My time in India has been a slap-in-the-face encounter with the developing world. This amazingly beautiful country is as incredible as the tourism commercials make it appear and the poverty is as bad as World Vision brochures depict it. It feels as though half of my trip has been turning down or ignoring disenfranchised or physically handicapped people. It is hard, and many times I walk away guilty for not giving them some change. I am burdened by the fact that in reality, I would not be helping them, but perpetuating the cycle they find themselves in.
When children are involved its even worse and when you get taken to a school in need of a water pump, every bone in your body wants to whip out an American checkbook. I confess that I have given a little money to a few schools and a few people outside of the temples. I pray that it goes to their nourishment and enrichment. Whether it does or not, I'll never know. But one thing I always offer, whether I give them money or not, is a silent prayer.
My big heart has cost me in other ways, feeling guilty for paying so little for services, so out some internal obligation, I pay them more than I could bargain it for. Several times this has come back to haunt me because people begin to see you as an easy target. Perhaps there is something in my eyes that people see. Maybe the eyes really are the window to the soul and my soul exudes a desire to help, to make the world a better place. Or perhaps I am just naive to the way things work when backpacking and in dealing with someone in a foreign land.
I confess that as an American I am not conditioned to the bartering lifestyle. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I love a good deal, but when you're talking a matter of cents, at times I struggle with fitting in with other backpackers cheap and seemingly "heartless" ways. I recognize that that's not the way it is, that in reality most of them do care. Perhaps the tough skin they have developed is something that comes with time and kilometers.
While I love a good deal, I have recognized that I also like convenience. Perhaps this is a trait I picked up from my father. One of the most frugal men I know, always hunting down the best products at the best prices, he's also been known to overpay for something that he wants, just because. I have seen that in myself on this trip. At times I'm okay paying the full price or "too much" for something, just because it's convenient. Most of the time it doesn't bother me, perhaps because I know that what I'm paying is still far less than what I'd pay in America.
I have been challenging myself to get into the groove of things and learn how to barter and stand my ground. At times I feel cheated by people from the past for charging me as much as they did, and get angry at myself for giving in so quick. But that is all part of the learning process, and when I come back to India, or travel to other developing countries, I'll be far more prepared.
As I sit at a small restaurant in Bodgaya on the eve of my week volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity, I see how everything before today has been in preparation for tomorrow. One thing that has been confirmed is my love of others and my desire to help. I walk around these cities wanting to fix everything but unable to do anything. I know that the poverty and sickness I have seen is far less than what I will soon encounter.
All that being said, the glimpse that I have been given and the adventures that I've had have softened me and lowered my standards for cleanliness and comfort. When you've had a cockroach crawl out of your backpack and onto you without freaking out and later that day eat street food with dirty hands, only to realize what you're doing as you lick your fingers clean, you know things have changed. I know that whatever God calls me to do, be it grad school, mission work, a full time job, or something completely different, that I will perform in my position much better because of these experiences.
I thank God everyday for blessing me with the time and financial resources to go on this adventure. I sit here eternally grateful for what has happened and excited for what is to come. I encourage everyone to take a moment today and think about what (and who) is most important to you and what you're thankful for. Even in the toughest moments there is always something good to be found.