Not all who wander are lost.
When I was in my early 30s, I traveled to India for the first time. Before my trip, I read a lot of travel guides, spoke to people about the country, but nothing prepared me for the reality of what it was. The country possesses beauty and spirituality that no words or pictures can adequately capture. I traveled to New Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Agra, Bihar. I saw the Taj Mahal and sat in the beautiful structure built by a grieving man for his love. The colors, scents, architecture, history, and the overwhelming density of people was a shock to the senses. I spent almost 2 weeks that first trip immersed in a world that was familiar and foreign at once. To say that it left an impression was an understatement, and when I came back to the USA after my visit, I saw things with much different eyes than before I left.
Travel, be it domestic or international, always opens my perspective to new ways of living, new ways of interacting, new ways of seeing. I remember the hope in the face of no future. Or at least, a future like I know. There, in Mumbai, I saw the extreme poverty, children playing in the dust when they should be in school learning; no shoes, torn clothing, bedraggled hair, painfully thin, but with huge smiles on their faces. I thought, what will happen to these children? All I could see was a gaping black hole from my frame of reference. I learned about the support systems in India, what there were of them, and the humanitarian efforts to stave poverty, to educate, to change the futures of those that seemed to have no tomorrow. I also saw first hand the sheer immensity of the issues—and I saw how those who were more fortunate would help as they could, but also would shut down—help themselves first—or face the same fate in the scarcity of resources in a land overburdened with poor infrastructure and too many people. When I was out, sightseeing, traveling, so many would ask me for help, an obvious foreigner, and here I was, one person, who could only give so many coins, the extra food in her bag, and know it was but a temporary solution for the immediate need, but what would happen after? Sometimes I would be surrounded by people, and touched inappropriately, and after too many of these interactions, I started to understand why I was told to ignore them, ignore the need, ignore the cries for help. I started to see the darker side of how these extreme conditions existed, and realized that change in the face of these darker desires was difficult, at best. For the one thing that travel has made me understand is that people are all human, we all have the same needs, desires, and dream of the same futures. We all experience joy, pain, sorrow, and happiness. And we all are prone to the same flaws—ego, greed, gluttony, jealousy, cruelty, among others—as well as exhibit those things that represent the best of humanity—kindness, love, charity, empathy.
Over the past decade plus, I’ve traveled back to India several times. I have seen tremendous progress. I admire the resiliency of the people and their spirit to better their world. I know that there are much more opportunities for the children in India today, and I like to imagine that those children I saw so long ago had a hand in that change. That my seeing no tomorrow for them was a lack of my vision, my shortcomings, my limitations, my ignorance, not theirs. For to me some of the most powerful gifts we can gain from going outside our comfort zones are understanding others, appreciation of all beings, humility in our character, and a new way of seeing. For those are the things that can change the world.