I really can’t believe my time here in India is coming to an end. Four weeks left. I’m not really homesick, but I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again. Technology is wonderful in that it’s allowed me to stay in touch with people back home so easily. I was talking about this with my mum and even though she “sees” me almost every week on her iPad during our call, she says it feels like I’ve been gone forever. You certainly appreciate “those back home” in a new way when you’re so far away. Even though there are sooooo many people here, I’ve found the experience to be pretty solitary and isolating, especially at first. As a foreigner with no connections here, you exist very much on the periphery of society. I don’t feel like I’m a part of anything; sure, I have work and some friends now, but I’m not really a part of the collective. No one depends on me for anything, I have no responsibilities towards anyone (or anything – may as well count my pets here) and no one really needs me for anything. It’s a weird feeling, not being needed. I think we have a tendency to define ourselves in terms of our relationships and when you don’t have these, you do feel rather undefined.
I can see how friendships form so differently here too in the expat community. People don’t stay put for very long so they tend to form friendships very quickly – it almost feels a lot more like social networking than really getting to know people to form deep, lasting relationships. I don’t mean to say that people are superficial, their friendliness is genuine, but the circumstances just aren’t as conducive to the way I would usually make friends. It has forced me to be more outgoing, but really, I can only force myself so much and I realized that early on. I really admire all the brave, extroverted people I’ve met here who just throw themselves in, and I’m very grateful that they’ve been kind and open enough to include the quiet, reserved girl who probably isn’t the most exciting company. 🙂
There have been some of the harder “have to grow up sometime” lessons, though, when it comes to the ways in which I think of and interact with people. My trust has decreased a bit. I don’t like to be cynical, but I’ve realized you can’t always trust people to tell you the truth, a lot of times the answer they give is what suits them, not you. I’m a little more jaded in realizing most people are looking out for their own interests first and a lot of people aren’t nice just for the sake of being nice, there’s an expected return on that investment. For example, when my driver helped me get my package at the post office, I thought he was just being nice. He’s my contracted driver, I see him on a regular basis and he’s always pretty friendly. But on the way back from the post office, he made he sit up front with him, started in with the “how old are you, are you married, how many brothers do you have, what does your daddy do” questions, and said he wanted to start an NGO and wanted my “help” when I was back in Canada. Like financially and networking-wise. Maybe this is just the way the world works and I’ve never had to put it into words before, but for me, that “niceness” is a personal investment: all I can control is my end of the interpersonal interaction. Sometimes the only way I can win is to insist, even to myself, that niceness and good manners can’t be beaten down. Manners are so important because it’s not something you’re doing “for” someone else, it’s a reflection of you. It’s the way I can maintain my side of the situation – it’s keeping me civilized, it’s not necessarily about the person on the receiving end. Even if my rickshaw driver was a jerk, I try to exit the auto with a smile and thank you. It’s like proving that someone else’s jerkiness has no effect on you. Sometimes (ok, a lot of times) this means that you get taken advantage of and that’s something I’m learning to handle better, because being polite doesn’t have to mean being a pushover. Of course, this can still backfire: last week a random guy in the street started talking to me and wanted my number. I was super polite in saying no and started to walk away, then got bear-hugged by a complete stranger, like this was somehow ok.
I’ve also become a little shrewder in my appraisals of people and their abilities, including higher-ups at work. I’m less likely to see them as examples and I’m more critical (not openly, just to myself) of their ways. I don’t automatically accept that their ideas are better just because they’re coming from management. In a lot of instances, I think I’m right, this has taught me to trust my own judgment more and be more outspoken in defending my views, even if they ultimately don’t go with my idea.
On the other hand, I’ve learned to find kindness in small things. Remember when I said that at the market or the veggie carts, the people were unfriendly and it was purely a financial transaction, no smiling or thank-yous or anything…? Well, it’s still like that, but there’s more to it: if the wallah notices that one of the bananas in the bunch I’ve picked out is really small or banged up, he’ll rip that one off and find me a new, more appropriately-sized or blemish-free banana. When I’m at the bazaar and getting ready to pay, the guy at the cash will tell me if one of my items was a 2-for-1 and wait while I go back and find my freebie, even if there are a lot of people waiting behind me. They don’t have to do that. There’s still no smiling or greeting exchanged, but this is a way of treating customers with respect and I appreciate that.
Sorry I have no pictures or exciting events to report back, but Crystal, 2010 GHF with CARE and great all-round gal, is going to be arriving tomorrow night for a visit so hopefully we’ll have some shenanigans with which to regale you later. We’re also trying to squeeze in one more trip, this time to Goa, so I can proactively get my beach on and see a different part of India. I would have liked to go up north but it takes time to adjust to the altitude and I wouldn’t be able to do it on a weekend. I’m booked for Hawaii for my post-India vacation. I’ll be connecting through Tokyo so if anyone’s familiar with that airport and has some tips for things to do, I’ve got several hours to kill there. Also, thanks to the magic of the International Date Line, I’ll manage to do 25 hours of travelling on October 31 and still arrive in Kauai before noon on the same day! Brilliant!