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Victor Huyhn - Blog 3: The Final Days

Victor Huyhn - Blog 3: The Final Days

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As I sit typing up my last blog entry, I feel nostalgic about both my life in Vancouver and my time here in the south of India.  As I journey into the 5th month of my life spent here in Trivandrum, I reminisce about my time spent abroad and prepare for my final month here.  As somewhere so alien begins to become somewhat familiar, it is incomparable with what I’ve grown accustomed to for the past 25 years of living in Vancouver, other westernized cities or in communities of expats.  Living in the south of India has been my first experience living alone where I was not constantly surrounded by the luxuries I’ve grown accustomed to or by people that grew up in my similar privileges. It is this experience living far away from my comforts that I appreciate the most about the amazing opportunity that has been given to me.  Experiencing discomfort, living a new culture, interacting, living and engaging with people from different ways of being has been an inspiring experience for my personal development. 

However, somewhere along the way, I lost sight of why I was here and what an amazing opportunity I had for professional development, travel, engagement with different culture, and personal growth.  I let the differences I faced take over and thus would long more and more to return to the comforts and familiarities of home.  I relish home – the comforts of my bed, the safety of my parents, the fun of my childhood friends, my brothers, my family and the glory of everything I’ve taken for granted.  I have taken this time to reflect on my relationships and myself. I critically thought about how privileged I am to be able to miss these luxuries.    

I have the privileged opportunity of escaping what’s uncomfortable and returning to a life where I’m generally distress free.  But why do I feel like I’m so distressed here? I’m living in Trivandrum – a beautiful modern city with plenty of amenities.  Sure I don’t have the comfort of my friends, the knowledge of the local language, but I have been able to engage with the locals, participate in sports and cultural activities. I hated how I felt so distressed living in a modern city when I visit small villages where people do not live beyond their means in small shanty’s with no running water and welcome a stranger into their home with giant beaming smiles and generous hospitality.  People constantly approach me and offer me food, kind conversation, gentle curiosity, lively interaction and invite me into their homes.  An unscrupulous amount of guilt overcame me one day.  Then I realized that feeling guilty will not change anything.  Feeling guilty will only further emphasize the fact that there is a growing disparity between those that live beyond their means and those who don’t.  I needed to acknowledge this disparity and I needed to determine how to navigate it.  

In my short time here, I’m not going to end poverty, I’m not going to solve the problem of hunger and food security, or in my specific case, I’m not going to end the maltreatment of migrant workers.  I can interact with people experiencing these struggles and keep these ideas in mind for my continuing work as a social worker in my plight for social justice and hopefully create change day by day.  However, for the short time that I have here with MFI and in the south of India, I can only live in the moment and offer any positive contributions I can here and now.   

I want to continue to experience different ways of being and knowing, respect alternative religions, embrace the challenges of living abroad, immerse myself in the unknown, unfamiliar and uncomfortable and look at the world with the curious and hungry eyes of a 5-year-old.  However, my time here in Trivandrum is quickly coming to an end.  I think about all the personal hardships I’ve experienced and how they’ve all dissipated through the growth and perspective I’ve gained from the meaningful interactions I’ve had with people, the environment and myself.  I cherish these experiences.

Although I do miss what’s comfortable, I know I will also miss the unique experiences I have here in Trivandrum and around India on a daily basis. Some of my most memorable experiences include crossing the road/playing “Frogger” in rush hour traffic, learning Bollywood dance with kids, learning how to play cricket in a kids league, teaching games to groups of kids and seeing how much fun they’re having, and the bi-weekly domestic worker meetings.  They were such great experiences.  So much laughter, beaming smiles, singing, cheek pinching, and genuine joy being had for trying something new by kids, adults and myself. 

I want to share 3 of my most memorable experiences here in India.  One weekend, I was invited into the home of a family I met at the beach.  I think I got food poisoning from some fruit I bought earlier that day.  Feeling woozy, some kids came up to me and we started building some sand sculptures.  After about an hour, it was time for the kids to go, but they didn’t want to leave me so their parents invited me to their home for dinner.  I was feeling a bit sick, but reluctantly accepted their offer.  The next hour was shifty.  As I continued to put on a brave face, the food poisoning was getting worse yet I still offered to walk to the market to buy a few groceries for dinner. I couldn’t complete my journey. I went back to the family’s home and told then that I’m seriously ill.  The family was so comforting hearing and seeing the sights and sounds of food poisoning.  I was laid on the ground on a mat with a cold towel on my forehead. Ajit, the 6 year-old son of the family gently held my hand, Maria, the mum, stroked my hair and fed me bottled water and a herbal concoction and for the next 3 hours, the family was both feeling sympathetic and laughing at my misfortune.  When things calmed down, they offered a bed for me to stay overnight and in the morning they put me on a bus and sent me back to Trivandrum.  Their parting words, “no trust fruit ladies”.        

 Another one of my most memorable experiences was in the north of India in Varanasi.  Wandering along the Ghats of Varanasi felt like stepping into the pages of National Geographic.  Cows lazily munch on rubbish blocking the paths then bathe in the river.  Women are doing laundry and beating the clothes against rocks in the river.  Holi men sit on the stairs praying and meditating.  Men, women and children swim, bathe, brush their teeth in the river as a human body floats silently and slowly by and another burns on the shoreline just metres away.  The most intimate acts in life and death are on full display here without prejudice and with full acceptance. It is hard not to be captivated by one of the oldest and holiest cities in the world.  

Finally, I think what has capped off my spiritual and personal experience here in India is the opportunity I had to experience Bodh Gaya, the birthplace of Buddhism.  Coming from a Buddhist family, this place had a significant importance to me. I stayed in a Chinese monastery, ate, lived and conversed with both Chinese and Vietnamese monks and was able to practice both the languages I speak at home, Vietnamese and Cantonese.  That in itself was already a very special experience.  Then I had the opportunity to meet a young monk studying in the monastery who taught me about meditation and was so hospitable throughout my entire time in Bodh Gaya.  However, the most memorable experience I had was meditating overnight, under the same Bodhi Tree Buddha meditated under for 7 years.  This whole experience was so surreal and something that I will never forget.  Then of course my experience in India would not be complete if I didn’t get ill.  After 5 months in India, I finally had my first bout of stomach troubles and it came at the best time possible.  I got the infamous “Delhi Belly” on a 16-hour train ride from Bodh Gaya back to Delhi.  This was the cherry on top of my Indian sundae.

And of course, I will always remember the amazing people I worked with at Migrant Forum India/National Domestic Workers Movement and all the domestic workers, migrants and family members, labour ministers, government officials, students, and general public that I had the honour of interacting with.  They will always hold such a special place in my heart.   

There is so much I’ve encountered, learned, lived, and experienced here while living, traveling and working in and around India.  It’s difficult to describe and put into words all my experiences and what and how I felt and feel while here.  Although I sit here in the room I’ve lived in for the past 5 months typing this, I feel as though my time here has been a dream.  As quickly as 5 months have gone by, they’ve equally dragged along bringing with them days of solitude and exasperation and other days of beauty and joy.  I cannot even begin to comprehend how I could possibly sum up my time here in India but can say that this experience has been the most challenging yet simple, frustrating yet rewarding, self-revealing yet concealing, raw yet familiar, and unwelcomed yet appreciated experience of my life thus far.