Tuesday, February 27, 2007

CONTEMPLATING INDIA, TWO WEEKS OUT

IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR? I’ve been focused on getting back to a somewhat normal life over the past two weeks. India has been in the rear view mirror temporarily while I try to reengage the daily responsibilities and challenges of a husband, father, friend, pastor, community advocate, etc. But India is not at all out of my mind. It’s not like you can put it away like you do your suitcase. I‘m trying to spend some time contemplating the whole experience.

THE UNUSUAL BECOMES ROUTINE. On Monday evening, I began to put together an electronic media presentation to be able to concisely share the experience with school students, congregations, fellowship groups, service clubs, neighbors, and other groups (let me know if I can share this with your group! – bikehiker@yahoo.com. All I know, so far, is that a Ben Davis High School sophomore English class thought it was cool and asked lots of questions.). In doing so, I was surprised by how diverse and striking the images and encounters came at us--or through which we sliced on our bicycles.

ALL IN A DAY. It goes something like this: Here are people drawing water from a well. They carry water away in metal and plastic containers placed on their heads. Here’s a group of uniformed students headed to technology training. Over there, a group of women labor in a ditch while a man watches over them. A cow saunters in front of me. A lorry carrying new motorcycles blasts past me. We pass through a village without running water and many villagers are talking on cell phones. We admire gleaming modern buildings in a city and see a hand pump for a water well just down the street. A full meal is purchased for less than one dollar. It is eaten with fingers and is served by an 11-year old boy. A goat is eating our leftovers by the side of the road was we leave the dhaba. An Internet café is next to store dealing in fabric for sari’s--the standard dress for women for thousands of years.

UNUSUAL AND ROUTINE. Cultural nuances that typically take considerable time to process had to be absorbed immediately. The unusual quickly became routine. The unusual routine became the context for the next striking encounter. And that became the backdrop for the next and the next--day after day, week after week. After each 200 miles or so, the language and culture would change again. India is tribal in a most orderly way. It has eleven “official” languages (with many more “unofficial” languages and dialects), each dominant in a different state or region of the sub-continent. Behind each language group is a matrix of significant cultural distinctions and tribal identifiers.

PERSPECTIVE MAY TAKE A LIFETIME. It was a struggle to keep from letting the sheer volume of inputs from numbing our responses. Changing Indian hosts and riders with each state we passed through helped us tremendously; it also gave us fuller insight into Indian ways, living with three or four new Indian friends each week. We tried to take in as much as possible and put it into perspective. But we were overwhelmed, like trying to get a drink out of a gushing fire hydrant. I guess it will take some time, maybe a lifetime, to put into perspective and make a grace-full response to all we experienced. As I do so, I will share it via Bikehiker.

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