Saturday, March 10, 2007

An endless array of options: A gifted life

This past week has gone absurdly fast, and however much it's nice to know that it's the result of a very full and fantastic schedule, it's also sad to think that means it'll be time to go home before I even know it. We spent the last week in Delhi and it was eye opening in may ways, but primarily because it gave me a true idea of what it means to have choice.

First off I will say that having an understanding of what 'choice' means would require years of study, so I won't claim to understand it in a quantitative sense, but in a qualitative way, and a way which I have experienced through the gifted life I've been living, the notion of choice has become very apparent to me. Through my life I've had endless amounts of opportunities to choose things. At home in Newton it was not uncommon to get up in the morning and be able to choose from two to four cereals of which I would eat for breakfast. Next I would choose to walk, get a ride, or take the bus to school. The choices that I have can make in a day go on and on. My ability to choose extends far beyond something as trivial as what to eat for breakfast and reaches into parts of my life that many people never even think could exist. My ability to choose to travel across the world to India is one. My ability to choose to get a college education is another. My ability to choose from a number of well paying jobs...again, the list goes on.

So, why all of a sudden have I become aware of my ability to choose? Well, this past week in Delhi a man who started a NGO called The Rickshaw Bank spoke to us about his program. In short, the rickshaw bank is a micro credit scheme which essentially takes rickshaw drivers who normally pay 30R's per day to rent their rickshaws, and makes it such that with this program, their 30R's each day can go to slowly paying off the cost for their own rickshaw. Basically the rickshaw bank gives small loans to the drivers to enable them to eventually own thevehicle . Along with this rickshaw they, and their whole immediate family, get all sorts of other benefits (basic health care, family planning services, clothing etc). By giving them ownership of the rickshaw, this bank indirectly gives these families endless amounts of choice that they otherwise would have never had. This presentation was one moment of realization for me.

The second instance just happened. I just got back from Delhi, and our housekeeper Jamuna was about to cook dinner. I asked her if I could watch the whole process, and she was more than willing to let me. As the recipe unfolded, entirely from memory I might add, so too did thisabsolutely divine smelling dish of egg curry. Jamuna, a housekeeper for my homestay family is by any standards a master chef. Keep in mind this is only one of her creations. I've been eating well for the past month and this is the first night we'll have had a repeat dish. She's extremely talented as a chef, and she is also very talented in many other regards. After the process was over I said to Jamuna, through her son Rajeev, that she could open a restaurant in America and that people would gobble up her cooking. She graciously said "thank you," chuckled, and then said "ok, than take me back with you when you leave." This comment wasn't made with any tone of resentment, rudeness, or anger, but rather in a joking sense which suggested that she was entirely convinced at theimprobability of such an event taking place. She also didn't say it with any distinct sense of was very matter of fact, and she knew that matter of the fact was that it probably would never happen.

In that moment I felt insanely guilty, and thus I'm here typing. Again she didn't make the comment in any way that was rude, or resentful, but I realized something in that moment. I realize how limited her choices are. For one she is a woman. Here in India that does not mean choice and definitely not autonomy. Further, she is essentially an indentured servant for my homestay family...again this affords her little choice/autonomy. Basically, just as I could endlessly go on about the amount of choices I'm able to make in my life, so too could I endlessly go on about the lack of choices that Jamuna has in hers...this deeply saddens me.

I don't know where this is going, but I'll close with this. Jamuna is extremely happy doing what she does. I'm not sure, if given the choice to come to America, that she would choose to do so, but that's exactly the point. She has never been given that choice...she probably never will be, and for what reason? Sometimes people make bad choices, but at least they have the option to do so. Some people can't make choices, and that's why I feel so blessed in an endless number of ways. My life has provided me with the ability to choose...this was simply a function of luck...none the less, thank you Mom and Dad. Regardless, I think I'mbeginning to understand what a better world will look like...undoubtedly it will be one of great choice for greater people.

That's all I've got.

I love you all deeply. Everyone reading this holds some sort of meaning within my life, and I feel grateful to know you all.

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