(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): The curfew was lifted for a couple of hours last night so the townspeople could leave their homes and purchase food for their families. Poor northeast Indians don’t own refrigerators, nor are they affluent enough to store non-refrigerated foodstuffs in their homes.
Even our hotel ran out of food and needed to buy eggs and rice at the bazaar. As quickly as the curfew was relaxed, it was reimposed as large military trucks with loudspeakers demanded that civilians return to their homes and stay inside.
This morning the streets were strangely silent again. Soldiers in military uniform were the only people moving around the city. I really wanted to get some photos of the military situation but knew that would be a real fast way for me to get into big trouble. But I did try to take some outside shots from inside my hotel room.
Under siege or not, the people of Imphal are getting their efforts organized to counter the military action. The families of the shooting victims refused to claim the bodies from the bus station area, which puts the military in an awkward position.
One of the plans to get us out of Manipur and back into some neutral place like Calcutta was to arrange for a helicopter to pick us up and fly us out. Some other businessmen who were caught at the Imphal hotel were eager to share the helicopter if one could be made available. None of those rescue efforts materialized.
Just as we were all accepting the fact that we would be stuck at the hotel for some time, we received word that Indian Airlines was flying an airplane to Imphal. The military had granted permission to the airport support people to go under escort to the airport to open it. As we found out later, the military needed the airport open so they could take advantage of the commercial flights to get their top people in and out of Imphal. At any rate, the news was wonderful.
We all packed and carried our bags to the entry of the hotel. The situation in Imphal doesn’t look like it will just mend itself but will probably end up in civil war. The local and rural insurgent movement is strong and determined. The Indian military position is equally determined.
As our group loaded into vehicles with our luggage, we were all hoping that a window had been afforded us and would remain open until we could get out. People watched our little escorted motorcade on its way through the stark, empty streets to the airport. I could see them watching us from behind windows, open doors, and porches. We passed machine-gun nests, miniarmored tanks, truckloads of patrolling soldiers, and occasional pieces of heavy artillery stationed at strategic intersections and bridges.
Presuming Drew and I were able to get out of Imphal and make it safely to Calcutta, we were faced with another interesting decision. Would we opt to cut short our India plans, grab the next international flight out of Calcutta, and scoot as quickly as possible back home, or would we follow through on our commitment and travel on up to the northern state of Nagaland to complete the Needs Assessment Studies at the hospitals there? I had a few more hours to make that decision, but the present emphasis was to get to Calcutta.
You can only imagine how tight the military security was at the airport. It wasn’t a time to haul out my camera and start snapping pictures. I just wanted to grease myself and slide right on through the situation. Drew and I received confirmed boarding passes for the flight out of Imphal, as did another three members of the group. The rest of our group was denied boarding passes. They had to return to the Imphal hotel for one more night and will hopefully fly out to Calcutta tomorrow.
Among those not getting boarding passes were John and Evelyn Pudaite, our hosts and guides for the trip to Nagaland should we opt to continue our assessments. John and Evelyn said they would try to secure a vehicle and drive north from Manipur into Nagaland. The capital city of Nagaland is Dimapur, and the New Delhi restrictions under which we are living specify that we can’t travel by road from Manipur into Nagaland. The only entrance into Dimapur is by flight from Calcutta.
But John thought that since he and his wife look “native” and have local paperwork from living in the area the past few years, they could make it by driving the steep mountain roads. And if they start out quite soon, they could drive directly north and get there about the same time we do, since we’ll have to overnight in Calcutta. John asked if we would be willing to finish the assessments, since we’re already halfway around the world. He promised that he and Evelyn will try to meet us at the airport in Dimapur, but if they don’t make it, he will have people there to meet us.
As he wrote out the names of the contacts in Nagaland, John began to explain that Nagaland is under restriction as well, because they likewise are experiencing Indian government military repression and abuses, as well as active resistance from underground insurgence groups.
I felt I had to make my decision about going on to Nagaland based on the very real possibility that John and Evelyn won’t make it by road to meet us. I felt very peaceful about the decision to fly from Calcutta to Dimapur as originally planned. I tucked all my contact information for Nagaland into my documents, and Drew and I boarded the Indian Airlines flight to Calcutta. We have no reservations in Calcutta. We will have to wing it.
But it actually feels good to be in dirty, awful, terrible Calcutta. The civil violence and volatile situation in Imphal and Manipur are now behind us. I keep hoping and praying that John and Evelyn will find a way to successfully make it over the treacherous mountain roads and meet us in Dimapur.
Sunday, November 5
Early this morning, Drew and I woke up, ate some breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and checked out of the hotel. As we got into a junky little shuttle car and headed toward the airport, I took a deep breath of polluted Calcutta air and thanked God for the opportunity to start a new chapter of Project C.U.R.E.’s efforts to help needy people around the world. We are being afforded unprecedented opportunities to make a difference in tens of thousands of lives otherwise not touched by health-care support and love. I’m a happy man for the unique privilege.
Drew Dixon is proving to be a great traveling partner. We’ve had lots of time to discuss principles involved in what we’re doing. His educational background, spiritual motivation, and familiarity with Scripture make him a great discussion partner. I had prayed that God would give us a trip that would be a life-changing experience for Drew, drawing him closer to God as well as giving him a better understanding of what Project C.U.R.E. does around the world. I’m certain the events of the past few days will prove unforgettable for him, and I imagine that he has drawn a lot closer to God as result of the siege of Imphal. Those kinds of situations have a way of helping you catch up on any delinquencies in your prayer life.
Next Week: Decision: Head for home . . . or Finish our Assignment?