Journey to Judah: Part 1 - Travel to India
May 3-5, 2018
As the plane lifted off the runway and ascended into the sky, Praise & Worship music played through my headphones. The tears fell silently as I stared out the window at the world below, watching the city of Dallas get smaller and smaller as we rose.
I hoped no one, including my husband who sat right next to me, would notice those tears. Those tears were just too hard to explain. 5 years of hopes and dreams mixed with anxious thoughts just leaked right out of my eyes. No matter how much I willed the tears to stop, the emotions were all too much, too big, too overwhelming: thankfulness, awe, humility, anxiousness, fear, love, disbelief. This was it: we were on a plane, getting closer and closer to the son we’d prayed for for over 5 years. The feeling was so surreal. There were days when we wondered if that moment would ever happen. But here we were too: getting further and further away from our 2 little blonde haired, blue eyed girls, and I had no idea when I would see them again. We knew this would be at least a 3 week trip, and we had return tickets purchased for 4 weeks out. We also had the contingency plan of one of us staying in India if the process went beyond (Lord, please no) those 4 weeks...and the one who would be staying behind was me. We were truly flying into the unknown.
Thankfully, we had an army praying for us, and I could feel it. I also had truth-tellers in my life who reminded me that this is just a tangible reminder that God has loaned our children to us, but they are ultimately His. He is a good Father, who gives good gifts, and He will watch over them just as He does when I am with them. Just as he did our son when I was not with him. As much as I love my children, God loves them even MORE. Those truths and the excitement and anticipation of what was to come in the days ahead helped me dry up my tears.
We had a 9 hour flight from Dallas to Frankfurt so I got as much sleep as I could on that first flight. I knew sleep would become more illusive the closer we got to India. Marcus spent most of the first 9 hours watching movies, a decision he would quickly regret upon arrival in Frankfurt Germany.
Once we landed in Frankfurt, we had to ride a shuttle, take a tram, go back through security, and find our gate. It was 9:30 am (on May 4) in Frankfurt, but it felt like 2:30 am for us, so that was a lot of steps to complete for feeling like it was the middle of the night. We were both exhausted, and Marcus somehow fell asleep with his head between his knees. I stayed awake because I was nervous that we would sleep through the boarding of our next flight. After some pizza, a game of cards, and the remainder of our layover, we got on a double-decker plane bound for New Delhi. I didn’t even know double-decker planes existed, but here we were on the top deck of this massive plane. There were fewer people up there on the top deck, and it was very quiet. We both fell asleep literally as soon as we sat down. Neither of us remembered take off at all, so I have no idea if it feels any different to take off from the top deck of a plane. We didn’t even wake up until the flight attendants were serving lunch a few hours later.
After lunch, we still had 4 hours left of our 7-hour flight to New Delhi. Marcus was able to go back to sleep, but all I could think about was that the next time our plane touched down, we would be IN our son’s country. Soon, we would be in his time zone. No more calculating the time difference and wondering what he was doing while I was eating breakfast or when I was laying my head on my pillow at night. In fact, we were just days away from meeting him at this point. I let my mind wander and thought about what he might be like. Would he like us? Did he understand at all what was happening? Did they show him our photos? Would he want to go with us? Was he doing okay? How would he handle leaving everything he’s ever known?
The announcement to fasten our seatbelts and put our seats in an upright position jarred me out of my own head. I looked out the window and saw the lights of my son’s birth country. India! I hadn’t even known until 9 months previously how badly my heart longed to see this country, and yet, it seemed like I’d waited my whole life to get here.
We touched down in New Delhi around 1 AM (on May 5). I was nervous to go through customs, as I had heard some crazy stories about people being turned away, but they quickly checked our visas and let us into the country! The New Delhi airport is a hopping place at all hours, it seems. I was surprised to see so many people. Everything was open, people were everywhere, and you would have thought it was 1 PM instead of 1 AM. We had to get our luggage and recheck it for our next domestic flight. We had managed to pack everything we thought we needed for the next month into 2 checked bags, 2 carry on bags, and 2 backpacks. We also checked a duffel bag of donations for our son’s orphanage. As we watched the luggage go round and round the carousel, I wondered what we’d do if our luggage was lost. Could we just replace everything here? Should we just have bought everything here in the first place instead of bringing so many bags? Should I have brought a few more medications in the bag that Marcus already called “The Rolling Pharmacy?” Thankfully, I didn’t have have to ponder these things for too long because everything eventually showed up. We gathered our bags on a cart, exchanged some dollars for rupees, and headed for the check-in desk for our domestic flight. Once again, lines were surprisingly long for being the middle of the night.
Thankful to be rid of 3 extra bags and back through security, we headed to our terminal. We still had 4 hours before our next flight left for our son’s birth city, and we were so excited but so exhausted. We had been traveling for about 30 hours at the point, and you could definitely tell it by looking at us. The domestic terminal did not have air conditioning or WiFi like the international terminal, but we were too tired to go back through security where it was cooler and connected, so we sat there and listened to the same 4 Indian pop songs play on repeat over the speakers....I have no idea what they were saying, but I could probably still sing them for you. Marcus and I took turns getting cat naps, but sleep didn’t come easy. When we felt like we had to wake ourselves up so we didn’t miss our last flight, we went to get some McDonalds fries & Starbucks drinks. Then we laughed (probably a little too hard in our sleep deprived state) about our first taste of “Indian food.”
Our final flight was just shy of 2 hours, so it felt much quicker than the first 2 flights. We landed in Hyderabad at 9 AM on May 5. Thankfully, our luggage was the first onto the carousel and we saw our driver holding a “Welcome Mr. Mackey” sign as soon as we walked out the doors. It was almost too easy, but I was very thankful after those long days of travel. The first thing that hit me as we walked out of the airport was the wave of heat of an already 100+ degree day. The second thing that hit me was the wave of emotions surrounding the fact that THIS is where our son was born. This is where he’s lived his whole life. This is where we would meet him.
We had a 40 minute drive from the airport to our hotel. I tried to soak in all the sights, sounds, and smells. I wanted to remember and document everything because our son was too little to remember it for himself. I took it all in: the hilly terrain, the lakes, the palm trees, the tropical climate, the flowering trees, the tall buildings, the people living under tarps, the mounds of trash, the fruit stands, the women wearing saris, the kids playing cricket, the rich array of colors, the chickens & goats in the streets, the ornate temples, the cows on chains arrayed in bright hues, the people carrying things on their heads, the man riding a camel down the street, the thick traffic, the tuk tuks, people piled 3 deep on scooters, the incessant honking, the signs that said “no honking”.... It was breathtaking and beautiful and shocking all at once.
Upon arrival at our hotel, the Taj Deccan, they welcomed us by putting a bindi on our foreheads. I talked an unwilling Marcus into letting us get a photo of it before washing it off and crashing for a few hours. We knew we shouldn’t sleep too much in order to combat jet lag, but we just couldn’t help it. When we dragged ourselves out of bed, we ordered room service. The “American burger & fries” sounded good. However, we forgot in our jet-lagged state that they don’t really eat beef much in India. The buffalo burger and spicy French fries weren’t exactly what we’d call “American,” but it gave us enough energy to get ready and hire a hotel driver to take us to check out the apartment we’d be staying at in a few days.
Unfortunately, we learned really quickly that Uber was the way to go as far as transportation. The hotel driver was familiar with the airport and tourist attractions, but he had no idea how to get to a random neighborhood in the middle of Hyderabad. His confusion got us an extra hour driving tour of our son’s city though, and it really highlighted the stark contrast between the high rise buildings and fancy cars juxtaposed to the people living in tents near trash dumps. I also couldn’t get over the sheer number of people everywhere you looked.
Once we arrived at the apartment, we were able to meet Kady (an American who owned the apartment) and two of her children. We also got to meet Ernest, who lived in the apartment next door. We didn’t know it yet, but both of these people would play huge roles in our experience in Hyderabad. Kady showed us around the apartment and explained everything to us- but we have no idea what she said because we were too tired to focus on the words that were coming out of her mouth...which made our first day in the apartment a few days later pretty confusing. Marcus and I knew we needed to stay awake a bit longer so we agreed to go to the mall with Kady and her kids. We ate at Chili’s in the mall. It’s just like you’d expect it to be, except everything is much spicier and you can’t drink the water or eat anything that was washed in the water - so yeah, no Santa Fe chicken salad unless you want to get sick. (So just for fun, let’s recap our first few Indian meals - McDonalds, Starbucks, “American burger & fries,” and Chili’s. Good thing we were going for an authentic Indian experience, right?)
After dinner, we took an Uber back to our hotel and crashed at 8:00 PM. It’s a good thing we were so tired, or we wouldn’t have been able to sleep at all. All we could think about was that TOMORROW was the day that we would finally meet our son...