Overflowed! Overflowed! VARIATIONS ON THE IDEA OF FREEDOM
Text and photos by Ximena Pérez-Grovas
Today I am convinced that all Indians hate me, and to not stand out even more than I do due to a skin that seems incomprehensibly light to them, I have decided to hate them too.
I get on the bus ready to start this war they’ve started with their conspicuous looks and almost instantly a lady disarms me, with strong gestures and a smile that reveals emotion, she points out that I should sit with her. I accept with pleasure, this woman is an ally and any ally in a strange land is welcome. In the end I tell myself: “Okay, I give up, not all Indians hate me,” while I sit next to this woman that fills me with smiles and hugs.
However, the excitement wares out and we have nothing more to say to each other. Clearly I do not speak Tamil (the local language) and it seems that she does not speak English either. Soon she returns to her normal activities and begins to talk to a lady sitting a few seats away. In between silences they both look carefully at me analyzing my every detail, and suddenly their eyes turn to my backpack. It’s not hard to know what they are thinking about; I’ve seen that look a thousand times during my short time in India.
I look at the lady beside me, my ally, as if trying to say, as if trying to scream loud enough for everyone on the bus (and if possible everyone in India) to hear: “It was never my intention to have more than you”, ” None of these things were bought to create a separation between you and I, I just needed them…”
Nonetheless, the discomfort is already there, and the suspicion that what I say is not absolutely true lingers. In a way I knew that these objects would serve to differentiate me from others. And no matter how much I state that these are things I need, none of them are essential for my survival.
That moment and its reflections joined other thoughts that had already crossed my mind in recent days, after seeing the lifestyle of the children living in the orphanage where I’ve been working. One of the volunteers tells me angrily: “These children have nothing, their basic needs are covered and that’s it.” On the other hand, the thoughts that come to mind are: “We have too much”, “overflowed!, overflowed!” And I’m certainly not saying that these children do not deserve or shouldn’t have a little more, but in the short time I have been here I’ve been taught that it is possible to live with the minimum, because if these little guys have any kind of shortage it is not a material one.
Every day they receive the same food three times a day: white rice and chutney. And I am probably sweeting everything, me, the one who doesn’t understand eighty percent of the things that happen around her every day; but what I do see, is that they eat these plates without asking for any more, that in their free time after school, they walk the land around the orphanage collecting tiny, green mangoes (ones we would doubtlessly find inedible), and consume them with joy, because for them this is one of the few foreign flavors in their routine diet.
The other day, talking with another volunteer who is half Indian half gringo, he was telling me about a law in NY that prohibits XL-sodas to be sold in fast food establishments. He said: “Americans are obsessed with the idea of freedom, even if it means getting diabetes because they are able to go daily to McDonald’s to drink a whole liter of soda.”
The reality is that we are all obsessed with that idea of freedom, which is the least free of all, because it ties us to ideas and to things.
By now, many of you are probably thinking: “Typical, she goes a month to India and comes back turned into a hippie thinking she can change the world,” or things like: “What’s wrong with these people, do they want us to give up the rights and facilities our past generations fought so hard for? What, does she wants us to live a poor life just because she saw some poverty in India?
I think what I’d really like, is that we’d be able to realize how this lifestyle that has become so important to maintain is conditioning us in so many ways, and has contribute to keep that class difference in a way that is very hard to perceive, even for those of us that consider ourselves “altruistic” and socially conscious.
It is very clear for me, every time I go towards the train station with my big backpack and my fanny pack covering my body, and I see the looks of people who are basically saying: “Look, there goes the rich foreigner.” And I get angry, I get angry because in my eyes I’m not rich and I do not want to contribute to this fragmentary way of understanding human nature, but the truth is that, unwillingly, I have lived my entire life reproducing and supporting these social divisions by living a life of careless consumerism. Until recently it always seemed relatively easy to buy anything, an iPod, a pie from McDonald’s, or a pair of jeans.
I finished writing this reflection five months later, after Mexico and my old consumption patterns have taken hold of me again almost completely; however I remember, my surprise upon entering my house and seeing the kitchen. I thought that I had never seen such a prosperous kitchen in all my life, even though all my life had been lived in such prosperity.
Sometimes we like to think that there will be events that will change our lives, but now I understand these events are small windows throughout which we can perceive another reality. Sometimes these windows are violently closed by a passing current of air; sometimes they weren’t even open yet, they were merely clean enough to let some light through.
For me the hardest thing are the nights, when the sun no longer illuminates the outside and the window becomes nothing more than a reflection of my inner world, which deviously leads me to believe that what is out there is just like what I see inside. These moments endanger the previously gained understanding, but thinking again, perhaps these are the moments that can give meaning to all these new ideas. If this window does not show but a reflection, it means that the only true way to transform the outside view is by changing the inside.