Sunday, March 14
We all had a very full day yesterday (Saturday), full of sightseeing, packing, shopping and travel! Four members of our group headed off bright and early to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Those of us who had already had that experience, stayed back at the hotel to prepare for the day. Later in the morning, we all gathered together and then headed out to visit Agra Fort. As with Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort was also built in the 1560s by Emperor Akbar. It is an incredibly well preserved complex, which made it very easy to imagine the 300 years of opulence and intrigue that went on there during the 300 year reign of the Moghuls.
Following our morning of sightseeing, we all ate lunch together. We had read in one of our guidebooks about a restaurant that served authentic food from southern India. Upon arrival, we were very surprised to find Tiffany-style lampshades and red stripe awnings, which created an atmosphere a bit more reminiscent of TGI Fridays than what we were expecting!
Soon after lunch, Barbara left for the train station in order to get to Delhi to meet the group of students from the UT Catholic Center. The rest of us managed to get in a bit of shopping before also making our way to the Agra train station. Our driver delivered us there several hours early, so we made our way to our platform and began the long wait. In order to pass away the time, some of us talked, some knitted, some read. I was taking pictures, when a young construction worker asked me to photograph him. I spent quite a long time with him, as he wanted to see each image and then he would ask to pose again. Since I have been so cautious about photographing people, I was happy to oblige! Of course, minutes before our train arrived, an announcement was made that the platform had changed. So, after feeling like we had all the time in the world, we found ourselves rushing to haul our luggage up and down the ramps. We arrived at the appropriate platform just in time to jump on our train to Delhi.
We were all up early this morning (Sunday) and out of the hotel by 9 am. With the arrival of the UT students, our group had expanded from seven to twenty-four travelers, so our mode of transportation changed accordingly. We now boarded a bus, rather than a taxi, and headed to the airport for our flight to Ranchi.
Upon arrival in Ranchi, it was wonderful to see the happy smile of Katelyn, our intern in India, who met us at the airport. After piling into several different vehicles, we all headed off in different directions. Twenty-two members of our group, including the UT students and our travel partners in Agra, set off for Rourkela by train, while Laura, Katelyn, and I made the one-hour drive to Sooch Village.
Sooch Village is located in a very remote area, about 30 to 45 minutes by car outside of the city of Ranchi. While most of the drive is on a paved highway, the last 15 minutes is along a very dusty road full of deep ruts, which are created by the monsoon rains that come every summer. It was late in the day as we made our way along that dusty, bumpy road. The sun was big and red and hanging low on the horizon when I began to see “Sooch Village” painted on the electrical poles running alongside the highway, indicating that The Miracle Foundation is bringing electricity to this area. It wasn’t long before I caught a glimpse the familiar white buildings off in the distance. Because I only knew Sooch Village from pictures, I was immediately caught off guard by the emotion that welled up inside me. I’ve been working for The Miracle Foundation for eight months now, absorbing from afar all I could about our children, housemothers, staff and programs in India. Now, finally, I was about to see it and experience it all first hand, and it was rather overwhelming to take it all in.
As soon as we arrived, we received a wonderfully warm greeting from the Sooch staff (Susan, Iltaf, Anjna, and Sanika), who met us at the main entrance of the Administration Building. We then made our way upstairs to get settled. As I unpacked my bag, I could hear the children’s voices off in the distance and I knew it was really going to take me a while to wrap my head around the fact that I was actually here!
It’s finals week for the children, so they were all in the Prayer Hall studying for their exams. As we headed down the path to greet them, there was a power outage and everything all around us went black. With the help of my small flashlight, we made our way to the Prayer Hall. As we approached, several little boys calling out “Auntie, Auntie!” surrounded us. My flashlight provided just enough illumination to see the light in the children’s eyes and the smiles on their faces. It was an amazing sight. Again, my heart lept into my throat. Something truly remarkable is happening here and I’m so very pleased to have the opportunity to see it all for myself!