Coughs, Sneezes, Tears, Smiles and Laughs
So it’s almost April 1st. We’re almost to the one month mark till I’m back home. I’m more excited than ever but now we have to start thinking about what we haven’t done yet and what we need to get done before we leave and what it’s going to be like to experience reverse culture shock. To be honest I’m nervous to be back in the land of endless opportunity. You don’t really understand why the U.S. has been coined with that term until you’ve lived in a third world country. Just the idea of a grocery store is freedom and opportunity in itself.
Tonight a few of us went out for dinner after a few days of actual school work and working hard at Voice 4 Girls. We went to a Lebanese restaurant that was AMAZING! We had pita bread, hummus, falafels, and schwarmas! It was so delicious! I can’t wait to be back and go to the Little Italy Farmers Market and get all hummus I need. We made a pit stop at a dessert restaurant called The Chocolate Room. We got sundaes but we discovered PANCAKES on the menu so we’ll be going back there soon! After a night filled with great food and tons of negotiating with rickshaw drivers it got me to thinking about language barriers.
Coming to India I had no idea I would be dealing with a lack of communication and a language barrier at all. I blame most of what you learn in school about India being about the times of British rule and the movie Bend It Like Beckham. After living here for over 3 months you learn to communicate in an odd way.
The all time favorite Indian head bobble is a must. It appears to be a shacking of your head motion that to the western mind translates into no. Here it means yes or more specifically “I understand” or “sure.” I now use it ALL THE TIME but at first, it was super confusing. We also speak english with an accent when need be. The locals understand english more coherently if you use an Indian accent. It took us forever to use this translation tool because to us it sounds like we’re racist pigs. But it does help and the locals see it as a sign that we know “what’s up” and we obviously know what we’re doing and we respect their culture. We also like to scream WE LIVE HERE to let them know they won’t get away with ripping us off!
Everyday communication can be a struggle. We really have to explain ourselves to get anyone to understand. It’s even hard to translate how we feel because we’re just coming from a totally different mind set.
As we were driving to our school I heard a man sneeze and immediately I thought about lying in bed early in the morning listening to my Dad make coffee, eat oatmeal and watch the news. Every once in awhile he would sneeze, cough, etc. When I heard the Indian man sneeze it sounded exactly like my Dad.
It made me think that even though translation may be really difficult. There’s so much that we use our mouth for that connects us all. Like a smile or a laugh or even a frown. Those are universal signs of emotion that we all understand. If I see a little girl crying on the side of the road I know that she’s sad without even sharing a word with her. When I’m on my way back from work and a small beggar boy with one arms scrunches his eyebrows in frustration when I don’t give him a rupee I know he feels defeated by both me and his pimp in the Mercedes stealing his money. A sad reality. The laughs I hear at a chai stand makes me giggle. Emotions and signs of emotions connect us all without exchanging a single word. So when I get upset that a rickshaw driver thinks we’re fresh Americans off the plane who will pay an absurd amount for a quick ride and I throw my hand in the air and make a discussed face he knows I’ve beat him at his tricks without even hearing a single word.
It’s quite beautiful. It helps a lot when you volunteer. Sometimes not finishing your water bottle or diet coke and handing it to the little girl begging for money is a gesture worth more than a thousand words. Or when you’re fitting little ones with TOMS shoes and all you need to exchange is a smile to know how much they appreciate the fact that they now own something brand new! Or when you sit there with the girls we work with at Voice and listen to their stories as a teacher translates. She may not know exactly what I’m saying back and I may not understand the words coming out of her mouth but I know she knows I care.
One month and 5 days to go and I already know I’m going to miss the people of this country a whole lot, probably more than anything! I know I’ll be bring back a decent Indian accent and the head bobble for sure.