While whittling down my possession this past week I went through albums of photos, taking out the pictures to condense space and eventually digitally scan. There were frightful pictures from my dark-ages (10-19?), nostalgic family pictures and then several stacks of treasured trip pictures. As I leafed through the album from my India trip a huge smile spread across my face. What a truly amazing trip. It hasn’t dawned on me until now on just how life changing that vacation was and how very thankful I am of the Patel family for making it happen.
At 20 years old I had been out of the country exactly twice: 1) A quick trip across the border to Toronto on a band trip in high school and 2) a 5 week study abroad in Italy. If my memory serves me correctly, my best friend approached me seemingly out of nowhere with the proposition of going to India over our winter holiday break from college. My response was probably along the lines of “SWEET, YES PLEASE!”.
Maybe this story should have been prefaced with the background part about how my friend’s parents are angels or saints or whatever one says to describe selfless, caring, kind individuals. This trip would not have happened with out them. I was a complete novice when it came to travel planning, but Mrs. Patel walked me through getting my first visa and found us airline tickets. Behind the scenes, she was planning everything out with family half a world away. I stepped onto my third international flight knowing we’d be meeting my friend’s cousin-in-law in Mumbai and moving around with her from there. Pretty sure that was it.
We went traveling around in a big loop from Mumbai up to Delhi, through Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Ahmedabad and her family’s home town. Nearly everywhere we went their extended family opened their doors to us. Even if they didn’t have a place for us to sleep, we were welcomed in for meals and given tours of the city. In some places friends of friends of extended family insisted we come over for tea and snacks before getting on our next train. The hospitality was overwhelming. Then remind you we had her cousin-in-law who basically escorted us around the country, ensuring we didn’t get ripped off or lost. And all the while my friend took on the translator role, ensuring I was having a great time, which had to get old so fast. What a privilege to experience a country in such a way!
Sure the population, smog, squat toilets and spicy foods were a lot for me to take in…so were the poverty and begging children. But I needed all that. I needed the exposure to how others in the world live, how they eat, how they treat others, what their priorities are… I needed the awe of the Taj Mahal combined with shock of endless shanty towns. Before then they were images in magazines or on television and while they evoked an emotion when viewed, they weren’t ‘real’. I learned so much in those few short weeks – shoot, I still reference back to experiences and knowledge from that trip even now.
Beyond what I learned, this trip changed me. A new spark emerged to see and experience the world for myself; a new respect emerged for different cultures and ways of living; a new appreciation emerged for the bond with family and friends. Just over eight years later, here I am knee deep in travel planning and getting ready to roam the world. Flat out, there is no way this dream would even have been a dream without this India trip. For helping develop this dream (and everything mentioned above and more), I’m eternally grateful to the Patel family for having given me that priceless opportunity years ago.