A couple friends and I were talking last night about getting back to the States and what it will be like. I've heard that the culture shock is actually worse going home than heading abroad. I have no idea how I am going to react, but I do know that certain things will be weird: Respect for personal space, white people, the lack of curious eyes, not to mention the intense wealth, religiosity, and attitudes about life and time differences.
For the most part, bridging such gaps coming here doesn't take much more than common sense, but certainly some of my best memories here are from the odd little cultural shocks I've experienced. I still love the cows who lie down in the middle of busy streets, blocking traffic and causing accidents. Random Indian women here have casually redressed some of my friends by lifting, unknoting, tugging, etc. their kurtas and pants in plain view of anyone and everyone. I've learned quickly too that asking any Indian for directions or an estimate for how long a trip takes is a waste of time. If you're told 4 hours, you'll arrive in either 2 or 6. If you ask for directions, you have about a 20 percent chance of getting close to where you want to go.
One of the main reasons I signed up for nearly 3 months of volunteering is so I could get to meet people in the community. And I was right about spending as much time as I have here. I've made great relationships with local families -- friendships that I know will survive for a long time. Meeting people still cracks me up a bit; this is, without exaggeration, the standard exchange whenever I meet a local here:
Me: Namaste, ji. Kaise hain? (How are you?)
Indian: Fine. So you work for CCS?
Me: Yes, I'm volunteering here...
Indian: Are you married?
Indian: Why not?
Indian: What religion are you?
Indian: How about some chai?
Me: No, thanks, I really need...
Indian: No, no, no, stay, stay, please take tea.
Me: No, no, I really need...
Indian: Please, please, stay, take tea. (Begins making a full meal...)
Even casual conversations about the weather and politics can turn into strange episodes. I know well-educated people here who believe that the alignment of the planets affects the monsoon rains' intensity and frequency. The Ganges is among the dirtiest rivers in the world (it's as much fecal matter as water at this point), but smart, rich Indians will give you the oddest explanations for why it remains so clean. I was told not too long ago that bones thrown into the river somehow 'clean' all the trash, feces, corpses, etc. that accompany all the Hindu swimmers at places like Benares. My favorite episode was when I was told by a local medicine man that, "According to modern science, solar fire, wood-burning fire, and stomach fire are all the same." I almost killed my friend when she insisted we eat at his hut for dinner.
August 19th is coming up quickly. Exactly three weeks from today I will be leaving Dharamsala for Delhi on the first leg of my 48 hour trip home.
Off now for some good Japanese food in McLeod. Friday is Friday everywhere.