This was the longest day of my life. We all thought we were going to die. Our day started super early with a 5 am wake-up call. I hate 5 am, it doesn’t matter where I am. We had a very early breakfast then headed to the train station for their polio vaccine day.
I was very excited about this because my great aunt had Polio and has spent her lifetime crippled by the disease, so watching children get a vaccine that could not only save their lives, but also prevent a painful lifelong experience was incredible.
The eradication of Polio is one of the most prolific projects of Rotary International. It was inspiring to actually see something so many people put so much time and money into actually happening.
I also found this beautiful little girl on the train. Her mom wouldn’t let me have her. SO RUDE.
After attempted kidnapping, we headed to mass at Thankassery Church. Since I am one of the two non-Catholics traveling with us, I got to enjoy the service as a spectator. It was so beautiful and the singing was something I will never forget.
We continued our religious experience at the Sivagiri Temple. We had the incredible luck to be there right as a Hindi wedding was about to begin. The bride very graciously invited us the watch and take her picture. It was a love match (as opposed to arranged) and it was so beautiful to watch such a meaningful spiritual ceremony.
We all had tears in our eyes which is kind of silly considering we had only met them about two minutes before. But, it was so beautiful to have the opportunity to observe. After the ceremony, we continued on the to the temple where we received Hindu blessings and holy markings.
Our leader, Jim, also spent some quality time with the Indian Rotarians that accompanied us. One of my favorite things about the culture here is the comfort that men have with expressing love and affection towards each other (in non-sexual situations). It’s really very heartwarming to behold.
Let’s all hold hands and sing songs now.
While at the temple, we had an extremely surreal experience and got to meet Hindi holy man, Brahma Sree Prakasananda Swamy. It will remain one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life. He advised to be kind to each other, stop fighting, and to love each other and accept each other. I don’t have a picture because that felt extremely inappropriate, but believe me, I will never forget his face. He also gave us blessed apples to eat. I consumed it without pause.
After that surreal encounter, we visited Papanasam Beach in Varkala. It was quite beautiful and I felt strangely exotic looking at the Arabian Sea. That just seems so fantastical to even say. “Oh hi, just hanging out at the Arabian Sea.” Or not, maybe I’m just crazy.
To get to that last viewpoint, we had to climb about 900 stairs up a cliff. I only almost fell down them once, so that is a big win for me.
I knew my teammate Jennifer would be my friend for life when we saw that our group was going up the stairs and just said “no.” My sentiments exactly. We spent several minutes hoping they would come back down, but sadly they yelled at us to go up. Oh well.
After an afternoon at the beach, we headed back to Kollum for a Rotary meeting at Janine’s host parent’s home. Everything was going along as usual until this walked by.
Well that is totally normal. All of us foreign ladies immediately flew out of seats shrieking and followed the elephants to the festival. Bye bye meeting. Bye bye professionalism.
Janine’s host family lives about 30 feet from the temple, so she got to see the elephants all week. I was insanely jealous until I learned that the festival music started at 5 am and ended near midnight. Apparently they shut it down by blasting “Gangnam Style.” Not sorry to miss that.
After freaking out over the pachyderms, we headed to our second Rotary meeting of the night. This was by far the most bizarre meeting we had experienced yet since they just wanted to spend the entire time feeding us wine and taking pictures.
Apparently they “love American girls” and maybe think we are a bit more fun than we actually are. Either way, we laughed a lot and enjoyed an amazing dinner as they relentlessly served us alcohol.
And then we all crashed into our one-sheeted beds long after midnight.