In Varanasi our group went to the Gange aarti is performed daily in the evening by 6 Brahmin priests at the Dashashwamedh ghat. This is a pujas - or celebration - of Lord Shiva, the Mother Ganga (the river) and Agni (fire). Shiva is known as the God of the Yogis. Agni is the fire of transformation, and Mother Ganga - is one of the three largest rivers in the world and feeds the fertile crop fields of India. To the Hindus, it is believed that daily bathing in the river can wash away ones sins and it is believed that if one dies in Varanasi, one will be freed from the cycle of death and rebirth. Or in the words of Buddhism, freed from suffering.
It became clear that this boy didn't know about a country called Canada. He could not actually do math very well. He thought North America was a country. I don't think he knows what the internet is, let alone spends time watching movies and TV shows or even reading books. His day consisted of selling to people at the Ganges from 5:00 am in the morning, going to school and then returning to sell at night during the Aarti event.
Yes, every day.
He did know eight languages, including Chinese. Of course, he was there everyday selling and talking to tourists from around the world.
Maybe he was lying. Maybe that is not what his life is like. But it could be that. When I spoke to Prim our tour guide about this boy the next day, he told me, "He will be ok. He is already being apprenticed." While my son is being 'apprenticed' through school and deciding what of many careers he may prefer, including being engaged in a career that involves sports he loves and gets to practice for a couple of hours after school, he is not being apprenticed to work make money for someone else selling to tourists by lying, looking cute and flattering people.
Did I mention the 200 rupees? For your convenience, I will tell you that is the equivalent of $3.96 Canadian and $2.90 for my American friends.
I did buy his postcards. Not because I wanted the postcards. I wanted the memory of this boy and what he does to survive. I also wanted to insert myself into the heart of this boy. I told him I would buy his postcards, but he had to make me a promise. The promise was for him to remember me... if he was sad or disappointed, to remember that I think about him every day and I live in a different part of the world he had not known about. I wanted him to think about the world as being bigger than the world he knew. I wanted him to know I care about him and want what is best for him. Because I do. I wanted to take him out of that place and show him all that my son sees and believes is possible.
Perhaps that is arrogant of me; perhaps it is kind and loving. Perhaps it is just me understanding that what we complain about in our over-the-top sterile, filled-with-entertainment and toys, I-feel-unfulfilled, bored, want-to-be-special, North American lives is nothing to complain about. Perhaps it is just me finally understanding to stop striving and to just be grateful. That boy gave me much more than postcards.