Many blog posts and videos from my last two weeks in India are coming soon, but there are some things on my mind that I would like to say first. Please don't see this as a giant complaint. Every country has a way of operating, and this is only a snapshot of my overwhelming thoughts. **note, everyone will have a different opinion and experience with India. Also, certain things described may be disturbing for some readers, so I'll let those of you know when to stop reading.
In our western society, I find India to be portrayed as this magical land, bursting with amazing cultural and spiritual experiences, vibrant colors, meditation and yoga retreats, "henna" tattoos, extravagant weddings, and Bollywood movies. Elephants roam the streets, and everyone drinks "chai tea" (chai means tea, so this just means "tea tea"). Sure this isn't everyone's view of the country, but let's be real - it's pretty idealistic.
However, for every great thing present, there seems to be an extremely horrific not-great-at-all thing. Having just returned from my fourth trip to India, I can safely say that it is my favorite and my least favorite country. There is no doubt that I have had the happiest times of my life in India, yet also seen the most disturbing, gut-wrenching sights.
**stop reading now if you do not wish to read potentially disturbing material
Mangled legs no thinner than the bones themselves trail behind a man dragging himself across a busy street as cars screech to a stop. I see an elderly couple holding hands only to realize that the woman is guiding the man, because two scarred, jagged, empty holes take the place of his eyes. It doesn't take long to realize that in India, you can see anything.
Driving in Delhi traffic means moving a few feet every twenty minutes, while spending the remaining time stuck in a mass of cars, bikes, cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, helmetless families crammed on motorcycles, cows, dogs, busses, and anything else imaginable. Lane lines are dismissed as an ignored suggestion.
Every vehicle driver is constantly seeming to show off the blaring sound of their horn.
Passengers throw up out of bus windows (yes this happens more often than you would think, our car windows were covered with vomit thanks to a queasy victim of the Delhi public transportation system).
While this is all occurring at a rapid speed (something rare for the country notorious for being late) a network of filthy, wide-eyed (or missing-eyed) children engulf the sea of cars. Looking into your eyes, they gesture to their mouths, point to babies strapped on their hips, and make sure that you are aware of their missing limbs. The begging becomes frantic as the cars begin to roll. From climbing on the sides of cars, to standing in front so the slow movement of traffic halts, these street-smart street-kids know how to survive.
If you have seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire, know that the begging kids operating under a cruel leader portrayed in the movie are very much real. For this reason, you don't know if the rupees (Indian currency. The exchange rate is currently 65 Rupees to 1 US Dollar) you sympathetically hand over to a child will only go to their worst enemy. On the other hand, if they don't meet their daily money acquisition requirements, will they be beaten and bruised because you did not sacrifice the equivalent of a few pennies?
These are the questions constantly running through my mind, along with questioning why I wasn't born in to their situation, and what life would be like if I had been. I kept thinking "this isn't fair," which only frustrated myself to the point of tears, for feeling like a privileged westerner - undeserving of the comfortable life I knew I would soon return to.
(I learned to carry a stash of construction paper and crayons with me whenever we hit the road, which the kids were overjoyed to receive.)
India's slum children don't only conquer the roads, and on the other hand the kids living in villages are the happiest kids I've ever seen. Initially wide-mouthed, gaping at my pale skin, they jostle their friends' shoulders, manifesting my presence. While a few months ago this came as a shock, I soon learned that a little smile goes a long way. Soon, where ever I went, groups of kids were smiling, waving, and shouting "HELLOOOOOO! NAMASTE! HELLO!" (I am definitely writing a blog post about this soon)
I met girls who want to go to school, but their families can only afford to educate their valued sons - sending their daughters off to work. As much as I may be slightly dreading the return to school in three days (mostly because I don't know if I can stay awake with the 10.5 hour time adjustment), I will be thinking of these girls who would be so grateful to receive an education.
This little rant is not going to solve any major world issues, but with your donations we can change lives. While I was away, it was comforting knowing that I am taking action to help these kidss, but that didn't make facing these difficult circumstances any easier. I hope you have expanded your global awareness.
If you would like to contribute to building an orphanage/school, where kids can safely live and receive an education, please visit the 'donate' page.
In the comments below, I would love to hear what your perception of India is, or if you have been to India before how my experiences match up with yours. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.