Like I mentioned in my The Long Story post I spent a month in India the summer of 2015.
It was life changing.
Honestly I don’t think I can adequately put into words just how amazing this experience was and how much it has influenced my life, but I will try:
Part of the nursing program at BYU includes a global health class. They provide opportunities in Utah, DC and then all over the world like Taiwan, Finland, Ecuador and I chose to go to India, second best decision of my life (behind marrying Sean of course).
Before I get to India though let me tell you about Thailand. Mom and I decided if I’m going to go half way around the world I should make a pit stop in Thailand so off to Thailand we went! It was AMAZING!! We rode elephants, canoed through caves, swam in beautiful water, ventured to downtown Phuket, got stuck in several TORRENTIAL downpours and spent countless hours laying by the pool reading. Not to mention the several massages we got and the awesome food we had!
My mom told Sean when we got married that he had to be okay with me being her travel buddy still…I know I’m okay with that!!
So after a week in paradise with my mother I headed off to meet my group in India which was an ADVENTURE! First off, in an attempt to find a place to exchange some money in the Kuala Lumpur airport I accidentally left the gate area and headed towards the baggage claim, whoops! So I quickly ran back up the descending escalator hoping security wasn’t going to come after me! Then I sat in the middle of this family that was passing their curry dishes (home cooked) and babies back and forth over me as we flew into Chennai at 1 am. Keep in mind I was flying alone into the number one sex trafficking country in the world in the middle of the night…definitely will not be letting my daughters do that!!
Anyway after clearing customs I waited for my bag for an hour and a half just praying it hadn’t gotten lost. It finally came and I headed out into the zoo which was the airport exit. I don’t think I’ve ever held onto my baggage as tightly as I did then as I had taxi drivers grabbing at me from everywhere! I finally spotted my driver with my name “Mr. Katie Holiday” haha…whatever and after 15+ hours I arrived at our hotel and to meet up with my group. It’s funny to think that this trip only got more interesting from this point on.
The next morning we all got dressed in our chittidars hopped in the rickshaws and headed to church. The fact that we got in no accidents the whole trip is miracle in it of itself, I’m not kidding. No lanes, no traffic signals, no speed limits, dead goats hanging off the back of scooter and entire families riding on one scooter!! I think we counted a total of 7 people on one scooter…7!!
We spent a day in Chennai “shopping” which was actually bartering, getting lost, and some of us almost getting taken ;). haha it was quite the adventure! We then headed out to Tamil Nadu and the school we’d be staying at.
Once there we unpacked our stuff in the hostel we would be staying in, which was air conditioned thank heavens and headed into the neighboring village. Considering we were a group of 10 white girls walking down the street in rural India we peaked the villager’s interest and pretty soon had all the village kids running up to us to take pictures and talk to us. We even made up a “vanakam” dance with some of them.
Side note: Cows are considered holy in India, they are revered and very special, so naturally we all wanted to pet a holy Indian cow. I attempted this twice and twice I was charged by the cows…I guess I’m not a cow person? We were also chased through the forest of India by a group of monkeys…haha literally a Jumanji moment!
So that night we ate our dinner in the upper room of our hostel. Dinners mostly consisted of rice (surprise), vegetable broth, veggies, and fruit. With breakfasts being cliff bars and lunches were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We also usually ate our dinner off of banana leaves and the kids tried to teach us to eat like them, with our hands, haha but that didn’t go so well.
During our time there our days we always packed! I usually woke up around 6 to go run around the track for a bit. I then took my bucket shower…literally buckets filled with water from the well that was so dirty we couldn’t see the bottom of the bucket, but they were heavenly! I then skyped Sean and my parents for a bit while eating breakfast and then it was off to the colony for the day. We must have visited 20+ leprosy colonies all over the Tamil Nadu and surrounding areas. We then set up our health stations which consisted of glucose and blood pressure checks, unwrapping, cleaning, debrieding (cutting away the dead tissue) and redressing wounds, usually on the feet. Our stations looked like:
We typically spent the mornings in the colonies completing the necessary care for the villagers and playing with all the kids. And then we would go do a “cultural” activity which basically meant we were going to see buddhist temples, lots of them! Most of the time we didn’t know who the temple was for and they were ALWAYS hot! And even though we were working really hard we also had a lot of fun!
Probably one of my favorite pictures and totally candid…
One night we decided to play a practical joke on one of the girls and we put a fake cobra in on the buckets in the showers. We filled it up with just enough water that you could tell it was rubber unless you really inspected it. Well…fast forward a few hours and as we’re all sitting out by the kitchen we hear this scream like i’ve never heard and this girl comes sprinting from the bathroom screaming “SNAKE!!!!” She runs past us all, into her room and slams the door. I literally fell off my chair laughing. After a few minutes she comes back out looks at us all who were still cracking up and says “It’s fake isn’t it?” Seriously one of the funniest things!
We met so many wonderful people during this trip too. It was amazing to see how although they had nothing materially (compared to us) they were so extremely happy! A sweet man named Abraham sang with us as we set our stations up in his village. People took us to their homes and showed us with such pride where they lived, places which were mostly dirt. In one colony we sat on the steps and sang with the people living there. I will never forget the spirit we felt as we sang “I feel my Savior’s Love” and this sweet woman clapped what was left of her hands.
But there was one woman who stole my heart. I don’t know her name and she doesn’t know mine. We couldn’t communicate very well, but the love and laughter we shared was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I love this woman, I can’t wait to meet her again. Just look at these pictures and try not to smile.
We also had the opportunity to buy paintings that were painted by members of the colonies. My parents and Sean and I have these paintings hanging in our homes and I always love looking at them. They remind to never given up or stop trying, that no matter how hard things get I need to persevere and I can make it.
And now for the best part of the trip, the kids. We stayed at a boarding school and each day would spend the afternoon and evenings playing with them and teaching them lessons. We did physicals and vaccines, went to the dentist with them and just fell in love with their sweet spirits. The boys challenged me to basketball games and we play countless soccer games and hours of tag. By the end of the night we were all exhausted and sweaty beyond belief! But boy did we love those kids!
One sweet girl in particular stole my heart, Abinasha. She and I became fast friends and spent every afternoon playing together! When I got home my parents saw all the pictures of her and how much I cared for her and decided to sponsor her (pay for her to be at the school). When my mom when back to Rising Star this past January (2017) she took pictures to Abinasha of me and her, what a sweet girl she is!
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the friendships I made with the girls I was with. We spent a lot of time together and became really good friends. We sweat together, laughed, cried, played Ipod karaoke and they really made this trip even more amazing.
After our time in Chennai we hopped a plane up to Delhi to visit the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. We began this trip by eating some of the most amazing Indian food I have ever had! My mouth is watering just thinking about it! We then ventured around Delhi in the bicycle rickshaws (not any safer than regular) and saw the spice market before hopping on the bus to Agra.
After our day in Delhi we headed to Agra where we woke up before dawn to get to the Taj Mahal as the sun cam up. WHAT AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE! I seriously have never seen anything like it, no wonder its one of the 7 wonders of the world!
From the Taj we headed to the red fort in Agra and that didn’t disappoint either.
And finally after weeks in India it was time to head home. We stopped on our way to airport for massages (our tour guides idea), one last delicious Indian meal and it was off to home we went. This trip completely changed my perspective on things, gave me such gratitude for all I have and helped me draw closer to my Heavenly Father. I’m so grateful that BYU gave me this opportunity. Honestly it is this trip that gives me the drive to get my nurse practitioner degree because I want to be able to help more people in these situations. I can’t express my gratitude for this trip, all that i learned and how it has changed me. I will be back.