Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Since my return to Canada several weeks ago, I have been asked lots of questions, by many people. “So, how was it?” and “Why India?” and “Oh good, you’re back, did you bring back some poorly constructed chess sets?”
The short answers are: “Good”, “Because”, and “Yes, and I plan to sell them at the corner of Osborne and River beside the guy with the fake sunglasses, along with some out of date maps of Winnipeg, to anyone who looks like a South Asian tourist”.
I’ve been finding that I have a lot of trouble answering the first two questions. In fact, I’ve had to re-do this entry several times. They are very difficult to answer. Just as Good and Because are not really answers, How was it, and Why are not really questions, but I have some observations…
I have had some time to process the trip a little more, and besides the mind numbing jet lag and the drastic temperature shift, there are a few other things that I noticed right away about coming back to the west.
I don’t think I will ever again take for granted the fact that I can walk up to a tap in a kitchen, or a bathroom, or a drinking fountain at a mall, and consume the water directly from it.
To take a shower, and not only know that hot water will pour forth, but that I don’t have to keep thinking “keep your mouth closed, keep your mouth closed, keep your mouth closed or you will surely die”. To brush my teeth without treating a liter of water, and then waiting for an hour for it to take effect. To wake up in the morning and not wonder whether my water supply is sufficient to get me through the day.
Unfortunately, the above statement fuels one of the many western misconceptions about India being a dirty unsanitary place, which is untrue. I think that this idea stems from the amount of westerners who develop traveler’s diarrhea or “Delhi Belly” which doesn’t always come from ingesting dirty water, but from a lack of local flora and fauna in the traveller’s guts. (A post on that later).
Ok, ok, I’ll put the disclaimer in right now. When I talk about India in this way I am generalizing. There are some really filthy parts in India, like areas of North Mumbai, or the townsite outside of Auroville, or some of the market areas of Agra, but they are small areas and are the exception and not the rule. Marine drive along the sea in Mumbai was cleaner than downtown Toronto or Winnipeg.
Same thing goes for Nepal, there are huge garbage bonfires in Kathmandu and by the Highway in some places, but then there is the stunning beauty of the countryside in Panauti.
If you look close enough, any city in Canada could be called “dirty” depending on where you are, and even when you are there. Winnipeg during the thaw for example.
The misconceptions go both ways though, a lot of people in India and Nepal think of the Americas as a land of milk and honey where everybody is happy, employed, and rich (again I’m generalizing here). In 2008 the unemployment rate in Canada was 6.2%, and in India it was 6.8%, and although 41% of the world’s “poor” people live in India (due to the sheer population of the country), the percentage of people living below the poverty line, per capita, in India is 220 per one million people or .022%. In Canada it’s 2830 per one million or 0.283%.
And I can tell you first hand that the average person I saw walking the streets in Nepal, some who we would call “poor”, and owned very little, were far happier than the grumbling hordes sitting in the food court at Portage Place and Polo Park shopping malls…
… ok maybe the food courts aren’t a fair comparison, but you get the idea.
I think that one of the lasting effects of visiting India and Nepal wasn’t so much the destruction of my own misconceptions about those countries from seeing the beauty and culture of South Asia, but through the eyes of the people I met, I grew to realize MY misconceptions about my own country.
Now before you flame me as a west hater or Canada hater, I’ll say that Canada is a great and wonderful place to live, and certain aspects of this land I appreciate more now than before I left. But on the other side of the world lies a jewel called Nepal…
…and a gem called India, and the only way to know that, is to actually go there and view them.