Since being in India, I have found myself frequently at a loss for words, which is pretty out of character for me. This experience is something that requires a different use of my vocabulary, as I struggle to form sentences I have never uttered. So, here goes.
Yesterday was sublime. In two packed vans, twelve of us (seven students + two professors + three interpreters) ventured into Bhimavaram Town for a “scavenger hunt” to acquire firsthand evidence of social problems and potential solutions, as well as to interview locals about lifestyles both there and in a nearby village. In the town we met Apal Nairu the rickshaw, Pinarasimharo the tobacco salesman, Krishna the rice salesman, and Sarasuti the vegetable stand lady, all of whom work long days and earn between the equivalent of $1 and $7 per day. When asked what their hopes and dreams of a better life looked like, two discussed livelihood development and two said they had no such dreams. While my initial internal reaction to the latter was to find it depressing, it later occurred to me that perhaps it simply spoke to something transcendent to my own biased worldview – humility, and particularly the ability be happy despite having so little.
The juxtaposition of beauty and awfulness has never been so apparent to me as it is in this country. Every street is smattered with trash along with waste from animals and humans alike. Stagnant pools of water, ugly concrete structures, and emaciated living beings abound. Beggars passively approach you for alms, while others clearly crippled by polio or other such afflictions shuffle by with their improvised walking sticks.
The people, meanwhile, are the beauty. Universally warm, hospitable, and respectful, they offer smiles, stories, and gifts they may not even be in a position to give. It is true that an overwhelming lot of them have hurdles to overcome in order to truly improve the quality of their lives, but already I feel changed by each one in ways I cannot yet describe.