I have received some comments from Facebook friends about the seamy side of India; the unsanitary conditions, the aggressive monkeys, the germs, bare feet in public areas. Yes, India is not like the places many of us live in. All of us, have a distinct set of mental filters that color the way we see and accept certain standards of reality.
Personally, I try not to look away from those things that are different or don’t make sense to me. Maybe I do this because I’m very visual and I don’t want to miss any of the colorful patterns and puzzles the world constantly puts before me. Or maybe its because I’m a curious geek (someone called me a “seeker”) who wants to understand all the reasons behind almost everything. I went to India with an open mind, doing very little reading and keeping expectations and preconceived constructs to a minimum. I enthusiastically welcomed this country’s joy and beauty as much as I willingly took in the rawness of its culture.
I received some clarity about the mystery of my travel attitude this weekend when I went to a film festival and saw a Danish movie called “A Polar Year” made in 2018 (available for streaming on Amazon.com). It was skillfully directed by Samuel Collardey, a French filmmaker.
The movies takes place in Greenland, a self-governing constituent of Denmark. A 28 year old Dane, Anders, decides to leave his county for a year and teach indigenous Inuit children Danish because, as the program director says, the people will have no life at all unless they can speak the language of their colonizers. Anders, comes from a small farm community and so he picks Tiniteqilaaq, a small village of 80 people with no running water.
Anders instantly hates Greenland. His students are unruly. He has to drag water through the snow to his little cabin. His furnace breaks and he has to wait for weeks to get a new part to fix it. He questions some of social issues of the Intuits and is angrily told that he his thinking is messed up because he is thinking with a Danish brain.
But one of his students, an 8 year old boy, Asser, helps him open his eyes. Anders starts talking to people and really listening. He recognizes the pride the citizens have in their lifestyles, homes, and village. He participates in their customs and joins them for evening card games where laughter, good natured teasing, and acceptance are shared. He comes to understand that the most important thing to Asser is learning hunting from his grandfather. Anders gets a sled and learns how to handle a dog team. He masters fishing and hunting with a spear. And finally, opening up his heart and mind to the experience, he comes to understand and love the beauty of Greenland and its people.
I loved this movie. Tears rolled down my face as I realized I did understand traveling. It’s not just about seeing the material things, the structures and landscapes. It’s about witnessing people’s lives, appreciating and understanding the meaning and significance of their particular way of being. I hope I’ll always be able to put aside judgement and appreciate each present moment. I hope that no matter what, I will always remember to travel with a caring visitor’s heart.