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Day 1: We Arrived Safe!

By Brenda Fenderson

First, I’d like to assure everyone that our Grass Valley group of around 30 people made it to Maranatha’s Mission compound just outside of Ongole, India, safe and in quite good shape. We arrived at around 6:30 AM this morning after a 6 hour bus ride. We had gotten enough rest along the way to feel like getting started right away with the final organization and planning.

Bon voyage!
Saturday evening, we met at San Francisco International Airport around 9 pm. Andrew Chang and Jim Henderson checked our group in and got a block of seats together, which Andrew arranged so that families could sit together. We boarded Singapore Airlines around 11:30 pm with a scheduled departure at 12:05 am Sunday morning.

            So began the longest journey I’ve ever been on. It was around 14 hours to Hong Kong, a quick walk around the Hong Kong airport, then we re-boarded about 40 minutes later to go to Singapore, which was another 3 1/2 hour flight. Things that stood out in the minds of most of us were:

            • Singapore Airlines, who gave Maranatha the best group rate for this trip, just happens to be the No. 1 airline in the world . . . and it shows! Our plane was about 2-3 years new with the latest features they put on airlines. The quality of service we received took us back to days when American and United Airlines served their customers with pride. Steaming hot cloths to wash our hands and face as we settled in for each flight, water and orange juice served multiple times, meals that were delicious, beautiful stewardesses, and an entertainment system that was quite new!

            On the seatback in front of us was a 9” screen with a controller below that gave us access to probably 30 movies or more, about 20 games for all ages, TV programs, documentaries, hundreds of songs for listening with a play list that we could create, flight path updates, etc. We could select style, category, rating, etc., to enable us to pass the long hours of the flight as comfortably as possible. We were in economy seating, but we felt like we were treated better than most business class customers are treated in the states. We were impressed! The contrast between flying on the best airline in the world to go and work for some of the most impoverished people in the world did not go unnoticed.

            • We flew in darkness about 12 hours, arriving in Hong Kong around 6:30 am, just as it was starting to get light. We left San Francisco at midnight, heading west in darkness, crossed the dateline which caused us to essentially loose Sunday, thus we arrived in Hong Kong on Monday morning. While the rotation of the earth around the sun moves the dark/light line faster than we were flying, we flew fast enough to keep us in darkness most of the way. By the time we got to Singapore, our days and nights were completely upside down. Thus our 4-hour tour during our 8-hour layover in the city of Singapore functioned to keep us awake and help us adjust to the day/night reversal.

Singapore felt to many of us like a city that has so much money, it can’t hardly find enough unique architectural projects to invest it in.  Unavoidable were miles of government subsidized, high-rise housing complexes (of all ages and qualities) that house its residents. Our tour guide told us that Singaporians love eating in the many restaurants and settings they offer, and shopping in one of the world’s largest arrays and varieties of shopping areas. Wealthy people from all over the world visit the city to buy originals, as Singapore holds it a crime to sell knock-offs or counterfeits of the products it sells.

After eating a good supper in one of the many eateries in terminal 2, we flew out of Singapore around 8 pm for another 3 1/2 hour flight to Chennai, India. . .not that any of us noticed. We were all ‘out’ within moments of hitting our seats. When I awoke, I noticed that I had fallen asleep before they even allowed us to recline our seats. Most of our specially-ordered vegetarian meals went to waste, as most of us slept through the entire flight. Jim Henderson helped the stewardess sort out the problem of who these meals were supposed to go to, as Andrew’s seating arrangement ignored the seat numbers on each of our boarding passes, mixing up our seats within the assigned seats for the group. It was quickly determined that this wrinkle was a mute point, as the whole bunch of us were sound asleep!

Chennai, India. A distinct change was noticed by all just as we walked off the airplane into the dirty airport in Chennnai. Walls were filthy and cabinets were in disrepair.  Such a contrast with the airport in Singapore! The tired group of travelers went through customs and met up with ‘Vinny’ the Maranatha representative who met us at the airport and connected us with the bus that would take us the next 4-5 hours to the Maranatha Mission compound.

            Oh! By the way, the distance from the airport to the mission has taken as much as 9 hours, depending on traffic, we were told . . . groan. While most of the group quickly fell asleep for the last leg of the journey, I had gotten enough sleep that I just wasn’t sleepy. I was sitting across the aisle from Andrew and ‘Vinny’ as they discussed many of the details of the coming week. But they both went to sleep before long, and I seemed to be one of the few people in the bus awake. Maybe it was the driving style in India that kept me awake. Maybe it was the miles of dirty, poorly constructed Tijuana-quality buildings that lined the streets as we left the airport.  My sister had warned me that the condition of things in India might be shocking.

            I was frustrated with the tendency of driver’s to drive down the middle of the road, even on the 4-lane freeway, causing our bus driver to have to flick his lights as he approached the many trucks that were on the road during the night just to get them to commit to one lane or another so we could get past. Oh, for a respect for our laws that ask that ‘Slow Traffic Stay Right.’ It just seemed that if these drivers would stay in their lane, that the speed of the ‘freeway’ could be increased above the 20-45 mph that seemed to prevail—and we would get to our destination much faster.

            It got even worse when road repairs caused one direction of the ‘freeway’ to have to cross over to the other, creating 2-way traffic. The often-overloaded trucks on the roads at night travel about 25-35 mph, thus, when our bus came up behind one, our driver was anxious to get around. So he did, and the oncoming traffic often had to slow, flicking their lights aggressively, as they give our bus driver the time to get back into his lane. It wasn’t just our bus driver that managed oncoming traffic so casually, the oncoming traffic played russian roulette with us quite regularly, causing me to hold my breath each time our driver passed, hoping and trusting that it would all work out.

            As we came into the town of Ongole, I discovered what the likely cause of the habit of driving in the middle of the road was. Even though it was the wee hours of the morning, people, bicycles, and motorcycles were using the outer edges of the road, forcing the bus driver to drive in the middle of the road, to reduce the risk of hitting one of these hard-to-see locals. It’s a whole different way of life here, without a doubt.

I close this chapter with the arrival at the Fjarli Academy of Seventh-day Adventists at around 6:30 am on Tuesday morning. It was nothing like what we expected. It was much better.

The buildings are quite good looking and durable. It was just starting to get light as our luggage was carried to the sparsely furnished accommodations. Clean, new construction, in a mission compound bursting with potential met this group of travelers that were glad to have finally reached their destination.