In November 2010, my life changed forever when I met 42 little Indian kids in the Northern Himalayas. I was there with a group called Youth Making a Difference, (check them out at YMAD.org. Amazing) which takes about 25 teenagers and a couple adult leaders on a humanitarian trip somewhere in India! We were lucky enough to go to a little village called Shillai. We were the first white people to ever visit this little tiny village, so basically we were movie stars! It was fantastic! But I'm not writing this post to tell you about my rise to fame. I'm writing this post to tell you about the children that still cross my mind every day.
Like I said, there were 42 of them in the school we taught at. It was a little two-roomed, mint chocolate chip ice cream colored school house at the top of a steep hill. I had an interesting mindset when I went to India, which I think many of us can apply to life. My older brother Josh had gone to India, and told me I would just fall in love. I decided I didn't want that to happen. I didn't want to come home and be so sad that I left my kids behind, so I decided I would just go, teach English, and go home. Done. I was very closed off to the idea of letting the kids change my life! I think so many times this happens in our personal lives. We're too afraid of becoming better; of letting something really enrich our lives. Whether it be falling in love, doing extremely well on a project, or just "living in the moment," sometimes we just fall short. We deny that love, we don't let a project consume us, and we choose to worry about everything in the past or present, instead of focusing on the now.
That is how I felt about those kids. I was too scared to fall in love with them! So as I was hiking up the mountain to go meet them for the first time, I had my mind set that I would NOT get attatched, and I would just teach. Of course it did not work out this way! The minute I stepped up those steps and looked at those kids, I just started to cry. I wasn't sad, I just was so taken back by the sight of the kids that I FINALLY got to meet after a year of preparing. Both myself and the children felt pretty strange at first. We couldn't talk because of the language barrier, so we just kind of sat there and looked at each other! But then we had a translator tell them how to play "duck-duck-goose," and all the sudden all of us were on the same page. It was a fairytale. Playing duck-duck-goose on the roof a school house with 42 children.
We spent a week with them, and in that week I learned more about life than any book or school lesson has taught me. Those kids had absolutely NOTHING. Every night on the news we see little kids that live in poverty-stricken countries and have "nothing." Of course they really do have nothing, but until I actually SAW the reality of nothing, I didn't believe it really existed. Their clothes were ripped and tattered, the pencils they wrote with were nothing but little stubs, and food was rice with a little sauce every day. The water they drank was dirty, flies covered them, their hands and faces were a mess, and they lived in a place where most people would just be absolutely miserable with no running water, no postal system, and little electricity. These kids weren't miserable. In fact, they were the complete opposite. They were the happiest children I have ever met in my entire life. Their smiles, oh their smiles just melted my heart. They had the most beautiful little faces, even though they were dirty! They just were happy to learn, happy to be with their friends, happy to play, and happy to be alive.
Those kids taught me so much. They taught me how to open my heart, and be accepting of so many emotions. I now believe that if we don't let ourselves be completely open to certain experiences, we won't get everything out of them. We need to stop being so cautious, and just throw ourselves into life events! There is a quote that I really like, from the book "Tuesdays with Morrie," it says-
"Take any emotion-love for a woman or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going through, fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back from the emotions, if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them, you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief, you’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is."
Pretty powerful, right? We should take Morrie's advice, and stop being so afraid that we forget to experience all the positive emotions.
When I was with those kids I learned how to "live in the moment." I would go and spend about 6 hours with them, and just be there! I wouldn't be thinking about what would happen that night, or how hungry or tired I was. I was just with them! Laughing, smiling, and attempting to talk to each other! I also learned how to just let myself show what emotion I was feeling. I don't think there has been a time since India that I have smiled as much as I did them. The kids were just FUNNY, and the fact that we couldn't understand each other's language made it even more funny! I would try to talk to them in English, but they would go off in Hindi, and we'd both end up laughing because we couldn't understand! We had to learn to communicate through smiling, holding hands, and laughing. The universal language.
Of course, with every ounce of happiness we enjoy, some pain must come along with it. Saying goodbye to those kids is honestly the hardest thing I have ever gone through. It broke my heart right in two. Probably into 4 actually. No part of the "goodbye" was "good." It was just "Bye." We were all crying as we held those little kids in our arms and tried to tell them how much we loved them, and how much we would miss them. I was hugging a little girl named Reetu, and when I pulled away she wouldn't look at me because she was so ashamed of her tears. Everyone's hearts were breaking because we knew it was a real goodbye. Some kids didn't understand what was happening, they just cried because everyone else did! But most of our older kids did know, and they would hug us and not let go. But India has little ways of showing that our work was not for nothing. As we walked back up the big mountain to our cars, I was crying of course, and a lady that had been watching us from her home all week came up and held my hand the whole way up the mountain. She didn't talk to me, she didn't look at me, she just held my hand and walked with me. When we reached the top, she wiped away my tears, gave me a hug, and left. Just like that!
"Asha" means hope. Those kids gave me so much hope for this world. Good people still exist, and they are all around us. We just have to let them influence our lives. I hope one day, either in this life or the next, I'll be able to see my kids again, and tell them how much "Asha" they gave me. How much I love them.
I apologize for this post being so long. India is something very near to my heart, and I just felt everyone should get a glimpse of it. :)