India (Leadership Institute)- Reflections by Sarah

LII Blog post by Sarah K.

Landing in New Delhi I step out of the airport. The air is different here: it is as thick as syrup and seems to coat everything around it. As our bus starts heading to the heart of the city I wait for the chaos I have heard so much about to emerge. I look out the window searching for the extreme poverty and the dirty streets. I wait and I look, but my moment of chaos never comes. The skeleton-like starving children never emerge. The India I have created in my head is not the reality I’m facing.

Yes, India is busy. People, cars and even animals swarm the streets as our group squeezes together trying not to get lost in the crowd. Yet there is a beauty to the busy-ness. A beauty in the wonder in each passerby’s face as they examine this big crowd of teenagers trying their hardest to fit in. A beauty in the constantly shifting symphony of sounds and sights that emerge from the windy little streets. A beauty in the unknown, the unique, the stress and the joy.

Before coming to India I was positive I was going to get sick. That the food would be too spicy and diarrhea would be the norm. Before coming to India I spent hours on amazon buying every medicine imaginable and listening to horror stories about the people and the culture. I had decided what my experience in India was going to be like before I even got onto the plane. I spent my first couple of days in India waiting for the worst and missing the best.

“What is the most interesting thing you learned in India so far?” my mother asked the first time I called her on the phone. At the time I didn’t have an answer. “I have learned so much” I said. “I can’t pick one thing.” But now being in India for almost two weeks I think I have an answer.

Mother, I will say, what I have learned so far is that everything I thought I knew about India is wrong. That I have met some of the most caring and friendly people in the world. That I have constantly been invited to come in for a cup of tea or just to chat. That the food is delicious and, yes, my fragile American tummy can handle the spice. I have learnt that the juice of a fresh Indian mango is a taste I wish I could share with the world.

Mother, I will say, I have learned not to believe all that others tell me. That every person creates their version of reality and that my definition of reality is ever-shifting. I have learned that learning should never stop and that it is one hundred percent okay to be wrong. I am learning that it’s important to believe but even more important to ask questions.

Mother I will say, I have been fed many many stories about India that I decided were the truth. In India, I will tell her, I have realized that it is not the country that is the problem, but the so called truths I failed to question