Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chapter 13

13.  Adventures Continue
In December 1996, I went to my college advisor to sign up for graduation.  I was told, “but you still have 8 more credit hours to complete”.  I not-very-calmly replied, “WHAT?!”  I had all the paperwork from my fall planning session stating that I would be done in December. It mattered not to the powers-that-were at the college and because of program changes I needed to complete an additional 8 hours.  

But I had already begun fundraising and had purchased non-refundable airline tickets to California to join the ministry full time in January.  I asked my professors one by one to work out another set of independent study classes for me but was turned down by each.  I was crushed.  How could this be what God wanted?  I prayed about it and went to the dean of my school.  

He approved my proposal, was very impressed with my plans for the winter and said that I could write the reports overseas and fax them home to my mother. She would then type them up and send the files directly to him for grading. God's favor was surely upon me when I met with that dean.

With that decision made, I was finally going to be on my way.  During the holidays that year, I gathered all my study materials. I also raised funds by hosting and performing at a talent show, as well as writing letters or making personal appointments with everyone I knew.  As soon as the holiday season was over, I packed up my bags and in mid-January was off to rehearsal camp in California to join a team that had been ministering together for an entire year already.  Although they'd been together for a year already, I had been able to bond with a few of them each time the team came through Michigan. So, as scary as this whirlwind of decision was to me, it was past time for me to escape the trap I’d made for myself at home.  God had miraculously opened up a door to me, quite possibly to freedom and redemption from all of the heartache and sickness in which I had recently been immersed.

On the 5 hour flight, I relaxed and reviewed my path to this point. I remembered hitting it off with several the team members when they ministered to me that past summer. One guy in particular had stayed at our house in the family travel trailer after one of the concerts.  He was a big Hispanic guy who played the trumpet on the team.  He was an amazing instrumentalist and a natural leader. Everyone seemed to love him but personally, I thought he was pretty cocky and obnoxious.  Still, you can’t like everyone all the time, can you?

This tour would turn out to be drastically different than all the others, in part because I would be a part of this team for the whole year.  I would come home for a two-week break in April and one in August.  I was going to be busy ministering while simultaneously studying so that I could complete my schooling while I was gone. Something none of my teammates had ever attempted to accomplish.  I knew that it would be incredibly hard work but I felt in my heart that I was ready for it.

After rehearsal camp we had a few concerts in California to get us ready for the big trip and then we were off to India!  After being briefed on what to expect from others who had gone before us, I was a little nervous but felt that it wouldn’t be much different from my previous trips or what I had studied at college.  I’m overcome by laughter just writing that.

The 18-hour flight and subsequently smooth landing in Sri Lanka to catch our connecting flight to Trivandrum, India was uneventful.  But oh, the events afterward.  Something happened with our paperwork and only half of the 30-person team was approved to enter India.  I was part of that half. The others, including the obnoxious Latino trumpet player stayed behind in Sri Lanka for the night while the paperwork was evaluated.  Our half of the team landed at a teeny tiny, only-one-person-working-there airstrip.  

We crossed the steaming tarmac and watched through a gaping hole in the wall as our bag was unloaded.  Oh, I know what you just read. That’s not a typo. There really was only one bag.  "Where is the rest of our luggage?", we demanded.  Back in Sri Lanka with the rest of the team, we were informed.  “Well, whose locked bag is this?” we asked each other.  Someone checked the luggage tag....Oh. Of course. It belonged to one of the girls who was still in Sri Lanka for the night.  Fan-stinkin-tastic.

On our way from the airstrip we stopped in a town and bought sleeping clothes and toothbrushes.  At our place of rest somewhere in the jungle (I was enthralled actually), we ate chicken soup without using any spoons, in addition to bananas and coconuts right off the trees. I felt like I had suddenly landed smack in the middle of the book, Swiss Family Robinson (Johann Wyss) and I was enchanted. Even finding bones and feathers and other parts which I didn't even know a chicken had in my soup didn't sour my excitement.

However, sweating out the night sleeping on coffee-table sized beds with about an inch of cotton padding did give me a kink in the neck and a second thought about my "calling" to minister.  But then I shrugged and chalked it up to more of my learning curve. This certainly would be an adventure!  The next day the rest of the team and our luggage arrived (thank You, Lord) and the tour really started.  We wound our way up the eastern coast of India, sometimes playing two or three concerts a day.  

There was a young, short, fuzzy man on our team who expressed an interest in me. In fact, he was pretty sure I was "the one" for him (how sick I already was of that over-used phrase). I was still feeling incredibly vulnerable from my last debacle of a relationship. I freely and with bowed head, admit I liked the attention and encouraged it even though he was not someone I would have ever dated.  I mention this now because he plays a significant role in upcoming chapters. But since relationships were strictly forbidden on tour (due to instructions received at rehearsal camp which we all called "the Law and the Prophets"), I figured it was safe to be satisfied with what I called harmless flirtations.  Harmless flirtation…that is definitely an oxymoron.

In Madras, now known as Chennai, we spent a few days doing concerts and then were planning our route to Calcutta.  The director decided to send the ladies of the team via airplane as it was reportedly much safer than the 24-hour train ride the gentlemen of the team would be taking.  That morning, we ate breakfast together.  Juice, bananas, over-easy eggs.  Then the guys left for the train station and we girls loaded up the equipment and luggage into a truck and headed for the airport.  

Once there, several of us started feeling badly.  I went into a restroom to try to induce myself to vomit thinking I would feel better if I could just do that once.  Once I said. Unfortunately, once it started it didn’t stop.  Not for me, not for anyone.  Leigh was the only one who wasn’t sick. At that point, it was pretty obvious what caused the illness because she was the only one who hadn’t eaten the eggs that morning.  We still managed to board the plane and after that....well, I remember things only in bits and pieces. I do recall noticing the masking tape that held the seals on the walls of the plane's interior together. I remember because I thought, "if only they had used duct tape. I'd feel much safer if it were duct tape."  

But those lucid thoughts quickly became random and separated. Because I had been anorexic the past year and only weighed 105 pounds at my 5’7” height, I became violently ill. On the approximately 40 minute flight, I filled up 8 airbags and practically arm-wrestled other passengers at the doors of the restrooms due to distress from my "other end". At some point, I finally just gave up and slouched against my seat partner.

I'd never fainted before or since and don't know if there's usually any element of consciousness. I could hear my friends talking over me and about me. I had a vague sense of a man's voice telling me he was a doctor. We were still in flight and I don't know why but I couldn't respond to them. I was so very exhausted and weak. It was bizarre. When we finally landed, there were four of us on the team that were sick enough to have an ambulance meet us on the tarmac at the Calcutta airport. Someone took a picture of the 4 of us in it.

Somehow though, we ended up not in an ambulance but in a taxi which rushed us to the Assemblies of God Hospital in Calcutta.  Eventually I was checked into a room with another woman from the team.  I didn’t know her well but at that moment I really couldn’t have cared less.  The pain and violence of the illness was vicious.  I heard that the guys arrived in Calcutta some time the next day and the director sped to our sides.  He was distraught that we were so ill and that it was especially me.  He felt responsible for me in many ways and was so upset that he couldn’t do anything for me.  

He later told me he couldn’t find an international phone until the third day and then they couldn’t figure out what to do.  Mom didn’t have a passport or visa and they knew I couldn’t fly home in my condition.  I guess it was pretty bad for a while there.  All I knew was that the medications the hospital gave me were “out of sight”.  My roommate said I was so far gone from the medicine that I didn’t care about anything at all.  I hazed in and out for hours which turned into days.  I saw all kinds of colors each time I threw up (which was often). I was high as a kite. My roommate, we'll call her Katie, was so mad that I was medicated and she wasn't (they thought she might be pregnant - don't worry she was married).

Katie said that once she asked me to pass her the box of kleenex. I swear I heard her say, "please pass me my dress, Angel." In my mind, we were preparing for a concert. I gently passed an object to her that I saw, felt and believed was her dress. Katie says, "no. It was a box of Kleenex and you threw it at me. Whipped it hard at my head." Yikes.

All I knew was that my I.V. pole appeared to be made from cast iron and one morning as I dragged it across the room to go to the rest room my roommate was vehemently pressing her call button to tell on me.  I guess we had been instructed to let them know when a trip to the potty was required.  Apparently they just ignored the button because I was back in the bed before anyone ever came to check on us.  Katie, my sweet partner in illness and I wondered when we’d be released and what sort of disease we had.  I couldn’t understand a word the nurses said to me but when I finally asked in frustration, “well, am I going to die from this?” they were startled into replying with a simple, “no”.  Satisfied with that response, I fell back asleep.

After the third day, they released the two of us to go to the Salvation Army compound where the rest of our team was staying.  The other two girls hadn't been admitted to the hospital and were already there recuperating. It was far too early for me to be released but there was no way on earth I was going to stay in a hospital so far from home all by myself, without my new best friend, Katie. Nothing unites two people more than puking together, you know.  

So I rested the next few days at the compound while the rest of the team did concerts.  That was okay because usually there wasn’t enough electrical power at the concert sites for me to be able to play the keyboard anyway (for this tour, I only had to play one keyboard).  I prayed for all of us while they were gone, went to my follow-up appointments at the hospital and slept.  Throughout the rest of the India tour (6 weeks in total), I would rally for a few days and be able to do some concerts and then I’d be down for the count again for several days.  I missed meeting Mother Theresa on one of those days when the team was invited to sing for her, something I have always regretted.

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