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  • It was the third day of my visit to Bolangir, Western Orissa, India to photograph the operational areas of the organization I was assigned for the duration of my volunteering in India. Packed with the photographs and information I needed to draft their Annual Report for that year, I then prepared to take the train back to Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa, where I was assigned to reside for the duration of my volunteer assignment in India.

    It was the day I met this girl.

    Sanya (not her real name) holds the HR position in my organization but that day and since the day I arrived in Bolangir, she had been tasked to make sure that I had my meals ready and my accommodation ventilated enough to keep me cool from the warm days of the Monsoon season. Apparently, it had not rained for months in that part of Orissa despite the Monsoon season.

    If I had known any better I would have thought Sanya was treating me like a VIP, so on that day when she ordered for my early lunch so I would not go hungry during my 8-9 hours train ride back to the city, I asked her to sit down and have the meal with me as there was enough rice and enough yellow daal to be shared for two. She hesitated at first but upon my insistence she graciously agreed.

    She then asked me if we also eat rice in the Philippines, and I said yes, like in India, rice is a staple food in my country. She smiled excitedly knowing we had something in common culturally now. She asked me again if we take 3 meals a day like they do and if we do have rice in all three meals. I said yes speaking in behalf of the Filipino people and we started laughing. She asked if we also have yellow daal for lunch, to which I ignorantly replied, that I did not think we have yellow daal in the Philippines but mong daal is quite common. The smile left her face. So I said, but we have rice all the time. She smiled again. She then told me that rice and daal are a staple food for them and they also have it for dinner too with roti. I simply asked,”everyday?” and she simply replied, “ha!” which means “yes” in Hindi or Oriya.

    After a few mouthfuls of steamed rice and yellow daal, it was my turn to ask her questions knowing we're already comfortable talking in thike-thike English or little-little English. I asked Sanya if she has ever been outside the small town where she grew up, and she said no with a smile. She explained that her family and friends live in Bolangir and that she could not think of any reason to leave her hometown. She was happy where she was and her face lit up as she smiled again.

    At that point I took a moment and tried to reflect on the small talk Sanya and I shared that day. I was so overwhelmed with what I was feeling at that moment that I found myself questioning my own meandering ideals.

    What is really important? To be out there seeing the world and getting a place in the sky and still feel like you have not gone anywhere so far and that insatiable thirst to be somewhere and be someone still haunt you at night? And be asked by someone like Sanya, “so how do you sleep at night?” or just be like her, happy and contented where she was, as simple as that.

    Was it her ignorance? Was she just scared to see what it is like outside her hometown? To see the world and make it her oyster?

    I do not know with certainty. I can only speculate.

    One thing is for sure though, at this point in my life I envy her. I was 25 too not too long ago and I was unstoppable. I left home when I was 16 to go to college and I blew a wish into the sea as I took that boat ride out of that small island where I grew up in the Southernmost part of the Philippines. I wished for freedom. Free to fly like a bird, not caring where and when to stop. My wish did come true and then I sat right across the table with Sanya from Bolangir and I felt nothing but envy.

    I wish there is a way to make amends for the mistakes you make in your life but facing the truth is so much easier than taking all the time and energy running away from it.

    So the day I met this girl, I have found some reasons to be thankful for.
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