POSTCARD #133: Scotland: Overnight flight from Delhi to Heathrow, train from Euston station and I’m in Glasgow. Can’t recognize anything, it’s been years. I feel like a foreigner… then later having breakfast at the hotel, 7am and sitting by the front window, watching everybody on the street going to work. Hats and coats and it’s cold out there; the happiness of the people in Thailand, sunny and bright… just not here. Reminds me of the following post, written when I had a part time job teaching English in Geneva, Switzerland – migrant workers employed in the factories and light industry going to work by bus in the early morning:
(originally dated August 22, 2012) I’m on the bus, going to an early morning class in the industrial zone. As we get near, the bus is stopping at every stop to pick up people employed in the factories. Migrant workers from East Europe; men and women speaking a language unknown to me. Thin, sad, serious faces; reminds me of Van Gogh’s drawings of the miners in 19th Century.
Bus is getting crowded, I have a book to read: ‘The Noble Eightfold Path’ by Bhikkhu Bodhi: ‘The search for a spiritual path is born of suffering. It does not start with lights and ecstasy but with the hard tacks of pain, disappointment and confusion… for suffering to give birth to a genuine spiritual search, it must amount to more than something passively received…’
More stops, more migrant workers get on the bus. It feels like I’ve got to have my head down reading my book because there’s nowhere else in this bus to look without encountering another pair of eyes looking straight back at me; my shirt and tie, polished shoes. What they don’t realise is that I’m a foreign worker too: UK citizen resident in Switzerland. I know how it feels to live in someone else’s country. Okay, guys! I’m a teacher of English, and I’m on my way to teach your bosses, yes – but, as far as I’m concerned, we’re all the same here. And that’s how it is now, squashed up against the window glass; thin shoulders and arms pressing against me. Continue reading:
‘It has to trigger an inner realization, a perception which pierces through the facile complacency of our usual encounter with the world to glimpse the insecurity perpetually gaping underfoot. When this insight dawns, even if only momentarily, it can precipitate a profound personal crisis. It overturns accustomed goals and values, mocks our routine preoccupations, leaves old enjoyments stubbornly unsatisfying.’
Urgent circumstances; this is about a level of suffering hard to endure and there’s just no getting away from it. A long time ago, I had an operation for colonic cancer and there were a number of confrontations with pain… unbearable, I had to give in to it. As soon as that happened, something unseen tipped the balance… for a moment there was the easing – I discover it’s the resistance to it that causes most of the discomfort.
What would it take for Bhikkhu Bodhi’s insight described here to be meaningful for these migrant workers? For them, it’s about holding on, not letting go; as long as they can withstand hardship, it will go on like this. They’re putting their small amounts of money together to send back home to support the family. They structure their lives around employment and the innate ability to be happy becomes a fleeting, temporary happiness found in consumerism, built-in to the system. People can’t escape from it unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.
The bus gets to the terminus, stops, air suspension lets out in one long last gasp, and the bus lowers itself on to its structure. I get out with everyone else in this strangely remote place with factory smells and set off walking along the path to the industrial buildings in the distance. Behind me the bus starts up, a worrying moment, no wish to be stranded in this particular reality. I look back at it as it rumbles off on its little round wheels.