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Published: April 29th 2010
After 2 years of living in India, my stay is coming to an end. As a first generation American, there has always been a tug of war between the traditional and the modern, the East and the West. As I’ve grown (more mentally than physically), I’ve learned to balance the two, which hasn’t always been so easy to do. These past 2 years in India have been an educational and cultural experience beyond my imagination.
I’ve gained a deeper knowledge of my culture, developed a greater understanding of my parents’ idiosyncrasies, cultivated a new appreciation for my own personal space (3 feet in the U.S. has shrunk drastically to less than 3 inches in India 😊, learned to laugh at the ever-creative use of the English language, found a husband I adore, unleashed a fighting spirit that I never knew I had, learned to adjust my expectations and my patience level, developed a tolerance for creepy crawly insects, travelled to tiny villages and big cities, and above all, realized how truly fortunate I am to have the life I have.
When I think back over the many strange, fascinating, heartwarming things that have happened to me, two instances come to mind.
For my birthday last year, Homyar and I decided to take a weekend trip. While sitting in the train waiting to leave the station, my attention fell upon a woman sitting on the platform. Her skin was dry and wrinkled, her clothes were torn and tattered, her hair was unkempt and probably hadn’t been washed in weeks. But she was laughing. She was amused by the baby boy next to her who was playing with an empty plastic water bottle. That little boy was all she needed in that moment to make her happy. What kind of life would he have? In 10 years, will he be begging on the streets for food to eat or will he be in school making a better life for himself? Will he even survive 10 years? Or will he be another statistic of disease, malnutrition, and starvation? A dozen decisions shape his future in a way that could either take him down a path toward a healthy, sustainable, productive life or a life at the mercy of others. These thoughts never cross my mind when I see babies in the U.S. Unfortunately, these realities are all too apparent in India.
The other memory I have also happened to be in the train. One has plenty of time to ponder life while using public transportation 😊. I was on the way to see my cousin and was sitting in a cramped position in a crowded train, melting in the Bombay heat. I looked up to see a teenage boy sitting across from me. His friend was sleeping next to him with his head resting on his shoulder. At that moment, he lovingly lifted his hand to the boys’ cheek in a gesture that was filled with sadness. These weren’t typical teenage boys filled with mischief and laughter. Somehow, there was a sadness in his eyes that I couldn’t quite register. I found myself staring at him wondering what his story must be. My mind wandered, recalling all the stories I’ve heard and read about suicides, child labor, mutilation, riots, honor killings, random killings and I was filled with grief without even knowing his story. Every day I see people without limbs roaming the streets. Every day I see old men and women begging for food. At some point, they must have been happy children innocently playing with plastic bottles … something went terribly wrong in their lives. Something had gone wrong in this boy’s life. As he got up to leave the train, my eyes followed him. Someone was waiting for him at the station, another boy who also seemed to be saddened by something … as they embraced, both smiled and the sadness lifted for a moment. Whatever it was, they were sharing their grief and strength and that somehow made me smile as well.
As I think about once again living in San Francisco, no doubt I am very happy to be going home. But I also know that I will fall back into my routine of going to work and socializing with family and friends. I don’t want to forget the fact that there are others who don’t have the simple satisfaction of having a home to go to. When I start to feel envious of those who have a fancy house, I have to remember those old women who have no food to eat. Before I complain that I don’t have hot water for my shower, I have to remember those children who have no clean water to drink.
More than anything, I feel my time in India has made me more humble. I’ve never been materialistic in the sense of buying expensive clothes or fancy cars, but now instead of just being satisfied, I am truly grateful.
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