Culture Shock

They say it happens in the first 2-3 weeks.  You can read, plan, pray all you want, but it is inevitable.  Culture shock happens to the best of us.  One minute you are strolling along, minding your own business, and then something happens that takes you back and reminds you that you are no longer living in the familiar.

I was reminded of that when I stepped into the slums for the first time.  I have been interning with World Vision and up to this point I have not gotten to see or participate in any of their activities.  So when the opportunity came to go and see a slum I was both thrilled and nervous.  Thrilled because I was finally getting to see something I have been reading so much about.  Nervous to find out how the slums would change me.  

So there I was, strolling through the slums.  

Walking over trash and human waste and squeezing through crowded alleys, stepping over dogs or chickens or whatever other livestock was currently chilling there.  At one point I reached a clearing and some woman handed me her naked baby and wanted me to take a picture with her child…all while Akon was playing in the background coming from someone’s hut.  It was weird and heart-breaking and wonderful, all at the same time.

But even in the midst of all the dirt and waste and poverty there was such a sense of community present.  Kids played and women chatted and people went in and out of each other’s houses with ease.  There was laughter and smiles and hospitality, maybe even more than I have seen where we live on Race Course.  Whether it be fate or circumstance that planted those people in that community, they were doing life together and it was beautiful. 

And at the end of the day I was at peace.  I had experienced a slum for the first time, and left there not having changed a thing.  But I met a sponsor child names Jasmine who loves to dance.  I got to take some pictures of some of God’s most precious creations.  I learned a little more Tamil and sang the ABC’s in English with some school children.  

And at some point during the trip I got some poop on my dress…but I was content…and it was good.

Culture shock happens to me in glimpses and flashes.  One minute I am so taken back by the complex attraction contained in this diverse place.  The next minute I am heartbroken by the poverty and injustice and inequality that I see.  And then I get annoyed, sometimes with the smallest things like ants in my kitchen every morning or cold showers or crowds of people gawking at me because of the shade of my skin.  It comes and goes constantly.

Everyday I feel like I learn something new here in India.  Somedays it may be small like a new word or a new mannerism.  Somedays it is bigger like hearing God’s voice or coming to a greater understanding of where I fit into what God is doing in India.

Here are a couple things I have learned…

  • Cars play music when they are in reverse. (No kidding.)
  • If the store you are shopping at doesn’t have enough small change they give candy instead (something that should be implemented in the U.S.)
  • Shoes must always be taken off before entering a house, church, or school lab…or else the mammas of the house get a little upset (trust me, I know)
  • Toe rings are a symbol of marriage and everyday I get asked if I am married or not…and when I say no they ask when my parents are arranging one for me
  •  The cost of living is vastly different.  On average a 4 person family will spend about 500 rupees on the meals for the week (about $10 USD)
  •  If you feed birds uncooked rice it expands in their stomachs and kills them (Haven’t tried this yet, but thinking about giving it to some of the pigeons outside my window)

My prayer lately is that God would give me new eyes.  I don’t want to look at the slums and see poverty, but potential.  I don’t want to look at my Hindu and Muslim neighbors and see a missional project, but to see them as human beings created in the image of God struggling to find stability and truth in this world.  I don’t want to see the ants and little Milton cockroaches with disgust, but to see them as “all creatures of our God and King”. 

Ok, so the last one might be a stretch, but you get my point.  

I don’t want to only see India through my North American lens, but I want to see India the way He sees India…whatever that may look like.  Continue to pray for the work God is doing in India.

Ashley Sider