It Was Worth It

|Author: Hannah|

Got a tetanus shot for free.

But I couldn't get the malaria med and all the other vaccines and meds, as I could not afford them. A tetanus shot and cheap steel toe shoes, that would have to do it for me to survive in India. Food and miscellaneous budgets for my family must be less than 200 dollars/ month in the U.S. This means my budget here would be less than 50 dollars/month. Oh, the tuition for this overseas program? Thanks goodness for financial aid and the scholarship that covered it for me.

Being tight on a budget is my norm. Ever since my childhood, my family's household income has always been way below than the poverty line. Don't get me wrong. It's not hard at all. Because it's been this way forever. Because of my dearest and weirdest mother who used to be a hardcore hippy (* Lifestyle, not drugs as marijuana is illegal in Japan), when I was a little, she moved us to one of the communities that was shunned from society even though none of her family members belonged to it.

Not a lot of Japanese people know about it, but we did have a caste system. The community I grew up was a community of unattachable. One of the old articles states that the caste started even before 800 years ago though the actual system was enforced during Edo era, which was about 400 years ago. People were forced to work jobs that no one wanted to work in because they were considered impure or tainted by death, such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers or tanners [1]. The system itself was banned in 1871 [1], but because of the discrimination against those communities, people from the area still heavily struggle in the society to this day.

Most companies will still reject your job applications just because your address shows that you were from the community. Marriage? That's another tough subject for them because a lot of people outside of the community still think their pedigree will become sullied if they cross the blood with untouchables.

I've seen my friends from the community being treated differently. And it still hurts me like a poisonous sting that won't come out. I was also treated differently because my blood doesn't actually belong that community, and also, we were so poor-not because we lived in the community but because of many other reasons.

All in all, I was so certain that I was not from a privileged family and community, and I even felt that was imbedded in my blood.

And here, in India. Oh boy, it's just too overwhelming. So many different and complicated layers of social issues surrounding people because of the remaining caste in the society, gender, sexual orientation, locals or migrants, whether you were from a certain religion or not. The basic right to live as a human is not really promised for many people.

Every time I hear about the story of one of the lowest castes, manual scavengers, my heart screams. After learning about only a bit of these, and ever since I came to India, I have been feeling very weird. Because I am treated as privileged, and I am definitely able to do the things that only privileged people can do. I can afford very expensive meals (10 dollars) here once a while, and hot water comes out of the faucet at the dorm to wash my body. If I need to use a bathroom in public, I can go to a nice restaurant to use their bathroom and the staff at the restaurant won't refuse me to come inside.

Today, I had to go to ER to treat my allergic reaction. After getting a steroid shot, getting medicines and inhaler for my cough, and being seen by a team of doctors, I was not too worried. If I was in the U.S, I would have hesitated to go to ER in the first place, as the kinds of medicine and treatment I received could have overwhelmed me and I would have passed out with a shock of a U.S ER bill. The total cost? It was less than 60 dollars. Yes, only...

One of the reasons I came to India was to really learn about the struggle and pain of people here. Now, reflecting in this last week of the GCIL program, I really don't know if I could have accomplished my goals. My upbringing and past in Japan definitely allowed me to connect and relate to these people living within a caste system, but that's only my imagination and what I can imagine is nothing compared to the real struggle of people.

At the end of the day, I am very privileged. I was never a member of the unattachable community where I grew up. I was able to get a job to save enough money to move to the U.S. I am a student at a world class school, the University of Washington. And here, I don't have to worry about dying because I have access to clean water and necessary medical treatment, and I have been able to live my past 2 months here comfortably without worrying about money too much.

What have I learned from the past 10 weeks here? I just learned how privileged I am. And I would never be able to fully understand the pain of people who were shunned from society.

What now? How do I move on in my life with these experiences?

I will use them as one of my tools to help understand people's pain and hardships and I will keep working on it. I know it's not enough. But I could at least put myself into their shoes and empathize with how painful their experiences are. Because I also had some pains in my life here and there. Not exactly the same.

But that's enough for me to cry with them.

That's big enough for me to have an urge to do something. Something to cause a small impact, something that might have a slight chance to change someone's life for the better. Thank you, GCIL, for making me realize how privileged I truly am, for making all of the questions in my head evolve and thank you for making this journey end with the experiences of a lifetime and with memories and thoughts I'll never forget.

Even with all the illness and challenges, it was totally worth it!!


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