I am a middle-aged mother with a chin hair problem. Trust me, I have not been stared at while walking down the street in a long time, unless it’s because my skirt has been accidentally tucked into the back of my panties.

I have been stared at in India for thirty-something days, now. It’s because I am white, of course. I am very, very white, right down to my chin hairs, and that makes me obviously different. I also dress and talk and eat and laugh in distinctly different ways.

I am not used to being this obvious.

Here in India, in public places, people will often ask me for a photo. Momma and baby will stand beside me and I will smile with these strangers while Daddy takes the snap. (That’s what they say here. Let’s take some snaps to remember each other by.)

It’s a bit weird and uncomfortable, and I haven’t quite worked out the motivation for it. I’m guessing it’s a combination of novelty and misplaced white-person honour, but I really don’t know.

The street markets, though, are the most challenging. On a good day, I ward off the stares with nonchalance and self-confidence. On a bad day, I’m certain they are all passively annoyed at the clumsy, foreign woman who is willing to pay four times the going rate for a chocolate bar.

Occasionally, when I am feeling righteous, I think things like:

  • This must be what it’s like to have a visible disability.
  • This must be what it’s like to be an immigrant or a foreign exchange student.
  • This must be what it’s like for my really tall friend, Dawn.

In my not-so-righteous moments, which are most of my moments, I am mostly annoyed. I don’t like being stared at. I don’t like feeling like I am different. Being watched makes me feel defensive and feeling defensive makes me suspicious. I assume things about what others are thinking.

Then the t-shirt vender smiles at me and I realize I don’t have a clue. I really don’t. And I am so ridiculous.

They stare, sure. Maybe some of them have negative thoughts about me, but most of them have forgotten about me three minutes after I’ve passed by. I’m no big deal. I’m a passing curiosity at best. And, let’s face it, I’m staring at them, too.

Being stared at in India has been good for me. It still makes me uncomfortable, but uncomfortable experiences are often important, humbling, learn-something-about-yourself experiences.

So, thank you for staring, India. I hope we will be mutually respectful in our curiosity. I hope I  will be a positive example of a foreign tourist in your midst. And when I blunder, I hope you will laugh with me and forgive me my boorishness. It’s not intentional.


India is built on levels. I am stumbling over little ledges and uneven stairs, every day. I am slow to learn that a walk across a floor or a sidewalk or a road does not assume the surface will be smooth.

After three weeks, I am more cautious. I expect a few challenges as I move about. I accept the stubbed toe with less frustration over the different-to-me architecture and remind myself to lift my feet higher or move more carefully than I do in my familiar homeland. I try to do less charging around and to be more observant. I remember that I am the visitor. And in the dark, I take the arm of my son, whose eyes are better than mine and whose steps are less practised in stubborn habit.

There is a metaphor here for the traveler, I suppose. A lesson for me, at least.

the market in Shillong

the market in Shillong

I would have missed him if Ray hadn’t stopped and pointed him out.

“How would you like to make your living like that?” he says.

I look down and see him, sitting in a little window-like depression in the wall, half-buried below the road, his knees up under his chin and his head tilted forward. A folded up man; he could have fit into my suitcase. On the ground in front of him are locks and keys, his wares for sale.

My hand finds my phone in my pocket, but I can’t bring myself to pull it out and take a photo. I feel every inch of my white skin, standing there, looking down at him.

I don’t know anything about him. I don’t know the things he thinks or feels, whether he has a family, what he will eat for supper or where he will sleep. I can’t begin to understand his life.

For a half a minute, in the busy Shillong market, I look at a man in a wall like I’d look at an animal in a zoo. I can not bring myself to photograph him. I walk by and on the next block I buy a scarf. This is India.


I have been asked to teach a class to a room full of women. I sit on a chair and smile at them, and they sit around me on chairs and wooden benches, and smile, too.

English? I say.

They look at each other and look at me and we smile at each other some more.

I am teaching a class to women in Lalmati, in the province of Assam, in India, and I do not have a translator.

I tell a small story. I act it out with flapping hands and waving arms and pointing, using all my limited acting skills, and they watch, intense and focused. I know they are not understanding but we try, together.

I pass around pictures of my family and my town. We manage to learn a little about each other, mainly the number of children we each have.

I give each woman a snowflake Christmas ornament. One woman who can speak a tiny bit of English, says, “Flower?”

“Snow,” I say, and I spend fifteen giggling minutes trying to explain snow to women who have never seen it.

Wendy and I bring out plastic beads and gold elastic, and they jump up, eager to each make a bracelet. It seems a cheap thing next to their beautiful saris, but they are excited to make and wear a pretty thing.


I am tired, walking down the mountain at the end of the day. It seems, perhaps, a silly thing, trying to share stories with people to whom I can’t talk. I don’t know their thoughts or impressions or ideas of what we did together. I don’t quite know my own.

We sat in a circle and smiled and struggled to know each other a little and, common language or not, maybe now we do.

Guwahati, Assam from my hotel window

Guwahati, Assam from my hotel window

I haven’t been in India long enough to know much about it, other than first impressions. The things I was told are true. India is loud and the traffic is crazy and the smell is a hot, aromatic stew of spicy food, rotting garbage, and sweating bodies.

It is festival time here in Guwahati, in the province of Assam. India is celebrating Durga Puja, and in the evenings the streets are flowing with people. They trek from temple to temple, accompanied by horns and whistles and noise-makers of all sorts. It’s a headache-making kind of noise, like a junior high school orchestra warming up.

I won’t presume to know anything about anything. I can simply accept the experience as it unfolds. I think I am falling in love with India, but we are at the very beginning of this relationship, and new relationships are always exciting and full of unknown promise and uncertainty.

Mountain view from the classroom window at Bread of Life School

Mountain view from the classroom window at Bread of Life School

Yesterday, my friends and I were the only white people walking along the market street, and people took pictures of us. Today, we drove a ridiculous mountain road to Bread of Life School, where we laughed with children and ate rice with our fingers and watched a brown monkey scamper across a rooftop. The boys climbed to the top of a mountain with a new friend, and I hugged a dozen beautiful, gracious women.

India is a colourful first date right now. I suppose we might disappoint each other at some point, but like any new relationship these beginning days are meant to be exciting and intoxicating, and so they are.


A popular blogger was kindly chastised the other day for not using people-first language. She’d referred to her friend’s cute baby as a Down’s baby (as opposed to a child with Down’s Syndrome) and her comment section lit up. People-first language, please, was the gist of it. My initial thoughts, I confess, were along the lines of, Oh, great. More political correctness to stumble over. More silly this-is-how-we-say-it-now. But after a moment’s consideration I realized, of course.

People-first language, please?

Of course. Yes.

Because people are always people, first.

I’m conscious of it, now. I’m more deliberate in my thinking about you. I try to consider people in a people-first way. I’m more intentional about looking past the easy, first-glance descriptors, past the first impressions. I’m exercising my Jesus-eyes, those eyes that look deep into hearts and souls. So …

The checkout girl at the grocery store is, instead, the woman who woke up early and went to work to earn her dollars by helping me pay for and pack my family’s food, so I sincerely thank her and wish her a good morning.

The homeless man wandering the downtown streets is, instead, the man who, for reasons unknown to me, does not have a place to live, and so I look at him and smile right into his face as I walk by.

The bratty kid in the park is, instead, the child who is having a hard time making friends, so I put a hand on his shoulder when I ask him not to push and I smile at his momma.

I’m trying so hard to negate all those years of first-impression eyesight. I’m trying hard to not see you as the snobby woman or the crippled guy or the blonde girl or the disrespectful teenager or the needy friend. I’m even trying to go beyond seeing you as a perfect mom or the smart girl or the lucky one, because that’s not fair or accurate, either.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself, too. I’m trying to see myself as a person, first. I am trying to look into my own soul and my own heart, and to see what He sees when He calls me Beloved, to see myself as a girl who is smart and beautiful, as a woman who loves to laugh and enjoys a good story and takes courage and tries her best.

We are people first, friends. All of us.


I was one of those who drank the Tiny House kool-aide. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those websites and links with words like off-grid and financial freedom and eco-friendly and how to build a house out of a shipping container for $2000. I drank a tiny glass of all that tiny wonderful-ness and I imagined an amazing tiny life and I thought:

How cute. How adorable are those tiny sinks and tiny toilets. How wonderful to pare your home down to such a basic level. What freedom! What an awesome way to disconnect from consumerism and materialism.  How lovely to miniaturize everything. How easy it would be to clean and organize.

Then, without really planning for it, tiny living happened to me, and it looks like two bedrooms, a bathroom, and an itty-bitty multi-purpose space in the basement of our friend’s home. (He is so sweet. He could not be sweeter.) We share his upstairs area (kitchen and living room) while trying to give him the space he needs for his own busy life. We’re paying him a tiny amount of rent and in return we have the gift of time. A year or so to settle in and live in this town and figure out what *it* will look like for us.

Reality is often less adorable than the dream, isn’t it? Reality right now is an ugly second-hand couch (ugly couches are my lot in life, it seems) and a lot of close-quarters navigating. Reality is tolerance and accommodating each other and sharing. Reality is crowded.

It’s kind of a fun challenge. It’s not the tiny home of my dreams, maybe, but life is not a dream. Life is real and complicated and requires grace and flexibility, and if you embrace all of that, it can be a tiny bit wonderful.

May we live all kinds of tiny graces today, friends, no matter the sizes of our homes or the expanses of our lives. May we find polite ways to share our spaces, whether at home or in the grocery store queue or online. May we use our words in healing, supporting ways. May we share coffees and cookies and rub elbows instead of throwing them. May our close quarters invite intimacy, friendship, and cooperation.

May we experience all the unexpected crowded blessings life offers.


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