Innocent India – Porbandar, India

I didn’t feel like painting or even really doing much of anything all day. I was under the weather and really just wanted to lay in bed which is precisely what I did. When the time came to get off the ship, I mustered up a brave face and made my way up to top of the ship to see our 6 man welcome band play with all their might. They sure did make a big sound considering their number.

As I peered down from the floor to ceiling windows of the Lido deck, I was taken aback by the number of locals who had come to greet the ship. about a hundred thin dark-haired Indians stood together just gazing silently at the cruise ship towering over them. It was very clear by the clothes they were wearing and lack of hygiene that these were people living below the poverty line. They were common working class who had curiously come to see the what the other side looked like.

In one of the port lectures, we were gently reminded that the gap between us and them would be large. Compared to their low standard of living, we were seen as millionaires and royalty. The sun was about to go down and I faltered a bit on my decision to go into town. I am not in tip-top shape and I didn’t want to have my first experience go wrong. After a few minutes of waffling, I bit the bullet and left the sterile air conditioned ship.

The first thing I noticed was the warm thick air enveloping me and new smells I couldn’t quite identify. I know people have spoken about the scent of India, but nothing prepares you for it. I was one of the last passengers off the ship onto the shuttle buses. As I hurried towards the last bus, I felt the weight of a hundred pairs of peering eyes watching my every step. I guess my age sets me apart from the other passengers and is guaranteed to grant me extra attention.

I climbed up onto the rickety very colorful schoolbus style shuttle that would take us into the center of Porbandar. The bus had to pass through a very very poor dockyard community. The stink of rotting fish, sewage, and waste was enough to make my eyes water. There were hairy wild pigs rummaging through mountains of trash and cows lounging in the middle of the road which the driver skillfully drove around like pylons on an obstacle course. He didn’t slow down once.

There were people young and old perched in and around wooden boxes that I think were stores. Small groups locals in every shade of brown would stop and wave at us excitedly to welcome us as we sped by. These people were thin as rails and their clothes were nothing but dirty tattered rags. I was able to catch eye contact with a couple of the kids and saw nothing but joy. That was then the tears started.

There were babies not even able to walk yet absolutely covered in filth crawling through shit filled muck. One tiny undernourished child stopped just long enough to lift her tiny muddy hand and wave. Her toothless smile was so pure and her shiny chocolate-colored eyes bored a hole right into my soul. At this point, I had to contain myself. I could feel the air being sucked out of me. I was completely overwhelmed and wept silently but did not try to stifle my tears.

Some part of me connected and empathized . And it was so confusing to me that here there was no sadness, no despair, no self-pity. I could find nothing but innocence and a powerful zest for life . The strength and will to survive in such living conditions humbled me. I knew that I would not be the same after this. I could actually feel myself shifting in that very moment.

That was my first 10 minutes in India.

Grateful for compassion.

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