Two Marches ago I was sitting in an open-air villa at a yoga training on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand. The shala sat just a block west of the water; our classes and lectures were filled with salty breezes and a calming soundtrack of ocean waves. My teacher briefly mentioned she was in the beginning stages of planning a service trip to India as one of our future modules. She had me at service and sealed the deal with India.
Fast forward nearly 3 years later and I’m on a plane somewhere above the Atlantic catching a ride to Abu Dhabi onto Kolkata, India. I’ve been raising donations and awareness for this trip for the past 9 months but preparing for what feels like a lifetime.
Since college graduation in 07, I spent 7 years traveling. Of course, I learned the most about myself but it was impossible not to learn a lot about humanity, as well. A question I’m asked frequently and always dumbfounded by: Why would you want to go to India? And this entire time I’ve found it hard to articulate my answer. I usually just shrug my shoulders and fluff the questioning off. The more I hear it though, the more I feel a need to communicate my reasoning. And to be frank, I’ve been asked this question a plethora of times about most of the places I’ve chosen to travel to over the years.
Some go through life never coming to terms with the path their heart’s been telling them to follow. Some can hear it yet choose to ignore it. Some can’t do anything else but listen to it. I fall into the last category. I hear my heart loud and clear. I feel everything it’s drawn to as if a magnet is involved. When I listen, and then ultimately follow its lead, I feel alive and right. That feeling is irreplaceable.
Mostly, I’m going to India because my heart’s been leaving me sweet whispers about it for many years.
But whether it be India or replace the blank with any other location on the globe, I travel so that my mind can expand to depths which are unreachable on our home turf. I travel to understand life. I travel to understand people. I travel to stay alive. Not just the “breathing, go to work, be a good person” alive...the “wide-eyed, always learning, heart pounding” kind of alive.
The birds sound different here. The sky is hazy from pollution. The smells are pungent. There is a constant loudspeaker in the background of a Muslim man chanting prayer. It is all hours of the day and night. The men stare at me, not in a carnal way, but in a way that makes me feel inferior. The women are beautiful, dressed in gorgeous, colorful fabrics with thick black eyeliner against their flawless dark skin. I have to keep my shoulders covered at all times. It’s hard to find drinking water. It’s even harder to find warm water to bathe in. The food is spicy and mushy. Lizards make loud noises on the thatch roof above my head while I sleep. The pool looks refreshing yet I wouldn’t dare even bare a leg to dip my toe in. For the first time, I am the minority. I am the westerner. I am white. The roads are barely drivable yet I’ve seen more cars, bikes, cows and pedestrians on them than ever before. The dogs are thin and street smart. The vibrant, fresh produce sits on the filthy street corners waiting to be bought. The mosquitos are hungry, so are the children. The poverty is vast.
Rarely do we travel to the third world seeking luxury. And ignorant to believe all travel is for leisure anyways. The developing world humbles us. It defines for us what it is to be privileged. We’ve been born into a world of opportunity and it inspires me to use that blessing in a way that means something. It wakes me up from the relaxed, mundane days that we so easily fall accustom to.
I am here to listen to the strange chirps of the birds, to smell the smells. I'm here to feel inferior and to touch the filth. I want to know what it’s like to conserve and search for drinking water. I want to pray for lukewarm bathing water when it’s cold at night. I want to be the minority. I want to breathe in the dusty air. I want to watch mothers wash clothes in the murky stream water and hang them in the sun to dry. I want to eat food that makes my belly hurt and take a malaria tablet each morning. I want to be heartbroken by the children who have no food and empowered by the women who have survived hardships I will never comprehend.
But, what I really want is selfish. I want to know that what I am doing with my one life, on this one planet means something. I want to connect with humanity, outside of the snow globe of home. I want the views to ignite passions within my soul that thrive on firsthand experiences. I want an ass kicking to use my privileges in a way that will leave this world a better place for our future’s future. I want to be able to define India because I walked in the Motherland, not because I merely read stories. I want to be a multiplier. I want to bring back the lessons, experiences and stories that I’ve encountered and better myself, to better my community.
40 million slaves are being held captive today in almost every country in the world. More slaves now than ever before in history. Mostly children. Enslaved by ignorance, or enslaved by bars; you have a choice, they didn’t.
So I ask you, Why not India?