Tuesday, November 22, 2011

7 Days in India - Background

My love affair with India started many years ago.  My first neighborhood that I can remember, was in the heart of Northeast Calgary, and we were surrounded by "foreigners" - gorgeous people with dark eyes; bronzed skin and rich, black hair - unless it was covered up by a turban.  To be honest, the men with turbans scared me a little bit - but not because I was racist in any way - I was a modern-world child, raised on Sesame Street, and indoctrinated with the mindset that we should love everyone and accept everybody; no matter their skin colour.

No, the reason turbans signaled a slight fear in me as a child resulted from a slight incident involving myself and my brother one afternoon.  He was helping me ride his two wheeler, and I steered poorly, careening into somebody's parked car!  We ended up causing the side-view mirror to be knocked to the side and I think it was even a little broken!  A dark skinned man in a salmon colored turban came running down his front walkway, yelling at us "dumb kids" for crashing into his vehicle.  Innocent as we were, at around 5 and 7 years of age, we still held responsibility in damaging this man's car.  Thankfully my father was nearby and made amends, promising to make the mirror as good as new. (And of course, we were in big trouble!)

What I remember in particular about my desire to see India starts with a church service in the earlier part of my teen years.  A man came to our church one day to talk about his life as a pastor in India.  He was a man that seemed to be clothed in humility - not trying to impress us with his manner of speech or dress; but a sincere, truly grateful man who wanted to be a blessing to our rich, comfortable North American congregation.  His black hair was speckled with grey and there were lines of fatigue and stress on his forehead.  You could tell that he was a man who had been through much in his lifetime... a man who had given much.  And indeed, he told us stories of the persecution he and his wife and children faced as believers in a resistant culture.  This is not just name-calling and unpopularity that they suffered, but real, physical persecution.

He told us of the unwanted, the orphans and the desolate lives of those living in slums.  He also told of of the atrocity of bride burning - where young women are literally burned alive because their family cannot offer an adequate dowry for their daughters.  Some women, who manage to escape, are terribly disfigured from the violent abuse and are reduced to being outcasts, with no hope or future to speak of.  As a very young woman, I was completely horrified and heart-broken at the thought of these events.

Since then, I had a deep desire to travel to this land of intense culture... so rich and vibrant and crowded and apparently smelly!  Surprisingly, the closest I have come thus far to a deeper understanding of Indian culture was in the small industrial city of Sriracha, Thailand, when we lived there as missionaries 6 years ago.  We had a family living directly across from us, and beside us in our community who were from India!  My neighbor, Madpa was kind and helpful and her husband was a manager in a factory nearby.  It seemed that Indians made successful managers and often worked in Thailand because they were more naturally assertive and motivated than the locals tended to be.  I would often hear through our open windows the pleasant sound of Madpa and her family chattering amicably with one another in Hindi or some other Indian dialect.  Another memory I have was how Madpa and her friend from across the street would lace up their runners, and dressed in their beautiful, colorful saris, would go for an early evening walk almost every night!  I secretly wished I could join them, but just didn't feel "cool" enough... after all, I was just a shy white girl in Thailand... and they were gorgeous, talkative Indian women.

Now my bags are packed for our trip to India and I am cautiously excited for our journey to begin.  The caution comes from the thought that we just need to get ourselves on the plane, on our way, and then I can really relax and become excited about the adventure that is about to unfold.  Now I will really get to visit India - not in documentary form or on the pages of a magazine, but in real life with full-color and full-smell!

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