In November 2016 some of my classmates and I were involved in a school trip, which for me, being from Germany but living in Chennai, India, was incredibly interesting and eye-opening. It was a trip to Bikaner, which is located in Rajasthan, India, and central to this trip was being a part of a Camel Caravan. This trip involved a variety of activities, some service related, some creativity and action related, and some focused on getting familiar with the culture of this location.
Throughout this trip, being able to actively interact with the local community was great, it gave me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, to grow and to develop. For instance it really allowed me to change my perspective of what is normal to my life as an expat in Chennai, a big city, while it truly isn’t in Bikaner. Air conditioning, big rooms, closed and lockable bathrooms and closed, air conditioned kitchens were clearly not common in this location. Seeing how and where the villagers of Bikaner lived made me think about how life can be very different around the world, as I noticed the big difference between living in India and living in Germany.
Furthermore, this trip also made me think about the significant difference between living as a local and living as an expat in India, and the caused power and standard of living differences. As an expat in Chennai, India, you live a very privileged life, most companies pay for a private school for the children, for very comfortable housing, as well as for people helping you with work in the garden, the kitchen, with cleaning and driving. In Bikaner, which is around 2.544,3 km away from Chennai, the local villagers live in very small houses as a big family, sometimes the grandparents, the parents, and 3-5 children. The houses are built by the villagers themselves using earth and clay, and a family is considered lucky if they have some land where they can grow food or a goat or cow. A car, air conditioning, school beyond Grade 8, did not exist in the village we visited. This really made me realise how my life is so different from the life of these people, how different my future perspectives are, how different my diet is, how different my relationship to the people around me is. It made me think of how small and insignificant my problems and worries are occasionally compared to their problems, for example worrying over a math test versus not enough food to feed the whole family. Power and wealth differences are so big and visible in India, they determine the future, the health and appearance of people in my age. In Germany, through personal experience and studying the political system, I know that the German political and economic situation allows everyone of my age to become successful, as everyone has access to education beyond Grade 8, and everyone’s health is in theory ensured as the government pays parents money for raising their children. Of course, not everything is perfect in Germany and I’m very aware of this, but the theoretical conditions of living in Germany are good enough to ensure a good health, access to education, and a satisfactory standard of living.
Besides this realisation and these thoughts on the differences of living in both countries and the privilege and status difference (local villager versus expat), I learned quite a few things about the differences in religions around the world as well. Being christian myself, I grew up with very specific values and traditions. During our visit in Bikaner we visited the Karni Mata Temple, which was a Rat Temple. Without a doubt, the simple presence of rats at a temple and then the amount of rats at the temple (there were so many.) really struck me, and forced me to think again about how religion can mean different things around the globe. Worshipping animals might indicate that these people value the animals just as much as they value themselves. Hence, this could mean that the people are less egoistic, instead they recognize and acknowledge their surroundings and their environment as equally important as themselves. When looking at this kind of worshipping from this perspective, I quite like it, and personally support this view, as I myself promote living more consciously of our surroundings. In Germany, this is not always the case, as not only is Christianity and the belief of one god most prevalent, but there is also many people who see themselves as superior of animals and happily kill mice and rats if they should appear in basements or garages. This can already be seen by the quantity and demand of rat traps one finds in building supply stores.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, the religions which predominate a country, shape the mentality of the people living there. Understanding what people believe in and worship, strongly adds to one’s understanding of the culture, politics, economics, and way of living of people in different parts of the world, and in my case, I’m very grateful of what I was able to experience throughout this trip and learn about global differences. It made me realise how life and mentality can differ across the globe, and it made me appreciate these differences and eager to learn more about and understand them better.