Now I can finally go on the self-indulgent spree that I have been looking forward to. Basically, this is about me doing an all encompassing spiel on my thought space. To bring brevity into the entire thing, I am just going to copy and paste a paragraph I wrote and use it to provide structure. There, high school English lit, I learned something after all.
Guwahati ... revelation in many ways ... things that I took at face value all my life ... reverse culture shock: Well. I lived in mostly scrubbed and sanitary Caldwell, Idaho for the last two years. I did a bunch of organic farming, chicken raising, rabbit keeping, pot making, retro camera using activities. I thought I had a handle on things, you know, I survived on beans and eggs for a summer, I knew what it meant to be poor. No.
For all y'all people who think you are poor in Estados Unidos, you are not. You got a house? You got it made. Food stamps make you a poor person? HAHA. I saw (actually saw, instead of blanking them out/ accepting them for what they were) people who had not eaten for a week, whose kids were malnourished and suffered from diseases like kwashiorkor, marasmus, rickets, beriberi, and what have you. My computer tells me they are not words. It says it should be workmanship, Erasmus, rickets, and brie-brie. It knows nothing. It's not like I haven't seen these things before, I saw them every day. It's just that if you see something every day, you get used to it, and blank it out. I heard that after World War II ended, civilian Germans were made to walk through the camps. Not a single one left with dry eyes. In the same way, I think I just needed to not see something for a while to realize the magnitude of the entire mess.
Now, I am not going to go on a huge “let's eradicate poverty now, we can do it” kind of a spiel. That would be a waste of time. What more can I say, y'all have seen photos of Ethiopian children and Somalian children and Indian kids. You all know poverty is bad. I am just telling you what I realized. And that is that most of the times, we are just accepting of things that are buggered up around us. All we need is a change in surroundings.
The Slumdog Millionaire Effect ... my own presence in this place: This ties into my previous paragraph. And this is something that left me very aggravated, and in a generally bad mood for 4-5 days. To put it bluntly, I am talking about poverty tourism. It is a thing, same as disaster tourism and medical tourism. Basically, people, well off people, travel to places where people are not that well off, and live in air conditioned hotels and for a day, for the sake of photo albums, they will volunteer for some NGO, and call it good. They hinder more than help, but hey, who cares? They got some nice photos that show them lending a helping hand. Their passports have visas and stamps from the hellholes of humanity, like Thailand, India, Indonesia, and other third world countries with beaches and favorable exchange rates. You know, I legitimately should not really say anything about them, because in a way, I did the same thing.
I traveled to this strange part of the country, stayed in a hotel, ate out three times a day, blew a bunch of money, took a few hundred photos, and now I am flying out. What right do I have to criticize them? But it still ticks me off. And I get aggravated about it myself. What did I legitimately do? How can I legitimately do anything without a significant investment of time? A month or three months is no good. For all my knowledge, I was more of a hindrance than a help, and the people at GC4 were just being really nice to me.
It is a question I still have no answer to. What makes me special? What gives me the capability to traipse into this place whose language I do not speak, whose people I do not know, whose traditions are alien to me, and claim to know that I know what is good for them, and I can, in a month, and 5 simple ways, make their life better? Am I the right hand man of Jesus and YHWH? I am just this schmuck who wrote a proposal and ended up in a strange part of the country, helping doctors. I study how to make pots and how Yves Klien dunked naked girls in blue paint and threw them on a canvas , and called it art.
The fact of the matter is, I am still grappling with this question. I have no answer for it. The only plausible thing I can say, is that I drew attention to it. Except, being the pot of angst that I am, I refused to take any pictures of the slum dwellers. Mostly because it made me feel like I was the scum of the earth, trying to profit from human misery. I did draw up my camera, and looked up through the viewfinder, and I felt like the worst kind of voyeur. So I swung the camera around and started talking pictures of the tourist people taking pictures of the slum dwellers fighting over a box of boiled eggs that they had graciously purchased as a special treat for the slum dwellers. Their glee was palpable. The tourist people's glee, I mean. The slum dwellers were in a mad scramble for subsistence, and there the tourists were, taking pictures with cameras and lenses that if sold could feed the entire slum for 6 months.
I don't know. I can't really say much about the situation, and If I do, it just makes me feel like a horrible person for participating in it.
Bunch of really dedicated people do a load of good ... saving grace ... Operation Smile, and not a different organization: After all this doom and gloom and my angst, which I can feel oozing out of the laptop screen, I am going to end on a happier note. Operation Smile and its doctors. I have not seen a more dedicated, driven and inspiring bunch in my life. Imagine A-Team, without the crazy pilot man and Mr T. in scrubs. That would be the surgical team. Except the team had over 100 members. These guys and gals were working for free. From countries like Sweden, Egypt, Thailand, USA, India, Australia, and so on and so forth.
These people, on top of that, were working pretty much non-stop, from the early hours of the day to late in the evening. Doing 204 surgeries in pretty much 4 days or so is nothing to sneer at. And it is not like there were 100+ plastic surgeons. The team comprised of dentists, speech therapists, anesthesiologists, surgeons, nurses, special night nurses and what have you. Imagine that you pretty much kidnapped a legitimate hospital staff and dumped them in a strange place in the middle of the forest, with a proper surgery room, and a drive to do the most surgeries possible, and you could get a vague idea of what it was like.
And they were professional, and always had smiles on their faces. And you know, they were generally really cool people. Yes, I look up to those guys. I don't want to sound like a band groupie, so I am going to stop now.
But yes, they are the reason I still have faith in the humanitarian process. These guys genuinely did good. It was evident, 204 surgeries were completed. All those patients walked out, able to smile and eat and fit in. They were transformed into normal members of society in a space of 3 days. They walked in, unable to fit in, unable to eat properly, and left, for the first time in their lives, smiling. All due to those doctors and the entire team, and a process that costs 200 USD. I know people who spend that much on pizza and beer in a month. It doesn't take a lot, I guess, to change the world if you do it one smile at a time. Y'all have fun. See ya in August.
Rahul is a senior art major from Jammu, India.