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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Relying on the kindness of strangers

The other day I'm pretty sure I got ripped off. I won't go into details; they're unimportant. When I realized it, I was frustrated with myself for being gullible, mad at the people who took advantage of my ignorance, and annoyed that my guidebook did not warn me of possible scams. However, I kept telling myself to just let it go. I said it to myself many times...to no avail. Eventually, still perturbed, I looked at the appropriate section in my guidebook, and, as it turns out, there was a warning about exactly what I had experienced. Perhaps I should have read more carefully...

When I re-read my guidebook, I was finally able to let go of the negativity and get a little perspective. I laughed at myself for not reading carefully, but more importantly, I looked at the bigger picture.

The reality of my journey so far is this: there are a handful of times where someone has taken advantage of my uncertainty. However, there are far more times where people I have never met have cared for me, sometimes because they agreed to do so ahead of time, other times because I have walked up to them and asked for help, and others because they saw me struggling and intervened.

The SCNs and various members of couchsurfing.org have taken me into their homes without ever having met me. The SCNs at least knew something about me, since I will be volunteering with them. Besides all the attention they gave me as I prepared for the Indian leg of my journey, and besides welcoming me to various convents along the way, they have helped me with practical matters like buying a phone, getting from place to place, and buying my very own sari. The members of couchsurfing (CS) only had my CS profile to read before deciding if they would meet me somewhere or allow me to stay into their home. One CS member has been suffering for months of an illness called chikungunya, which causes her to be in constant pain, and still she agreed to let me stay with her family for a few days. Other CSers have invited me to special holiday meals in their homes (Ganapati in Mumbai and Onam in Kerala). These are but a few of the unsurprising (though that is not quite the right word...) ways I have been helped by people who knew I'd need some help.

Then there are the many unexpected kindnesses. I have a horrible sense of direction. Street signs in India are hard to find; they are certainly not on every corner! I have gotten lost walking around...more than once. Thankfully, I'm not afraid to ask for help. When I approach a random stranger, my first question is usually, "Do you speak English?" If the answer is yes, I ask where something is, if I'm on the right street, etc. They very kindly point me in the right direction. Other times, when I am trying to communicate with someone who doesn't speak English, an English-speaker appears from nowhere and translates and/or negotiates things for me. I have also had kind strangers on buses and trains make sure I know which stop is mine. In all cases, they stop what they are doing to help me, as if they had nothing else to do. Most certainly they do.

Without all of these people (and there really have been many), my time in India would be frustrating, maddening, annoying. With these people,(except for in silly moments like the one mentioned initially) my time here is full of gratitude, joy, and an overall sense of well-being. I feel protected and loved, thanks to the kindness of so many strangers and now also, some new friends.

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