Thursday, January 24, 2013

Food for Thought

One of the things I miss the most about the United States is the ability to eat food without fear.  I miss the days when I could hop in my car at 3 AM, head off to my friendly neighborhood Kroger Marketplace, and return home a mere fifteen minutes later with virtually any type of produce in my possession—in season or not.  Then I could eat it, immediately.  Without even washing it, because I’m a rebel like that.

As ridiculous as this scenario sounds, it’s not an imaginary one.  In the U.S., I really loved to cook.  I have never claimed to be particularly skilled at cooking, but it was always an enjoyable way to relax and unwind after school.  However, since moving to India, that love has simmered down to the level of a disappointing duty.  Not because of the unavailable ingredients.  Not because of the inaccessibility of ingredients.  Not because of the limited counterspace, lack of dishwasher, or microwave-sized “oven.”  But rather, because I know that every bite of prepared food I take is potentially poisonous.  I often question why I go through the time-consuming hassle of cooking a meal when I know there’s a 50/50 chance that it will just result in a weeklong diet of bananas and crackers.
I admit that a 50/50 chance is an exaggeration, but I can safely say that I have had impromptu, late-night, stomach-flipping dates with my bathroom wastebasket at the rate of about once a month since I’ve been here.  I’m no mathematician, but that’s probably more puke production in half a year than I’ve managed to muster throughout the rest of my entire life.  And it's not something that I'm proud of.
I was lucky not to have any health issues during my two-month-long winter vacation, but sure enough, less than a week back in Mussoorie and I am already dancing the intestinal jitterbug.  But let’s rewind, back to the end of September, when I experienced my first bout of illness.  It was a couple of days before “quarter break,” a weeklong vacation between the first and second quarters of school.  Feeling sick right before/during vacation is an obvious bummer, but most vacations aren’t as epic as climbing to a height of 14500 ft. in the Himalaya.  But, long story short, I hastily procured antibiotics and was fortunately able to still go on the trip, along with 10 students and 3 fellow staff members. 
I think that the trek was a key factor contributing to my blogging hiatus.  I knew it needed to be featured, but how?  How could a page of text accurately convey a week of unprecedented outdoor adventure?  As I sit here four months (!!) later, I realize that time does not aid in the blogging process.  So instead of poorly and incompletely rehashing the entire experience, I will let you reconstruct it for yourself via 1) some photos, and 2) my contribution to the “group journal” that was floating among the trekkers during that week.  I already converted this puppy into a lesson for my 7th graders and a devotional speech for the 10th graders (and it was also quoted in the Hanifl Center’s write-up about the trip, which you can read here), but I’ll share it here on Julindia as well.  Because when you stumble across a somewhat transcendental idea in India, it would be un-American not to whore it out to the masses.
The next time you hear from me (which will be soon), I will start to recap my winter vacation rather than tryto fill in all of the gaping holes of my online chronicle.  We’ll just call November “the lost month” and forge ahead.

October 1, 2012
Every year, my family vacations at Lake George, New York; every year, we climb a mountain.  When I was 8 or 9, we climbed Pilot Knob.  My father had not ventured up this particular peak since he was a child himself, and the trail had become worn and weathered over the years.  At first glance, we originally deemed it impassable and almost turned back, but then my uncle noticed a small pile of rocks perched atop a nearby boulder. 
“This,” he said with a smirk, “was not created by nature.”
I specifically remember being moved that people I didn’t know, and would never knowingly meet, would put so much time and effort into marking the trail for future travelers.  I swelled with such a feeling of comradery for these unseen friends, and my brother and sister and I instinctively began adding stones to the piles like we were playing an endless game of Jenga.  The towers eventually guided us all the way to the mountain’s summit, where we chowed down on my family’s traditional mountaintop grub:  grapefruit.
Today, about 15 years and half a world away from my experience on Pilot Knob, I saw these manmade markers once again… not in the Adirondacks, but in the Himalayas.  Once again, those feelings of comradery and “oneness” came rushing back.  This sense of unity that I assumed would be dulled by the process of aging was actually heightened by the scope and setting of the trek to Darwa Pass.  And this time, it came with an epiphany.
“This,” I thought with a smirk, “was created entirely by nature.”
Human nature.  Those seemingly simplistic piles, I feel, are actually symbolic of the selflessness of humanity.  Once our basic needs are met, we are conditioned to care about and provide for the well-being of others—not just those we know and love, but also those we would love to know, and even those we love without knowing!  Apart from the rock piles, I have seen human compassion manifest itself in the actions and reactions of my fellow trekkers.  From taping up one hiker’s broken boots, to divvying up the weighty contents of another hiker’s pack, to cooking for each other and sharing our beloved stashes of gorp and chocolate, we have proven that humans are ready and willing to think and act beyond the boundaries of family, nation, and even religion.  I am as inspired by this realization as I am by the breathtaking landscape that is currently surrounding me.

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