Monday, June 25, 2007

Would You Switch Lives? Would I?

Friday was painful. The heat was suffocating in the camp we went to, the flies were everywhere, the smell was nauseating, disease was widespread, pain screamed out at me from eyes of children, and scornful eyes burned into me from some of the older women who spit upon the foreigners marching in with their expensive looking cameras taking pictures of their poor state of living conditions. We were welcomed by most, but today was definitely a different experience. I guess I haven't been drinking enough water, because I nearly fainted, so I will start drinking more. But I just wish I could do something to help the people that are suffering. It is unfair that I was born into a life of loving parents that will most likely (and hopefully) live to see their great grandchildren, with plenty to eat - able to eat what i want when i want, a roof over my head that doesn't leak green toxic water... Most of the people in these areas don't live to be too old. Children crowd the streets, 4-7 children on average it seems per family... Women my age have children, and women slightly older have grand children. The legal marrying age isn't until 18, so they have children before marriage... but apparently the father stays with them for the most part, so that is an interesting cultural difference.

Drinking from bottled water as the kids ran barefoot through green, slimy water, wearing my fairly new, good quality clothing as they wore hand-me-downs that don't fit them quite right... dabbing the sweat off my face as kids with hundreds of bumps from skin disease run around as if nothing is wrong... Their eyes were just so sad. The camera made them smile, for some it even made them smile brightly, like those other smiles that I saw. But even then, there was something missing... And most of the eyes showed suffering. Just looking into them... I wished I could switch lives with them, give them everything I have.. and then felt worse because I didn't want to live there either. If I were given the choice to switch places with one of these children.. to give them a chance to live in the comfortable life full of opportunities that i've lived in... would I do it? What if I could trade 2 of them for 1 of me.. what about 3. I'd like to think that I would, but would I? Could I? And if I can't.. what does that say about me? Would you be able to do it? Some say because I'll be a doctor, its better that I stay healthy and that I get a good education... because I will be able to help more people that way. But what if one of those children that I could have switched lives with were going to discover the cure to cancer... or find the solution to world peace? Would I switch then? Would you? I would like to think I would... but would I - could I actually do it?

On a bright note, tomorrow we're taking the day off to visit some tourist attractions. Waking up bright and early to go see the taj mahal and some forts and perhaps some mosques. I'm excited, but at the same time.. The money that I will be spending on just one day tomorrow could feed an entire family for a month. I'll be spending their month's salary. in one day. for what? To see some tourist attractions for my own pleasure.. but then you can't just give them money... you have to "empower" them... but then what's empowering them? how can we be sure its not actually corrupting them. The kids were still cute today.. despite the tears in their eyes. They tugged at my clothing, calling me "dede," which is "big sister" in Hindi. That was very endearing. There were 2 children who kept on following me around but didn't want their picture taken. One girl about 8 I'd say and a little boy about 3. Their eyes seemed to beg me to take them away to where I came from... to let them get a taste of my life... I wish I could save the world. I've only seen a miniscule fraction of the suffering... I can't even imagine seeing all of it. It would be unbearable. And here we are in the United States, myself included, complaining about MIT's bland food, the lack of a flattering dress to wear to formal, getting a B in a class, or not having that tall, handsome knight in shining armor... having a hard bed, no enough closet space... not enough sleep, the list keeps going. How many times do we just stop and think about what we do have, thanking each other for their friendship, thanking our parents for all their time and effort, not to mention their lives devoted to us. Thanking our teachers for sharing their knowledge, thanking our fates for giving us plenty of clean food and water... and a roof over our heads.

My uncle sent me an interesting email after reading one of my posts about how sincerely happy the community members seemed to me. Here is an excerpt....

"I think I have a different perspective on the paradox that you mentioned that people appear happy and content with what they have. But I think what you maybe missing is a perspective of time. They appear to be happy--especially the kids. If the world they live in is all they have ever known, what would they have to compare to know even not be happy. Perhaps its the innocence that you see.

But what you will not see in your short stay is the misery they will experience over time. You will miss the suffering of husbands who lose their wives and babies during child birth because the care for complications is simply not available--child birth has traditionally been the main cause of death for women. You will miss the suffering of parents who lose their child because they can't provide simple medicines like antibiotics to cure them. You will miss the suffering of children as their parents pass away in their 30s, 40s, and 50s because low life expectancy due to poor diet, preventable disease, and harshness. You will miss the emptiness in young kids heart as they will never feel the joy of being loved by grandparents (think of Darren never having the joy of his grandparents) (Darren is my 5-year old cousin, his son, who spends a significant amount of time with our grandparents every day).

You will also miss the desperation created by poverty, where parents sell their children into slavery and prostitution to survive. You will miss the de-valuing of human life as death becomes routine.

You will miss the opportunity lost to humanities, both for India and World, as we may never get to know that one kid who smiles at you but who won't get the education leaving their potentials unfulfilled. Who knows, one of those kids could have grown up to be the one who found cure for cancer, solved vexing math problems, became a diplomat to solve the Middle East problem, or the next prophet who could deliver peace to Mankind.

Don't let their acceptance of their fate equate to happiness. "

I agree with my uncle's perspective on many aspects, there is a lot of pain that I will not see. I do not doubt that even that the community members that I saw and described as truly happy, suffer every day. It is not their acceptance of fate that causes their happiness, but rather that it helps them be happy. They acknowledge their problems, many even work to solve them (one for example studied in these horrible conditions and after many many years... he has only one exam left until he becomes a certified M.D.), but the difference I saw was that they were able to be truly hospitable and welcoming and shined in a way I don't often seen people shine. There are many ways to approach your problems. Most that I have seen sulk or accept their fate and sulk or work to escape their problems while sulking. I use the term sulk very loosely, either being sad and constantly having it bother them, complaining constantly and taking time away from trying to change it, giving up and just accepting it but not enjoying life... but they seem to accept their fate, work to live the best they can and at times to change their current conditions, but at the same time appreciate what they DO have. This ability to look at the bright side of things despite things looking dark in every direction is what astounds me. Even in just the heat and humidity, the stuffiness and filth... the energy is sucked out of me... And I'm only here for 2 weeks..

1 comment:

Danielle said...

You're supposed to say you would because that would the altruistic choice. But what if YOU were born into YOUR life because YOU'RE the one who might cure cancer? Or what if the business student down the street is the one who is going to find a way to make microlending really work on a worldwide scale? What if you were born into your life, doing what you're doing right now, to inspire someone else to solve world peace?

Always keeping me thinking Christina. Thanks.