Slashes of sunlight are drifting slowly across the wood paneling of the hotel lobby. I have nothing better to do, so my eyes chart their course across the wall, across plastic Greek columns and printed hotel paintings shipped in from wherever they print hotel paintings from. At night, the nightclub next door beats its insistent thump through this room, but in the morning, it is quieter than most funeral homes. Only the whisper of cloth as the hotel workers pass back and forth breaks the silence.
The sharp change that comes from traveling halfway around the world has yet again briefly turned me into a deeply unwilling morning person. I found myself fully awake well before the sun rose, and a few hours of tossing the sheets about and burying my head under the pillow later, I was finally forced to admit that sleep will not return. So I’m slumped sleepily on one of the alarmingly vibrant love seats that dot the lobby – they’re decorated with a fabric I have entitled “Dizzy Zebra” – and am now trying to motivate myself to face the day.
The question – the only question, really – one gets asked before coming on a trip to a place like this is “are you excited?” There are two, and only two Acceptable Answers: “yes, very excited!” or “excited, but a little nervous.” Like many human interactions, variation from the standard is indecorous; you will be met with an eyebrow arched in a judgmental mental should you dare to feel anything other than enthusiasm and faint trepidation.
But neither answer has felt comfortable, and in the vacuum emptiness of this lobby, watching the light trail past me, I’ve been trying to figure out why.
I feel... disconnected. Whenever I talk about my experiences in India from last year, they’re always the same – I talk about desperate poverty and cultures incomprehensibly different from my own, but even after traveling 9,000 miles, it still feels like there's a thick glass wall between me and it. I’m parked on a relatively comfortable and toweringly tasteless chair underneath a gently swaying glass chandelier, and the wafting smell of onion and naan bread from the restaurant nearby in no way makes me feel that I’m any closer to the people I’ve come to visit. Last night I slept under fresh sheets and awoke to fresh food, and experience almost a billion people in this country can’t recreate. It is a shame to come all this way to touch this country and yet only just brush it with my fingertips, but I'm quite sure that's all I'm going to do.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been here before – exactly here, really, with the same schedule and the same leaders, visiting the same people, failing to sleep in the same stiff hotel beds. I have been trying (and monstrously failing) to avoid being an insufferable know-it-all on this trip. We are only 36 hours into this venture, yet no one, it seems, is allowed to experience anything without me first explaining what they’re going to feel first.
It’s a foolish behavior - even for me - because it assumes that this trip is somehow unable to surprise me. That eight days in India a year ago has turned me into someone who thinks he’s seen it all before is an alarming development, and a depressing one.
Change is coming, I know. It is impossible to come and meet these and not be moved in some manner. God will rip my heart open to get my attention, whether I'm willing or not.
And I guess, when I really think about it, I’m excited for it. Excited, and maybe a little nervous.