I’ve tried to write this blog entry a couple of different times, and each of them has felt wrong and/or forced. I think I feel that way because I keep trying to make some earth-shattering revelation about our students, or about poverty, or appreciating what I have. Not to say that that is an ineffective way to write a blog post (because that’s the approach I took in my first two), but it has just felt wrong the couple of times that I have tried it. So instead, I want to try something else.
We have been here for three weeks, and in that time we have done some pretty amazing things. We went to Red Fort, we took rickshaws through Old Delhi, we volunteered at Mother Teresa’s homeless shelter, we worked with a remarkable group of students, we saw tombs, and tomorrow we are going to the Taj Mahal. But there is one moment in the trip that stands out to me above the others.
It was the day before the school’s Independence Day assembly, and our entire group was congregated in the school meeting room. The school’s founder was scheduled to come and speak at the assembly, and she wanted to talk to us while she was in town. She is the founder of numerous schools in India, so it is a rare occasion that she spends a significant amount of time at any one of the schools, and it was certainly flattering of her to want to address us.
Admittedly I was expecting her to be somewhat dismissive, thinking she might speak to us very briefly, and exude a feeling of obligation. This was not at all the case. She had us all tell her about our experiences at the school, and a bit about ourselves. She listened to us each one by one, extremely interested in, and engaged in what we had to say, but that’s not what stood out to me about her. What stood out is the last thing she said. We had just collectively relayed how excited we were to teach English, and her response was this: “That’s great, but the most important thing you can do is talk to them. Just chit chat and help them realize that we are all the same.”
“So with respect to the moments of revelation that I have had on this trip, those aren’t the moments that have mattered most to me. The most important moments have been the understated, simple, moments of chit chat.”
It was striking. She said it so calmly, and so casually. This woman had just dismissed a half a world of distance while using the word chit chat. It was a perfectly understated comment, and one that I feel has been a great guide to my time in India.
My favorite parts of this trip have been when I get to chat with people and learn about them. I’ve spent so many hours on this trip talking to Sunil and Ashveni Kumar (two of the CCS staff members, who happen to be brothers). They have meant the world to me for the last three weeks. Our conversations have easily meant as much to me as the chance to go to the Taj Mahal. When I think about my relationship with them it’s really remarkable that we have gotten as close as we have over such a short period. Then I think about what the founder said and it makes so much sense. They were so willing to talk to me, to answer all of me questions, and to ask me any questions they had about me. We hit it off so quickly because we all just wanted to talk.
I think about Ashveni and Sunil and I realize that the founder’s statement has grounded me on this trip. What she said has kept me from losing sight of the reasons we’re here – to teach and to learn from everyone.
So with respect to the moments of revelation that I have had on this trip, those aren’t the moments that have mattered most to me. The most important moments have been the understated, simple, moments of chit chat. The moments when I have been able to easily understand that we are all the same.