Indeed, Jon, Vicky, and I arrived safely Friday afternoon and were quickly piled into two hired cars with all of our luggage (after some initial worries the airline finally allowed us to bring all that we had). Thus my first experience in India was a two hour drive, careening through the center of Delhi and inching slowly through the most crowded streets I've ever seen (cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, carts, scooters, people, dogs, even an elephant).
On the first night Vicky went to stay with Jon’s brother, Nathan (who, along with a small group of other Dartmouth graduates, has been running an upstart pharmaceutical company in India for the past four years). She has now flown on her own to Calcutta for three days to attend a short conference.
Thus Jon and I are coming to the end of our second full day in the country, staying at the home of his friend Riya’s family in north Delhi. For those of you who have not seen “More Than Walking”, Riya is a 16-year-old quadriplegic Jon met at the Indian Spinal Injuries Center (ISIC) last year and is now one of the founding members of the wheelchair rugby team that represented India in the World Wheelchair Games this past November.
This week Jon is hoping to help Riya improve her physical therapy practices at home, record more of her story, and assess her further needs (so we can ideally provide her with supplies from the US). For example, the wheelchair she owns is not fitted for her body or for activities such as bed transfers. Riya is very eager to learn and has a strong will driving her to train. Although there is big-picture work to be done on this trip (such as the disability conferences later on), it is extremely valuable for Jon to be able to build close relationships with individuals such as Riya. No film screening or sermon on disability advocacy has quite the same impact as Jon being able to lift weights and answer questions with Riya every morning in her own home.
As I am writing this I am sitting on the corner of a bed/couch in the main room of Riya’s home. On the couch with me is Riya, her mother, her younger brother (Aditya), and her cousin (just visiting). Her father is standing near the door, Jon is in his chair, and the youngest brother (Dhruv) is away (probably playing cricket with friends in the street below). We spent most of the afternoon up on the terrace, enjoying the afternoon sun above the crowded streets below. Aditya showed us his Bollywood dancing skills (Jon shot a psuedo-music video) and Dhruv mostly just ran around yelling and punching me (he seems to like this activity).
Yesterday evening, Jon’s brother took us to an exhibition of Himalayan nature photographs at a fancy hotel in south Delhi. Jon and I spent probably 6 hours in different taxis traveling there and back and maybe 10 minutes looking at photos in what turned out to be a bit of a fiasco. The photographer was a Dartmouth graduate from 1994, the exhibition curator was a Dartmouth ’09, Nathan is a ’06, one of Nathan’s friends, a ’08, was there, plus me (’11) and Jon (’12). Basically, it was a little Hanover reunion.
Given yesterday's late night and a general explosion of activity, Jon and I are feeling pretty worn down as we head to bed tonight (it's nearing midnight as I finish this post). We've both been struck by head colds and have moved down to the first floor to give ourselves some space from the family (hopefully to prevent them from catching our sickness and to create some peace and quiet to plan for the remainder of the week at Riya's). I imagine that being sick in India could be a lot worse than this so I am thankful that we have initially been spared from worse health.
Tomorrow we sleep in and then a wonderful social worker friend of the Sigworth's (Raman) will be joining us to help contact therapists and teachers who have been involved in Riya's rehabilitation (so we can speak with them and hopefully clarify Riya's experience in order to motivate others).
So considering our hectic Saturday around Delhi and the intense time spent with Riya's family today it has been a surprisingly overwhelming welcome to India. Of course, I expect it might get crazier, thus, I need to go sleep. Thanks!
Photos (click them to enlarge):
1. view from Riya's family terrace
2. Jon, Riya, and her father after Riya used sliding board to transfer herself to the bed
3. Jon, Riya's mother, Riya, and Aditya on the terrace
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!