Some may ask, “How does one find peace through struggles and hardships?” or “How do these experiences shape who you become?”. Personally, I find myself reflecting back to a place, when I’m faced with barriers, such as hunger or even with cleaning the house. I was given the opportunity to witness poverty, suffering, destruction, insufficiency, illnesses, but also found some peace. This adventure to India not only opened my eyes to experience other cultures, but also shaped my thinking into a broader scale.
Flying across the Atlantic Sea to a third world country, I wasn’t sure what to expect and how this experience could change my outlook. Culture shock is real, walking out of the airport several miles away from home, several staring, glaring faces looked our way; the feeling of being judged and unwanted swept over me. “That’s not too friendly,” was my first impression, but after understanding that I was the alien there I wasn’t as quick to assume. This alien feeling didn’t stay long, thankfully. Although this was a new atmosphere, I felt welcomed by the people who graciously opened up their home to complete strangers.
Seeing is believing, for several individuals they learn from visual representations, myself included. Many are reminded of issues across the world but rarely do we grasp the true picture. Streets filled with people, crowding, beggars knocking on car door, rickshaws blazing their tiny horns, all these events were very overwhelming at first, then soon became less foreign. Concealing your body (mostly for women), was very important for their culture. Pants needed to be covering your ankles and for shirts it was necessary to be finger length down. This idea of modesty appealed to me in that as a female I agree with the way they concealed themselves, but still accepting on how others decide to portray themselves. As a group, we purchased clothing ahead of time to ‘fit in’ a little more with the crowd, and so we wouldn’t offend any of their customs. Language was a barrier at times, but the wealthier, more educated, Indian families knew some English very well. Most all families, though, were very hospitable. Before entering into a household, whether be a nice house or cardboard pieces shaped into a house, you would take off your shoes and leave them outside to show respect. Offering us chai tea and crackers were their way of welcoming guests. These families who were more fortunate had nice living conditions, where several in the slums had little to no cleanliness.
Sanitation is a major issue in Mumbai. Walking down the narrow streets with flooded waters, filled sewage and trash, my group and I repeated the saying “white sand” (words to help us imagine the sand was clean and sanitary) to ignore how horrid the situation actual was. Not only were the flood waters dangerous, but also tap water. Several bacterias fill the water through many Indian homes, some of which can cause severe illnesses or even death. Taking showers or even using the water to brush your teeth, you are setting yourself at risk. Disputation of food also wasn’t as clean as it would be in America. This encounter softened my heart and made me want to reach out a helping hand. Along with the ability to relate my journey to Paulo Freire’s text, I realized how much fresh, clean water I waste on a day to day basis and what little resources they have, while in America (or other privileged countries) we tend to waste materials others may consider priceless.
Flavor is very important in India’s culture, spices are used to enhance the taste of many of their dishes. Garam Masala is a mixture of spices found in meals, snacks, and even candies. Personally I didn’t like the Masala, but the experience of trying something new was priceless. Curry is another well known powder used to spice up and add that extra bite to your meal. Growing up with American food, my taste buds weren’t used to these spices, they seemed foreign to me.
This trip helped me grow into more of a diverse outlook to society, the world, food and find that even though struggles, they had a happier more loving outlook. It showed me that I need to be more thankful of the privileges I was given, from the small things, such as clean water, to larger aspects, like being able to continue my studies here at VCU.
- LUISELLI, VALERIA. TELL ME HOW IT ENDS: an Essay in 40 Questions. COFFEE HOUSE, 2017.