Thanksgiving in India


Over here, it is early Thursday morning – Thanksgiving.  Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and I am not working in America, I am off to school in a few hours.  But just because I will not be preparing a Thanksgiving feast, does not mean that I cannot think about Thanksgiving.  And living in India certainly provides opportunities for the Giving of Thanks.

One of the most “Indian” of images is provided by a look at a construction site.  Buildings here are made of brick, covered with plaster.  On every site, there are lines of women carrying construction materials on their heads – eight to ten bricks, trays of mortar or plaster, debris on the return trip.  These women are pictures of strength and grace.  In fact, they are used as promotional images for a new government program.  Despite the romanticized myths, rural India is an abyss of poverty and deprivation.  This new government program promises impoverished women two-hundred days of work a year, at one-hundred rupees a day.  Jobs at these construction sites enable these women to pull themselves out of abject poverty.  For those of you not inclined to do much math on the holiday, one-hundred rupees works out to about two dollars a day, times two-hundred days, is four-hundred dollars a year.  And this is being hailed as a major effort to end rural poverty!

We, in the United States, are surrounded by a level of wealth that is inconceivable in most of the world.  Although we know that much of the world is poor, we take our own level of wealth for granted, as if it were the natural order of things.  Well, it isn’t.  It is something to be thankful for.

Our health is another thing to be thankful for.  And even if we are having health problems, we have doctors and medicines available.  We might complain about the cost of health care in America, or about the lack of insurance for many people; but Indians realize that these problems are quibbling over details that are WAY beyond their reach.  There is NO government health care here, and most people cannot afford the four dollar cost of an office visit.  We should be thankful.

As much as we complain about our education system – and I have certainly done my share of complaining – Indian parents would LOVE to have their children so “poorly” educated!  Most children here are not educated beyond the fifth grade; they are needed to help provide food for the family.  And those who are educated beyond elementary school experience a “mug and vomit” education.  This is a term used by my Indian students for the process of memorizing passages from books (mugging), regurgitating them for the test (being off by even a word earns a lower grade), and promptly forgetting everything.  The current rebellion against the testing mania in the United States indicates that our children will not be inflicted with this level of “mug and vomit”.  We should be thankful.

Corrupt politicians?  HAH!!!  Politics is power, and some people will always be corrupted by power.  We get outraged when we learn that some politician has been particularly greedy, and we promptly pillory the culprit and throw him out of office.  Here, that level of corruption is taken for granted, like the old-style politics of Tammany Hall.  We should be thankful.

Whatever we may think of the current state of our involvement in world affairs, we should be thankful that war and conflict are far from our shores.  The events of 9-11 may have been spectacular in scale, but such terror is the norm in much of the world.  Dictatorships, sectarian violence, border conflicts, and genocide are the background of life for most of the world’s people.  We should be thankful.

There are a zillion little details that we take for granted.  Here, people do not walk on the sidewalks, for fear that they will step into a gaping hole that ends in an open sewer channel.  Electricity is often sporadic.  There are no storm drains, so the streets become lakes with every rain.  And let’s give a shout out for the Sonoma County Mosquito Abatement people!!!!!!  We have a lot to be thankful for!!!!!!

And there are the more personal things, as well.  I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to come here, to experience life here, to learn to be more appreciative of things.  And I am also thankful that I have a place as beautiful as Sonoma County to come home to!!  I am thankful for all of the support that I have gotten from colleagues, from friends and relatives, and, most especially, from my children.  And a special thankfulness for those not-so-little-any-more “kids”.  They have each grown up to be very unique individuals, and each is a successful, thriving human being.  I am very proud of each of them – and very thankful.

Recently, I received an e-mail from a friend who is traveling in northern India.  He was experiencing “adjustment problems” trying to figure out the system here.  My suggestion to him was to not bother – there is no system to figure out!!!!!  I have thought about that advice, and it still stands; but there IS somewhat of a system here.  It is called survival.  Here is an example of the “system”.

I live in an apartment here.  In the United States, I would take my garbage out to the dumpster, and a truck would come to empty it into a landfill.  Simple enough.  Here, I put my garbage outside of my apartment door.  Somebody is then paid to pick up that bag and take it to the dumpster on the corner (pay?  probably about a dollar or two a day).  Then, people (mostly women and children) go through the dumpster:  they eat any food they can find; they separate out anything that they think might be saleable, either to be repaired or to be recycled; and they scatter everything else all over the street.  Then the cows and packs of stray dogs come through and eat anything that might fill their stomachs, including food wrappers.  Then these guys come by with rakes, shovels, and little rolling trash-cans to pick up whatever is left and take it back to the dumpster (another dollar-a-day job?).  Finally a truck with a few guys comes by and takes it all away to somewhere.  In the United States, my garbage provides employment for one driver of an automated truck.  Here, my garbage provides sustenance for a whole string of people, to say nothing of the cows and the dogs!  It is a system – of sorts.  They are thankful for my garbage – and I am thankful that few people are reduced to that level of poverty in the United States.  There are of course, desperately poor people in the United States – here, the sidewalks are LITERALLY lined with sleeping people all night (and many during the day as well!).  In the United States, it is an aberration; here, it is a way of life.

Yes, you do see a picture as an attachment to this e-mail.  I have finally figured out how to do it!  My first offering is of a pleasant, tree-lined street in a nice residential area near where I live.  But look in the center of the picture, in front of the dumpster.  Those two little girls are picking through the garbage early in the morning, before the cows and dogs get a chance – there still might be a scrap left in there to eat.  We have a lot to be thankful for.


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