Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's Been Real India

I’m sitting in the Delhi airport waiting to catch my flight to Bangkok, where Katie Hoar is going meet me. Thinking back to my first night in India, I honestly cannot believe that I stuck it out, and that I only had two moments of homesickness. And as expected, I feel like I am walking away here not as a completely different person but definitely as a changed one.

On my last day in Delhi, I went to an expensive café in a wealthy part of the city. Bordered on either side by first world hotels and business offices comparable to those in New York City, the coffee shop felt just like a Starbucks. Yet as I enjoyed my over-priced hot chocolate and bummed around on the internet, I noticed a beggar and her child tapping on the window at me. That image of a woman living in abject poverty but surrounded by wealth pretty much sums up India to me.  It definitely is a country on the move; the statistics don’t lie. But the inequality between rural and urban centers as well as the lower and higher castes continues to challenge this nation. Watching this country struggle to move beyond its colonial legacies always brings me back to my experiences in Uganda and Rwanda, two nations that are hopefully on the same economic trajectory as India but much further behind. I suppose I already knew this, but our mathematical measurements of development cannot even begin to paint a picture of the complexity of economic success. There are very real winners and very real losers, and I think that, as political scientists, we really need to focus on creating strategies that foster more equitable development rather than overall economic success.

I also spent my remaining time in Delhi thinking about myself and how I grown from this journey. In the past, most of my inner thoughts have been highly critical of myself, and I haven’t really thought about the downside to this sort of internal dialogue simply because it has helped me be so successful thus far. But in constantly pushing myself to make better grades, run further, tackle harder, and travel more, I have not been my own best friend. I have not acknowledged my positive attributes, preferring to focus on my negatives. But after traveling alone and really mediating on myself, I can say that if I had to pick a word to define myself it would resilience. I don’t give up. I always challenge myself. And when things get hard, I put my head down and push through. Yeah, I cry about it and whine and mope, but the important thing is that I am always moving forward. I made it through this time here. I traveled alone in one of the worst places in the world to be a woman (I think India ranks 3rd on this list). I stuck it out on trains where I got groped, I held my head high after men grabbed me on the street, and I fended off many many sexually inappropriate comments/actions. So whatever other flaws that I may possess and believe me there are many, I can say with absolute certainty that I am an incredibly strong woman. 

And so in spite of everything, I leave India feeling empowered.

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