While reflecting on our time in India, some students are disappointed: they feel swindled and taken advantage of, the supposedly-wealthy tourists who are really just struggling students (and who are, mind you, sailing around the world).
Unable to hold my tongue, I say that it is not the locals’ responsibility to bargain with us. It is an honour to bargain. It is a most privileged social interaction. Handle it with care, because these people also need to make a living. We visit their country to learn, and if we are not welcomed with open arms we feel deceived. Well, maybe it is a give and take relationship. We cannot simply use these countries for life experience and not expect to give something in return.
Afterwards, a young American pre-med talks with me. He doesn’t ask if I’ll be a “real” doctor. He doesn’t even ask how our system works, which is a relief, since the recitation is starting to bore. He just wants to pick my brain, something I don’t mind. So we talk, and we shall talk again. He has hopes unencumbered by the disillusionment of spending every day in a hospital. We are not alike – he will probably be a surgeon someday, I think, but I have nothing against surgeons. I just don’t want to be one.
I leave feeling lighter. (This becomes relevant soon, I swear.) I wonder why. He is certainly not the first person on board to show an interest in what I do. But in this moment I think I saw a glimpse of his future, and I had the opportunity to contribute – in the smallest way, regardless – to that.
I had hoped that Semester at Sea would inspire me, and it has, but sometimes I have felt as if an element is lacking. I attend a talk about polio, rehabilitation and poverty, and I leave more dejected: I already knew that. Tell me how to CHANGE it! Tell me how to DO SOMETHING!
Now I realize that maybe I am old enough not simply to be inspired. I am not a child anymore, and I should contribute. I have experienced a fair share of life. I am not at all accomplished or wholly experienced, but perhaps I can contribute to the inspiration of others. The ship, I realise, is give-and-take too, just like India and Myanmar and everywhere else.
I have been sharing, but perhaps not effectively. One short discussion showed me how I could play a role to the years ahead: perhaps even to the roads taken by the Paul Farmers of my generation. I understand now why Father Tutu insists that his favourite part of the voyage is meeting the students. We all consider him the epitome of inspiration, but perhaps by inspiring the young generations, his experienced soul too is inspired.