At the risk of sounding unappreciative and self-righteous, I feel downright uncomfortable when family and friends (and sometimes strangers) praise me for the sacrifices I'm making this year.
I'm not sure where this idea came from. How does moving across the world to explore something you love count as a sacrifice? Honestly, I'm lucky, and not just in a grateful-because-I-work-with-the-poor kind of way.
I realize that the path I chose isn't easy. It's sometimes physically uncomfortable (example: 30 hour train rides with unconfirmed seats).And it's almost always a mental roller coaster. But what did I give up?
Throughout the day I get to learn. I learn how to form relationships with people from all stratas of society. I learn how to cook foods that remind my of my mom. I learn the boundaries of my patience, and the depth of my love. I learn what to do when 100 kids are all crowding around you with their hands stretched out for want of something to do, or have.
Then, as I learn, I am constantly receiving love. I get loving messages from friends who I haven't spoken to in years. My students (teachers?) can tell when I'm sad or frustrated, and somehow know how to make me smile. I constantly get invitations to dinners and weddings. And my family calls me just when I am starting to miss them so much it hurts.
If it's about the material sacrifice, I can't digest that either. In the past few years I've struggled to have less of an impact on the environment. I've tried to become a producer rather than a consumer.I almost cried over plastic bags once, and I tried to convince myself I was strong enough to bike everywhere in my town.
Then suddenly, I don't even have to think about sustainability. I take a bath with one bucket (2 if I wash my hair). I get my fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market, which is cheaper than the store. I try to use the local bus, and if it doesn't come, I share an auto with three or four strangers.
I have less clothes than I ever have had -- I started with four pairs, but was given three more during Diwali. If anything, this has proved a blessing. I spend about 2 minutes getting dressed, and twenty four hours being comfortable. And somehow, despite the fact that my kurtas are loose and faded and my hair is wild, I've never had more attention or compliments on my appearance.
So I live in a slum part-time. Still, not a sacrifice. In fact, it might be a journalist's dream situation to be part of a community where you are both an insider and outsider. I have friends that I honestly connect with. I have host parents who care more about my comfort than I do. And after a few days of adjustment, I have a new place to call home.
I'm not here to experiment with poverty, or see how far I can go until I get sick. I'm here with a mission of inspiring some amazing children, and the rest of the lifestyle just seems to make my mission more clear and strong.
Everyday, it seems, someone is either overestimating me or underestimating me. Some people tell me that what I'm doing is amazing, when I know how much more I can do.
Then, others tell me that my efforts are misguided, ridiculous and extreme. They say I can do service without living simply, or challenging my needs. I can handle that criticism, too.
The truth is, in my everyday life here, I don't feel like I've lost anything. When I really want something, I have it and enjoy. But the wanting is much less, and the enjoying is much more. If this is sacrifice, I'll take it.