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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.

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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.

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Twirl, girl.

It’s my version of you go, girl. I like it better.

Go is, like, about success or achievement or something. It’s what you’d say to her before a big race or a big speech or a big test. You go, girl. Get out there and do it!

Twirling, though, is for anyone, anytime. It’s not the thing of coming out on top or using great gifts or taking hold of opportunity. Twirling is… fun. It’s creating your own crazy, beautiful kaleidoscope of love and joy and adventure.

You can be a twirling anyone, you can. You can be a twirling teacher or a twirling accountant or a twirling mom or a twirling blogger or a twirling lawyer. You just need to let go of the walls and step out into the open and take a deep breath and let yourself go a little. A little liberty inside your responsibility is okay.

So grab a hand or not, and clear some space, and spin. Put your head back and let your hair fly and laugh out loud.

Once upon another time, I used to twirl this gorgeous little blonde-haired blue-eyed girl. I used to spin her in my arms, laughing and dizzy, in other kitchens, and then if she didn’t up and grow into a woman when I wasn’t looking. And now she comes and goes: in and out of airports and up and down mountains and back and forth across oceans. Spinning and twirling into her life, into her future, and it’s a glorious thing.

So twirl, girl. Twirl away, and when you get a chance spin back into my kitchen for a cup of tea and some stories.

(My niece, Brea, shares adventure and inspiration on her blog travellingtheditch.com! You can also find her on instagram at @traveltheditch.)

Part of the reason I have started this blog is to, in my own minuscule way, bring some warmth and joy back into this world so often plagued with fear and hopelessness. So each place I visit, each country, each culture, I am setting a goal for myself – to meet honest, hardworking people who have, no matter how big or small their gesture, changed someone’s life for the better. And if by sharing these uplifting stories with you, your life, if even for a second, is filled with joy and hope, then maybe we can believe that despite all the bad, there still is the wonderful. – Brea Elford