Not What I Expected

Not What I Expected

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by the incredible blessings in your life? I got to watch the sunrise over the Middle East, at 37,000 ft., while on my way to India to do the work that I love – and it felt like a dream.

We arrived in Hyderabad on Saturday evening, local time, and we’re greeted at the airport with the warmest of welcomes. Beautiful garlands for each guest, exchanges of names, and the biggest smiles you can imagine. As we made our way through the crowd, we greeted endlessly by the locals; we clearly stuck out like a sore thumb. Since a few of our team members had experienced this before, the novelty had warn off, but for the first timers – including myself, it was something I’ll never forget.

On our way to the van, Dr. McKenna turned to me and asked what I noticed most. In that moment, I was so exhausted, and was still orienting myself to all the new smells, beautifully dressed women, and the nonstop honking of horns. Needless to say, I needed some time to process before I could answer him.

The next day, we were invited to join a celebration taking place in a village about 3 hours north of Hyderabad. I had no idea what to expect. You see, about 80% of the Indian population lives in rural areas and villages like the one we were visiting, likely stricken by poverty as an outcome of the caste system. Faced with no social services, medical care, and almost 90% of these people are illiterate.

As we began our journey north, it was difficult to miss the pollution, the crumbling infrastructure, and the fact that women were the ones doing most of the labor, oftentimes carrying full loads of rice or fruit atop their heads. This was not the India I expected to see.

As we approached the village, you could hear the drums grow louder and louder, and were finally matched with a crowd of people waiting for us. Again, we were greeted with beautiful garlands, exchanges of names, and the biggest smiles. We were then lead into the village with a parade! The drums beating vibrantly, people coming out of their homes to receive us, and shaking hands with nearly 100 people. Needless to say, I’ve never felt more like a celebrity in my life. But the funny thing is, they were in fact the main attraction – they were the real celebrities, as I was in awe of them.

They gave us a tour of their village, welcoming us into their homes and places of worship, feeding us the best meal, and inviting us to celebrate with them. It was incredible. We brought Dumb Dumbs for all the little kids and they were a hit! They swarmed to get their candy fix – a treat that they don’t get often. As our time with this village came to a close, and we made our way back to the bus, we again shook everyone’s hand, thanked them for their hospitality, and prayed we see each other again soon.

Once we got back on the bus – it hit me. I finally knew how to answer Dr. McKenna’s question. Up to this point in our journey, it was clear that these people – living in poverty, chastised for their beliefs, and born into society as the lowest man on the totem pole – were the happiest, most joyful people I have ever met.


– Kaylin Sallenback


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