“What are you doing on your gap year?”
Well, I say to almost every relative and friend, I’m going to India for three months.
“What! Why would you wanna do that?”
Here we go.
“Are you ready for some good ol’ Delhi Belly?”
There it is.
Coming to India, to Varanasi, I was prepared to get sick, to have ailments, to struggle. To put it simply, I had low expectations. I figured if I kept them low, I’d never be disappointed. But as I began this new life in this crazy city, I quickly fell in love with the whispers of prayer and soft jingles of bells, the smell of amazing curries and incense, the unpredictable predictability of the traffic that pulses like blood in veins weaving through stacks of new/old architecture. I quickly realized what a depressing outlook I had on such an amazing experience ahead of me. The only things I had ever been told about this place were the negatives– the horror stories of bug bites and explosive bowel movements.
For the first half of my three months, the only thing that plagued me was a consistent cold–the coughs of which, after a while, I greeted as old friends. Out of my lungs, they would call out, “hey! at least you don’t have diarrhea like everyone else!” True dat, I would reply, wiping my nose. Take that, extended family and friends.
But even though I was not consciously grading my experience on exceeded expectations, I was still allowing the status of my health to dictate my happiness. And I got pretty cocky.
Yes, I was able to experience this city thoroughly, without being bothered or hindered by an upset stomach. But I felt like I was still lacking a connection, like I was looking at everything through a screen and going through the motions. I had seen so much, but like watching TV, I did not feel deeply affected by any of it.
This past Sunday, we had our mid-course retreat and sure enough my time had come. Others in the group had started making jokes about how I was immune and I was beginning to feel anxious, the air around me tense like the world holding it’s breath before the storm. Then suddenly, the pendulum swung back and I was thoroughly lowered from my pooping high horse. For the last week, I have just about gone to the bathroom every hour, on the hour, barely having time for a breather. But during those times in between, when I was able to see an aarti at night, or go to busy Godwalia to buy home stay gifts, I suddenly began to feel more at home. For some reason that I cannot really explain, I felt comfortable, finally, in this place. I stopped looking at Varanasi through my “ailments” lenses and my expectations, and I began to use just my own two eyes. I have certainly experienced and learned so much in the past 6 weeks, but I have seen and learned more than I ever thought I could in the last week while I have been pooping like there’s no tomorrow.
So when I look back at the months before I embarked on this trip, I do not hear my relatives asking me if I’m ready to get sick with the “Delhi Belly,” but instead I hear them asking me if I am ready to be humbled, if I am ready to really open my eyes. Because that is what being sick has taught me–to experience the world by looking outwards and not by looking inwards.