When I sit down to reflect on these past few day, it sends me reeling. Monday I took the biggest, hardest test of my life–the P1 Actuary Exam–and, according to the preliminary results at least, I passed!
Tuesday turned into a mad dash to get packed for my trip to India. Mosquito netting, water sanitization kit, antibiotics, all terrain shoes, power chord adapters–these are just a few of the tings I realized Tuesday I had somehow managed to avoid tending to until the reality of my departure for India drew within 24 hours.
Wednesday I woke at 4 am to head to the airport. Three sunrises and 35 hours later I found myself early Friday morning in Kochi. I had flown from San Diego to Washington DC to Dubai to Doha to Kochi. Somehow I managed to sleep a few hours on both the red eye flight from DC to Dubai and the red eye flight from Doha to Kochi thanks to Dramamine. Despite this success, I found myself exhausted, overwhelmed, and scared as I waited outside the airport for the taxi I had hired online. The driver seems to never have managed to locate me. I consider this a feat since although I was surrounded by about a thousand people trying to leave the airport, I was likely both the only person with the last name O’Brien and the only person with skin 15 shades lighter than everyone else. Luckily I managed to find a taxi driver who was willing to take me four hours south to Amritaprui ashram for a little over 3000 rupees.
The drive to the ashram proved to be breathtaking in more ways than one. The scenery was beautiful and exotic. Southern India is so green and alive and there seemed to be flowers, vines, trees and wildlife everywhere I looked. At one point we had to change lanes to avoid colliding with a very slow moving vehicle that turned out to be an elephant. Which bring me to the other reason the ride was breathtaking–driving in India is CRAZY. I know everybody says the roads are crazy and dangerous, but you can’t appreciate VISCERALLY what that means unless you’ve actually been on an Indian roadway. I lost track of the number of times my driver drove into oncoming traffic on the highway in order to pass a vehicle, slamming on his horn like he had the right of way, and forcing oncoming driver to merge out of their lanes in order to avoid a head on collision with my driver.
The poverty we saw as we passed through some of the rural villages was astounding to me. There’s that often-told story about the Buddha, how he had been sheltered inside his father’s palace till his mid thirties when he sneaked out for a first glimpse of the outside world. The Buddha had been extremely protected his whole life–to the point where he wasn’t even aware of the existence old age, sickness, and death–and as he walked through the surrounding villages he saw all three of these things for the first time. These sights disturbed him so much he left his palace and family to try to understand and find a solution to these basic human problems.
I didn’t see any dead people, but the sight of burning plastic, beggars, huts in the mud, and malnourished people everywhere made me feel even more frightened than when I walked out of the airport. I was frighted because I felt out of control. It hit me like a ton of bricks that I had underestimated the amount of suffering out there in the world.
Eventually we arrived at the ashram, which was by far the nicest place I’d seen since arriving in India. The ashram has a permanent population just south of 2000 individuals, and a transient population sometimes several times that, so the grounds are HUGE.
The first person I ran into was a short, bearded European. I had some difficulty communicating with him until I realized he had taken a vow of silence. He tried to explain to me how to get registered using only gestures. Eventually he gave up on his attempts to do this silently and simply explained in verbally. I walked away from this encounter with a new appreciation for ASL. 🙂
After getting settled into my room, taking a nap, eating a large bowl of curry and rice, and an hour of meditation, I felt like a new person. Not only had I loosened up, but I began to see myself adjusting to my new life in India. While I still felt disturbed by the sights I had seen on my drive to the ashram, I realized that behind all that aversion I had been feeling, there was some compassion as well.
To be continued next week!