I spent the majority of my first day in Bangalore exploring the back of my eyelids. After two long flights and near hour-long drive, we arrived at our hotel in the wee hours. I thought I’d collapse, but instead I tossed and turned in bed until I did what any good American would under the circumstances: I watched the Indian equivalent of QVC. That 10-function chopper-dicer-slicer thingy was really tempting, but I managed not to pick up the phone. I eventually did slip into slumber as the sun rose at the start of a new day.
Ding dong. It was the doorbell that woke me up at 10 AM, two hours after breakfast began. I thought it might be my fellow travelers beckoning me to join them on an adventure, but it was a kind man asking if I had any laundry for him to do today. I didn’t, but I decided I’d like for someone to stop by and ask me that question every day in Kalskag! Any takers?
Since I’d missed breakfast, I decided I might as well sleep until my body woke up, which was when the same man rang the doorbell to offer cleaning services, after lunch and just before I needed to attend our opening session. I hurriedly showered and just barely made it before the first speaker began. So. . .yes, on the other side of the world, I’m still Aeriale. Sleep trumps food; I’m on CP time.
Our opening session and dinner were delightful gatherings chockfull of intriguing information and intimate conversations. As I returned to my room, I found myself excited for tomorrow because I want more! We talked about so much in our formal classroom setting and informally around the table of delicious food. But there was a common thread in all of our interactions: honesty. Our brilliant host from The Teacher Foundation set the tone by presenting India to us as a set of paradoxes. She, for example, discussed how Indians are incredibly clean when it comes to their bodies, meticulous even, but some cities are incredibly filthy. As she spoke about her country, I could hear both how much she loves India and how much hope she has that it will outgrow itself, becoming a better place for all of its citizens. She didn’t mince words and her straightforwardness set us all free to continue speaking with veracity during dinner.
Racism. Police brutality. Politics. Colonialism. Being biracial. LGBT, “hey, don’t leave out the Q!” issues. No topic seemed to be off limits on our side of the table. It was glorious. If all Americans were having the kind of open and honest dialogue my cohort had tonight, we could solve many of the problems we face. If we allowed one another to express our frustrations – and, yes, even anger – with the paradoxes of our country without crying, “unpatriotic!”, we might be able show some empathy. If instead of listening to respond, we listened to one another just for the sake of listening and continued to listen over time to understand, we might just be one nation under (no) God(s) – whatever your personal convictions are.
I am not perfect. India is not perfect. The United States of America is not perfect. We all have some incredible strengths and plenty of room for improvement. The truth is that every human being is an individual paradox existing within collective ones as citizens of our nations and the world. I personally believe we’d all be better off if we ultimately gave ourselves and others the freedom to embrace the reality that perhaps our truths are not dichotomous after all, but spectral. Let us empower one another to move toward whichever end brings us all our own beauty for ashes, whichever end is humane. . .whichever end is love.