When I was in junior high school, my mother volunteered to be a part of Meridian House’s orientation program for visitors to the United States. The visitors were mid-level government officials from a variety of countries and were here for school or for work. The purpose of the orientation program was to teach them the basics about the U.S., like our denominations of money. At the end of the week, each person or pair would go to an American’s house for dinner. My mother offered to host a few of these dinners.
One of the most memorable visitors was a kale farmer from Kenya. On the way to our house, he asked to see a grocery store. He walked into what by today’s standards was a very small Giant and stopped in his tracks. He had never seen so much food in one place. He was stunned when my mother showed him that we had fresh kale, canned kale, and frozen kale. This was so far beyond anything he had seen or imagined that he kept talking about it during dinner. My younger brother and I could not understand what he thought was so interesting since it was just our normal grocery store.
In May I went to India to visit my college roommate. She and her family have lived in southeast India for the past two years. For six days of the trip, I went by myself on a tour of the Golden Triangle: Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. I had a driver and we met a guide in each city. I had expected that the hours spent driving between cities would be dull, but I had not anticipated Indian traffic. Lanes are no more than suggestions, and any two lane road becomes five lanes: the two shoulders, the two lanes themselves, and the section in the middle of the two lanes. There are motorcycles with one to five riders and small motorized rickshaws called tuk-tuks, both of which zip in and out of traffic, plus cars, buses and trucks. In addition to motor vehicles there are handcarts, bike carts, bullock carts, and people walking on the shoulders and crossing in the middle of the street. Usually standing placidly in the middle of the swirling traffic is a random cow or two. Nobody drives very fast, and there are surprisingly few accidents.
In the five hour trip between Delhi and Jaipur, I watched traffic stream by. After an hour or so, I began to see the logic of how everybody wove in and out. Suddenly, I spotted a camel cart coming down the road towards us. I pointed and said, “That’s a camel.” My driver, Subhash, agreed that yes, that was a camel. I had not expected to see any camels in India, so I pointed again and said, “There is a camel in the road.” Subhash agreed. I said, “We don’t have that,” which Subhash thought was very funny.
An hour or so later, a monkey ran across the road in front of us. I pointed out the monkey because I had not anticipated seeing monkeys on the roads either. Once again, Subhash agreed, and thought it was funny when I said we did not have monkeys on our roads.
Later that evening, while we were returning to Jaipur after a short tour, I spotted white circles about a foot in diameter appearing and disappearing just above the road a little way in front of us. As we drew closer, I saw a reflective bar several feet above us and realized we were approaching an elephant. The white circles were the bottoms of the elephant’s feet and the reflective bar was on the back of the driver’s saddle. I pointed out the elephant to Subhash and explained we did not have elephants on our roads. Subhash commented that our roads must be really boring.
I had never thought of our traffic that way, but I had to admit, he was right. A few days later we returned to Delhi from Agra on a new superhighway that was restricted to cars and a few trucks and motorcycles. It was similar to a U.S highway and in comparison to the Indian roads I had seen, it was dull.
I spent most of my time in India in a state of astonishment. Everything was so different than my normal life here. There were bright colors, crowded bazaars, ancient temples, and amazing forts and palaces. Every time I thought I had become acclimated, I would be startled by something new. Every day was a new adventure.
I hope to retain some of the sense of wonder in the world around me that I found on this trip. There is so much around us that is remarkable that we do not notice because we see it everyday. If we look at the world around us with new eyes, there is much to be seen and enjoyed.