Rite of Passage to India
Sitting among them, having briefly glimpsed their world, I was struck by the injustice of their situation. Likely Dalits, members of the Hindu caste commonly referred to as the “untouchables,” this family was relegated to the streets with little chance of a different life. Hindu beliefs about caste greatly influence attitudes toward those living in poverty or on the streets. A person’s current situation is considered a direct result of the sum of that person’s actions in a past life, so those more well-off feel little compulsion to lend a hand.
The disregard for the plight of those living on the streets was made painfully clear on my visit to the Jama Masjid in New Delhi, the largest mosque in India. As I inched through the crowded bazaar leading to the entrance gate, I stumbled upon a man whose eyes and left leg were bandaged, exposed sores covering his body. Unable to walk, he writhed his way toward the mosque, pushing along a small container for collecting alms. He cried out for Allah, pleading for mercy. As I observed this heart-wrenching scene, the shoppers literally turned their backs to his suffering.
MY FIRST EXPERIENCE working in service to those without homes was as a first-year Susquehanna student. I participated in the SU SPLASH program, volunteering at Haven Ministries in Sunbury, Pa., and at the Center for Creative NonViolence in Washington, D.C. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone, and the opportunity to interact with people experiencing homelessness allowed me to connect with their situation and come to see them as people rather than statistics.
My trip last summer to Chennai, India, increased my exposure to different cultural norms and to extreme poverty. Most days, thoughts and images of India pop into my mind. Some I would rather forget: children on the street whose lives are fated by caste, mattresses of homeless families strewn across the sidewalk. Other memories bring about feelings of nostalgia: the delicious food, crowding onto a bus or haggling for a rickshaw to the vegetable market. I redefined forever my concept of personal space while sitting in the economy section of the train from New Delhi to Agra. Still other memories seem unreal: discovering that bodies were being cremated on a funeral pyre 20 feet from the beach hut where I was staying on the outskirts of Puducherry. Finally, some memories are just amusing: Indians who thought my name, which they pronounced “black,” didn’t make sense because I was white. Or being told that sweating right out of the shower is “clean sweat,” so I shouldn’t mind. “Incredible India” truly lived up to the slogan of the nation’s current tourism campaign, and has come to hold a place close to my heart.
Through this experience, I have broadened my understanding of the world and opened my eyes to the possibility of a career outside the United States. Thanks to the Eric Stein Fund for International Experience and my time with The Banyan, I have had encounters that will stay with me for the rest of my life. And they have helped define what I believe to be my vocation: providing direct employment to those experiencing homelessness abroad.
Related Video: Mosser gives an overview of his internship experience in this short video.