OUR FOURTH WEEK IN INDIA

For our final Indian adventure, we decided to go to Goa, which is a very touristy beach area. (Meaning I could wear shorts, for the first time our whole trip!) We boarded our plane knowing that we would be getting our residency match email the moment we landed. For most people, match day is very ceremonial, and the whole medical school gathers to open envelopes, announce their match on stage, celebrate with family, etc. My parents drove down to Austin with my little brother for his match day. Alec’s family drove to Nashville to watch Taylor take the stage. We were pushing our way through a crowd trying to get off the airplane when Alec got the email. (In India, there’s not much order to deboarding. Forget the row-by-row nonsense or the waiting for the seatbelt sign to turn off. Every person for him/herself.) 

 

So you get the picture—our match day was pretty a-typical. Even for a process that is already a little crazy. We got an email saying we were moving to Augusta, GA—a place I’m sure I would never decide to move except for the Emergency Medicine program located there. And it’s not the kind of thing you can decide you’d rather look elsewhere—once you match, you are to go or you can forget ever matching again. (Which means you can’t be a doctor.) I’ll write another post soon here on what matching was like, and how we’ve processed this cross-country move more in depth. 

 

We called our family and texted friends from the airport, sitting by baggage claim until 11:30 PM. We were pretty worn out and ready to get to our hostel, but my parents had asked me no less than 12 times how I was going to share the match news before we left for India. They were not going to be denied that phone call. After all, if my mom is willing to pay $1/minute for a phone call, you know she’s desperate to get the news. After calling the parents, we headed for our hostel.

 

Turns out in India, you have to specify you want an air-conditioned room. Suddenly, our $7 a night room didn’t seem like quite as great a deal. Thankfully, my gracious mother-in-law texted me saying she was putting money in our account for a nice hotel for the next night to celebrate our match. But we did meet some fun people from all over the world during this surreal night. (Think: matching around 11 PM, pulling up to this hostel around 12:30 trying to process our upcoming move, then suddenly meeting a bunch of drunk foreigners and falling asleep in hot, stiff bunk beds). I'm just grateful I had the wherewithal to turn on my fan... Alec didn't even realize his bed had one! 

Goa is certainly beautiful and worth the trip! We started our Saturday with a hike to an old lighthouse. Then we relaxed on a beach that had a particularly great view of the sunset. However it turned out this beach was one of the major party beaches. We were offered cocaine on at least two occasions, and we had dinner in a particularly trippy hooka bar. We later learned that most single, young Indian girls aren’t even allowed to go to Goa unless they are married and taking family vacation. It has some sort of “girls gone wild” reputation. This did explain why I felt so outnumbered on the beach. (Even though Connor got asked for more photo ops than I did—those golden locks were a real hit.)

After dinner, we realized our hostel locker keys were no longer safely tucked away in Alec’s pockets. And I wasn’t feeling optimistic that we’d be able to find a lock cutter in Goa at 11:00 pm. We even asked other patrons of this restaurant to take a break from smoking so we could check under the cushions and help us find our keys. (All seats were basically dirty cushions on the floor…) We backtracked to our beach chairs about a mile away, and there they were, laying in the sand. Sometimes I think God just likes to remind me that he takes care of even the little details in my life. 

THE KEYS FELL OFF ONTO THE BENCH AT SOME POINT DURING THE TAKING OF THIS PHOTO 

THE KEYS FELL OFF ONTO THE BENCH AT SOME POINT DURING THE TAKING OF THIS PHOTO 

For me, our last week in Bangalore was a whirlwind of wrapping up my research at IJM. Connor and Alec got the opportunity to work in the ER for a few days, and they took a day off to check out a local temple and sushi restaurant in Bangalore. Alec tried to convince me to take the opportunity to observe a surgery, seeing as how it might be my last chance ever. (You can’t just walk into the OR here in the states.) But I didn’t think the hospital would appreciate having a volunteer pass out during an operation. There's a reason I didn't go to medical school, after all. 

My co-workers wanted to play dress up with my new sari, and now I realize why everyone offers to help you put them on for you! It is such an intricate piece of clothing, and now I’m just dying to be invited to an Indian wedding so I can wear it again!  

OUR THIRD WEEK IN INDIA

During our second weekend in India, we went to a town called Mysore, which is about 3 hours away from Bangalore. We opted to take the train, which had us feeling like we were on the Hogwarts Express. We had our own compartment, and I was ready for the cart to come by with chocolate frogs. Alas, no such luck. 

Mysore is a very touristy town with a stunning palace and many temples. Our first temple was covered in scaffolding, and was spontaneously closed from 2-4. Well, you can guess what time we got there, and we chose not to wait the extra two hours. We hiked down to the big black bull. It’s actually tricky to get your picture with the bull, as you’re not allowed to wear shoes and the stone floor is very hot. 

The inside of Mysore Palace is incredibly intricate, and Alec sneakily snapped some pictures of the walls. (Even after a guard threatened to fine him $20. I married a rebel, what can I do?) We also caught sight of the palace elephants making their march, and they were enormous and covered in jewels. We also checked out the outdoor flower market nearby, and I couldn’t help but buy the watercolor powder. It’s just too pretty. 

The next morning we stopped by the sand sculpture museum, which I promise was not as lame as it sounds. The artist, turns out, has won awards worldwide for her sand sculptures. Maybe I’ll give it a go during our next beach trip… you never know when you can find a dormant talent. Finally, we drove out to a remote temple, which was really beautiful, (despite the blaring music—that seemed out of place). 

The rest of the week was a little bit of a blur because we were anxiously awaiting match day! Alec and Connor got to work with the Chaplain team at the hospital. Here in the states, patients only see the chaplain when they request one, but at Bangalore Baptist, the chaplain team makes a point of seeing every single patient in the hospital. They get to know everyone, hear their stories, and offer words of encouragement and prayer when needed. They even follow up with patients after they leave the hospital. 

 

The Chaplain team is so well led that they have a fellowship program for aspiring young chaplains. They asked Alec to lead a bible study, so he prepared for what he thought was going to be a discussion in a small group. As it turns out, by “bible study,” they essentially mean sermon, and Alec ended up speaking at the pulpit in front of the whole program. Then they found out he plays guitar, so the next day he was expected to lead worship for the group. (Note to self—never admit to playing musical instruments.) 

Next week, I’ll finish the India series. I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since we got home! We sure loved this grand adventure! 

OUR SECOND WEEK IN INDIA

For our first weekend in India, we opted to explore around Bangalore. And apparently when you travel with two boys, sight-seeing must include some sort of sporting event, so we went to a cricket match. (Anyone else forget that was a sport?) The stadium seats 40,000, and attendees aren’t even allowed to bring handbags for fear one might get too excited during the match and throw it on to the field. (I thought about bringing my bag anyway and explaining to the guards just how little I cared about the outcome of the match, but I figured better not to risk it.) We learned the rules as we watched—it’s a similar game to baseball, only slower if you can imagine. The pitching team has to get the entire batting team out before the inning switches, and in the two and a half hours we watched, only one person got out. I guess that’s why these tournaments last 5 days. 

SOMEONE ATTACKED ALEC WITH FACE PAINT. TRUE STORY. 

SOMEONE ATTACKED ALEC WITH FACE PAINT. TRUE STORY. 

After cricket, we went to the national park and took a safari. The little girl inside of me who wanted to be a zoologist when she grew up was absolutely giddy. We loved getting to see the white tiger, but my personal favorite was the sloth bear. How can you not smile when you look at this creature? (Also why don’t more animals look like sloths? I’m 90% sure the world would be a better place if they did.)

Seeing as how we weren’t allowed to bring bags to the cricket stadium, I was limited to items that would fit in Alec’s pockets. My phone was an obvious choice, but second on the list was toilet paper! Most public bathrooms in India have squatty potties, which are essentially holes in the bottom of the stall. And they do not provide toilet paper. To those who warned me about the toilet situation, all I can say is: thank you. 

 

During the week, I went with Alec to the slum clinics and the rural clinic, which was a pretty amazing experience. Generally I try to stay away from the medical stuff, (because needles and blood), but I loved getting to see how the doctors here serve the community through medical care! They even gave me a badge that said “Dr. Annick Coston” and let me check the patients’ blood pressure.

Our favorite day was visiting the rural clinics, where the palliative care team works. If you’re like me and have never heard the word “palliative” before, this team takes care of patients with terminal diseases. The bulk of their patients have mouth cancer, because tobacco chewing is very common in the rural areas. The team makes house visits every day, administering pain medicine and comforting family members. They also meet with leaders in the community and school children to educate them on the dangers of tobacco, the importance of seeking medical care at the first signs of cancer, etc. They track this progress meticulously, and hope to reach every single person in the northern part of the state within the next few years. I fully expect they’ll change the average lifespan for the next generation of farmers. 

 

Our day in the rural clinic was my favorite. Not only is this team a well-oiled machine, effectively reaching new patients every week, but they focus on relationships and service. They sit in patients’ living rooms and hear all about their lives. One patient even let me hold her newly hatched baby chicken while the doctor counseled her. She’d had a mastectomy, (where one breast is removed), and was feeling down about her appearance. She didn’t need any medical care, she just need someone to minister to her heart. There’s something amazing about watching a male doctor in a heavily paternal society take the time to visit a patient just to help her feel beautiful. Of course, that’s after they saved her life. 

 

It all makes me even prouder to be a part of this whole doctor life.

CAN HOLDING BABY ANIMALS JUST BE A PART OF EVERY JOB ALREADY?

CAN HOLDING BABY ANIMALS JUST BE A PART OF EVERY JOB ALREADY?

OUR FIRST WEEK IN INDIA

I actually can’t even believe I’m writing about a whole week in India… It’s flying by way too fast! When we were getting packed and crossing off that ‘ole to-do list leading up to our trip, a month felt like an incredibly long, daunting adventure. But I know four weeks will fly by in the blink of an eye, and we’re determined to soak in as much of this experience as possible! 

 

I fancy myself a pretty seasoned traveler, but you’d think this was our first jaunt oversees the day we were leaving from Dallas. Alec and I got about four hours of sleep because we were up so late packing. (Well, me packing, Alec packing and cleaning. I mean I do love coming home to a tidy house and all but—FOR THE LOVE—I’m not touching a broom on less than 6 hours sleep!) The next morning we arrived at the airport with just enough time to spend 30 minutes rearranging our bags to meet the weight requirements. (Turns out carry-on bags have weight limits too, not just the checked ones.) After a decent amount of rearranging, stuffing snacks in our pockets, and a lot of patience from the sweet Emirates gate agent, we were ready to board. (After aforementioned Emirates agent delivered our visas to us at the gate, which we had managed to leave on his desk before security. Not sure what we’d have done without those once we got to India.) 

 

When we got to India, we managed to wait in the wrong line for about 30 minutes. (To be fair, we’d been traveling for about 25 hours at that point.) And when we finally got in the correct line, it took persuasion to convince the customs agent that although I was staying at a hospital, I was not there to receive plastic surgery. Apparently it’s common for people to come to India for medical tourism, because the elective procedures are much cheaper. But it requires a more expensive visa than the one we applied for… So I tried not to be offended that he was skeptical about my plastic surgery needs.

BECAUSE A SELFIE AFTER A 14 HOUR FLIGHT IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA... 

BECAUSE A SELFIE AFTER A 14 HOUR FLIGHT IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA... 

When we arrived at the hospital, they had dinner waiting for us. I can’t even tell you how accommodating and hospitable everyone has been. We are spoiled everyday by a cook who makes us a mix of western meals and Indian meals. She purposefully goes light on the spice for me, though I’m sure Connor and Alec wish she would kick it up a notch. Her pancakes and macaroni and cheese are pretty spectacular—rivaling that good Southern food I tend to miss. There’s a good chance I may forget how to cook for myself all-together. 

The view from our room--the hospital campus is so tropical! 

The view from our room--the hospital campus is so tropical! 

On Sunday, we went to the hospital’s chapel for church, and it was so amazing to sing about the nations praising God along with a room of Indian nursing students and staff. Dr. Naveen, an Indian pediatric transplant surgeon-slash-pastor, gave the message in English, and it was wonderful. The way the hospital staff love and serve God—it’s palpable. As someone who has always avoided hospitals and doctors (because blood. and needles.), I love being on the hospital campus every day. These people live on mission. The hospital has a really cool pastoral training service, and they go out into the community preaching to patients and planting Churches. The hospital staff is all Indian— a mix of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians— but the hospital’s overarching mission is Christian. Because of this, they get a lot of pressure from the right wing Hindu government, and funding can be difficult at times. Since they won’t bribe city officials like many other organizations, building permits come slowly, but with some patience, they are able to do what they need to do. 

We toured the hospital on Monday, and it is incredible how many high-tech services they offer patients here. It’s actually a pretty crazy juxtaposition to have such a modest hospital building, with its cracked walls, cinder blocks, and faulty power, play host to high performing medical instruments and sophisticated surgical procedures. The hospital was full of sick patients, as people come from all over South India to seek care here. And almost no one comes here for minor pains and aches—the trip is too costly for them. Alec is getting to see some illnesses he’ll rarely treat in the states, like Tuberculosis and dengue fever. There’s a special pride that swells up in me when I see him walking through the hospital, knowing all the people he gets to serve. 

 

I’ve been working at the IJM office, and everyone has been so welcoming! All of the people in the office are so devoted to the cause, and they have a deep sense of how much they need to rely on God to accomplish anything they set out to do. We begin every morning with an office-wide devotional, and it is such an amazing way to start the day, asking for God’s guidance and wisdom. It’s a habit I hope to take home with me—beginning my day with complete reliance on Him. 

 

It is wonderful to see that when people from a country with such a rich and vibrant culture begin following Jesus, it doesn’t strip them of their culture. My new Indian friends and I couldn’t be more different in our appearance, style, and customs, but we are fiercely united by our belief in Christ and what He has done for us.

Driving around town in the auto rickshaw

Driving around town in the auto rickshaw

My biggest fear/unknown about the trip was how I would get to the IJM office every day by myself. I questioned whether I would feel on edge every day driving with a random cab driver, and whether it would even be worth leaving the hospital campus. But thankfully, we found a driver who used to work for the hospital for decades, who is well known amongst all the missionaries and UT Southwestern staff who come to Bangalore. His name is Mr. Mark, and fun fact, he photobombed Mother Teresa back in the 80s when she came to speak here. I didn’t bother to explain the term photobomb to him, because there’s a little bit of a language barrier, but we’re learning to understand each other better as we spend an hour in Bangalore traffic together everyday.  

 

What has surprised us most about Bangalore:

  • Almost all the women dress in very traditional Indian salwars and sarees. The men wear whatever they want. I feel relatively out of place wearing pants and a traditional, bright, beaded tunic while Alec wears a t-shirt and shorts. 
  • The traffic here makes a cab ride through New York City seem like a small-town drive. It took us an hour and a half to drive 12 miles on a Saturday. And lanes are not a thing. I find myself catching my breath every half mile as we almost hit another motorcycle or car. Or cow. Cows are in the streets or on the sidewalks, usually eating trash. 
  • Waiters will look on you with pity if you order plain white rice with naan bread. They will question how you could possibly want something so bland. The spice here is real, and it’s a struggle. 
  • Men walk around holding hands as a sign of friendship, but couples do not show any outward affection. I’ve tried to encourage Alec and Connor to embrace this custom. So far, they have resisted, but I have a hard time remembering not to grab Alec’s hand out in the crowd. 
  • We are 11.5 hours ahead of Dallas, which is a whole new bear of jet lag. (Don’t ask me why the half hour.) It will cause one to wake up at 3 AM every morning and curse her circadian rhythm. I guess doctors are too used to weird hours though—Connor and Alec didn’t seem to have this problem. 

WHEN GOD SHUTS A DOOR SO YOU'LL KICK IT DOWN

Most of us grew up hearing the old adage, “When God shuts one door, He opens a window,” (or something to that effect—I’ve never been great at idioms). This saying has probably provided great comfort to many of us along the way, because we trust that God, or the universe, or [insert cosmic force here], has a plan, when things don’t pan out the way we’d hoped. After all, if God works out all things for our good like Romans 8:28 says He does, doesn’t that mean He has good for us in the big fat N-Os too? 

 

PHOTO BY LANING PHOTOGRAPHY

PHOTO BY LANING PHOTOGRAPHY

My parents would have you believe I don’t take well to the word “no.” It’s undoubtedly why they told me I should go to law school from the ripe age of 5. (Who tells a five-year-old she should go to law school? They weren’t wrong.) For some reason, I have a lot easier time hearing “no” from God… Maybe an easier time than I should. 

 

When I went to law school, I was certain upon graduation I was destined for the first plane to a rural African village. I’d stand up for the young woman getting kicked off her land for the audacious act of being a female land-owner. And then I would help her start an enterprise of some sort. (I hadn’t done the market research yet—that I’d save for after law school.) Or swap out Africa and land snatching for South Asia and human trafficking—I wasn’t picky on the place and cause, I just wanted to go, and I wanted to empower women. I was pretty optimistic applying for my first internships, 

 

but all I got were some big, sturdy, closed doors. 

 

I was re-reading the book, Love Does, by Bob Goff the other day. (And when I say “re-reading,” you can safely assume I highly recommend it.) In one chapter, he describes how he sat on the bench outside the dean’s office of his law school all day, every day, for literally two weeks straight. He hadn’t gotten into law school, and every time the dean would walk outside, he would remind the dean he had the power to grant him admission with the simple words, “Go buy your books!” Bob Goff was confident God had instilled the desire in his heart to become a lawyer, and although God had closed the door, he felt like God wanted him to kick it down. KICK. IT. DOWN. When I did not get into Harvard Law School, I did not kick down that door. It didn’t even occur to me. I only applied because my parents made me. I told them it was a waste of money, and when I received my rejection letter in the mail, I believe I threw it away with a snarky “told you so” type comment. (It might even have been an email I deleted, but you get the gist.) 

 

When I moved to Dallas after law school, I was sure God had closed the doors to working abroad. I didn’t apply anywhere outside the states. For that matter, I pretty much just applied to one office and stayed until they hired me. They didn’t give me a job after my first interview, but they graciously let me stay as an unpaid intern. For how long, you ask? Fourteen months. I interned for fourteen months, (and another round of interviews), until they hired me, because I was confident in my heart that I needed to kick down that door.

 

Then, two years after I got the job, we found out Alec and I had the opportunity to go to India for his away rotation. 

 

So I quit. I quit the job I interned fourteen months to get. 

 

There was always a part of me that wondered if I took those closed doors of going abroad too easily. Was God saying "no," or did I actually just chicken out? You better believe I jumped at the opportunity this time, and I’m grateful I didn’t kick that door down sooner. Dallas is where I fell in love with Alec, where I learned calligraphy, and where I met some of my dearest friends. 

 

So how do we know when to kick? At the end of the day, not everyone SHOULD go to law school. (Most people hate it anyway.) If I ever have to apply to another job, I’ll probably apply to several places! And God has closed many doors I saw fit to leave closed. (We can rarely condone kicking down an ex-boyfriend’s door, after all. Rarely.) I think we kick down those closed doors only when we have deep conviction firmly rooted in truth, and have the support of our community.