After over 20 hours of traveling I arrive to the airport in south asia where I am the foreigner. You’d think this city would be asleep at 3:30 in the morning – not hardly. I gathered my luggage and made my way outside where I was greeted by a sea of people, probably 400+, all staring without batting at eye, packed shoulder to shoulder standing up against the metal gate waiting for their beloved families and friends. It was as if I were walking down a red carpet in Hollywood. I mightily pushed my four pieces of luggage through the crowd and they parted in a similar fashion as the Red Sea as I made no eye contact and kept walking forward – all the while still glancing for a sign with my name on it. I reach the end of the red carpet and there was no sign . . . cartoon-sounding horns are blowing, people are lying everywhere and packed in every nook and cranny of the alleyway beneath the canopy-looking airport exit and there I am with my cart of luggage and no ride. But have no fear, I had my handy-dandy guide and a taxi driver offered to allow me to call someone to find the IJMers. The ride home was a lot like being in the three-level bus from the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third Harry Potter movie.
The director of investigations gave me a security brief almost as soon as I arrived so I would be safe in Chennai. As he’s preparing me to live in the city he recalls their most recent operation on a diner that all the IJM staff frequent near the office. They still needed the documentation to prove the presence of child labor but it needed to be executed by someone affiliated with IJM who’s not yet known to the diner so he asked me to take undercover pictures of the boy working. I got the pictures and returned quickly. While I was gone he called a government official to be ready to do a raid; I showed him the evidence and he went in and rescued the boy. (In my mind I’m thinking, “Am I really witnessing this? … on my first day?) We took him up to the office and tried to gather as much indentifying information as possible and found bruises on his body. The staff sought to console him since he appeared to be terrified. All the while I’m watching all of this and almost crying! On the inside my jaw had dropped to the floor as I signed government documents and looked at this little boy. They took pictures to publish it in the press the next day and gave a freedom speech to the boy along with his freedom certificate. After taking the pictures with the Child Labour & Trafficking agent and the boy they handed me the certificate and said, “What’s on the back of that?” and it read: “Neesha Roberts, daughter of Tim Roberts. This is a prank.”
We all burst into laughter . . . and come to find out – they had someone taking pictures of me while I was “documenting” child labor. Farewells are a big deal here; I’m confident all these pictures will make it to my farewell video including the one where the government official is giving me bunny ears. They boasted of how proud they were of this prank since it involved every department. I met half of the staff after enduring this prank for a few hours. Hahahaha!
They got another girl too. They told her a new disease had broken out and since she didn’t have the vaccination she had to wear a bug net that covered her entire body. I saw the video and it’s HILARIOUS . . . they said all the Indians were staring at her wondering what was wrong with her as she walked down the main street in the city. These people are hilarious – I love this place already.