On November 10, 2009 my British Airways flight (BA179) brought me to JFK and my final destination after six weeks of travel to the UK/India/Nagaland/Sweden. As the South Asia Director of projects for HOPE FOR CHANGE INTERNATIONAL www.H4Cinternational.org my purpose was to visit and evaluate the development and needs of schools and orphanages. My review of prospective partners and projects required me to travel to various regions of India. Additionally, stopovers in Coventry, England and Enkoping, Sweden were included in the itinerary to meet with the European supporters of projects in Nagaland.
In order to accomplish our H4C goals, my timeline would extend across 41 days and 41 nights, over 24,000 miles on 11 different air flights. I slept in 7 different beds, ate 7 different cuisines, and drank from 7 local water sources (after boiling, of course!). My body and outlook needed to adjust to temperatures ranging from 36F to 96F – a sixty degree spread. My carry-on and two luggage pieces were filled with clothing for 3 different cultures and 3 different climates.
“Health is Number One!” When travelling in a developing nation staying healthy has to be on the top of the list. Any of you readers who have travelled to villages in Africa, Latin America, and Asia will concur that you do not want to get sick and have to go to a hospital or medical clinic in a developing nation. Here’s a personal fact – generally, I do not sleep on planes. My sleep patterns during this trip included several twenty-four hour periods with absolutely no sleep at all and numerous nights with only three to four hours of the blissful state. Nevertheless, despite my lack of sleep and my arduous & rigorous schedule, excellent health was mine from start to finish! “Beyond my human ability!” was a frequent thought and statement from my lips. For those of you who prayed for my health and stamina, your prayers worked!
In airports, cities, and villages Sarah Jane (my travel partner) and I were the focus of all eyes, firstly because we are Westerners. Add to that that we are two women and I am fair-haired and interest in us reached the tipping point. I cannot count how many times the question was asked to me, “Where are you from?” Usually these were women, women with children with searching eyes, and sometimes with husbands leaning in on their shoulders, and sometimes with a small crowd behind the brave one who would ask the question. Shall I say that I found the Indian people to be curious?
Delight, Ahhhs…, and BIG smiles would spread across their faces in a ripple effect. My answer, “USA”, would be repeated and echoed until all were satisfied with the answer that they half-suspected anyway. I enjoyed this experience and never tired of taking the time to be engaged in this warm exchange of cultures. The predictable second question was, “Where in the USA?” In some encounters with groups of young people after saying, “New York, but not New York City”, a third question was necessary to complete their thought process. When this first happened I paused and quickly considered my next answer. Should I say Saugerties, should I say Kingston or…should I say … Woodstock? I reasoned that Woodstock was probably on “their map” more than Saugerties or Kingston. Really, I wanted to give them something that they could relate to or knew something about.
So I said Woodstock and they did know about it! Most had heard of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. I further explained that my home was a fifteen minute drive from Woodstock, that I lived a brief walk from the Hudson River which was one of the first and most famous rivers in the USA, and that I walk along the Hudson for my weekly “river reverie” walks. I continued that The Catskill Mountains and an international ski resort, Hunter Mountain, are located in our region of New York State, that we were 60 miles south of Albany, capital of NYS, and 110 miles north of Manhattan, NYC. My listeners could see the glint in my eyes and detect the affectionate tone of my voice as I described where I live. I was boasting about Ulster County, proud of it, my home.
One week after I returned home on November 10th I realized that our frige was empty and that I needed to get back in the groove of being home and go FOOD SHOPPING. Seven weeks had transpired since I had driven my Hyundai Elantra. “Better go easy on my re-entry”, I thought and in the evening decided on just going to two smaller local stores, Mother Earth’s (Storehouse) and Adams (Fairacre Farms). You may not believe what I am about to tell you but I actually had an epiphany as I drove on Route 209, down the Exit Ramp and onto Route 9W South.
The night sky was clear with sparkling constellations, crescent moon coming up in the Southern sphere, all the road lights were glistening with very little traffic to occupy my attention, and everywhere my gaze fell ( how could I help but compare since I just come from India) was immaculate and orderly! Even certain stores and gas stations that I had considered unattractive prior to this trip actually looked okay on this, my first night out.
While making the turn past the refrigerated aisle in Mother Earth, I came upon Eileen, a neighbor of ours and someone I have gotten to know while going in to Mother Earth all these years. Eileen is a good listener and knew that I had been away for six weeks. She welcomed me home and asked about my travel. After a brief foray into my trip overview I relayed to her my “glowing” experience while driving minutes before. Eileen listened with a broadening smile spreading across her face. My last words were, “Eileen, we live in a blessed area!”
People ask me if I am glad to be home. Without hesitation I say, “Yes!”
Sarah Anne Smith