Some people, when they go to India, go to Ghana, to South Africa, they learn about how little a person really needs. They find themselves thinking 'Why not have the pantry in the bedroom? Why ever go to a shopping mall?' They learn that orphans that take cold showers in the winter are still happy sometimes . Everything is great because it's not the way it is at home and they grow as human beings by bathing out of a bucket.
Because the bathroom and its surrounding activities are the key to understand a person's way of life. Don't you know. As Robyn Davidson said, "The world is divided between those cultures which touch their own feces and those which don't."
("And it seems to me that those which do have a greater understanding of humankind's relationship to earth, our alpha and omega.")
I talked to an Israeli women at the hotel in Jordan who had been in Dharamsala. We traded stories on the hazards of Himalayan travel, the difficulty of procuring hot showers in those cold mountains. "Oh, that must have been hard for you," she said (the cold showers), "being from the US."
I drove Bill home to Mount Washington last night. Mount Washington is not the cheapest place to live but it has a wonderful view of the city and you get to ride the Monongahela Incline into town, which is cool. Bill was in South Africa for some time studying and teaching in a village and is the only 20-something other than myself whom I have known to answer the question "How are you?" with "Well."
He wanted to know if I had trouble readjusting to American life and I had to admit that I haven't. Thing is, the first world is in India if you're willing to pay for it and from it you can spit out your window onto the third. If you were so inclined. So I went from paying three rupees for a cup of cha to two days later buying a vanilla frappacino at Starbucks for three dollars and it was easy enough.
In New York City there are Starbucks, in Kolkata there are people who live on less per day than the price of a frappaccino. And off I am again soon, this time to a country that supposedly has the best wireless internet access in the world. We shall see what new culture shocks are in store. I hope my visa gets processed alright.
During my Fulbright interview, Doc asked what I will do if a contentious issue like the American bases in South Korea comes up in my classroom (I have since read that in a time of war the US commander there has control of the entire South Korean military). I said that it was not my business to advocate or not advocate American policy in the world but to facilitate discussion. I said something I had never verbalized before it slipped out of my mouth then, that I thought that individuals are not inherently political. Nothing good can happen when human beings are reduced to political entities, to their political views.
But how apolitical can I hope to be, abroad, as an American? I never lied about where I came from; granted, I may not have been in the hot beds of anti-Americanism, but the worst opinion I ever heard of us was that we must find it so difficult to live without a hot shower.