...What a weekend! On Friday afternoon, I finished my Pulmonology final exam at Mayo Medical School, ate dinner with my parents who had come to visit from Arizona, and went to bed at midnight after scrambling to pack some last minute items.
At 4:15am, I got up to start the 8,500 mile journey to Faridabad. It started with a light 5 hour drive to Chicago. Next was an 8,000 mile, 15 hour flight on Air India direct to New Delhi. Having squeezed in a total of 6 hours of sleep in the previous 48 hours, I slept from Quebec to Afghanistan.
Shri surprised me with open arms at the airport by picking me up himself (I was expecting a driver) and we set out for the Formula 1 inspired 90 minute land adventure to the opposite side of the city. At one point, we were going the wrong way down the center of a road that would have been about 7 lanes wide if it had had lanes.
At another point, some locals trying to make a point about something had barricaded a busy intersection. I just laughed the entire time as utter chaos ensued with hundreds of cars honking at one another and trying to turn around at the same time even as traffic backed up as far as I could see. It took us 20 minutes just to move 100 feet. Ahhh...I missed you India.
The welcoming party in Faridabad was waiting in full force. My friend Lauren (who has her own blog going at laurennippoldt.com, definitely check it out) was waiting at home. She is currently 2 months into a 6 month stay here and doing indispensable and tireless work for our students and their families. She, Mamta, and the schools have set up an entire week of events, surprises, conferences, talent shows, and meetings.
I set down my bags and Lauren and I set off on foot to the slums. Kids riding by on bikes and from the rooftops yelled, "Hi John Bhaiya!" as if I had never left.
Within about 60 seconds of seeing our first students in the slum, a chain reaction commenced and dozens of kids started running toward and away from us in every direction. Ajeet pointed out that some kids were being dispatched to alert the others, even those who had moved to more distant parts of the slum. I was so busy saying hi and hugging everyone that I couldn't take pictures. Thank you Lauren for capturing all of these!
Neha and Gudiya's father, covered in water and wearing only his underwear because he was bathing along the canal as we approached, directed me into their home. Gudiya disappeared and returned minutes later with a huge bottle of orange soda for Lauren and me. Their mother dusted off the only small stool in their home.
With hardly 4 hours on the ground, we'd already visited with hundreds of the kids and their families. As dusk set in, we returned home to Mamta waiting for me with a beautiful smile and one of my favorite paneer dishes for dinner. My friend Allison (who works here in New Delhi and has helped us with lots of great work over the past two years) also surprised me by coming to visit for the evening.
I feel like a prince coming home for some long-awaited royal event. It is truly surreal to travel all that distance to a remote corner of the world and have so many loving, inspiring, wonderful people here waiting to welcome me back. My bucket shower before bed was perhaps the best bucket shower ever!
It's great to be back! #squalortoscholar