Saturday, November 7, 2009
First Day in Chennai, India
After about 30 hours of travel—including stopovers on the ground in Minneapolis, New York and Brussels—we arrived in India at about 12:45 a.m. today (Nov. 7). Though very late at night, the Chennai airport was all abuzz with passengers coming and going, and a large crowd of folks waiting to greet visitors, offer rides, etc. Although this is “winter” in Chennai, and the temperature was “only” about 69 degrees F., we could feel the heat and humidity almost instantly.
Passing through customs was amazingly quick and easy. A screening for the H1N1 virus was accomplished via a thermal imaging camera, which presented images on a TV screen. In short, this is designed to pick up only on the question of fever—if you’re too hot (literally!) you show up red on the TV monitor and get pulled over for more health questions. Customs consisted of having a clerk check your passport, visa and some entry documents provided on the airplane….easy as pie.
It was great to be welcomed by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Meshack of the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College in Chennai. Having taught communications at the college for many years, Sam has been principal (dean) of the college for the last five years. A long-time friend of our traveling companion, Prof. Hank Tkachuk, Sam had secured a small van and driver for our late-evening ride to the Breeze Hotel, our home for three nights.
Immediately we were impressed by the size of the crowds in the streets, the endless “chirping” of the vehicles (honking, done not so much in anger as out of a need to keep track of where everybody on the streets is in relationship to your vehicle), and a somewhat hectic drive from the airport to our hotel—lots of traffic for so late at night.
Our accommodations at the Breeze Hotel are quite fine. We are slowly mastering the international travelers’ arts of figuring out new configurations of power outlets, learning to brush teeth with bottled water, deciphering what switch operates what lights—fun stuff.
Following a restful but short night of sleep, we were up by 9 a.m. in order to catch breakfast with Hank before heading over for a visit to the headquarters of the UELCI—United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India. Our hostess for the morning was Dr. Monica Melanchthon who teaches at Gurukul and whom I had heard speak at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2003 in Milwaukee. A warm and gracious woman, Monica was pinch-hitting for Sam who had had to leave Chennai due to a death in his family.
Our ride from the Breeze Hotel over to the Gurukul compound (where the UELCI is headquartered, also) was all the more adventurous due to the flooding in Chennai, a result of too many days of rain. Cars, vans, bikes and motored rickshaws all plowing through streets with up to a foot of water in places. Our driver is very skillful though—he drives through spaces about as narrow and daunting as those memorable double-decker bus scenes from the Harry Potter movies. Amazing!
I'll write more later about our meeting with the UELCI staff in my next post, but now the hotel exercise room is beckoning!