In India, several teams spent the month in and around Ongole in the province of Andhra Pradesh on the eastern coast of India. My team and one other team shared a 3 bedroom apartment, so roughly 15 people sharing all the nooks and crannies and floor space of a tiny apartment in India’s March heat. We had monkeys living in our stairwell that would often attempt rogue missions into our apartment or the one across from us for unattended food, especially bananas.

The patio just outside our rooftop apartment afforded us the most exquisite views of sunrise and sunset over the city. Unlike most US cities, the buildings all stopped at three to four stories except temples and mosques. Streets were quiet at night, but bustled uncontrollably during the day with tuktuks weaving between water buffalo, cars, and feeble bovines.

Our hosts were darling. Just outside our dwelling we had fresh chai, chapati, samosas, curry, biriyani, and a million other things we didn’t have names for – like the puffy thing with the potato dip (probably puri bahji). We drank ThumsUp, a soda bought out by Coca Cola in the 90s that has the perfect Indian taste to it, and AppyFizz, a sparkling apple soda similar to the Appletiser in South Africa that we’d loved so hard for three months. Caitlin and I made grilled cheese out of sparse ingredients when our teams needed something less ethnic. We practiced our henna in our punjabis and learned from our neighbors how to tie our saris.

Our actual ministry partners that month were vast, Sara’s Covenant Homes being our main contact. We spent most of our time with Sara’s ministry to special needs orphans she’d gained custody of from the government since most of their culture saw these children as cursed or a curse. It was humbling, hard ministry. As you can imagine, even with Sara’s tender care, these children were often not in situations that are deemed “up to standards” with what we require in America. We were blessed to spend this time with them, though, and learn from them even with language barriers. On several occasions we took tuktuks with some of the children to the ocean, a phenomenon they had never seen before. What a wonder to see something as seemingly common as an ocean through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time.
*I also managed to find a dead dolphin and dead sea turtle. Thanks to Doxycycline I had the worst sunburn of my life as well.

Sara’s Covenant Homes is one branch of a much larger ministry known as ICM – India Christian Ministries. They also have a pastoral school and several other branches. While in Ongole, Liz and I had the opportunity to team up with a couple of other squadmates to create social media marketing strategies, new logo concepts, and website revamps for several of these ministries. Working with Liz was a huge highlight to this month. In the office someone walked around twice a day pouring tiny cups of fresh chai for each of us. It was the most delicious. Also we used their internet to take the sorting quiz on Pottermore so we all knew which house we would be in should we ever get our letter from Hogwarts.

Speaking of Liz, she dyed my hair dark brown (we bought it at the supermarket) on the roof of her team’s apartment building where the bathrooms were while some random men watched us from several rooftops over. I had to wash hair dye out of my hair in a squatty bathroom shower. What is my life.

After leaving Ongole on our way north, we stopped in Hyderabad overnight in a convent-turned-hostel run by nuns. It’s the most bizarre, but wonderful detail of my time in India to tell. I remember it distinctly because Erin and I stayed up late watching the finale of Downton Abbey’s season 3 (thanks to being in the eastern world, we had access to the British shows early). We wept in our little hostel room, complete with two tiny iron-railed, quilt covered twin beds and tiny sink on the wall with squatty potties just down the hall. Thinking back, it was a quintessential moment. We also saw Katheryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” during which PSAs against smoking flashed on the screen each time a character lit or puffed or held a cigarette.

We left Hyderabad on a blue train, much like the iconic blue train in “Slumdog Millionaire.” We hung our Chacos from the ceiling as we lay on our bunks grateful for the fans listening to vendors pace the train at every stop yelling, “coffee, chai, biriyani,” endlessly. Though we sought sleep and found little, it was one of my favorite train rides. We arrived in New Dehli and went straight to the Taj Mahal.

You guys. The Taj looks fake in real life. You take pictures with it and it looks like you’re taking pictures with an Olan Mills backdrop. However, it’s one of the most beautiful sights to behold. The intricacies of the marble and the symmetry of it all. I could have died. We made our own squad “Harlem Shake” video you can see here then we went and ate KFC and headed to the airport to make it through customs before our visas ran out.