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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Scratching the surface of reality...

**Note**  Since I am doing a lot of writing right now, I have started to schedule post publishing for later, so I don't have zillions of posts coming out at once and then nothing for awhile.  When they are automatically published, I can't make a Facebook link (as far as I can tell, that can only be done once the post is on the page), so you might want to just check periodically to see what's here.  If anyone knows how to create a link pre-publication, please share your knowledge with me!! Thanks! Cory

I was warned about the reality.  The suffering.  The beauty.  The presence of both in a single place or single moment.  I have experienced this coexistence before in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize...

When I landed in India, a certain familiarity despite the fact that I've never been here led me to the thought, "I am home."  I don't know yet if that means for the next 3 months or for some longer time I can't yet imagine.

Many people have asked me if it's been hard to adjust to being here. The answer is no.  I slept well my first night, woke up refreshed, and never felt any jet lag.  I love Indian food, so eating it all the time has been delightful.  India is paradise for a vegetarian!  I don't know Hindi, but I've had so much help and/or have managed to communicate when there has been no common language.  The Indian toilets...OK, I'll admit that  I choose western toilets when given the option (sorry if that's TMI!)  The same is true of eating with my hands...but I'm warming up to that one a little more... At the lunch for the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, I ate with my hands and later that day one sister told me how she'd loved seeing me eat with my left hand. Her mother had beaten out of her the inclination to use her left hand for eating and writing...

The poverty is, as I'd been warned, worse than I've seen. As I walked through several cities, I found the number of people of all ages sleeping on sidewalks staggering. Walking in Calcutta, I passed a man who was sitting on the sidewalk with only a small piece of cardboard covering his midsection.  It wasn't even covering his entire midsection... It makes me ache just to think about him. When I passed him, I felt helpless. I wondered why no one was doing anything for him...as I also did nothing for him. So much for "Do unto others..."

I was told by people here and in the States (and was advised by my guidebook) not to give to beggars, but rather give to charitable organizations, as putting money into their work will make a greater impact than giving to individuals.  I have taken that advice, but as it happened with the naked man, it makes me hurt to walk past suffering people.  The best I can do is look into their eyes and think of a song whose main line of the refrain is, "I see you." So as I pass, I look into their eyes and think those words and hope that being here, working for a few months, and telling my stories will somehow make a difference in more than my own life.  In Calcutta one evening, I left a restaurant with some extra nan (bread). It was with great relief that I gave it to a woman who approached me in the street.  She'd done so the night before and I'd given her nothing.  It was a relief to have something to offer.  I hope she felt temporary relief, too.  A couple days ago at the school here, a child was crying because he had a large infected wound on his heel. Another  child had hit the wound, so it was bleeding.  Seeing the infection, I went to get antibiotic ointment and a bandage from my first aid kit. The school had neither. Again, it was a relief to be able to possibly alleviate some pain, but my antibiotic ointment won't change the fact that there are no bandaids in the child's home or at the school.

These are small glimpses of reality here.  Now that I am in Chatra, my immersion into the poverty and the injustice that exists here will not simply be in the form of observation, but interaction. I use the word "immersion," but I think that I will never be completely immersed, despite my desire to be.  I say this because, even when I want to understand, the realities I'll encounter are not my realities, nor will they ever be. I have the luxury of choice. I chose to come here and I can choose to leave. The naked man on the street can't just walk away and forget. I hope with every fiber of my being that even when I walk away, I won't forget.

Thankfully, I don't think I will. The poverty is staggering...so is the beauty. The women in their saris- the colors and patterns...I wish I could take a picture of every single one of them. The shrines and temples that seem to be everywhere, as well as the flowers that are sold in the markets to adorn them...I love coming upon them unexpectedly.  The radiant smiles on the faces of children... sometimes I'm glad my Hindi is limited, so my only possible communication is a smile; the smiles I get in return make my heart swell with joy.  The rural landscape, now lush and green... The last several years have been very dry in this area, so the current lushness is particularly appreciated, not only by me, but by those who can grow food this year.  These are just a few examples of the beauty I have encountered. I'll post more pictures as I'm able, though they don't capture everything I sense.  This place is sometimes overwhelming to the senses.

And so I begin to scratch the surface of real life here...

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