It was the summer of 2012 when I first started to comprehend the differences between my world and the world around me. I was about 9 or 10 and my family and I were on our yearly India trip. We had just gotten in the car, but this time instead of making the same rounds to all the cousins my dad said he wanted to visit someplace special. My sister and I were bursting with curiosity and could not wait to see what special toy store or candy store we were going to. But as each mile passed on, the roads got worse and worse, towns and cars were fewer and farther between and the land became more and more untouched by human hands. Finally we pulled up to a very small village, if it could be even called that, exactly the same as 10 others we had seen on the road before and my dad said, “We’re here.” A tiny cracked stone home appeared in front of us with a family of four sitting on the ground eating off of banana leaves. When they saw us, they all rushed to bring us in and offer us food and water and asked many questions. After we all politely refused the food I remember being taken out back where a man was chopping down coconuts from a tree and was shown how to use the huge knife to crack it open. The man had a huge stack on the ground of finished and it took me about 10 mins to even figure out the knife before I was able to do one.
The kids of the village were undoubtedly the most inspiring part of the experience. Despite their lack of material things, they happily kicked a ball of rubber bands and plastic bags across the streets and played with dirty hands and huge smiles on their faces. They had learned to make the best with what they had and were living a happy life. The village had a sense of closeness and familiarity missing from the big cities and towns that I was a lot more used to. We spent the day there and I learned many things about the village and the day to day lifestyle of all these people.
Intellectually, I had comprehended the fact that not all places were like America and I had been to India many times before, but in retrospect I think it was this moment where I could truly see how much I had and how privileged I was. Phones, TV’s, air conditioning, electricity, all things I took for granted and didn’t even notice were things that the kids playing in this village vaguely knew of but would probably never have. The fact that I would be able to live a life of relative luxury while many others lived like this felt wrong to me. In all honesty, none of that profound meaning and understanding hit me until much much later. I think one of the first things I said was, “When are we going home?”
As we were getting in the car and turning around to go home, I asked my dad, “Why did we come here?” to which he said, “This is the place where my dad grew up. He came from nothing and the village was even less developed than it is now in his day. He had to walk 6 miles every day to the closest school just to get a basic education.” It wasn’t until years later that I understood why he had brought us there. The biggest lesson I took away from that day was to never forget the privileges I have and to always use the tools available to me to make sure I’m not settling for mediocrity.