Enchanting Travels guest Suzy Nelson, who traveled to India from Los Angeles in December 2012, shares with us a very personal story of venturing to Kolkata with her daughter Sarah Tej, who was born there.
24 years ago my husband and I adopted our sweet, tiny, screaming-her-head-off, brown-as-a-nut infant, Sarah Tej, from an orphanage there.
We were not allowed to get her—they escorted her from Kolkata (Calcutta at the time) to Los Angeles.
For all of her life we had promised her, “Someday we will go to India, so you can see where you came from”. We felt so lucky to actually be able to provide the opportunity!
One big reason for choosing Enchanting Travels over other agencies we looked at was the fact that our initial contact and travel consultant, Jen seemed to understand the huge significance to us from the very beginning.
It wasn’t so much a vacation as a pilgrimage.
Although, we saw and experienced many wonderful things in India, Kolkata was definitely our emotional highlight.
We really enjoyed the Kenilworth Hotel being right in the center of the city because our all-time favorite thing to do was to walk around, be with the people and see whatever was happening.
We found a vibrancy in the city and the people that seemed very unique and made us feel very welcome.
It was totally safe walking around at night, as long as it wasn’t too late and we fully took advantage of this delicious freedom.
Our guide, who just had us call her “Papi”, told us she felt honored to be able to give Sarah Tej a quick (we only had one full day) history of the city of her birth.
You should know the air is very polluted there—to the extent that just breathing (even in our vehicle) hurt our lungs at first.
The sun, we remember being blood red in the sky.
We drove to museums, a beautiful cathedral etc. but our favorites was the beautiful Jain temple (we thought it’s beauty topped the Taj Mahal—shhhhh!) and the wonderful, fragrant, crazy, colorful, winding, lively flower market that we got to walk through.
Another highlight was our delicious lunch of authentic Bengali food.
When traffic got too congested to move, we rolled down windows and braved the smog and dust to wave, take pictures and carry on short, halting conversations with these smiling, friendly people we would never see again.
Sarah Tej’s orphanage does not exist anymore—although the building still does. It is located by the wharf and is now a school of nursing.
There was barbed wire and iron gates surrounding the building and I didn’t hold out hope that we would be able to get very close, but when a guard approached us, Papi explained why we were there.
With a big grin, he unlocked the gate and beckoned us to come closer, explaining where the front door had been, where the babies had probably slept etc.
We found this friendly openness and kindness in every city we visited. I felt thrilled that so many of the Indians we met were so eager to get to know her, share their culture and claim her as their own.
We walked around the building and drank the experience in. When the picture taking was done and it was time to head back to our hotel, we both had tears in our eyes.
It was a quiet ride back but when I snuck a look at my beautiful daughter, she had a huge grin on her face.
Identity found. Mission accomplished.
ET: Thank you Suzy and Sarah Tej for sharing your experience with us.