Sunday, February 12, 2012

Selective Seeing

The sunset, was as always stunning. Tranquility washed over me as the rosy light shed enough light for me to enjoy reading Lonesome Dove while intermittently peeking at the sky, warmth dissipating slowly, moment by moment. I loved sitting up on the roof and relaxing this particular time of day. Living in India can be a trying experience filled with an utter disregard for personal space. Enjoying the sunset alone from the roof became ritualistic for me during the past month while living with my Indian homestay family. However, one particular night, two before I was to leave, the sunset proved to be chillier than the other dusks I had witnessed.

It was not actually any colder in terms of degrees, but in emotion. This particular sunset I was joined by company. The servant girl, Siri, who I had come to have a friendship with sat beside me on the roof. Siri is an awesome girl. She is 18, gets up to milk the cows each morning at 5 am and doesn't go home until after dinner. Her work ethic is admirable, and her attitude about life inspiring. I was pleasantly surprised to have her company this particular sunset. However, my assumptions that she came up to the roof just to share my company and some laughs were incorrect.

Instead, she issued me a confession. Her husband of 13 years (the particular caste she is in marries at the age of 5) beats her. The skin around her left eye was darkened and swollen..... a clear indication of the punch she had received from him.

As she was telling me all of this, my heart swelled and got caught in my throat. As she held my hands and desperately begged me to take her with me back to America I was unusually silent. What could I say? What could I do? I told her I would try one day to get her to America, knowing full well that it would be a feat of exceptional rarity if her feet ever hit U.S. soil.

When I looked at the bruise surrounding her eye, I took particular notice of its color. It was more yellow than blue, meaning it had been there a few days. I saw Siri every single day while I was with my Indian homestay. How had I not ever noticed signs of abuse before?

Well, certainly, I wasn't looking for them. A situation like this one certainly proves that there is more than meets the eye in any case, and really beyond that, makes one question how much is even meeting the eye?

How much do we really see of people? Even when looking at someone, how often is it that you truly take in the details of their face, of the expression they wear?

I couldn't help but wonder how much else I had been missing, not just with Siri, but with everyone.

Her bruised eye are all too much like the ghettos that surround Hollywood, the beggars at the mosques, forts, and temples tourists come to India to experience.... We all like to see the glamour, the simple elegance and beauty of something, but no one really wants to see the ugliness that surrounds it.

No one wants to acknowledge poverty or domestic abuse. But for those who wear the bruises, who beg for hours a day, who live in shacks and suffer cold nights, the ugly... well... it's their lives that are in part defined by horror.

The world is a complex place (please call me captain obvious). However, it isn't enough to just admit it's complex, I believe there is a certain responsibility-shared among us capable to do so- to work towards untangling some of it.

By this, I mean mentally untangling it, for ourselves. In no way do I mean that it is our job to stick our hands into a web and force the strings of it into a nice ball of yarn. Doing exactly this is detrimental to societies, especially in terms of development (yes, I am a student on Thinking Beyond Borders...) I just mean.... we all have to start acknowledging the ugly and carefully think about the role we might possibly be able to play in alleviating it.

Instinctively, I yearned to help Siri. I wanted to stick her in my backpack and take her away with me. I even considered giving her a large sum of money and arranging a car to take her to a different land. And yet, neither of those options were truly viable. I was told "A man hitting his wife is as common as a man kissing his wife in India". Facilitating a dramatic (and illegal as a woman cannot leave her husband in India without proper divorce papers, which I am guessing have to in part be agreed to by the man) run away wasn't going to be possible or even really helpful. Ultimately, it was decided that the best thing to do was to get in touch with a Women's Self Help Group and see if it was possible for Siri to get involved in it. Fortunately, it is quite possible and I am of the impression that Siri will be helped in a responsible and "India safe" manner.

For me, India has been an awakening experience. Here, I have often felt not miles, but light years away from everything I have ever known. From the treatment of women, to the colorful and ornate way of dress, to the pure insanity and odors of an Indian wedding, I can truthfully say India is almost impossible to depict with any measure of accuracy or success to someone who has never ventured here. However, it is the relationships I've made a long the way, like the one with Siri that are relatable to everyone and truly worth passing on.

I can't believe that I am leaving this country on Friday. I feel as though I still have so much more exploring and mental untangling of this place to do! When I left my homestay family, they cried buckets of tears. Even my Dad " the boss" (he owns quite a bit of farmland and people call him that name... it was pretty ridiculous) did not have dry cheeks as I waved goodbye. Yet, I did not shed one tear.... That's because, I'm certain I'll be back.


  1. I am crying over my coffee, Lizzie. Thank you for the inspiring read. Love you!

  2. Very enlightening. It is experiences like these that will shape who you will be in the future.

    Richard Lis

  3. This is truly inspiring. Thanks Liz, love you.