“Why do they keep asking us for our names Amma?”
“Why does everyone keep touching our hair Amma?”
“So many vehicles on the road is hurting Mother Earth Amma, why don’t people ride bikes or scooter?”
If I missed the “Why?” phase when the twins were little, I am seeing it full force on this trip. Most times I am on the defensive trying to explain away things I have no answers to. I start, relapse into silence and smile away most. How do I explain to seven year olds that civic issues are a function of population, that if you cram four times the population of the US into one forth the space, similar issues are likely? I begin to talk about subways in NYC and stop realizing that these questions are merely observations, not condemnation.
Most days, we walk to the local grocers, grab ice creams and eat them on the sidewalk watching cars whizz by. Without fail, passerby on foot stop, stare and sometimes attempt to talk to us. Most days we are polite, other days dismissive. We pass overflowing dumpsters, carrion, stray dogs, animal feces and a host of things that are invisible to me. They come up in conversation late in the evenings when I have turned off the TV and put away tablets. I agree with what they say and on occasion raise similar things about the US. We talk about responsibility, about caring for the earth, about plastics and reusing things we already have. These are things they have learned at school. This trip however, is putting a lot of those lessons in perspective. They see how actions if left unchecked really do harm the earth. They realize that Amma or Appa asking them to put things away, throw litter in the trash can have tangible results. The empathy they exhibit thrills me.
We talk about the concept of personal space. We talk about how it is like for people of color in predominantly white spaces. We talk about what it feels like to be othered. Most of all we talk about standing up for ourselves and claiming our spaces. I try to lead by example and let random strangers know that it is not OK for them to take pictures or tousle my children’s hair. Most back off, mortified by how their actions are perceived. Some ask for permission and are told no. I look at my children watching me deal with this and know that these lessons go further than the moment.
A few weeks ago, I wrote on here about this trip being an adventure for the kids and pilgrimage for me. It is true. It also is true that travel broadens perspective and teaches things no school or class can teach. For that alone, this summer has been a win.