Holy cow

Bhubaneswar Travel Blog

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Standing right outside the gate at my office

Okay, so that’s not the most original title, but it’s apt.  There really are cows roaming around everywhere.  These two, for instance, are outside the gate at my office.  But India’s a study in contradictions: The cows are holy, but they go uncared for, forced to feed on garbage. 

 

The people in the office at my volunteer assignment are very hospitable, calling to make sure I’ve eaten dinner, bringing English language books for me to borrow, even offering to accompany me out shopping.  A lovely offer, but I need to learn to be on my own here.  And there’s another contradiction: On the one hand, such warm people, going out of the way to ensure my comfort.

My office, a well-cared for haven
  On the other, when I’m out doing the shopping on my own I’ve insisted upon, I’m positive that I’m being taken advantage of, being charged higher prices because I’m a Westerner. 

 

Last weekend I shopped for Indian-style clothing, and the store clerks literally followed me around at close range.  Thankfully I’d learned at orientation that a) I should expect to be stared at -- I stand out, and there’s no avoiding it; and b) there’s no word for “privacy” in Hindi, and the concept doesn’t exist in Indian culture.  I didn’t feel threatened because I understood that the clerks had no idea how their proximity made me feel, but boy was it disconcerting. 

 

Those of you who know me well are familiar with my personal space issues -- as in, I need a lot of it.  So naturally I’ve ended up in a place where the culture doesn’t even understand the concept.  I truly believe this is an opportunity to grow, to learn how to stay calm and present.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m dreading the inevitable day I’m pinned up against a zillion people in a small space, but in a strange way I’ll welcome it when it happens.

debrasiegel says:
Indiana_Jones: Ah, I've learned something new. So there _is_ a word for privacy, but I'm under the impression that it's not valued or important here, and that Indians don't understand our (my) need for it. I don't think I can say that whole sentence, but I'll give the word a shot!
Posted on: Feb 25, 2008
debrasiegel says:
Hey Christine! You ask an excellent question. I've used that technique on the subway in NY, thinking that being part of the crowd is being part of the community and the flow of being human -- and it actually has helped! I hope it proves helpful here, too. :-)
Posted on: Feb 25, 2008
marchinvietnam says:
I'm loving your blog entries, Debbie. Americans are so used to space but one has to ask if perhaps we're wrong about expecting so much of it. Do we push people away? I went through this same need for space in Vietnam and after three months began to enjoy feeling a part of other people, like a huge family. The communal nature of it may grow on you soon and when it does, it may help make you feel more at home. The stalking shop clerks, though, never become charming!
Posted on: Feb 19, 2008
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Standing right outside the gate at…
Standing right outside the gate a…
My office, a well-cared for haven
My office, a well-cared for haven
Looking out toward the steet from …
Looking out toward the steet from…
The cows are just outside the gate
The cows are just outside the gate
Close-up of the cows eating garbage
Close-up of the cows eating garbage
Bhubaneswar
photo by: debrasiegel