Monday, April 14, 2008


I made it home safely after being in transit for over 40 hours. Our flight from Mumbai to Heathrow was delayed and we didn't end up leaving until around 4:00 AM. By the time we arrived in London, we'd missed our connecting flight to New York. This actually turned out to be a blessing because it gave us a chance to stretch our legs a bit. The airline put us on the next available flight and gave us cash vouchers to get food and stuff. I spent mine on my favorite British digestives.

After three hours in the airport, we finally boarded, but then sat on the runway for over an hour due to that damn English fog. During the 10-hour flight I watched lots of movies and read one of the great books I'd picked up in India. We landed at JFK around 3:00PM - four hours later than we were supposed to. And naturally, with all the flight confusion, my luggage didn't arrive with us. But it was all good. British Airways promised to have someone deliver it to my house the next morning (which they did!) and it was one less thing to load into the car.

Elizabeth's husband, Adam, met us and we all piled into his station wagon just as the snow began to fall. Apparently it did not snow once the whole time we were gone. Traffic was horrific and it took nearly two hours to get to their house. Wolf made his way down and met us there, but because of all the snow and ice, it took us over an hour to get back home.

When we finally did arrive, it was well after 8:00 PM. I don't think I've ever been happier to be home! Wolf had gotten me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a card letting me know that: From now on, Valentine's Day will be February 12 - the day my Love came home to me.

Sigh. He truly is a keeper.

I took a 45-minute shower. Then we ordered Chinese food and cuddled on the couch. It was a perfect evening. I was home.

* * *

The following week, I met up with the team for a reunion at Chand Palace where we swapped photos on DVD and reminisced about our life-changing journey. Rajiv had a great time in Goa and took a train trip up to Mumbai a couple days later. Bernie made it to the Taj Mahal but had his shoes stolen outside of a temple. We laughed a lot and promised to stay in touch.

Three months later, I find myself settled back into my life and familiar routines. I've been in touch with many of the friends I made in India. Poonam and I exchange old-fashioned letters by mail, and have spoken on the phone a couple times. I called Gadag on March 12 for Mohan's birthday, and Wolf got a chance to "meet" them as well.

Alpana and Sujit made their first journey to the U.S. at the end of February to visit Sujit's sister in Boston. They phoned me a couple times while they were here, and sent me photos upon their return. They found it to be terribly cold!

I've received lots of emails from host families all along the way. They've all invited me to come back and to stay with them longer. I have a very good feeling I will return to India!

Last Monday, the GSE team from India arrived at Newark airport and Bernie, Rajiv and I were among the group of Rotarians waiting to meet them. They're spending their first couple weeks in the western area of New Jersey, and will arrive by me on Monday, April 21.

And as a newly-inducted member of the Parsippany Rotary Club, I get the honor of hosting the lovely Rajani for a week! I'm hoping I can be half as gracious as my hosts were to me.

India was an amazing adventure. The experience changed my life and opened my eyes. Despite the differences in language, dress, religion and cooking, I found that we're all very similar on the inside. I think if everyone in the world had the opportunity to spend a month in a different country, there would be a lot more tolerance and a lot less war. There'd be a lot less "us and them" and a lot more "we."

As I said in my speech at the district conference in Hubli, "On January 14, I arrived as an American in India. And it is my honor to return to America as an Indian."

I will do my very best to keep India a part of me. And I know that one day I will return to the land that holds a piece of my heart. Not to get it back -- but to leave a little bit more of it there.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Monday, 11 February - 11:45 PM

We've finally arrived at the Mumbai airport after a very long day. We're all checked in and have nearly three hours to wait until we take off.

I got up this morning and had breakfast with my hosts. Around 10 AM we went to visit a school for special-needs kids. DGs Elizabeth and Bazil were there and it was nice to have one last chance to thank them and say our goodbyes. After that, Misty, Elizabeth, Bernie and I went to the Goa airport. Rajiv is planning to spend a little more time in Goa (I'm sure it has nothing to do with the lovely Rajani!)

Our flight to Mumbai was delayed, and as we were sitting and waiting, I had a great conversation with an older British couple.

Waiting to leave Goa.

When we landed in Mumbai, we girls said our goodbyes to Bernie. He was off to board a plane to New Delhi and had plans to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal. Now we were three. One of the Indian GSE team members, Koustubh, met us after we claimed all our luggage. We loaded everything into his tiny car and squeezed ourselves into the back seat.

"How many Americans can you fit
in the back of an Indian car?"

After leaving all our bags at his apartment, Koustubh took us around Mumbai. We went to a book and music store, and then we met up with his brother and sat in a pub, killing time. We had about five hours until we needed to check in at the airport and because of the unbelievable traffic, we really couldn't go anywhere too far without the risk of missing our flight. So we just sat and talked and had a nice, mellow time.

We went back and picked up our stuff from Koustubh's apartment, and made it to the airport by 10:30 PM. It was an absolute mob scene. Koustubh and his friend literally bribed one of the airport workers to let us cut in front of about 300 people and check in.

"What just happened?" I asked him.
"Ah, no worries. Please come." Standard reply.

I was stopped at the security scanner and asked to open my suitcase (which was so full, I was praying it would not burst open) Apparently they thought my Steri-Pen was a bomb! We went through immigration and are now all settled in chairs. We can't even go to our gate until 1:00 AM.

Comfy chairs at Mumbai airport.

"Yoga-Sleeping" 3:00 AM

I'm tired and ready to go home. I wanna see Wolf. I'm excited to see all the pictures I've taken along the way. Each time my memory card fills up, I've been dumping them onto Rajiv's laptop. I think I am going to miss my teammates more than I realize. I can't believe I have spent just about every waking second of the past 30 days with these once-strangers. I can't believe we got along as well as we did.

What a month it's been. What a trip. What an amazing country. India, you have my heart.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Monday, 11 February - 8:30 AM

I'm all packed. I slept like a log last night and I guess I am ready to roll. I'm looking forward to being home. It'll be neat to go through my duffel bag and uncover all the treasures I've acquired along the way. Each will surely remind me of a town - a family - a friend.

When I left Sedona that first time back in 2003, I was scared to death to return to my own life. I had felt such an energy and a peace out there, and although my guides assured me that the feelings were inside of me, I didn't get it.

Leaving India though, I realize that I am changed. I also know what I would like to do when I get back to my own life this time. I know the person I'd like to become...

That person lives in the moment. She realizes the value of family, and has gained a new appreciation for spending time with loved ones.

She appreciates the value of fresh, whole food. The impact that good nutrition has on the body and, in turn, the mind.

She understands the value of service to the community. That giving really is the greatest gift. Giving to those who are truly in need.

This trip was indeed good for me. I'm so excited to share my adventures and realizations with my loved ones. This place - these people... magical. I am truly, truly blessed.

We're leaving in a little while to visit one more school and then are heading to the Vasco airport. We fly to Mumbai and have a 12-hour layover. Not sure what we're gonna do, but as always, we'll take it as it comes.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunday 10, February - 12:00 Midnight

What an amazing day! Long, but amazing. After lunch, I met up with Misty and we spent about an hour at the beach. We wandered around some shops, looking for a small, round Ganesha statue. My last couple hosts have had these in their cars and they're really neat. Different from the traditional ones I've seen, and I thought one might look neat in my Beetle.

No luck, but we did get to catch another glorious sunset.

Then I went home and changed, and went out with my host's daughter-in-law, Charuta. First she took me to a neighbor's house to visit for a little bit. They were having some sort of women's-only get-together. The hostess gave me some sweets and a bag of vermicelli which were significant (though I don't quite remember why).

Afterwards, we went into town to a hall where they were having a naming ceremony for the baby of one of her friends.

"Vedant's" naming ceremony.

Finally, we stopped at Charuta's parents' house before heading to the send-off. Her family is great. They live in a huge house attached to a public temple. Her father told me the history of how that came to be. And before I left, he presented me with two small, round Ganesha statues - just like the one I had been looking for! He said he is a collector and that he was glad to be able to give me them as a gift. Unbelievable.

Parag, me, and Charuta's parents.

Just got back from our send-off. It was really very lovely - lots of beautiful speeches from amazing people: DG Bazil, Radhika, DG Elizabeth (from B.C.) The team all made great speeches as well. My host from Margao, Audhut, and his family came. Rajani was there. Earlier in the evening I spoke on the phone with Mohan and Poonam. Just an awesome day.

Radhika, Ajay, DG Elizabeth and husband, Victor.

My wonderful Vasco hosts, the Mehtas.

I'm tired tonight. Looking forward to a good night's sleep, because tomorrow we leave. I miss India and I haven't even left yet.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Sunday 10, February - 2:30 PM

Man did I sleep AWESOME last night! This mattress is fantastic. Add that to the list of things to never take for granted. The list which grows longer by the minute. It's been a very mellow day today. I had a nice breakfast with my hosts and around 10:00 AM, went over to one of the polio booths.

I've learned that Rotary International is responsible for eradicating polio in India. They have done so by collecting funds worldwide and setting up several Sundays a year where children under the age of 6 are vaccinated for free. It's absolutely amazing.

I'm really looking forward to becoming a Rotarian when I return home. It's just such an amazing organization and I have really seen, firsthand, the good that they do in the world. I want to do good things in my life. I want to take more trips like this one, and to get to know people all over the world.

When I wasn't vaccinating children, I was sitting and talking with a girl named Kavita. She is the daughter of one of the Vasco Rotarians, and is planning to come to the U.S. to do her graduate work. She's trying to decide between schools in Buffalo, NY and in Arizona. A no-brainer, in my biased opinion!

After the polio booth, my host's son and daughter came and picked me and Misty up. They took us sight-seeing around the harbor.

Charuta, Parag and Arrov.

I've just come back and had some lunch. I got some huge mosquito bites in Margao on my arm and they're driving me nuts! I took an allergy pill and am now feeling a wee bit drowsy.

I'm getting more and more eager to get home. I think this trip has somehow made me a little less self-involved. I think getting involved with Rotary and other charity organizations will be good. I think being a little less concerned with me will make me feel a whole lot better about my life.

Around 3:30, I am set to go check out a beach with Misty and some hosts. Tonight is our big send-off and then tomorrow we fly back to Mumbai. Not sure how we'll spend our 12-hour layover there. See a movie? Do some shopping? I dunno. I guess we'll take it as it comes.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Saturday, 9 February - 11:00 PM

We've made it to Vasco and - contrary to what everyone has told us about it - it doesn't suck! In fact, right now I am in the most comfortable bed I've been in all month. My hosts are great too - an older couple - and also in the house are their son, his wife and their 1 year-old son, Arrov. Very nice people!

This morning our Margao hosts took us to a temple on top of a huge hill. We climbed lots of steps...

... but it was really cool. After checking out some of the local sites, we had lunch at the same Canapé and then headed to Vasco. I chilled out a bit here with the family and we shared photos. Their eldest son lives in San Francisco where he is a classical guitar major. He used to be an engineering major (surprise!) at a very good school in India, and it's a pretty huge deal that his father allowed him to give that up to pursue a music degree.

I met up with the rest of the team at the Three Kings church where we watched a breathtaking sunset.

District Governor, Bazil D'Souza joined us up there and it was nice to get a chance to talk with him. I didn't realize he had been a high school teacher for 25 years. While talking to him about my experience in India, I got all teary. He said, "Jenny, you are always a welcome guest. Please come back any time."

We all went out for an awesome dinner at a place called Sinatra's (ha!) I talked a lot with a woman named Elizabeth, a District Governor visiting from British Columbia.

Now I'm tired and need to sleep. Tomorrow is "Polio Sunday!"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Saturday, 9 February - 8:00 AM

Just two days left. I can't believe we've been here for a month. I'm definitely ready to go home, though. It's funny. All along, people have been saying that once I got to Goa, I wouldn't wanna leave. And for as beautiful as it is, it's just a little too Western for me. If anything, it's been a great transition place. If we had left directly from the district conference, I think it would have broken my heart.

Yesterday was good. We stopped at Audhut's office and I was able to check my email before meeting up with the rest of the group around 10:00 AM. Our first stop was to this place nicknamed "Bigfoot" - a replica of an ancestral Goan village. It kind of reminded me of one of those museum witch tours in Salem, MA. Interesting, but a little too hokey.

Fake villagers.

Real Goan host (he rocked!)

Traveling in style.

Applying for a job.

At the end of the tour, you can pay five rupees to buy some incense, say a prayer and make a wish while touching the big footprint...

Misty lights her incense.


... my wish was that I could live my life with an Indian perspective when I return home. That I not forget all I have learned while on this trip.

After Bigfoot, we stopped at a little chain café called Canapé. It was the first chain restaurant we'd been in all month. I ordered a small vegetable pizza. It did not disappoint.

Our hosts then dropped us off at this amazing resort called Nanu - right on the beach. It was, of course, owned by a Rotarian.

"Toto, we're no longer in Bijapur."

We spent four hours there, free to use the pool or the beach. I walked up and down Betalbatim beach, collecting shells and wading in the Indian ocean. Perfect.

We made a good presentation at the evening Rotary meeting and they had a fun dinner at their hall. They even hired a DJ! As I recall from the district conference, the Goans really like to party. I ducked out a little early with my host's wife and daughters. When we got home, the eldest daughter did some awesome Mehendi on my other hand. I hope this one lasts until I get home.

Today we're leaving for our final destination in Goa: Vasco.