I had been in Tamil Nadu, India for a week before leaving the Chennai District for Kodaikanal. The train was old, and it took over ten hours to arrive in Madurai.
To preface: I was in Tamil Nadu to serve as a missionary with six others. Of the seven, I was one of two men. The mission was hosted by Concordia College of Bronxville, the president of which was a native of India and had a number of university affiliates spaced throughout the Tamil Nadu region.
There is much I could say about the train ride alone, but that is a story for another day.
Our destination was not Madurai. After twelve/fourteen hours on an Indian train, we were crammed into a bus and sent off towards Kodaikanal. It was another four hours of travel. There is much to say about the drive, the Kodaikanal hills being notorious for vehicular accidents in which buses of three dozen drive off of the road and to their deaths, but that, too, is a story for another day.
I cannot remember the names of any of the villages we worked with. Each, without exception, was at least four syllables long. Each, without exception, read like someone slapping their hands wildly against a keyboard.
Suffice to say, we avoided the deathtrap known as the Kodaikanal roads and arrived at the first village. We would make the trip each day, up to three times a day, and never did our nerves settle with the drive. Even with playful monkeys running alongside the road, we could not be at ease.
We were met with much of the village on our arrival. Some twenty families lived on a stretch of land smaller than most cul-de-sacs. The housing was crammed together, just as we had been on the bus.
Our group of seven was introduced to the village elder. We each bowed, saying, vanakkam. Mine sounded more like, vadacome, but nobody seemed to mind.
Much of our work would be with the children of the village, so these little ones were herded together and brought before us.
I am not comfortable with children. I do not know how to interact with these miniature adults. It doesn’t help that, of the seven in our group, I was one of only two Caucasians. The rest were either Hispanic, African, or Asian. This village was pushed so far into the mountains that I do not doubt that I was one of the first white men (or women) these children (and many of the adults) had seen.
In any case, the children have been brought out, and I am expected to interact with them. The entire village is waiting, and many of their eyes are trained on the tallest and whitest member of the group.
How does John H. Loase deal with this situation? The children huddled together, petrified of the man standing before them?
He calls to them as though they were some kind of pet dog. He stretches out his hand awkwardly as though he were hiding a treat. He slouches so that he might not seem so tall, coming to resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The children shrieked and hid behind the men of the village. Everyone laughed. I blushed, turned to the other members of our group, and found they are looking at me as though questioning whether I had just escaped from a mental institution. They proceeded with far more amiable introductions, often commenting on how they weren’t scary like that weird man.
Thankfully, none of the village spoke English.
That is all I will say for now. Know, however, that at the end of our time here, none screamed when I neared.