Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

So I know its been a long time since I've written anything. I am going to try to get a couple posts done and cover a lot of the last 3 or so weeks...starting with the end of India.

It's been about 2 weeks since we left India now.  That's given me a lot of time to gather some thoughts about everything.  There is still a lot more to gather, I'm sure.  But having met and talked to lots of new people since then, the topic of India usually comes up.  And then of course, people ask me how I liked the experience.   Well, that's a very simple question for a more complex answer.

I think the best description I've heard of India, and one that I will probably use to describe my experience to most anyone that asks, is that there is a lot to LOVE about India, and there is a lot to HATE about India.  And that's how it seemed to be with most of my time there...India is a country full of extremes.

One of the most obvious contradictions is seen in the economic breakdown.  I don't know if I have ever seen so much poverty juxtaposed directly next to so much wealth.  I remember when I went to South Africa, and Michelle Tessendorf described the mission house as being on the corner of the first and third worlds.  You would look down one side of the street and it could've been anywhere in suburban America, and you look the other way and see a village, complete with the lean-to shanty houses.  At first, I tried to use this paradigm to see India.  However, in India, the lines between rich and poor are not so neatly drawn.

Living with the family, we really thought we were experiencing "authentic India."  And to an extent, we were.  We would walk part-way to school everyday in the slums, and saw our fair share of naked children and definitely stray dogs.  And the lack of A/C, and sometimes even power or running water made us feel extra tough for sticking through.  And again, we thought that this was Real India.  Tunrs out though, I don't know if there is just one "Real India."

When we started meeting up with friends during the last three weeks of our time, we saw a totally different side of India, and one that I think is just as accurate.  We rode around in luxury cars driven by their drivers, and had meals prepared by their servants. The restaurants we ate at were incredible and we could order pretty much whatever we wanted.  The cover charge to get into the clubs was insane.  It was such a change from life in Faridabad. 

Still though, even in New Delhi or Hyderabad or Bombay, right outside of the beautiful shopping centers, you would still have the beggars.  Or slums within sight of the 5-Star hotels.  There is actually a house in Bombay called Antilia that is referred to as the Billion Dollar house.  It is an actual skyscraper that houses a family of 5.  And like 40 servants.  And I'm sure it has a wonderful view of the expansive slums.  We were about 10 feet away from the son of the owner one of the nights we went out in Bombay.  We went from the lowest end (maybe the THE lowest, but close) of the spectrum, to the highest end, within a couple of days.

That can really mess with you if you let it.  It's hard to reconcile those two together, better yet when they're within sight of each other.  And then when you start to think of how you fit in with all of it, that can just get crazy.

When we were with the family, the topic of money became kind of a sensitive one.  This was probably one of the few souring points about our stay there.  In fact, a couple people had asked me if they could contribute any money to what we were doing, or said that they felt led and wanted to give money to help out.  I never really followed up very well with them (sorry about that...) because I wasn't sure what to say, or even what I thought about it all.  There were numerous times when Gill would ask us to borrow money to cover some expense that was really quite basic and minimal.  But then, at one point, he bought a bunch of new potted plants for the backyard.  That seemed a little unneccessary to us and made us re-think their actual situation. And then, after talking with our more well-off friends, we were even more unsure.  They told us that, given what the family probably makes from volunteers, they should've been more than fine when it came to expenses.  And furthermore, they should've been feeding us better than what they were.  I guess it is kind of normal for people to either over or under-exaggerate their wealth depending on what is most beneficial.  So to them, we were white and very rich, so they would try to play down their status with hopes that we would be more generous.  At first we totally fell for it, but by the end we had caught on and didn't really respond.  Luckily, Madison (a fellow volunteer), lived in India for 2 years and was able to explain this to us and let us know that it wasn't anything personal, that's just what they do here.  Still though, it became an unfortunatley uncomfortable topic that was brought up more often than we would've liked.

On the flip-side, when we would meet up with people in Delhi, we were overwhelmed by what we saw there.  I don't want to go into obnoxious detail, but again, we saw a lot of money thrown around.  So in that situation, we felt like the poor working-class. 

Which is I guess why you can't look to the left or right to compare yourelf to others.  Or why you can't base your on worth on your actual wealth, because its a very fickle measurement. 

Part of our walk through the slums to school

Us walking back from school.  The kids would always walk with us for a while.

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