Monday, December 22, 2008


The morning India woke to learn about the violence in Mumbai was also Thanksgiving Day. The volunteers traveled by train, being joined by one another along the way, south to Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), Kerala's capital, for our November retreat. Thanksgiving, possibly my favorite holiday because of its pressure-free, (largely) noncommercial nature, brought a mixture of emotions. Although we had been promised
pumpkin pie, I was skeptical of how much a single pie could make the day actually feel like Thanksgiving. There was no way around the fact that none of us had family, cold weather, or turkey to celebrate with. After we arrived in Trivandrum, visited the much-too-touristy beach, and got cleaned up, we met for "Thanksgiving" dinner in the hotel's dining room. Well, they sure showed us.

With Kochamma's direction, the kitchen staff had conjured up roasted chickens, potatoes, something yellow that tasted as much like a sweet potato as possible without being one, real stuffing, tomato and cucumber salad, delicious soup, and pumpkin pie with ice cream. It really tasted like Thanksgiving! However, what meant the most to me was the amount of effort, preparation, and love that went into that
meal. None of the dishes we were served (other than the rice and chicken curry that none of us could reconcile with the rest of the courses) are typical Kerala cuisine. Far from it, for that matter. All said and done, this Thanksgiving may be the most memorable one I'll have for the rest of my life. And of course, before eating we
discussed what we were thankful for. My gratitude was for all of those supporting me; I am reminded daily that this passage is far from a solitary one; family, friends, and most importantly, Christ are journeying with me.

[Excerpt from my November Newsletter to friends, family, and supporters.]


After the horrible attacks on Mumbai many people expressed their concern for the other volunteers and myself. Your concern means a lot to me and I ask that you continue to pray for those directly impacted by the attacks, the attackers, and the governments of India and Pakistan.

I feel like I should begin by assuring you that I feel as safe here as I ever have in the States. India is an incredibly diverse country with over 20 official languages whose cultures and peoples are as distinct as the languages they speak. Unlike Mumbai, a huge, cosmopolitan metropolis in the state of Maharashtra, I am living in Kottayam, Kerala. I feel incredibly secure in Kottayam, a city of ~ 60,000 people, venturing into new neighborhoods on my own (a morning walk favorite) and do not have even a single story of hostility directed at me for being a Westerner/Northerner/American.

It is for this reason that the travel advisories from the U.S. and some European countries against traveling to India distress me. In no way do the attacks reflect the atmosphere of Kerala, other parts of India, and even Mumbai usually. As with traveling anywhere, you must simply be cautious and aware. There is always risk; should that fear keep us from exploring the world? I don't believe it should. It is evident our Mumbai, New York City, has survived attacks of its own and I plan to visit there one day as well. I hope that when we speak of other nations we do not generalize a country as "dangerous" with a tone of superiority, but are careful to speak of specific regions facing conflict (instead of an entire nation of more than 1 billion people).

[Excerpt from my November Newsletter to friends, family, and supporters.]