Category Archives: travel

You can have your cake…

First some pictures from today’s early-morning walking tour of the Mungeli Christian Hospital and nearby areas… Most of the scenes described in my blog have pictures in this slideshow. hosted sites don’t like Flash code – so please click here for the gallery link… – Images by Gregg Brekke

Today started early again – I haven’t been able to sleep past 6am yet. I woke up and did a little reading before deciding to take a walk around the hospital complex to take some photos as people began their days. It’s Sunday here, so other than the on-call doctors and scheduled nurses, there isn’t much activity at the hospital. But life never stands too still at Christian Hospital Mungeli and I’m sure there will be plenty happening as I take my camera with just a wide-angle zoom lens attached and head out.

I hadn’t gotten very far when I was called over to the room at the end of a dormitory where the nursing school cooks, Pushba and Sukrata, were making puri, a deep fried bread. They are sitting on the floor rolling balls of dough for flattening prior to frying. The single-room kitchen is hot and smoky. A small coal-fired stove heats a large wok-looking pot half filled with cooking oil.

As they prepare the dough I take some photos. In what I call “the Indian way” they each want what amounts to a formal portrait taken of them in their setting. Once that is over, they can get back to their tasks – the real thing I want to photograph. They show me the stewed tomatoes that will be used as the dipping base with the bread and move a stack of flat-rolled dough up to the cooking pot.

Sukrata (Sook-rah-tah) is first to slide the tortilla-sized disks of dough into the hot oil. The oil crackles as each one submerges, Sukrata deftly avoiding touching the oil or being splattered. After about 45 seconds she flips each piece of puri with a flat ladle and allows the other side to cook. As soon as this happens, the dough puffs out as the cooked and uncooked sides separate. Another 45 seconds in the oil and she ladles out the fully cooked bread into a waiting cloth-lined basket on the floor. Now it’s Pushba’s (Push-bah) turn to cook the batch of dough she has been rolling on the floor.

After the second batch is cooked they offer me the freshest – and HOTTEST – puri from the basket. Sukrata asks if Kavita, the guest house housekeeper, has made me breakfast. I say that she doesn’t come on Sundays so she insist that I eat and makes up a plate with four of the puffy golden brown disks and adds a few scoops of the tomato sauce to the aluminum plate as she hands it to me.

The puri is still scalding hot and steam rushes out as I tear it open. I say “hot” and ask what the word is in Hindi. “Garum” is the reply – meaning temperature hot, not spicy hot which they also tell me, but I forget the word. Though I do remember that cat is “billi,” because they have to shoo a cat from the kitchen several times during the preparation and cooking process.

When the bread cools a bit I begin dipping it into the tasty sauce – yellow curry and a variety of other spices – that makes up my delicious but very non-western breakfast. This isn’t the toast and peanut butter I usually eat in the US.

Which brings up a good point. Someone once asked me if India is more like being in the inner city or more like being in a suburban area. I looked at this person, knowing they hadn’t ever traveled outside the US, and could only reply, “India is like no other place in the world.” I’ll stick by that statement in a number of ways including what’s for breakfast. It’s also a little unsettling to my American ways to have housekeepers and cooks who insist on treating you so well. I know everyone at CHM is payed well in relation to local salaries, but I’m still unaccustomed to being served in this way.

I finish breakfast, wash up and thank them for sharing their gifts and allowing me to photograph them. I will be sure to get some of these “Indian way” portraits printed up and distributed before I leave.

Making my way toward the main gate I chat with some of the maintenance and security staff. We talk about the oppressive heat – the forecast calls for 44-48 C today (109-118 F). They sit in the shade of a large tree and say how thankful they are for Sunday, a rest day from anything but emergency work that may need to happen around the hospital.

The road that passes in front of the hospital complex leads to town as you turn left out of the gate. On the same side of the road, heading that direction, sit the grounds of the Rambo English School and the Mungeli Christian Church in succession. I go that way and recognize some children from the school. We talk and they want a photo taken in front of a nearby Hindi shrine before they will let me continue. It’s still before 7am and most of the town won’t be open yet so I stop my walk at the church and take a few photos there. One lone parishioner has come early and sits in the back, talking on her cell phone. I leave the church and see other nurses arriving, then hear the sounds of music – choir practice for the 9:30am service has begun.

Walking back toward the hospital I pass the school and see one of the school staff, Peter, watering flowers and we exchange a few words. I remember him, and he seemingly remembers me, from my last trip here. More children are out and a group of four who are heading to church grab me for photos as they leave the hospital gate. The littlest one, Bhighe (big-ay), hams for the camera and scrunches up his face instead of seeking a formal portrait. That is, before the kids want their picture taken together.

I wander around the hospital for a little while, photographing a few family members of patients. To keep costs low, patients have relatives stay on the hospital grounds – preparing meals and providing basic care like washing clothes and bathing the patient. A building is dedicated to housing these family members, though most sleep and cook outside during this hot weather. I notice a woman hanging wash who is covered in tattoos. Pointing to mine I point back toward hers. She then points to my camera and I take her picture.

Another little boy approaches and wants his photo taken too. His uncle arrives and explains, in English (!), that the boy’s mother is expecting and the family has come to help. He is a very serious boy and I take a picture,  but the uncle and other men joke with him until he breaks into a little smile that I’m also able to photograph.

Back at the guest house I began processing photos from the morning (the slideshow above) and have a Skype call with Lindsay. Video starts out OK, so I walk around with my iPhone to show her a bit of the living space and yard. We start having connection issues and switch to voice-only, but it was still nice to see each other for a few minutes. The place is waking up, people are wandering about and giving greetings – there are really only about 10 people in the apartments, they just all happened to go outside at once. To my surprise Kavita arrives, I guess to make lunch, and in short order brings me a cup of her special masala tea as I talk on the phone. Num!

With the main kitchen closed for Sunday, an electric Dutch oven will be used to bake chocolate cake and dinner rolls.

With the main kitchen closed for Sunday, an electric Dutch oven will be used to bake chocolate cake and dinner rolls.


Lise and Deeptiman prepare the chocolate cake batter as Ditte (right) mixes the yeast dough for buns.

Lise and Deeptiman prepare the chocolate cake batter as Ditte (right) mixes the yeast dough for buns.

The Danes and a doctors Nirmal and Deeptiman are preparing to bake a cake and some dinner rolls. Yeast is hard to come by in India, so the Danes have brought their own stash from the Netherlands. Kavita has made sure all the ingredients are set out – white flour, cooking oil, eggs, bakers chocolate, sugar – and they begin to measure and mix.

The nurses modern style kitchen with the oven is locked so Anil brings over an electronic Dutch oven that they can use to bake the cake. I’m processing photos from the morning (and before long a call comes and everyone has to take off for the operating room with the cake in the oven. I’m about to leave for my interviews and Deeptiman stays around to make sure the cake is removed from the Dutch oven when it is done baking.

We made a good dent, but there is plenty left for tomorrow!

We made a good dent, but there is plenty left for tomorrow!

After my interview session and lunch with Veeru and Nancy, I return to a nice piece of chocolate cake! The yeast smell of the baked dinner rolls (Ditte calls them “buns” just like my mother did) fills our steaming hot common area. Two ceiling fans have little cooling effect on our space after a day of Dutch oven baking and 111+ F temperatures. There is still half the cake remaining. I’m guessing we can work on that for breakfast along with a curried something…

Starting to get into the groove and feeling more oriented with the people, especially the staff. Knowing their names and what area they work in is a big help as I walk through the hospital several times a day. Everyone is so helpful and I hope to keep learning Hindi words and phrases as the days go by.

Until tomorrow, peace.


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Beef. It’s what’s for dinner!

The conversations I came to India for have begun, and in the first two sessions held yesterday with Veeru and Nancy Henry, a beautiful story of life, love and their vocation as medical missionaries has begun to emerge. There are so many great details and side-stories that I have no doubt their biography will be a rich and interesting read.

When recalling the story of their meeting and romantic interest in one another, both tell me their version of when they recognized they may be more than. Veeru, a talented musician and singer, was invited to provide music for a gathering of the regional church assembly. He asked if Nancy wanted to accompany him on the flute and she agreed.

Nancy had recently received her flute from the USA and had taken to learning a popular song on the radio, sung in Hindi. Nancy had learned Oriya, the language spoken in Orissa where she was serving, but not Hindi. Veeru wanted to know if Nancy could play any Indian songs so she played the one she had recently learned, and Veeru agreed they should perform it at the gathering.

After they played the song, Nancy began to get smiles and giggles from those in attendance. She was confused as to why this was happening and someone finally gave in and told her the song they had performed while Veeru sang was titled, “A Foreigner Took My Heart.”

So darn cute! I can’t wait to tell the rest of this, and hundreds of other stories.

Veeru, who suffered a sever stroke nearly three years ago, had a very difficult time talking. I’m starting to understand more of what he is saying, but I’m having a hard time piecing together the connecting words, especially when he speeds up or starts describing places with Hindi names. I’ll be sure to have Nancy, or another family member, with me until I can understand better. So many great stories and I don’t want to miss any.

It’s great to see Nancy and Veeru laugh together. Following Nancy’s train accident and Veeru’s stroke around the same time, I know it has been hard for them to find a new normal. They were at the top of their game, highly sought after retired medical professionals who were training the next generation of Indian medical missionaries, when their accident and stroke occurred. Our talking together seems to be lifting their spirits, especially Veeru, who has been more isolated.

My patient registration form at the Christian Hospital Mungeli. Nothing serious, just picking up Malaria medication.

My patient registration form at the Christian Hospital Mungeli. Nothing serious, just picking up Malaria medication.

In addition to all this good fun, I became a patient at CHM yesterday – getting my own registration number and everything – CHM15908. Nothing is wrong, but the malaria shot I received two years ago was deemed “no good” by Anil so I needed a prescription for preventative medication. Two tablets once a week for the next five weeks. Maybe I should see if he can schedule the removal of the titanium plate from my collarbone while he’s at it…

The hospital is buzzing with activity. There are at least two large construction projects happening – an additional guest/staff apartment building and the completion of the cancer center. There are probably more, but those are the most visible.

Next to our apartment building the construction crew is busy working on a second similar structure. I recognize the builders – two female stone workers and one of the men working on steel frameworks that will ultimately provide new levels to the apartment as it rises to three stories. They ask if I am married and I say, “no, I’m engaged.” I show them Lindsay’s picture on my phone, they say, “wife?” I try to explain, but given the words “engaged” and “betrothed” or even “girlfriend” mean little in this world of arranged marriages, I give up. Sorry Lindsay, but to the construction workers at a hospital in remote northeastern India, you are my wife…

Looking on my PhotoShelter site, I see that I have pictures of some of them from my last trip and download them to my computer along with a collection of family images they asked to see. They laugh and are surprised to see themselves from two years ago and then ask me to take more pictures.

A mason working on the additional guest house at CHM laughs as I we compare "ink." I promise to get her name today...

A mason working on the additional guest house at CHM laughs as I we compare “ink.” I promise to get her name today…

One of the stone workers is very curious about my tattoos. She has some too, and I believe they are related to her marriage. Each of the construction crew takes turns licking their thumb and trying to rub off my tattoos. “Henna?” they ask. No, “ink, like a pen,” I say as I pull a BIC from my bag. The conversation, or the hand gestures and Hindi-to-English non-translation, turns to how this ink on my arm is permanent.

I find a piece of wire on the ground and make a sewing motion, saying “needle, pin” and they seem to understand. I then over exaggerate the motion of the tiny stabs that the tattoo process involves, moving the “needle” to an imaginary ink pot as I point to the pen and say, “ink.” We finally understand one another and I say, “owww!” describing what the tattoo process feels like. We all laugh and I go back to editing my interviews at the guest house and find some relief from the 44 degree centigrade (112 F) heat.

The local ice cream (sorbet) vendor posing with his cart adorned with images of Hindu gods. He says, "good business" as he points to the images and gives me a lime sorbet with my promise to provide him copies of the photos.

The local ice cream (sorbet) vendor posing with his cart adorned with images of Hindu gods. He says, “good for business” as he points to the images and gives me the lime sorbet in his hand with my promise to provide him copies of the photos.

On the way to my evening interview session with the Henrys, I’m approached by the ice cream (really sorbet) man to take his photo. He patrols his cart between the hospital compound and the nearby carnival that has been running for the last week. He is very proud of his cart and of the icon images of Hindu gods he has lining the frame of his cart. I ask if he would like to have a photo of just him. He scoops a cone full of lime sorbet and stands next to his cart – I take a photo. Then he pulls in friends, and motions that he wants to include his cart and images of the gods that bless his business. I ask them to stand behind the cart and make a few images before promising to have copies made before I return to the US. He hands me the cone and I hold out 10 rupees in coins offer to pay. Holding closed hands between us and shaking his head he says, “copy, copy.” All he wants in exchange is a copy of these photos… And I’m off, enjoying a cool treat on a hot Mungli evening.

The interview with the Henrys concludes by 9pm and I’m heading back to my room when a young doctor named Nirmal and the Danes call me onto the concrete playing area for some basketball. While I’m just an average height white guy who has shot baskets most of his life in the US, by Indian (and Danish) standards I’m a 5″9′ hoops powerhouse. Knowing the rules of the game, being able to dribble while running, and understanding the concept of rebounding are great assets when playing against others who haven’t grown up with the sport. I expect all this to change as Nirmal, who is probably 6’2″, begins to know the game better.

We are hot and sweaty when we head back to the home to eat a special treat – beef. Nirmal has found a local beef supplier who sells to Christians and Muslims in the area.

"The King of Good Times" - or so says the label. It's not Double Mountain Vaporizer, but it's cold and beer flavored...

“The King of Good Times” – or so says the label. It’s not Double Mountain Vaporizer, but it’s cold and beer flavored…

Just as we are cleaning up and preparing to eat, the grocer, Monos, arrives with a special order I had made – bottles of Kingfisher lager beer. Although I thought I was ordering US sized (12 oz) beers, these turn out to be large 650 ml (22 oz) bottles. That explains what I thought was a high price initially, but now we have twice the beer I had expected to buy. Oh, happy fault…

It isn’t forbidden for Hindus to cook beef for Christians and Muslims, so our housekeeper and cook Kavita takes those rough cut chunks of meat and delivers a delicious brazed beef in a mild, in Indian terms, gravy. It’s a great meal that includes fresh cucumbers and a spicy tomato sauce macaroni dish.

The cold beer is a great addition to our beef and spicy noodles. The Danes and I have a nice conversation on theology and religious practice in the US and Denmark. We split two of the big bottles of beer before my push-through-the-jet-lag exhaustion finally hits. It’s 11pm and I need to get to bed. I expect this is the last of the jet lag providing I can sleep in a little. By Portland time, it’s not yet noon, so the fact that I’m ready to crash is a good sign.

Until tomorrow – peace.

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Prepare for the invasion!

A new airport has been constructed in Raipur - a huge update to the small terminal I flew in and out of in 2011.

A new airport has been constructed in Raipur – a huge update to the small terminal I flew in and out of in 2011.

My flight arrived to Raipur from Mumbai on time and I’m currently waiting for the ambulance/jeep from the hospital to pick me up for the 1.5 hour drive to Mungeli.

The morning went OK, only three hours of sleep but my body is still switching over to being 11.5 time zones away. The Daisy Residency hotel, described by my Indian host Anil as “that dingy little place,” stirred awake as I entered the lobby around 5:10 am. The desk attendant was sleeping on one of the lobby couches; the boy who had met me at the airport last night was asleep on the floor.

We chatted a bit – me with my non-existent Hindi, they with their non-existent English – and had a cup of tea together. Psy was on the TV, doing that Gangam style thing, then the channel switched and we were watching cricket – a sport I have yet to fully understand.

A quick ride on nearly deserted streets got me to the Mumbai airport with plenty of time to check in, get through security and grab a latte and veg roll for breakfast.

Speaking to a Brit in the boarding area who was headed to a different destination, we discuss our impressions of India. He works for a multinational personal care company with its biggest operations and gross sales in India. He’s been here dozens of times and we both agree on how different India is from anywhere else in the world. He also echoes what I read in the morning paper – many Indian business leaders are calling for less democracy, which for them often results in layers of bureaucracy, in business development practices.

On the surface this seems like the “smaller government is good” argument often levied by conservative and tea-party forces in the US against regulatory practices. Underneath the conservative/liberal argument the US may experience though is a highly entrepreneurial country that longs for expansion. I wonder aloud if deregulation, especially in terms of working conditions and environmental practices, might be bad for India in the long term. “Ah, there’s the rub…” he says, and we depart for our respective gates.

So, here’s one thing you need to know about India if you plan to travel here. Prepare to have your personal space invaded. Prepare to have every socially normative personal distance norm you have accumulated throughout your North American life shattered. Prepare for people to touch you, hold you, rub you and otherwise make body contact with you in ways that would send you screaming back home. Prepare for big guys and tiny women to see you as the impediment between you and getting where the need to go no matter how impractical their progress may seem. And if they need to crawl over you, all sweaty and half-naked, that is not a problem for them. Though it will probably be a problem for you.

One friend described India as “a billion people with no concept of a queue,” and he is partially right. More importantly the queue, or line as we say in the US, is a social norm for keeping bodies separated by a polite distance. This social norm does not exist in most of Indian culture.


The coolest tea box ever, and the cup of tea it produced, sort of made up for having my personal space violated on the flight from Mumbai to Raipur…

When you are standing in line getting ready to board the bus to your airplane in India, you are not really in line. You are in a herd, or a school of fish, that is eagerly orienting itself toward a common spot. You may or may not get there in the order that you started.

When you are sitting next to a large-ish man on an airplane, it is totally acceptable for him to splay himself over both armrests and expect you to rest your folded arms on top of him.

When you stand up to depart said plane, it is also totally acceptable – no matter how far back you are in the plane – to jostle your way as far forward as you can get, or until said large-ish man gives you a gentle but stern reminder that you may be offending the westerner standing next to him…

I was aware of this dynamic more during my last trip to India. This time, I hardly notice. There is a bit of “standing your ground” involved, but it isn’t in the American “this is my space” sort of way. It is a general assertiveness that pervades Indian culture and an Indian says it is partly a carry-over from a time where the caste system ruled the pecking, and line placement, order. When the caste system was abolished it granted impunity to lower castes who were suddenly able to “get their own” without fear of prosecution, though rampant persecution still exists.

Landing in Raipur I get my bag and find my favorite bicycle chain rimmed blue aluminum luggage tag is mission. The clasp was a screw and I guess it came undone, or someone in the Mumbai luggage really liked it. It has been on my bag for hundreds of flights. I will miss it dearly as it was #1) bicycling oriented and #2) unique enough that I could pick my bag out from all the other black “Travel Pro” bags on the conveyor. Bummer.

Outside I wait for the white ambulance jeep mentioned at the beginning of this post. After a not too unreasonable wait, a maroon SUV pulls up and out walks a driver who looks familiar to me. He holds up a sign saying, “Mr. Rev. Gregg Brekke” and I confirm that it is indeed Virendra from the Christian Hospital Mungeli. We load bags and begin the drive, again with my Hindi skills and his English competing for the silence in the car.

The smells on the road between Raipur and Mugeli are different. It is a clean hot smell in Raipur. It is the savanna, desert dry at this time of year – awaiting the monsoons of July through September. Three seasons visit this region of the country – dry (March-June), rainy (July-October) and cool (November-February), with about a half-month overlap on either side.

A great alternative to coal! Solar array on the Christian Hospital Mungeli guest house roof provides huge amounts of energy-free hot water for use around the hospital.

A great alternative to coal! The solar array on the Christian Hospital Mungeli guest house roof provides huge amounts of energy-free hot water for use around the hospital.

Down the road a bit and beyond Raipur, the bituminous smells of burning coal start to filter in through the air conditioning vents of the SUV. It isn’t suffocating, but you can see the black smoke mounting from homes and factories along the road. Piles of coal are dumped unceremoniously outside homes, along with kindling wood, which will provide heat for cooking. This is tribal area and the people are poor. Some run roadside shops selling random items like fan blades and empty oil drums, others can be seen making cow patties by mixing manure with rice stalk and drying them in the sun. Those who cannot afford coal can cook over dried poop.

With all due respect to Dr. Anil Henry, Virendra is a much safer driver than Anil. Anil takes every bit of the road and speeds through intersections with the pedal to the floor, often missing oncoming traffic by inches. There have been a few cringe inducing rides with Dr. Henry. Virendra, on the other hand, keeps his hands at “10 and 2” and gives space to the huge cargo carries heading toward us at break-neck speeds.

Another observation you make quite quickly in India is that vehicles of all types are mostly utilitarian. It is very unusual to see a single-passenger vehicle. Even more uncommon is seeing a bicycle that, though designed for one, is not carry two people or lumbering down the road with cargo. Overburdened and underpowered motorcycles, most in the 60-125cc range, struggle to maintain speed as they traverse pitted roads strattled by two and three passengers in addition to a variety of goods.

Government rice stores, near Bisrampur, India. This locally produced rice will not likely be distributed to the hungry in this area. It is more likely to rot once the rainy season begins.

Government rice stores, near Bisrampur, India. This locally produced rice will not likely be distributed to the hungry in this area. It is more likely to rot once the rainy season begins.

Time goes quickly and we pass Bishrampur, the site of a church dedication I attended in 2011. Nearby, the first of several government rice storage areas is under guard from looting. Though this region is quite poor and many people are hungry, due to government quotas and shipment difficulties, locally produced rice – the mainstay crop of the area – often rotes once the rains comes. The hospital and internal relief groups have tried to urge the release of this “surplus” to no avail. I’d like to follow this story more at some point…

I arrive in Mungeli and am assigned a guest room in a suite that I will share for the next three weeks with Danish med students Lise (pronounced like Lisa) and Ditte (pronounced Dee-tah.) I get re-acquainted Anil and his parents, along with other staff I met on my previous visit, before heading into town with the med students.

But before I can get beyond the hospital walls Anil has invited me into the ultrasound room where he finds a woman in great pain who has a large mass in her abdomen. He thinks it may be liquid (pus) but encourages her family members to operate. In the manner only Anil, and I understand his father, can operate in – he asks the son if he wants his mother to get better via a quick surgery or to believe the tribal doctor who has recommended many treatments, except surgery.

The man smiles and agrees to the surgery. Following a quick conversation, Anil and I head to the operating room where the woman is having the pus drained from the infection and ready for treatment.

Emergency operation like this happen dozens of time every week at the Christian Hospital Mungeli. This is in addition to the regularly scheduled operations to correct long-term problems and other emergencies, like Cesarean section baby deliveries.

In town, the Danes do some garment shopping, hoping to receive tailored items they ordered last week. Though their outfits are not available, they buy some shirts before we pick up staples like coffee, milk and snacks. Happy the Danes like coffee, though our choice is limited to Nescafe…

A game of rotten badminton by me and a late dinner with the Henrys and I’m finishing this blog. Tomorrow begins the long talks with the senior Henrys that will lead to the production of their book. It’ll be good fun and I’m sure there will be more time in the wards, exam rooms and the ER as Anil invites.


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The luggage belt is about to move in a fashion

A United Airlines (Skywest) twin prop about to depart Portland for Seattle.

My United Airlines (Skywest) twin prop about to depart Portland for Seattle.

Well, I’m safe and sound and a little more awake than I should be at 11:45 pm IST (11:15 am PST) after the flight to Mumbai. Everything was on schedule and the flight went as expected.

Had almost forgotten the meal choices in India – “veg or not veg” is a common refrain. Non-veg generally means with chicken or eggs. Food was basic international fare, not bad, not great. But to my dismay, United no longer offers a complimentary alcoholic beverage to international coach passengers. Maybe it’s just flights to India, but that curry-chick pea-veggie-rice dish would have gone down smoother with a glass of red wine… Or a little vodka… Or both… Lame.

Watched Ben Affleck’s “Argo” prior to dinner and then listened to a bit of music before popping an ambien in an effort to reset my clock. Seven unconscious hours later I was awake with about 2500 miles left in the flight. Perfect timing to wash up and get ready for the breakfast service prior to landing.

The flight landed a bit early and the smells and heat of Mumbai were upon me as soon as I exited the plane and entered the jetway. The smells aren’t all bad, just different than we are used to in the US. Hard to describe, but unmistakable if you’ve been here and have the memories.

At 9pm the temperature sat around 85 F. It is the hot season, prior to the rains, in most of India and I’ll expect temperatures in the 90-105 F range my entire three-week stay.

Gathering luggage in Mumbai.

Gathering luggage in Mumbai.

There must have been a lot of baggage on the plane because while waiting for my bag it stopped and started at least five times. Each time it started again, a loudspeaker would announce in English, Hindi and Arabic, “Caution, the luggage belt is about to move in a fashion.”

What sort of fashion? A rapid or abrupt fashion? A slow fashion? This is a constant reminder about international travel – some things just don’t translate…

Immigration control and customs clearance went well. A little hang-up with the customs inspector as my bag made it through the x-ray machine. “How many lenses do you have?” Two – one is on the camera… “What is that thing?” It’s a small consumer video camera… “And what is this thing?” It’s a small tripod; it fits in my suitcase.

But after these questions it was on to exchange some cash and out to find my driver. On my second trip around the bullpen separating travelers from drivers I found a young boy holding a sign that read, “Mr. Gregg Dean.” Well, they must have looked at my travel information and used my middle name instead of my last name. The hotel name was correct, the Daisy Residency, so I signaled to him that I was Mr. Gregg Dean and off we went to wait in the drive-up area for cars.

I tried several times to find out the boy’s name, but he wasn’t really interested in the exchange – he doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Hindi, but I thought it was worth a shot.

The driver showed up a few moments later in a MINI-mini-van (I think they call them buses here) and we headed out to the Daisy through the evening sights of Mumbai.

I’m sure the scene will be different in the morning when I head out for my 7:10 am flight, but the city was filled with people. Many shops and roadside stands were still open, though it looked like the stands were getting ready to close down as it approached 10 pm.

The Daisy Residency is ok. I have a private bath with shower and heated water, air conditioning and there is free WiFi in the lobby that is allowing me to type this blog entry, chat with folks in the US and email a picture off my phone. I probably wouldn’t recommend this hotel as a spot for western tourists, but I had a refreshing shower and it’ll do just fine as a layover spot for the five hours of rest I’m about to get here.

I’m not big on taking photos on airplanes or in airports, so the prop and conveyer belt are all you get for today. I promise more images tomorrow!

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Leaving PDX for India

The day is finally here after seven months of planning, some very encouraging times, a big setback, and more than a few patience-trying days. I’m ready to board my flight to Mumbai, India, en route to visits with my friends, the Henrys, at the Christian Hospital Mungeli.

I was approached in November 2012 with the possibility of writing a book about Dr. Veeru Henry and Nancy (Lott) Henry and their 50-years of medical mission service in India’s northeastern interior.

Dr. Anil Henry shares a laugh with a recent amputee.

Dr. Anil Henry shares a laugh with a recent amputee.

Two years ago I visited the Henrys in India with a contingent of people from Avon Lake (Ohio) United Church of Christ, the church where Nancy Lott was commissioned as a missionary nurse in 1960. Forty-five years later, her son and daughter-in-law, Drs. Anil and Theresa Henry, would be commissioned at the same church as medical missionaries for Global Ministries, the joint international mission agency of the UCC and Disciples of Christ.

The book will be a biography of the amazing work this family has accomplished in the last half-century in bringing advanced medical care facilities, primary and secondary education, nursing schools, rural nursing outreach, and many more social services to rural and tribal areas of India.

So what began as a few emails, an estimate of the work to be completed, and discernment among those concerned has come full circle with fundraising for the project and me finally getting on the flight.

Along the way though, timing and bureaucracy has caused some heartaches. Timing is mixed in with other projects I have underway and a move to Portland, Oregon, scheduled for July.

Things got interesting after purchasing my flight and making arrangements for travel within India nearly two months prior to the scheduled departure, I applied for my visa.

What should have been a several day process of document exchange and visa approval became a three month ordeal of wrestling with the Indian consulate in New York City.

I had previously gone to India as a Journalist, but (unknown to me) with the special exception of being a journalist traveling for tourist purposes only. India is unique in the visa game in that if you work in a field that even sounds journalistic – like editor, writer, photographer – you are required to obtain a journalist visa. You could be an editor for advertising copy, you could write children’s books, or you could be a wedding photographer and it is likely that India would require you to register as a journalist.

Applying for my visa at the same time I purchased tickets I assumed there would be no problem getting my visa in time – but that assumption was soon challenged as requests were made for more documentation prior to submission to the consulate. I clearly outlined the project I was working on and received an endorsement of the project for validity and submitted it.

Then a second request came, this time from the consulate, asking for a detailed itinerary while I was in India. I submitted this information the day it was requested and assumed all was moving along smoothly.

I waited and waited, and waited some more. After my visa application had been at the consulate for a month – with only two weeks until my trip – I started to call the visa outsourcing company nearly daily. They were unable to assist as the decision was in the hands of the consulate.

As the week before my departure arrived I began calling the consulate and finally on Friday, one business day before my Monday, April 8, departure, got news that my visa would not make it to me in time for my departure.

It was a painful experience to put the brakes on the trip after so much planning – but mostly because of all the planning that had happened in India by the Henry family.

After requested my visa back, putting my travel on hold, and strategizing new dates, I reapplied for my visa – this time as a journalist traveling for tourism purposes.

Lindsay and Gregg in PDX

Lindsay and Gregg with freshly refinished hardwood floors in PDX!

Back to the trip – I decided to visit my fiancé Lindsay in Portland prior to leaving for India, not knowing if the visa would be granted and a mid-May departure would be possible. I had planned on going to Portland following the India trip. We are remodeling a duplex and friends had a wedding, so the stopover seemed a good way to regroup after being overseas for nearly a month.

Fortunately my visa was granted within two weeks and a new departure date of May 14 was set after confirming with the Henrys in India and rebooking my flight. My visa states that I may engage in “no professional journalistic activities.” Not to worry, I may record video and audio of conversations with friends, scan historic pictures, take thousands of photos, and speak with people the Henrys knew throughout their ministry – but I will keep it completely unprofessional…

Leaving Portland this morning on a twin-prop puddle jumper to Seattle, I transferred to a trans-continental flight to Newark before my impending 16 hours in the air to Mumbai.

In addition to the book, I may work on – er, I may talk to friends about – the state of HIV/AIDS care and prevention in these rural areas of India. On my last visit we witnessed several cases where the hospital had worked to prevent mother-to-child transmission and had provided prevention education. I’m interested to see the ways in which these efforts developed since that time.

I look forward to posting regular updates on the progress of the project, including photos and video of the wonderful people I am sure to meet along the way.



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