The many sides of India

My view on charitable giving has changed over the last month or two. I used to feel that under no circumstances should America be giving so much foreign aid to other countries, due to the fact that it tends to go to a select corrupt few in the government. Now, I believe that we should give, and a lot, but that to whom we give and for what purpose should be very closely monitored.

Because it is true that Americans simply have too much. Literally. We live in houses the size of small mansions and yet there isn’t enough room for all of our possessions. When Christmastime comes around we are all stuck not knowing what to give each other because we have it all already.

Of course, we have it all already at the cost of being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but that’s another story…

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We got to meet up with Elder Ammon Sarver, from Liberty, Missouri. He and his companion took us to meet with a couple of families in their homes. One family had an apartment of 3-4 children, two parents, and lived in an apartment with one bedroom, one living room and kitchen, and one bathroom. The next family was two parents, one child, living in one room with a curtain separating the bathroom. Wow. We all sat on their bare bed during the lesson.

And these people are happy. Thank God, the people we meet are happy despite their circumstances. Happier, I dare say, than many Americans. Yet it’s hard to help but want to do something to make life a little easier for these good people. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a great introduction for that. Not only will it help them financially, it will help their health (they have to commit to live the Word of Wisdom to get baptized. While surprisingly few people here smoke or drink heavily, there is a lot of tobacco chewing and spitting of something called paan). And it helps people to be able to give service and have a community to rely on. Elder Sarver is doing a good work. We witnessed a baptism in Delhi. It appears the Church in India is growing at a healthy rate.

Here in Kolkata, which is like New York City gone wrong, I have seen for the first time people literally bathing in the streets. There are public fountains, and groups of people are gathered to do laundry and scrub down right in front of everyone.

I say it is like New York City gone wrong because there are billboards and tall buildings and bad traffic like NYC,P1010775

People carry all sorts of things on the back of motorcycles!

but the air is a gray film from pollution and the buildings are spotted black because of it. The traffic is one long, mad honk and the streets are full of children coming up to the windows telling you they have no mother or father and making the universal feed me sign. There are people pulling handcarts (rickshaws) even though it was outlawed in 2006. P1020824And there isn’t really anything beautiful that I’ve seen here in congested, trash-filled, sooty Kolkata. 13 million people, and it feels like they’re all on the streets.P1020484
In Varanasi, the city we were in last week, you light a candle and say a prayer for your loved ones before setting it on the river. Many children sell these on the banks of the Ganges, or the Ganga as they call it. I bought one from one little girl, only to infuriate another, and so she told me “you have bad karma!” and angrily followed me for a stretch of the river. Not a very auspicious way to begin a walk along the holiest place in Hinduism, where they believe the earth was formed, where goddess Parvati lost her earring in its depths, the Ganga…

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This is where the cremations take place. We saw bodies burning up. A priest took us on a tour, then asked for donations to help buy the wood (he called it “ood”) he was rather insulted at our donation of Rp200 (around $4) he wanted Rp 50000, although perhaps that was a marketing ploy. All Hindus want their ashes to be deposited in this holy river. Many people come to Varanasi (also called Benares or Kashi) to wait to die. They wear white to mourn, and you can’t cry while the cremation occurs, or the soul who is now dead will be disturbed.
P1020612 This little boy was irresistibly charming. I bought this postcard from him, which shows the goddess Kali stomping on all-powerful god Shiva. Kali, I was told, is who they pray for when they need protection. She’s the goddess of death and destruction. Dang right. She’s my namesake.

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At the ghats (stairsteps) leading to the Ganga
 

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Trying to lead Jacob to their boat to go on a ride P1010929The classified ads are hilarious to read in the newspaper. It’s organized by caste and by families looking for a match for their children.   P1020329
We’ve had two overnight crammed sleeper train rides. Boy the Indians know how to fit a lot of people in not a lot of space. That’s my Sawyer water bottle. Of all my possessions, that one merits the most curiosity. I frequently get asked what it is, how it works, and how much it cost. It is very handy! I use it to filter even water that’s already been filtered for extra peace of mind.

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As far as animals go, we’ve seen camels, goats, sheep, dragonflies, birds of all kinds, roosters, chickens, lizards, dogs, cats, monkeys, horses, donkeys, and buffalo on the streets. We have yet to see any elephants, but we’re told they’re around. And of course, the  ubiquitous cow—the “friend of Shiva”.P1020475 P1010836P1020521 

My mind has been spinning trying to think of what this country needs and how Jacob and I can contribute. Because India is simply incredible. The music is feisty (you ought to see Jacob dance like he’s in a Bollywood film) the clothes are unlike anywhere else in beauty and styleP1010926 the people are disarmingly open and honest, some of the most jaw-dropping buildings of the world are located hereP1010853
At the Bahai Temple

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At the Agra Fort (the Taj Mahal is in the distance)P1010807

This is the building the Taj Mahal was based on, built by a woman mourning her husband

I can get vegetarian food easily, and abundantly, P1010937the vegetation is tropical and unusualP1020419 and I even am loving the national religion, Hinduism.

The religion is as colorful as the culture. With thousands of gods and stories for each, it is a religion that would take decades to grasp. Essentially though, the idea of karma, or good luck if you do good to others, and not only that, but the idea of getting a better life once you die and are reincarnated if you have lived a good life, seems to influence the people to live good lives. And to accept their lot in this life, with hope that there will be a better life if this one is lived well.P1010741

There are pictures of the Hindu gods on about every autorickshaw, or tuktukP1020360

At the top of a Hindu temple

 

But any visitor to the country will also struggle with the country’s downsides, such as pollution and poverty. P1010737

Slums in Delhi

There are several major problems that I have observed already:

One, education is not free. This starts the divide between the rich and the poor, and perpetuates itself. Families who cannot afford to pay for their children to go to school simply don’t. Or, they can afford it for a little while, and then the child has to drop out and help raise the children at home. And many times the child is needed to help earn money for the family anyway. And because education is not required, there are a lot of children on the streets trying to make money. 

Two. Health care. There are many obviously lame, ill, or mentally retarded people who live and beg on the streets. Healthcare is so cheap in India and yet so many cannot afford it. 

Three, business. This is the charity of which I am most fond, Kiva.org. This allows people in different countries to get a loan with no interest to start a business. As far as I can tell, Kiva has no branches in India, yet the Indians actually seem fairly business-savvy. They do sales well, and they don’t pressure you to buy as much as one might expect, instead they build a good customer relationship.

Four, hunger. People are so skinny here. Even many of those who eat can’t be getting adequate nutrition (this is why Jacob gets so much attention).P1010856

Five, safe water supply. The water here is not potable. Who knows what kind of illnesses are being transmitted this way.

 

These five things are areas in which I would be interested in donating my time and money to the cause. But it has to be done correctly. You don’t want to fuel the problem, but find the solution…

One last thing, and the only thing that has brought me to tears, is to see row after row of people sleeping on the streets, especially little young boys holding hands as they sleep. Yet, the crime is so low here that sleeping on the streets is actually probably safe. They are with family, and they seem cheerful. Is homelessness really so bad? What is it like to be homeless?

We are surprisingly the only white-colored folks in a sea of brown here. Perhaps this is why we are constantly taking photos with people. We came to be the tourists, but they treat us like a novelty.  A man sat next to me and fired one question after the other. “Do you believe in God? I don’t believe in God. What does your father do?” Someone asked me to hold their baby while they took a picture of me with her. How can you help but love people who admire you so?

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 364 awesome articles for us.

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