Sunday, December 7, 2014

India Trip, Verse-by-Verse and Play-by-Play (PHOTOS!)

Pamela asked me a good question, about two days before I left her beautiful country. "Why are you here?" she said. I responded with the litany of reasons that, one year ago, I made the decision to come back to India. "No," she said, "I don't mean why did you plan the trip. I mean, with everything stacked against you, and most people in the same situation would never have made it, why is it that you made it all the way back here?" That question has been echoing in my mind with only whispers of answers I hardly dare think. Only time will tell. But one thing I do know: God has been in this from the very beginning. Even the choice of plane ticket was in response to His instructions to "wait," then "go." The canceled American Airlines flight, the overnight stay in Charlotte, the 2 minute delay in paging my name so I'd be on the other side of security, the missed second flight so I'd be rerouted through London instead of Qatar - all that just so I could approach the Indian consulate in person instead of being trapped in a foreign airport. Sure, it would have been easier if God had simply revealed my little mix-up on the visa expiration date months ago, but no, this is all exactly how He wanted it to go down.

James 1 and lots of photos after the jump.

And there has been peace. Such peace, flooding me at every turn. Even in moments of unsureness, I have rested in His goodness and care. He has led me every step of the way. And blessed me with little adventures everywhere.

Verse By Verse

The week before I left, a dear sister at church told me to read James chapter 1, that she was memorizing it and I should too. She texted me the first part:

"Count it all joy, brothers, whenever you endure trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." James 1:2-3

I have been living the words of this chapter throughout my trip. When the Christian is met with blockages in her path, she has two options: 1, accept the blockage as a wall God has thrown in her way to stop her or at least reroute her, and give up on that path; or 2, joyfully count the blockage as a perseverance-building gift and set about finding any way under, over, around, or through it. I guess giving up was an option at many points, but with James 1:2 ringing in my ears, at every point I chose God-assisted stubbornness instead.

You know those red telephone booths that make London look so picturesque? Tip: they are best enjoyed at a distance. After seeing (and smelling) the inside of at least six of them in a few city blocks, and not being able to make a call from ANY of them, I was TIRED. The next one I came to had an incoming message for me. As in, it literally flashed "INCOMING MESSAGE" where the dialed number was supposed to appear. "Ok God," I prayed aloud, half-angry with frustration, half-laughing with the whimsy that comes at the point past all frustration - "what message do you have for me?" I picked up the phone. "Please hang up and try again...hang up and try again...try again..." I hung up the phone and picked it up again, listening to the message several more times, giggling wildly, before setting off again on my crazy mission. I have learned, on this trip, to try harder, to fight harder, for what I want, than I think I ever have in my life.

"If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all, without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:5

I prayed and prayed for wisdom. Indian bureaucracy is a fearsome thing. But this verse gave me the confidence that God really would grant my request. From wise tips from friends like "get to the visa office early - the line is long" and "make sure to mention your wedding invitation" to just the words and the actions that even surprised me sometimes...He certainly delivered. He gave me a persona that was calm (but with deep emotion visible under the surface) smiling and pleasant, but direct and persistent. Words that were hard to argue with and counters to just about every verbal block they threw my way. The insight to do all my paperwork over again the night before - even taking a new photo. I let them know that I was taking every measure there was to take, following their rules to the T until the rules broke down and then making sure they wouldn't be at peace until that gap was bridged. "It is impossible," the guy at the consulate told me. "I believe it is possible," I replied. "How is it possible, Ma'am?" "I don't know, let's figure it out together. I have faith that we can" ...That's not me. That's some wise voice that God put into my mouth, because I asked for it. And because He loves me.

"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like the wild flower. The sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant. Its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business." James 1:9-11

Coming to India I have to own up to one basic fact. I am rich. However I seem, comparatively, to other Americans, when I see much more 'normal' living conditions, (and I think India fits much better with the international standard of 'normal') it shows me sharply just how rich I am to enjoy what I do in my American middle-class life. Even more when I realize what my year's worth of savings can buy once converted to Indian rupees.

So what is God's word for me, the rich sister? Take pride in my low position. I'm not sure what that means for others, but for me it was very literal - here I came expressly to take the role of a servant - washing dishes, cooking,laundry, diapers. At the same time, because of my American savings I was also equipped to be a benefactor - taxi fare, buying groceries, etc. It was like both ends of the spectrum at once. Weird and cool and a very personal application of this scripture. But the word also reminds me I will pass away like a wild flower. My beautiful American life, with its meaningful, well-paid job and festivals and music and good food and dancing and art and pretty posessions - it's all temporary. Pamela said, “Don't forget everything has its season.” Perhaps this is my earning phase, my living it up phase. I mustn't make the mistake of assuming it's my permanent reality. So there is no sadness for me in the words "scorching," "wither," "destroyed" or "fade" because it is all simply part of a plan that is far more beautiful than the sliver of life I now know. Who knows what even lovelier reality awaits just on the other side of the end of me "going about my business."

But I know, dear readers (the ones who didn't abandon me in frustration years ago, bless you) that what you really want to hear is what I actually did in India. It's not super exciting, but here's a day-by-day, play-by-play account for you:

Play By Play

Autorickshaws - the most popular transport
Pam's neighborhood, Sushant Lok
Walking in Gurgaon. That's Shushant on right.
Wednesday: Arrive in Delhi, at last. Think airport image of dancer with dandiya is a particularly well-dress ed female warrior. Attempt to buy Mango Slice from drink machine, no small bills, fail. Retrieve, with great difficulty, the broomstick from Odd Sized Baggage. Spend a few unsuccessful hours attempting to retrieve suitcase, then meet Pam's husband Ryan at the taxi. Meet Baby. Present small gifts purchased in London.

Thursday: Jetlagged blur. Drink chai, scramble eggs, hang laundry, hang out with Pam and Baby, dishes. Walk to small neighborhood store to restock on eggs (purchased individually) and milk (in bags). Buy Mango Slice, which will become a fridge staple while I'm there. Call airline about baggage.

Friday: Call airline again. Male friend Shushant chaperones Pam and me on a shopping trip, purchase gifts. More laundry, dishes, and chai. Dinner at a favorite Arabic restaurant from last year. Guitar and songs.
Metro selfie
Saturday: Baby's first metro ride. She is not a fan. Visit Dilli Haat, a delightfully touristy, thoroughly Indian cultural center full of traditional handicrafts, entertainers, music, and food from every state. Eat chicken biryani and prawns,drink fruit beer and lassis. Ryan's parents' house for dinner.

Sunday: Ryan takes me to church. Pam is sleeping out a late night with fussy, teething Baby. Cook a marvelous Sunday lunch for Pam, Ryan, Shushant and Anil featuring Thai Curry with coconut and cashews. Buy more Mango Slice. Call airline again.

Monday: Spend the morning on the back of a motorbike running errands. Pick up Shushant's brother from school, visit Hindi pastor's wife. Call airline again. More chai, laundry and dishes while listening to Taylor Swift. Evening hanging out at the mall with Shushant while Pam and Ryan have dinner with Ryan's uncle, visiting from America.

Tuesday: Baggage finally arrives. Go to Qutab Minar with Pam and fellow expat Amy. Get stuck in traffic, go 1 block in 1 hour. Eat Seekh Kebabs at Kebab House in Delhi. Drink delicious Sweet Lassis out of clay pots, sitting in the car in front of a random store selling hub caps, electrical parts, and apparently the best lassis in Delhi. Help Pam buy backed moorhas, the kind of chair she's been wanting for over a year, with money my parents sent. Squeeze them very carefully into Amy's car and squeeze myself in under them. Go home and sleep for hours because starting to get sick.

Wednesday: Plan for Thanksgiving, shop for Thanksgiving, cook for Thanksgiving. Chai and laundry squeezed in. Peel at least 3 pounds of potatoes with Pam while watching Dr. Who.

Thanksgiving Spread, photo by Anil
Thursday: Cook all day, coughing and sneezing and praying I won't get everyone else sick. Whipped cream for pie, cooked red beans, mashed potatoes and garlic potatoes, toasted rolls, and made 2 kinds of gravy. Take food to Amy's house where we feed Pam and Ryan's friends Shushant, Anil, Aveek and new wife Sonia. Crash for an hour or two on Amy's couch.

Friday: Sick and too exhausted to clean. House is a wreck, laundry and dishes are backed up. Pack bags, do final laundry, one more shopping trip for last minute gifts, watch Baby while Pam wraps gifts for her family and friends. Visit Aveek and Sonia, the newly wedded couple, and sing the song Pam and I would have sung at their wedding. Soak up every last precious minute with my India family, sing a parting song, stay up until time to leave for the airport at 1am.

Saturday: Changing into my travel clothes marks the beginning of a new day. Tearful goodbyes, lots of hugs and kisses. Dropped off at the airport for a 4:30am flight. Buy final Mango Slice.
They confiscated it at security, then gave it back for me to finish drinking. :)
PS. read the first India 2014 blog post, or the India 2013 post.

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