Okay, folks. We finally have internet access.

I am currently in the city of Rourkela at about 10 PM and the city is buzzing. Rourkela is south of Ranchi, which is where Sooch Village is. There is so much activity right outside of our hotel that I can’t get over it. People are selling food, small stores of every variety are open for business and the stench of a burning odor hangs heavy in the air. The hotel itself is square shaped, with a pool, courtyard, religious shrine and other statues in the middle of it.

And, the train must be close because I can see and feel it.

Since we last talked, I had just gotten to Sooch Village. Before that, I spent 7 hours in a Delhi Hotel before flying to Ranchi. Let’s catch up.

Arrival in Delhi

The 15 hour plane ride wasn’t too bad, aside from a three-hour weather delay in Chicago. I slept, ate a little and watched some TV on the in-seat monitor.

I was anxious when I stepped off the plane in Delhi as I forced my way through hundreds of Indians waiting to pick up their relatives. Anxious enough that I didn’t even hit up the duty-free liquor store right there by baggage claim. In my world. that is anxious.

I found the Pre-Pay taxi stand quickly, gave the man behind the glass the address of the hotel, taxi fare and I was off. Actually, it didn’t go quite that smoothly. The taxi fare was 250 rupees (~$6) and I gave the man behind the glass 500 rupees. For some reason, between watching my luggage and making sure he wrote the correct address down to give to the drive, I forgot to ask for change. Of course, the man kept the change. Welcome to India.

The car I rode in was quite small. It wasn’t short so much as it was skinnier than the cars I’m used to in Austin. The 10-minute ride to the hotel was uneventful aside from a few young boys agitating a good size roadside fire. I wasn’t able to see much of my surroundings because it was pitch black outside but I caught some things.

From that first ride to my hotel in Delhi, some themes of the trip were already apparent. Mutt dogs roamed the roads, people huddled around fires and cars were honking their horns constantly. And I mean constantly. The horn in India is used as a heads up to the bikers, motorcyclists and pedestrians that you’re coming up behind them. Horns come in all sounds too. High pitched, booming, squealing. It’s an automotive harmony.

Driving in India is a continuous game of chicken. Drivers are constantly passing others by shooting over in to the oncoming lane and zipping back into theirs. I have seen more cars coming at me head-on than I ever will for the rest of my life in America. It is completely common to be inches (literally, inches as in two) away from a massive truck in the oncoming lane as you veer back into your proper lane. I had to stop in the middle of a conversation because I was entranced by the giant red truck barreling towards our car. The front of nearly every car here says “Good Luck” somewhere on the windshield or bumper.

With so many different modes of transportation going at so many different speeds (stopping in the middle of the road is a speed here), you’re constantly weaving around people and vehicles. Indians seemed to have developed a sixth sense about traffic and when to get out of the way because they don’t even break concentration when they move. They hear the horn and move accordingly.

So, I get into my hotel room in Delhi about midnight. I walk in and there is a 42-inch plasma television hanging from the wall. Don’t get me wrong – the hotel was very nice. But I was definitely taken a back by such a large TV juxtaposed with the small beds that were in front it and the fact that I only have a 17-inch TV at home. Plus, there was still a hole in the wall from when they ran the cable wire. 42-inch plasma but not a touch of spackle for the wall? Land of contrast indeed.

My flight was at 8:50 AM so I had about 7 hours or so in the hotel room. I ordered room service – French fries and tomato soup – and I got both of them in about ten minutes. By both, I mean I got a plate of French fries and a bowl of tomato soup with fries in the soup. I guess the man on the other end of the room service line got confused with my order.

I was able to sleep on and off for about three hours. The other time, I was checking out Indian TV. I watched some music videos, Indian Fear Factor and a bit of the news. One news story was about a candidate for office that was trying to mimic the way Barack Obama had reached out to young people with technology. I came all the way to India to hear about the upcoming US election. “The Barack Obama Effect”, they called it.

I took a car to the airport the next morning just before 8 AM. I got to the airport, showed the guard at the door my e-ticket and he let me right in. One Kingfisher Airline employee grabbed my two bags I was going to check and sent them through the x-ray machine. Then, I went to the short ticket line just a few feet away and checked my two bags. Interestingly enough, the woman who gave me my boarding pass and checked my bags was also one of the stewardesses on the plane.

While I was waiting for the bus to take us the runway (it’s one of those airports), I asked a man where I could find terminal A. He asked if I was on the 8:50 AM flight to Ranchi, I said yes and he said he was on the same flight. My new best friend.

A short bus took us directly the plane on the runway, where we got off and boarded the plane. It was a small plane but certainly wasn’t super small. It had about 20 rows of seats, with a pair of seats on the left side and three on the right side. We took off a short time later and after an uneventful plane ride I land in Ranchi. One interesting note about the plane ride was that for most of the ride, there was a fog put out in the cabin right above our heads. It didn’t fill up the plane but it was thick intitially coming out of the plane wall. Not too sure what this was but nobody batted an eye so neither did I.

I land in Ranchi about 10:30 AM and see our travel coordinator Barbara there to greet me. She sorts out some weird passport issue and we jump in our car and head to the city.

Before we got to Sooch Village, we needed to do some shopping. Here is where the driving got really nuts. People are in and off the street, the “lanes” are pretty skinny so the cars, bikes and people are packed in together as you drive.
I saw a man peeing on the side of the road, lots of food stands and plenty of cell phone ads on the way to the “Big Bazaar” where we would be shopping. This is a five story store with groceries on the first floor and rounded out with men and women’s clothes, electronics, housewares, furniture and pretty much most things you see if you imagined a Wal-Mart type store with fewer choices and much less square footage.

Guards at the entrance to the store wanded us down and let Barbara and I pass through. A minute later, I walked back outside to grab a picture of the front of the store. I found out the hard way you cannot take pictures at this store. They took my camera, wrote the date, make and model on a piece of paper and handed both the paper and the camera back to me. I quizzically looked at the three men who it took to write this and walk back into the store with my camera.

After about an hour, we had picked up our necessary items which included a brown kurta (shirt) for me and a pair of sunglasses. As we were choosing our items, a man came up to me and asked if I would pose in a picture with his daughter. Right there. Next to the glass storage containers. Of course, I did it and I will probably mention it again on this blog because it was a pretty cool thing to have happen to you during your first half hour in Ranchi.

We found a small restaurant and grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading out. Before we left, I needed to the use the restroom, asked the man where it was and headed underneath the stairs to find it. I’m doing my thing in the urinal when I look down and see, ahem, my pee coming out of a tube and going into a hole right next to my foot. I look at the urinal. I look at the tube with pee coming out. And laughed right there in the bathroom. I really might as well have just peed in that hole.

We made it to Sooch Village a short time later, after about a half hour ride through Rourkela. I have a great clip of the ride but satellite internet in India only has so much bandwith. Sooch is a bit outside of the city, surrounded by walls separating the orphanage from the rest of the community. The wall isn’t ideal at the moment but necessary unforutnately.

It’s a small community surrounding Sooch – people tending to animals and breaking rock for 2 rupees a day. 40 rupees equals one US dollar so, yeah, they’re not making much for incredibly tough work.

My first afternoon at Sooch Village was spent meeting the staff, playing with the children and making sure we got every sponsorshop video recorded that we needed to.
The kids are absolutely fantastic and I won’t say much more because you really need to see them for yourself. You just have to. Trying to put the joy on their faces into words simply does not work. Come to India and see for yourself.

We played with the soccer ball that evening and ate ice cream. There was a young boy named Pardeep whose legs were very sore, rending him unable to walk. All of the children ran for the ice cream from their houses and I took Pardeep on my shoulders and we walked to get ice cream and watch the other kids kick the ball around. I felt immense joy from being able to help Pardeep join in the fun as much as he could. Sure, it was a little gesture, taking him on my shoulders and walking a few hundred yards but it put a smile on my face.

Darn kids got me hooked right off the bat.

The adoption center where we slept for the night had about ten bedrooms and was very nice. There are office rooms, five or six bathrooms, balconies and a roof “deck”. From the roof, you could see for a long distance. It was fun trying to figure out what the shapes on the horizon were.

As sunset approached about 8 PM or so, you could see in the very far distance a thunderstorm developing.

Lightning lit up the clouds and it was like a fireworks show. I never heard any thunder, until the next morning when it rained steadily for about a half hour then drizzled on and off until we left for Rourkela that afternoon.

The rest of the night was spent getting to know my fellow travelers better and I made it to bed about midnight and crashed onto my bed surrounded by mosquito netting. I slept deeply and awoke about 7:30 the next morning in a nasty REM sleep haze, did some work, ate and awaited our rides to train station and eventually Rourkela.

As I mentioned before, we took a three hour train ride from Ranchi to get to Rourkela and that in itself was an experience. The train station in Ranchi was packed with people waaiting at the entrance. We pulled up, our porters took our bags out of the car and we waited for the train to come at 4:05 PM.

While we were waiting, a noisy rally developed right before our eyes in the middle of the street. Two huge bullhorns attached to the top of a truck belted out a man’s voice. A half dozen or so other cars followed him and they just stopped right in front of the train station. People got out and danced to the insanely loud Indian music coming from the bullhorns. I’m not sure what the rally was about but it took up the whole road and the other bystanders were watching too. Very interesting experience to be a part of.

The train platform was filled with stands selling all sorts of trinkets; people laying prone, sleeping directly on the concrete; and dogs roaming the tracks.

We jumped on the train with all of our luggage, argued with a man about what number train car we were actually in and settled in the for the trip.

The landscape between Ranchi and Rourkela was gorgeous, filled with green fields, massive rocks jutting up from the hground and rolling hills. Trees and shorter bushes sporadically punctuated our view alongside the tracks.

Even though trains run by these people all the time, the residents of the fields and homes near the train tracks still dropped everything and stared at the train as we passed. The children would wave to us in unison with their brothers and sisters while the adults just vacantly looked back at us.

We made half dozen or so stops on the entire trip and Barbara, Caroline and I were able to grab an empty set of seats to ourselves. I slouched down in the cushion of the air-conditioned car and stared out the window nearly the entire trip, fascinated by everything I saw. People were working in the rice patties while dogs and cows roamed the countryside.

The sun set while we were on the train and we entered Rourkela under darkness.

Okay, so we’re back to where I actually am now – Rourkela. We just got in this evening, had some dinner and now the rest of the group is a bit scattered as I type this in my hotel room. Not much has happened yet except for a nervous taxi ride from the train station to our hotel. As soon as we stepped out of the Rourkela train station, the beggars surrounded us. Making motions to their mouths, looking back to men on bikes who obviously had a financial stake in this, the children look pitiful but I couldn’t feel much sympathy for them. It’s a ploy and this is essentially their job. They see a group of Westerners and they use their leg grabbing gimmicks to squeeze money out of us (or our pockets if you’re not careful). I know those children were actually in need of food, medicine, whatever. But right then and there, the sympathy wasn’t in me.

Of course, to give any one of those children money would be to invite dozens more to surround you. Not a very safe decision to make in a foreign land. Barbara was surrounded by two dozen men when she paid the porters. Only about six porters helped us but you show that money in the public and it’s like a moth to a flame.

Whoops, forgot about the taxi ride. Porters loaded our luggage into taxis and the other group members got in. Except me, who was riding in the front seat of one car with only the driver of the taxi and a bunch of our luggage in the back. We were following another taxi filled with our group members when we left the train station area.

Within about ten seconds of leaving, the car loaded with Miracle Foundation people takes a quick left and my driver…keeps going straight. I motion to him to follow the car that had just turned and he says to me, “Shortcut.”. My mind rapidly went through the What-ifs of being kidnapped in India but the anxiety never really took hold. Within a few minutes, we rounded a traffic circle and saw the other car. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief and felt a bit foolish for being so cynical.

And that’s my first two days in India. We’re up early tomorrow to head to our orphanage here and it’s guaranteed to be another incredible day in this country. I’m soaking up every last bit of information my eyes and questions can gather and it’s been amazing so far.

Alright, my mind is mush now. I’ve barely slept in two days, had no coffee whatsoever and I need to order some food to get me straight again. I know there are typos in this post but I can’t bring myself to find them.

Thanks for reading. If you want to read more, say a prayer to the Indian internet gods.

PS The videos I shot really give you a great sense of what I’m writing about. When I get to a faster internet connection, if I get to a faster connection, I’ll update this post with videos.