I turned twenty in Madurai about two weeks ago, and I mourned a little bit. I’m on the younger side of my group of friends, so when I watched them turn twenty, I couldn’t help but think, “God, that sounds so old. I don’t want to turn twenty.” In my mind, twenty just seems so much older than nineteen. It’s the end of my teenage years, and I should have my life figured out in my twenties! I know it’s untrue, but it’s so deeply ingrained in my subconscious, I can’t help but cringe at the thought. (As Gaby said every time I mentioned turning twenty, “Ew.”)
I think being at Aravind where most of the people at Inspiration are much older, only made that sentiment worse. Almost everyone we talk to is a professional with their lives figured out; they are planning to open eye hospitals in Cameroon or writing books, and I’m still and undergrad trying to decide what I want to do. I’ve never seen myself going into anything other than medicine, and Aravind has only reinforced that. Watching the doctors operate in the OT, I really felt it was something I wanted to do one day. Dr. Usha talked about how she came to head the Orbit Clinic, all the different places she went to before that, and how she never even thought she would become an ophthalmologist. But when she spoke about where she is now, she did it with such love and genuine joy that I could only think, “Wow, I want to be her someday.” The doctors at Aravind work twelve hours with a two-hour lunch break and short breaks during surgery. They work six days a week, and sometimes Sundays at the eye camps; nevertheless, they love doing what they do. My whole stay at Aravind, that was something that I thought about frequently: I really hope I feel that way about what I do.
I met a British woman named Echo one day at Inspiration. She heads the Moroccan branch of an American health NGO, and she was at Aravind doing interviews for the book she’s writing on the whole gritty process of health NGOs and everything they entail. Echo is based in Morocco but has been in Hyderabad for the past half a year, and she talked with us over lunch about her life, what it was like working in a foreign country for an indefinite amount of time, and how she networks with random people on trains. She studied international development at the London School of Economics, and for once I thought, “That’s something I think I would love to do.” Besides being at Aravind, observing the doctors, and learning about research through our project, I love just walking around the city or watching the street pass during rickshaw rides. I love seeing a different culture, and after this trip, I can confidently say I want to travel as much as I can whether I go to med school or not, and talking with her was kind of a revelation. She talked a lot about the uncertainty of her semi-permanent move to Morocco, and being away from her family and friends, but I think it’s something that I could see myself doing.
Despite the internal distress that comes with turning twenty, my birthday in Madurai was wonderful. We did a little shopping, and I bought some bangles (read: enough to start my own bangle shop in the US) from a wholesale store, which was quite the sight.
Gaby’s friend from the gym, Ducathi, drove us to the Meenakshi Temple Area to buy souvenirs, but on the way he said he had to see a friend. We stopped at the side of the road and he and Gaby get out of the car. At this point, I’m a little confused. Where are we? What’s going on? Ten minutes later, they come back…with juice. Apparently the friend gave it to them.
We head to a little roadside café to get tea and snacks, and they break out a cake that says, “Happy Birthday Doreen.” Yes, I am way too gullible. (I mean, juice? Really?) But it was cute. So we ate my black forest cake off a car in the parking lot of a roadside café with our fingers. It was one of the best cakes I’ve ever had. Despite being in my twenties and not really having my life figured out, this has been a truly incredible trip, and I’ve learned more than I could possibly imagine simply through talking with people. It has been a humbling and enlightening experience to say the least.