As I sit here in the air, on the long nine hour flight from Frankfurt to Chicago, I would say that my initial response to finding out my iPod died before the flight was irritation. You may be asking yourself why on earth I'm opening my blog this way, but hang with me. Because as I sit here with nothing to do on this long, quiet journey but think to myself, I realize that that is exactly what I need to do. I need to stop, take a few minutes, or in this case hours, and reflect on the experiences I've had over the last seventeen days. And that's exactly what I've done. Because in India, beautiful, amazing, eye-opening India, for seventeen days we were pulled into such a torrent of new sights, smells, sounds, and feelings that I've only just let it all soak in, so here is a composition of my thoughts and feelings of the last memorable two and a half weeks that has been Operation Jyoti.
Two and half weeks ago, 32 leaders and teens alike boarded a plane and set off for India with the hopes and expectations of playing a small part in making the world a better place. And now, that much time later, as I sit here and reflect, I am confident that we have done more than that, in more ways than at least any of us teenagers expected. In all honesty, it was far different from what I expected it would be, and for that reason it was even more memorable. The country itself is indescribable. Like so many expedition alumni before have said, I now truly know the meaning of the oft used expression, "if you haven't been to India...you haven't been to India." Cliche as it may sound, it's true, because after the long year spent preparing for this expedition, I know that nothing could near prepare me enough for what was to, and has now, come. Nothing prepared me to see the man at a temple in Delhi, dragging himself through the crowd, both feet broken at 90 degree angles inward as he tried in vain to move himself through the relentless tide of people. Nothing prepared me to smell the odor of filth and garbage, mixed with human excrement literally bathing the impoverished areas of the country. And nothing prepared me to hear the rasping sound of the little boy's voice, scarred and burned, as he tugged on my shirt sleeve for 15 minutes in a flea market in a desperate plea for a spare scrap of food or money that I could not even give to him, because he would never actually get it. And yet, with the bad comes the good, with the ugly, the beautiful. Because nothing could have also prepared me for the joy, hope, and unconditional love shown by the orphaned and impoverished children we spent a week working and growing with. Seeing their faces light up every day my team and I made the winding hike down to their school at the prospect of another day spent with friends, hearing the excited calls to us as we drew nearer, and feeling the warm touch of their hands and hearts as we were day after day, bombarded, both literally and emotionally, with such love and gratitude towards foreigners they had only just met, melted my heart, and opened my eyes. It opened my eyes to a world where so much is wrong, and unfair, and hopeless, and yet love, joy, and hope can be found in the simplest of places, such as the waiting arms or open heart of a friend. Because as I found myself futilely grasping at the fact that these children have so little, almost literally only the clothing on their small frames, I realized that that isn't really true at all. In fact, they have so much, more than I've ever had, because they have hope, and they have love, and no amount of money can buy that. Over the last two and half weeks I know I've taught these children valuable knowledge, but more so tenfold I know they've taught me. Because through the example of the 55 small children I spent the last little portion of my life working with, not only have I learned, I've grown, and I will carry their influence with me for the rest of my life. And for how much they have given me, I know I have given them something as well, aside from the love and hope they already carry. Regardless of time or distance apart, in me they have a friend, and always, always will.