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Mysore Diaries: A White Woman in India

Traveling to the opposite side of the world and experiencing a completely different culture has been very interesting. Everything is unfamiliar. The people, the language, the food, water, streets, even the smell of the muggy air is foreign to my senses.

It’s especially different when you travel to India as a woman. You have to cover your shoulders and legs all the time, preferably with baggy clothes like harem pants, maxi dresses, t-shirts, and scarves. You don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention or be disrespectful of their culture. Fortunately, the clothes here are around $5 a piece, so it's manageable if you find your own wardrobe is lacking in enough Indian-approved articles.

Regardless of what you wear, expect to be blatantly stared at by men, women and children alike. I swear everywhere I go, I’m an exotic creature or something. People snap photos of me, ask if they can take “selfies” with me and my baby, and crowd around us like they've never seen white people before. There are so many Indians with pictures of us on their phones now.

It's rare, but some of the restaurants we’ve gone to, the male staff will only speak to Sean. Sometimes they won’t even look at me! Even if I answer the question before Sean does, they will wait for his response before doing anything.

The waiter will say something like, “Mineral water, sir?”

And I’ll chime in, “Yes, water, thank you.”

Pause.

“Sir?”

“Yeah, please.” Sean will say.

“Okay, sir.”

And only then will he pour both of us water. And I’m just sitting there looking around like, Is this real life? Where am I?

Like I said, it doesn’t happen everywhere or all the time, but it has happened several times. It’s weird, but I just shrug it off. Different country, different culture. I may disagree with some of the views these particular men seem to have about women, but I’m not about to start anything. I'm just here for the yoga.

Besides, really, overall everyone has been so warm and welcoming.

I realize India is huge, and I'm only seeing a very finite amount of this country, but at least in Mysore, there is a gentleness to the people and streets, even with the constant buzzing chaos of the city. The general vibe the locals put out is one of community and belonging. It's so apparent in the way they approach life and interact with everyone.

Even the majority of the businesses are run out of neighborhood houses. I love it. You just walk into these people's homes, with the family's laundry hanging to dry, the old lady cooking in the kitchen, the children playing with the dog, and you instantly feel immersed in their daily life. The adults refer to us as brother and sister, and the children call us uncle and auntie. It's really sweet. In their culture, everyone is considered family and you can easily feel that. And that's coming from a foreign white woman who can't even speak their language!

I've noticed they don’t appear to have changing tables in India. When we’re out and about and I need to change Connor’s diaper, I usually just throw a scarf or blanket down on a cushion and change him then and there. I'm curious if that's how the local women do it or if they avoid diaper changes out in public altogether somehow?

The other day we were at a nicer restaurant and it didn’t feel appropriate to take his plump diaper off in front of everyone, so I went to the washroom and changed him as he stood on the tiny sink counter. We were managing just fine, but it was still an awkward maneuver. Have you ever changed a toddler's diaper while they stood over a sink? An Indian woman came in and saw us.

“Here, here, I help.” She took his dirty diaper and threw it away, then proceeded to help me take Connor’s pants off while I held him in the air (his pants were wet and needed to be completely changed… it was a gnarly pee), and then she held the door for me as I left. It was just really nice and helpful and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s not everyday a stranger helps change your baby’s diaper on a bathroom countertop.

...So maybe that's how it's done in India.

Anyway, I’m really grateful for moments like that one. It’s inspiring to see humans supporting humans, all around the world, regardless of culture or race or language barriers. It’s comforting to know I can go all the way to India and still be held by the mothers of the world.

For love, with love.

-E

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