In India, this is the view from the front of the house I was staying in– near a large city called Vijayawada, near the coast of the Bay of Bengal:

There is a banana farm just beyond the gate, across the street. Beautiful driveway, isn't it! The designs are drawn and colored by hand.

Back in the midwest, the view is a plain snowy landscape; roads, lawns, roofs are covered in white dust. It looks barren compared to the green banana trees.

In the bigger cities I stayed in, the view was of buildings and streets, but it was vivid, alive, and noisy, certainly not quiet and devoid of people. On the contrary, it is anything but quiet in the city, even in the village. If it isn’t a truck honking or people talking on a city street, it is a rooster heralding the dawn right outside the window.

I can see why people who come to a U.S. suburb can feel lonely and isolated if they are used to what I’ve described. Unless they are staying in the hubbub of a large city, they might feel unsure of what to do, where to go, stuck indoors. If it is in the winter, even we who live here do not see our neighbors much– and for those used to seeing neighbors daily, then it could feel like they’ve been thrown onto some alien planet. Unless, of course, they are truly seeking a solitary time, they might not like it. It is different here.

I feel it too, occasionally. There are times I want to see neighbors mulling about, too, and in winter, we hardly see anyone except when we’re all out to shovel our driveways. But then, other times, yes, I need some time alone.

It’s Saturday morning here, Sat. night there, and I can imagine the traffic is beginning to die down a bit as the shops are closing and people are heading home. Last week was a festival weekend, and perhaps more people were out. Any night, however, is busy and crowded by American suburban standards.

On the plane headed to Frankfurt, I sat next to a woman headed to Athens, Greece for a 3 week tour of the country with her brother and his wife. Her husband had recently passed away and she was emotional, in tears. Her brother found her a seat next to himself, and then a man from Sudan was sitting next to me. He was heading back to Sudan to visit his family. On the way back to the U.S. from Frankfurt, I sat next to a young woman who had just graduated from college. She had been in Germany for a month, visiting her brother who plays in an orchestra there. She had applied for a Fulbright scholarship to study in Sweden, and told me all about it. So fascinating; I sincerely hope she gets to go! Three interesting stories, on just two airplanes.

And so many stories in the faces I saw in India– only a fraction of the one billion faces who live there. I saw poverty and I saw wealth and everything in between. I saw people living by the roadside in shacks, and people living in expensive, security-protected, high-rise condominiums.

A security-protected, expensive condominium colony in Hyderabad, India

India is still a country of contrasts. On city streets with buses, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, minivans and all makes and models of cars, all traffic will still slow down because of a cow on the side of the road. When driving between Vijayawada and Hyderabad (a journey that took about 7 hours), we passed by several herds of water buffalo and had to slow down for the herd to move to the side of the road.

Billboards in cities small and large advertise jewelry and clothing. In one city I visited, the number of jewelry shops was staggering. In general, Indian women dress up for weddings and events– and dressing up includes fancy outfits or saris made of silk, and jewelry of gold and precious jewels. The billboards don’t advertise small rocks or chains, either– the pictures are of some of the most extravagant necklaces and earrings I have ever seen. I am left to wonder how many people actually wear jewelry that large and extravagant…? Is it perhaps to strike a chord of want or longing? Most of us could never afford or dream of owning such jewelry- and would have little use for it, not attending state dinners or Hollywood galas. Is such advertising meant just for a small number of middle and upper class? If I were there, and living in a shack, would it taunt me every day that I could never afford those kinds of things? Remind me daily of my karma? How would I respond?

While in India, I saw servants coming in daily to sweep, mop, do laundry, wash dishes, chop vegetables, cook, etc.  And I wondered what it must feel like for these women to know that this is their job, day after day after day? I know how I feel about washing dishes– how must they feel? And to believe that they are in the midst of a cycle that they cannot escape?

Where does the desire to live another day come from for most people? for them? I know where my hope comes from; but what about others? In so many cases, there are people who get up and face their lives of drudgery, and then there are also those who face more difficult circumstances and get up and beat the odds.

In each of us is a divine spark, put into us by the Creator, that innately tells us we are here for a reason, a purpose, and it is no accident. And for those people who I’ve seen, who worship their Hindu gods, they also have that same spark given by the Creator. But what they don’t know or understand is that there is hope and that God loves them as equally as He does all of us; that we are all equal to Him. And somehow they arise and do their job and visit temples and hope that in their next life they are more fortunate…. How do they know? What assurance do they have? Do they know what life they’ve lived in the past and that they’ve done enough to earn a better place in the future?

It’s an interesting time India is in. People are complaining that they can’t find good help these days. The lower castes are coming up and it’s much harder to find a driver or reliable household servant. Turnover is high. Some years ago, it was not unusual to have a servant and his family to stay for years. This is no longer the case. Why do people complain? Perhaps they don’t want things to change. Life is easier with help (there are no dishwashers, washing machines are still not so common, people still need drivers, etc.). Is it our human nature, no matter where we are in the world, to want to think we are a bit higher and there is someone a bit lower? Does it make us feel better, do something for our ego, or perhaps do we believe certain levels are closer to God? I don’t understand the entire situation, it is complex, but it wasn’t so much different in the U.S. not too long ago, was it?

Life is changing there, the economy is growing, and while there are still many problems to be dealt with, the growth is offering more opportunities for more people. And in addition to that, at some point, there will also be a reckoning with the statement that “all people are created equal”… this statement points directly at one of India’s societal foundations– the caste system. At some point, India will have to face this statement and make a decision. Either they believe we are all equal or we aren’t. The caste system says we are not. What does democracy say? What does God say? What does Hinduism say? What does the Bible say?

This is not meant to be political by any means… it’s where my thoughts and observations are today… by someone who has some ties to the country. I was born there, but not raised there. I can’t escape that when others look at me– they first me as – a person from India. I am not that on the inside, but that is who people see on the outside.  It’s kind of like being an Oreo cookie, according to a friend of mine: brown on the outside, white on the inside! So take it as it is– an Oreo cookie’s observations — who believes that God loves us all equally with a passion unequaled to any love or anything this world has to offer.

In God’s eyes, we’re all the same kind of cookie.