Some days it don’t come easy

Adapting to a new culture is hard. Exciting, but hard. I love it. Clearly, or I wouldn’t keep doing it. Part of adapting is learning to say, “this isn’t wrong, it’s just different.” That can be hard to do sometimes. Wrong is cultural imperialism, trying to say your culture is better and should be accepted by everyone else as the correct way. It’s judging people from other cultures by the standards of your own. Different is just that: different. It’s acceptance.

But there are moments when it’s hard not to say something is wrong, and shouldn’t be done. Like when you’re halfway through a bucket bath in the bathroom, which shares a holey wall with the kitchen, and you suddenly hear screaming from mother and eldest daughter, banging of pots and utensils, hitting, shouting, slapping, crying, throwing of heavy objects, cries of pain and fear. And then as you try to finish and get out of the bathroom as fast as possible, the 11-year-old brother joins the fray, crying screaming, begging, falling on the floor over and over. And when you run out of the house with your wet hair dripping (a sign of being a woman of seriously questionable morals here), your little sister tries to stop you. “Aadi,” she says, ‘normal.’ Don’t worry about it.

Other things are easier to deal with. Turkish toilets, as they’re politely called here, are no big deal to this veteran of dirty squatty potties on fast-moving Indian trains. Bread at every meal is doable, even if my digestive track isn’t entirely appreciative.

Not making eye contact with men? Harder. Or not really even talking to them, not being out after the sun starts to consider setting, not walking around the village alone. Difficult, but you can adjust. Blatant abuse? Beating? It breaks your heart to hear it, but then later, when the daughter is laughing with mom like normal, you have to wonder: did you exaggerate it? Was it really so bad? Is it wrong if their culture says it isn’t?


3 Responses

  1. Darling. It’s confusing when your own values fly in the face of the reality you are experiencing. I guess I’m a cultural imperialist, because upon reading this I thought of our own Civil War when the South sent their men and boys to die for their “culture” of slavery. Was the North practicing cultural imperialism by fighting the South? Adapting to an entirely different culture is no easy task, but in it all you can keep your own values, decide what is wrong and right; accept and enjoy the things you value. Your host family is a case in point: some good, some not good. Of course the daughter is laughing with mom: it’s survival. What else can she do? She’lI probably grow up to beat her own children because she’ll have those beatings in her. That was an awful experience for you and hard to make sense of. You’re asking the right questions, you’re heart is in the right place. I love you. You’re a brave and wonderful person. Mema

  2. Good words, Louise.
    a.t. (Suzi)

  3. Thanks you two. I appreciate it. Things seem to be ok again. It’s hard to think about, but I know it’s a loving family in the end.

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