Warning: this is kind of a hard post…to write, and probably to read as well. I may not say things perfectly…there’s no way I can. But here’s to my best effort to describe some hard things…and capture some beauty as well. It has been said that being in India gives you a sensory overload. I love this quote from Keith Bellows (National Geographic Society) “…I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.” Things in India are certainly vibrant in every way. And it’s not just the colors. There is a vibrancy in sounds, emotions, and thoughts that is impossible to describe. It is extreme highs and lows…huge crowds where you can scarcely move a finger to serene spots where you are barefoot and in wonder and awe at God’s love. Right on to extreme sadness because you wonder where in the world that poor girl begging at your car window will get a break. And your heart breaks watching a mother try to find a place for her baby to sleep…or something to eat to get them through the day. Your heart wonders about God. How this Plan of His works. Why were these people born there, and me here? Why do I have a refrigerator and a closet full of clothes when that man is smiling at me in his “home” made from scraps of cardboard and tarp. And that other man is severely disfigured begging outside an ancient Indian palace. As I look through these pictures I realize a picture cannot, as the saying goes, tell a thousand words. Pictures and words by the cartload cannot do this place, nor this experience justice. I cannot find the words deep enough or filled with enough emotion to explain what is in my heart. So bear with me. I will try to write at least what is on the surface…and maybe scrape down a little tiny bit to those emotions that jolted me while I was there. One of my favorite things about traveling around India was that our tour guide took us places off the beaten tourist track. There was a “church town” on the way to Delhi where we experienced India unlike anything we could have imagined. Everyone was heading to their respective churches in a holy place where it is believed Lord Krishna was born and lived as a child. There was crazy traffic to get there. I’ll try to attach a video when I can figure out how to clip it down in iMovie. (I should really have more pictures in our van because boy howdy we spent a lot of time in that thing!) At some point, the traffic was so bad that we got out and walked. It was quite a walk. Here’s a little snippet of it: And a little later when for some reason the crowd thinned out: I LOVE the cute boys at the end of that one. I loved the faces of the people we saw as we walked. I was almost out of camera battery so I was stingy with the pictures, darn it. We finally arrived at the church where Nitin wanted to take us:We checked in our shoes at the door (which was getting to be old-hat to us by then) and mingled in with the throngs of people gathered there. There was a huge long line of people waiting to swing a model of Krishna on a little swing with a string in the middle of the church, and then in the back people were gathered dancing. This was a Hare Krishna gathering. For more about Hare Krishnas click here. The dance got more and more animated and happy and frenzied as time wore on. It went from this: To this: …as we stood there and watched in awe. Max didn’t enjoy this part very much…he was a little bit claustrophobic as everyone thronged around him and kept trying to pull him in to dance. But for me it was a pretty neat experience. Standing there with my husband, two children and good friends witnessing how this whole group of good people strive to connect with God. After about an hour of pure squishiness, we peeled ourselves out of there and headed back to the van…which was actually a long, pretty scary walk. I was positive one of us was going to get our feet run over as we shimmied ourselves in between all these cars and carts and rickshaws. But there was cool stuff to see on the way:I loved meeting this sweet girl en route, and wondering about what her life was like. The next morning we met the guy who owns the tour agency we used. His name is Praveen and he is awesome. I’d so highly recommend these guys if you ever go to India…ask for Nitin as your tour guide 🙂 Our first stop in Delhi was for a rickshaw ride through the old city. This is the part where I was baffled by the wires. There were coils of wire miles on end, scrunched into corners, strung across streets, wound around street signs. Here’s how it looked as we took off with our strong rickshaw driver…I was so in awe of all the sights that it wore off pretty quick how bad I felt for the guy pedaling us heavy Americans around. We stopped at the spice market.I think spices are beautiful. The market was jam-packed with people buying and selling. We kept getting in the way of people lugging around huge potato sacks filled to the brim with every kind of spice imaginable.Nitin, true to form, took us off the beaten track. We wanted to see the real-ness of India, which was actually pretty rough to see at times. This was our walk up to see the view above… (That guy sleeping was a little startling I must admit…so much so that our smiles in the next pictures seem so eerily out of place.) So different from the way Lucy rides to school on her huge yellow school bus: I think you can get so much more of a feel for how it was with a little more video footage: These are the taxis in Delhi:I think they are pretty cool. Next we went to visit the memorial for Mahatma Ghandi. It was beautiful. They have so much respect for that man who many call the “father of their country,” with good reason. That man was amazing. We need to rent the Gandhi movie and watch it at some point soon while all this is still lingering in our minds. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mahatma Gandhi “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” –Mahatma Gandhi Next we visited “India Gate,” the national monument of India. As you can tell, it was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and it commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the Indian Army who lost their lives fighting for India. We had dinner. And headed to the airport on eerie streets that got more and more un-Indian as we got closer and closer to the flight that would take us away from there. So, back to my question, why am I here? Why are they there? The only answer I can come up with is that we are all here on earth to learn and grow. We are all learning from what is thrown in our path, and we all have something. Sure, we all have vastly different lives. We all wake up in completely different surroundings. But it’s what we do with those surroundings that matters. We need to “arise and shine forth” in any way we can, whether it is something big, or something as simple as sharing pieces of our hearts with those around us right in our little neck of the woods. I love Mother Teresa’s famous quote: “Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies.” I believe this with all my heart, and even more so after having visited India. We can’t do big things that will change the poverty and hardships over there. But we can do small things in our own communities. We can stand up and love others around us. We can get involved in making a difference. Each in our own, unique way. “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi As we headed off to Thailand we smiled. We knew another adventure lay ahead. But part of our hearts mourned. Because we knew that part of the depth of feelings we had in India would stay in India. There’s simply no way to take them with you. We knew we’d have to go off into our own section of the world and try to make some semblance of it all. And try to let the parts that touched us the most, change us gradually into who we want to become. “There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place.” –Keith Bellows I hope that will always be the case for each of us who had that opportunity of a lifetime.
a new calling
Hope your Christmas was beautiful. I am still lingering in ours and soaking up this family of mine. Hopefully I can get the pics downloaded today but until then, let’s…
resilience and mission comings and goings
So many of Claire’s good/best friends are leaving for missions right now. She’s so sad to be missing all their farewells, dang it! But although we don’t have a missionary…
We went on a cruise to the Mexican Riviera with 23 people. Dave’s sister and brother and their families along with us. I wish we had a group picture, but…
Eagle project thank you and update
As I write we are on a plane over the Pacific Ocean en route to India and Rising Star. I must say that it has been the most crazy whirlwind…
thoughts on religion and equality and love
I just tried to post this as a comment in the last post, but it won’t let me because it’s so dang long. So for what it’s worth, here you…
one more tv thing…
I’m home, totally and completely rejuvenated.…And I adore these girls even more than I did before I left. My amazing sisters. I have SO much to write about, but I’m…
I really understand the whole 'sensory overload' part. Last year I visited The Gambia, a tiny country on the coast of Western Africa. I went there with my school where we visited two primary schools in rural villages, and then we travelled back to the crazy city to our hotel in the evening.
During the days, we'd travel in a bus – which was basically a truck with seats in the back and open sides. It took us everywhere, but in many places we had to get out and walk – in Tanje, a tiny fishing village, we walked down to the beach from the street as the fishing boats were coming in at the end of the day – hundreds of people flocking to the boats to buy their dinner. The markets with all kinds of food that we would never dream of eating; being called at and talked to and asked to buy things everywhere we went.
It's crazy when you're in a situation like that. We could go to the center of a city like London or Chicago or New York – and while it'd be crazy, it's something we're used to. It's not so different from where we live. But in that environment, everything is so vastly different from everything you're familiar with, and your brain automatically tries to take it all in. So you basically just go into total overdrive.
The crowded streets of India remind me of the streets of Banjul, Gambia's capital. So much traffic and so many people – and amazing colour everywhere you look. One fond memory for me is when we had to stop in the middle of the street in our bus and wait, because prayers were happening. Hundreds of people had flocked to their place of worship that couldn't hold them all, so they sat on the side of the road, in the street, and across the street, the closest they could get – all praying to their god sitting in the road. We simply couldn't get past, so we sat and waited.
Even the people in the rural areas has so much spirit and the slow lives of the people living in mud huts on the side of a dirt track were so different to anything I'd ever seen. One of the schools threw a huge welcome party for us – twelve British girls and their teachers along with five hundred African children sitting under the largest tree I have ever seen in my life. We gave them school supplies, and they gave us gifts of what they had to thank us. The whole village (aside from the men who were working on the farmland) turned out to welcome us. The older boys played drums, the mothers all danced and the children thronged around me trying to get a closer look at milky white skin, green eyes, and soft blonde hair, as I was the only light haired, pale eyed person there out of our group. And we danced, all 600 or so of us – for four hours, in the shade of that giant tree.
It makes my heart ache to see all the things you did in India because it reminds me so warmly of everything that happened in Africa to me. Even the situations that weren't so nice – Max feeling overwhelmed at the church, and Elle complaining about the smell on top of that building – even years later you look back fondly on it because it reminds you of all the wonderful things.
Also this has been a really long comment, I realise, but your post has given me so many feelings of my own so I had to get it out. Sorry!
I love this post Shawni. I have wondered the same question – and I think you are right.
Sometimes I wonder why I am so blessed.
I know that by choosing Jesus' plan, we chose to come to earth and gain bodies, no matter the conditions. I've never really thought about it more than that.
This post has opened my eyes and made me ponder more on that. Why me? Why them?
I appreciated your comment about it's what we do with our surroundings that matter. We are where we are for a reason. Because God knows us. He knows what we're capable of. He knows what will help us grow. The end of your post helped me realize that I need to stop letting my life just pass by. I need to grab a hold of it, evaluate it, work on my weak spots and look for ways to become stronger. To become my absolute best self and to help others become their best selves.
I am happy you guys had such an amazing experience!
Hope you're adjusting back to home and school life ok! 🙂
I have loved reading your India posts and taking in all the pictures. I have felt overwhelmed with gratitude for all that I have! What an awesome experience – I hope I can share something similar when our kids are older!
Beautiful, inspirational post – thank you!
I need to read this post still but all I keep thinking about is what y'all did to prevent/treat for lice because you said it was everywhere. I'd love to know what y'all did.
I completely understand these "Why are we so blessed?" or "Why is my life so easy?" thoughts, especially as I've worked with this non-profit organization called Reece's Rainbow (an Down syndrome adoption group that raises funds and awareness for those with DS in other countries that are forced to live in orphanages and mental institutions because their society rejects them). I have a child with Down sydnrome – why was he so lucky to be born here to parents who love him AND consider it an honor to raise him? Had he been born in many other places, he'd be spending his days lonely in a crib wasting away his potential.
All I can think of right now – and I surely don't understand all the ins and outs of God's Plan – is that for those God has blessed immensely, He expects us to use these blessings to help others. And we forget how richly we live, even those considered "poorer" here in first world countries live better than many parts of the world.
We can't forget where our good fortune comes from and we can show our gratitude by loving, serving, and imparting of our means with others. Until we understand the "Whys", it seems that is all we can do.
Amazing! This makes memories flood back. There is so much of humanity crushed together with color and spice and joy and heartache. The only way to get a clear picture is to get away from it and look back.
So many are devastated because they are being abused or because they can't feed their children and have no hope of marrying their children into a higher caste (although the caste system is thankfully slowly dying out).
But when you see those good people dancing with joy and are exhilarated by their beliefs that makes me wonder if they are not better off than many people we know who have fridges and cars but have horrible relationships and no faith that their lives can ever be better. LIfe is such a vast sea of complicated situations. I'm so thankful for my own anchors in life, but it takes me many months after we return from a trip like this to recover (and maybe I shouldn't) from thinking I should drop everything and go back and help!
So amazing to see these pics. Thanks for sharing!
I heard in a Sunday school class, and I don't have any references to back this up so I say it with tongue in cheek, that our blessings (placement) in this life are a result from actions in the pre-existence…
Something to wonder about.
To find the beauty in every place you saw…is a lesson for us all to embrace. I too am a firm believer it is all about Soul Growth. Where ever we chose to be planted on this Earth…it must be for the growth of that particular soul. How can we possibly know the lessons that are expanding the infinite knowledge and beauty of that Soul…housed in the physical body of that young girl…begging on the side of the bus? How can we know the countless other souls that one Soul is expanding…simply because she lives…right there…right now…in this moment. Her very space in this physical world…ripples across the planet as she walks and lives her life affecting each of us daily. The common thread I’ve seen in such wise old souls…such as Gandhi…or Mother Theresa…is their theme of total acceptance for self…and others. There is a deep peacefulness and Conscious Love that accompanies this. Perhaps the way…is to see each other…with peaceful clarity…that each Soul is expanding it’s being through their physical experience of life. The tough part, for me, is celebrating and embracing that Soul’s journey…no matter how tragic or difficult it may seem to my mortal mind. I believe this is what the Savior meant…by Love One Another.
What a beautiful post, thank you for sharing all your adventures with us. Were you guys ever scared being there (violence, etc), especially having your kids there?
You have told the story of your trip to India SO well. I have honestly felt like I've been right along with you. Thank you for that. I am so touched by your feelings and experiences. Your kids will never be the same.
I would love to know how Max and Elle speak about the trip, what they thought, hear a little from them about their experiences! 🙂
Shawni, I was wondering about the crime rate there, I don't know why but when you showed a picture of Ghandi's memorial I thought people here in America would probably vandalize that somehow…it just made me thing. Again…beautiful pictures.
I often have a hard time trying to come to peace with why my life has been the way it has. My mom left my dad, becoming a complete stranger in our home when I was a preteen. And then I lost 2 brothers to suicide. And now we have financial difficulties dealing with 2 diabetics. I know Heavenly Father has a plan for us all. It's hard to understand why my life couldn't have been different. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and adventures.
I decided this past spring that it was time for me to go to India. I, too, am going to Rising Star. My husband is coming with me… it will be our 20th wedding anniversary. We are going in March. It's an understatement to say that I'm excited! Reading your blog has truly been inspirational. I can't wait to have my own India experience. How did you come to choose Melissa Travels?
Thank you so much for sharing your adventures. You are an incredible photographer and a dedicated mother. I always look forward to reading your posts and learning from you. I get a chance to work with Saren sometimes, and I'm always so impressed by your wonderful family.
Kim, i'm so excited for you! Rising Star recommended Melissa Travels and I'm so grateful for that.
This is a fabulous post. It really touched me. I often wonder the same thing. "What about those who are born, raised, and die in North Korea or such a place?". I love your reasoning and it makes perfect sense to me. Thank you.
In response to the head lice comment–I don't know what they used, but tea tree oil is the best repellent I've found. It kills and repels them. Trust me–I have more experience with this then I ever wanted.
Thank you for sharing this. It took me back to my days as an LDS welfare missionary in the Philippines…. and believe it or not totally made me homesick for that country. A place filled with unbelievable hardship, yet never have I met such exceptional, faith filled people. I was there to teach them, but in reality they taught me. It is a reminder that in the darkest situations, resides some of the greatest lights and miracles. It also makes me not want to take for granted all that we have and is a reminder that I better work very hard each day because where much is given much is required. Thanks again for sharing and stirring something inside of me! From Dana
I ask myself that question almost every single day. Like your mom, I wonder if we aren't sometimes wrong about who is better off. I would never wish upon someone to have to suffer their whole life, but I'm pretty certain that people who live with so many struugles and trials know God on a much deeper level because they rely on Him to make it through each day. They don't use any of their time planning vacations or shopping for clothes or practicing sports or using the internet. It reminds me of the prayer "Give us this day our daily bread". How can we want for more than that? Anything more is an abundance of blessings to be shared with others.
Thank you for sharing this trip. I've always shuddered a little on the inside when people say they are going to India, but now I understand your love for it. I have always wanted to go on a trip like this (my dream is to South America though), and watching your dream come true is an inpiration to me. Your kids are lucky to have a mother who gives them these experiences, and you are blessed to have kids who will give of themselves in this way. 🙂
You have done a perfect job, Shawni, of capturing India. The look AND the emotions. It has been so fun (and quite emotional) to read your posts since we were there (with RSO) recently.
I have the same exact picture of the electrical wires in Delhi (insane!), the same video of riding through Old Delhi in a pedal rickshaw, and I let out a scream when I saw your picture of the restaurant "Punjabi by Nature!" That is our favorite restaurant there! Lots of memories at that place. We've eaten there several times.
One night as we were walking to the restaurant my daughter accidentally dropped her camera (there in the market just outside Punjabi). She picked it up, not thinking much of it, and on we went to the restaurant. When we were eating she noticed that her memory card was gone! It had popped out when the camera fell. We quickly ran out of the restaurant and searched forEVER. It was no where to be found. We even offered some Indian boys some money if they would find it. Apparently, they searched ALL night to no avail. I've never seen my daughter cry like that. ALL of her pictures from our entire two weeks were on that card; EVERYTHING from Rising Star, The Taj, Jaipur, etc. It was completely devastating.
And I'm so glad you got to meet Praveen! He is awesome. We dentists had him over for "real American BBQ" when he was here in Utah in May. So fun to see him again! After dinner, he shared his testimony of the gospel with us and it was just incredible. What an amazing man.
Thank you for sharing so much of your trip with us. The video feed was unbelievable. I had my girls gather round me to see what your family was experiencing. Now I feel like I know a bit more about our neighbours who live across the street who are from india. They are in abundance here in Edmonton. Beautiful, wonderful people.
Beautiful pictures. And the videos are wonderful–the pics brought to life like we were there beside you. Thank you for the experience. The place where a chunk of my heart remains is Africa. Lived on the continent for 10 years in multiple countries. My soul yearns for it every day.
I have really enjoyed your India posts! I'm sure you have changed the way that your two oldest children look at the world, what a wonderful gift to give them and yourself. thank you for sharing.
Shawni, Thanks for writing, for making me want to keep coming back for more so i can learn from your insights, and articulate more what is in my heart. your words resonate with me on a regular basis.
This blog brings tears to my eyes and gives me goose bumps! I am planning my own visit to India in April to get my son who has been serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints. He has been in New Delhi since June 2011. His experiences there have changed both of our lives forever. The people who have come into my life through facebook and email have become my extended family and I will love them forever. Thank-you so much for sharing your experiences in India. Here are mine so far- http://Www.missionsite.net/elderjacobgreen
Such a beautiful post!! I spent a semeseter in Romania during college and experienced similar feelings!!
My sis.in.law recently introduced me to your book (mother's secrets…) and I LOVE IT!! Thanks for sharing what you know… in the book and on the blog.
Hi, thank you so much for sharing your trip to India. I'm next going to read all your posts about India! You raised something that I've never consciously realized when I go to India (my husband is from there so I've been there about 5 times now. 6 maybe?) Definitely the tastes, colors and sounds are so much more vivid than where we live in the U.S. But you also made me realize that yes, my emotions are also much more vivid and contrasting! I'm usually not an emotional person and really don't like dealing with strong emotions. I'd honestly rather avoid them! So now I realize, when I have difficulty with India, that's really what it is – the emotions of it and my reactions to what happens there. It's been good to realize that, and hopefully that will help me deal during our next trip.
I'm so happy to see big smiles on your family's faces and it looks like you very much enjoyed India, that's so wonderful!! It is a country that makes you think and I believe makes travelers grow as people as a result of being there.
We're more familiar with Chennai, Bangalore and Kochi in South India – I've spent only a few days in Delhi, so I think we'll ring up your travel agent when we're in Delhi, thank you for sharing info about him and Nitin!