An Introduction to India

28 06 2013

Wednesday, June 5 – Friday, June 7
After 24 hours of straight traveling, we arrived safely in Chennai, our luggage made it, and our host, Vinay, was waiting for us outside the airport. We had another 2.5 hour car ride to his village, Naidupet. He rented a car since his own was small and he didn’t know how much luggage we had.

Chennai airport

Chennai airport

Naidupet

Naidupet

Naidupet is actually a municipality with a population of around 65,000, a small town by India’s standards. It reminds me of several Central American countries and towns we’ve visited–the poverty, garbage lining the streets, stray dogs everywhere, a crazy juxtaposition of vehicles on the road with ox-driven carts and families of four on one motorcycle.

Naidupet

Naidupet

Naidupet

Naidupet

Vinay's home/office

Vinay’s home/office

church sign

church sign

Vinay and his wife, Suneetha, served us breakfast before taking us to the hotel, and then brought us back to his home to meet some local pastors. We were either being treated like celebrities or gawked at. I think we were the only white people in Naidupet at the time.

Suneetha is a very good cook, but they don’t understand the phrase, “We’re really not that hungry.” Every meal was a feast. I’ve also learned that “a little spicy” in Indian is equivalent to “my whole mouth is still numb an hour after the meal” spicy in American. It’s the kind of spicy that takes a few bites before you realize it’s spicy, and by then it’s too late. My mouth tingled and felt numb—kind of like when Novocain wears off—for a good ½ hour after meals.

Random thoughts of the day:
•My capability to wear the same clothes for days on end is greater than what I imagined it could be.
•Wearing a sport band in my hair for three straight days really hurts.
•I am enthralled with the way Indian women dress. The colors, patterns, and fabrics of their sarees and shalwar kameez (pant dresses) are breathtaking. I really want to buy an outfit. (I bought four by the time we left.)
•The sounds the car horns make are strange and delightful and make me smile.
•I picture hook worm and other infectious skin disease every time I have to take off my sandals when entering a public place like the grocery. I won’t go barefoot even in our hotel room.
•I acclimate to hot weather very quickly. It’s in the 90s outside. I’ve turned the air conditioning off and opened the window, and I’m still wearing a hoodie.
•Suneetha thought I was 21. Bless her.
•Life is good, and I am ridiculously blessed. I very clearly see God’s hand in orchestrating this trip over the past five years. May we be a blessing, and may we be blessed.

Saturday, June 8
There was a big storm last night, unusual for this area. Our power was out for most of the night, and Vinay told us that the house of a family in his congregation was struck by lightning. There was minimal damage to the house and everyone was ok.

Vinay took us on a tour of churches he ministers to in the area. The first church was actually having a dedication of their new building followed by a service and then lunch. We were the honored guests, however, and they had a special ceremony to welcome us as well. As the only Americans and white folks many of the villagers have ever met, we were gawked at, thanked, and treated like royalty. They would have killed the fattened calf for us if they could have found a calf that wasn’t completely emaciated, and if they ate beef.

new church building being dedicated

new church building being dedicated

inside the church

inside the church

Matthew being honored at the church dedication ceremony

Matthew being honored at the church dedication ceremony

church children

church children

Vinay mentioned that tensions between Christians and Hindus in this area are still quite high. He cannot rent space for churches in many buildings because he is a Christian, and in some areas he could be thrown in jail for trying to build a church building. Hindus enjoy many privileges where Christians are just persecuted.

Vinay later showed us several slide shows of the work he has been doing in the past few months. He travels and ministers much more than we realized–reaching out the HIV community and tribal people, whom others won’t touch. He also does a lot teaching, preaching, and training of local pastors.

He and his wife have a deep desire to work with children. If I heard the story correctly, they had a baby boy, but he died very young. He had three surgeries to correct kidney problems, and died after the third. They have been unable to have another one, but desperately desire one. Anyway, one of Vinay’s more ambitious plans is to start a program/school for the tribal children of one nearby village. Tribal children are often left to their own devices for long periods of time as their parents have to go away to find work. Their nutrition is dismal and they receive no education. To actually get licensed for this NGO, it’s a long, costly process, and sadly, a lot of bribes must be paid to the government.

Suneetha is quite involved in various ministries as well. The way Vinay speaks of his wife is quite incredible, in this very male-centric culture. He has the highest respect and regard for her many talents, praising her teaching, singing, education, and cooking often. “God gave me a good wife,” he told us. That kind of love and adoration for a wife is not common among Indian men.

Random thoughts for the day:
•Churches may worship very differently from culture to culture, country to country, but one thing remains the same–cell phones ringing during the service.
•Having been in the country for almost two days now, I still cannot pronounce anything or read a single word. Normally by this point I can say hello, goodbye, thank you, and please. The only greeting I know is a non-verbal one–bringing your hands to a “prayer” gesture under your chin and giving a slight nod.
•I don’t really miss not being plugged in 24/7. I am, however, very grateful for my Kindle loaded with several dozen books.
•I am thankful for my years of training as a gymnast for my strong quads, good balance, and flexibility, three things absolutely necessary for using a squat toilet successfully. However, if you don’t position yourself well, those other things don’t matter in the end.

hotel bathroom

hotel bathroom

Sunday, June 9
Our day started with a local church singing for the entire neighborhood with microphones at 5:00 a.m. Thanks to jetlag, I was wide awake anyway. We joined Vinay, worshiping at his church in the “downtown” market area of Naidupet. Once again, we were honored guests. The children’s Sunday school class presented us with a shawl, and another family was dedicating their first child, a girl, in a naming ceremony. The couple asked us to stand with them during the ceremony. Never having met before, but being brothers and sisters in Christ, I feel a special kindred spirit with this little baby, Glory, and continue to pray for her and her family.

Glory and her mother

Glory and her mother

Vinay's church

Vinay’s church

Hindu temple just down the street from Vinay's church

Hindu temple just down the street from Vinay’s church

jack fruit - tasted like a mix of banana and melon

jack fruit – tasted like a mix of banana and melon

water buffalo roam the streets

water buffalo roam the streets

Naidupet

Naidupet

We returned to Vinay’s for lunch. I thought we were going to get by with just soup and fruit, but then Suneetha brought out five more dishes, each delicious. I do not want to offend our hosts by not eating what is placed before me, but I pray God will honor this and not expand my waistline in the process. Vinay made fun of me in church for asking to try spicy foods. He told the congregation that I had the tiniest amount and my eyes started to water. I told him my eyes may water (which they really didn’t), but I still like the food.

That afternoon while I napped, Matthew meandered about the market just a few blocks from our room. He was stopped by a guy on a motorbike.
Guy: Where are you from?
Matthew: America.
Guy: Why are you here? (White people are rare here.)
Matthew (not really sure how to respond): Visiting a friend.
Guy: Who?
Matthew: Vinay (a common enough name, and Matthew didn’t give his last name.)
Guy: Oh, the preacher. Ok. (And off he sped.)

We attended a second service this evening in a village about an hour away. Vinay asked Matthew to “preach” a short message, but only gave him a few minutes’ notice. Matthew did a really good job, though, talking about Christian love around the world and how it brought us to India. We were honored with more flower garlands, and I was given two different flower garlands for my hair by the women. Even more so than in America, giving flowers in India is a way to show deep honor and respect to another.

a flower garland of jasmine for my hair

a flower garland of jasmine for my hair

Matthew "preaching"

Matthew “preaching”

night church service

night church service

Matthew and Vinay had a discussion about Church of Christ doctrine on the ride home tonight. Vinay is very entrenched in Church of Christ theology and tradition. He asked about our church and then implored us to visit a Church of Christ in our area, just for him.

Vinay is planning on returning to the States and Canada in September. He hopes to bring Suneetha. She’s been denied a Visa in the past because they don’t have kids and they don’t have a high enough income. Seems silly to me, but I am praying fervently that things will work out this time for Suneetha to join him.

Random thoughts for the day:
•I just realized I have not had cheese in five days. That may be longest stretch ever without cheese. Thankfully the Indian diet is loaded with fruits and vegetables and not a lot of sweets.
•No matter how much we insist we’re not hungry, our hosts continue to feed us beyond what we should be consuming.
•Seeing the night sky without the light pollution of the US is really nice.
•Even among the Christian community, women are still somewhat second-hand citizens. As we said our goodbyes tonight after the second service, many came up and blessed Matthew while completely ignoring me.
•There is a deep contrast between beauty and garbage here. Construction trucks are beautifully and ornately painted and decorated, but trash lines every street and field. Hindu temples are pristine and stunning while the house next door is falling over, half constructed, or is on top of a trash pile.
•Challu! I now know one word in Telugu, but I have no idea if it’s spelled correctly. It means “enough.” We use it at meals when we are being offered a second helping.
•Want to know how truly full I was after our 9:00 p.m. dinner? I passed on a Dove dark chocolate candy. Sad.

Monday, June 10
The air conditioner in our room wasn’t working last night so we had to use the ceiling fan which had two speeds–small tornado and F5. The temperature wasn’t too bad, though. We both woke up with bugs crawling on us–Matthew a cockroach and me something smaller. We used up our bug spray last night. I shudder to think about what may be in my clothes. I’ll just have to shake well.

When Vinay picked us up, we headed to the bank to exchange more money. After three days with six people working on this exchange, we had to walk away with nothing; the fees they were going to charge us were ridiculous. I never recommend to fellow travelers to exchange money at the airport as you will get lower rates than banks, but in this case, it would have been our best bet. Being so far off the grid in Naidupet, their banks do not do currency exchanges, hence the six people and three days’ worth of work trying to make it happen.

We visited Little Stars Elementary School in Gudur, and even though it was still the summer holiday, several dozen students from ages 5-14 showed up and put on a program for us–singing, a drama, and Bible recitation in English. They asked Matthew and me to sing so we sang “Amazing Grace.” We gave them some pens and pencils and Jelly Bellies.

Little Stars Elementary School

Little Stars Elementary School

Being honored with flower garlands and fresh coconut juice

Being honored with flower garlands and fresh coconut juice

Little Stars students singing and dancing for us

Little Stars students singing and dancing for us

Little Stars students putting on a drama of Acts 16:16-40, Paul and Silas in prison

Little Stars students putting on a drama of Acts 16:16-40, Paul and Silas in prison

handing out Jelly Bellies

handing out Jelly Bellies

The founder and head master invited us into their office and showed us their technology–a computer hooked up to a projector. They showed us several short videos they use to teach on various topics. “The Faithful Servant” was the best; it had quite an unexpected ending. If I could find it on YouTube, I’d post the link, but I’ve had no luck so far.

They presented five boys to us who desperately need extra financial help. This school serves the very poor in the community, but it costs about $200 for the level 10 students (equivalent to 9th grade) for the year’s supplies, books, and exit exam fees. Schools in town cost over $1,000 a year. Other students needed help with medical care.

with the headmaster and students of Little Stars Elementary School

with the headmaster and students of Little Stars Elementary School

After lunch we attempted currency exchange #2 at a bank in Nellore on our way to Ongole. This one only took two people and 45 minutes, but we were successful. We got 10,000 rupees ($200) more than the bank in Naidupet offered.

Another afternoon tea with a meal followed. Arrrgggh! I can’t keep eating like this! Combined with a lack of any kind of physical activity, my body is starting to rebel.

We are in a proper hotel tonight with a real toilet and shower and only one bug! We even have complimentary Wi-Fi! This is exciting stuff! Note all the exclamation points!!!

YAY!  A real toilet!  Notice the phone on the wall next to it.  The first number listed was room service, because who doesn't need to order room service while attending to their business?

YAY! A real toilet! Notice the phone on the wall next to it. The first number listed was room service, because who doesn’t need to order room service while attending to their business?

Random thoughts for the day:
•Jet lag sucks. Just when I thought I had adjusted, I woke up around 2:00 a.m. ready to go.
•I really want a bacon cheese burger, but that’s probably because Indians don’t eat beef.
•Proverbs 11:25, I read this in my devotion this morning. “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” It is 100% true.
•Very few women operate motorcycles or ride bicycles, and I have seen a single lady driving a car.
•Motorcycles are much more prevalent than cars; they’re a lot cheaper and if you get creative and have a good sense of balance, you can still fit a family of four on one. And, who says you have to wear a helmet or shoes?
•All animals are emaciated. All. Of. Them. Except the crows; they’re huge.
•I have yet to see an Indian woman and very few younger girls with their hair down. Most wear them in braids or tied back at the neck. With such thick, dark hair, it’d get really hot really quick.

talking on the phone while operating a motorcycle - not recommended

talking on the phone while operating a motorcycle – not recommended

streets of Nellore

streets of Nellore

Hindu gods adorn many trucks

Hindu gods adorn many trucks

emaciated animals graze in the median

emaciated animals graze in the median

family of three on a motorcycle - we did see families of 4 and 5 on one cycle as well

family of three on a motorcycle – we did see families of 4 and 5 on one cycle as well

woman operating a cycle

woman operating a cycle

If you made it this far, I am very impressed! The next post will be about our visit with Sai, a student we’ve sponsored through Compassion International for 14 years.

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12 responses

28 06 2013
Ann

Amazing trip. You are brave.

29 06 2013
Meeting Sai | To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] For the first installment of our India Adventures, read An Introduction to India. […]

29 06 2013
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3 07 2013
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[…] the previous posts on our India trip, visit: An Introduction to India and Meeting […]

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17 07 2013
compassioncalling

I just found your blog and am enjoying reading about your trip to India! We sponsor through Compassion as well, and 3 of our Compassion children are from India. One of our boys from India just told us in his most recent letter that he wants us to come and visit him! 🙂

17 07 2013
huddlestonk

I hope you get a chance to visit all of your sponsored kids! It’s such an amazing experience for everyone.

17 07 2013
compassioncalling

After our Dominican Republic trip, we’re talking about trips to the Philippines, El Salvador, and possibly India. We would also like to visit Uganda, although our young lady there will graduate from Compassion’s program before we’ll be able to take that trip, so we’ll have to sponsor another! 🙂 Where all have you traveled with Compassion? How long have you been sponsors with Compassion? How did you get started sponsoring with Compassion?

17 07 2013
huddlestonk

We’ve never traveled with Compassion on their sponsor tours. We’ve always arranged our own trips. We’ve been to Peru, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and now India to meet some of our sponsored kids. We have more in Kenya, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Guatemala. We’re thinking Guatemala next year.

My husband began sponsoring kids when he was a grad student, and they we added more kids once we were married 15 years ago. He originally chose Compassion because at the time, they had students in Zaire/Congo. My husband was a missionary kid–his dad was a linguist/Bible translator–and grew up in Zaire. Due to the instability of the country, Compassion isn’t able to work there now. Regardless, we love Compassion and will sponsor kids as long as we are able.

We were part of the Advocate Network for a few years, but due to kids, jobs, and continuing education, we don’t have the time to fulfill the requirements. We do hold Compassion Sundays and encourage others to sponsor/write to their kids . . . a lot!

22 07 2013
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[…] posts on our trip to India: -An Introduction to India -Meeting Sai -Local Celebrities -Speaking to India’s Future Leaders -Varanasi (Dark, Deceived, […]

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