My Habitat for Humanity trip to Pondicherry India was absolutely incredible. It was such a crazy and eye opening adventure, but had its obstacles here and there along the way.
First off, as my group gets through the final checkpoint to get on the plane, the lady at the front desk tells me I don’t have an Indian visa in my passport. That means I’m not allowed to get on the plane. I was completely shocked and confused by the fact that I wasn’t going to travel at all. Overcome by tears, my other friend too finds out he doesn’t have a visa. I did laugh at one point at the fact that 2 students didn’t get on the plane because they didn’t have a visa, one of the most important things that is needed to actually travel. The teachers and other students had to leave because otherwise they would all miss the plane, so my friend and I were both left alone at the gate hopeless. At that point, I really had no clue what to do. I think the Etihad people were kind of scared of me. After the worker walked us to get our bags, and I ranted out my feelings about the situation to him, my father was there to pick me up. The worker probably was also scared of me and though I was some crazy person. Just when I was going to lose hope, one of the teachers called and said we could maybe get a new electronic Indian visa. Surprisingly, We got the visas in one day and hopped on the plane the following day!
The first day of working at the site, my group and I sifted sand for around 6 hours in total. It was very tough and by the end of the day, my whole body ached. One thing that surprised me was the amount of cows there were. In almost every direction you look, you can always find at least one cow just wondering around, even on the big highways! No one is allowed to touch or hit a cow unless it’s your own because they are considered as a very sacred animal.
The next few days were where the craziness begins. It starts to rain so much in Pondicherry that it causes the streets to flood completely. We were stuck in a double cyclone… There hasn’t been this much rain in over a century! Coming from a place that gets rain twice a year, we were all shocked and slightly unprepared. I only had a polka dotted rain poncho and a pair of rubber boots to save me (definitely not enough). Even though it was raining, we still went to visit the village we worked at, which was an hour away from our hotel. There was water everywhere. The school the kids go to was flooded, people’s homes were destroyed and filled with water, and food was unavailable to most families. Some people hadn’t eaten in one or two days. Even though the situation was devastating, what surprised me was how the people continued to smile and greet us nicely. The kids too were so happy to see us and just constantly wanted to play. It’s amazing how some people who lost almost everything can still be so happy, yet others around the world remain unhappy even though they have more than enough of things.
With the rain, most of the work we did was inside. Some of us painted at the school, while others packaged rice and dal that was purchased the day before to distribute to the families the following day. We bought 1,000kg or rice and 100 kg of dal, which was enough to feed over 450 families. It was pretty incredible and I felt so happy to help the people in one way or another. It’s very different seeing people go through a flood on TV than in real life. My group and I actually got to see the reality and experience it ourselves. The people were so happy and thankful. Gratitude doesn’t necessarily mean you have to say Thank You. The people didn’t even speak our language, but with a simple smile showed how thankful they were. So much can be said with just facial expression and no words.
Due to the flood, the airport was closed in Chennai, so we all had to take a different route to get back home to Abu Dhabi. We had to take a 10 hour bus ride to a city called Bangalore, then a plane from there to Mangalore, and finally back to Abu Dhabi. In Mangalore, our group was split up into two sections; one group would arrive in Abu Dhabi, and the other in Dubai. I was chosen to arrive in Dubai. After a very long ride back home, I arrived safe and sound.
This trip was truly a life changing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I pray for all the families who have been badly affected by the rain, and hope they recover soon from such a tragic event. If you ever consider doing a service trip or want to make a difference around the world, Habitat for Humanity is an amazing way for you to do that. They have trips all year round and build homes for those without one. Always try to give back to the world and your community.