Thursday, January 3, 2008

Warmly Greeted with a Marigold Necklace

Joie Lemaitre Guest Blogs for Americans for UNFPA

I am a woman and a mother of two daughters, grateful for the control we have over our lives, our choices, and our health. We raised 2 daughters here in Concord, MA, and they are now launched and on their own, working and living in NYC.

I am a former teacher, a career volunteer, and an artist. My areas of interest and expertise have always been with children and families, as well as the arts. I spent 5 years working for an organization called M.O.M.S. which was affiliated with our local hospital. The organization matched an experienced mother with a new mother as a mentor and support system. In a world where many new mothers lack a family support system close by, this was a valuable resource for the community.

I am now a practicing artist and career volunteer. I was fortunate enough to join Americans for UNFPA in January 07 as a delegate to Cambodia and in January 08 as a delegate in India. This blog relfects my in the moment reactions and insights to what I saw in India.

I have arrived safe and sound in Delhi. It was a 24 hour trip with a stopover in London for a few hours, but I am here and my internal clock tells me I missed a day somewhere over Europe.

The flight was fine... no individual TV sets even in business class and old reruns of The Tim Allen show on the one TV and very "B" Bollywood movies. But, it was one of the smoothest flights I've ever had.

I arrived in Delhi about 11 PM on Jan. 1st to a sea of faces waiting for loved ones as I came through customs. There is always that moment of slight panic that no one will be there to greet you in a strange country, and I still had no currency for India, as apparently Rupees can not be had until you get to India....considered an illegal currency elsewhere, fascinating.

After a few moments I spotted Rajen my contact here in India. He greeted me with a marigold necklace and a hand embroidered shawl and a big smile. I felt like visiting royalty. And, then his driver whisked me off to the Imperial Hotel in Delhi. The traffic is busy even at midnight and horns are constantly beeping. In fact, most trucks have signs on the back that say Please Honk. The roads are good around Delhi, a city of 15 million people. As it was dark and a bit foggy I coudn't see much, but as we entered the grounds of the Imperial Hotel I knew I was in an oasis of calm. It's a grand British colonial hotel...the entrance is lined with Royal palm trees and lots of twinkling bright lights. It was built in 1936 about 11 years before the end of British Colonial rule, and has all the fixings of that era...marble floors, Victorian chandeliers, teak woods, palms in pots, very elegant and genteel. They still serve high tea in the atrium in the late afternoon.

I collapsed into bed around 1 AM Delhi time on January 2nd. I believe I am 10 and a half hours ahead of the east coast when we switched to daylight savings time. In the summer it's 9 and a half hours.

I have not yet met up with any other members of the delegation, but I understand there are about 6 of us here, including two women who were on the Cambodia trip with me. I have the day to myself so may explore the area around the hotel. I am advised that I should not walk too far alone, but the area around here is certainly safe.

Tomorrow a small group of us leave for Agra which is about a 4 hour drive from Delhi to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. We'll spend a couple of days there and then return to Delhi for the official beginning of the UNFPA delegation on January 5th.

Happy New Year to all.

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