This is part of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel project, a daily blogging challenge with a prompt for every day in November 2011. Check out the prompt at the bottom of this post to find out how you can participate!
India. For anyone who has been there, that one single word probably evokes a myriad of emotions and memories. There really isn’t anywhere like India on this Earth. It’s so many things all at once – chaotic, insane, crowded, smelly, dirty. As you can see, many of the adjectives used to describe India are not very positive. Travelers have a love/hate relationship with India, and I am no different.
I’m not going to lie. I had trouble with India. It was far and away the most difficult place I’ve traveled, and much of the time I was wondering why in the world I ever wanted to visit it. All the things I heard were true, and though I was expecting all the hurdles, it didn’t prepare me for what lay ahead.
After a few weeks in India, I was miserable. Sure, there were some amazing times, but most seemed to be negated by something less than stellar. For example, the Taj Mahal and Red Fort were some of the most amazing sites I had seen, but the wretched city of Agra made my memories of them less than fantastic.
When arriving in Jodhpur, I was ready to call it quits and come home early. As my wife and I walked around the crazy, winding, maze-like streets, we came upon a shop. Like countless times before, the shop owner rushed out to offer us chai and ask to “come see his shop.” My guard was always up in India, so I was hesitant. The wife saw some cool art, though, and the decision was made – we would enter this man’s shop and no doubt get harassed until we either bought something or stomped out in a rage.
The man seemed nice enough, and he only chatted with us, never once pushing his good on us, which was odd. Time went on, and nothing changed. We talked, we looked at some of his stuff, and then we left. No hard sale. No harassment. Nothing. We stopped for a bite to eat and decided to go back to buy something since we liked his stuff and he was by far the least pushy person we met in India.
After going back and purchasing one painting, he was nice as could be, and never once pushed us to buy more. In fact, he was so pleased that we bought something from him that he invited us back the next day for lunch.
My guard was still up, but he had almost convinced me he was different than so many others I had met. So we accepted and decided to meet him back at his shop the next day around lunchtime. We were admittedly a bit nervous walking back the next day. Was this really happening? Was he really just inviting us to his place of work for lunch out of the kindness of his heart? Was he going to force us to buy all his art before allowing us to leave? Was he going to have the mob there to kidnap us and hold us for ransom? So many thoughts were running through our heads as we approached.
When he saw us turn the corner, he was out quickly to greet us with the obligatory glass of chai. He ran an art studio but also taught classes there, and one of his students and another friend were going to join us for lunch.
As we sat down on the floor in this open-air shop, he got out a newspaper, unfolded it on the ground to serve as our table, and proceeded to get out a mammoth bag of food. He told us all about how his wife was a great cook and she was excited that we were going to be able to eat her food.
We sat on the ground, two Americans and three Indians, and we ate lunch. It was so simple, so innocent, yet so powerful that it had a profound impact on how I saw India and the people who lived there. We talked to the boy about school and his art. We talked to the friend about his job and where he worked. We talked with the shop owner about arranged marriages and how different and similar their relationships are to ours. We sat on that floor for hours, eating, drinking chai, and talking.
A massive cultural divide should have been between us, but it wasn’t. It was just as normal as a lunch at home. Only we were in India. Sitting on the ground. In the heat. Eating with our hands. On newspaper.
The experience changed my view of India. It renewed my faith in people. It made me realize how ridiculous I was to characterize a country of over a billion people because of some incidents I had with touts or cab drivers or hostel owners. The kindness of this stranger is a memory I’ll never forget. I still don’t know why he invited us to lunch that day, and I don’t know if he does that with every foreigner he sells something to, but that day, I felt special. I felt like part of the local community, and if only for an afternoon, I felt like I belonged in India.
30 Days of Indie Travel Project: How to Participate
We’re inviting bloggers from around the world (that means you, too!) to join us in a daily blogging effort designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year – or whenever – have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.
We’ll share some of our favorites via Twitter and Facebook throughout November, as well as a round-up article at the end of the month, so if you’re playing along make sure to let us know – use the #indie30 hashtag on Twitter, and link to the 30 Days of Indie Travel page in your post so we’ll be able to find it.
Find out all of the 30 Days of Indie Travel blogging prompts so far – it’s never too late to join in the fun!
Prompt #5: KINDNESS
One of the greatest joys of travel can be the random acts of kindness you’ll receive from total strangers. Have you ever found kindness from strangers in unexpected places?
Tools and inspiration: See how travel nurtures peace and goodwill