India: It changed me

December 21, 2013
On our way to the jungle

On our way to the jungle

It’s a world of technology and progress for us, and it’s hard to imagine any other. For the most part we’re fed, housed and can find some kind of work. Our government is corrupt, but as governments go, it’s less corrupt than many. Things generally work. They’re not perfect, but they work.

Seeing first-hand the massive gap between the privileges we enjoy and the impoverished hardscrabble lives in rural India has given me a new view of us and our culture:

You must excuse me if I don’t have sympathy for your Facebook posts bemoaning the shitty nature of your life.  You don’t know what a shitty life is.

You don’t know jack.

sleep on streetI didn’t know what a shitty life was, either, until this trip, but now that I do, I just don’t want to hear it from Americans with jobs and homes and clean water and sanitation.

So excuse me.

Or not.

You’re in a bad mood? I’ve seen people so poor they live in dirt and filth that would make your skin crawl and still smile and wave to affluent American tourists, looking for a better life next time.

So, no patience with your bad mood, little Facebook sad faces or complaints. None.



You must excuse me if I don’t give a whit –or a shit–about your depression over the latest “tragedy” in your life. You can’t afford to buy a house? At least you can rent a decent apartment. Car broke down? Take public transportation.  You’re pissed off because local restaurants won’t allow you to dine with your dog? Give me a break.

Or don’t,

I don’t much care.



You can’t find the latest Xbox for your kid? I’m just back from a place where the price of an Xbox would feed a family for a year.  You’ve got dog hair on your sofa? I’ve just come from a place where dogs are starving and flea-bitten and in such sad condition I couldn’t look at them.

You’re angry about standing in line an hour for the latest Ipad? I’ve seen people who wouldn’t know what to do with an Ipad and its price would pay their living expenses for a year. A year.



You’re underemployed because you’re too lazy to go back to school or start a search for a better job? I’ve seen people who have no opportunities at all. None. There’s no way for an illiterate, toothless man who sleeps on the dirt street to bootstrap in a country with millions like him.



India’s changed me.

It’s done away with my patience for first-world problems.

For how spoiled we are.

How entitled we sound.



How little we care about others.

How much we feel that we are the center of the universe.

Home. Preparing for the day.

Home. Preparing for the day.

I have new eyes and I don’t like what they see here. I’m not sure what to do with these feelings, either. But I know that I’ll do something.

I’ve been mostly a European traveler my whole life, which is to say India was the first step I’ve taken that’s truly out of my comfort zone and it turned out to be not just a step but a giant leap.

And there’s no going back.






24 comments on “India: It changed me
  1. Julia says:

    Powerful, powerful stuff. I can’t wait to see where those new feelings take you, and how many people you will bring along with you.

  2. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    Ah. I knew you’d get to this point. I think most people do, after they get home. My perspective has been changes forever-in a good way. I was more impressed by the happiness and inner peace that the Indians have, despite their poverty of material things. Their willingness to pass a blessing onto me, a namaste, a smile. We have nothing to grumble about-even our poorest of poor have it better than most people in India. But the Indians are grateful for life, and their Gods -they have unbounding faith in human nature.They are the most resilient people I have ever had the privilege to know.And yes, this comment is a sweeping generalization, because I have read, since I have been home, widely and deeply of their troubles and plights, but all in all, they are a beautiful people and I would indeed, travel among them again.

    • admin says:

      I’m with you 100% on everything you said. Everything. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with generalizations, right? 😉 Well, I think it was you who said at the front end you swore while you were there you’d never go back and then it was in your blood. I get it. We talk about going back. A lot. And my nightstand is covered with books about it.

  3. Barbara says:

    But, Carol, we only know what we know. This is the best gift we receive from travel – the larger perspective. For those who haven’t left the circle of their world, however small it may be, their heartaches and inconveniences and troubles are as real to them as the poor in India. And I find studies on “happiness” so enlightening in that it’s often the very poor, even bushmen of Africa and yes, poor, poor in India, who are happiest.

    Faith, gratitude, love and community are the riches in life – regardless of our things and stuff.

    There was a woman from Africa on Oprah, years and years ago, who railed against young people in the United States for not appreciating education and their easy access to it because of all the unbelievable efforts and walls she had to break down to get to a classroom and Oprah reminded her that she couldn’t really attack (not that you’re attacking) young people in this country because their reality was all they knew.

    A world view, again, is the answer to compassion and understanding and appreciation.

    In that, I’m appreciate what you’re sharing here – an eye opener. And I’ve loved that you have shared the spectacular beauty in India as well as the devastating poverty. Ahhh that we could all live somewhere in the middle and be happy.

    • admin says:

      Well, it is true that we can only know what we know, you are so right. At the same time, we don’t have to travel to India (or anywhere) to step out of our narrow cocoons. There are people all around us in dire straits, and animals, too. There are many comparisons we can make here that show most of us how very lucky we are and how small our own issues are. I only speak for me and my impatience with the entitled world that Silicon Valley can sometimes be. What others do with it? Up to them. I don’t really make recommendations. I only speak for me.

      But this is my view today…and it may be different tomorrow, I don’t know. But I’d like to hold on to my gratitude and my need to act. We’ll see.

  4. Evalyn Baron says:

    C – Your pain of discovery is palpable….like the Buddha looked outside his palace and saw the truth of the world around him, you and M looked outside yours and saw the same. Understandable that the powerful tenets of the four noble truths and the eightfold path came from such discoveries. I am so moved by the courage you have to write about this with such passion. Xx ev

    • admin says:

      I’d never considered it the “pain of discovery” but you are so right, as always, cutting right to the point. Thank you, sugar. xoxoC

  5. Wow.. I think that when we find ourselves torn apart, awash with those new and painful feelings it takes a while for us to figure out what comes next. I offer good thoughts for you in this time as you look at the world with opened eyes. We all need a jolt like that. Thank you for being that strong voice.

    • admin says:

      “Torn apart” is another good concept–and I hope in putting myself back together I’ll find a way to serve. Thanks,Walker.

  6. chuck house says:

    powerful. It is clear that it affected you. As it did me thirty-five years ago. It clearly hasn’t changed despite all the stories about the ‘rising Indian middle class’.

    It is also true that America’s barrios, ghettos, and urban slums have many of the same issues, and as Mary of ‘Peter, Paul, and Mary’ used to croon, “How many times can a man not see….”

  7. Janie Emaus says:

    What an amazing journey you went on. How could you not have been affected?

  8. Thanks for the reality check. In 1982, I spent 6 months in Jerusalem, and I had some culture shock when I returned home. I remember noting how materialistic Americans are. I have a 17 year old friend doing study abroad for 6 months in Durgapur for six months of study. I wanted to pack myself in her suitcase. Thankfully, she’s blogging a bit about it. Thank you to her and to you for blogging about your experience. You are very kind to take the time to do so.

    • admin says:

      Karen, I’d love the link to her blog. Thanks for reading along. I’ll have a few more over time, but this is the last one in more than a month of almost consecutive India posts. xoxo

  9. I have truly enjoyed following this series of posts. I will likely go through them all and re-look and re-read them. Thank you for sharing.

    • admin says:

      Am so happy to hear you enjoyed them and you’ll have to keep coming over –I’ll be posting others over time, but not for at least a week or two… ;-)))) thanks again!

  10. Doreen McGettigan says:

    Your posts have been eye opening. I can only imagine how sad to see that up close. I have a friend from India. He told me he used to eat from trash cans.
    California is very different from other parts of America. I live just south of Philadelphia, close to the small city of Chester. There is so much poverty and desperation there. There is also an epidemic of young people killing each other. There are also many people who feel entitled. I go between being very angry with them and feeling heartbreak for them. You are so right though, they live in falling down homes but they have large screens and video games.
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • admin says:

      Hi Doreen…yes, there are pockets of poverty everywhere, including a good bit of CAlif. Not every part of every city is affluent–four homeless people died last week of the cold. I share those mixed emotions with you. Thanks so much for following along…

  11. Corinne Rodrigues says:

    Carol – I’m tempted to agree with you completely – except that many of us in India too live entitled lives – choosing not to see what you saw! I think it’s more of having an open mind and heart to the situation and needs of others. You my friend, certainly have a both of those!

  12. Wealth and privilege are definitely a matter of perspective! I know that I have a really hard time hearing people complain about the price of gas b/c I know that it’s cheap compared to most of the world!

    Unrelated to a trip to view third-world problems, I tried to reframe some of my complaints in a recent blog post…

    Thanks for your insightfulness especially at this time of year!

  13. magiceye says:

    That was brilliant! India is a land of contradictions.

  14. Penny Boden says:

    I have been fortunate enough to visit India three times and I always come back with my soul refreshed, my sense of humour tweaked and my appreciation of life and it’s comforts renewed!
    I also come back wanting to rid myself of all things negative!
    I really loved your post!

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