Tag Archives: india

ungrateful and unaware

And what would you . . . ?

What would you do if a child from a privileged home couldn’t tell you what they were thankful for?

Not a single thing?

Yesterday on facebook, while browsing my news feed, I came across this photo and quote from Humans of New York. Humans of New York is a popular photoblog created by a man named Brandon Stanton. The site features portraits and interviews of individuals in New York — and around the world. While some have criticized HONY, saying many of Stanton’s interviews must be staged, most viewers love the site. I myself like HONY because, to me, Brandon has done exactly what I’ve been trying to do all along: Show that people are people.

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“I’m trying to raise my daughter with the same values that I learned in Jamaica, but it can be hard to instill gratitude and appreciation when we are surrounded by such abundance. When I was growing up in Jamaica, every time I wanted something, my grandmother made me go through the same list of questions: ‘Why do you want it?’ ‘How much will it cost?’ ‘Is it going to make your life better?’ There wasn’t enough money for things we didn’t need, so we were always forced to ask those questions — even for simple things like a new pair of shoes. The necessity of that ritual really helped create a deep appreciation for the things we had.”

“It can be hard to instill gratitude and appreciation when we are surrounded by such abundance.”

This quote struck me in particular because of a conversation I had with some of my students this past week. I had asked my kids (most of whom come from affluent white, Indian, and Asian homes in the Silicon Valley), now that Halloween was over, what holiday came next? The answer, of course, was “Thanksgiving,” but I was disappointed to discover that very few kids understood what that really meant.

“So what is Thanksgiving about?” I asked.

“Food!” said some.

“Turkey!” said others.

“Time off from school!” cried many.

One student, trying to dig deeper, said, “It’s about the Pilgrims and the Indians. They were coming up against a hard winter, and . . . Er, I don’t really remember the story. I just know it had to do with the Pilgrims.”

NO ONE said anything about thankfulness.

My disappointment was amplified, however, when I asked the students to think of ten things they were thankful for — and why.

“Umm . . .” Most had to pause before answering. Prompting didn’t help. And then, finally:

“My Wii.”

“My computer.”

“D.S.”

“Minecraft.”

“My new iPhone 6.”

“My new car.”

Very few said anything about anything other than their material possessions. When I asked them about how they thought their lived compared to the lives of kids in other countries — say, Africa — their responses were unenthusiastic at best.

“What about your bed at night? Do you sleep in a nice, soft bed?”

“Yes!”

“Do you think kids in Africa all sleep in nice soft beds?

“I guess not.”

“What about electricity? Do all kids in Africa have electricity?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Uhh . . . No?”

“That’s right, they don’t. Can you imagine what your life would your life be like if you didn’t have electricity?”

“That’d be awful!” with no real emotional connection. (Life without electricity? Was there even such a thing?)

And so on, and so forth.

And my heart hurt when the day was done. And I wondered what my students would think if they saw this * **interview with this little boy in India? And I wondered what we as a nation are teaching our children?

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*Thank you, Allwin, for sharing!!

**See insightful comments from Francis and Bhuwanchand below about guilt, giving, and charity starting at home.

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my prayer

San Ramon, California

San Ramon, California, where I work

Sitting in my darkened apartment, listening to the hum of traffic on University Avenue. It’s Saturday evening and my weekend has (finally) officially started. I’ve had thoughts all week about what to write right here. And yet, now, when I finally have the time . . .

the words,

the topics,

seem . . .

Misplaced.

Like me.

This past week, I met a new student at work. His name is Kaustubh, and his family moved to California from India this past year. Kaustubh is a quiet boy, and eager to please, but it wasn’t until I read his self-introduction (hand-written in perfect cursive) that I fell in love with him.

My name is *Kaustubh. I am 11 years old. I will go to 6th grade. I am born in India. All my family members are living in India. I am the eldest child in my family. I like to read books, especially non-fictional ones. I like to swim and skate. I like to play with Legos. I like to learn new things. I have very few friends. I like to eat pasta and french fries. I don’t like to fight . . . I thank my parents, my teachers, and my elders who taught me good things and made my life easier.

I like to read books, especially non-fictional ones. I like to swim and skate. I like to play with Legos . . . I have very few friends . . . I like to eat pasta and french fries.

To look at him, Kaustubh seems . . . different. In his button-up shirt and pressed blue jeans (smelling of curry and spices), with his jet-black eyes and neatly-combed hair, with his thick Indian accent and shy demeanor, it’s easy to tell: he’s not from around here. But there’s an excitement in his eyes, a glitter I can see. Different or not, Kaustubh is yet a boy. He’s a boy just like any boy who likes Legos and pasta and swimming and french fries. And Kaustubh is hopeful. America was once a foreign land of dreams — and now? It’s his home.

And I pray. Deep inside, as I hear his chatter and watch him shedding his shell, “The teacher’s are nicer — they don’t yell at you! The weather is better. The food is good . . .” I pray. Please, God. Please. Protect Kaustubh. Don’t let life take the wind out of him . . . Please.

‘Cause some days it sure does take the wind out of me.

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* name changed

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Note: I started this post two? three? weeks ago? I am just now publishing it . . . Currently in Northern California a terrible blaze is threatening to destroy the forests I grew up in. Since it started a week ago (by arson?), the King Fire has consumed more than 81,000 acres and destroyed several homes. Some of my friends have had to evacuate their homes and are waiting with baited breath, hoping to return. My heart is aching. A follow-up post to come soon.

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no man is an island

island3

“Heyyyy! I thought that was you!”

I didn’t recognize the man who had appeared out of nowhere beside our table.

“How’s that arm?” He touched my shoulder. “Your dad was so worried about you—and not just about your arm, about your life! How long ago was that, anyway? . . . And how ’bout Hong Kong? Your dad told me you were over there. What were you doing there? Bet ol’ Placerville feels small now! I’ve never been to Asia. Born and raised in SoCal; moved up here and never left. Did a rotation in Dublin once, though. One of the best times of my life. What ya doin’ in ol’ Placerville?”

I wondered, briefly, how the man breathed. His lips hardly seemed to keep up with his mouth. Continue reading

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silent spaces

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer.
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
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no matter what you eat . . .

Fish head soup is a common meal in China.

Unfortunately, fresh fruit isn’t *all* kids eat in the States.

Bugs are a common treat throughout Asia.

Or how you do your hair . . .

Pink! Tokyo, Japan.

Some like it short, and to look like wallpaper. United States.

Orthodox Jewish boys in Palestine.

“Baba” in Nepal.

what you wear . . .

Woman in India.

“Goth” teens in the States.

Boys in Incwala.

Muslim women in Karnataka.

or if you like to wave it around like you just don’t care . . .

Tribesmen dancing in Uganda.

Girl. Anywhere.

People are people.

In case I didn’t paint a clear enough picture in my last post, I thought this one might help.

Boy from the Solomon Islands.

Next time: “Talking Heads.” A look at how language shapes culture, and vice versa. And how it feels to be a foreigner, in oblivion.

Note: Images taken from a variety of sources on the Internet. I will be posting a list with each individual source soon. Not meaning to infringe on any copyrights!

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