In many ways, India is the spiritual pillar of our Around the World trip. For several years, I have felt particularly drawn to India. The ache started with Slumdog Millionaire, which kept me awake for several nights, and then Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a heart breaking book set in the slums of Mumbai. Almost 8 years ago, I started teaching a fun video-based Mission India class at our church and plan to teach it again this summer. I enjoyed learning more about India and sharing it with the kids at church, while we raised money for Chidren’s Bible Clubs. And, recently in Sydney, we watched, and I really encourage you to see, the Oscar-nomintated Lion, with the dearest young actor I think I’ve ever witnessed. The children of India are just mesmerizing to me, with their flashing smiles and eager accents. So, while we were planning the trip, I pulled continuously for India to make our list of countries, I mean the Taj Mahal needs to be on any Around the World list, right?
In addition, we’ve been strong believers in child sponsorship for many years. Amasatou was our first child to sponsor from Africa, but she actually turned 18 several years ago and graduated from the program. Since then we have sponsored children from Peru and Ecuador and other places in Africa. When we decided to travel the world, we knew we would love to visit one of the children. This has been an option for sponsors for several years; but, understandably, it is still a rare occurrence. So, although we weren’t going close to any of our sponsored children, our Children’s Church and Focus groups also sponsor four children around the world. Shiva Ramesh is our church’s sponsored child from India, and we have written Shiva a few times and helped our kids and Kidside communicate with him as well. For that reason, regardless of how large India is, we decided we could figure out a way to visit Shiva since we were planned to visit the subcontinent anyway!
We flew into Hyderabad, India late last night and finally checked into our hotel at 1 AM this morning. Our last flight had been a little disconcerting from Kuala Lumpur to Hyderabad, since it contained over 90% Indian men, was very stuffy, and smelled strongly of many who had traveled all day from the sweltering heat of Malaysia. Overall, it also had just an every man for himself kind of feeling. Customs was very slow and involved multiple fingerprints, paperwork, and scans. The clerk continued to tell us to sit down while we waited; but unfortunately, we noticed if you did sit, you would never get a place in line again. We were beat, having started our travels in Sydney earlier that morning significantly more than 12 hours before. Technically, it was almost 5 AM in Sydney on our arrival! I confess though, we all woke up a little when Chris asked the driver what the security guard was doing to our car at the entrance to the hotel, and he responded calmly, “Bomb.” The hotel staff was exceptional though, and they had us settled quickly and told us we had free breakfast till 10:30 the next morning. For some reason, you can only get a room here for two, so Walden and I stayed together and Chris and Ella in the other. We get the feeling Ella and I probably should avoid being without their company during our stay if at all possible.
World Vision India helpfully arranged our visit under their required 90 day notice and met us at our hotel around 11 AM this morning to direct us to the village. The World Vision project manager was incredibly kind and helpful. I felt grateful and relieved as I noticed his smile always reached his eyes and he was patient with us and the families with whom we interacted. Still, the drive was heart wrenching. Trees and grass seemed liked something you only heard about in fairy tales, as we drove by field after field of dry dirt, concrete, garbage, and old Bollywood posters. Still, we smiled to see how all the women and girl’s saris accented the bleak landscape; they are breathtaking, with their flowing sparkles. After about forty minutes drive, we arrived at the World Vision office, where we first met Shiva Ramesh and his family. He was with his brother, mother, and father, and they were also so welcoming, wrapping beautiful leis of pink flowers around our necks as welcome. His father’s beautiful smile was especially warming as he zeroed in on Chris. My heart went out to his tiny mother, as her gratitude toward us overflowed as we showed her the pictures of all the children at church who donated for Shiva Ramesh. His brother was eager and confident, and we discovered he did not have a sponsor. As I immediately started figuring how we could remedy this, the manager explained they try to have only one child per family adopted until the entire village is included, in order for all families to be strengthened. Shiva was a little shy as we expected, and the family only spoke Teluga, so the coordinator had to translate for us. Still, it’s always amazing how much everyone is still able to communicate. They honored us with what appeared to be pink rose lei’s that extended past our waists, the smell was blessedly pleasant. Shiva Ramesh loved the t-shirt from Tennessee that Anna Bailey designed, his brother was excited we remembered him with a hoodie too, and for the mother we had found some colorful cloths. We also provided the love-filled bracelets that share the gospel that Chris’s nurse, Angela, had sent. We had collected a large toiletry container of toothpastes, toothbrushes, and combs that he could give out to friends, etc.
The manager and his co-worker drove us to the village, while Shiva Ramesh and his family waited behind. We met the leader of the small village and her board members, all elected by the residents. She was a beautiful, self-assured young woman who resided over our visit with confidence and interest.
After they greeted us with more intricate flower leis and many pictures, they explained the many projects in the community on going with the help of World Vision and government funds. As they walked us around, they tickled me with their doting concern about our skin and its questionable tolerance for the sun and heat. First, they demonstrated the clean water system they had installed for drinking water, which surprised me that they had instituted a minimal fee for. However, it was clear the fee was so nominal that it was not a detriment to any family, but it was enough to insure responsible use. They laughed at me as I tried to lift the urn of water and struggled.
Next, they explained how the lack of home toilets was a major safety hazard for the families, especially for young girls. To my own horror, I had read about this in the news and in Gary Smalley’s The Locust Effect. Thanks to the funds from World Vision supplementing governmental funds, 100% of the village homes had a washroom with toilet and sink. This also increased handwashing and reduced disease.
Then we met a young mother who had received a cow from World Vision to help with extra income and to help her infant who was suffering from failure to thrive. She talked with us by translation about how much it had helped her.
Finally, we were led to the school building where we were greeted by many sweet, grinning faces. The different classes stood for us and demonstrated proudly the English phrases they were learning. The school master beamed and was eager to speak with us, with his English not bad at all.
This little girl wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
And this little guy wants to be an engineer.
This brave woman had a preschool class of 68, along with one helper.
As the children gained confidence, they lined up to greet us individually with “Thank you, Madam” and “Goodbye.”
We were enchanted with the little one who continued to stand near us with big, bright eyes. Her teachers continued to encourage her till she finally chanted, “Say Thank you, Madam,” and shook my hand with her left and then quickly switched to her right.
They all gathered together for a picture with us; but although they were full of smiles as Shiva Ramesh and his family, they also did not smile in pictures. After many well wishes and goodbyes, we were escorted back to the World Vision office to share lunch with Shiva Ramesh.
We all gathered around the table as the World Vision workers served us what had been prepared. Dahl (a type of lentil), fried chicken (a treat since meat is rare), and roti. They laughed as they realized we were totally newcomers to eating with our hands and provided silverware instead for us. They later added rice and curds to the meal, and finished with banana that they said would cut the spice. They had kindly toned down the spiciness to minimal for us, and it was really quite good. Through translation, Shiva told us he would like to be a doctor and his brother an engineer. He had two sisters who were already married with children and one grandmother that lived close to his family. His father worked in the rice farms as a day worker as well as his mother occasionally. His mother seemed surprised we only had the two children and his father asked Chris his profession. The manager at one point explained to us how in India the children had to obey their parents and study for school; and we laughed and told him the same is true for us. I always feel like the world thinks we Americans are undisciplined and utterly bohemian, it can be embarrassing. Luckily, on our way back to the office, we were able to track down a cricket set and chess set, when we found out Shiva Ramesh and his brother enjoyed both. So, after the meal was a perfect time to try the cricket set out outside. Luckily, we didn’t break any windows and everybody got a hit! (We will have a video later!) Too soon, we realized our taxi driver’s six hour time limit was about up and we needed to get to the airport. We wished everyone farewell, returning their intimate hand shakes and wei like bowing. They all followed us to the car and continued to wish us farewell at the window as we drove away.
Praise you Father for today. We were truly blessed by the World Vision India office outside of Hyderabad, India. If you sponsor a child through Compassion International or World Vision, please consider visiting them! As Walden said, when we climbed into the taxi at the conclusion of our visit, “That may be the coolest experience we’ve had.”