Sunday, February 13, 2011

Church, Sugar Cane Farm and Going Away Party

Our final full day in Mungeli. I can't really believe it is over and our visit is coming to the end. I will be perfectly honest with you and say that I am definitely missing certain American amenities including ESPN, Television, Quaker Steak Louisiana Licker wings (Adam Schlett - Friday correct?), cold CARBONATED Pepsi and/or Mountain Dew, my friends, my family and my bed. Oh and the first McDonald's that Dave and I find in New Dehli better drop another 6 bags of french fries right now, we are going to buy them out!

There is certainly a lot of things I am longing for in America, but nothing can stack up to the value and the depth of this experience. I look forward to someday having the opportunity, God willing, to return to this community and to these people who live here and serve here each and every day. I will miss their smiles, their hospitality, their patience with all our inability to speak ANY Hindi, their zest for life and each of them as individuals who help to make Mungeli whole.

I prayed that God would let me be God's hands and feet during this trip. What I found was a hospital and a school filled with people who's words and actions were overflowing with God's love. I prayed that I could help this community in some way. What I learned was so much more about myself and about this vast world we all call home. I realized that they helped me, each in their own way, become more appreciative, more grateful, more compassionate and less judgmental.

When I look at my time in Mungeli and the things I saw and heard and smelled it was as if I had traveled in time. I was among a community that was hundreds of years behind the developed nations of America and Europe and other places across the planet. I saw things that I didn't think existed. The question that lingered among so many of our conversations was "where do you begin?" How does a place like this become one with a world that is so far ahead in development, technology, education, social structures and every other aspect of living? Some would say that it is perfectly ok the way it is and we don't need to make changes. If you asked the residents of Mungeli, you would find people who have never seen or known anything different. They look at the world before them and the life they lead and say "Life is good." They value the shelter over their head, the are thankful for their most recent meal, the cherish their families and they look upon their work, whatever it may be, with great pride. When I try to gather of all this into my thoughts, it's very difficult. You can ask so many questions and you can find so many different answers. Maybe we are the ones that bridge this world to our world. Maybe we are not sent here to flip their worlds upside down, but rather introduce them in small doses to the things we take for granted. I really don't know, but I know that after a trip like this I will never be the same.

With that on my mind we set out for our final day in this beautiful place. I woke up fighting a running nose, and my mouth has felt like someone dumped a bucket of sand down it for the past two days. There isn't enough Werther's Originals or LifeSavers in the world to deal with all the dust we have ingested. I never thought I would long for the fresh air of Cleveland so much. Oh perspective, how I love thee.

We were treated to an incredible breakfast of scrambled eggs and hash brown type potatoes with cheese. I didn't care if it would result in bad news later, I was going to chow. Seeing that my meals on Saturday consisted of.....water and nothing much else, this was a feast! Big thanks to Shane for cooking up such sweet heavenly treats.

The day started with church at 9:30am. Special guest preacher from the USofA, the Reverend Doctor Kelly Brill. I had heard rumors of a 3 hour service and decided I better not be stuck there without water, so two one-liter bottles it was. They did say that when an American is leading the service, it generally is around 2 hours long. Well the church is beautiful and still fully decorated from Christmas. We all agreed that Gerry Paine could pick up a few tips or two from these folks! We love you Gerry! The church is small and shaped in a T. There is a small altar with, you guessed it....a large clock on the wall to the right of the pulpit. Very helpful, but it also moves so much slower when it's staring you in the face. It reminded me of high school pre-calculus. Not the service, but the clock staring at me. I actually enjoyed the service. The nurses sang a couple of beautiful songs and a Hindi version of "How Great Thou Art" that was very moving. Rev. Kelly delivered one of her standard home run sermons and before we knew it, we were dismissed. Outside we gathered for a quick Avon Lake group photo with Anil & Teresa Henry and Nancy (Lott) Henry and Viru Henry. It was a beautiful Sunday and a great spot for a picture.

Immediately after church we all loaded into the school bus and set out for the countryside. Today's destination - a sugar cane farm. The farm sets out of town about an hour's drive. We learned that 11 students from this small village attend school at Rambo English School back in Mungeli and that the bus drives out here twice a day to pick them up and return them home. On the way we passed an overturned jeep and we just squeezed by another large truck filled with stones that had broken down in the middle of the one lane country road. I mean it was ridiculously close. Oh and our chauffeur for the day was Dr. Henry, also known in some Mungeli circles as the "Bat out of Hell" or "The Indian Nascar Driver". Not really, but I am sure these aren't far off. So in typical fashion, we made great time to the farm! HA!

I have never been to a sugar cane farm, but it was pretty much what I anticipated. Set in the middle of nowhere and only consisting a few small scattered huts and tent-like structures, it was a beautiful operation to witness. The farm owned and operated about 65 acres of pure Indian countryside and specialized in turning the juices from Sugar Cane into big chunks of brown sugar. Easily the sweetest bite of anything I have ever had. I quickly stopped when Avinash informed me that eating to much can result in a quick mess going out. Nursing a wobbly stomach already - sugar cane chunks were definitely not on the prescribed diet. For the next hour or so we wandered around the facility and the farm and met the residents here. Dave and I kept trying to imagine life out here in the middle of June when its sporting a 140 degrees. No thank-you, I'll pass. I managed to submerge one of my entire shoes in manure, so that was a nice treat. Scott, there is a HUGE market out here for manure, but not sure you will get quite the profit margin you are looking for. But, in any case, if you consider going global.....let's chat.

We had a great time enjoying the farm and checking out this unique facility. Eventually we loaded up the van and made our way back to good old Mungeli. We passed a band of gypsies which included about 10 camels, on our way back to town. Pretty awesome! Once we got back to the hospital it was time to do some packing and organizing in preparation for our 5:30am departure from the hospital. Later in the day we were having a going away party at the home of Teresa and Anil, so we knew we had to get things done this afternoon.

The day quickly escaped us and before we knew it was time to head over to the home of the Henry's for an 8:30pm dinner party. As we arrived they had the Nintendo Wii set-up and we started in on some dancing games including Just Dance and the Michael Jackson Experience. Everyone was having a complete blast. It was great to see even the shyest among the group, get out there and just dance. Everyone was enjoying the fellowship and community that makes this place so special. We snacked on microwave popcorn (CHA-CHING!) and ice cream (DOUBLE CHA-CHING!) and eventually a traditional Indian dinner. At one point during the party before we ate, Anil gathered everyone and thanked us for our work, our presence and our gifts to their hospital and their school. He asked both Lisa and I to address everyone and it was an honor to share some of our observations of our experience. I basically thanked them for being them. I thanked them for the opportunity to be a part of their family for the past week. I said that I honestly don't know if many of us could do what you do on a daily basis, but I said that God is definitely in this place. I also said thank-you to each of them for teaching me so much, for teaching all of us how to live with such joy and happiness. I thanked them for their friendship and the work they are doing for this community. It was hard. When I looked around the room and I thought about the life I was returning to in Lakewood, Ohio and the life that they are living each and everyday, right here in Mungeli,

I simply admired them. Their faces told of so much and through all the hardships they still manage to laugh and smile and be one big family. It gave me hope. If a place like Mungeli, India can figure out the meaning of community, than so can everyone else. So can the Christians and the Muslims, so can the Israelis and the Palestinians, so can the gays and the straights, so can the people of God and the people of no God. If this world will ever truly know peace, it will be because the world finds a way to coexist and to live and to hack it out like these people do every single day. It's not perfect and there is great need, but they have the basics down. They are capable of moving forward, together. I pray that we all can learn something from our friends in Mungeli. I pray that this small journal of mine not only kept you informed of our travels, but helped you to see the world from a different angle. I pray that we have safe travels home to our families, friends and loved ones. I pray that God continues to bless Christian Hospital Mungeli, Anil & Teresa Henry and the entire staff of both the hospital and the school. I pray that we all see our world as a journey we are on together. It's 2011 and we can no longer sit in our corner of the game board and just look the other way. The problems we face and the challenges in front of us require us to look beyond our skin color, our language and our geographical coordinates. It is my prayer that we all can learn from the people of Mungeli and make the world a better place for this generation and generations yet to come.

In just a few hours we will set off on an early morning drive to the airport in Raipur and catch the 9:00am flight to New Dehli. We are not certain we will have internet at our hotel and it sounds like our travel agent/chauffeur has busy plans for us. It may be some time before I write again. Until then, thank-you for reading my blog and allowing me a forum to share my experiences here with the world. I will never forget this trip or these people. I look forward to the next time I can return again. From Mungeli.....I am signing off.

Much love,

Wined and dined in Mungeli

After yesterday's Mela, I was flat out whooped. Too much sun, too much sand, too much sweating, too much walking, too much everything......we all decided to put the brakes on and take Saturday as it came, nice and slow.

We all gathered for Chapel at 7:30am and Gregg delivered a great message on Philippians chapter 2. I have truly enjoyed our morning chapels. They are such a great way to start your day off and to keep things in perspective. On a chalkboard in the front of the room, they have hand-wrote their mission statement which reads: The whole community of Christian Hospital, Mungeli is committed to providing holistic health care through excellent service, quality care and respectful treatment in which the spirituality of each person is honored. It also goes on to say that their core values are: respect, humanity, punctuality, honesty, service, care and cooperation.

After each chapel service Dr. Henry addresses everyone with the plans for the day and makes any announcements for the good of the order. The other day while he was gone with our group is Bissamtuckett, there was a patient who came to the hospital that was HIV positive and going into labor. She was initially refused treatment at the hospital. The family attempted to go the State Hospital in Bilaspur and they were refused there as well. They contacted Dr. Henry and spoke with him about their situation. He informed them that WOULD be treated at Christian Hospital, Mungeli - no questions asked. So there were some tense moments and stern phone calls during the overnight regarding this situation and hospital staff. A large part of the reason is the fear that so many people have of HIV (rightfully so), the lack of quality sterilization equipment and a general misunderstanding of protocol for dealing with any bodily fluids. When I first heard the story, you could see the stark contrast in two worlds colliding. You have a doctor like Dr. Henry is a man of great integrity, compassion and justice who was taught in western modern medicine and you have an entire staff of nurses and doctors who were born here, raised here and even though they have been trained, there is still a great deal of fear surrounding things like AIDS. I admired his willingness to stick to his guns on this issue and the way he addressed the issue following chapel. What does God ask of each of us? God says we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and care for the sick. There is no disclaimer following Jesus' message here. There is no fine print. It's straight forward. Man or women, poor or rich, Indian or American, HIV positive or HIV doesn't matter. Dr. Henry isn't perfect, but neither are any of us. The fact is though he has given of himself in order to serve others. He has sacrificed to bring hope and healing to so many. Here is a man and certainly his wife, Teri, as well who are living out the Gospel on a daily basis. If nothing else, this trip was worth every bit seeing these two work and serve the people of Mungeli, India day in and day out.

As I mentioned earlier, Saturday was about some R&R. About mid-morning...I finally got my turn at the bug we have all been dealing with for the past few days. No real pain or discomfort, just some lack of fiber in the diet I guess you could say. We had a good time joking about it for most of the day. Let's just put it this way - I have changed Forrest Gump's saying from chocolates to farts - Life is like a like a never know what you are going to get. And that, is all I have to say about that.

We decided to take a little shopping trip into town. The group got off on a start a few minutes before me. I set off into Mungeli by myself. I will say this too, I have never once felt uncomfortable or in danger walking the streets of Mungeli. We have not gone into town at night, but that was something we were told to avoid. Apparently the men tend to do their share of boozing after the sun goes down and it can become quite the scene. During the day though, it is fine. There is so much happening in each and every direction that most people don't pay much attention this crazy looking American rocking the aviator shades. Not every person has a warm smile or a boisterous "Namaste!" for you, but in general I found that a polite smile and a wave can really break the ice with most of these people. About 10 minutes into my walk, a motorcycle pulled up right beside me with one guy on it. This is not terribly uncommon as this has happened several times during our stay here. Most of the time the ask "What country are you from?", you exchange hellos and they drive off. Some even ask to take your picture or take a picture with you. Being a H-List star in Mungeli is enough for me. I have no desire to be a star, none whatsoever. Back to the bike - the guy indicates that he would like to give me a ride. I have about 10 seconds to really assess the situation and make a decision. It was hot, I did have a ways to go to catch up with the group and if things started to look bad I could always pull some sort of Jack Bauer type of move and bail off the bike. I finally said "Ok....why not?" So I hopped on, we exchanged name and tried my best to tell him where I was going. My thoughts were this is either going to be really good or really bad and before I knew it we were off. Now I don't recommend to anyone reading this that you can trust every single ride offered to you in a place like Mungeli, but it was one of those gut feelings. The guy seemed like a genuine nice guy and it was in the middle of the day and we were not far from the police station, so the math was in my favor. We pulled up to the street where the group was shopping, he pulled over, I disembarked and reached for my wallet to offer the kind man a tip. He refused and refused, we said our good-byes and we went our separate ways. Bravo to nice people 7,000 miles from home. It was definitely a simple favor that provided me with a true taste of international hospitality that we had already experienced so much of in our short time here.

I met up with the group at Maggie's Clothing Store, our popular hang out for scarves and everything else since we have been here. These guys wrote the book on hospitality. They immediately offered us chai tea, but I mentioned something about ice cream. Shane had actually ran next door and was grabbing us both a small thing of ice cream. Before I knew it Maggie's father had one of the workers arrive with ice creams for all of us. It was great. Ice cream has never ever, ever tasted as good as it did today. We spent some time there shopping and looking and chatting and enjoying the company of Maggie and his father.

Eventually Kelly and Dave headed back to the hospital to hang some posters in the hospital. Shane headed back to the catch the bus to the huge area Christian Mela about an hour away. Knowing that my stomach was in charge for right now, Gregg had some writing and interviewing to do and the rest of were just exhausted - we decided to pass. The Christian Mela is a huge festival celebrating non other than Jesus himself. Tons of people, tons of sunshine and dusty air, lots of music, an out of control Ferris wheel that Jan lost her lunch on and much more. The plan was to leave to come back to Mungeli at 5:30pm. They weren't back until after 9:30pm, we were sort of thankful that we didn't go. I am bummed that I did miss tents upon tents of really great Jesus gear. Next time. For sure.

It ended up being just LIsa, Jan and myself at Maggie's and after some time he asked if we would like to join him for his breakfast break. We politely informed him that we had already had breakfast, but he said it was really lunch and that he would like us to be guests in his home. So we were led through a door to the back room and into his home. He lives there with his parents and his grandmother. Their home is all-together about 4 stories tall. They have a large open-air grate that is in the middle of the room on every single floor and goes all the way up to the roof. My immediate question was, what do you do when it rains. He said that they have a large cover that they put on the roof to cover the grate. As we thought about it and discussed it later this system provides their entire home with great ventilation and natural light. We were escorted up to the second floor where we all gathered around a small tables in his father's room. Almost instantly two trays filled with food were before us. It was wild. I didn't each much, given the number two situation, but Jan and Lisa raved about everything. We sat there and chatted with his mother and his grandmother about everything. They asked about what houses in America look like and we asked them different things in their home. Maggie was proud to show us his collection of over probably 150 types of deodorant. That is not a typo. I have concerns as well - could there be a market for Hoarders: India? I need to get in touch with A&E as soon as I get back. He took us up on the roof and we were really able to see the entire town laid out before us. It was a great view to be able to look down on the street from four stories up and see the daily grind for some many people. A town and a culture that constantly seems to be in motion. We were there for over an hour before we decided to head on our way. It was such a nice time to see the home of a family in Mungeli and to be able to share a meal with them. Certainly something I will not soon forget.

We left Maggie's and were hoping to do some more roaming around the shopping district. Dr. Henry sent someone out to find Jan on a motor bike to take her to the Mela so it was down to just me and Lisa. It was nice to have some time to just spend with here and take in more of the city. We had talked about possibly looking for rings for the wedding here. Not to replace our regular bands, but just another ring. We spent some time in three or four different shops and seeing what they had for sale. It was a becoming much warmer as the afternoon continued on and we were both getting tired from several hours in town. We eventually made our way back to the hospital. I wasn't feeling my finest, so I crashed for a solid 4 hour nap and started my prescription strength number two medication. I felt so much better when I woke up.

The evening was rather uneventful. We began consolidating our bags for our departure really early Monday morning, some went to watch surgery on an ulcer patient, others read and checked email and in general it was a relaxing evening in Mungeli. Before I knew it, I was ready for a good night's sleep and looking ahead to our final full day in Mungeli. What would lie in store? Only time would tell.....

Until next time......all the best,

Saturday, February 12, 2011

2011 Rambo Christian School Mela - cues....they just don't understand

Gameday. You’ve been preparing for this moment for months. You’ve heard stories from people who have been there before you. They have offered tips and suggestions on how to calm your nerves and help you to get the most out your experience. All the supplies are in place, the team is assembled and there is nothing left to do, but to go out there and perform. (cue motivational instrumental music)……

Today was the Rambo Christian School Mela. For three scorching hot hours the school yard became a festival that rivaled any great Catholic Church in the states (without the gigantic amount of beer). There were vendor everywhere selling crafts, food and even……….wait for it………vanilla ice cream! Oh yeah, it was the by far the best ice cream I have ever had in my entire life. Along with all of this they had a DJ jamming out a playlist featuring Jay-Z, Rhianna and Kei$ha among others.

We were responsible for the games, well most of them. We were told that we would placed along the far wall of the school yard and consequently in the direct rays of India’s finest 3 o’clock sunshine. We all got our year’s dose of Vitamin K and UV rays for sure! The plan was to have 9 games including a ball toss, a Frisbee toss, a ring toss, a futbol kick and several games from the popular American television show – Minute To Win It. Along with all of this we had a Nintendo Wii featuring Just Dance 2, the Michael Jackson Experience and Mario Kart, set-up in one of the classrooms. There was going to surely be something for everyone.

Our Rambo Christian School Mela forefathers and foresisters who came before us (not as distinct as it sounds, they were just here last year) provided us with much needed intel, tips and suggestions. One of the largest and prominent questions we were told we would have to address was crowd control. The idea of waiting in lines is foreign to most people in India. We even witnessed it in Newark when they started boarding our flight and when they called for only first 5 rows to be seated, a solid 85% of the passengers crowded to the gate. Knowing this and knowing we would be dealing with lots of kids, we knew we had to be prepared.

I spent the days leading up to the festival designing a system of cues that would hopefully prevent a mass rush at each of the game tables, keep some kind of order and ensure that everyone has a great day. The hope was that if we had enough set-up and in place, we wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. WRONG. A full morning of setting up chairs and rope and having a team of volunteers from the hospital in place couldn’t even prepare us for what we were going to experience. One of the other things that we had to plan for was how to handle the prizes. In year’s past they had set up the prize table in the middle of the yard and experienced some pilfering that was simply unavoidable. So as we were setting up and planning for the event later in the day, Shane suggested we have the prizes in one of the classrooms and have the kids come to the window of the classroom and they can pick their prize from there. Genius! We lugged our 3 suitcases full of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys, Silly Bands, Matchbox cars and every other little toy under the sun over the school and set-up the prize room.

In one of the other classrooms the maintenance team from the hospital set-up the Nintendo Wii that we brought along. If you could have seen the electrical wires and transformers going all over the place….you’d be amazed! Who knew that children from Mungeli would love Just Dance 2? Surprisingly enough though, we didn’t have as many kids that wanted to play it as I expected. It was definitely an example of cultural differences – they have never played anything like this, so they have no comprehension of it or any desire to experience it. Regardless of all this, I think we introduced some people to this technology and they had a great time playing it.

Most of the morning was spent gathering supplies up for the games, setting up the area and trying to get as much information on the Mela as I possibly could. The fair would begin at 3pm and run to 6pm at the latest – mainly because it gets pitch dark at 6pm. Everything else was ready to go. The teachers would be selling crafts and food, there were other vendors there, a dj would be playing music and we would be in charge of all the games. So we decided to go with nine different games: Frisbee Toss, Ball Toss, Soccer Kick (through a tire), ring toss and a number of games from the popular TV Show, Minute-To-Win-It. For the fans of the show, they included Cookie Face, Ped Head, Back Flip, Last Card Standing and others.

Our plan was that each person running a game would have a bunch of raffle tickets at their respective game and when someone won a game they would take a raffle ticket to the prize window. It was fool proof or so we thought. It was moments before the fair started that we were informed that the kids are supposed to pay to play the games. There was a window set-up where the fair goers could turn in rupees for slips of paper that were valued at 5 or 10 rupees. We were then told to charge 5 rupees for each of our games. So we did just that. Before we could even blink the school buses arrived filled with kids, the gates were opened to the community and we were off and running. One of the biggest things we had to deal with besides a language barrier, a disregard for our beautiful ques that we created and the overbearing sound of “Umbrella….ella….ellla….ella” blasting from the DJ’s speakers, our games were set-up along the far wall in the direct line of the 3 o’clock sunshine. Hot was an understatement.

I have to say, the 3 hours of the fair was a complete blur. We had about 11 people helping us with the games, but we could have easily used an extra 5 or 10 people. I spent the entire time supplying each game with raffle tickets and collecting their big piles of rupee slips. I also kept running water to everyone who was helping us out. After awhile our cues were overtaken, my feeble attempt to learn “BACK-UP!” in Hindi failed miserably and we were simply holding out for 6 o’clock. Don’t read this wrong, the Mela was a great time and it was so much fun seeing such joy on the faces of everyone from simple games that we often take for granted in the states. It was also interesting to see what complete joy a simple toy could bring to the face of these children. These were things that American children would probably not be nearly as excited about. We all thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Mela! It was such a change of pace in a community and lifestyle that is so monotonous, that you could really see how important something simple like this is to these people. They could laugh, run around, play games, enjoy treats and forget about everything else for a very brief moment.

After an hour or so in the dark putting all the games away and the chairs and tables back into the classrooms, we returned to the hospital covered in dust and sweat and ready for a nice evening among the company of our new friends. After showers and dinner, we all gathered to chat for some time and eventually got the entire group into a game of Betty Ford. It was a great way to finish off a great day.

We are realizing today that our time in Mungeli is quickly wrapping up. The weekend will go very quickly and it will be back to Raipur for a 9am flight on Monday morning. I hope that our weekend will be a chance to really take in and enjoy our final days in this incredible part of the world. What an opportunity it has been. I will share more on this later. For now…..I need some sleep!

Have a great day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Rambo Christian School

No fear…..I have not disappeared. We have been experiencing some internet difficulties at the hospital. Somewhere a fiber optic wire was cut on accident and they informed Dr. Henry that it would be fixed in an hour or so, but that was 24 hours ago and we are finally back up and running. I hope you are all doing well. Yesterday was for the most part a pretty non-eventful day. You will probably not think so, but in terms of Mungeli and India and our trip, the day was very easy going.

We started our day, as we do every day, with chapter at 7:30am. Following Chapel, we were still without the rest of our team as they were still on their trip back from Bissamtuckett. So Lisa decided to head out to the villages with our neighbors, Lisa and Marcie, as they continued their research on still births in India. Meanwhile I set out with Shane into town to pick-up a few things and then off to the school to continue working on hanging strings for our posters.

The school is a very old and beat-up cement building with rebar grates in the windows, exposed ceiling rafters littered with holes and spider webs galore. The furniture consists of either wooden chairs and small desks or simple metal benches and desks. The wooden furniture is all in extremely poor shape. Finding a truly sturdy chair is a treasure hunt. The lighting in the school is sparse at best. Some rooms have lights and others have nothing. Every door is beaten beyond anything you can possibly imagine. Most of the classrooms have no order to them. Chairs turned this way, tables that way and if they are lucky the room may have a chalk board at the most. In some cases, two classes meet in the same room. The teachers are all working with basically little or nothing in terms of curriculum. They don’t have large expense accounts or access to places like Target or Wal-Mart or any other store for that matter to purchase decorations, materials and supplies to help them educate these children. There is a separate building that is set on the back part of the property where some of the older students have their classrooms. This building is in the same dilapidated shape that the main building is in. The shock to me was when I read the cornerstone that noted the dedication of the new building in 2001. I was shocked at how aged this building looked and it was only ten years ago. I mean is it the weather conditions? Is it the climate? Quality of the construction? Lack of good building materials? Whatever the situation is, this school is certainly in need of some major help. The school yard is littered with garbage, chunks of cement, dirt, sticks, you name it. Most of it is the remnants of an old part of the school that was torn down some time ago. The only part of the school yard that is not in this shape is the small fenced in playground where the jungle gym and the swings are located. It is hard to look at this facility and believe that an education is really happening here.

But there is so much more to a building than the color of the walls or the quality of the roof. When you meet the principal Avinash and you hear him speak of his desires and dreams for this school. When you watch the teachers in action, instructing and guiding these children – you are left hopeful. There is a lot to be desired. There are things that go on here that teachers in America would freak out about. At times during the school day, you can’t honestly tell who’s running the place – the teachers or students. There are kids going in every different direction and in some rooms, the students are seated and working while in others there are seven different conversations going on and a teacher is nowhere in sight.

The hard part right now is deciding whether to spend or save. We could easily come in here and do a major spring cleaning, slap some paint on the walls and the entire building would look completely different. But then again the footers have already been laid for a brand new building that will house the entire school. It is planned for this project to be completed in the next two years. This is not meant to be a knock on anyone involved in this situation, but the reality is that I don’t see the construction happening that quickly. I hope they are able to continue raising the funds needed for this new building and I hope that that project can be completed much sooner than their two year goal. After several days here and interacting with the students, you get hooked. You see their joy and you see their faces and want so much for them. They show up to school every day, the dress for success and they have the same hopes and dreams that students in America and all around the world have. They want more for their lives, they want to be successful and they want to do anything they set their mind to. When you hear about the caste system and you walk the streets of Mungeli, it’s easy to understand why some people have already counted these youngsters out. They will simply grow up and live the same lives they are living today and have been living for hundreds of years. But don’t tell that to the Avinash or the teachers or any of us who have been here. Sitting in anyone of these classrooms could be the future Dr. Henry, the future Kobe Bryant, or the future President of India. I don’t doubt it for one second.

In order to put up some of the hundreds of laminated posters that we brought with us, we had to go through each of the classrooms and hammer large cement nails into the walls and then run a tight string between them. We then purchased about 300 binder clips and spaced them out on these ropes all over the school. From there we divvied up the posters and hung them all over the school. It was awesome to see what something so simple can do for changing the entire look of a school. We all spent a good part of the day working on this once Kelly, Dave and Gregg returned from their train ride.

That was really about it for today. Oh how could I forget?….Lisa had befriended one of the teenage girls from the area at our picnic on Sunday afternoon and was interested in learning more about the skin art that is extremely popular in India, called Mehendi. So Lisa had Retchna or Rimi for short, over to our guest house for a little artistry work. Before you knew it, we were joining in on the fun. Lisa got artwork on both of her hands and wrists, I got my name and a Tiger paw on my shoulder, Gregg got a heart with “MOM” in it, Judy got some flowers on her arm and Dave got the Gateway Tank logo (the company he owns) on his massive biceps. It was a whole lot of fun and laughter getting our Indian ink. Another great evening of fellowship spent with our friends from all over the world. Again….one of the million reasons I can’t wait to come back to India.

Until Tomorrow……enjoy!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

GUEST POST - Rev. Kelly's trip to Bissamcuttack

This is a momentous day in my life…I get to be the guest writer on Nate’s blog…big shoes to fill!

I’m here to tell the story of our trip to Bissamcuttack…yes, that is the correct spelling. We left Mungeli in mid-afternoon. The group was Anil, Gregg, Dave, Jan Campbell and me. Anil asked if we were hungry. We all said, “No, we just ate lunch.” We arrived in the town of Bilaspur and Anil picked up dinner anyway…carryout for 5, a dish called chicken biriyani. The train station was a mass of humanity. We got on our train and had nice compartments for two with bunk type beds. We boarded about 7. I was sound asleep by 8. All of us were asleep except Anil and Gregg. Anil came looking for someone to eat dinner with him. Gregg was game, so he and Anil ate the biriyani. Gregg told me later it rivals the “atomic wings” at Quaker Steak and Lube.

At 2 AM, Anil was waking us up. We were off the train and picked up at the town of Muniguda in the state of Orissa. We were picked up by a driver and a friend of Anil’s from the hospital. We were taken to Bissamcuttack on back roads. Evidently the main road is so bad that it’s absolutely undriveable. Hard to imagine worse roads than what we’ve already experienced! 45 bumpy minutes later, we arrived at the Bissamcuttack hospital guest house – a lovely building with a large common area. Jan and I had one bedroom with two twin beds. We all crashed for about 4-5 hours. At 6:45 I woke up and made coffee. We headed to chapel next door at 7:30 AM.

Chapel seemed much like it does here in Mungeli. All of the nurses sitting up front with their caps on, the nursing students with their light blue saris and dark blue cardigans. The service was mostly in Hindi. One of the songs they sang was “We Shall Overcome.” Then they sang one verse in English with all of us. After chapel, we met the hospital staff and took a tour of the hospital.

We went to the home of Johnny and Mercy Oommen for breakfast. Johnny is a fascinating, brilliant man. He and Anil met at the Christian College in Vellore. He and Mercy grew up in southern India; his parents were missionaries in Uganda. He’s a doctor, in charge of the community health program. He reads a lot of theology and is passionate about mission. We talked theology all day. We had a lovely breakfast of tea, fruit, some sort of pancake with cauliflower inside, and crepes with coconut and bananas.

Johnny showed us the rest of the Bissamcuttack campus. Everywhere we met, we were introduced as “the people from Nancy’s church.” Nancy and Viru are revered there; there are lots of pictures of them, a playground has just been dedicated in their name, and there is an afterschool program called “The Henry Club.” We were shown a lot of the equipment and materials that ALUCC has purchased for them over the years. Bissamcuttack is in a hilly area; the air felt much cleaner and fresher there.

The English Medium School is nice and neat. The students stood as we walked into each room. We saw the chemistry lab, the library and the computer lab – probably about 40 computers – the first ones were donated by ALUCC.

Lunch back at the Oommen’s. More interesting conversation and good food. I particularly liked something that looked like a tostada. They said it was made out of some sort of graham flour and ground sesame seeds and then deep fried. We also had a bowl of French fries and all of us ate some in Nate’s honor – he’s been missing his junk food!

After lunch we took a tour of the village area that is served by the hospital’s community health department, a program that Nancy started several decades ago. We were on dirt roads most of the time. First stop was a village school that Johnny started and built a few years ago, solely with private donations. Each room is named after someone – I took a few pictures of the plaques – I remember Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Lincoln, as well as Johnny’s mother. There is no furniture. All of the learning is done with students seated on the floor. It’s a K-5 school. The boarding area consists of empty rooms lined by metal cases in which the students keep their belongings. They sleep on the floor. I didn’t see a restroom of any kind. The cooks have built their own lean-to type structure for their housing. The kids were happy, running around the woods, delighted to have their pictures taken. Jan is like a Pied Piper; she takes pictures of kids everywhere she goes and they follow her around. Johnny said the idea is to create a good learning environment, but not one so fancy or different that the kids have trouble readjusting back in their villages. It was very impressive to see what he’s done.
Then it was to the villages themselves. I felt like an anthropologist or a writer for National Geographic. It’s hard to believe that such remote areas still exist. A village is basically one road with rows of housing on each side. The houses are all connected to one another (common walls) with each family occupying its own space. The nurses happened to be visiting the first village where we stopped. They were surveying people; I caught a picture of one nurse looking into one villager’s eyes. Johnny said the strategy is this. First, they are asked by a village for their services. Next, they hold meetings and they ask the villagers what services they want. They never presume to know what people want and they never “supply” more than people “demand.” The objective is to help the villagers take charge of their own health care.

Night was falling so we headed back to Bissamcuttack. We rested a bit in the guest house then headed to the home of the medical director – the house where Viru and Nancy lived for 29 years. A nice dinner with rice, tomato curry, delicious roasted cauliflower, spaghetti (yes, really), vegetable balls (looked like meatballs)…then we headed back to Muniguda and the train. The double compartments we had before were booked. This time we had what was essentially a tripledecker bunk bed situation. I had the top bunk – there was an aisleway light on the whole time so I didn’t sleep extremely well, but OK.

Bad news was that Jan became sick. She’s now the fifth woman from my apartment building to get sick…I’m a little worried!! We arrived in Bilaspur about 8:30 in the morning. Anil’s cousin picked us up and we went on a wild goose chase…Anil wanted to bring ice cream back for his mother. They stopped at three places where they thought they could buy wholesale ice cream. No luck. After an hour he gave up, dropped off his cousin, picked up a TV that was being repaired, and we were headed back to Mungeli.

I had my first shower in three days, and it was HOT! One becomes very grateful for small pleasures like that.

It’s about 2 PM now, almost lunch time. Has Nate told you the meal schedule? Breakfast is 10-10:30, lunch 1:30-2, dinner 8:30-9 or later.

We’re in charge of the school fair tomorrow, so we have a lot to do to get ready. I’ll close for now. I think Nate may try to post a few of my pictures from Bissamcuttack.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mungeli......the people, the place, the lives behind it all

Hindi is extremely hard to learn, hard to speak and really hard to pronounce. I can only tell one Hindi word for sure, that I am absolutely correct about, ok well two, Mungeli and Namaste. I have no clue what Mungeli means and neither does the internet search engines of Google and Yahoo. Namaste is hello in Hindi and everyone is always saying it everywhere you go.

Living in a community and a country where do don't speak the language is very interesting. I have a whole entire new appreciation for what a language barrier is and how much languages must have played into the development and the history of our world.

So it was another average Wednesday in Mungeli and I had a small list of to-dos for the day and was looking for someone to run with. Lisa was continuing to sleep off her stomach bug (which I must say, as of 10:05pm on Wednesday evening in Mungeli, Lisa said to me "I think I'm alright."), Dave, Gregg and Kelly were in Bismantuckett, Shane's wife and daughters were out in the villages doing research and the kids were all in school. So who did I decide to run with for the day???? But Shane of course. What a day it was. I had a list of random things we needed for the fair and the school; nails, staple gun, cd's, rings for ring toss, batteries, binder clips and other odds and ends. I also wanted to stop at one of the clothing shops to pick out something for Lisa. Off to downtown Mungeli we went....

Back to what I was saying about Hindi earlier. It is a beautiful thing to watch people communicate when neither have a good understanding of the other's language. We were attempting to by nails and it was a lengthy conversation that ended up involving drawings and hand motions and everything! For nails!!!! I can't imagine trying to ask for the thingamajigger that screws into the whatyoucallit on the back of refrigerator. But....when you do find the answer and everyone gets on the same page, it is cause for celebration. And so it is and so it was whenever we shop in the town....

Our first stop was a "paper" shop. Basically it was a mini Office Max. Wall to wall with office supplies and text books. The owner and the son of this place are known for their ability to never smile. It is something that Shane says he always expects when he comes in here. We asked about a staple gun and he searched for a bit and looked all while waiting on other customers and chatting with friends. It's like customer service has a horrible case of ADD in this country, well in particular shops I will say. So we finally attract his attention and he shows us exactly what we are searching for - a staple gun and binder clips. The real task was finding the right staples. He gave us some that fit, but we asked for longer ones, or deeper if you would and you would have thought we asked for him to drive 3 hours away and bring the right ones back. It was amusing to see his lack of interest. For some bonus entertainment, we were front row for a motor bike and bicycle collision right in front of the store. The two drivers engaged in a heated argument and finally after some persuasion for a bus driver, they moved their vehicles and their argument to the side of the road. As I heard from many in India, when an accident on the road takes place, generally both parties try to solve it among themselves and agree on a set price without involving the police. Notifying them of an accident can often lead to you getting a ticket. Fortunately or unfortunately for these two they wrecked right in front of the police station. The officers patiently listened to both of their stories and would eventually make a decision about the accident. It was interesting to watch it unfold and thankfully no one was hurt.

Back to the paper store. Shane finally asked the guy "You know, I come in here all the time and you never ever have a smile on your face. What gives?" He went to explain that he is responsible for this entire store and feels the need to be very stern and carry himself in a manner that lets others know he's in charge. He continued as he said that he also works 15 hours a day and that it is tiring. I immediately took empathy with the story of this shopkeeper. I can get why sometimes you just are not in the mood for smiling. I enjoyed the opportunity to truly get to interact with some of the locals who call Mungeli home. This was a theme that would play out throughout the day.

From there it was on to the next stop - Maggie's Clothing. The owner's son Maggie, is a 25 year old who moved to Mungeli when he was just a child. I had met him a couple of days ago when we all were in town shopping and everyone was buying scarves and pillowcases. I had told them that I wanted to get something for Lisa and that I would be back. He is the exact opposite of the paper store owner - always smiling, always friendly and a master at hospitality. The first question he asked me after we exchanged hellos was "well what will you be drinking today?" As I browsed several different choli's (a fitted women's Indian traditional top) and struggled to make a decision, I was presented with a tray of two steaming glasses of chai tea and biscuits. So as we chatted and shopped, I shared a glass of tea with Maggie. After picking out some tops and waiting for them to be packaged up, I continued to learn more about Maggie. The store had been in his family for over 50 years. His grandfather started out as a struggling laborer and then purchased a very small shop to start a clothing store in Mungeli. Under his guidance and leadership the store grew and they were able to purchase their current and more spacious store space in 1985, the same year Maggie was born. We chatted about driving licenses and work schedules. He told me how he works from 8:30am - 8:30pm, 7 days a week. He lives in the apartment above the store. I asked him "when do you take time for yourself?" He said he really doesn't. He said he loves the store and he only has one best friend and that friend runs a clothing store too. When his father is there he is able to get away at times, but other than that, not very much. I was fascinated speaking with him and hearing about the life of another one of Mungeli's residents.

We left there and stopped at an a small roadside store, that apparently specialized in cookies and treats. I needed some cookies for the school fair and this was definitely the place. Again the hospitality was the name of the game. I had no longer than picked out the five packs of cookies I needed and loaded my bag, before the store owner begged for me to sit and stay for awhile. I was offered a milk crate and sat there in front of his tiny shop along with him and Shane and we enjoyed an ice cold Pepsi. People were there greeting us and talking to us and we had a very enjoyable time again at this small shop. We were carrying full bags at this point and decided to make a stop back at the hospital to unload.

After unloading everything from our shopping trip we tracked down things for the school fair in the chapel and I tagged along with Shane as he took a loop through the hospital to say hello to some of the patients. We stopped in to see the 3 newborn babies and we said hello to the women who just last night had a large cancerous growth removed from the side of her mouth and face. It is incredible to see the before and after ALREADY of this procedure. We checked on others who were recovering from surgery or awaiting operations. I have truly enjoyed my trips through the hospital when I have had the opportunity.

Following our trip around the hospital we went for a walk. We first stopped at the small cantina behind the hospital next to the guest family housing building. We enjoyed a mimosa (looks like a deep fried fortune cookie, but has some kind of stuffing in it) and conversation with the store keeper's there as well. After a light snack we walked the property behind the hospital. We checked in at the makeshift tent and encampment of a local man who lives under what could be the biggest tree in Mungeli. He makes his living making brooms. There were evidence of his work and his work in progress all over the place. Another thing I noticed was the pile of cow pies stacked and laid out to bake in the sun. In a part of the world as desolate as some of the areas are, cow pies can actually serve as fuel for a fire. Yep, nothing like cooking your dinner over some hot steaming poop. That's something I think I'd have trouble with, but again - survival. I asked Shane "what's this guy do when it rains?" he shot back - "he gets wet!" Touche. Touche.

We left there and hiked down to the river to see what was going on. There were fisherman on the far side casting their nets and picking out fish as they pulled them in. I was amazed that anything could possibly live in this water. I am more amazed that anyone would eat anything from this water. Survival. Period.

Our next stop was another happened chance at great hospitality. As we came up to the main street from the river we noticed a mill across the street so we of course wandered over. As soon as we walked onto the property, I mean instantly, one of the men jumped up and insisted that I sit down. The crew was enjoying a break from cutting logs and sawing pieces to make fences and other things that people in this community need. We asked about the machines and the owner quickly assembled his crew back to work and all them with great pride and smiles to prove it, began to work the machinery that provides them all with a living and a way of life. Moments later we were presented with a small piece of wood cut and carved into the shape of a man. The owner said it was a gift to us. We hadn't done anything or given them anything. We weren't important people, we were simply nosy neighbors, but to them we were guests. The only way they treat guests is with great care and joy.

On the way back from the mill I spotted a wall that grabbed my attention immediately. It was covered in drawings and words and swirls and flowers all done by the hands of children using sidewalk chalk. I love things that make us all us. I love that 7,000 miles away there are kids in Ohio who will spend many summer days chalking up and down their city sidewalks. The fact is we are all in this together, the reality is we don't want to acknowledge it.

We left there and returned back to the hospital. I spent some of the afternoon making notes and lists of supplies needed for the games for the fair on Friday. Lisa went through and organized all of the awesome toys that were donated by everyone back in Avon Lake and before we knew it was almost 5pm. I realized I was forgetting a few things, so I asked Shane for another lift into town. Off we went on the motorbike with more adventures awaiting us. We drove alongside a friend he had made who's father runs another garment shop in town. We asked him where we could find a wooden stool that one of the med students was looking for. He had us pull over and personally walked us back to a small wood shop behind the bus station. He was another young man who is trying to make a better life for himself. He has no plans to go into the garment business like his father but instead he is studying business and wants to join a company that makes water wells for communities like Mungeli. Exactly what India needs - young people who want to make India better, who recognize the situation and the solution and want to make things happen. After we left the wood shop, we stopped into one of thousands of little tea shops and enjoyed a cold Sprite and some chai tea. We sat at a table in the back and my seat faced the front of the restaurant. Literally every person turned and just watched us the entire time we were in there. Not with contempt, but with admiration. It was a funky feeling - but there's a lot funky in India.

We returned back home, enjoyed a nice dinner and shared all of our stories from the day. One of the things that struck me the most today was the work ethic that so many of these people have and the dedication for their shops. I hope to meet more people like Maggie and the paper show owner and the aspiring water well designer and everyone else in between. India is full of people and every person has their own story. What would the world look like if we could all "know" or "see" everyone's story as we approached them or passed by them on the street? Would we treat them differently? Would be be quicker to show compassion instead of passing judgment? I made a lot of assumptions about a lot of these people in my first few days here. These people are lazy, they are filthy, they have no pride, they can't be smart because who would pollute their own river with tons of garbage and sewage? But my assumptions and my thoughts are definitely not accurate for all of them. Too bad it took me getting to know some of the Mungelians to realize that. My prayer tonight is for safe travels from Bismantuckett for Rev. Kelly, Dave, Gregg and Anil and my other prayer is for the people of India. You all have a story to tell and your stories are not so different from the stories of people in America and all over the world. I leave you with this. One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite presidents;

"Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future and we are all mortal."
-John F. Kennedy

Tomorrow we will reconnect with the rest of our team, Lisa is planning a short trip into the villages with Lisa and Marcie to survey the women there, fair preparations continue and oh so much more! More pictures next time. I need to get to bed - I have a skype date with my Sr. High youth at 5:30am!

So long!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Kahna National Park....searching for the Royal Bengal Tiger

Today was something I had been looking forward to since I first learned about the trip many months ago. I am an outdoor enthusiast you could say. I enjoy being outside, being active and experiencing God's creation in so many different ways. I have always said that someday I would love to go on an African Safari. Today I was provided with another once in a lifetime opportunity and went on an Indian Safari, also known as a Tiger Safari.

In order for us to reach the park in time for the opening of the gates we needed to leave Mungeli at 2:30am at the latest. We didn't leave Anil and Teresa's home until nearly 11:30pm the night before and when it was all said and done we were all looking at a quick nap before we would have to rise and set out for the park. The other logistic here was that when we returned later in the day we were going to have a very short turnaround to catch a train in Bilaspur to Bismantuckett(no clue on the spelling!). So we were all running around putting this bag together for the safari and that bag for the train ride and it was 2:15am before we could even blink. We all gathered at the front gate and spoke briefly with the night watchman before we loaded in Anil's Range Rover-esque vehicle and set out for Kahna. We were all pretty tired, but we also were a little loopy from all the running around to get ready for the next two days, so the first hour of the ride was lots of laughter. We had an addition to our group and what an addition she was. Jan Campbell came with the group from Atlanta, but is staying until the 23rd of February before returning back to the states. So we sort of adopted her with our group and it was the best decision we ever made. Riding across the Indian countryside at 2 in the morning is quite peaceful because believe it or not, there is really nothing on the roads except for an occasional semi-truck or random cow crossing the road. Our driver made sure that the accelerator and the horn both worked for most of the morning so we knew we were still in India.

Driving to Kahna is an adventure in itself. We had to leave the state of Chhattisgargh and once we entered the new state of Madhya Pradesh we encountered one police check point and 4 additional check points as we entered the reserve. We also had to traverse a mountain road that winded and winded forever up and around this mountain. It had guard rails and 2 lanes so it wasn't nearly as bad as the Indian roads on World's Deadliest Roads, but you still held your breath everytime we came around the corner and there was a semi coming right at you. We came arond the one bend and there was one of these massive transport trucks dipped over on its side. I didn't have much time to think about it or react because we were already passed it and moving along.Most of us nodded off in and out of sleep during the 3 hour drive to Kahna. There interestingly enough is a stretch of road once you get into the preserve for about 25 miles or so that is easily the worst stretch of road I have ever encountered. I use the term "road" loosely to describe this. There were just traces of pavement that once was there before......the great tiger war? the bombing of Madhya Pradesh? I mean I can't figure out how these roads became so awful and living in the norther United States, you also realize that these roads don't endure the beating of the snow plows every winter either. It was one of the bumpiest rides we have experienced yet. I think we all just had to sit back and laugh it off as another adventure in this incredible place. Watch for video coming soon!

We arrived at the gate to Kahna a little before 6:00am. Our driver spoke with the workers at the ticket office and informed us that we could purchase tickets beginning at 6:00am. Once the ticket office opened I filled out this long form to get us into the preserve. India has taken great lengths in the past several years to preserve and restore their Royal Bengal Tiger population. They take great lengths to ensure the safety of these majestic creatures, so filling out this lengthy form to gain admittance to the safari was not surprising at all. We spoke with another family from Jaipur who was there going on their second trip into Kahna. They had driven to the resort the day before and took an evening safari and didn't see much. They explained to us that the forest service sends in teams of men on elephants at 4:00am with flashlights to search for tigers. If they are able to locate one of the nearly 100 tigers in the preserve, they will radio back to the other drivers to inform them of their location. We would all meet at a central location and you pay an extra 600 rupees to load up on the back of an elephant and go out to see the tiger. I was pumped. To actually see a living Bengal Tiger in the wild would would be ridiculous.

So we set out - the six of us, our driver and our spotter. In any animal setting the early morning and late evening are the best time for sightings because it is when they are the most active. Especially in India where the brutal heat in the middle of the day sends most of the animals to find a good resting spot. So our excitement levels were at a maximum. Oh and I should mention that it's really, really cold at 6:30am in India. Not Cleveland, Ohio type of cold, but cold when it's 89 degrees during the day. We drove around and saw several different types of deer, peacocks, monkeys, a big water buffalo type of creature called a Gaur and enjoyed the beauty of this reserve. The real goal though was of course.....a tiger. Our guides would stop periodically from time to time and point out fresh tiger tracks. We would stop the jeep and just listen. At one point we came around a bend and there was about 6 other jeeps stopped and looking across a small plain and onto a hill. Our jeep stopped and our driver kept whispering "listen.....tiger." We were hearing a very loud and audible "whooph" sound. It was very distinct and sounded like someone was blowing a short burst of air through a pipe...but that was no person and a pipe, it was the sound of a tiger. Every few seconds we would hear this distinct sound getting louder and louder. Our guides grew excited and continued to point and look to the hillside. At any moment I was waiting to see a tiger emerge from the hillside. After a few moments though, the sounds were farther apart and growing fainter and fainter. Our tiger was moving in another direction. Some of the jeeps set off in other directions, while we waited patiently with several other groups hoping the that tiger would appear. Eventually we decided to move on and continue our search. About an hour later we all gathered at a little rendezvous point and enjoyed some of the snacks we brought along, most notably peanut butter and crackers. All the guides gathered to discuss their plans after lunch. We took a few group photos and set-off on the search. The weather was warming up and it was a very pleasant drive through this beautiful piece of India. I was so impressed with the upkeep and the cleanliness and the care for this preserve. The park has rangers who live strategically in locations all throughout the property, serving as protectors, guards and stewards of this important area. Tiger poaching nearly drove the animal to extinction in the early 1970's. The tiger had a population of over 40,000 in India in the early 20th century. By 1972 that number had declined to 1,872 tigers. The government seized the opportunity and created Project Tiger. Kahna Tiger Reserve became the first of nine parks and sanctuaries designated by the government to start this project. The work of the project has helped to grow the tiger population to over 3,600 in recent years.

I would love to tell you about seeing a majestic tiger in it's natural habitat, but today was simply not our day for seeing a tiger. It's ok though - because the safari was still an amazing experience, the ride through the park was beautiful and the day was a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Mungeli. It's ok as well because simply tracking and searching for a Tiger was enough of an adrenaline rush for me. I haven't paid that much attention to something for that length of time since....well.....I don't think ever. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, something I have always had on my "bucket list" and just another one of millions of reasons on why I plan to return to India someday.

We returned back to the ticket office, unloaded our gear from the jeep and packed up the range rover for a looooooooonnnngg, bumpy ride back to Mungeli. Our driver, well all of the drivers at the hospital for that matter, are incredible. He drove us all through the night to the park, slept in the car and then drove us back that afternoon. About halfway back on our ride to Mungeli the air conditioner went in the jeep. This was a luxury in the first place, and having the windows down isn't bad with as fast as they all drive, but it was an extremely dusty day it seemed in India, so we had some finely grated Indian dust for a nice afternoon snack on the way back to the hospital. Once we got back to the hospital we quickly showered and prepared for the trip to Bismantuckett. Lisa had been dealing with some indigestion and heartburn for most of the day. By the time we got back to the hospital she wasn't really feeling that good at all. We decided it would be better for her to stay back and rest, so she called it a day and slept for the rest of the day and night. I of course, stayed back to take care of her and was able to catch up on some things around here. Shane our neighbor next door who is staying here for a few months with his family (I mentioned them in an earlier post), called for me to go with him on a ride into town. Oh what adventures could await me this time. We drove a few blocks from the hospital to a small brick building with an overhead door open. The outside of the building was littered with stray dogs and when you enter the place there was sinply a desk with a cash register to the left and to the right was a counter with a large tree stump behind it. Beyond them was a room full of chickens running around. It was time to get dinner! I will spare you all the details, unless you really want them, but it was something else! Let me tell you! So while the butcher was preparing our chicken order, we rode into town to pick-up some limes. Nothing like riding a motorbike in Mungeli during the 5 o'clock rush hour. Wow. We stopped back at the butcher, picked up our fresh bag of warm chicken and headed back to the hospital to get ready for dinner.

After dinner, we enjoyed the company of Teresa Henry and we played some really fun games including Betty Ford....can't wait to play it with all of you back in states. I crashed around 9:30pm - it was awesome.

So that was it. Another eventful and exciting day in India. Tomorrow we will be making the trek into town to get things for Friday's school fair and other necessities. Watch for a guest post from the Reverend Kelly Brill tomorrow after she returns from her trip to Bismantuckett. Enjoy the pictures below and stop over to for more from all of our adventures.

Until next time.....much love,