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Jacquie Day - Blog Post 1: Learning to Live in New Lands: First Impressions

Jacquie Day - Blog Post 1: Learning to Live in New Lands: First Impressions

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Well, I’m here. Believing it or not. Part of me is in belief, and the other part dis.  It’s strange to be here, without really the intention of traveling. To have to settle into life in Trivandrum feels oh so foreign. It is more conservative here than I had anticipated. Though I was told this, I really didn’t know what it would feel like, to instantly have some freedoms not granted. First of all, there is no nightlife in this city. Most people are asleep or at home by 10 pm, mostly all women are not out after 9, and around 6:30 pm it gets dark and becomes obvious that there are far less women on the streets. Almost every woman I have seen wears a Sari or a Kurta (like a tunic) and pants. I have generally been wearing the same, and finding myself simultaneously more and less comfortable. I want to do what is being modeled around me, and yet I also do not want to simply accept what is going on around me either. It is a strange place to find balance in, and inevitably I stick out, because I am white, and perhaps also because I am a women.  Sister Sally, my ‘boss’, tells me that women do not travel, live or go places by themselves, so it is curious to others that I have come all this way and am living in this place on my own.

It is painfully obvious to me, how easy my life is back in Victoria. I generally think, feel, act, and do, whatever I please. It is not that I cannot be myself here, it is more that I feel the need to censor myself, and attempt to blend in as much as I can. Not to mention the fact that there are language barriers, which make it somewhat of a challenge to express myself clearly.

My options simply feel limited. I have been acutely aware of the color of my skin since I have arrived. There is an inherent privilege that comes with being white, Western, middle-class, university-educated and I cannot help but think that my struggles here have so much to do with the fact that those privileges do not mean the same thing here.

Trivandrum is not a very touristy place, and there is not an ex-pat community I am aware of. Of course there are some foreigners here, as most places, but it seems like people either stare and are very surprised by my presence, or simply do not care about me. I am not sure which I prefer. Granted I am still finding opportunities for connection, but I feel at times that people struggle to make sense of me. I do wonder what my experience would be like in Delhi, which though it is congested, is also a more international city.

The patriarchy here is potent. Women are both protected and exploited. When I have been out with Victor, the current intern who I am replacing, shopkeepers and restaurant workers refer to him, more than me. They assume he is paying for everything and address him much more. It is a strange dichotomy- my presence is very obvious and known, and yet I feel I have no place. It was what I was warned about coming here, that I would struggle to feel a sense of place, and even purpose.

I remember the words of a past intern, Adam, who said that my presence here is mostly symbolic. I feel that, and I also wonder what I am symbolizing. Part of me wants to escape. I feel more trapped in my body than I could have anticipated. I am currently getting over a few-day bout of what I assume was food poisoning or contamination, and so therefore feel held back. But I also feel held hostage by my being female, and by my skin color. People take photos of me, just because I am white. I feel like a celebrity in the worst kind of way. But I guess that is how celebrities are known, for by what they appear to be. I assume that my whiteness represents wealth, perhaps a different life, and something people here do not have (for better or for worse). My plane ticket costs what some people make in a year here. I feel the weight of every other Western traveler who has come before me, choosing India to be the place of their spiritual seeking, and perhaps consuming the cultures they meet along the way. I cannot pretend I do not want to be like them, but more that I want to really know the impact (or lack thereof) of me being here. Both in the lives of the people I will come to know, and mostly in my own. I am here for myself, and yet I know there is another piece to it. It is fair to say I am being challenged. My comforts and my safety feel so far away. I feel that I have taken for granted the space that my home in Canada provides; the freedom of movement I am used to having, and the light in knowing that it is all going to be okay.