While we were travelling we saw tourists that fit in every one of these categories. Families there for the sun, backpackers there to experience the "real" India, older tourists visiting all the heritage sights, and many many people dressed in what I would consider yogi, or simple clothes following a spiritual path that only they and their god(s) knew of.
For many people India is a world that is full of mystery, and wonderings. It is so far removed from our western culture that it gets romanticized in our movies and media. You hear again and again from people who have been there that India is not a destination, but rather an experience. And, it was. However for me, it was not an experience that people would assume - you see it was not my first time to India, and going back coloured my experience in more ways than even I expected.
|12 year old me|
|A Holy Cow|
The reason behind this is because I was a complete outsider. Not only did I not speak the language, but I was also a girl (becoming a woman), and at that time women were expected to act differently than they would be in North America. I had to learn new ways to carry myself, to talk to elders, to men, to my brothers. Having always been the oldest in my family, it surprised me when people would comment on how I must pay so much respect to these two little brats that made my life miserable, how there were celebrations for them, how I was to respect them. I can't really explain what it is like to grow up in a culture with such freedom for women and girls, and then living within another one that marginalizes them.
Experiences are the things that shape you. I credit India for shaping me.
When I came back to Canada I was again the outsider. Of course it was Jr.High, but how can one girl go back into the social pecking order that is adolescence when her whole idea of the world is vastly different than that of all her classmates?
I had felt racism directed at me. I had felt inequality in my soul. I saw true poverty with my own eyes. True desperation, and real suffering. I had witnessed squalor, filth, hopelessness and death. But I had also witnessed understanding, compassion, joy, and a work ethic like no other. This changes you, especially if this happens in those formative years when you are just learning about yourself. My experience made me more compassionate, more empathetic, and more understanding of all people around me. It also made me incredibly grateful for the life that I have been so lucky to be born into - that of a middle class Canadian woman.
|Wearing a Sari as an Adult|