Hello from India! It is Saturday May 28 here in Pune, and I am winding down from the first few days and beginning to settle in to the pace of life here. I left San Diego, CA on Monday at 7:00 am and finally arrived in Pune at about 3:30 am on Wednesday morning. We are a whopping 12 ½ hours ahead of west coast time which has considerably added to the adjustment process.
Traveling here definitely left something to be desired, but I made it safely. Passing through immigration at Bombay/Mumbai airport the immigration officer took the paper I had written my contact’s phone number on, told me I was very “curious” for traveling alone and that it was even more “curious” I had no address of where I was to stay once I arrived. I smiled and begged him to let me through. Eventually he relented and directed me through without all the information he needed.
I collected my bags and walked outside into the humid 90 degree evening. I had no idea who was picking me up, where they would be, what they looked like, and I had no way to contact them- the immigration officer took the one phone number I had for anyone in this country. I prayed. I asked God to direct my steps and lead me where I was supposed to go. Hundreds and hundreds of people crowded around the exit area, armed guards in camouflage stand at the door and I- the only blonde person in sight wheeled my zebra print luggage on a cart in circles in the crowd. About 30 minutes later I began to worry something had gone wrong. I begged the armed (and not so friendly) guards to let me back into the airport- which did not go so well. I decided I would just keep pacing back in forth in front of them and smile until they let me in. It worked! Curious, I’m sure.
Once back inside the airport I convinced a nice man to let me use the internet on his cell phone to get into my email account, retrieve the phone number for my contact, and found another gentleman who let me use his phone to make the local call. Evan Henck, a Regent alum who works at Freedom Firm answered and said his wife would be outside waiting for me. Soon I saw another American woman in the crowd and I knew I had found her. We then squished into a tiny car and prepared for the 3 ½ hour drive to Pune.
Driving in India is not for the faint of heart- there are no rules. Leah, Evan’s wife, analogized it to a river; you hold your breath, dive in and go with the flow. After a couple close encounters with busses, packs of wild dogs, and being pulled over by the police we made it to Evan and Leah’s home. I have been staying here with them the last few days, but will probably find somewhere else to stay for the duration of my trip.
I have had the opportunity to see a small bit of the city, some camels and wild cattle, ridden on the back of a scooter and a rickshaw, and meet some of the amazing team members at Freedom Firm. They have an investigations unit that performs raids in brothels where young women are forced into sex slavery, a legal department that builds a case against the brothel owners, managers and traffickers, and an aftercare department that follows through with counseling and reunification of the girls into society. I have spent the last couple days at the office familiarizing myself with the law and learning how their system works. I am excited to get started and assist them in any way that I can.