Tuesday night I set foot on US soil again after two and a half weeks of traveling to India. Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from my daughter, welcoming me back, and she put my three-year-old great-granddaughter on the phone. She asked, “Mamie, did you have a good day in India?” I told her that I most certain did. As my jet lag from recently flying halfway around the world begins to subside, my mind is only beginning to process what I’ve been through during my “good day in India.”
This was my second trip, so I was definitely more prepared for what might happen. I felt more confident and less surprised by anything I saw. Many aspects of the experience were the same, yet varied in large part because we were further south this time. The weather was much warmer, and we were in more places with cleaner air along the coastline. The first time I developed a horrible cough, this time the stomach bug hit me. Both times I was aware of the extent to which India is a place of extremes all woven together.
One example was a thin man riding a bicycle that was pulling a rickety wooden cart. The cart carried long pieces of rebar through busy traffic as the rider talked on his cell phone. We walked on some of cleanest beaches I’ve ever seen, yet a short distance away was a massive pile of trash. Fishermen on the beach in Varkala cast large nets out into the shallows of the Arabian Sea, then manually hauled them in. A few days later, we flew from the world’s first completely solar powered airport in Cochin. One of our drivers in Mumbai pointed out a high-rise building that was a private home where one family lived, while not far from there people reside in dwellings with dirt floors, corrugated metal roofs, and blue plastic tarp walls.
Along with noticing extremes, this trip to south India was about connection. In Kanyakumari it was where the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea converge. Over the course of the trip, expressions of spirituality also converged as we visited Hindu temples, stood in the Ajanta rock temples carved by Buddhist artisans in the 5th and 6th century AD, witnessed the San Thomé Basilica in Chennai, and passed by a mosque near the beach path. Throughout the trip we had multiple requests for selfies by random people. One man excitedly organized a photo with us and his wife’s friends, then the group kept growing and changing as other people wanted a selfie, too. An elderly man (older than us!) with a small baby in his hands stepped up for his selfie turn. People asked us where we were from and were excited when we said America.
One morning we were walking on the beach and were approached by an old fisherman who pointed to his two heavy baskets of fish and equipment. Not speaking the same language, we realized he was asking us to help him carry his baskets. So my friend and I each grabbed the outer handle of a basket, and the fisherman walked between us with a hand on the inner handle of each one. We walked along the beach this way for awhile until a younger man came along to relieve the old man…and left the two of us in place! We were honored.
There were a couple other interactions with everyday people that felt significant. One was on the last day in Mumbai as we were walking through a huge spice market. Vendors were everywhere, one being a young woman dressed entirely in black, wearing a niqab (face covering that leaves only the eyes visible). I was wearing a mask, so most of my face was covered, too. As I walked by her, our eyes met, and I smiled at her, although she couldn’t see it. I could tell by the light in her eyes that she was smiling back at me. It was a brief moment, and one that acknowledged the mutual innate goodness in each other. The second occurrence was with a young man who sat beside us on the plane. We struck up a conversation with him at the baggage claim, and he asked each of us what we did for work. I mentioned that I started a school 46 years ago. When he heard this he lit up. He said, “That’s what I want to do, create my own business based on something that’s really important to me.”
I could tell that the story of the Seed inspired him, in a place literally on the other side of the planet. As I integrate recent travel experiences into my everyday life, I know a significant emphasis for me will be to make our story more visible. The young man at the airport taught me that our story has the power to inspire and make change. I can’t think of a more noble calling than to cultivate its presence in the world.