Friday, January 24, 2014


There are some things in the American culture that are NOT accepted in India.

The Indian culture is different.  I can't seem to keep the rules.  It's humiliating to say the least!

In 2011 I learn it's ok to eat with your hands.  Sounds good to me!  I jumped right in with that change.

Even though I was using my fingers to eat I still got strange looks from some kids.
After a few days a more outspoken girl turns to me at meal time and informs me it's "dirty" to eat with your left hand!
I turn red because I am a "Lefty" and sure enough I was using my left hand!
It's "dirty" because the left hand is used to clean yourself in the bathroom.

To shed some light on this tradition let me inform you that the Indians use "squatter" toilets.  No toilet paper.  Just a bucket of water on the floor to be used to "Wash" up.  (Here at Rising Star Outreach campus we also have squatter toilets but paper is provided as long as it's not flushed, rather it's disposed of in a trash can in the stall.

I reflected to the many meals I've eaten with these kids and recall the unspoken disgust they had with me.

Not long after I am again educated on poor eating manners.  I'm sitting in a meal circle with the school girls and find eyes are on me again!
"Auntie," a 10 year old calls over to me.  "Your shoes."
I wonder what's wrong with my shoes.
"Don't eat with your shoes on." she says in a disgusted way.
"What?  Why?"
"Those are toilet shoes!"
I'm wearing pink flip flops that I brought from home.  I'm confused.
She motions for me to remove my shoes and place them behind me.  I obey quickly to end the embarrassment.  I'm ok with learning from the kids but I'm humiliated to think the many adults in the room noticed too.  I'm sure they see Americans doing these things all the time, but I was still embarrassed.

When I returned to India the 2nd time I thought it would be cute to paint my toe nails in the Indian colors.  I marched around Campus displaying my patriotic toes for 2 weeks.  The little kids loved it but I noticed the older girls brushed it off.

The 3rd time I returned a Rising Star an employee remarked on my toes and informed me the Indians don't wear "tribal colors"  It's not ok to wear the flag colors.  I thanked him for telling me and realized having the flag on my FEET was probably a double insult. :/
The next morning I splattered dark purple polish on my toes.

Today here was an event on campus that offered a chance for volunteers to dress in a Sari, traditional women clothing.  Sam had bought me one on our last trip out so I was excited to wear it.  Sari's are impossible to put on without the help of an Indian woman.  My Sari took the help of 2 experts.  Modesty is very important here!!  The women are very careful how they appear in the presence of men.  Ankles are covered, chests are covered, & knees are NOT to be shown.  It escapes me why showing their middle is ok when my modesty standards are opposite in that manner.  When I wear a Sari I actually cover more of my body than they do in order to dress to my modesty standards.
After 2 safety pins, several pleats and tucks I was wrapped!

I quickly learned how NOT to walk while wearing a Sari.  My stride needed to be shortened, my posture demure, and bending-not an option.
This presented a problem right away.  I was documenting the event with my video camera.  The reason that was a problem was the event was a TRACK MEET! (more about that later)  
It would have been nice to be able to run to different spots for optimal location but instead I had to pretend to be graceful.  
This is where the humiliation comes in.  After walking all over the field- to and fro, around and up, I found myself surround by 3 Indian women.   
"Come miss" one urgently whispered to me as she guided me to the building behind us.  I could tell by her mannerisms she was trying to spare me from public humiliation.  Once we walked through an office door the room was inspected and I was told wait.  While I waited I tried to tuck in my material that had come loose at my side.
"No, No!"  The woman said.  "Don't touch!"
I stood there and my face went RED.  I was so confused.
Not long after, a man, (the principal) walked out of an adjoining room and through our location.  I realized that was the reason I needed to wait.  There is to be no fussing with clothing in the presence of  men.
Once he passed through she closed the door behind him and locked it then proceeded to fix my Sari behind closed doors.
The issue didn't seem to be a big deal to me.  It took 3 seconds to fix it but to them it was a matter of modesty and perhaps dignity.  I was so thankful she took care of me.  I wouldn't have wanted to violate such an important part of their culture.

As soon as the celebrations were over I quickly changed, eager to remove the embarrassment attached with it.  I slipped on some fresh clothes from the volunteer closet and returned for more activities.  After a dance recital a little girl about 10 years old walked up to me and asked:  "What is your name?"
After I told her she bluntly announced "You are wearing my shirt."

What?  I told her I got it from the volunteer closet.
"It is my shirt.  I used it for a dance costume." 
The all too familiar red face began to burn for the 2nd time in a day.
I offered my apologies and she requested I return it to her in the next day.
I left the celebrations totally deflated of spirit but overflowing with embarrassment.  

It's tough being in a different culture.


No comments:

Post a Comment