One of my favourite things about traveling, especially to developing countries, is how it pulls you out of your comfort zone. And there’s no place quite like India for yanking you out of your comfort zone and dropping you somewhere totally different.
India is an assault on all your senses. Just riding from the airport to where you are staying, you’re bombarded with horns incessantly honking in a wide variety of tunes, cows mooing, the call to prayer in the distance. The streets are packed with trucks, cars, motorcycles, and auto-rickshaws all jockeying for space on roads that seem to have no lanes and no rules. Crossing the street becomes a near impossibility; you have to place an enormous amount of trust in the drivers racing towards you. Everywhere you look there is something to see – women gossiping in their saris, endless piles of garbage, a man getting his beard shaved on the side of the road, slums, temples, children walking to school, and buildings with advertisements plastered on every available space. I feel like I’m only really taking in 10% of what’s actually happening whenever I walk down the street.
Add to that the smells; every step brings a hit of something new. Curry, cow manure, caramelized sugar, sewage, incense, burning garbage; you can’t even process what you are smelling. The air is thick with heat, humidity, and smog. Going for a walk becomes an exhausting excursion.
And this only the sensory assault. With every new country you visit, you’re thrown into a different culture with different norms, rules, and expectations. It becomes hard to process it all at the end of the day.
I’m feeling this especially on this trip, as I’ve come to India for a nursing clinical elective. Already we’ve visited and HIV care centre where we met a nurse who cared so deeply for his patients, some of whom were 17 but looked 7 because of years battling infection and malnutrition. We’ve spent the last few days at a public health centre, where 60,000 people from nearly 30 slums receive care from about 16 providers. We assisted in an antenatal clinic that saw about 80 women in one day, went on home visits to some of the families living in the slums, learned about the government-sponsored TB and leprosy medication program, and visited a hospital for people being treated for leprosy.
The constant juxtapositions in emotions – feeling motivated and inspired by the care providers we’re working with yet at the same time overwhelmed by the vast scope of social problems in this country is exhausting. So why do I keep doing it? Why do I keep seeking out these situations which pull me aggressively from a comfortable, predictable life?
For me, these experiences bring about a tremendous amount of personal growth. Sure it sounds cheesy, but nothing gives me a fresh perspective on my life, or teaches me more about myself, than travel. My first trip abroad, when I was gone for almost a year, I learned about inner strength, making new friends, and coping with loneliness and stress on my own. Other trips have inspired my interest in global health, reminded me of how small I am in the world, or given me a new perspective on what I actually need in life.
I’m excited about this trip, since I’ll be in settings I’ve never experienced before. On Monday we’ll head to a rural village, where we’ll be working alongside nurses performing family visits, immunization clinics, and a community nutrition program. I can’t wait to see what it’s like!