Street chai – 5 rupees
Fresh pomegranate – 50 rupees
Auto-rickshaw ride from Big Market – 80 rupees
Clean air and water – priceless
For Everything Else there’s MasterCard
The above may seem a little silly, but it’s essentially true here in India. Throughout our time here, we have been exposed to new and unfamiliar styles of food, dress, forms of transportation and even religion (which our current course focuses on). For the most part, these new experiences are under our control. We plan what cities to visit, what to do there, where to stay, what to buy/eat… One of the only things that is truly outside of our immediate control is the environment that surrounds us. Particularly over the last couple weeks, I believe that many SJPD students have gained a new appreciation for things like truly clear air without dust or pollution.
For those of you reading at home, there’s no reason to worry. Everyone is alive and well (if a little weary from travel) and where we do encounter things such as heavily polluted air it is only for brief periods of time. The point that I’m trying to make here is that many people in the United States don’t appreciate these “little things” that don’t seem so little once they’re gone. Growing up in Richfield, a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis, I can’t remember a single instance where the air seemed to singe my lungs unless I was directly behind some sort of industrial truck or old/worn down car. Similarly, I was able to drink water drawn from an underground reservoir that didn’t need to be filtered/softened out of the tap. Coming to India has made me appreciate those things more.
It’s hard to imagine how different life would be if those simple things hadn’t merely been briefly taken away and instead were a way of life for me growing up. It probably would have been more difficult to concentrate on my math homework if I had to walk 3 kilometers to fetch water in a pot every morning, and if I had been sick more frequently due to poor air quality. That’s why things like clean air and water are truly priceless – or should be. Out in the real world, though, there is a clear price to them. Some people we have encountered can afford to buy medical-style masks that filter out most of the muck in the air. Others have electric water filters in their homes or have clean water delivered to their homes by a tanker periodically. The luckiest are able to live in an area where problems like these aren’t issues, places like Richfield.
So as I write this on the day of Thanksgiving (though it won’t be posted until we next have internet) I’m hoping that those who read this take a moment to be thankful for these “little things,” and perhaps to re-consider how we make a wide plethora of decisions in our own society and communities. Decisions such as where to put new fossil-fuel burning power plants and whether to continue letting fracking contaminate groundwater across the nation. Not everyone in the United States, after all, has access to clean air and water – these problems aren’t confined to developing countries like India.