Last weekend I was invited to the principals’ house and what this experience made me realize, was amazing. Her name is Latha and she’s a brilliant woman. I was delighted when she invited me into her home. Getting away from this hostel and the 40 women that roam around it, each day and also getting away from the room that can sometimes feel a little too isolated, was a breath of freshair.
She lives outside the town and I got to see proper village life again. She lives in the cutest pink house, surrounded by coconut trees, with an outside toilet, a well for the water and tropical fruit growing on nearly every tree in her garden. I felt like I was in the jungle; there was no town, no noise, no pollution, no honking of the horn; it was heaven. I was seeing sights of India I’ve seen before, but had to be shown again, just to be reminded of where I am; sometimes you simply have become so accustomed to this world and certain things become a part of daily life; like not being able to understand the language and not having daily contact with Western people. It’s all normal. So to appreciate your “current status”, you actually can be in need of a wake-up call saying: Hello!! Don’t forget the country you’re in! And this is what last weekend did for me.
It was such a different experience. Her and her family treated me like royalty; they brought me to dinner, they prepared special food and even slept on the tile floor and gave me their double bed! The hospitality was without end and I felt it was too much. I’m not royalty. I’m just like them and being in their home was more than I could have asked for. But we learnt so much from each other, I learnt about their lifestyle and they learnt what mine is like back home and what it’s been like since I’ve been on the road. They picked my brains about every subject they could think of. It really shocked me to hear some of the thoughts they have when it comes to Ireland. Her husband actually asked if Ireland is the same as India! He asked about our coconut trees and other the tropical fruit that grows there! He was shocked to realize that the wages are so much higher and even more flabbergasted to here about the cost of living. So sweet and so innocent he is. I had to constantly reassess my first initial reaction to these questions and statements, because how are they to know that the differences in the world are so huge? If they haven’t travelled outside of India, then of course this life is all they know. At times it was hard for me to get to their way of looking at the world, so I could have understanding for their amazement. But it was brilliant all the same. For me it was an eye-opener and they felt so much “richer” for having had me there for the weekend (which is their words, not mine). By the end though, I was drained. I felt I had nothing more to give. I felt like I had been in the “hot-seat” for 48 hours. There were only so many smiles I could produce and so much information I could spill, as my need to have some space and a time-out started to take over the appreciation of the experience I was having. I was delighted to have stayed with her, but it made me realize many different things.
I’ve realized that I have placed myself, unknowingly, in both the “spotlight” and the “hot-seat”, by doing what I‘m doing: teaching in a place so “small” (on Indian terms) and being the only foreigner and single female traveller here. It can get a little much that whenever I leave my room, all eyes are on me or whenever I have a conversation with anybody, be it the caretaker at school, the man at the fruit-stall, the lady at the internet café or the tailor, it’s always about me. I never get the chance to hear about them. I never get anybody coming to me for a chat, that doesn’t start with their expression of concern or curiosity regarding anything to do with my situation and my life. I’m always telling them how I’m doing, because that’s all they want to know - except for 2 teachers at school and Latha (thankfully!).
I was beginning to wonder why the hospitality and their concern was getting to be overwhelming at times: it’s only because I feel I need to express so much gratitude for the concern that they show, and it’s sucks the life out of me. Their concern and curiosity is being expressed, every time I have any kind of contact with anybody. So now it’s like this is what my life currently is: an expression of gratitude. When I’m low on resources, it’s not easy going. Having said this though, I know that showing appreciation and gratitude for all that everybody receives, should flow naturally, or else it’s heartless and my “thank you“ holds no meaning. But there really is only so much I can give of myself. The kids give everything back to me and they fill me up and make me again able to give all that I have, to others. They are keeping me sane and my reason for being here.
I am nothing special though and I am un-important. Really I am. I don’t want to be seen as somebody they have to look up to. I’m just me, like everybody else. By the way they give me more attention, I could easily feel different than them. But I don’t and I still walk around the school and don’t feel different. And I continue to ask myself why the parents, students and teachers all want a “piece of me“. I don’t let it make me feel to be more, because I’m not. Instead I’m the one who feels blessed to be in this special place and for this experience, which they cannot comprehend. They try to tell me how precious it is that I’m in their school, which I cannot comprehend. I suppose the expression of gratitude is then working from both ends. But because I’m only 1 person trying to give thanks to the whole entire school, and they are a whole school giving thanks to just 1 person, it causes an imbalance. How can I ever feel to give enough back to the whole school for all that has been given to me? That’s a big pressure on anybody. I’m only 1 person and there’s only so much I can do. I don’t mean to speak badly about their kind hearts, their interest, their concern and their curiosity, but I never realized how much being in a situation like this can take out of me. It takes a lot to stay sane through it all and to still keep giving everything I have, in the classroom. But, as I said earlier, it’s the kids that keep me sane.. Each and every day. They put me in the position to be able to say “thank you” that is heartfelt and that holds all the meaning in the world.