I'm about to get real with y'all, so bear with me. When I first arrive here in India I'm ecstatic. I will tell you I'm thrilled to be back. I will say that in some ways it feels like coming home. (Home to my home-away-from-home, that is.) But those are little white lies.
|Evening laundry at the swimming hole.|
If I was to truly being honest with you, I'd tell you that I feel like I'm drowning in it all. I feel like I am only pretending to love it here when really I just want to sleep in my own bed, eat my own boring food, find some relief from the heat, and take a “real” shower. I play the part of a lover (of India), and I think I play it pretty darn well. And while I walk around faking it, I am soul-searching within myself to find the answer to this question: why in the Heaven’s name do I keep coming back here? I wonder if the lies I tell myself (and you) are worth telling anymore, or is it time for me to say my final farewell to this strange place. I wonder if I'm really doing any good by coming back to spend time at rehab. I wonder if my efforts to make a difference would be better off spent somewhere else. I feel frustrated, discouraged, and agitated. None of it feels like anything resembling a home to me.
|The street directly outside a palace.|
|Rice... its what's for dinner!|
|Those big brown eyes..|
And then something happens. A nebulous corner is somehow and somewhere turned. I don't know if it is the final stages of jet lag finally wearing off. Or maybe it is culture shock that I'm finally and fully recovering from. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it happens somewhere between day five and eight. Putting "it" into words is difficult, but I'm going to try. I think “it” is a subconscious recognition and resignation that there is no escape.
Let me try to explain a little. Where I come from, when this sort of heat and humidity are commonplace, there is an escape somewhere close. An air conditioned house. A climate controlled restaurant. A cool breeze from the car's air conditioner. We easily escape from the discomfort the climate imposes upon us. That is not so here. Yes, there are fans in most homes and some cars have air conditioners, but by and large I am forced to live in it- to deal with it. There is no escaping the heat.
The presence of poverty is yet another element that can't be escaped so easily. In my home town there are areas known for their higher population of homeless people; there are districts that are considered "lower income" areas. Poverty does exists in my town, but if I keep driving (in the air conditioned car that I own) a few blocks I am no longer acutely aware of its presence. The same cannot be said here in India. There is no escaping the reality of poverty.
|The girls next door (from Sunil's home)|
Back home I have found a myriad of ways to "escape" any given current reality I wish not to address at the moment. I turn on the air conditioner (or more likely in my case, I turn on my heater). I go out with friends. I drive down a different street. I binge-watch some Netflix show. I go to the gym or for a run. I never seem to have difficulty escaping something that makes me uncomfortable; physically, mentally, or emotionally. I can float along easily with little to no inconvenience imposed upon my well-being. I am not forced to open my eyes wide to the harsh realities of the real world. I have an easy life. The things that do bother me are trivial and embarrassingly ridiculous in light of the global picture: my internet crapped out for two minutes and I can’t stream my show, the ice cream shop next door is taking forever to open, my car needs to be refueled… again, my electric blanket doesn’t warm up fast enough for me, etc.
So yes, when I first arrive in India, I am drowning. I’m drowning in a sea of harsh reality and no one is throwing me a life preserver… because no one has a life preserver to throw to me. I cannot escape quickly. I need to start treading water quickly if I am to stay afloat. My eyes are forced wide-open; they are forced to take in the real world around me and to deal with it. To be fully present. To live it. And come day five… or maybe eight… my ability to tread water becomes less survival and more surrender. I surrender to the fact that life is raw, it is harsh, it is heart-wrenching, it is hard; but, oh friend, it so incredibly beautiful when I am obligated to face it head-on and live it richly and deeply. I embrace the fact that there is no escape, and just start swimming.
Perhaps it is easy for me to pen these words because in a matter of 36 hours I will be leaving this strange world. I will be taking an escape from the heat, the poverty, the dust, and the realities of life outside my comfort zone. I exist here knowing that for me there actually is an “escape route” at some point in my future. Regardless of the circumstances, I know this: I am getting closer to an answer for my question about why I keep coming back. One of the reasons I keep coming back is because I greatly value experiencing the splendor of raw life. (Of course, coming back to visit friends ranks among the top reasons for returning.) I feel so fortunate and richly blessed to have the opportunity to make the memories and friends that I’ve made here in India over the past years. If it is God’s will for me to return I’m just fine with that. I am not ready to say my final farewell to this land that offers no immediate escape.
|Gathering the day's water from the source down the street.|