(I have a new group of Dragons students arriving soon and this was from a note I wrote to them, related to the previous post, that I think continues to provide insight on life in India…)
Tourists always show up in Varanasi and notice I know my way around and ask me the following…
“Please tell us what to do here! We see it’s “sacred” but it’s dirty, polluted, loud, full of trash, we’re constantly bothered by beggars, and there are cows everywhere!”
And I sigh heavily and tell them, “Varanasi isn’t an infatuation, it’s an arranged marriage. And it takes a lot of patience, compromise, time, respect, and humility for your understanding of her to emerge. But once your relationship comes through the fire, the bond is unbreakable and lasts a lifetime.”
Having worked in Dragon’s Administration as the Admissions Director for two years, it is one of my primary jobs to make sure students understand what, “rugged” means.
Rugged does not (just) mean sleeping in a tent in the Himalayas. Rugged means bathing out of bucket with cold water for three months. Rugged means living in a city where there is no electricity for most of the day (still true in Banaras). Rugged means navigating city streets that are FULL of trash and relentless traffic. Rugged is learning how to (emotionally and logistically) respond to the dozen small children who don’t have shoes and pull on your legs and grab your hands asking for food. Rugged is sleeping on hard beds under mosquito nets, but still waking up with bites. Rugged is battling the foreign bacteria of another country and constantly playing your defensive and offensive moves to stay healthy. Rugged is trying to sleep through a city that stays awake through the night – with its thousand temples all ringing and singing through all midnight and sunrise hours. Rugged is learning which bulls are dangerous and need a lot of clearance and finding the right pace to outwalk the water buffalo as the herd walks home. Rugged is sleeping on a dirt floor in your rural homestay and using the bathroom in the appropriate field behind the house. Rugged is coughing constantly on the pollution of a rapidly developing nation. Rugged is staying calm in the middle of a hundred worshipers chanting at a temple. Rugged is helping your rural homestay mother cook over a clay open fire. Rugged is helping your rural homestay sister draw water from a well or plant potatoes in the field. Rugged is coming to acceptance of the fact that EVERYONE will stare and watch every move you (the white foreigner) will make. Rugged is learning how to use a squat toilet the way the locals do. Rugged is about learning what you really need, and can live without, and testing your patience and dedication on the path of what you’re out to understand.
I’m not trying to scare you. But these are all the daily realities of living in India. And I’ll tell you the good news nows: while it starts off tough, every student on my last semester, completely and totally, fell head over heels in love with Varanasi. They each swore up and down that they’d be back, and they each cried as they left their homestays and Varanasi lives. So your patience, your compassion, and your willingness to compromise – they will all pay off; they will open up the secret world of India to you, and in the end you’ll remember that first week with tremendous fondness and a lot of laughter.