August 5, 2011

Life in India - The People, part one

*Note: I wrote this while still in India but life happened and I'm just posting it now. Thanks for understanding!

Let me tell you all something that you may not know: the people of India are some incredible people. Trust me, I don't dole out that compliment very often (a rather unfortunate matter all of its own). I tend to think people are morally corrupt until proven otherwise (I kid, I kid). Seriously though, I have been blown away over and over again by these beautiful people - their hospitality, the love of family, their commitment to hard work, the devotion to tradition, and more than anything, their resilience. If there is anything that would keep me in India, its the people.

About 1.2 billion human beings live in all of India. To give you some perspective, India's landmass is slightly more than 1/3 of the size of the U.S. While the U.S. has approximately 311 million people, India has four times as many people! All that to say: India can feel just a little crowded, especially in "touristy" places or in the cities. Also, the hard truth about India is that it's technically still considered a developing country, despite the large number of technology and IT-related companies that find a home here. As a result, there are hundreds of millions of people living at what many people consider extreme poverty.

For my entire trip in India so far and especially to/from Agra, I question, "How do people manage this lifestyle everyday?" I'm not talking about the person who makes a decent living and is able to provide well for their family. I'm talking about the people I see cooking food for their families on the sidewalk within a short walk from my hotel. I'm talking about the women who sit on the side of the road with their babies running around only in t-shirts in the gravel dirt, waiting for who knows what. My Western sensitivities and ideas about living are assaulted over and over again by what I see all around me. I live a plush life in Texas and there is a part of me that cannot remain the same after seeing what I've seen. And I don't want it to! Almost daily I am struck with a pang of guilt and another "Why?". Why, that as I tuck myself into this nice queen size bed in this 4 or 5 star hotel, a family literally just downstairs from my room lived in a brick hut that was just knocked down by a developer?

I don't want you to hear me saying something I'm not so let me be clear: the Indian people do not need my/your/our pity. That is not my purpose in writing all of this. More than anything I want to be challenged and to challenge you all in your way of thinking about life and its many pleasures. Do not take anything you have for granted. It is all a gift.

I've talked to Fima, Manish, Avani and Shailaja about this a few times over the last few weeks. I cannot bear to be silent about what I see and I have so many questions. How do they do it? What goes on in a mother's heart and mind when she hoists herself onto the back of a motorcycle, knowing she has only two hands to hold onto to safety for herself and her baby? How do you decide whether to roll down your car window to give the legless man down below a few rupees? What happens when 120 degrees outside threatens to drain you of your life and there is no escape?

Many will say that I can't bother with all the "what-if" and "why" thoughts...they'll overwhelm me, they say. Others say to do what you can and trust God with the rest.

I have yet to find an answer that fits and feels right. I don't want to walk away from India more selfish than I came - grateful to learn a life lesson about my abundant blessings and leave it at that. No, that won't do.

So, what to do? I know a few good resources available immediately that can provide some help to someone here in India - great and small.

First, there is Compassion International - one of my favorite organizations. There are tons of beautiful faces attached to beautiful kiddos that need some support for school, healthy food, etc. If you're interested, check it out! I am planning to choose an Indian friend for my buddy Juan in Nicaragua. Maybe a girl this time!

Also, As Our Own is a wonderful organization based in India that serves to "rescue children from lives of slave labor, such as organized begging and the sex trade." You can easily sign up for their email distribution list or follow them on Facebook to keep up with tangible and intangible needs there.

Finally, there are several other organizations that commit themselves to the people of India: in financial ways, in physical resources, in prayer, etc.
I am sure there are many, many more to list but these are a few that jump out to me by either experience with each org or word of mouth from others.

The people I encountered in the office (amazing people!! see a picture of some of us below), all of the car drivers, hotel staff, restaurant staff, rickshaw drivers, market salespeople, hospital staff...they were exceptional! They were all so warm, welcoming and very eager to make me feel at home as much as possible. I would not have made it through my time there were it not for them!

It's the people of India that I will miss most of all.

I want to write again about the people of India but more specifically about my new teammates, the guys and gals that opened up their minds and hearts to welcome me in. Stay continued for part two...

(Take one)

(Take two...more open eyes!)

(A fun group of people)

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