I stumbled across an old email I sent to a friend a about a year after I returned from my time in India during the summer of 2006.
I was tempted to go through and edit it in an attempt to make it sound more clever, cohesive, or fluid -but I decided to keep it all in the original context and delivery.
I hope you enjoy it!
So my initial contact and reason for going to India was to work with a man named Shavez in his church in Delhi for the summer in accordance with my degree program requirements. When I first got there however, I received an email from him explaining that he and his wife were going to be out of town for a few weeks and asked if I could push my trip back. Keep in mind that I'm already in India at this point.
That situation is what led me to be able to live and work at an orphan boys hostel home in the mountains for two weeks- an experience that ended up being arguably the most profound of ym entire trip.
Anyway, while in the mountains (in a city called Mussoorie) at the Firs Estate (which is the name of the orphanage) I met an Australian girl named Isobel who was volunteering in India for a few months as well, and happened to be working on the other side of this mountain top for a few weeks. She was working with a girl's home that was loosely connected with the boy's home, and so through that we became friends. I found out that just a few days before I was to head to Delhi to finally meet with Shavez, she too was going to Delhi to begin work at the ministry site that she was planning to stay at for the remaining duration of her time in India. We agreed that when we were both down there that we should catch up again.
On a separate occasion when I was going for a walk, I encountered a German man named Ray, who had been in Mussoorie preaching and working for over 30 years at this point. He invited me into his home and we had a delightful conversation that lasted for quite some time. While at his house, I briefly met a young man named Shyam, who was also heading into Delhi on the same day I was, but on a different bus line. He warned me of how much hotter it would be there and I thanked him for the tip.
Fast forward a few days: I finally left my boy's at Firs and arrive in Delhi by myself, attempting to communicate my way around town to make it to where Shavez's house was. He was supposed to pick me up, but bailed on that as well. Good start, eh?
When I made it to his apartment however, I was feeling quite ill, and continued to feel sick for a couple of days, resting as much as I could. During that time I observed a man who was both unreasonably disrespectful to his servant as well as his wife and kid, and I knew that things were going to be difficult.
When I finally was able to participate in the church that he pastors I realized that the "church of hundreds" that he had mentioned over email while I was in Elgin, was really more like a church of 25, with one or two junior highers in the midst. This was going to make it rather difficult to accommodate my youth ministry requirements at a church that didn't really have any youth, but I was still hopeful.
During the week however, Shavez kept me in his house, doing his dishes, washing his car, and babysitting his son while he and his wife went out. I asked him numerous times every day if there was anything with the church or the youth in the community that I could be doing, but he never would allow me the opportunity. I would often go on long walks around the city and play soccer with the kids in the community or buy snacks and draw pictures with the street kids as a result.
Eventually I moved into a hostel home in the city (since his apartment was 15 miles from the church or any real populous) and I began teaching some kids guitar, English, and soccer. Now of course I was paying to stay at this home, where the previous arrangement was to live with Shavez, but frankly I was thankful to be out of that house and the abuse that he imposed on both his family and me. Maybe one day I'll actually elaborate on that situation a little more. Only now, I was spending money that I didn't really have simply to live, and was becoming a little worried.
I then decided to call my friend Isobel and began volunteering with the ministry site that she was working with because, although I had gotten out of Shavez's house, he still refused to give me any actual work to do (which was a problem since I had required hours that I needed to complete in order for this internship to be academically valid). So every day I would wake up and take a rickshaw across town and work with the street kids of a different community, every day still asking Shavez if I could be helping in any way.
One day however, I was walking through this giant bazaar in Delhi called "Canaught Place" which is this massive, circular market with thousands of people from every walk of life running around buying all sorts of items. This was a wonderfully strange place to people watch and simply take in a totally different (and yet oddly similar) culture from what I was accustomed to. Amidst the hustle and bustle of thousands of people however, I bump into Shyam. That's right, the same Shyam that I met once hundreds of miles away for 45 seconds.
He walked up to me and said "I remember you! Do you need a place to stay by chance?"
I was a bit taken aback by the question, but then communicated to him all of the things that had transpired over the past few weeks. He then casually told me that I could stay at his apartment rent free for as long as I'd like, and that I'd just had to get my things together and we'd go from there.
So he tells me to meet him in this courtyard that is somewhat close to his house (there really aren't any addresses or street names in the neighborhoods around there, so he couldn't give me directions all the way to his place). The area was called "Saket" and had some little shops, restaurants, and a movie theater, oddly enough. He told me to meet him there at 7pm. So I get there at 7 and he calls me and tell me that he's going to be another hour and a half and that I should just go to the walk-up window at McDonalds and get something to eat.
I'm a little frustrated at this point, but I take my guitar and duffle bag and start walking to the Mickey D's. This goes against my better judgment, mind you. I do my best to not eat at corporate fast food restaurants while in other countries, but this was the only place that had a walk-up window that would accommodate me with my bag and guitar. Promise.
So as I'm walking towards the McDonalds one of the homeless boys walks up to me and asks for some money. I told him that I'd get him some food if he was hungry. He nodded excitedly. Then a kid runs to the other side of me and asks for some food too. I agree. Two kids turns to four kids, then eight kids and so on. So I get to the window and just order 30 sandwiches. The guy kind of gave me this weird look and said that it's going to take awhile to make that many, and instructs me to just sit outside the window and wait.
I put my bag down and turn around to see 25 little street kids sitting patiently in a semi-circle facing me, awaiting their feast. I sat down, a little surprised, trying to think of a way I could entertain them while they waited. I then realized that I had my guitar with me, and at this point, had learned a couple Hindi songs, so I started to play.
The kids starting singing joyfully with me and soon a bunch of them were singing and dancing and we were just having a great old time. By this point, a crowd of at least a hundred onlookers had gathered to watch this sort of bizarre scene unfold. Some would walk by and yell at me saying "Don't waste your time with that scum" or they would curse at the children in Hindi. We just ignored them and danced and played in the middle of this market. One of the security guards was actually hitting one of these kids, and with a peculiar sense of courage, I walked up to this man and explained that they were with me. It was oddly cinematic, and sounds pretty unbelievable even as I'm explaining it now…
We finally got our food and all sat and ate together until a woman approached me and introduced herself. "Why are you doing this?" she asked me. I simply responded that I believed God calls all of us to love everyone, even the poor homeless street kids, and I was merely trying to show them love as best I could. She asked if I would join her and her photographer for dinner and I agreed, as long as I could finish eating with the children first.
During that dinner we talked for over an hour about our different backgrounds and faiths, as they asked question after question regarding why I was in India in the first place, and what possessed me to do the things that I did. They asked questions regarding Christianity and about American faith in general, and I asked the same questions in return. She then explained that she wanted to do an article on me for the Delhi Times and asked if a photographer could meet me there in a couple of days for some shots. I was reluctant to do any sort of interview or photo shoot, but finally agreed.
We talked a bit more, I thanked them for their conversation and we went our separate ways, but I went back to that same market every day just to play with these incredible kids that everyone around them seemed to hate. They never once again asked me for money, but instead for piggy back rides and songs. As we sat there drawing pictures, they would feed me from the bag of chips that they were able to beg for a while earlier. I was so humbled to be fed by these kids who truly have next to nothing, but for some reason were compelled to share their feast with me. Doritos never tasted so good.
That really set the tone for me in a number of ways that summer. My initial reaction to Shyam being so careless and late was to be frustrated by my predicament of having to wait with nowhere to go, but clearly God had other things in mind. It's humbling to look in hindsight and to see how meticulously God had truly orchestrated that incredibly experience in my life, and a pointed reminder of how truly limited our perspective can be.