Culture Shock~Part One: When Trust Might Not Be Enough

I hesitate to send this post onto the inter-web for fear that it will cause concern.  So, before you read on, know that I trust the process that comes with learning about a new culture and these feelings were to be expected.

I think I have honest to goodness Culture Shock.  Apparently it is a real thing.  Like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It's only a mild case.  I hope.  But I have many of the signs.  I don't want to go outside.  Every ache and pain makes me think I've caught some terrible travel disease.  I kind of want to go home.

I have this strange sort of shake in my left arm.  It's not visible.  It's an internal thing. Like a small tremor, the way a person shakes when they are scared.  Just now as I was lying in bed trying to relax I asked my body what was wrong, why was I feeling ever so vulnerable and frightened.  I've been far from home, alone, before.  I've had bad days in foreign lands before.  I've even thought about going home early when times got tough.  But this is different.  This angst is deeper.  It is more than wanting toilets with seats and sidewalks without people spitting and peeing on them as I walk by.  I've had days where I've yearned for the the very same things while I was in Paris, and nowhere feels closer to home away from home to me than Paris.  This gnawing dis-ease is less superficial, it is a soul ache.

I keep thinking of the little boy who came up to me yesterday as I was buying my dinner at a street side restaurant.  This kid was eating a plum from the shallow pit in the stump of his right arm.  His left arm was even shorter, less existent.  He was tapping against me and smiled every time I looked at him.  I ignored him.  The man cooking my dinner, pointed to the boy and smiled.  Was he expecting me to buy the child some dinner as well?  I don't know.  I soldiered on, waiting for my meal to be wrapped up.  Paying.  Leaving with my fried rice which cost $1.54.  There was enough of it that I had some for lunch today and will probably have more later.  I did not give into to the boy.

I tried to feel proud of my resolve.  All day I had been ignoring small dirt encrusted urchins who had been pawing me, smiles on their faces.  They asked me for my bottled water, my half drunk soda, they wanted my pen caps.  A friend suggested that if I felt overwhelmed by the beggars when I got here that I should buy some dried fruit to hand out.  I have thought about it.  But then how would I decide when to reach into my purse for the bag of fruit and when to be cautious.  Sometimes it appears that there is just one beggar, but suddenly there can be three, four, a whole family of beggars and I sense that an open purse in that situation could quickly become an empty matter how many hidden pockets I have.

The truth is I am not proud.  I am shocked by how "easily" I walked away from that little armless boy without buying him dinner.  I am mad at myself for taking my water bottle back out of the hands of a child no more than 5 earlier in the day.  Especially since I then couldn't drink from the bottle for fear of germs that had been left by her filthy hands.

When I was trying to decide what do when I came to India, where I would go, I looked into different volunteer organizations.  I wrote to a few several months ago that seemed to fit the bill of what I could afford and where I could use my skills.  I only heard back from one, but not until the day before I took off for Mumbai.  It was too late.  To volunteer I would have had to have a work visa, not a tourist visa, references, a police background check.  I could get none of these with only 24 weekend hours before my plane departed.

So, here I am laying about in India.  Seeing the sights.  My "pockets" are relatively full.  It seems like constant bad karma to walk away from so many people in need, but more than my future spiritual well-being, it just plain sucks in the here and now.  Poor planning on my part.  I should have tried harder to have some purpose here, something that I could do that would at least give me the feeling that I could make a difference.

I want to sweep up every small child I see wallowing in the dirt.  Except I also don't.  Their filthiness repulses me.  My own repulsion infuriates me.  These are human beings, small beautiful human beings and I cannot let myself love them because if I love them I might disintegrate right on into the dirt at their feet.  There are too many of them.

And that's just the children.  There are also all the grown-up people sleeping on stones, raising their families without walls, or potable drinking water surrounded by sewage and disease carrying mosquitoes while I have two beds in my air conditioned room, deet, medicine and filtered water.

I see now why India could make one mad.  It is incomprehensible, this kind of living, but the brain still wants to try and understand.  One can't help feeling like one of the zillions of Mumbai dogs chasing it's tail, focused on something it cannot catch, missing the rest of the picture while it runs in circles.

I have taken to chanting mantras to Ganesha as he is the guardian in the corner of my room.  Asking him to remove any obstacles to my well-being and safety.  It is a helpful way to begin the day.

Who knows, I may end up in an ashram after all, chanting for some kind of understanding, or for a way to free myself from the relentless chasing of my tale that could take hold if I don't find a way to relax into this place.

I know that I have been here less than a week, but if this kind of poverty and constant begging follows me to Kerala on Monday I might not be able to handle it.  I suspect that that is not going to be the case.  I mean it may follow me, but I trust that the way will unfold for me to break through this disquiet that is enveloping me just now, Ganesha willing.  But it feels important to own that, for the moment, I am uncertain.