It is my last day in India. I’m both incredibly sad and relieved to be going home, especially after being sick. (I’m better today. My current temperature is 97.6, which is my normal and invoked a happy beep from my thermometer!) Saying goodbye to this amazing country and this even more amazing experience is very bittersweet. It also brings about a barrage of self-reflection on the last few months.
People keep saying how proud they are of me, and not just the obvious ones like my parents, but people I don’t usually even talk to, like my brother’s childhood best friend. I’ve been struggling to comprehend why anyone should be proud of me. Sure, I’m doing an internship, but people do internships all the time, and in large party my trip to India has been a vacation. So why would anyone be proud of me for this? I’m starting, at least a little bit, to get it. Because I feel a little bit proud of myself. For me, it’s less about the journey to India, but more about how I’ve changed; not specifically in India, but in the 26 years leading up to the trip that allowed me the courage to do it.
When I was a little girl, I acted more like a tumor on my mom’s leg than as a child, at least in social settings. I sobbed whenever my parents went out and left my brother and me with a babysitter. I didn’t speak to my kindergarten teacher until I had seen my best friend Cathryn interact with her for weeks, to no ill effect. I wasn’t capable, or didn’t think I was, of ordering my own food in restaurants until I was nine (?) year old, when my parents refused to do it for me anymore. I still remember the first time they refused; it was in a tavern in Colonial Williamsburg. I cried and I don’t think I managed to order anything, and it was just awful.
But amid my fear of social situations, I was also blatantly myself. While my friends in dance class wore their girly ballet pink, my favorite outfits were a black leotard with silver fish scales, and a turquoise leopard print unitard. I idolized Laura Ingalls Wilder, and spent hours in the small Vermont woods pretending they were the Big Woods of Wisconsin. I was obsessed with The Sound of Music and my favorite make-believe game was “hiding from the Nazis,” which involved sitting silently behind a couch with all of my stuffed animals and keeping them from panicking. Last year I admitted what this game was to my mom, who had no idea Nazis were involved, but she wasn’t about to interrupt silent play to find out what I was doing. My stuffed animals, aside from being survivors of a mock World War II, were all given names, ages, birthdays and other personal information that was carefully stored in an extensive Excel spreadsheet. I loved playing dress-up, and invented an alter-ego named Bemily who was a total grump but had an awesome outfit that included a red wig, purple glasses and silver high heels. I was a little strange.
Despite my somewhat eccentric childhood ways, I struggled to put myself out there, always the shy one. The winter I was fourteen, the shy and the stubbornly anomalous sides of myself clashed. I decided, with serious conviction, that the following summer I wanted to go backpacking in Yellowstone, the Tetons and the Sawtooths of Idaho. I had never backpacked before. My parents used to have to lure me up mountains with M&Ms. And yet, it was what I had to do. Getting on the plane, my first solo flight, was terrifying, but it was okay. I didn’t miss my connection in Denver, or get lost or feel terribly alone. I had an amazing month, and the confidence I gained began to open doors for me. The next summer, I took it a step further and backpacked in Spain. The summer after that, I did 300 miles on the Appalachian Trail. I kept becoming more independent. I went to Kenyon, a ten-hour drive from home, a feat that would have been unrecognizable to my eight-year-old self, who cried daily with homesickness during one week at a summer camp only thirty minutes from home. I grew up, and became self-sufficient and my own adult self.
And then I came to India. While I was a little nervous, it didn’t feel like a big deal.I’d heard stories of women traveling alone in India having some problems, but I’ve been cautiously optimistic and haven’t encountered any issues that left me feeling more than slightly uncomfortable. Not only was I okay traveling alone in a developing country, but I felt comfortable during my solo time. I felt so comfortable in fact, that sometimes I wondered if I was going about worrying in the wrong way, like there was some big unknown danger lurking that I had never considered. I think one of my biggest strides over the last several years has been realizing that asking for help is a sign of strength rather than weakness. It can be difficult to admit that one is struggling, but it’s even more difficult left fighting alone. A few days ago I asked a man with an assault rifle for directions (he was a guard, not an ordinary citizen… I wouldn’t be that bold). Asking for help? I wouldn’t have done that ten years ago. Talking to a stranger? Fifteen years ago that would have been absolutely terrifying. Facing a deadly weapon? Okay, I can’t say I’ve experienced that before, but it wasn’t an obstacle. I’ve changed, a lot, and I’m proud of my growth and my ability to remain true to myself in the midst of it.
I’m also proud of how I’ve taken advantage of my opportunities. I’m proud that I had the tenacity to realize that I wasn’t living up to my ambitions, and to completely change my plan, carving the life I want for myself from the endless maze of choices. I sought out opportunities to become more involved with midwifery and to travel, and combined them into one amazing trip to India, surrounded by birth and the wondrous sights, culture and people. Professionally, it was incredibly satisfying to confirm that I do really love being around birth, even if it is particularly loathsome here. I can’t adequately describe how much these past few months have meant to me, and I’m the one who made it happen.
I’m proud at not only how I’ve changed and built opportunities for myself, but how I’ve done it with kindness and dignity. I could have witnessed more births, but instead of being number hungry, I opted to find more satisfying birth experiences, and to fully commit myself to one mother at a time, sticking to my promises of being there for her delivery. This wasn’t required of me, it’s just what felt right. It was also important to me to give back to this marvelous country that continues to struggle with issues in poverty, healthcare and human rights. A little goes a long way in India. I couldn’t bear to walk away from the leprosy hospital without buying some of their handmade goods. The patients didn’t choose their fate, and their disabilities are the result of the failure of India’s public healthcare system more than anything. After meeting the boy whose family had abandoned him, I also couldn’t leave India without supporting him and others like him. I’m saddened and frustrated by the results of overpopulation and parental irresponsibility, but like the leprosy patients, these children didn’t choose to live their lives this way. If I have the capacity to help, why wouldn’t I?
This has been a wondrous journey. I don’t know if I can wrap it up better than just saying that. I will be forever grateful for the experiences that I’ve had, the incredible friends that I’ve made, and the sights I’ve seen, both beautiful and grotesque. Thank you to everyone who contributed in some way to my being here, and for helping me become the kind of person that could do it. I’m filled to the brim with gratitude and gratification.