When you tell people that you are going to India they get really excited. I think it’s because it is one of those exotic far-away destinations that almost everyone has on their bucket list. Maybe it’s because it is so far away, or maybe because there is something for everyone. They have a rich history, amazing food, an incredible culture, nice weather, and spirituality that encompasses the whole country.
While we were travelling we saw tourists that fit in every one of these categories. Families there for the sun, backpackers there to experience the “real” India, older tourists visiting all the heritage sights, and many many people dressed in what I would consider yogi, or simple clothes following a spiritual path that only they and their god(s) knew of.
For many people India is a world that is full of mystery, and wonderings. It is so far removed from our western culture that it gets romanticized in our movies and media. You hear again and again from people who have been there that India is not a destination, but rather an experience. And, it was. However for me, it was not an experience that people would assume – you see it was not my first time to India, and going back coloured my experience in more ways than even I expected.
|12 year old me|
When I was 12 years old my parents and my three siblings moved to Kota, Rajasthan. My dad was working with the Canadian and Indian governments on a project and so my grade 6 year we moved from Canada into a 6 bedroom house in the outskirts of a little town in north west India. We had many servants, a cook and a nanny. (her name was Shanti) It sounds like it was glamorous or something but my parents are not like that at all. We had to have the servants as it was expected that a western family would have them. Honestly though, my mom had 4 kids under 12 in a foreign country with no support so I think she enjoyed the help at least a little. We were not the only family that lived in Kota, as the project was quite big. I was lucky enough that there was another girl my age and we made fast friends the first day of “school”. All the children on the project were homeschooled, but we also went to school with a teacher who made sure that we kept on track with curriculum.
|A Holy Cow|
I can’t really sum up that year except to say that THIS was the experience that people talk about. I think that it would have been the same had we gone to any third world country. I was an adolescent girl who was acutely aware of myself. Incredibly self conscious and even more so as I was one of 40 or so families that were white. People noticed me. All the time. They looked, stared, and gestured. People smiled and were curious…and I, who has always been an extrovert, was incredibly shy. This was the one year of my life that I feel I took a backseat and WATCHED instead of jumping right up to the front as I usually do – even to this day.
The reason behind this is because I was a complete outsider. Not only did I not speak the language, but I was also a girl (becoming a woman), and at that time women were expected to act differently than they would be in North America. I had to learn new ways to carry myself, to talk to elders, to men, to my brothers. Having always been the oldest in my family, it surprised me when people would comment on how I must pay so much respect to these two little brats that made my life miserable, how there were celebrations for them, how I was to respect them. I can’t really explain what it is like to grow up in a culture with such freedom for women and girls, and then living within another one that marginalizes them.
Experiences are the things that shape you. I credit India for shaping me.
When I came back to Canada I was again the outsider. Of course it was Jr.High, but how can one girl go back into the social pecking order that is adolescence when her whole idea of the world is vastly different than that of all her classmates?
I had felt racism directed at me. I had felt inequality in my soul. I saw true poverty with my own eyes. True desperation, and real suffering. I had witnessed squalor, filth, hopelessness and death. But I had also witnessed understanding, compassion, joy, and a work ethic like no other. This changes you, especially if this happens in those formative years when you are just learning about yourself. My experience made me more compassionate, more empathetic, and more understanding of all people around me. It also made me incredibly grateful for the life that I have been so lucky to be born into – that of a middle class Canadian woman.
|Wearing a Sari as an Adult|
And yes, India was amazing. I will share what I learned this time around in a series of posts. I am not sure how many I will do as this one wasn’t really supposed to go into this direction – but I have a feeling none of them will since it is about a country that has touched my very soul.