Apr 17, 2013


Today it's been a year and two days since I woke up 4:30 in the morning to board a 6am flight to Chicago and fly off into the sunset of India and have my life changed. It's scary how fast a year has gone by! Time flies when you're having fun!


Four flights and eleven time zones removed from my home in Virginia, I landed in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. From the moment I touched down in Delhi, I had known that India and I were going to get along quite well. I was immediately drawn to the sights and people in the airport, something that continued during my layover in Kolkata. As we drove out of the airport in Bhubaneswar, I was in awe of the scene around me. I was so excited when I saw my first cow, because that really meant I was in India, not in some weird part of America. Later that afternoon, we toured the Hi-Tech Medical College of Bhubaneswar, the place where we would be working. I was shocked at the conditions of the hospital, the stark white tiles, and the differences between the hospitals back home. By the end of my stay, I had grown to love the hospital and watched as it was filled with hope and beautiful smiling children. Our ride to the hospital was on a dirt path, with immense poverty on either side. By the end of second day, I had stopped seeing the poverty, and started seeing the hope.

Although I could write novels about my experience in India, there are three or four moments that I will never forget and have been ingrained into my mind forever.

I don't remember how I met Puja, but she always just seemed to be ‘there'. We made faces at each other, blew bubbles, and took silly pictures for hours, and I grew to expect her to run up behind me and hug me every morning. I learned through a translator and from speaking with our Electronic Medical Technician, Nancy, that she was ten years old, in Class 5, and living with her Uncle, who had broken his leg a month and half before and was still in the hospital. I will never forget hugging her goodbye on our final day and trying to explain to her that I had to go back to America. As I tried to say goodbye, she followed me out of the hospital and continued to hug me and tell me that she loved me. I will never forget her, and I think of her everyday.

On the first day I was in Bhubaneswar, we spent our morning on the third floor of the hospital playing with the children before they went to screening, where they would be photographed, given speech evaluations, and seen by pediatricians and anesthesiologists to determine whether they would receive surgery or not. It was there that I met Mina. She took to coloring right away, and was taken down early for screening. Until her surgery on Wednesday, I would see her around the hospital nearly everyday, and she always had a huge smile for me and a wave. Tuesday night, we had one of our longest days, and didn't leave the hospital until nearly eight. She and I had so much fun making silly faces at each other, and playing patty cake for hours.

While waiting in our Child Life room, I learned from her anxious mother that she had had two previous surgeries, and that there were complications during the first, and she was very worried. Since she had already had two surgeries, she was only having a lip scar revision, and I returned on our last day to see her smiling and ready to go home. I will never forget her sweet family, and her calm, strong mother. What trust and faith these parents had, to come from far away to put their child's life in doctors and foreigners hands. Although we did not share a common language, we all communicated on a deeper level, one that did not require words, but simply hugs and smiles. It was so hard to say goodbye to her, knowing that I would never see again. Before she left, she and her mother gave me two hard candies, probably a luxury to them, and something that most wouldn't think anything of. I still have them sitting on my dresser, a daily reminder of the little girl who changed my life.

My time spent in India not only altered my life significantly, but also changed the way I look at the world. As Mark Twain once said, "India is, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined." I would not change a single moment of my mission, and I am forever thankful to Operation Smile for giving me this opportunity.



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