February was a month of tragedy in my life…as well as a reminder that just a year ago, in February of 2007,1 too had a near-death experience on a snowy highway in southern Colorado. In almost every way I have recovered from the broken neck. I ski bumps, mountain bike (on easy trails), and have resumed a normal (meaning chaotic) travel schedule. Every time I pass a cross on the side of the road or a person in a wheelchair, I remember with deep gratitude the second chance I got at life.
I’m writing this while reclining in a tiny triple-deck bunk crammed into a sleeper car in what is called a second-class train in Poland. We’re spending a week here, traveling around with my college roommate Reiner, who is German and married to a Polish woman. This part of the trip is vacation, and like most vacations in Europe it involves touring churches and old castles, stopping for afternoon cappuccinos and Italian gelato ice cream, and roaming on winding cobblestone streets. In Krakow we visited the university where Copernicus taught and attended a piano concert of Poland’s most beloved composer, Chopin.
The Yanceys soon leave for India on a 15-hour nonstop flight from Chicago to New Delhi. Then we hit the ground running: a meeting in Delhi the night after we arrive, then the next three nights in a row: Bangalore, Chennai (Madras), and Hyderabad Nov. 23. We have a few days to tour some projects among the Untouchables, then on to Mumbai (Bombay) on Nov. 27, which is Thanksgiving in the US. I doubt we’ll be eating a turkey dinner this year. After that we’ll have a few days R&R in the state of Kerala, which has the highest percentage of Christians but is also governed by the Communist Party. And on to Delhi for some time with the Other Backward Castes (a huge group just above the Dalits or Untouchables and often neglected).
We have been traveling in the Middle East for a week now, on a tour arranged by Dave Pope, a good friend from England who has also arranged tours we’ve done with the Saltmine theatre troupe. I am speaking mostly to expatriates, as Christian meetings would not be allowed for nationals. So far we have done programs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, sister cities which form two of the seven member states in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is like Las Vegas on steroids, as if the rulers hired the best architects in the world, gave them each several billion dollars to play with, and turned them loose to design gleaming skyscrapers. You’ve probably seen pictures of the amazing hotel with a helipad from which Tiger Woods hit golf balls into the ocean—rooms go for $5000 per night there, and come complete with a private butler. Then there’s the world’s tallest building, nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building. Dubai is a shopper’s paradise (it’s pronounced “Do buy”) and money flows like water, or rather like oil. It has malls the size of towns.
I’m writing this on the plane returning from South Korea. Once again we feel overwhelmed with Asian hospitality. They put us in fine hotels, attended to our every need, and gave us gifts wherever we went. (Anyone want a box of Ginseng tea? Or was that one of the gifts we left for the hotel maids?) Asian hosts don’t let you pay for anything, carry anything, or make any arrangements on your own. The downside is that they think it’s a crime to leave you alone for more than 30 seconds, which gets very draining after a while. Still, we were treated like royalty.
We rang out 2009 and rang in 2010 with a two-week trip to Ethiopia. We actually left Denver on Christmas Eve and spent December 25, mostly with our eyes closed, in the Frankfurt, Germany, airport. Just getting there was an adventure: Colorado had about 10 inches of fresh snow the morning we left; the plane touched down in Chicago with the city bracing for an ice storm; and the Frankfurt airport was recovering from a complete shutdown as a result of Europe’s deep freeze.