Staring is Caring

Most Indians are probably well aware of the Indian tendency to stare. And if an Indian happens to see more of their kind, the staring is even more intense.
In India it is no different. You would think it would be, given the population size, but it is not.

Being here, I have received quite a few comments regarding my Indian features, I have been asked if I have indian heritage, and one time I was mistaken as the Hospital staff by newly arrived foreign guests….. well, surprise surprise, I am Indian.

However explaining to everyone how this is possible, yet I do not speak the language which is Malayalum (not Hindi, which I can’t speak either), I can’t eat intensely spicy food, (here even Mild is spicy, even the Lays are spicy, even the fruit is spiced!!), I do not listen to Indian music, and I dress like a “westerner”.
So why would they believe me?
Explaining that I am fifth generation Indian, does not really help, because all they see is how lost my heritage is and the identity crisis I am apparently experiencing. That is true though, aside from the food much of our culture has been unfortunately lost.

Even the food is debatable, as we South African Indians are very proud of our Indian food. It is nothing like what is consumed here.
While dining at my host family, I was offered a spoon to eat biryani with. I was so offended! I politely declined and continued to eat using my hands. Eating biryani with a spoon…..never!(ok I admit sometimes I do use a spoon to eat biryani with……..).
At the same time they asked if the food is not too spicy for my South African taste buds, to which I replied “ no it’s perfectly fine”. Meanwhile, it was like a volcano erupted in my mouth!! I was dying! I drank the water next to me without thinking twice of it being tap water or filtered, either way, the effects would be the same.

The next morning I had a pre-breakfast meal of deep fried, battered bananas and chai which was absolutely divine. I was later called for an unexpected breakfast, which consisted of: livers and sheep brains. It is not my first encounter with the healthy organ meat, but it is not on my list of favourite foods. They insisted I try some and as I stood my ground, I heard two comments : “She eats like the Europeans…” and “ I think she’s vegetarian”.
Once again an epic Indian fail on my part.
The evening didn’t improve as they served me chopped up crab, and I almost fainted.
Apparently I am a fussy eater.

On a non food related note, the host family had a lot of guests who all came to greet me, due to the language barrier, it involved a lot of staring, being talked about while standing and smiling, and an occasional comment to fill the awkward silence like: “Alhamdulillah” or “I am fine” or”I love Kerala!”
The guests apparently liked this and commented on how polite, well mannered and quiet I am. (Yes,..Me ..quiet! But in all honesty with such a language barrier there isn’t really much to say or anyone to say it to).

A few days back, at the supermarket , I turned around to find a little girl yanking her sisters sleeve and pointing at me , they then both proceeded to stare, point and giggle. I smiled and said hello and they burst into more giggles and went to tell a third girl about me, who then also looked from a distance. I have grown accustomed to this, as puzzling as it is.

I also realised that the number 1 way to stand out as a foreigner is to wear sunglasses. I do not understand how everyone else deals, especially since there’s plenty of stores selling sunglasses, worn by nobody.
If you wear sunglasses, a backpack or crocs, then don’t even bother asking for a discount.

Last weekend after my morning cooking class (keralan cooking 101), I was offered to visit an orphanage. I was really excited. As we got to the venue which appeared to be large school, whereby a concert appeared to be taking place, we were greeted by an entourage of teachers who escorted us to a room with a buffet. We were incredibly confused as we were handed coffee (or sugar garnished with coffee), had our names taken and as nobody understood English just went along with it.

awards-2

View from the stage

We then got ushered downstairs into the school and concert area and walked passed little girls dressed in traditional clothing preparing to perform. We asked if we could watch and they agreed but continued walking, we were then lead onto a stage and were seated in front of an audience. Based on the speeches we were able to make out, we were foreign doctors honouring the school’s prize giving ceremony. My only expression was complete puzzlement. They handed us roses, we had to say a few words and thereafter they placed chairs in the front row of the audience for us to watch the talent show and concert. It was absolutely brilliant, and it fascinated me how such young children remembered every move without a guide showing them what to do.


Now it was my turn to just stare in absolute awe!
There was even a yoga performance done by 8 year olds who were absolutely phenomenal, and it pleased me to see how these activities are integrated into the syllabus of the school. The students were delightful and instructed to take selfies with us as we were honorary guests.They also spoke perfect english.

Aside from being grossly underdressed, (yes I had a backpack and sunglasses with me on stage), the entire event was a lovely surprise. Upon leaving, my colleague still asked where the orphans were……we are still waiting to know.

What I’ve come to learn is this country is just full of surprises and incredibly bizarre.
Till next time……

Note: The next post will be on my two rodent experiences (from 2011 and most recently).
And one of the reasons the food here is so different for me is because we are generally accustomed to Northern Indian cooking, whereas Kerala has it’s own speciality, including the use of Coconut Oil as their main oil.

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