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.
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.
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.
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.