Archive by Author

The place for “us” and “them”

1 Jul

I begun reading Sarah Wilson’s article in the Sunday Life with my usual assumptions, the leggy size 8 with a Colgate grin has her own photo taking up more space on the page than her writing itself. This week’s article is titled, “This week I … confront my own racism” http://www.sarahwilson.com.au/2011/06/ready-to-confront-your-own-racism/, I begun reading what I thought to be the “anti racist” realization of a superficial Sydneyite. The text is framed around the categorisation of us and them. Our culture and that of the other. The article concludes with a statement that we should view “those people” with a sense of inclusion, to allow them to be one of us. A statement relying on binary thinking, lacking an acknowledgement of the limitations of forcing segregation.

This idea of us and them worries me, thinking about the group I fall into, the same as Sarah Wilson?! And Pauline Hanson!!

I liked to think while I was teaching in India I was being included, actually I was being included.

However after reading the Reed Dance-Culture at its Finest ,  I remembered the photo below.

I keep it for comedy value. I look ridiculous. But the local women did not. The traditional costume was fitting in every way and they could wear it with a sense of pride for the culture it represents, that they are upholding. But I was foreign, not one of them. I learned through this picture that I have a respect for what I am not, but I do not have a respect for exclusion based on generalisations. I’d never have felt the warmth and inclusion from local people if I had lived my time trying to be one of them. See photo above for how “foregin” I’d have felt for 6 months.

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The Thrill of Hearing Life Stories

6 Jun

I love this song. He sings with such an energy, power and excitement asking for stories about experience. I don’t know what Jonathan Boulet was thinking when he wrote it, but I think of all the people I have met, and want to meet. And the stories they have to tell.

While overseas, volunteering and living in India I met a man, Tashi, he was a Tibetan refugee, teaching English in Buddhist monastery and he wrote beautiful poetry. We met up to drink tea every now and then, he helped me plan classes. One day he said goodbye, and that I’d probably never see him again. He was beginning a walk across the Himalayas to Tibet that night. He trafficked information between the Tibetan Governments; in exile and in Tibet.

A close friend I met in India, Yanzom, was studying  12th grade at the hostel where I lived. She came from an isolated village in the mountains in North Eastern India, and had moved to attend school. She would often come into my room to sit and chat and read, we would often read the same books then talk about them. One day, talking about her family, she told me her mother had given birth to 12 children, 6 of whom had survived to this day due to malnutrition and lack of medical services. Now she aspires to be a doctor.

I was driving past a glacier with a friend, Delek, he pointed up the glacier and said, “My brother died there, he fell down a crevasse, he still lies at the bottom”. He’d never before mentioned having a brother.

On returning to Australia I became involved in the Tibetan community in Dee Why, Sydney. I met a man, Lobsang, who was once the Education Minister of Tibet, but was forced to leave by the Chinese Government. He now holds an (un) official role as a leader in the Tibetan community, and stacks the fridges in Coles, Dee Why.

I have also become involved with the EthnoSense blog and have the pleasure to not only read, but more so, meet up with my fellow bloggers to hear their amazing, inspirational stories, told by people who looked like any other stranger until we started talking.

There was a time when I did not think much about strangers. They were exactly that, strange to me. I had never thought about what stories a woman serving me in a supermarket or a boy next to me on the bus might have. I now relish in the opportunities to share stories, learning my greatest lessons from the experiences of “the little man”. It is greatly humbling to know that no one can be taken on face value.

The Loo and the Shower. Signs of comfort?

28 May

I don’t mean to mope but…. Delhi belly in 5 degree weather, spending a good part of the day hovering over this loo was not a

Loo With a View“.

We sure did spent some time together. Concrete walls. Concrete floor. No windows. A light when the solar panels were charged (not often). It was a lonely place. I am a convert to the toilet squat, I really is a good “poo position”. But ….  not with Delhi Belly. Holding the squat position for more than a minute, the thighs burn, the feet cramp up, the Western body can’t handle it.

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And the shower, no hot water. No heating here. No warmed cement. No warmed water.

Girls washed in this room communally (clothes stayed on, it was too cold). The girls had long hair they flicked over their heads and let the tap water flow down the back of their neck, follow the wave of their hair, to drop off into a bucket on the floor. A friend ran shampoo through it, rinsed it off, then wrapped it up in a towel.

So my hair got washed once a week. The rest had to wait for 6 months until I got my hair cut on the way home in Delhi and asked if they had a bathroom. They did, with a hot shower! I washed for the first time in a long time, used the provided hand (body) soap  and dried off with the hand towel. The hairdresser gave me an inquisitive look, 15 mins on the toilet?… and I gave him a smug look of achievement. The best shower of my life.

The status of a volunteer: The Mesiah, the bringer of treasures, teacher of knowledge, who looks more like Shakira than any other person in the village. A reflection on the inflated ego of a volunteer.

13 May

I turned up at Sidhbari Hostel with only a bag of things. I knew I was going to live with the people, connect with the third world, and prove we don’t need the material goods in the western world we so aspire not only to own, but to be known we own. I wanted to live amongst the locals. With modest intentions did not take my fancy things (no laptop, not high heels, no jewellery). Despite this I was welcomed with great vigour, not only as a volunteer teacher, but also as an English speaking white girl with an Ipod.

My ipod soon became a star attraction. The children came from an isolated area in North Western India, that can be accessed only by yak during the snowy winter months, through which there is no phone line or electricity. But they knew how to work an ipod. 

A boy asked if he could borrow my headphones for the day. I assumed he’d borrowed a music player from someone. Later in the day walking through the village I saw him wearing them. I asked what he was listening to, the end of the cord in his pocket. He pulled the end of the cord out with a grin, nothing attached.

The first two weeks I was in Sidhbari people would run from their homes with children wanting me to hold them for photos and for the kids to show off their English language. They wanted me to tell them their children are smart, healthy and fat.

I was invited to every event. Never before (or since) have I made a room silent on entering. It was assumed I could dance like “Shakira”, (I got some funny looks when I did bust my moves at the many weddings I attended, I proved the theory wrong; not all white girls can dance like Shakira). I had become a celebrity based on the colour of my skin, and all that was associated with it, and I didn’t mind.

Some Indian men took the friendliness too far. I’d sit on an empty bus and the first three men to get on sardined up beside me to look directly at my chest. The first Hindi words I learned were to tell them what I’d rather they do (Ill write about Hindi/English swear words another time).

Despite this, the friendliness I received from people made my time in India easier and more warm than I’d have ever got without the beautiful people. By the time I was leaving I knew which families to stop by and say hello if I was hungry (the food at the hostel was meagre), who made the best chai, who had cute kids to play with while I had time during the day, who would help me tanslate Hindi and more so, I made close friends, who I’ll never forget.There were days I wanted to walk home without holding babies or discuss children’s progress through their English text book, but this wasn’t often, usually when I had another dose of Delhi Belly. 

But now I’m back in Sydney I miss the attention, I’m only another white girl in the village. I walk home from the bus, saying the usual civilities to neighbours, no toothless Indian women with a body shape like the samosas she is thrusting at me. I am again back to being only another white Anglo girl, in a white neighbourhood. My ipod impresses no one at all. 

Is it possible to ever come “back”?

9 Apr

Reading the posts there seems to be a common theme about how life changing our experiences were. And how difficult this type of change and can be.

I went to India to teach in a hostel for 6 months. I spent the the first month lonely and homesick but then found a home and people I came love immeasurably. My time was so rich in experience, I’ve never laughed or cried nearly so much as I managed in those 6 months. I look back on memories thick in those unexpected events that really did shake me up massively, but that I would not choose to avoid at any cost.

I was teaching an all boys class one day at a nearby hostel and heard my name being screamed from the next room. The principal’s niece was having a baby in the next room, and I as the only woman in the building!

I don’t know how to deliver a baby!? But I’m a woman!!

One man ran to village to find a woman (every woman knows how to deliver a baby) while the mother screamed and I held her hand praying that a lady from the village arrives before I see the baby’s head.

Throughout the delivery I could hear the principal, a monk, chanting prayers with the students outside. The sound of the children’s chants reverberating inside the isolated concrete building at the base of the Himalayas while a beautiful baby boy was born  is so awesome it is unexplainable.

Later the same day I opened the paper to a daily section. Children found alone on the street have pictures of their faces lined up in boxes with any details about the child listed underneath, though normally none are known. These children are almost all new-born girls, often dumped in plastic bag into rubbish tips or the side of the street. I cried and stared writing a letter home to tell my parents. Though I quickly realised while doing this, that sometimes there was nothing worse to do, to tell people at home the truth.

Telling this story I feel numb with compassion and sadness for the situation, yet I can’t wait to go back. I came home from India more homesick than when I left. Telling friends about my time there I tend to tell them about the Taj Mahal, the food and Bollywood movies, but what I’m thinking about is something very different. As bec4890 expressed in her post Will people ever understand? I’m left feeling quite the same, people will never understand, but then again I never really tried.

On coming back to Aus I did my best to enjoy going out to the city to dance and drink too much, hearing about friends and their relationship troubles and discussing the best cut of jeans to wear to uni, but I missed India so much and as much as I wished I cared about these topics, I didn’t.

I have been back in Aus for 3 years and traveled back to India once to see friends and students and the little baby boy and his mum who are both doing so well.

I feel I have moved back now, and do consider the best cut of jeans to wear to uni, but I know I am not totally “back”.  I can’t help but interpret my world with some Buddhist Indian values, contrasting the two worlds in my head. I hope more than anything that I never forget the amazing things I experienced, and that those in India do not forget me either.

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