It is the end of week one for me in Pune, India. The weather has been hot, in the mid 100’s each and everyday, but the work has been pleasant and the company of my friends even more so. Each and every night I am treated to a new and exciting restaurant, eating food and drinking adult beverages with new and old friends. Sitting outside in open air spaces, hearing the sounds of the city and the chatter of near by tables. Each having there own rhythm, the city with its three wheel two cylinder rickshaws and the chatter in languages I do not understand. It is intoxicating.
As I have written before, I love to travel, I love to make new friends and to see new places, to experience new cultures. Each and every trip I take, be it to someplace new or someplace I have seen a thousand times before, in my home state of Michigan or around the globe, its always an exciting time for me. The experiences are always that of a life time. This trip is no different, it is an experience I will remember.
As I sit writing this it is Sunday morning in Pune, 7:45 to be exact and back home it is 10:13 Saturday night. My weekend of adventures is starting its end, Monday morning I am back to work, But the magic will continue with good friends, good food and good conversations each and every night.
One of the things I always find fascinating is the similarities between the American culture and others. Sure there are more differences, but still there are many similarities. In my previous vocation at a parish in Michigan I was always being questioned on the conditions of the poor, the practice of fair trade and did I only support people who are being treated fairly. The question it self is silly, fairly based on what? And to a poor person in a third world country, what if fair trade?
When I returned from a trip in Brazil I was “attached” by the liberal Catholics that consider themselves to be the champions of the worlds poor. They belittled me for my nonsupport of there efforts, efforts that would in-fact cause more harm than good. In Brazil I was teaching at the new Ford Amazon plant, a state of the art plant situated in one of the poorest regions of Brazil. A plant that offered poor men and woman an opportunity to earn a pay at three times the governments standard, a plant that offered free food and transportation along with education. Yet I had to hear of how Ford Motor Company was miss using the poor of Brazil, how Ford was taking advantage of the people. How Ford was no better than the corrupt government of Brazil.
I witnessed the workers working conditions and the living conditions. I saw the houses built on the side of the road or in trash fields and saw the clean modern plant and cafeteria I was the training rooms and education being offered, yet my personal experiences held no ground the the bleeding hearts of the liberal agenda. I saw the truth of life not the vision I wish to place upon it. My friends where sincere in there efforts, but misguided.
The misguidedness comes from a habit of many, a habit of placing our ideals of happiness of fairness and of equality upon others. In Brazil the workers were offered an opportunity to earn good money and to grow, to become educated. They were treated with respect, provided a clean and safe work environment. Truth be-told, I have seen several plants in America and the level or care taken to ensure the betterment of there employees was greater in Brazil than in any US plant I have ever visited. Bt once again, why allow the facts to mess sup the perfect utopia of the Liberal mindset. The sad part was that part of the Liberal mindset had taken hold in Brazil, the union. The workers at the Ford plant were represented by the union. And I witnessed a strike going on. The strike was for air quality of a non ford plant. Yep, the workers were on strike for a plant that was not even a Ford owned plant. These poor people were forced into a union, forced to pay dues and forced to strike. Ah the utopia of the liberals. The union leaders, they were not there, they were busy spending the union money on there own personal houses and political aspirations. Corruption is ramped in Brazil, and the unions know how to use it. So the liberal Catholics should be proud, they were able to force the golden cow of liberal thinking upon the people of Brazil, the Corrupt Unions. I know I shed a tear that day.
Back to India, the largest democracy in the world, we have a nation at a crossroad, a nation that is growing yet seems to be stagnate. Yesterday I visited a national treasure a ruined fort site that was over a thousand years old. This site sat upon a mountain top, and was a look out fort, a guard post if you will, for a fort some were else. In truth there was not much left, a few walls, the kings swimming pool and that’s about it. But what struck me was the people who lived there. Yes they lived there. As we walked the site I would see little tents or tin houses set up, I would see little children running around and mothers doing the wash. And each person of the community depended upon the visitors for money, they sold drink and food, offered places to rest and conversation. I asked my escort about this and he explained that the village people have lived here long before the government claimed it as a national site. And that the government cold not see uprooting the people from there home and relocating them. The way of life would be lost, there connection to there past would be severed and the traditions of centuries would be nullified. my mind wondered back to my liberal Catholic friends, to the idea of fair trade, and the American dream. If I were to subscribe to the ideals they hold true, I would not have entered the site, depriving them of there livelihood. I would have been offended that my breakfast meal, prepared by one of the local villagers, was grossly under priced, based on my standards. And I would have felt shame for taking part in this atrocity. I thank God I am not one such person. Rather I smiled at the simplicity of the life style and was honored to get accepted in to their village as a welcomed guess. I treated all i met with respect and honor and asked for nothing in return. I respected the temples upon there home land and thanked then for there hospitality. And left there with a new understanding of life.
The thing that amazes me, always, is that I never see a sad face but only smiles. Yet I think about my own life and can not say the same thing. I was kids swimming and running and playing, each with a smile that said life is good. I saw hardworking mothers and fathers with a smile that said the life of my child will be better than mine. What parent does not wish this upon there own? I was families surviving with out TV or cell phones and computers. I was simplicity at its best.
As my friend and I continued to talk I made the statement that in someway I envy them, the simple life, yes a hard life, but a life they know they have earned through hard work. I also admitted that I do not think I could live such a life, but than again I was not called to. He also stated the same, that the life of the village is one of harmony and simplicity. They take care of each other and live a life that is good and pure.
I love my country and believe it is the best in the world, yet I do not believe in taking my standards and forcing them upon others. If I would do this my visit to Brazil or India and China would have be trips of great sadness and not joy. I do believe that we as Christians have an obligation to the poor, be it our own or that of others. But I do not believe that obligation crosses over in to forcing our standards upon those of others. I believe that all are called to care for each other and that all are to respect each other. And part of that respect and care is acceptance that my happiness is not the same happiness of others.
If I were to impose my standard upon the people of India than the people of India would no longer be. Yes India needs to find solutions that will help the poor and stop the corruption, but the American dream is not and can not be the Indian dream.
What is the solution, love and understanding and education. The people are poor and uneducated, to give them the power and responsibility of the American standard would corrupt the simplicity of life they enjoy. But to offer a hand up in the form of education and the respect of humanity, in time they will grow and obtain a better life. They may not obtain a life that fits in to the American standards, but than again they are not Americans. The well-to-do and the poor walk the same streets and each at the same street venders they respect each other and live in a harmony I have never seen with in the borders of my country. They understand that the pursuit of happiness is not depended upon the getting of material things, but rather in the quality of ones life. A lesson we all should learn.
So as my second week in India starts I once again will be confronted with the class system that is part of the fabric of India. I will walk through the front doors of the office building to be greeted by a guard who will stand and say good morning sir, as if I was someone important. I will get given my cup of coffee by an office boy who’s job i is to make sure I have what I need. They students will great me as if I was a well respected educator and on our tea break we will head outside to a curb side stand set up by one of the locals who will sell tea an other snacks as a way of life. I will cherish the life style offered to me not because I am treated as a king but rather because I am taking part in a culture that has its roots thousands of years deep. I am humbled to be accepted and grateful that I have the oppertunity to participate.