I finally had a world adventure of my own this month: first solo international trip in many years, while kids stayed home with Dad and Grandma. My visit to India immediately transported me out of my comfortably established routine in the United States to the completely different rhythm of another part of our world.
Sharing a few impressions:
Nature and people must share space: I quickly recognized that the room I was occupying at our family farm in India was NOT my own, and I would have to make peace with the 2 lizards who had made their home there long before I moved in. I REALLY dislike lizards (and still carry the scars of discovering one in my drinking water jug in Singapore a few years ago!) But this room was their space after all. I studied their movement patterns for days, so I could sleep at night without fear that I would wake up to a lizard on my pillow! I had no choice but to coexist with my reptilian roommates...
Where tech does NOT yet rule… While the rest of the world (including Indian tech centers like Bangalore) race ahead with tech innovation and integration, some places like rural Uttar Pradesh where I was, still don’t have basic infrastructure like stable electricity and internet connectively to jump on that bandwagon. The upside? Kids still play the old fashioned way: climbing trees, kicking around footballs, playing hide and seek, and adults work and socialize together without the distraction of devices. Look at this market scene I visited: teeming with people, but not a single smart phone!
Growing food is a lot of work and risky business! It was wheat harvest time in northern India when I arrived, and I watched in awe as the combine machines cut, stripped and sorted the wheat kernels from the wheat stalks in minutes, drastically reducing the harvest time compared to what it would take with manual labor. But even then, an unexpected rainstorm almost ruined the pile of wheat kernels piled high in the collection area waiting to be bagged (by hand) and taken to the factory. Months of hard work potentially lost in minutes!
How do THESE children prepare themselves for the world of tomorrow so vastly different from the world they experience today? Pooja and Aysha (pictured above) are full of promise and potential, as all kids are. They could become farm laborers like their parents, or take another path... With full mechanization and automation of manual labor almost a foregone conclusion, where does that leave all those who need work in this country of 1 billion+ people, where labor is plenty and jobs are scarce?
As usual, my travel experience raised more questions than answers, and reminded me how much I appreciate the chance to step out of my routine for a moment and connect to another place, and another reality, on our planet.
Greetings from snowy Washington DC! It’s a far cry from my location last year when we still lived in the desert landscape of Dubai in the UAE. I clearly have forgotten a few things about living with the snow, since moving away 3 years ago, such as: shovel the pathway out of your house while the snow is soft...NO MATTER WHAT!
This past weekend, we got a lovely blanket of snow. The kids had fun playing outside, while I enjoyed sitting by the warm fire. But we all forgot to shovel the snow! By the time we emerged the next day, that beautiful snow had refrozen in the night into a treacherous slippery sheet of ice. We had to tip toe ever-so carefully to get from our door to the road without falling. Lesson learned!
One of the fun and challenging parts of moving around the world is learning how to navigate the particular landscape of each place we land in. I’ve learned the best thing I can do is pay close attention to what my neighbors are doing. So when I walked out the day after the snowstorm last week, I noticed every single of my neighbors had neatly shoveled their walkways and could walk safely out of their houses without fear of slipping (unlike us!).
Similarly, I learned in my first few weeks of driving in Dubai, NOT to park in the one school parking lot space which happened to be empty of cars (but full of sand) because your car might get stuck in that sand (as of course mine did – which is why no one else had parked there!). (Note to self: Dubai's very modern infrastructure and skyline sits atop a very sandy desert!).
Our family is still recalibrating to the skill set needed to live back home in the US. Every place we go, it seems, that skill set needs to expand, because each part of the world is unique. So wherever we are, I try to watch what the locals are doing and remind my children to do that too! It’s a good cultural (and landscape) lesson for us all.
Ambika Anand Prokop is a globetrotting teacher, environmental planner and mom. She loves creating fun, interesting, meaningful and educational opportunities for children to engage with the many fantastic cultures and landscapes of our planet. Ambika has lived and traveled with her family in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States.