Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Hero’s Welcome

on October 13, 2010

I have a lot of travel stories to mine from the past two years.  Work keeps me moving and I’ve seen and done quite a lot.  I watched the final game of the 2008 Euro Cup (Spain v. Germany) from Plaza Colón in Madrid with thousands of screaming Madrileños, I went on a safari in Nairobi, I ate turtle in Cambodia and went to the beach in India.  But, one story sticks out in my mind from my trip this year.

I spent February, March, and part of April in Southeast Asia.  In 61 days I

tuk-tuks

 went to 6 countries, flew on 16 flights, stayed in 14 hotels, and endured 1 cold and 2 stomach bugs. I rode in tuk-tuks and taxicabs.  And, I met hundreds of amazing people. 

The third of my 8 weeks was spent in on the Southeast coast of India, in a city called Chennai.  Chennai is an enormous place, sprawled over a huge area of land, it has millions of inhabitants, but because it’s built on sand, there aren’t any skyscrapers, so it doesn’t quite fit with the Western paradigm of an urban landscape. 

On my first day in Chennai, I met with my hosts in the morning after breakfast (Breakfast is the only meal that I prefer Westernized or Americanized when I travel. My stomach isn’t quite ready for spicy or unfamiliar foods first thing in the morning).  We went to their offices, then headed off to visit a village where a colleague of theirs was starting a project. 

The village was a slum area, and my hosts weren’t sure how to get where we were going. They arranged for some of the villagers to meet us a short distance from the village and we followed their car back to meet the rest of the village.

I was completely unprepared for the greeting I received from the villagers. 

We pulled up, and we were greeted by running and smiling children and a photographer.  I shook hands with everyone, someone put a wreath of flowers around my neck, and someone else draped a shawl over my shoulders as the tide of people swept me down the street to a small building. 

A woman came out to greet me carrying a brass tray with a small flame atop it and red oils swirling around the outside.  She chanted in Tamil over the tray, placed it carefully on the ground and anointed my forehead with the oil.  Then they led me inside.  The photographer snapped photos as children climbed into my lap and community leaders gathered in the room.  Someone passed a tray of food and another of cold drinks.

I was flabbergasted.  My hosts had told me that the village was expecting a journalist (which was the easiest way of translating that I was there to write an article about their work, but that I wasn’t there to deliver money or goods. They wanted to be very careful about managing people’s expectations).  I ate and drank and listened to my hosts’ translation of the unfolding events.  I was being welcomed, being honored, being thanked for my visit. 

I scribbled notes, but the whole experience is a blur in my mind.  All I remember is the warmth of the people, their kindness and their extreme generosity even in the midst their poverty. 

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