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A sadu sitting along the ghats of the Ganges River. Photo by Jen Goings, India Semester.

What is America’s version of the caste system?

A few nights ago we experienced an adventure that changed my perspective of how I live my day-to-day life. After spending the whole day exploring the ghats of Varanasi, our group headed back to our hotel located just a few feet away from the Ganges river. We spent a few hours showering and getting ready for bed when the power went out and the AC turned off around 11 pm. We were so uncomfortable in the 100 degree, humid heat that we all decided to hang out on the handmade wooden chairs outside hoping that it would cool down a little. The extreme weather put everyone in such a miserable, agitated mood that most of our conversations consisted of complaining about the lack of AC. After a few minutes of talking, an Indian boy around our age approached us asking if there was anything wrong. We told him that we just couldn’t sleep without any AC in our rooms and he instantly ran off trying to repair a wire that had broken earlier in the day. He continuously apologized for our troubles and spent the next 30 minutes on the phone with various people trying to fix the problem all while passing out cold water bottles and trying to find a cooler place for us. Amongst this chaos I had a realization of how privileged I was. The fact that I live in a place where I don’t have to worry about being uncomfortable or taking care of other stranger’s needs was a wake up call to how fortunate I am.

Eventually, the boy returned saying that the electrician wouldn’t be there for at least another half an hour but if we wanted to, he could take us to a place that would be a bit cooler for the mean time. Following him up a few flights of stairs, we stumbled upon a breathtaking view of Varanasi at night. Peering over the edge of the roof, we saw a bridge lit up in rainbow lights with dozens of tuk-tuks zooming across while cows roamed the edges of the road. It by far was the prettiest view I’d seen in India and it definitely helped that the upstairs area was at least 10 degrees cooler with a small hot breeze. The Indian boy dashed off saying that he would be back in a minute with a few things. While we waited for him to return, I saw another man sitting on a pile of concrete on the other side of the roof. Our group sat about 10 feet away from him just making small talk amongst ourselves. Eventually, the man introduced himself as Stephano from Milan and ended up being a key part in turning our agitated mood around. A moment later, the Indian boy returned with a giant rug and a few more waters. He set up a little hangout area for us and invited our group onto the mat. Someone whipped out some cards and I called to Stephano and the Indian boy to come join us. After learning that the Indian boy’s name was Ravi, we spent the next hour playing various card games, watching monkeys jump between buildings, and laughing so hard. It was such a surreal experience for me because it felt like I’d known these guys for years even though we’d just met. And it’s crazy how a group of American teenagers, a 20 something year old man from Italy, and an 18 year old Indian guy can wind up sitting on top of a roof in the middle of India overlooking one of the most famous rivers just talking and laughing until past midnight.

After reflecting on that experience for a few days, I now realize how rewarding pushing myself out of my comfort zone is. I’ve never been one to approach a stranger, let alone spend several hours with one in a place I’ve never been to before. I look back on this moment as something so unique and special that I 100% NEED again. It’s still insane to me how such a “miserable” moment of intense heat opened up the doors for one of my favorite memories of my life. For anyone reading this, the next time you have the opportunity to do something out of your usual routine, take it, whether it’s talking to a stranger or walking to a random part of town. I know it sounds so cliché, but stepping just a little outside of my comfort zone rewarded me with something I’ll (hopefully) never forget.

*And yes, we’re already planning to have a giant FaceTime call with Ravi when we return to school in a few months.