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August 1, 2013

Local Voice From Around the Globe:Thinking, 'How can this be?' all over again

By Sam Aldridge
Cooperstown Crier

---- — I have at last bid farewell to India, and come home. However, the thread of my story did not stop at the departure gate, but continues on uninhibited, having only changed course.

To analyze this ending, I must first recall the beginning: My first few days in India. 

After fully recovering my senses, I was struck by the many aspects of life in the U.S. I had always taken for granted. Things like organized traffic, responsible police and sanitation forces, balanced societies and, when held in comparison, a government that does its job, all came to mind. There I was, catapulted into a new land where none of these existed in the same way, or at all, which led me to think, “How can this be?”

During those 11 months, that question faded from my mind and was replaced with “This is just how it is.” But only someone who has lived for an extended period of time in India, a country as known for its magnificent culture as for its deep-rooted destitution, could attain that level of understanding. That realization requires immense patience, whether it be to love the country or just to get by there, and even someone endowed with that virtue may find it a challenge. With time, I learned to move through India’s many paradoxes and hypocrisies, but no sooner did that happen than I arrived back home on the other side of the world; back in a place where I find myself thinking, “How can this be?” all over again.

When I returned to the U.S. I viewed my native home with the astonished eyes of a foreigner, filled with wonder at each new turn. I felt as if I was some tourist, coming to behold the grandeur and excess of America for a few days, then sure to go back to where I had come from. Not so.

The cyclical nature of my case may sound ironic, but it runs beneath the surface of all that is plain to see, down to a level that is natural. Proof enough that my perspective underwent a change is the fact that I now find the organization of the West almost boring. Coming back home had the unique effect of allowing me to incorporate not just one or the other, but both viewpoints into my way of thinking, at last bringing me to the ultimate goal of the Rotary program.

The transition of returning was much more than just India to America. It was Hindi to English, city to village, hot to cold, spicy to bland, etc. In spite of that, there was one thing that remained constant between the two: Home to home. The shock of being back in America quickly evolved into my new found appreciation for it. Indeed, I always feel the presence of my experience in the way I view life around me, and I know that it will continue to bring color and contour to my life wherever it may take me.

Sam Aldridge, of Milford, participated in Rotary Exchange. To read more from him, visit