I travel to learn more about the people and cultures of the world, more about the beautiful planet we inhabit, and more about myself. Also, as part of my mission to live a Courageous Life, filled with self-discovery and adventure, sometimes I travel to faraway lands, not really knowing what to expect when I get there.
Neale Donald Walsch once said, "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." I couldn't agree more.
My recent trip to India pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I returned home a changed woman. I saw poverty so expansive and pervasive, that at first I was depressed and saddened. However, when I got to work doing the volunteer teaching I was there to do, I actually ended up meeting the happiest, most content people I have ever encountered.
I believe that all life-changing experiences require us to take time to reflect on how the experience truly impacted us. This travel piece is not only a glimpse into the things I will never take for granted again, but a look at the life and spirit of India.
21 Things I Will Never Take For Granted Again After Visiting India...
- Every fresh green veggie ever grown! There were days I dreamed of kale...and broccoli...and green beans...and collard greens. I fantasized about them multiple times a day. The "greenest" veggie I could regularly find was cabbage.
Meals with a variety of choices. Every meal I was served consisted of the same three things over and over again: rice, dal, and roti. The fourth option provided the daily variety--sometimes it was cauliflower in a heavy sauce, sometimes it was chickpeas. Don't get me wrong--the food was delicious, but it became repetitive. Clean, fresh water, straight from the tap. I didn't realize how lucky we are to have clean, fresh water at the turn of the tap. It actually blows my mind that we are able to bathe with the same water we drink. I saw people bathing and doing laundry in some of the most polluted waters I have ever seen--with signs warning against Cholera. Water is essential to our lives (and the quality of life we live), and I am now more passionate than ever to get involved with clean water initiatives. Ice. How is it that I could be living in a desert, hot and thirsty, and not be able to enjoy the cooling sensation of iced beverages? I was too scared to order ice in any beverage, because I knew that the water used to make the cubes was unfiltered. I was in many homes while in India, and a freezer is a luxury item! Clean air. I've written a little bit about this already, but the pollution in Ahmedabad is no joke! For days after returning home, I continued to blow black gunk from my sinus and nasal cavities. Hot water, right from the tap. Maybe this goes without saying, but the places that had suitable water from a tap, had only cold water. There were these little water heaters fixed to walls that would heat water 10 minutes after flipping the switch. So, if you wanted hot water to do your laundry or to bathe in, you had to time it around others in the house, as well as the time needed to heat the water. Silence--yes, it has its own unique sound. I was so overstimulated by the noise. I'm not sure there was ever a quiet moment the entire trip. Between the cars, rickshaws, and massive amounts of people calling out to sell their wares on the street carts, there were nights I put my earplugs in hopes of hearing silence. Washing machines. Everyone I saw doing laundry either did it in a bucket, at an outdoor pump, or in a river. I can still recall the sound of the ladies beating the wet piles of clothes with a wooden dowel. Along the rivers, this sound would reverberate for miles. A plethora of vegan choices (nuts, tofu, alternative milks, tempeh). As a vegan, I had to make some concessions to my diet. Everything is cooked with butter. It is unavoidable. Had I chosen not to eat butter, I would have had nothing to eat! But I went to the supermarket in search of nut milks and nuts. I finally found soy milk and almonds. I remember being so relieved to find these two items! A good cup of coffee. Chai reigns supreme here, and I turned it down after my first cup. I kicked the caffeine habit about three months prior to leaving for India, and I didn't want to get addicted again. Decaf tea wasn't available and the chai is made into a very creamy beverage with the addition of cream. I eventually found powdered coffee packets that I prepared with hot water and soy milk. To call this coffee is a stretch! Efficiency in systems at public places. Everything in India moves very, very slow. It is actually one of the beautiful things about this country--but not when you want to mail a package (took two days to sort this out, and finding a box was nearly impossible!), get through airport security (took me over 3.5 hours to do so!), or pick up a few fruits and nuts at the local supermarket. I realize I live in NYC where everything moves super fast, and that at times I am impatient when in a hurry. However, I was never so happy to go to the supermarket and post office when I returned home and be "in and out" in record time! Apples. I looked high and low for apples in India, but never found them. I found lots of other tasty fruits like persimmons and pineapples and oranges, but apples remained a delicacy. Fast, reliable internet. When the internet was behaving, I could check my email from my computer. Forget loading "heavy" sites like Facebook and Gmail. My daily yoga practice. I thought I would travel to India and be inspired by the yogis! However, I couldn't find one person who was practicing yoga in Ahmedabad. Since returning home, I have recommitted to a serious practice -- sometimes at home, and sometimes in the fellowship of other yogis in a classroom. Books and print materials. Bookstores were sparse. I realized how lucky I am to have all kinds of bookstores and printed materials just steps from my front door. The ability to pursue more education. While teaching in the Leprosy Colony, I met an inspiring teacher named Aruna who was the first woman from her community to enroll in college. She will graduate next year, and she was the translator for my class. She is a role model and is paving the way for the younger generation of girls in her community! Toilet Paper. Carry it with you, everywhere you go. This is considered an unnecessary luxury item to most, as in this culture it is customary to use your left hand after using the toilet. Sanitation. When I returned home, someone asked me what I thought was the biggest issue that needed to be addressed in India. Hands down, my answer remains sanitary education. I have never seen so much trash, animal waste, and human waste. I was taught rather quickly by a few other volunteers to never, ever look up from the ground when walking. The one time I did, my foot landed in a nice, steaming pile of cow dung. Green spaces, parks, and grass! The rural area I traveled to, Udaipur, was absolutely gorgeous. On the drive up, red, sand-topped mountains, dotted with desert-suitable trees dominated the landscape. Fields of carrots, castor seed, mustard, and cotton flourished in the valleys. And the town of Udaipur itself was comprised of majestic lakes, heritage hotels, and architecture to die for! But this beauty was an exception, not the rule. I realize how much I longed for a green park where I could put my feet in the grass. Wearing my engagement ring. On the second day of working in the impoverished slums of Gujarat, I removed my engagement ring, because there were people who wanted to buy it from me! I locked it up in the safe, but felt very naked without it. Ease and simplicity of life. Relatively speaking, things back home are convenient. I stop myself before I complain about having to go to the grocery store or do another load of laundry.
There you have it! Have you traveled somewhere that has caused a significant change in you? I'd love to hear where you've gone and how you've changed!