Delhi Immersion Experience
Na’maste from India! Halfway into our trip, it seems as though we just got here and yet, like we have been here much longer. The sights, smells, and sounds are becoming familiar and the people with whom we are interacting are becoming very dear to us. I am beginning to wonder how we will ever be able to say goodbye.
I have to say that as I’m writing this I am struggling to find words to tell you what we’ve experienced for the past few days. Monday we began a program that Abhishek developed to help teach visitors about the underlying causes of poverty and the situations that put young girls at risk for trafficking.
The Delhi Immersion Experience – D.I.E., for short – involves experiencing the city to see how people live at every class level, which religions influence social customs and responsibility, and how the business sector contributes to the values embraced by the culture.
At first blush, it may sound like we are having a typical tourist experience, and in some ways we are. As a student of Religion and Philosophy, I’ve personally enjoyed seeing first hand the places of worship for religions I studied at school. The wild rickshaw ride through Old Delhi reminded me of scenes we’ve seen in movies. It was both terrifying and exhilarating! That also could be said of some of the food we’ve eaten. Because of our relationship with Abhishek and Angie, we have the privilege of seeing things through our Western tourist eyes, as well as through the eyes of people who live here everyday.
We are well aware that we are seeing things that the average visitor to Delhi doesn’t get to see and are being profoundly affected by it all. On the day we visited some of the girls’ families in their homes, we saw the hard truth about income disparity in the city. It was a long, hard day of trekking through parts of the city that we would never dare to consider on our own. At the end of the day when we were exhausted and expecting to go back to our rooms for a shower and a rest, we were taken to one last stop.
As we realized what was happening, we were completely dismayed. Our bus was parked in front of a luxurious shopping mall, and we let out a collective groan. In true Indian fashion, we were told, “Come. Come.” As we were directed across the street, we were told that we had forty-five minutes before the bus would return and to head inside. To say that we didn’t want to be there would be an understatement. After all we had just seen, this was the last place we would have chosen to take a break.
After our initial shock wore off, we did what every respectable American would do in that situation: we headed to Starbucks. I’m not going to lie, the latte was delicious, comforting even, but walking around in the cool of the air conditioning and seeing the very Western mall stores that we have every opportunity to shop in the states, I could no longer contain my frustration at the disparity we had observed, between the poorest and wealthiest people of India. We called for our bus early and I cried all the way back to our guest house.
As I think about how to tell you the reason for the tears, I could tell you honestly about every step we took, every sight, smell and sound. I could tell you a pity story that would surely garner compassion for the people of India, and perhaps even for us, as a team of American women who have “endured” some things that we never have to face in our everyday lives.
But as I processed that experience I found myself feeling protective of the people who welcomed us into their modest homes. The team will surely give details about how the people of India live generally, but for me, when I talk about the specific people we met, I don’t want to tell you the pity story. I want to tell you how resilient and resourceful they are. I want to tell you how determined they are to create a meaningful life. I want to tell you how open and welcoming they have been to us.
And as I think about how this translates to coming home, I think about the disparity of wealth in our own country. Certainly, the contrast is not so stark. But in terms of how we treat the wealthy and the poor, I am suddenly aware that when we define people by their material worth, we often miss the beauty of a story that tells of their character and strength.
I hope that when we get home you will ask us about our time here. I hope you will join us when we gather to give our report to the church. I also hope that you will hold us (and by that I mean me) accountable to tell the stories in a way that does not make us out to be martyrs or the people of India to be pitied, but in a way that calls us to honor them with dignity as we build relationships that are Christ-honoring and mutually transformative.
With many thanks for you prayers and support, on behalf of Team India,