And it was all just a dream…

Or that’s what I requested in my itty bitty prayer to Mr Lord God last night, anyways.  It was kind of strange, actually, because I had had a really good day and a pleasant evening and the redundancy of our chipatti, rice and dal meals hadn’t bothered me as much as usual that day, but as I stared up at my ceiling I found myself praying and the words that went through my head were a plea for a chance to refuse my chance to come to India.  I asked that I could wake up from this dream of the past month and find myself in Minnesota and realize what an atrocious mistake I was on the verge of committing and back out.  Immediately.

Obviously my prayer was not granted.  Surprise.

For the record, I am glad that it was not.  I would be very disappointed if Sachin and Silvan and Roseann and Jacob and Filip and Asher and Rachel and Rachel (yes there are two) and Frida were all figments of my imagination.  There are some really great people here and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to meet them.

HOWEVER I am also a little bit tired of being told that we can’t do certain things because of “cultural differences” and then talking to a different Indian about the same thing and being told that the “cultural difference” we heard about does not exist.  There is no easier way to control people that to tell them that they cannot do something in the name of offending an entire people group and, imho, it is an incredible abuse of a people to do so.  A lot of what we’re told is wrong only because this is a new (and very different) generation.  Also, depending on the person, a lot of what we are told is simply personal opinion masquerading in their own minds as cultural differences.  It is so frustration.  Frustrating, I mean.  I leave that error only because my English speaking abilities have been degrading quasi-constantly ever since we got here.  Something about speaking primarily to non-native English speakers…

Example Story #1 (The Mob’s Gonna Getcha)

Pretty much the day that we got back from Mumbai we were informed that there had been a rape of a 12 year old girl in the school next door to the convent we are living in.  (Have I mentioned we are the only people living in this convent?  No nuns here.)  Her parents, understandably, were quite upset and went to the school authorities and asked what they were doing about the problem.  The school said that they had heard it was simple verbal abuse and had treated it as such.  The parents flew into a righteous hissy fit, which was overheard by a nearby political party, who took the opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the locals.  In order to do this they put together a rather beautiful mob and spent one night knocking on our front gate (not very politely…it was more the battering ram style of knocking than the Jesus at your heart’s door polite rat-a-tating).  Then they found a different door, busted that one down, threw rocks at the principals house, beat her two cars to smithereens with sticks AND destroyed the local schoolbus.   Oh, and they beat four teachers, none of whom were the rapist, who had already been caught and jailed.

We were told that lives were in danger and that those lives were not just school employees.  We were told to leave because as Westerners our presence would only make things worse for the Indians around us and we ourselves could be in mortal danger.  Some people wanted to stay out of some perverted Western need for excitement or proof of faith in Jesus Cristo.  Others (mostly the Indians and me…I have this odd tendency to listen to people who are probably more knowledgable than I am) were so sure that things would turn south that they were ready to pack up  their bags and go to their own homes if the school wouldn’t take us elsewhere.

We decided to go somewhere else, but literally the moment that we were “safe” and started talking to other Indians about the situation we were had just narrowly “escaped” and every single one of them told us that we should have stayed.  We should have stood up for the children in the orphanage beside us, that we were not being true disciples by escaping for ourselves and that, on top of all of that, we probably hadn’t been in danger anyways.

I wound up spending our time away feeling like we had run away from something that did not actually necessitate escape.  The other Indians that we encountered made me feel like it was the Westerners who had been afraid and had wanted to leave, when in reality none of us had been capable of feeling fear regarding the situation because it was so alien to us.  The best we could do was to listen to the voices around us and do what they told us was the most wise.  Which had then been to leave.

It was stupid and confusing and oh so Indian.

Pithy Example #2 (Thou Shalt Not Speak to Strangers)

We are constantly told that we shouldn’t speak to strangers.  If anyone so much as tries to make eye contact with us, even if they are only children, we should ignore them because they are quite likely out to get us.  This puts all of us Westerners in the very awkward position of constantly looking really, very unkind.  I am not a fan of it at all.

The other day we were waiting for the bus and a motorcycle stopped near us.  One of the men on the bike (there were three) got off and came over to us to introduce himself and shake all of our hands, ask us where we were from, etc.  We answered, but tersely, because we have been told so many times to ignore everyone.  After he left we talked to the Indian who was with us and he told us that it is find to talk to people, and that it’s probably the only chance that that particular Indian will get to speak to a white person.  It’s something kind of exotic, fun and different for them, and as long as they are not rude, there is no reason not to be engaging.

As I like this second interpretation it is probably the one that I will be following herewith, but I’m so annoyed that, again, everyone has an opposing opinion AND everyone is convinced beyond any doubt that their opinion is the right one.  And people who know they’re right are aggressive about their correctness, which is even more frustrating.

Pithy Example #3 (Shoulder = Boob)

There is a dress code for women here.  It isn’t written down anywhere and it’s not a law, but if you dress wrong, you will be seen as a (excuse me, Mum) a whore.  What’s weird is that the part of your body that you shouldn’t show is your shoulders and your legs.  You can show as much of your midriff as you want, but nothing else.  In fact the traditional dress here (saari) shows off that area of the body in particular and old women and fat women (and skinny women) alike all wear it.  It’s kind of unsettling.

The point is that for the first month and a half that we were here we were told explicitly not to show our shoulders under any circumstances.  It would make us look bad and, by association, it would make the school look bad as well.  I’ve laughingly had this conversations with Indians not associated with our school and all of them agree:  shoulders are not that big of a deal.  Tank tops would be fine and no one would look at us twice.

Example Story #4 (The Boy on the Train)

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8 Responses to And it was all just a dream…

  1. Laura says:

    Oh, Holly. I’m sorry you’re not having the best experience. At least you like a lot of the people you’re there with. The cultural confusion does sound really frustrating. I mean, “don’t talk to strangers”? Doesn’t ignoring people kind of defeat the purpose of a discipleship trip? I hope you’re still having at least a decent time. I’m super excited for you to come home, though!

  2. Joseph Hamilton says:

    I hope you make it. When you are finished with your crusade, see the Northwest, I will personally see that you have a comfortable place to stay in our house. Your own room, Good food, good music and a safe haven. The beach is only a couple of blocks away.
    I’m never here, so the place is yours…

    • tertiaryhep says:

      i totally will. i love the northwest and it would be awesome to be so close to the ocean. can i bring a few friends? 😛

      it would also be great to see you again…even if only for a short time. do you think there would be any work out there this summer for a girl like meee?

  3. hep ii says:

    Hmmmm… that does sound frustrating. I was relieved to read that “for the record” you are glad that your prayer was not answered, but I hear you about uttering such sentences when one is feeling at their wit’s end! So, what exactly are you guys occupied doing? Could you do a blog entry about a typical day, or “a day in the life of hep iii”? Kaijsa asked today how many more days until you come home – I guessed and told her “40.”??? She told me she wants to have some “girl time” with you when you get back – hee hee – so sweet! Love you, sister!

    • tertiaryhep says:

      i will try to do that, heather. it sounds like a good idea…hopefully i’ll get on a more regular blogging schedule soon.

      and give the children big hugs from me! i miss all of you a lot!

  4. Vicki says:

    hey! i neglected to check posts for a while because i wasn’t sure if you were still writing. LOVE reading your posts.

    the anecdote about not looking at people reminds me of that same debate here at home, where some folks think you should likewise avoid eye contact with strangers. but yeah, how unwelcoming is that? and how much does that nurture fear, instead of love (not to mention faith)?

    i’ve been thinking for a while about the tendency to protect what one thinks is theirs – whether through eye contact, or how we treat strangers, or how we teach our children how to treat them, whatever. in any case, all that fear is a lot of work (even for people who are used to it and just take it for granted), and i think it forms hostile character. it’s too bad, eh? but here in america, fences are easy to put up when you have a lot of room. (oo, i’ma write that one down.)

    zoikes. i hope the rest of ur time there is like crazy amazing. for what it’s worth.

    • tertiaryhep says:

      i agree 100%! when people don’t look in your direction it feels exclusionary, which is exactly what we don’t want to be…but here in India missioning should evidently only be done within genders because otherwise people will get the wrong idea and at the very least start to talk about you. it’s weird. i miss the freedom we have in the states.

      i think you’re right about putting up fences in the states, but at least in america the fences we put up are of our own free will and therefore are our personal problems that we need to work through instead of being something that is forced upon us. meep.

      i would love to rehash some of india with you when i get back to the states. i’ll let you know when i’m in chicago and hopefully we’ll be able to grab coffee or something. i could use some of your insights on the whole experience. 🙂

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