more time to take pictures and that my camera battery hadn’t run out, because if I’d taken off my bag and shoes and found a place with no people, I just might have been able to make it look like I belonged.

 

At the end of the day we went to a carpet-making shop, where they spent a long time trying to get us to buy some very high-end silk carpets. You could make a lot of money buying things in India and reselling them in Canada.

 

It was another three-hour drive back. We still hadn’t gotten over their insistence on straddling the traffic lines, and laughed over it, talking animatedly about many things, but all sleeping in the end.


 

Dec. 15th, 2016

 

Our last day of the trip. Man! Did it ever go by fast! But at breakfast Paula A. asked about the little smirk on my face, and I admitted that I was too excited about going home for my own good.

 

We spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon just trying to find the best place to shop. In the process we did go on another Rickshaw ride, but by the end were frustrated - me having still to do the majority of my Christmas shopping. We did find an area at last where everything was a good price and bargainable, and relaxed as we all began to check some items off. When we’d combed the place we went back to the YMCA and had supper, joining Benjamin in the evening for some more shopping at a cultural fest a metro ride away.

 

That was a wonderful evening. I got everything I needed to, and got into the swing of bargaining, never paying more that I wanted to. I even found someone who would do some henna for me to take home and show my people. By that time it was 8:00, when we said we’d meet at the food area for supper, and getting chilly. My hand got colder and colder as it dried, until it was numb and there was nothing I could do about it. Supper was delicious, and we would have lingered longer over it if the place had not shut down at 9:00.

Back at the YMCA, Ruth-Ann and I finished packing, and I ended up having to settle up with American cash, having no rupees left. By then it was after eleven, so we gathered into Jerry U. and Caleb’s room and celebrated Jerry U.’s birthday a little early with some chocolate cake we’d bought that afternoon. Then a few words were said, and we were prayed over, and everyone else looked so glum I felt a little bad to be as excited as I was.

 

Only Jerry U. and Priya came with us to the airport, but everyone came down to the parking lot and waved us out.


 

Dec. 16th, 2016

 

Mercer would always say that the longest day of his life was the day of Great Grandpa’s funeral, because we handed the farm tours over to the Giesbrechts that day, and woke up around 4:00 to start getting everything set up. Then we closed it out by watching Pittsburg obliterate Detroit in a heartbreaking Stanley Cup Playoffs game seven.

 

Well, now I’ve got a topper. December the 16th, 2016 I lived 35 and a half hours of from midnight to midnight. It began on the drive to the New Delhi airport, which was confusingly similar to the Mumbai airport, and ended on the plane from Toronto to Winnipeg. At times I was so sleepy I could barely even wake up for takeoff, but it was hard to actually sleep. We were delayed for a long time in the Montreal airport, and I curled up on a few chairs and did sleep then.

 

We had hoped to get to Winnipeg by shortly after eight, but in the end it was early Saturday morning when we finally touched down, and only Mom and Dad had come to pick me up. It was so good to bundle up in winter clothes and take deep breaths of the minus 30 air.

Life-changing? Of course, in the literal sense. I think to make it truly life-changing I will have to still work at it. Anyway, see you again sometime, India!

Fun fact: I wrote the opposite paragraph in an attempt to imitate/parody C.S. Lewis' decsription of Susan and Lucy riding on Aslan. But since I didn't have a reference, only the general ideas were the same, and it would take a real fan to notice. Here's what I wrote later, trying to be as close as possible to what Lewis said:

That ride was perhaps the most wonderful thing that happened to us in India. Have you ever taken the morning to drive somewhere you’ve never been? Think of that; and then take away the noise of the engine and the other cars on the highway and imagine instead only the occasional screech of metal and a faint thubbadub. Then imagine instead of the bumping and swerving of a car, only smooth forward motion with a slight swaying back and forth. And then imagine that you are going only about 70 kilometers per hour - slow enough to see everything you pass. And you are not riding across Canada nor even the U.S., but right across India, with its waving palm trees and playful monkeys, zipping by the smallest of villages, slowing down through the larger ones, stopping in the largest of all. It was nearly midday when we arrived in the New Dehli Train Station.