Here is a blog entry I wrote in Thailand last Thursday. More to come this week on my new apartment and neighborhood in Odisha!
There are always those uncomfortable moments when experiencing something new that cause me to shift my previous (even sometimes firmly-held) perspective. That moment when something which is one’s own—be that my own expectation, modus operandi, etc.—clashes jarringly with something new I see or experience in the world. I’d like to say my week of travel and initiation into Asian cultures has been all sunshine and daisies, and really, it mostly has. But devoid of these moments that shake our core and cause us to reconsider, what is the worth—the expense (time, monetary, or energy expended) of travel? Once experienced, those uncomfortable moments force me to incorporate them into my knowledge, opinions, decision-making and ways of thinking.
Precisely when we have left our comfort zone is when we have the most to gain, to learn about ourselves and the world around us.
As we embark on our last flight to Odisha, I can think of two particular “uncomfortable moments” which have caused pause and reflection my own perspective. The first of which I’ll detail in this post, and the latter, I will save for another—as this is already a long post!
The first of these encounters takes place at the small Thai Resort near the airport. For those of you that are not aware, I have an auto-immune disease known as Celiac. Now this blog’s purpose is not to discuss that journey, or the battles and victories so contained—that could fill a blog in itself. I’ll spare you (though I promise to take pictures and discuss food here, it’s just too good not to)! However, traveling poses challenges to ensuring that my food is free of gluten and cross contamination, to say nothing of the language barrier. I’d spent 6 months research “traveling with Celiac” and “Celiac and [insert my specific destinations here].” I created a gluten free manual and came armed with my allergy cards—which explain my dietary issue in Thailand, Hindi, Nepalese, and English (there was no Oriya card, I checked). I felt prepared for most anything and resigned to both having half of my luggage space devoted to safe foods and foregoing the food markets and other uncertain local eats (normally something I’d love!) to avoid being sick. This is me—researched, prepared, and able to adapt.
At the little resort was a restaurant staffed with locals. Armed with my Thai allergy card and an empty stomach, I attempted to hand it the waitress prior to ordering. She looked down at the card and then from me to Allison, unsure. She may have said something in Thai before she hurried out, leaving me unprepared for this. She was illiterate. Uncomfortable moment.
She very helpfully brought someone from the front desk to tell her what it said. But that moment in which my past experience and expectations didn’t meet with the reality in front of me struck a chord. How could I assume…? I felt guilty for creating the situation in the first place. After all, hadn’t I (or shouldn’t I have) read about literacy rates in a news article or a guide book? I hadn’t that I remember—and who knows if that would’ve helped—but the “I should’ve known/been more sensitive” feeling washed over. Upon reflection, this uncomfortable moment was just an in-my-face reminder that 1) I cannot prepare myself for everything and 2) people have vastly different lives, opportunities, and desires—some shaped by our own choices, some by our society in which we live, and some by our circumstances.
This caused me to reflect even further. I have a fairly extensive book collection. My mom even once said when helping me move in or out of a dorm room during college that I might be one of the only college-aged girls with more boxes of books than clothes (rest-assured my storage in DC is now about equally bursting at the seams with books and clothes). I try not to take my book collection for granted; I’ve worked hard to buy many of them. But reading? A skill I acquired when I was 6 years old? Which ever since has felt as natural as breathing? That. That I’ve taken for granted. Up until that very moment.
Sometimes, even often, we need these experiences to throw us off kilter, to reframe ourselves and how we view and judge the world. It is also an important reminder that our inherent worth, our human dignity is not derived from what we have accomplished or what we are capable of doing. Beyond that, our worth and the worth of those around us come from merely being.