The Eighth Wonder of the World

26 07 2008

Earlier this month, I was told that I am the eighth wonder of the world. It’s a sentiment with which most of you agree, I’m sure. Many of you probably meant to tell me that years ago.

However, India may be the real eighth wonder of the world. It’s so complicated and layered to me, and I’ve seen but a glimpse.

I’ve gone through a few different transitions with the place. In the beginning, everything was new, exciting, part of the charm. Things like heavy air pollution and cars that literally drove with one hand constantly on the horn were cute. Later, I blocked it all out. I didn’t even hear the sounds, smell the cow dung, or cough on the fumes. I was one with it all. Now, everything is louder than it has ever been. The horns give me a headache and I’m done with dodging water buffalos just to walk down muddy, mosquito-infested, streets.

Despite all this, I’m nostalgic for the country already. It’s the way I feel after most trips: excited for parts of home and confused about why I’m not living abroad.

We’re in Varanasi now, about to head to our final destination: The Taj Mahal. Varanasi is a deeply religious place, and this month is the celebration of Shiva. That means that the city is flooded with men dressed in orange. They have traveled for a month to collect water from the Ganges River. Last night, we watched a Hindu ceremony. I have no idea what it was about, but they floated little tea lights in the river and at the end, everyone got a sweet treat. Pretty great, if you ask me.

As we observed the praying and singing, the ashram chants flooded back (Though, truthfully, I wake up every morning with the chants in my head. Did I get brainwashed?). At the end, Bonnie and I found ourselves surrounded by teenage boys. They didn’t seem to looking for much besides a conversation to practice their English. We began chatting, and our discussion quickly turned philosophical.

One kid starting talking to me about teachers. I asked him about his favorite teacher in school. He answered and then asked, “Who’s your favorite life teacher?”

“Hmmm….probably my mom.” I replied.

“Yeah, me too. Well, maybe it’s God, then my mom, then the world,” he corrected himself. “It’s like one gives me future, one love and one experience.”

Another guy was really struggling with a decision. He told me how he had just received a job offer in Bombay. It was a good job offer, one that paid well, one his family wanted him to take. However, he loves his home in Varanasi. He craves the the peacefulness and the community he finds here. He doesn’t want to go.

We talked through it a bit, me teaching him my method for making decisions, him telling me about competing priorities. He said he would probably go, because family comes first. However, his gut was telling him to stay. “What do you do,” he asked me, “When your life is not what you wanted it to be?”

“There’s a Hindu saying,” he continued. “If something good happens, be happy. If something bad happens, be happy. For whatever happens, it is coming from Krishna and is done for you.”

I don’t know if I agree with the saying. However, it reminded me of India, of all the smiles, celebration, and raw joy I have seen here amidst everything else. People here live that philosophy. I don’t know if I could, but it’s impressive to see in action.

I listened to the conversation some more, remarking to myself how great it was to sit and hear kids being so philosophical. That’s the eighth wonder of my world; getting to know people, especially kids, as they figure themselves and the world out.

“This place is so great.” I thought. “I mean, how often do I get the chance to sit with seventeen year-olds and talk philosophy?”

A mosquito bit me. Slapping it away, I started laughing at myself. I’m predictable. And lucky, I guess.

In two days, I’ll exchange this wonder of the world for the one waiting for me at home. See you all soon, you wonders of the world.



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