Traveling Without a Map

I was scared to move from the second grade to the third grade. Not scared because of new teachers and harder subjects. I was scared because the third grade classrooms were located in a different hallway. A hallway I had never ventured in previously. I didn’t know what older-kid ghoulies and ghosties were lurking in the corners of the big-kid wing. My elementary school had two main hallways. Looking back on it now, it was probably the most easy transition life offers. But I wanted a map. So, my mom and my pastor sat down patiently with me and they created a 2-hallway map of my school. I made it, map-in-hand, and now I’m looking at another map and a new transition.

Folders upon notebooks of information cannot help prepare me emotionally and mentally for my move to India. I feel excited and, as each day passes, increasingly filled with tummy butterflies. The difficulty I find in answering the universal question, “How are you preparing for a year in India,” may be indicative of the growing swarm of fluttering friends in my stomach.

I think about what it will be like to return to the States.

I returned to the U.S. after two years working in Rome, Italy on the first of August. As I ate my first meal upon returning to the states, a mushroom-swiss burger at Michael’s Frozen Custard, I was still registering that the Capitolo Italia of my life was over. I’ve found myself overwhelmed with little things: the uninhibited nature noises in the backyard, the amount of clothing in my storage bins, the novelty of taking a shower in a private bathroom as opposed to a communal bathroom full of students. I realize that I will do this all over again when I return from India and it will be completely different than the adjustments I am laughing through now.

I read.

Nothing eases my mind in a time of transition like the opening up a book I’m halfway through, the comfort-zone where the end isn’t yet in sight and the beginning introductions are long behind. In Gita Mehta’s book, Snakes and Ladders, she quotes a passage Mark Twain wrote during his nineteenth century visit to India:

The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two millions gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the moldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the sole country under the sun that is endowed with imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and food, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for shows of all the rest of the globe combined.

People talk about India being a Sensory-Overload Experience: thefood thesmells thenoises thepeople themovement. It assails you when you are least prepared. Just as Mark Twain describes the juxtaposition of opposites that he found during his travels, I hope to entrench myself in the complexity of the culture and leave with a special understanding after my time in India – a gift for any traveler and global citizen. Maybe the best way to prepare myself for this year is to be ready to be unprepared, to come without expectations. A lesson in patience and willingness to be taught by those around me.

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