Sunday, February 24, 2013

Vanakkam (Hello) from India!

The days leading up to our departure made me want to leave town more often! Our amazing friends ran errands for us, stopped with care packages filled with exactly the right things, brought more donations, called, texted, emailed and stopped by to wish us well and most important, to let us know they would be praying for us. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Thank you to all the angels surrounding us.

Friday morning we said a beautiful family prayer before heading out to the airport. I hugged my kids with all the love I could squeeze into their little bodies and thanked them for their sacrifice so that this trip was possible. I know it's not easy being the ones left behind, but they willingly agreed. There is so much power in a family who supports one another.

Goodbye Austin and my sweet Jaxon, Macie and Macoy

The flights over were uneventful, all except for the part where I stood in the wrong line in D.C. for 45 minutes and almost made us miss our next flight, and the part about sitting in a very small economy seat for 24 hours, and the part about Faith getting deathly ill on the last leg from Germany to Chennia. We chose look at the positives - flying here is much faster and easier than taking a boat and our seats were very close to the bathroom.

In Germany we were greeted by snow and got to watch the long process of de-icing the plane
The flight attendants were so kind and concerned about Faith. She must have lost every ounce of fluid stored in that little body and she couldn't hold anything down. The very last hour of the flight our attendant took us to the back of the plane and made her some hot fennel tea...and would not let her get up until it was gone! It worked like magic.

I imagined the Chennai airport to be a nightmare. I'd heard horror stories - bodies everywhere, people shouting and pushing, having to hold on to Faith for dear life. We walked off the plane to find a very different scene. No pushing or shoving. No scary security guards with fruit-sniffing dogs. Just people. And peace. I had been reciting the same prayer over and over that our bags would not be searched and seized, as they were full of dental supplies needed for Aaron when he gets here. We are on a tourist visa and I couldn't imagine explaining why I had 2 huge suitcases filled with needles, sharp instruments and medicine. They looked through our carry on bags and didn't pay one bit of attention to our checked baggage. We walked right out of the airport (now that scene was a little bit crazy), found our driver and said many more prayers on our way to the hotel. The driver explained that in India nobody pays attention to road rules. Aye. 

While you were sleeping, it was rise and shine time for us! We got some great sleep at the Marriott Hotel - 2:30am to 12:30pm, which felt like heaven after being awake for so long. We got dressed and headed downstairs for the famous Sunday brunch and we were a bit overcome with spices and unknown dishes. After having a grand tour of all the offerings, Faith settled on the only safe thing she could find - a waffle. 

I was lucky enough to have the host choose my meal for me. I actually tasted amazing - the spices burned my mouth and stomach, but I can see how I could get used to this fare. We were both given drinks straight out of a big fruit that I couldn't identify (you can see the fruit with a black straw sticking out of it by Faith). We tried it, but were really nervous as we watched the man cutting the tops off with a dirty looking machete and laying them out on the table. It might be in my head, but I am writing this post 8 hours after eating and I have yet to feel hungry. I've had kind of a gnawing, churning stomach all day. I think I'll have a power bar for dinner.

Our driver from last night, Pondyan, took us out to see the town of Chennai today. He took us to several different shops and he taught me a special sign that was to be between us. If I picked something up that was too expensive he would blink his eyes and say it was nice. If it was a good price he would say he liked it. I bought some gifts for our family and got my first traditional indian tunic. The colors and the fabrics here are mesmerizing. The smells haven't been as bad as I expected, but I don't think we were ever walking around in really destitute parts of town. And the sounds...just like New York City. Constant honking. 

It's a special day here because it's some city or country leader's birthday. I asked Pondyan who she was but it was hard for me to understand his answer. Add that to the fact that it's Sunday, and it was a very busy day in the city.

After shopping we went to St. Thomas Basilica - one of only 3 churches built on the remains of one of the original 12 Apostles. We had to remove our shoes before entering, but we were allowed to take pictures (except in the basement where his remains are located...I cheated and you'll see a blurry picture I couldn't resist). Pondyan told us it is the largest Christian church in India. What I loved is seeing the people in there unashamed of praying out loud, singing, and worshiping as wished. I felt a bit sacrilegious snapping photos, but it didn't stop me. It was so beautiful there.

We saw these guys coming out of the priest quarters at the church and asked if we could take their picture. They were happy to oblige. After I took the picture they wanted to show me what was in their buckets - rocks! Can you imagine how much those things weighed? They didn't speak English but by my body language they knew I was very impressed. They motioned for me to take another picture of each of them and they loved posing.

And of course, no place here is complete without having a wild dog or two running around. This little guys was tuckered out, but not too tired to snarl at us when we got too close.

Next we headed to the beach. It was so crowded and dirty we chose not to get out of the car, so the pictures are all taken as we were zooming by (sorry they are blurry). I did see some man lovers, but something I didn't see were half naked girls in teeny bikinis like we see in the states, which I found very refreshing. But the food carts....scary. You'd have to build up some pretty fierce intestinal bacteria to counteract whatever was mixed in with your meal! Quite a different scene than I'm used to in Destin, Florida.

And here are a few more pictures for your enjoyment. Riding in the car is an event, and taking pictures while riding in the car can quickly turn a girl queazy (again, sorry for the blurry shots). I wish I could have stopped a hundred times to take pictures of everything. Trying to soak in a culture so different from mine is an impossibility in one afternoon, but I took in everything I could. Entire families piled on one moped, cows grazing in garbage cans on the roadside, electricity that goes on and off constantly, street vendors, beggars, wild dogs, dilapidated housing developments, and people... people everywhere.  

And finally, I will end with one last picture. Each day I am going to choose one picture that represents the most beautiful thing I saw that day and explain why.

These shoes are typical of men here. If you could see them up close, you would notice the wear. Beyond the kaleidoscope of colors here are people who work extremely hard for what little they have. For instance, Pondyan takes a bus 3 1/2 hours each way so that he can work as a driver for the Marriott Hotel. He receives a very modest monthly salary, and it doesn't change based on hours worked. So today he spent the day with us and made no more in salary than if we hadn't requested his services. The man who wears these dusty and worn shoes has a story too. But the only part of his story I know is that he is a man who took the time today to enter a church and worship God.

Tomorrow we get picked up at 10am to travel to Rising Star. We can't wait to get to work!


  1. Amazing!! This is awesome, to be able to watch your trip and what you are seeing and learning! xoxo

  2. Thanks for taking us along on the ride! I love the narrative and the pics are wonderful. You go girls!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing these wonderful details Tara, and for the pictures! XOXO

  4. Wow girls you have been busy. It's so neat to get to see all you have done already. I'm glad to hear you two are safe. See you soon.

  5. Wow, thank you so much for sharing with us all! Tara, what a great experience for you and your daughter to see a completely different part of the world. I will continue to read as you post....thanks so's great to see things thru your eyes!

  6. Great to know you survived the trip and are getting settled into the new culture. Big relief on this end! From a motherly perspective, it feels just like when I sent my boys on missions - waiting for news - constantly wondering how things are going - wishing I could be a fly on the wall - and praying for your health, safety, happiness, and success in what you are there to do. Thanks for the report!Nanny

  7. Yahoooo!! You made it through customs and airport! I feel like cheering as I read through your day! It sounds so wonderful and I feel like I am right along with you. I even feel a little queazy thinking about trying to take pictures as I go in the car. Gurgle. I love the pictures.. the blurry ones are my favorite! What a beautiful day and place. I can only imagine the wonder as you discover India. Even things like cows eating from the trash.. loved it! And I adore Pandyan for his time with you.
    Today was not so good for me.. so what a treat to escape to your day. I loved getting to know Pandyan today... I wonder who you will introduce us to next....
    Looking forward to it. Love you ladies so much! XOXO (ps, so happy the tea worked for you sweet Faith!)

  8. We love your pictures!! We sent some questions via Facebook and can't wait for your answers!! Of course, when you get a spare minute--we know you're pretty busy right now. So proud of you--and a little jealous. :)
    Waxahachie Texas 2nd Ward Seminary

  9. You guys are amazing! Thank you for sharing with us!! Love you and can't wait to see you and hear more about everything. :-)