July 21, 2015

Day 651 – Service

I volunteered a lot at home and it’s free, you don’t have to pay for anything. In fact, I was given lunch and travel expenses which, wasn’t great deal but it was something so I wasn’t out of pocket. Volunteering aboard however is a different kettle of fish entirely. I have volunteered in 5 countries and paid in 4 of them. Volunteering aboard is very appealing and perhaps because so many people sign up to volunteer there is a cost element. However, there is a lot of money to be made here especially when third party agencies are involved. When I signed up to volunteer in Saigon I went through a UK agency and paid an ridiculous amount. At the time however, the cost seemed reasonable. I certainly don’t regret it but at the same time I wouldn’t go through an agency again. There are all kind of justified costs which essentially means the project is out of pocket. Again I don’t really understand this or agree with but it appears to be the norm.

When volunteering independently it is different. There are some cost implications but not nearly as much. I volunteered for free in Paraguay and it was great.  The whole notion of having to pay to volunteer abroad is absurd to some.  I have friends and other people I met along my travels who laugh at having to pay to volunteer.  I mean if you think about it we could be working or we could be spending that money elsewhere but instead we pay it to charities so we can have a shot, an opportunity to make a difference. I love volunteering which is partly why I continue it and unless I’m broke I’ve made peace with the fact I will have to pay, at least aboard.

No amount of money is enough. I’ve learnt we can fundraise and donate endless amounts of money but it’s never going to be enough. I have yet to approach a project and be told they don’t need money. They say time is money and unfortunately this is true in some cases.  Money makes the world go round and most projects. Having volunteered with so many different projects, I see the need and of course I want to fulfil that need without a doubt.  However, the trouble I find is the need is far greater and whilst I can and have made a difference, it doesn’t always feel enough.  Ideally, I want to help each project and more.  I understand what it’s like to be orphaned, to not have food to eat or a roof over your head. I’ve seen a great deal of hardships but I’ve also been fortunate enough to see communities come together to make a difference.

I know in the west we take things for granted. Whether it’s hot water or electricity or simply state pension.  We are fortunate enough to have free education and a welfare state amongst many other things. We have exposure and access to far greater opportunities and the possibilities of many amazing things.  Some of which is not easily accessible in a third world, developing country.  But here, the main difference is, everything is appreciated and made to last. Whether it’s old, mashed up cars in Argentina, street food stalls in Cambodia or plastic in South Africa. It never ceases to amaze me how things are maximised and energy is spent on more important matters such as family and looking after your own well being.  Life is hard and there are many evident problems but life is lived, loved and enjoyed more. I feel the true essences and meaning of life is also easier to see as life is slower and less stressful.

Life in London is different, yes London is amazing but it is also hard and fast paced. I’m British not English which some understand but others not so. Yes I was born and raised in London so my nationality is British but I’m not white but brown. So I’m a British Indian and not English. When I say I’m Indian, this also raises eyebrows as neither I nor my parents are from India. And whilst my grandparents are not alive on either sides,  I know my grandmother was born in Lahore. So, some people argue I’m not Indian or more recently the joke is I’m a fake Indian.  I’ve explained continuously that you don’t have to be from India to be  Indian. There are and were many Indians which resided in Kenya, Mauritius, Fiji and Uganda. These people have their set nationality but again their Indian. It’s like Chinese people that live in Brazil or Japanese people that were born in Paraguay.  I think the fundamental difficultly is understanding or more acknowledging the difference between nationality and ethnicity.

My dad is from Tanzania so I’m part African and my mum was raised in Antananarivo so I’m part Madagascan. Ultimately which country you identify with is down to individual choice and belief. I know I’m Indian and while this is disputed or discussed amongst other’s, it doesn’t change who I am. I know many British Indians who identity more with English culture and this people are often referred to as a coconut – brown on the outside and white on the inside. These people have chosen not to hold on or practice their cultural norms and values and rather have chosen to adopt a more western lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with this, in my opinion however, it certainly is a sore point with family members who don’t agree or like the western lifestyle very much but chose to live in a western country.

I was recently called a coconut and I was taken aback as I do appreciate the Indian culture. I can speak two Indian languages, I listen to Indian music, cook and eat Indian food and have Indian clothes. So one begs the question how or from which angle am I a coconut? Well, travelling around, independently for coming up to two years is not a very Indian thing. I have met very few Indians that travel, a few friends here and there but not a great deal. In Rio I met three Indian guys volunteering and this perhaps was the highlight. Travelling independently, especially as a woman is very much frown upon to the point that family members don’t open talk about it. It’s as though if it is not spoken of then it’s not real and so the issue doesn’t exist.

So I don’t know which country I belong to. I know my life would have been very different had I not been born and raised in London. I know I wouldn’t have had the same exposure or opportunity in a third world developing country or perhaps at a struggle. Yet despite this I wouldn’t say England is my country, I’m not patriotic and don’t particularly support the idea of the royal family. I certainly wouldn’t sign up for the army and die for this country. I’m also not part of the English culture because I’m Indian. But again I wouldn’t say India is my country because I don’t fit in there. I’m a non residential Indian not a local and this was evident the last time we went. I appreciate and respect a lot of Indian culture however there are many things that I question and more importantly disagree with.  How woman are treated particularly infuriates me. How they continue to be discrimated against and treated as second class, inferior citizens doesn’t sit well with me.  The continuous abortion and death of baby girls both in India and China is incomprehensible. Thus, while I’m a proud Indian, I question norms and disagree with aspects. Tanzania couldn’t be my country as I have never been there.  My dad hasn’t been back for over thirty years. We’ve been to Madagascar three times to visit my mum’s family but I wouldn’t say it’s my country. Again I don’t fit in there and given the exposure I’ve had, I doubt I would be able to live there. So essentially the quest continues and I hope one day I find a country.

But as my friend said, we all belong to the planet, to mother earth. Countries, cultures, languages etc. continue to divide us but essentially we are one. We are the same- we all feel the same things, many of us want the same things and most of us have the same things. We all just have a choice, whether we can look past physical differences and embrace each other for what we are or whether we judge and discriminate based on gender, nationality, religion or sexuality.  Some of us were born to conform, to be sheep and to ensure the equaliburm continues. Whilst others, well we were born rebels, born asking questions and wanting something more. I can safely say I’m the later, I never wanted to settle, never simply wanted a nine to five job and then spend the rest of my life paying off a mortgage. No I wanted something more and I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived it, gained it and be blessed with it. I’ve travelled up and down countries, seen so many cities, been part of so many communities and appreciated so many different cultures. I’m a different person, I’m a better person and I love me and my friends more than ever. I have an overwhelming urge to hug them all and to share another moment with them but I can’t so I will just have to express my appreciation with this blog. Most of you know how much you mean to me and how much I love you and so with that I send you many hugs and positive energy and sunshine! Until we meet again, someday, somewhere, somehow, the road is my friend in the meantime.