When I first heard that the Cohort Class of 2013 was traveling to India as a part of our International Business class, my heart sank to the floor. My family is from Trinidad, West Indies, so growing up I heard many stories, good and bad from my family about India. Since a trip to India never made it on my bucket list, I never thought twice about the stories. However, I have been living with multiple sclerosis for several years now, so I was terrified with traveling there. For a whole year, I kept wondering to myself “would I be able to make it through a trip to India, a country with an enormous population, noise, lots of stress, and pollution without having a relapse?” Questions of who would watch my daughter and should I board my dog always seemed to creep into my mind.
Well, after several trips to my neurologist, who became my counselor, I fostered up enough nerve to go ahead with this journey of a lifetime. As the day of departure slowly approached, my anxiety level climbed higher and higher. By that time, I had so many medications and pills to bring with me; I could have opened up my own pharmacy! To ease my anxiety I found it helpful to talk to my colleague and classmate, James Kellerhouse. He assured me that I was not alone in my feelings and we would make it through the trip. Thank you James!!!!
Friday, July 27th – Day of Departure
So much preparation involved in this trip, that I was exhausted before I even left. I ended up unpacking and repacking my suitcases. Don’t ask! I also did some last minute grocery shopping for my mom and daughter to make sure they had everything they needed for while I was gone. Then as I loaded up my luggage into the car, my daughter came outside, started crying, and asked me not to go. It was very hard leaving my 10 year old behind. I think she felt a little bit better when I told her I would bring her something back from India ;-)
Everyone made it to the UAlbany campus on time; we took some pictures, boarded the bus, and were on our way to JFK. One thing we did not think of, prior to that departure, was “food”…As soon as we made it through security, we took care of that situation and even had enough time to relax!
Qatar airlines really are #1. The attendants wore these nice burgundy uniforms with hats which was different than other airlines. The 19 hour flight was not as bad as I expected. After 14 hours on that plane, we had a connecting flight at Doha International and traveled for another several hours. I spent the time reading for Professor Sanjay’s quiz, watching movies (Hunger Games), snacking, and drifting off to sleep.
Sunday July 29th – Arrival at Chennai, India
We arrived at Chennai at approximately 3:20am on a Sunday morning. In our time, it would around 7pm Saturday. India is 9 hours ahead of us, so I relied on my clock on my iPhone to prevent any confusion. Walking through the airport, you notice the culture difference immediately. The signage was in various scripts including English, there were a lot of Indian people of all ages at the airport waiting around. As we left the airport and headed over towards our Incredible India bus, I immediately noticed a stench that smelled like elephant and sewer. I also noticed that drivers honked at us a lot as we were standing by the bus, but I was not aware until after we were on the bus, that all drivers in India honk constantly!
On the bus, we were welcomed by Ms. Sundari from the National Management School. It was extremely helpful having her there to explain to us what we were seeing. We were told that India has many unfinished building projects, which explains the large amounts of construction sites, and scaffolding. Sometimes, these projects are left unfinished and never revisited.
India is definitely the country that never sleeps. Poverty is very visible all over Chennai. People sleep wherever they could. Some don’t even use blankets or coverings, just the ground. Oh, let me not forget the animals. It’s gut-wrenching for this to hit you as soon as you enter the country. While on the bus, another thing that was “in my face” was that India seems to follow its own traffic rules. I realized this as another vehicle and motorcycle came out of nowhere and almost hit our bus! Is there a noise ordinance in India? Definitely not! Vehicles constantly honking to say “I’m here,” “Watch out,” and/or “Get out the way!”
Shopping in India
Our first day in India, we hit the streets of the T. Nagar Marketplace in Chennai to barter for deals. It was so crowded and hot. Barefooted children approaching you, trying to sell coloring books to you all the while are speaking in their language. It took some restraint to not give in and buy the coloring books. We ended up in this huge saree store that was overcrowded. I ended up buying two sarees. Don’t ask me how to wear a saree, because I may just embarrass myself for trying! I purchased them because the material was beautiful.
Our last day in India was spent in Delhi, where we went shopping at a more relaxed market. I was in shopping and bartering heaven! I was able to barter and purchase items for cheap with rupees. Leather bags, shoes, bangles, bedspreads all purchased for approximately $20 US. I wished I had more time to shop but we had to return to the hotel to pack for our trip back to the United States.
While in India, we were given the opportunity of visiting companies such as Cognizant, Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital, Nissan-Renault, L&T, and Air-Tel. Great to see such a contrast of beautifully designed company buildings that are located in the midst of poverty stricken India. Out of all the visits, Sankara Eye Hospital made the biggest impression on me. That hospital represented the true meaning of giving back to the community. How can you top free eye care and surgery to residents of India? No modesty or privacy for the patients as we toured the hospital, especially when we visited the pre-op room!
Back In the United States
Dunkin Donuts, soda, fast food, peace and quiet…ah, we are back! We survived India!!! Everyone wants to know how was the trip. I find myself spending at least a good amount of time talking about the experience of a lifetime. There have been a few demands for a slideshow for a short presentation when I have time. I laugh at that request because there is nothing short about talking about Incredible India and when I have time, we shall see! The one thing that I took away from this whole experience is a greater understanding of India. When I read the newspaper or see something that is about India on television, I understand the country more because I traveled there. As for my left over coin rupees, my daughter found a store that is managed by Indians that are more than happy to take them. They asked her “where was she from?” She told them that she is from the U.S, but her mom just came back from India.