I talked briefly with another backpacker (even though I swear by my backpack and stay at “backpacker hostels” and am pretty much a backpacker, I shy away from this hipster-ish term) about posting photos. Why should I be pressured to post photos on Facebook? she said, I’m doing this for me, not others.
Fair enough. I post photos, too, sort of for me, sort of for others. One part of this is I can show people I meet where I’ve been, like my relatives last week. The other is to show others what I’m seeing, what some of the world looks like. Of course some of these places are ones people have been to or will in the future, but then there are others that they’ll never see or imagine. Moreover, it’s just to provide some imagery different from the ordinary, every day we’re used to (and not to show off, promise!).
I’ve been out of my familiar environment for 2 months, and frankly I’m a bit tired of the different, often because of its frustrating aspect. (Specifically, I’m referring to Indians’ horrendous demand for exact change. The ATM gives you 500-rupee bills and a limited number of 100s. The 500 is almost completely illiquid–that is, it’s not even accepted as money–unless you make a very large purchase because just about any store will refuse to give you change. It’s driven me nuts. I will never complain again about getting pennies from U.S. cashiers. Perspective!)
But there are the nice surprises, too. My stomach problems seemed like an issue getting into the second week, so I decided to see a doctor, not fully sure of what hurdles I’d have to jump through (and given bureaucratic India, I was bracing for the worst). Instead I found all I had to do was briefly register with the hospital and pay a fee for the visit–and I didn’t need health insurance. Let me repeat that: I didn’t need health insurance. In America, I need to pay for the insurance monthly as well as the visit fee. (Of course, I have no idea how surgery or emergency care costs compare.) Now, I’d think all this completely reasonable if I got evidently inferior care at this hospital. But I waited no time to see the doctor–literally, no one else was there–and he asked good questions and troubleshooted the problem like you’d expect a doctor to do.
I don’t say this to be condescending towards India. I say this because my last hospital visit was in the U.S., to see a P.A. that gave me attitude and answered so little of my concerns in such a short time that I walked out wondering why I paid to see doctors in the first place.
All that to say, just when I was thinking this country makes no sense and I crave my actual native land again, it continued to not make sense–by being easier to deal with. Seriously, something in my brain says I should not have been able to walk in and out of the doctor and pay $4 for the drugs like that. It feels wrong, probably when it shouldn’t. That’s the thing–at first it seems like a given that there is nothing better than how it is done in your home country, and then it becomes painfully clear that that’s not the case.
You’d think I wouldn’t learn all that much on my sixth visit to India, but already I’ve got the two examples above from the last day. Even seeing my family again was different–for one, I didn’t have my parents lording over, controlling every aspect of the journey, which was a double-edged sword. For one, I got to plan everything myself, spend as much time as I wanted with relatives. On the other hand, I had to plan everything myself (with a good amount of help from Dad and cousins).
There were the small things, too. I visited one cousin’s house and noted she and her husband had the most gorgeous smiles. And then I thought, oh wow, that’s my smile, too.
Yet another backpacker I spoke with made a poignant comment after I mentioned my family in India. (He was British and this was a few days prior to Brexit, so it sounded extra smart.)
“I don’t mean to get all deep, but your life could’ve been, like, very different, huh?”
Not that I haven’t pondered the question a million times before. It’s just that I hadn’t thought of it while in the place from which I’m only separated by a generation. It’s that I hadn’t had it posed by another person, or at least a stranger.
All this to say that a 6th visit to India–and more importantly 3 more weeks out of my usual environment–has proved immensely valuable in perspective. And perspective, as I mentioned with the violence in the Middle East this past week, matters. But not just for me. I hope my experiences will encourage others to look for their own. You really don’t need to do all these countries like I have. You just need one country to shock you. It seems for me it will always be India. If any of the last 5 times in India are any indication I will not be able to help but share stories about the ridiculous things I’ve seen and experienced here. It’ll go with the photos I posted.