A Traveler’s Diary: First Day in Country

On September 29, 2012, in Commentary, Life, by Chris

I started this post this morning sitting at a coffee bar at Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, India, waiting with the team for the last leg of our travel to see our friend Jaya and all of the good things he is doing. The thirty hours of travel thus far are taking their toll, so I apologize in advance if my writing is a little incoherent. I rarely sleep well on planes.

The heat of the morning is already beginning to stir the hazy air, distorting the tail flashings of the planes sitting on the tarmac in the distance. All around me the terminal is abuzz with activity – janitors, wait staff, travelers, baggage handlers. But amid the din I still noticed workers stealing away for just a moment to catch up on the news or sit in the shade of a jetway to have a snack with friends as the stink of aviation fuel hangs pungent in the air.

I’ve been coming to India for over ten years now, and I am still struck at the triple espresso shot of concentrated humanity that I get when I arrive. So many people. So many lives. So many wills at work that it amazes me that the culture hasn’t reached a point of collective insanity. Perhaps it has, but the haze of sleep deprivation while I’m in country dulls my senses just enough to let it remain just out of apprehension.

But even amid the chaos there is design and things get done. We experienced that most recently on our shuttle ride between the international and domestic terminal and the fearless bus driver who drove headlong into a mass of oncoming headlights on a sometimes one-lane tramway. To the horror of the foreigners and the inattention of the nationals, he initiated toward the way-less-than-bus-sized space between two oncoming trucks and there is an indescribable, fluid process of challenge, collaboration and mutual yielding until all are back on their way.

And it happens way, way more than you would see in the U.S. It suggests to me that there is some kind of internal order amid all the chaos that is so ingrained in the Indian psyche that It would take more than the millennia that forged it to find out what had been really created.

Everyone is on campus now and quickly bedding down to start repaying their sleep debt. You’ll hear more about the delayed flight, the bus breakdown the iffy power grid and the flower pedal charged reception tomorrow. But I did want to drop you a quick line to tell you that it’s great to be back.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. – St. Augustine

republished from cemindia.blogspot.com

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Autumn in the Midwest and Elsewhere

On November 18, 2011, in Julia's Journey, Life, by Chris

Hey – been quite a while. For those of you who have been following our story, I want to apologize. After a year of pounding out these posts in reasonably quick succession, I’ve found myself in kind of a winter of my motivation. I came back from India and honestly wanted to spend some time with my family that was as undistracted as possible. Anyone who knows me knows that’s quite a trick, considering how many things I like diving into.

Blogs – especially if they’re done well – take a lot of discipline to maintain and create an itch similar to when the lawn goes un-mowed for a couple of weeks. You look out the window and there it is, and there’s a tipping point of motivation that comes into play: “Should I get out the lawn mower and get it done or does the couch and the remote look more enticing?” I could wind this metaphor out even further and talk about the neighbors complaining, but you get the idea. (And thanks to my brother-in-law Jonathan for the image!)

So now I’m hanging out at Costco getting some new tires for the Camry, and I thought I’d get you up to speed on the goings on over the last month.

Being away from the family in India for ten days wasn’t as gut-wrenching as I thought it was going to be. There were certainly pangs of it when I sat and thought for too long, but the pace of activity and the crush of the in-country experience thankfully kept my mind off of it. Most of my time was spent behind a camera telling the story of CEM. I came home with 2400+ images and my perspective realigned for a while. I’ll have more about that later.

Not long after my return, we took advantage of a trade show that Jocelyn was attending to visit her brother and his family in Fort Worth. It had been almost a year since we had seen Jonathan and Deirdre last Thanksgiving and their son Oliver has grown up! Julia was really excited to meet him and he showed amazing patience with her even though he is not even a year her senior.

We also had time for breakfast with the Gilmartins, our dear friends transplanted from Detroit. And in Grapevine, Texas, we visited the Torian Cottage, a log cabin bought by one of Jocelyn’s ancestors back in the mid-nineteenth century and occupied by the family until just after the Second World War.

Oh, yeah – and we celebrated Halloween in Texas as well! Miss Julia was styling in her University of Michigan cheerleader outfit at her cousin’s costume birthday party (okay all you Ohio peeps – no hatin’! We are equal opportunity – send us some OSU stuff and we’ll put it on her). She then tore up the trick or treat circuit on the mean streets of Fort Worth in a pink skeleton outfit courtesy of Old Navy – accessories and hair by Mommy.

The family visits didn’t end after we got back. The following weekend, we visited with my sister, Lisa, who was spending some time out at the farm. While we were there, we did a quick photo shoot of Julia for our Christmas card. No previews until after we send them out!

We also met some new friends last week. Babycenter.com was a real godsend to Jocelyn as she was processing and preparing for Julia’s birth and all through the challenges of the months before the surgery. As much as she gained from the deep base of knowledge on the site (there are forums literally for every issued out there from Down Syndrome to the best ideas on effective potty training), Jocelyn is starting to give back with the experience she has gained. Jennifer is a local found us through Jocelyn’s avid activity on Babycenter and read the blog to hear more about our story. She and her husband, Dave, are the parents of twins – one of which has Down Syndrome.

It wasn’t too long before we set a date for the zoo. Truth be told, our hearts have knitted together in a surprisingly short time and I think we may have some lifelong friends!

You’ll be hearing more stories very soon, but we’re going on the road again tomorrow. We’re going out to the farm, transferring all of our baby crap into my Dad’s big “grandpa cruiser” and shooting down to Washington D.C. to spend a long holiday weekend with my sister and her family.

Good to be back!

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Good Morning CEM!

On October 10, 2011, in Life, by Chris

editor’s note – sorry for the tardiness of my post! There have been a lot of power outages in Andhra Pradesh due to a coal strike and the internet has been pretty spotty!

It’s just after 5am on Monday here at CEM, and call to prayer from the mosque nearby cut quietly through the heavy morning air. The place is already a buzz of activity as the children get ready for the day.


Even this early in the morning, you can’t sit for long without drawing attention from the children wondering what you are doing. The visitors from America are a source of constant fascination for them and a welcome diversion from the normal routine. Already, I’m beginning to draw a small crowd as I sit on the porch overlooking the courtyard as they try to read over my shoulder.

It would be a little disconcerting for someone who is not accustomed to the crush of people that one encounters here; and I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I take it in stride. It’s grown to quite a number, though with the children completely surrounding me. But with one word from the housemother, they scatter and make their way to the courtyard for their morning calisthenics.

I’m often still trying to clear the cobwebs this early in the morning, so it’s kind of fun being able to sit in the cool and think a bit as I hear the growing crescendo from the dorms.

They’ve gone into chapel now and I am writing this to the sound of their fervent prayer (led by my friend Naveen) coming from the room just behind me. It was these prayers that got my family through some very tough times last year.

I come to India for the perspective I get here. It is in this completely different cultural context that I get shaken out of the complacency I often find in my own. In their commitment to simple rhythms (you can count on chapel at least once a day) and the togetherness in their practice of it has a way of bringing heaven near.

The problems of life await them in the rest of the day, and many of them are more complex than anything I’ll ever know. But it is here that they bring those problems and are reminded of the One who gives them the strength to face them.

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