Questioning My Past Achievements in the Bengali Village

August 5, 2010
volunteering in bengali village

The Goddess that is rain ushered us into Kolkata before we traveled another three hours to a series of rural Bengali villages. There, we met with two entrepreneurs who are working to provide solar-powered lights to these yet un-electrified and impoverished communities. This was the experience I had been waiting for.

Atop a wooden crate hitched to a bicycle, the five of us rode into mud hut villages that seemed to grow out of the jungle. Massive tree roots clung to the two-room houses like ivy, leaving no spot untouched by its woody fingers. From every corner leaked throngs of villagers who sprinted behind our bicycle or jumped onto our laps.

Breathtakingly beautiful, the youngsters have hazel eyes juxtaposed by mocha skin and set just inches above mouths that brim with opalescent pearls.

They own no shoes, but quickly located their camera phones to snap pictures of us from a foot away. Their genuine curiosity and excitement to see “THREE AMERICANS!!!” made us want to give them the world.

But all they wanted was to hear us speak.

They followed us around like a mob of paparazzi. Every three seconds, a brave soul would swim to the front of the crowd, tug on my shirt and yell, “Hello!” before disappearing into the masses. I would reply, “Hello!,” “Yoo-hoo!” or “Whazzz up!?”

In what ways did getting straight As better the world?

After each greeting, the entire crowd would repeat the word. The girls liked “yoo-hoo.” The boys enjoyed “whazzz up.” Noticing their mocking behavior, I repeated the Macarena until every child could dance it together. I have never seen such a crowd of excited, happy people.

I felt like I was in a surreal universe as I observed their daily lives. Boys play soccer until the ball vanishes into the night’s inky cloak. Men wash their playful oxen in the river. Women stew over 1930s-era pots in 12-square-feet of dirt covered by a table cloth.

When I observe these lives, it puts into perspective the importance of the majority of my high school career’s goals. In what ways did getting straight As better the world? How much stronger or fulfilled are the individuals I was able to impact through my leadership positions? When these realizations are considered, it appears as though there is an inconsistency between what we encourage our students to strive towards and what will make their lives more fulfilling.

You may get into your dream college for your ability to cram and regurgitate, but where’s the competency score for positive impact on your community? Your independent study on Greek history may light up a slide show, but who will deliver clean water to these people? Which focus would create a stronger generation of Americans?

With this on my mind, I climbed onto a rusting bicycle and rode into a jungle sunset that is cherished by its viewers 365 days a year.

About Monika Lutz

Monika Lutz has lived in seven countries and is the author of “Now What? How a Gap Year of International Internships Prepared Me for College, Career, and Life.” Although originally from Boulder, Colorado, she now resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Government with a double minor in Mandarin Chinese and General Management at Harvard University.

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