India is the most amazing place I have been in my life.
Before every country we visit, we have “Pre-Port”. At pre-ports the various different departments cover basic information regarding safety, money, trips, and other random factoids. At this particular pre-port, our Executive Dean said it best, “For most of you, India will be the farthest away from home you’ll ever be. Most of you are 12 hours away from your homes, you can never be further away from home then you’ll be when you’re in India. India will change your lives.” And he was dead on.
For India we had signed up for the Delhi/Agra/Taj trip. We got all the warnings about the poverty and dirt and garbage we’d see everywhere. I didn’t think that it could possibly be as bad as it was. From the second we left the gangway it was apparent that India was not the place that Bollywood movies showed. The poor and destitute were literally everywhere. As soon as our buses left the port area, we could see poverty everywhere we turned. There were no modern buildings or homes, rather make-shift tents and shacks. Garbage lined the streets and farm animals overran the streets. Mind you Chennai is one of the biggest cities in India. There were cows all over the place (in case you didn’t know, cows are sacred in the India culture). It was apparent to us right off of the bat that India was a completely different world then the one we lived in.
We boarded the plane that afternoon and took off for Delhi. We landed in Delhi at about 10 p.m. and went right to the hotel. Me and Kimmy stayed in probably the sketchiest room I’ve ever seen that night, but we had a 4 a.m. wake up call anyways, so it all didn’t really matter too much. That morning (at 4 a.m.) we got on a train bound for Agra which is where the Taj Mahal is located. When we arrived in Agra and left the train station, we were surrounded by beggar children. These children were covered with dirt from head to toe and couldn’t have been older then 4 or 5. They would hold out their hands and say “hungry, hungry”. It was absolutely heart breaking and everyone gave them a little something. Then these children turned right around and gave the money to adults who were standing watching them. These people basically force children to look sad and emaciated and beg for money. Then they keep the money they earn! It’s unbelievable and something that we witnessed everywhere we went in India. Many of the beggar children are missing limbs or are deformed and this is because their parents deliberately maim them in order to make more money. It’s just terrible.
For the rest of that day we ventured around Agra and visited an ancient fortress outside the city. We did a little shopping, bought some souvenirs, then checked into our hotel. This second hotel’s room was much nicer then the first. We heard that there was a pizza hut outside the hotel so we ventured outside the gates to check it out. We were immediately bombarded by a group of children who were fascinated with us. Pizza hut is expensive for the average Indian so they don’t ever get to eat it. Me and Kimmy feeling sorry for them bought them a cheese pizza. They seemed to enjoy it, but then again there were other kids who didn’t get any who were miserable. There are just so many hungry children in India, it’s so sad.
The next day we got up early and set out for the Taj Mahal. Let it just be said that the Taj Mahal is 100% as amazing as it looks in pictures. It’s sooooo big and made entirely of marble. It is without a doubt the world’s most beautiful mausoleum. I can’t believe that we’ve already been to two of the world’s seven wonders, and as of next week we’ll have been to three! Our trip is going so fast, I can’t believe that in a month and a half we’ll be home! Bittersweet I guess….but anyways I’m getting off topic, back to India!
Later that day, our tour guides informed us that we’d be visiting Mother Theresa’s Ashram. We all figured that it was a shrine or some kind of museum. Everyone in the group (there were about 50 of us) walked through the gates and into a dilapidated sort of courtyard. We began tentatively wandering around and noticed that there were people kept in these sort of cages. We all didn’t know what to do so we stood around very uncomfortable, trying to get a look inside. What we saw was absolutely horrifying…there were mentally disabled people just locked away. It was just heartbreaking to see. I mean I suppose they’re locked in their for their own safety, but still it was just so vastly different from anything that we have in the United States.
They eventually unlocked the cages and let us interact with the people inside who were so happy to see us. It was a great experience. After they put them back into the cages, me and Kimmy wandered away from the group to try and find the chapel. We found an old sister who spoke English and she took us to the chapel. It was just a small room, with about eight mismatched chairs inside of it. It was an amazing sight since this was a room that Mother Theresa had actually once said her daily prayers in. Kimmy and I both said a prayer and gave a donation for the orphanage to the sister. It was a very surreal experience.
After that we found the rest of the group and ventured into the children’s wing. It was incredible to interact with these children. Most of them were between 1 and 3 and they were absolutely delighted to be receiving so much attention. The children were especially drawn to the girls, being that they themselves have no mothers. All they wanted to do was to be held and touched. It was the saddest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever had the privilege to do. I was able to play with a one year old baby boy who was mentally handicapped. When I got there he was in a dirty crib in the dark, towards the back of the orphanage. As soon as I picked him up he perked right up! He would smile and giggle, and of course snuggle. But if I ever tried to put him down, he would start crying hysterically. It was awful and I felt so bad. Eventually one of the workers came and took him to give him his bottle. He just sat there and cried and cried until I eventually came back and picked him up. After that he sipped on his bottle and was much happier.
While I was playing with my little boy, Kimmy had a ten day old newborn girl. Someone had just left her in the street the night before. This is the case for many of these children. Their parents cannot afford children so they just leave them for dead or drop them off at the orphanage. As for the disabled children, they were culturally shunned, thus most of them end up dead or at similar orphanages. It was unbelievable to see so much suffering in children so young. At home we are so wasteful and materialistic when there are children starving to death every night. I know that we hear about these kinds of things all the time, but seeing it up close made it real. Visiting that orphanage was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life so far.
Before we left the orphanage, me and Kimmy handed out stickers to all the children that we had bought at Target before the trip. Of course they absolutely loved them and it was great to make all the kids smile one more time before we had to leave. Of course I finally had to let my little boy go and when I put him down he started to bawl. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do to leave him there crying knowing that there was no one else to comfort him or show him love.
The whole experience was so bittersweet.
The next day we visited a Sikh temple. I don’t really know much about the religion, but it was an interesting experience. We all had to take our shoes and socks off and put veils on (boys included) before we could go in. I got to leave my left sock on being that it is still nice and gross seeing that the stitches came out only a few days ago. But back to the story, we went into the temple to observe the worshipers. The whole building was really just once giant room with a sort of alter in the middle. India music was playing loudly and people just sat Indian style on the floor silently listening. We stuck around for a few minutes and then went outside the temple and into a side building.
A major part of any Sikh temple is the kitchen. In the Sikh faith every person is considered to be equal in the eyes of God. So it is in the kitchen that the rich Sikhs come and prepare food for the poor Sikhs. We got to sit down beside the rich Sikhs and help them to prepare pita bread for the poor members of the temple. It was an amazing experience to see these rich Indians covered from head to toe in flour go out and feed their counterparts. It was fun to do.
For the rest of the evening we went shopping at a Bazaar and then shuttled over to the airport for our flight back to Delhi. We of course got delayed and ended up sitting in the airport for an hour talking to our trip leader, RD Michelle. She’s convinced me to try and become an RA at Scranton when I get back, it would look good on the transcript for Law School so I guess we’ll see!
We didn’t get back to the ship until almost 3 am. So our last day in India me and Kimmy slept in and then just went out shopping to pick up some last minute souvenirs for everyone. Our cab drivers were brothers and got a kick out of the fact that me and Kimmy are sisters. Then of course they dragged us to our relatives stores before they would take us anywhere else, but this is typical of the cab drivers in these impoverished nations…always looking to make an extra buck,. Of course these employees at the stores were convincing and Kimmy and I were gullible so we bought all kinds of crap for everyone. You all better be planning on getting us some amazing Christmas presents!!!
But anyways, I digress. India as you can tell was amazing. I’ve never had more mixed feelings about a place all at the same time. I can say now that I love India and that I hope in the years to come the world will find a way to help the people of these nations we’ve been visiting. The world is a very, VERY different place then I’d thought. Everyone reading this right now is so incredibly lucky to be able to afford to sit at a computer at read this. Nearly 100% of the people we saw in India can’t even afford a piece of bread or a cup of water….that really puts life in the West into perspective.
At any rate, half of our trip has gone by so far! We only have four more ports left, I really cannot believe it’s flying by so fast. I’m sad we’re missing fall, but glad we’ll be back for snow….see you all in December! eThe s