Sunday, January 06, 2008
I Want to be on The Amazing Race or Most Embarassing Moments
Do you like reality TV? Sometimes I do. I think Survivor has jumped the shark - seasons ago. I am totally baffled at the Dancing With the Stars phenomena. But my all-time favorite reality show is the Amazing Race. I dream of being a contestant - with Dave of course. Now in our younger days Dave and I traveled quite a bit around the world. and I think our experience could give us a lead over other Amazing Racers. We've learned how to communicate and respect one another in cross-culturally settings. But this didn't come overnight, No, it took many adventures with many faux pas and the possibility of marital counseling. But the point being - we learned from our mistakes and now, if I'm driving and Dave's navigating (and his ability to eat anything - ask him about bee larvae in China!), I think we could make it around the world in one piece and still married.
Outside of a brief trip to Mexico (living in Southern California this wasn't hard to do) our first cross-cultural journey was to India. It's the end of summer 1990. We were on a ethnographic research team for three months and I was in my second trimester with Ian. Prior to landing in our city we spent a few days in Calcutta getting acclimated and buying Indian shalwar (like pajama pants) kameezes (like a long tunic) - since they were hard to find in the States, we waited to purchase our wardrobe in India. The problem with buying off the rack stuff in India is they are not sewn very well. Most of the seams are basted (read, wide stitching) in so they rip quite easily.
Early on Dave and I were asked to visit the old city, a train ride (Train rides in India are a story unto themselves.) out of our city. On this day it was about 95 degrees with about 156% humidity (at least that's what it felt like to this pregnant lady!). When we arrived at the old city we weren't quite sure where to go so we just started wandering. Our task for the day was to pray through the neighborhoods. As we walked down the dusty and cow-dunged lined streets, the inseam of my shalwar begins to unravel. Slowly, and most assuredly, from knee to knee, the based-stitching is coming undone. I told Dave about my problem and we considered looking for a clothing store but we're in the middle of the old city's pots and pans bazaar, no one speaks English and we seriously doubted a ready-made shalwar kameez shop was nearby. My only consolation was the fact that the kameez part of the outfit came down to my knees and was hiding what was going on. But the 210% humidity plus all the stares (I think the last time the folks of the old city saw Anglos was when the British colonialist left the area in 1948!) was really getting on my nerves.
Dave was feeling the stares too, so he put his hand on my back to encourage me to keep walking. I quickly snapped at him and told him (not so politely) "Don't touch me!"
Now back up a bit to our first day in our city... we took our taxi from the airport to our rental home and all the women were in one taxi and all the men in the other (why we did this, I don't know!). I'm sitting in the front, next to the driver who proceeds to touch my knee with his finger. Now, in another time and place this might not mean anything but in India it means something. Six years earlier I had spent the summer in Pakistan and was made sensitive to the taboo of male/female physical contact. But Western women have a reputation for being loose (thank you Friends and Sex and the City!) that Indian men think western women want to be touched. At first I was so shocked I didn't say anything, only moved my leg closer to door. As soon as we got into the house I told all the girls and Dave, and we committed to not allowing this to happen and to learn what Indian women do (Apparently it doesn't only happen to western women). We did learn a saying, which I remember to this day.
So that bit of history is in the back of Dave's mind as he sees Indian men staring at his very pregnant wife as she's straddling the streets, trying to look dignified while stepping over raw-sewage. And my reaction to his chivalrous heroics? "Don't touch me!"
All I wanted to do was get back home but that was a walk to the train station, a train ride, more walking, a rickshaw ride and more walking to finally arrive home. I knew I had to endure the day, un-seamed shalwar, stares, humidity, heat and all. Snapping at my beloved was not the best reaction and didn't ease the tension.
I would like to think today I would respond differently. I was obsessing over no public physical contact between men and women, even when married, that when Dave attempted to protect me I lashed out. I was more conscious of the culture than my relationship to my husband.
I don't embarrass easily but that day in India, if I happened to know anyone who was staring at us, I would have been embarrassed. But there's something about acting the fool in front of strangers which makes the act not seem so foolish. Now go over to methemama to hear more stories and fascinating truthful confessions.