I landed in India in January and in five days, I will be returning to the U.S. to begin the next phase of my journey. During my last few days here, I am going to enjoy the time I have left. It has been quite a blessing to spend the last few months in India away from all the chaos in the world. I have been learning patience and learning to be more appreciative of the good things I have in my life. It seems everyone knows India is a developing country but it is another thing to see it for yourself. What is most amazing is the striking contrast between those who have and those who do not.
There is poverty here like you may not imagine or even know and right alongside is amazing wealth. There are people who do not have enough food or a place to live. There are children here without anyone to take care of them. Women are treated rather poorly here. You might be thinking that I somehow missed the gender disparity, poverty, and homelessness in America. I didn’t miss it; I just processed it differently. Like so many who live in developed countries, I did not see it every day and became desensitized to it. Here in India, you cannot ignore it and it never leaves you. Before I sadden all of us with my observations, allow me to emphasize my appreciation for my blessings. Taking note of what is in my immediate environment reminds me that I have much to be grateful for each day especially since I am returning to the States.
In August, I will start a PhD program that will enable me to continue my work in disaster human services. While I conducted my informal preparedness research here, I realized that people in India are like people in the States. They have the same worries about feeding their families, keeping a roof over their heads, and making it through it each day. Preparedness is so often someone else’s job. Here when you ask, who is supposed to help, the answer is the state government or the national government. I guess I am not surprised at that answer. After all, aren’t we all primed in some ways to expect others to help us? This leads me to my next discovery. Some of us have so much support than others. Frankly, this wasn’t a discovery so much as it was confirmation of what I already knew and had studied about the importance of social capital. In India, your place in society determines what you often get and how much of it you get. Finances play an enormous role as does your social capital.
If you are wondering if I am deliberately veering down the road of sadness and sobering observations, you are right. I am. But, why are you surprised? I have been in India for the last 138 days not utopia. There are a lot of sad and unfair things that happen here but there are many sad and unfair things happening all around the world. My point is that we cannot hide from the sadness. We must endeavor to forge on without forgetting its existence. I choose to let it be the impetus for my work. It helps to remember that people are like the hundreds of starfish found on the beach. For each one we throw back into the ocean, we have affected its whole world. I know I cannot help everyone who crosses my path, but I can help a few of them.
Stay tuned for Part II.