DELHI -- When I was a little kid I hated being away from home. I disliked it so much, that I often got physically ill anytime I wasn't in my own bed. I can still vividly remember waking up in an A-frame tent at Girl Scout camp and puking all over myself. I wasn't physically ill, only homesick. And if my memory serves me correctly, I was less than an hour away from my parent's house.
What does this have to do with my trip to India? A lot, actually.
Since before I departed on this trip, and stretching into the weeks I have been gone, I have received no less than a dozen e-mails with the same sentiment: "I am so jealous of your journey, but I know I could never take a trip like yours. Traveling to such a different place scares me too much. I don't think I could get past my fear. I'm not as brave as you."
At the risk of sounding like Barack Obama: Yes you can.
Here is a person -- me -- who for years couldn't handle a sleepover, let alone a trip halfway around the world, yet now I'm visiting my third continent.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt is famously quoted as saying, "The only thing you have to fear, is fear itself." Roosevelt made the comment during his first inaugural speech in reference to the Depression.
Roosevelt may have put those words into the American vernacular, but it was actually Francis Bacon who said it first, approximately 400 years ago, in his essay on Tribute.
Bacon was talking about fortune, change and a how a man with fortitude can not be shaken. Bacon referred to fear as the inner enemy and said, "Nothing is to be feared but fear itself. Nothing grievous but to yield to grief."
In short, fear is all in your head.
I was extremely frightened about coming to India, especially under the circumstances. I did not know anyone with whom I'd be living, working, or socializing with in a country that is still considered third world. I was worried I would get sick, hurt, overwhelmed, homesick, or all of the above.
But most of all, I was concerned about how this trip would change me as a person and alter my world view. Could I possibly return home the same carefree, sports-loving, fun-at-all-costs person I was before I left?
The answer is a resounding no. In fact, I'm already different. Because I'm no longer afraid of changing, evolving, or being different. I feel pretty confident you'll all like "AI" Trenni (After-India) just as much as "BI" Trenni (Before India).
The point is, all my worries were concocted out of fear in my own head; about not fitting in or feeling comfortable in a new environment. Or even worse, being different in my old environment. I have to think it is that same fear that keeps most of us from trying a new experience, moving on from an old relationship, or challenging ourselves in new position at our work. (Or maybe an entirely different career, altogether?)
I'm no more brave than any of the dozen-plus people who wrote those e-mails. They are friends who have battled life threatening illness, committed themselves to losing weight and changing their life, or found the courage to go after something or someone they never thought themselves worthy. All of those things take real courage, which is why I think everyone has it in them to tackle their fears.
It's kind of like an intelligent person changing a lightbulb in a tricky fixture, you just have to be smarter than the light fixture.
In facing fears, you just have to be smarter than the stories you make up in your own head. (Mumford & Sons fans, get the reference???)
India seemed scary and unknown, until I got to know it.
Delhi has actually started to feel like a second home to me. I'm not longer scared to death while riding in a car or in the back of a rickshaw. In fact, I've begun to enjoy and appreciate the Indian way of getting around. To the Western eye it seems dangerous and chaotic, but it's actually pretty efficient and gets me where I need to go -- fast.
I no longer see the poverty in quite the same way. Yes, it still is tough to swallow that so many people here are without money and modern amenities, but I've also begun to see what they do have. An incredible spirit, open heart, and devotion to family, friends and religion. People here are always working together. Talking to one another over tea or while walking through their version of a neighborhood. They're not texting or e-mailing or tweeting their points, they are engaged with one another.
My kids may not have books and a smart board in the classroom, but they help their classmates learn the material. And without everything we see as "necessary," they are learning!
I won't sugarcoat or lie about their abilities. The school children I work with are still vastly behind the same age levels in the States, but the will and intelligence is there. It is exciting and rewarding to see something click on the face of the student. Seeing when he understands the difference between "what" and "where" and how to tell me about his favorite sport or the names of his family members.
And beyond the pollution I've talked so much about, India is a rainbow of vibrant colors. Everywhere I look are bright oranges, shocking pinks, sky blues and vibrant greens and reds. I feel like every woman, though most are very modestly dressed, take such pride in showing their personality through color. The clothes I wear every day, the salwar kameez, do not give the style justice. Women of India look elegant in bright pink pants (salwar), a blue kurta with gold embellishments (top), and multi colored dupatta (scarf). I look like a Western woman playing dress up!
Markets are a staple in India, with each city have one or more in each neighborhood. The thing I love most about each one, is their individuality. Each marketplace is a small representation of the specific sights, smells, color, and people of the various locale.
Walking through a market in Delhi (Delli Haat has been my favorite so far!) is a welcomed attack on the senses. The brightly colored bags, tapestries, bangles and scarves. The intricate wood carvings of elephants and Buddha statues, jewelry boxes and book shelves. The smells of cardamom and cinnamon from the stalls selling masala chai.
(Chai by the way means tea in Hindi. So, when you go to Starbucks or Alterra and order a "Chai tea," you are actually asking for tea tea. Masala chai is really what you are drinking!)
During my first few days in India, I was hesitant to try the tea, walk through a market, or sit closely with my kids to help them with work. Now I realize how much I would have missed had I allowed fear to get the best of me.
And, if you're wondering, I have been eating EVERYTHING in sight and trying the hottest sauces and spices and still haven't gotten sick!
Trenni Kusnierek is a sports reporter and radio host who has worked for networks such as ABC, Big Ten, MLB, and NFL. She is currently on 540 ESPN in Milwaukee on both the D-List and Broad Side. Kusnierek is also freelance writing and reporting until January, when she will leave on a service trip to India.
A graduate of Marquette University, she holds a degree in Broadcast and Electronic Journalism. An avid marathon runner, Kusnierek qualified for the 2010 Boston Marathon by running a 3:37:02 at the Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee.