If I told you the truth, it would be this:
I did not see India as much as the inside of my eyelids. The glare of my computer screen. Endless tricks of Pinochle from my iPad’s small frame.
I turned up my nose to the stench of polluted waters. I vomited out the spices, and with it all flavors of the city. I closed my door to its outstretched hand, letting the rapping on my door and my heart persist while I pretended to sleep through the sound.
What travel I did do? I left for a week to lay on a stretch of a beach, made by the Portuguese and maintained for the Russians. On our weekend away, I hid in my hotel room with marathons of shows from home. With relief, I saw the curtains on the bus and closed them with gusto.
What I did see? Western establishments: the cafe filled with ex-pats, a rooftop restaurant with a hotel below, the deck and dance floor of one of the few bars that serves women. More often, my own hypocrisy, or limit. The extent to which I do not live what I espouse. I stepped out each day to stare squarely in the face of a neighbor’s home that I did not frequent enough.
If I told you the truth? I stepped out every other day. The rest, I did not leave the building in which we resided and taught– the smog-veiled sun never meeting my skin, the shouts of welcome rarely penetrating my heart.
I do not want to tell you the truth, one so far from the traveller’s tale of wonder and awe. If I did, it would be this:
I did my best,
and it wasn’t very good.
If I told you a truth, it could also be this:
India was difficult. And I wrestled with her, lethargically, but persistently. I was slow out the gate, yet continued running. Towards understanding. Engagement. Relationship. Health.
I turned inward to my neglected self-care and then counted this against myself with every measure of my level of immersion. I opened the door of my heart and listened to need. I slept when I tired. I responded to illness by slowing down. I tended to both self and students and gave to India what remained in the reserve.
What travel I did do? I enjoyed my breaks and remembered that life is still life no matter where we live it.
What I did see? The same things I cherish in cities at home: coffee shops, people watching, slow dinners, and nights out dancing. The ways that lived-values are a daily, momentary choice. While I saw my limit, I also saw myself stretch. Reaching out– despite the sexism and beyond the classism, amidst the dust and chaotic streets–to find that which is there to be cherished.
I squinted through the smog to stare at the light. Simultaneously, I did not deny the shadows lurking in the alleys of the city and the chambers of my heart.
If I told you a truth? India was challenging.
And I faced the challenge. I allowed myself to rest and pushed myself to grow.
I did my best,
and sometimes it was good.