Wednesday, July 4, 2012

India Heritage Camp

After 2,000 miles of travel in our 10-year-old minivan, our first big family roadtrip was voted a success by all five members of the family!  The centerpiece of our travels was Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we experienced our first India Heritage Camp, hosted by our adoption agency, Dillon International.

For our boys, this meant participating in their age groups' activities, which included Indian cooking, dance, yoga, henna painting, and preparing songs and skits for the closing ceremonies.  For our daughter, camp included all those things plus one more:  the chance to be reunited with some of the children who also began their lives in the care of ISRC Kolkata.  Anya Rashi was able to spend time with the now grown-up little girls who once shared a crib with her.

Upon our arrival in Tulsa, we spied Jenya and Devi and their mothers Karen and Julie walking across the parking lot of our hotel.  It was so surreal to see these girls and their mothers in person, after following their lives from afar on my computer.  I felt like I sat beside them as they saw photos of their new daughters, waited for court dates, traveled to India, and grafted their new little dears into their hearts and families.  And then all three of us began the journey again, waiting for second daughter from across the world.  We shared meals and many conversations, and left with our online imaginings of each other fleshed out into real-life friendships.

Later that night, I met Susie, mom to Anna Dola and Mihika, who recognized Aaron from reading our blog.  And the next day, when camp officially began, it was a thrill to meet Heather and Nathan, who took us along via their blog as they welcomed Piyashi Wren and Shiva Traveller home . . . and their were so many other children and parents who were recognizable from shared photos over the past five years.  The experience had the feeling of being united with long-lost family members, though we all come from different parts of the country, and different walks of life.

Anya Rashi is often hesitant about new experiences or being left in the care of new people -- but she went right into India camp without a backward glance.  She dove right in with the other children as if they had known each other for years . . . and the fanciful part of me likes to think that there was some kind of shared memory of each other from their baby days.

Another really wonderful thing was the camp "graduates" who helped with the young campers.  Anya Rashi has since talked about Miss Tess and Miss Theresa, both from ISRC, who helped in her room.  Anya is particularly fascinated by the fact that they are teenagers, that they were once campers themselves, and that they looked like her.  Those comments alone were like gold.

Some of the kids took my breath away because I saw them while we were in India.  Mihika and Anna Dola are two children we photographed for their waiting parents, and it was incredible to see them in person 4 1/2 years later.  We were also thrilled to meet Jynger, the India program director for Dillon, in person at last!  She's been our link to sanity, our information source, and the explainer of incomprehensible rules and processes for years now. 

And the other huge blessing was the India Association of the Tulsa area.  They provided cultural expertise for most of the camp classes, and staffed a "store" during camp where families without access to Indian items could update their children's Indian clothing, purchase bindis, and more.

Because we live so far away, we may not be able to go every year -- but it was so worth it to invest the time and money to go.  My only regret is that there were other families we've "met" online who weren't able to be there.  I would love to see Max Rup and his family, and Luke Swarnadip, Prasun, Jansen, Elizabeth Tanuja, and other children we photographed when we met Anya Rashi for the first time.  Maybe another year . . .

Edited to add:  This camp is not just for Dillon International families!  Families who adopted through other agencies were there too, and are most definitely welcome.  If you live anywhere near Tulsa, it is definitely worth the trip!


No Greater Love said...

I have been anxiously awaiting this post..... I am so glad you had such a wonderful time!!!! I didn't know India Camp was sponsored by Dillon....I was hoping that someday we would go. :) But that's okay....hopefully some day we will also get meet the incredible families who have helped us along this adoption process. It must have just been wonderful for your whole family to be able to connect with those who helped you in your adoption journey....and for your daughter to get to spend time with the children who she was so connected with in India. :) What a thrill. I am so happy for you!

Sarah said...

Oh, this post made me teary. So happy that you had this wonderful experience!

With His Grace said...

THAT IS SO neat!!!!

What a great opportunity for each of you!!

Peter and Nancy said...

Sarah, there were families who adopted through other agencies too -- Dillon definitely welcomes any family! And in the future, then children will be from all over India anyway, not just from ISRC, so all are welcome.

Brad and Renae said...

What a great experience. I would LOVE to do this sometime with our family...thanks for the post.

Julie & Patrick said...

It was such a pleasure to meet you and your family too. Devi still is talking about her experience as well...and chattering about all the friends she made at camp. Glad to hear you made it home safely. I really enjoyed all of our chats. Though my henna is now fading...I am so thankful that my memories of our fun time remain vivid!


The Labontes said...

We definitely regret that we couldn't be there. Max Rup is looking over these blog posts over and over. Looking forward to the day when we finally meet in person. Until then we will cherish the connection provided by the internet.

Miche said...

I was wondering if you had to be from Dillon to join in! AND I'm so excited her brothers could join in too! What a FUN camp that will be for all of us to do when our daughter is old enough to go!! You have me so excited :)