As Rebekah and I were writing before the trip, she said something that stuck with me. She said, "I like to describe India as a very polarizing society. In this one culture you will meet the very worst of mankind and the very best. I've never experienced anything quite like India before anywhere." After being there, I agree.
I've been asked about the poverty of the country. Yes, it is there. It is very much there. Agra and Varanasi have no sewer system so everything drains down troughs that line the streets. We gave hygiene classes about not pooing in or around your house, boiling water before you drink or cook with it, and how to keep yourself clean. Those lessons are needed. We walked through small streets where people begged for food as people were buying food offerings for the temple. This was one of the most difficult things for me to see. Food bought and given to gods in a shrine while people were hungry just feet away. I know it is a different mindset and most likely rooted in a belief of getting what you deserve from a former life. However, it was still heartbreaking.
We saw people who had been disfigured. Some only minorly (if there is a such think as minor disfiguration). Others more grotesquely. We were told very early in the trip not to give them money as it would go back to the mob/mafia - not to the one we were trying to help. I'll never forget standing at an ice cream stand and a boy crawling up to us like a spider because it was the only way he could move. I'll never forget being paralyzed by wanting to do something and not knowing what to do - willing myself not to cry. It wasn't a proud moment for me.
Yet, in the midst of the heartbreak, a light shown through. As abundant as the need was, the people were truly the best part of India. Our food tour guide was so much fun. Jen and I got to share a rickshaw with him and visit with him about life in Delhi. We met a man on a train that helped us gage where we were, cracked jokes with us, and overall was just a friendly, kind man. We met vendors at bazaars and markets that took such pride in their wares and said some pretty funny things. Hotel owners helped us with pricings for tuk tuks and warned us of scams to be aware of. Another hotel owner brought us local treats to try out and sat with us sharing about local wedding customs. We spent a few hours in the home of a local family - incredibly hospitable and generous with themselves and their time. We met a silk shop owner who was carrying on the family business and was pretty delighted with the results of Kris's request to see ties and Jen's queries of the prices of his scarves. Our boat tour guide was so willing to answer any questions about the local beliefs and be available in case we needed him. We met people on the street that recommended great places to eat. We met travellers who had been on month long trips, giving suggestions for where to go. Boat owners offered their services and then were just as kind when we said we were walking.
But the best part of the people are their children. Kids are kids in all cultures. One afternoon Jen saw some kids flying paper airplanes over some electrical wires and pulled out her camera. Next thing we know there are about a dozen of them all around us as she snapped away. They were so funny and loved seeing the pictures on the camera. Throughout the whole trip we saw boys playing cricket. They were having a great time and didn't care if you watched or wanted to take a turn. They were even kind if you accidentally walked into the middle of their game. There were children that were curious but shy. Their beautiful brown eyes would twinkle when you gave them a bit of your attention. Even the children selling things down by the river were content with a no thank you. On the metro, we found a cute little one who was happy to flirt with Randee for an entire ride.
As if the beauty of the people were not enough, their home was in itself a beautiful place. It was colorful and full of life. The buildings - especially the older ones - were stunning. And it was green. There were trees, plants, and flowers everywhere we went. India is proud of its history. Everywhere we went were statues to commemorate someone significant. (Yes, I was a big girl and did just fine. They only got to me a few times.) They take pride in their historical sites and work to keep them in good condition. The beauty of the people was reflected in the place they live. And their food! A.MAZ.ING.
On top of the experience on a place, I got to spend it with some pretty great friends. I'm so thankful for the group that I saw India with. I missed them this week. Even being upstairs from Jen, around the corner from Randee at work, and a few blocks from Kris, I missed them. There is something special about experiencing something new with people - talking, laughing, eating, and seeing sides of each other we did not know were there. It's a gift and I know that.
Yes, India was hard but it paled in comparison to the beauty. I'm so thankful I was able to spend a short amount of time there. As much as we saw, it was only a small bit of the country. If I found myself back there again, I would be just fine. Until then, come over. I would love to show you some pictures and tell you a tale. India, you were worth it.