Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The next step...

Being in India I realized how much power I had over someone’s livelihood. I recall many times where I would bargain and end up buying clothing and beautiful sculptures for less than three US dollars. But now that I'm home, I wonder if after these shopping trips had I even helped the seller in any type of way. Had I just provided rent for the month or dinner for the week? Had I really done anything? At times I felt like I was doing a great civil service by giving my money towards the goods that were being sold, but now I am doubting myself. I think that’s how I feel about all situations when it comes to serving the world and making a difference. Does what I do even matter? I became a social work student so that I could make a difference in the world, but after studying for three years now all I wonder is if I made the right decision. It seems to me that the number one thing that is needed for change is money. Should I have become a business major or a political science major? After a lot of assessment and thinking back I think that my questions and doubts were answered when visiting the Tong Len hostel. The key to successful change is educating the children. Children want nothing more than to have their dreams come true. It frightens me that children are taught as they get older that they need to get rid of their dreams. I plan to let children know, where ever I go, that they can reach their dreams. I plan to tell them that education is very important and once they understand the importance they will know what needs to be changed. My actions do matter, and even if it is something small I can only hope that the people I help pay it forward and create a chain reaction.

"Difficult Situations"

Before going to India, my perception of a difficult situation seemed pretty normal for my surroundings. A death in the family, a divorce, etc. . While in India, we had many difficult situations that were nothing like those examples. My difficult situations were running out of water, not being able to find shade, or the power going out. While in America these things don’t sound too bad, but in India these were all VERY difficult situations.Some of my more memorable difficult situations were the fact that I had a cockroach in my pants, the power went out while I was in the bathroom, and I left my shower shoes back in the third city we stayed in. This allowed me to become more aware of other people in their difficult situations. I learned that just because I don’t see something as being difficult, doesn't mean that it isn't. There are many moments in peoples' lives that they perceive as difficult. It isn't up to me or anyone else to try to tell them otherwise. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Left a Few Fears in India

      People at home that knew me before this trip would probably never believe that I survived India. I was the girl that hardly went outside because of a strong disdain for bugs. The same girl that collects shells at the beach since she never quite learned to swim. Not to mention the girl that cried on the way up the Kitty Hawk Sand Dunes because she was petrified of heights. To sum it all up I am afraid of just about everything and it is no secret.India decided to place every one of those fears in my way and forced me to simply get over it.        
     There were bugs galore among other critters crawling everywhere. I had to accept them because thanks to the Jains (a religious group completely against violence even in regard to the smallest of creatures) my conscience would not allow me to squash them as usual. You know when in India...do as the saints do. One night Zoe and I even had a small vistor in our bed. A lizard. We were sure this little guy was harmless but he still was not welcome to roam the bed while we slept. Zoe was so inspired by the saint she used her book to escort our friend outside. I still  am not a fan of bugs but thanks to mother India I can contain my shrieks when they come my way. I can't swim so my initail reaction to rafting was not the same as my classmates except for Charon. I did not think it was possible but Charon had me beat with her fear of water. Everyone tried to reassure us that the life jacket would protect us and there was no need to worry. It was enough to get me on the raft but not enough to stop my legs from trembling and my heartbeat from amplifying as we prepared to leave the shore. Sure enough we were safe and Charon and I both made it in the water BY CHOICE. Not only did I conquer a fear but I had an amazing time doing it. I don't think I could have forgiven myself if had I missed that opportunity it was well worth the panic. Of all of my fears heights is the biggest and baddest. I don't know why but it has always been that way. One may wonder why in the world I would chose to go to India knowing a portion of the trip would be in the Himalayas aka high in the air! My answer is simple, I was tired of being a wimp. So I went. The mountains were tolerable and honestly most of the time I was oblivious to just how high we were. The most challenging day for me was probably the day we traveled to the waterfall because I did not see a clear path, just unsteady rocks. I won't lie I whined on the way up but nevertheless I made it and I even got in the water. It was refreshing and in that moment I felt free. I'm not sure if I am quite ready for Mt. Everest or anything but I certainly think I left a few fears in India.

Slow Down, Stay Grateful

Near the end of trip, we made two visits to Tong Len. Tong Len, as you have read in previous posts, is a hostel for kids taken out of a local slum. What with all of the poverty and unhealthy conditions in India, Tong Len truly gave me hope for educating and caring for children in India. It was very motivating to see what a change the organization was making. The kids at the hostel are healthy and excited to interact and learn with other students. We spoke with a few older students who were in the founding class. They were well-versed at describing their past experiences and big future plans. School was not the only priority: we got front row seats to a dance recital as well.

In a matter of minutes after our arrival, each of us was holding at least two or three small hands of the children from Tong Len. After an hour or two, they were in our laps or pulling us along to the beat of their favorite songs. These quick connections contributed to our difficult departure. After leaving McLeod Ganj, we made our way back to New Delhi. After spending a day exploring and buying a few gifts, we boarded our bus and made way for the Indira Gandhi Airport. From there we went to Frankfurt, Washington, and before we knew it, we were at baggage claim in Raleigh. I can imagine us being a rough-looking (and smelling) crowd.

These past couple days have been part of an odd transition. Initially, I lounged in the air conditioning, ate sweet and sour chicken, and drank water from the faucet. Slowly, I have come to realize that these are not things I truly missed about home. Yes, I did miss my family and friends, but those material desires were quite superficial. I am starting to miss the things in India that were foreign and made me somewhat uncomfortable initially: communicating with people who do not speak my language, getting lost and finding my way in a new place, and learning about a deeper part of myself in the context of other religions. Sometimes I get sidetracked and caught up with many tasks and responsibilities. I learned many things in India, but two of the lessons that come to mind are to slow down and stay grateful.
This was a market in Old Delhi.

 Ganesh graffiti in Pushkar.

 My friend Usha.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Phenomenal People

     We were graced with the presence of many extraordinary people in India from the travel agents that welcomed us at the airport to the hotel hosts that never seemed annoyed with our constant demands for water. I know that our trip would have been much less meaningful without each and every person we encountered including the beggars because they taught us to appreciate every one's contribution to the human experience.
      Again I hold many people in India dear, but I must say that some people touched my life in a major way, a way that my heart won't forget. For instance when Bagdro laughed the world seemed a little smaller and lot less scary. Bagdro was tortured, jailed, and beaten by the Chinese government before he was able to escape Tibet and enter Northern India which was a thirty day ordeal for him. I couldn't find the humor in that situation had it been me. Somehow Bagdro does  though and he spreads peace and love at the same time. He mastered the art of patience and has learned the best fight does not have to entail violence. The Dalai Lama taught him to use his words to fight and helped him find freedom in forgiveness. Now Bagdro is pursuing justice in a different and much more effective manner. When he spoke he used the word happy the most. Even if he had never said it I could sense his happiness and inner peace through his laughter. I was almost confused by how he could tell us this gruesome story about what happened to him and still be laughing in between sentences. I began to think to myself how can I ever call myself "angry". I'm sorry if anyone disagrees but we really have nothing to be angry about if this man can be beaten within inches of his life and still smile. I was reminded how we allow minuscule things to dictate our emotions and cause us to hate. Bagdro is my inspiration because he taught me there is no reason to allow anyone to steal your joy no matter what they may do, you can not allow anyone to break your spirit. He never did.
     When speaking of inspiring people there is no way I could forget the staff and children of Tong Len. They literally welcomed us with open arms. They held our hands and gave us a tour of their rooms with great pride. They wanted to share their world with us and they were so proud of everything they had. I couldn't help but think of how ungrateful we can be here in the states while these children were content with so little. The way they give love so freely and easily is something this world could use more of. They unknowingly challenged us all to recommit ourselves to service and making sure children understand the value of education because that is exactly what Tong Len is committed to.

Goodbye India

McLeod Ganj was our last stop in our trip and it was definitely the perfect way to end this trip. The Tibetan atmosphere found in McLeod Ganj is so peaceful and extremely different from what have encountered. We had the honor to go to a lama teaching and have a monk talk to us about his hardships in Tibet and making his way to India. Before this trip I had little knowledge about Tibet and their people but now I know the hardships they faced, and are still facing, in Tibet due to the Chinese taking over. While the monk was done talking to us I kept thinking how little I knew about this issue and couldn't imagine who else in the world has no idea about it. I definitely will be mentioning this when talking about my India experience and hope that the world knows more about it and gets involve in saving Tibet.

While in McLeod Ganj we visited the Tong-Len hostel. The Tong-Len hostel visit is definitely one of my favorite parts of this trip and an experience that will forever stay in my heart. On our second visit we listened to the stories of  how thankful the senior kids are for this amazing opportunity and how they want all the other slum kids to prosper in their life starting with their education. The enthusiasm in their faces when they talked about their future life and the things they would do to help the other kids was amazing to see. Tong-Len is doing an amazing thing and providing great opportunities to these kids that one day I would love to become a part of.

After an awesome five days in McLeod Ganj it was time to head back to New Delhi in time to catch our flight back to the states. Arriving to America and adjusting back to my daily life is such a strange feeling. I find myself inspecting all my silverware and cups when I get served dinner at home and automatically laugh at how this has become a habit since we always did it in India. As I'm telling all my friends and family the stories about India I have the biggest smile on my face and realize that I can sit there and talk to them for hours about my experiences but they will never truly know how amazing and challenging this trip has been for me. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this opportunity to go to India and grow as a person. India has definitely opened up my eyes and made me look past the things that I once thought were important in life. It has also taught me that I have a lot more strength than I once thought I did (not just physically but emotionally). This India trip and the people who experienced it with me will always have a special place in my heart and I wish everyone the best! Until next time India!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Back in the US

India has become familiar, and the United States has become strange. I didn't expect to have to adjust in North Carolina similar to my first days in New Delhi. India is on my mind every waking moment of the day, reminding me of all the heartfelt moments. I've cried tears of sadness realizing how simple and authentic life was in India. I didn't fully understand how content I was with having little connection to materialistic means and how much I let myself be at one with the people and the environment until I was looking in the rearview mirror. I've cried tears of happiness realizing the depth of my experience and how it has broadened my perspective of the human experience in ways that I could have never imagined. I knew I was evolving on the surface but there was an evolution stirring much deeper within myself that I was not entirely conscious of until I had been placed back in a contrasting environment. I find it strange that I came back to find fleeting happiness in having a hot shower, air conditioning every where I go, 24-hour access to wifi, faucet water clean enough to brush my teeth with, and clean raw fruits and vegetables. I appreciate these resources, but the lack of them in India seemed so important at times that it diluted my reality. Now that I'm back home I recognize how insignificant it was, but “With every lesson we must be learning.” (Beatles Ashram graffiti)

I had accustomed myself to a culture so far from what I knew that coming back to the United States seemed so small. We are living so extravagantly on the outside but so shallow on the inside. I believe we have lost touch with real human interaction and we have lost touch with living in the present moment. There is a misconception that life is only vivacious on the television, but it's not. We have gotten disconnected from everything that makes us alive and as a result we are searching for truth in all the wrong places. My compassion extends to myself and to those who suffer this way because I understand why we often feel empty and lost despite the fact that we have everything else we think is necessary in life.

As a result of my developed awareness, I aspire to grow through making a difference in my life that will be of positive direction for myself and of service to others. I am inspired to keep learning and to keep digging deeper. I am inspired to live for something bigger than myself and I am most of all inspired to share my story with others so they can become inspired to do the same. Joseph Campbell once said, “I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”