When I thought about what to write about for this blog post, I wanted it to be different from my last - more a funny anecdote that reflects some deeper theme or thought, or an interesting event. I've got plenty of observations: seeing a man lying on top of a truck full of coconuts, while the truck is driving full speed down the highway; painted cows wandering around busy streets; people taking pictures and videos of us not so subtly at all. I've seen beautiful palaces this week, and taken in hundreds of years of history. There's so many little moments that make up bigger ones that I could write about.
Instead, a story about manhole cleaners, from Dr. Sharada Prasad, has burned itself into my brain. A picture of men, standing outside of a liquor store, waiting to be bought with alcohol to do dangerous work in despicable conditions, accompanies it. This event, not uncommon, goes like this: men stand, waiting to be bought alcohol in exchange for climbing into a sewage pipe to help clear it. Members of the "untouchable" caste are responsible for this type of work, which is so difficult to accept that many of them are alcoholics, simply to forget the treatment given to them by their society. They drink their wine, liquor or beer, until they are drunk enough to be happy with the work they are about to do. And after however many hours it takes to unblock or clean out the sewer, they are bought another bottle - this time, to forget what they just did.
I sit here with a thought, or feeling, floating around my brain, and it is a kind of appreciation. It's gratitude clouded with guilt and frustration at how unfair the world is. Appreciation that I was born in, then moved to, countries where I don't have to spend ten hours a day boiling sugarcane, sitting in a hot, smoky den surrounded by sugarcane scraps and cow dung; that I probably won't ever descend into a sewer filled with feces and have to unblock it. Frustration that, based solely on luck, my career hasn't been decided for me by my caste or husband. Gratitude that I am able to come here, try my hardest for three months, then leave again if I choose. The control I have over my own life is so much more than so many of the people who live here - women especially, but also members of the lower caste.
It's not fair, that what I experience in terms of basic freedoms is not a given for everyone. It's hard knowing that these unfair truths won't be fixed by GCIL in the next three months, and probably won't be improved for the next few years. It's easy to separate myself from the people here, because I made a choice to come here, to live here in a very privileged way. The choices I have many don't ever consider, because their challenges are so much greater than ours.
I am not here to change the world, but maybe, by learning about the amazing programs and organizations in place in India who are changing the future of their country, I can be a part of the movement. By understanding my privileged position, knowing I am here to become educated about how people around the world are living, can I educate others and be part of the change.