Traveling abroad is often associated with the concept of resiliency. There are expectations of challenges and significant changes that you will independently face and conquer, making you a more flexible problem-solver in other contexts in your life. When I was first introduced to this notion of resiliency in the context of going abroad, it felt quite abstract and mundane. It is natural for us to think of immense changes involving actions that teach us a lot. It is too dull and simplistic to think about resiliency only in terms of minor details of daily life rather than a more global view. By examining snippets of different stories and encounters, resiliency becomes less abstract and more personal.
During my first days in India, I frequently visited a North Indian dhaba that was around the corner from where I lived. On the way there, there was a small poster outside of a stationary store (shown below), and every time I saw it, it made me smile. The joke itself is not necessarily the most brilliant or witty, but it was a well needed reminder that many difficulties and pains, especially while adjusting to drastic changes, are best overcome with the power of humor.
Above all, this ad was also a testimony to the immense Indian capacity to make the most out of what’s available. While driving to work, I had surprisingly detailed insight into people’s lives, as the seemingly private becomes public by the nature of the physical constraints of most homes. Morning routines I would witness regularly included a young child brushing his teeth outside his family’s small hut. You can’t help but be bewildered by the stark differences between his ragged clothing and the shiny white toothbrush in his hand. Right beside him are two men wearing dhotis and swiftly pouring the cold water from a bucket on themselves for their morning shower. A man sleeps at a bus stop, but you can’t really tell if he is homeless or not as the line significantly blurs in many places in India.
Seeing craftsmen at work is additionally quite mesmerizing. Certain skills like fishing are still performed using technologies and techniques that are hundreds of years old but remain greatly effective.
Observing these various aspects of living increased my appreciation for the advice I have received countless times on counting your blessings. This was not pity at the luxuries and conveniences many Indians lack, but rather a lesson in observing and mimicking what is witnessed: a will to endure through hardships every day to survive, but then celebrate with bursting colors and music in grand festivals that everyone participates in. Whether it is in the accentuated and ostentatious acting in Bollywood or a street/neighborhood-wide religious festival to celebrate a Hindu god, many Indians maintain the capacity to celebrate life well regardless of their hardship, and persist through tough situations with high spirits. This of course is not a celebration or glorification of poverty, which no one should live in; it is however, immense respect towards several Indians who have endured in harsh conditions, and who have cultivated an appreciation to the small joys along the way. And I am greatly thankful for the chance to see this firsthand.
Yara Jabbour Al Maalouf is a member of the class of 2019 studying chemical-biological engineering. This summer, she completed an internship at the Shell Technology Center – Bangalore, India.