Monday, October 29, 2007

Arrival in India

By Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

Our study tour to India will be one of our most challenging trips this year. Twenty-four sponsors and staff gathered at the Newark International Airport from throughout the United States on Thursday night for our 14-hour flight to Delhi. They were an excited group of sponsors with determination to fly to India, travel constantly over the next 11 days by bus, plane, and auto-rickshaw, eat exotic food, see some of the most beautiful monuments in the world, visit urban and rural CCF projects and meet their sponsored children.

International airline flights have become the enemy of many road warriors, but Continental Airlines should receive 5 stars for their excellent service, knowledgeable and courteous staff, and better-than-average airline food-- plus getting us to Delhi 15 minutes ahead of schedule with all of our luggage arriving on time to the baggage carousels within fifteen minutes. Clearing customs in India was efficient and without problems. Soon, we were out of the airport and on our 'coach' as they say in India and on our way to the hotel. It is now almost 10 p.m. on Friday night in Delhi and the streets are crammed with cars, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, dog, pigs, cows, and a long line of nomadic tribe people riding ox carts in the middle of the street. Somehow, all of this seemed natural and quite orderly in this fascinating country of paradoxes and quagmires. Welcome to India!

Keep in mind that India is 9 and one-half hours ahead of EDT-- it is an interesting story how India adopted the half-hour time zone... but just blame it on astronomers and those wacky Brits in colonial times that wanted all the trains in India to run on the same time zone. Nothing makes sense in this wonderful country, but everything seems to work just the same. After checking into the hotel at 10:30 p.m., we had dinner....yes, it is quite common in India to eat at this hour and the food at our hotel was outstanding. I was surprised that almost all our sponsors came down to the dining room for dinner at this hour and seemed to enjoy it immensely. Not a complaint in the group!

After a short overnight rest, we were up on Saturday and ready to tour the heart of the historic parts of New and Old Delhi. The first lesson in Delhi when riding a bus is to close your eyes and realize that there are accidents, but very few considering the demolition derby that goes on constantly on India's street and highways. Of course, air pollution is a major problem in Delhi and please do not plan to go 'quickly' anywhere in this town. A trip of eight miles could easy take an hour or more. We have excellent local guides who know the nuances of India and can translate to foreign guests with humor and clarity. Nothing is as it appears in India!

On Saturday afternoon, we went to an orphanage which is supported by CCF-India. It is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of this immense city and administered by an order of the Clarist nuns. There are over 100 children assisted by this wonderful orphanage and I knew our CCF sponsors would be overwhelmed by the warmth and sincerity of the welcome given to them by the children and nuns. There were speeches and dances, smiles and hugs, and hundreds of photos were taken by our group. The positive spirit and commitment of the staff at St. Anthony's Orphanage was infectious and soon everyone in our group were on an emotional roller coaster... it was actually hard for me to get the group to leave the orphanage and return to the hotel.

It is now Sunday morning and we are preparing for our first day of meeting sponsored children. Because India is such a large country, we will have a 'Child Sponsorship Day' in northern India and another in Bangalore for sponsored children who live in southern India. This is always a very special day for everyone... it is a day, from my experience in assisting Study Tours, that I can accurately predict that there will be tears from sponsors, children, parents of children, and CCF staff as everyone comes together for this emotional international family reunion. Many of these youngsters have traveled with their parents for hours, even days, to be here in Delhi and now finally meet their American sponsor. In our Study Tour group, we have sponsors who have been sponsoring children throughout the world for over 25 years, and, yet, today is the first time they have ever met one of their sponsored children in person. Everyone is excited, nervous, and almost giddy at times in anticipation of this meeting.


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