When you first arrive in India, there are many sights, smells, tastes, ideas, practices, and sounds that shock the senses. After a year of living among these things, many have become natural to me, but most still cause a double-take. Here are the things that have been "different" for me, and a rating of how "used to it" I've become. (1 is What?! Are you Kidding and 10 is So What?)
The Smell 6
On my first trip to India, as I stepped off the plane, I was overwhelmed by the scent, compounded by heat and humidity. It seemed everywhere I went, I was being assaulted by a mixture of food, body odor, sewage, and animal dung. Now, unless we are driving by a particularly bad area, I don't notice it. I do notice, however, when I'm in a place that doesn't smell!
The Food 7
Wow! After 5 years of eating Indian food and being married to a man who loves it and has a mom who cooks it well, I thought this was a lost cause. It seemed that time was not helping - I still hated it! In the past few months, I've actually begun to like it, and since pregnancy crave certain dishes. This is a wonderful surprise to Ben! Now before any over-eager cooks start heaping food on me, I still like it in moderation.
People Peeing Everywhere 5
Take a drive or a walk down ANY street and you will see any number of men relieving themselves against a wall, fence, field, train track, etc. You will see schoolgirls, peeing in front of stores, while their parents help them hold up their skirts. One time I saw a boy about 6 bent over in front of his house while his older brother used a bucket of water to clean his rear end. This has at least gone from "disgusting" to novel and humorous to me, but I am definitely not used to it! Also, as much as I care about equal rights, one ask to ask, where do women pee? They are apparently not allowed to pee outside.
If I ever get used to this, hit me over the head with a Bible. People are suffering here. They do not have enough to eat. They don't wear shoes. Children are bonded, exploited, abused because they and their parents have no other options. People who are born with disabilities or into lower castes have no opportunities to advance themselves. Here's just one story.
Haijas are eunuchs. They are biological men who are now women, either by a genetic anomaly or mutilation. They dress as women and use intimidation to demand money from people and businesses. They live on the fear that they instill in people, who believe that they have special powers to curse them. Sometimes, if they don't get the money they are demanding, they will become rough, or expose themselves to the person they are intimidating. When I see them, I go between fear that they will gang up on me (which they never have) to anger that they thrive on intimidation, to heartache at the life that they live. I cannot imagine believing that the only respect I am entitled to is because people are afraid of or disgusted by me. Some of these people were just troubled boys who didn't know what to do with who they are, and this is the life they've ended up in. Now, Simon and I pray for them when we see them, but I wish I could do more.
This is the one thing that could have ended this experience for me. If I had had a rat in the house, I might have come home. They are in the streets - I've seen several live ones scampering around, but mostly I see them dead, being picked apart by birds. Gross.
Bugs First a 7, now a 2
I was doing pretty well with the bugs, but I'm done now. So is Ben. We spend our evenings together killing mosquitoes. Roaches come out at night, and so if I have to go to the bathroom or get some water, I wait until morning because I don't want to see a roach in my bathroom or kitchen. When I was pregnant with Elijah, every time I'd get up sick in the middle of the night, I'd have to take a shoe in bathroom with me and kill roaches before I could throw up in peace. Gross.
I am hear kids scream, American music from 10 years ago (usually UB-40), birds screeching, buses roaring, vendors shouting, buzz-saws sawing, hammers hammering, dogs barking. Between the population, construction boom, traffic and animal life, this place is LOUD. I've always hated loud, so this has been tough. Sometime I go over the edge, but I've learned to tune it out, although I think it just makes me tired to hear everything going on around me all the time.
Men holding hands 5
They say it doesn't mean anything. I have some of my own opinions about this that are substantiated in some research, but I'll leave that be. The point is that men are very touchy-feely with each other, but you won't catch them touching their wives out in public. I have gotten used to this, in the sense that I don't notice it as much, but I'm not yet used to all the reasoning for it.
Cows in the Street 10
When Americans visit here, they take pictures of every cow they see. Now, I don't notice, don't care, but I am mindful of the poop they leave behind.
The Fact that I Stick Out 9
This has been a funny one for me. I've never really noticed the stares, or the fact that I dress differently than people here. I actually only notice it if I'm wearing Indian clothes - then I feel like everyone is staring at me. One time, someone overheard me using a Malayalam word with Simon and she said, "Oh, are you Indian," to which I immediately responded, "yes." She looked impressed, and then I said, "Oh wait, I'm not, but my husband is."