After months of anticipation and preparation the day to leave for India was here. Waking up the morning of the trip was like waking up for Christmas. This was the beginning of a two week long trip and I really didn’t know what to expect the whole trip. I did feel lucky to be with a great group of people who would make being 13 timezones away from homw not feel so far away. Our flight was 18 hours long. First 14 hours to Dubai then 4 to India.
We landed in Dubai the next night and had about a 10 hour layover so we stayed in a hotel close by. On our ride there we saw the most amazing scenery, The tall, brightly lit buildings, newer model cars and national flags everywhere. In the distance you can see the Burj Khalifa’s (tallest building in the world) lights. After we got to our hotel, we got into a small bus for a night city tour. We went all over the city and learned about the history of the country and about the types of architects who contribute to the continuous expansion of the city. The next day we were to leave for India.
We land in Chennai, India sometime in the late afternoon. Right when we left the gates it felt like a whole new place. The look and feel of the airport felt different. Everyone was speaking a different language and it felt a little like no one has cleaned in a while. As we left the airport we saw a small group of people outside with a big poster that said “Welcome Western Oregon University students” who were very excited to see us and who were ready to take us to our hotel to meet our service trip coordinator.
Driving to the Hotel was madness. Cars packed the roads and the center markers in the road seemed to only be suggestions which no one took. Motorcycles and small two-seater type cars took up a lot of the road. Honking was also a commonality. People honked to just let each other know they were close by so everyone’s hands were almost always on the horn. When we got to the hotel we met Henry, the man who was helping coordinate our trip while we were still in the US. We stayed the night there and then went out to explore Chennai and to walk down the busy city streets. We also got to exchange our currency which was 60 rupees (India dollar) for every 1 American dollar. On the streets plenty of people were there selling things from their shops and chatting outside.
We took a 2 hour long ride south to Nerumbur, the village we would be working at. Along the way we were able to stop at a beach side hotel and have some nice food. It was mostly vegetarian and even though I am mostly a meat eater I really enjoyed the food. After lunch we headed straight to the village where we were greeted by the local people, we dropped off our bags at the place we would be staying at and returned back to the village. We were greeted by drums and singing. It looked like everyone in the village came out to welcome us.
The Next two weeks went by so fast. We bought the supplies to fix up the house and worked on it as soon as we could. We also went into different cities to see some shops, temples and go sight seeing. We encountered the owner of two television stations who heard what we were doing and reached out to us. We met some people who grew up in the lower caste systems that we learned about before the trip and worked hard to become very successful doctors and other great things that they were told continuously that they couldn’t be. Before we knew it we were finished on the house, but not without the help of the people of the village and some other workers.
Our farewell was probably one of the hardest I’ve ever had to do. We met some of the greatest people with some amazing personalities and attitudes. Some of the people we met had gone through tremendous adversity and kept their outlook on life positive. Our guide for the trip told me of how he almost got swept away by a tsunami when he was younger but outran it. Now he has been in a lot of martial arts tournaments in different parts of Asia and plans on opening up his own martial arts school in the near future. His sister who we also met is an organizer and helped us choose our service project location.
I definitely plan on going back some day. If not for a service trip then see what my new friends have been up to.
By Kevin Gutierrez