Facing Challenges with Positivity in India

Kibbs Fortilus arrived in India this past May. Working at an orphanage, Kibbs has experienced the difficulty of working towards ideals. However, he has also found understanding and common ground with individuals at the orphanage and in his host community, which have helped him to stay positive. Read on to learn how Kibbs is navigating, and learning from, the unique challenges of  WorldTeach India...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

"You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, but in time they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders".


"I'm so sick and tired of being admired that I wish that I could just die or get fired"


Before coming to India, I purchased a Time Magazine titled, "100 Ideas That Changed The World". Reading through the book made me realize that its not only the ideas that are incredible, but the individuals who had the courage to follow through with the thought. I am currently working on being in the next issue ... Wish me luck. The Theory of SWAG ... Its still in its infancy.

- But I digress. Back to the topic of ideals. It was Martin Luther Kings "Drum Major Speech" that inspired me to come to India. His idea of being first in love, peace, justice, and service (as oppose to being first in wealth, power, and prestige) motivates me to be a better person by helping others. But in striving towards an ideal, I have come to realize why many choose instead to be idle. I now understand why many allow others to do the thinking for them. To strive towards the ideal is difficult because its comes with the realization that the ideal is unattainable.

As humans we present the ideal, while deftly managing our flaws behind the scenes, but we never reach it. And even when we reach the ideal its only temporary. Once we reach the peak of the mountain we are bound to fall soon after.

Let me  provide an example. Growing up, my parents never let on how poor we really were. I understood we weren't wealthy but I wasn't aware how much my parents struggled financially and how much they struggled to make it appear as if they had everything under control. They hid the burden of poverty from us because we were too young to understand it, and far too young to carry it.

While teaching in a middle school in India, I find that I always have to appear to have everything under control. I must always be cool, calm, and collected under any circumstance. Moreover, I must be kind, loving, and at peace so the children know that I am approachable and can solve any problem.

I remember one time my friend came to my room when I was in a funk. I apologized to her and she gave me the most beautiful response, "Kibbs, you don't have to apologize for being human". I honestly forget I am human sometimes. I focus so much on exhibiting positive energy that I do not notice the negative energy I suppress.For example, every morning I walk to school and the people in the village stare at me. Now, this was understandable the first week, but now its frustrating. They do not stare at me curiously, but maliciously. As if they do not want me in the area. I pass by, I avoid making eye contact, and I keep reminding myself, "Choose being kind over being right, and you'll be right every time".  Drake has a line where he says, "Hate is so familiar to me, I'm slowly embracing it, it doesn't come natural, bear with me this could take a bit". That's exactly how I feel...

But the people at the school and orphanage make it easy to SMILE. I try my hardest to look calm and confident in the midst of the daring glares on my morning walk to set an example for the children. And here is the irony. In those times, I present an ideal that I don't fully believe in. Initially I do it for their sake, and once they believe it, I follow suit... Confusing, isn't it?

Here's another example. In order to not have any one worry about me, I hide how sad I am sometimes. I've been doing it for years, and I think I'm close to mastering it. Now again, I do it for their sake. Many people are unable to handle sad news so they respond with a cliche "pick me up" or suggest a distraction. When I find people who are able to sit with me in my misery, I hold onto them very tightly because they are hard to come by.

At the orphanage there is an insightful young boy who reads me too well. When I stare off into space sorrowfully he asks, "Why are you sad", and me being a man who prides himself in being "genuine", lies by responding, "I'm not sad. I'm just tired".

Ideally, I would love to be someone who is both loving and genuine at all times. I've found the two do not always coincide. If I really expressed how I felt to the people who stare at me in the street, I would be in jail for punching someone in the throat. So the most loving thing to do is to be tolerant and pretend to be cool and confident. I try hard to remind myself that when people dislike you they are usually going through personal issues..."Hurt people hurt people". If I told everyone at the orphanage I am homesick, and that although I love them tremendously, at times I still feel down when I think of home, it may depress them. So I suppress it and temporarily sulk in my room. I sit and WONDER. The beauty of being disconnected technologically is that I have had the luxury to think with very little distraction. I finally have the time to put my life together...

I APPRECIATE all that's been given to me. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and  I am making the most of it. Whenever I feel down, I try to pick myself up immediately. I don't want to miss a moment in India.

And I try to muster all the love I can to GIVE away...

Love seems to be the only constant in my life. I am not referring to the amount I receive from people, that changes from person to person. However, the language it is spoken, body language, remains the same. The dialect does not change, there no variation in the accent, the language of love is spoken the same everywhere you go. I am confused 80 percent of the time in India. I don't speak Tamil so I am lost in most conversations...
But I do speak love. I understand smiles, I know how it feels to be in a positive atmosphere, and I know when someone is being genuine. The old women here really care for me. They are always asking me if I've eaten and attempt to stuff me with food at every meal. There is an old woman who comes to me, says a few words in Tamil, and kisses me on both cheeks and on the forehead. I don't understand her words, but I can easily decipher the authenticity in her actions and I gladly receive the love she delivers.I strive to be a genuinely loving person. Ideally, I would want for every thought, action, and feeling to have the intention of spreading love and positivity. I strive for this ideal and the best and worse thing about striving for an ideal is knowing that its unattainable. The best thing because you know that you always have room to improve and that its okay to be human. The worst thing is when you let the ideal consume you to the point where you start to believe that it is attainable (Hence, the quote from Eminem).
So there is my Theory...Smile. Wonder. Appreciate. Give. SWAG.
I hope its in the next issue of Time Magazine.

Show me where your heart is,


Sample poem from my book, "Love in India":

Live The Mission

How then shall I live
I've witnessed all that's been given to me
Should I trade it all in
And live like the poor
Or use it to share opportunities

The American dream of wealth
Prosperity is just an illusion
Many more hope for less
Give it their best
Ironically their lives have more freedom

Free from the stresses of debt
And the need to be perfect
Free from the addiction to work
Numbed by medication
Free from the hysteria
Believed in the media
Maybe a better question to ask is...
How then can I give?
By myself I can't solve all the worlds problems
But if I look to contribute
Starting now in my youth
When I'm old I'll be happy
With the life that I have lived

- Kibbs Fortilus, WorldTeach India '13-'14

Photo courtesy of WorldTeach India Field Director Justin Helton

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