Among even the most avid and adventurous travelers, India initially appears to be a daunting place. People oftentimes talk about the high levels of poverty, dirt, sexism, classism, disparities between the rich and the poor, and of course, the rape of women, both locals and tourists. They talk about the language barriers. They are frightened by the animals co-mingling with the pedestrians and the tuk tuks and the cars. They’re not sure if they can “handle” it.
Over an Indian meal I prepared for my visiting friend and former teacher visiting from San Francisco tonight, I spent a good amount of time telling her about my experiences in India, how a lot about why I loved it and appreciated it so much was because I mentally prepared myself for the poverty and the begging and the filth, which in the end, really wasn’t as bad as others hyped it up to be from my own perspective. When you are prepared, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Thus, you’re then able to appreciate the beauty a lot more. Frankly, other than the extremely humid weather of Delhi and Agra, I didn’t really want to leave India. I was constantly astounded by the kindness of strangers, the politeness of people everywhere. I was excited by all the different sights and sounds and smells I normally do not get back in New York or in the U.S. in general. My teacher has only been to one country in Asia, Korea, and although she is well traveled in the U.S., South America, and Europe, for whatever reason, Asia has seemed distant to her. Maybe it’s because she’s a white woman who doesn’t want to feel completely out of place in a place as “exotic” as Asia. Maybe she just hasn’t had enough friends who have wanted to accompany her to Asian countries; who knows. When the idea of going to India comes up, most of her friends, she told me, said that they are most daunted by the level of poverty they have heard about. They are scared to see it. (Why do I feel like these people are most likely white?).
Well, at that point, it’s really about going outside of our comfort zones. We live in a rich country here in the U.S., even though there is clearly a massive disparity between the rich and the poor. The poverty we see here is not even a fraction of what you see in a country like India. So I understand why it would be considered daunting. But to me, travel is about not being comfortable and doing things and eating things and seeing things that are not your “version of normal,” because that’s what is intriguing and what will make you think and feel more deeply. Maybe if you were exposed to the poverty in India, you’d have a bit more empathy and understanding of the East. Maybe you should challenge yourself when you say you are scared of seeing that level of poverty and ask, why are you scared? What do you think it will do to you? Will it change something about you, and then if so, why and how? Or, is it just that you do not want to see what is ugly and scary and foreign in life? Do you want to live in a bubble away from all that ugliness that exists and is so widespread across the world that you do not know? That’s for you to question and ask yourself if you dare to go there, isn’t it?