It’s amazing that it’s taken this long, but I finally got hit with a little wave of culture shock/homesickness. The trip to Darjeeling is definitely what triggered it. The combination of four days of not much “me” time, lots of people not speaking in English, being in an unfamiliar place, and limited contact with people back home added up to me having a VERY grumpy couple of days.
Most of the time, I don’t mind not being able to understand anything. It can even be like a kind of game because even when people are speaking in Hindi or Nepali, there are some words that they say in English either because there’s no translation or just because that’s how everyone says it. Usually, I think it’s fun to try to piece together the sporadic English words and people’s hand motions and imagine what the conversation is about (the conversations that I imagine are probably way more fun than what’s actually being said). It’s good because then I’m paying attention to what’s happening, and people don’t feel like I’m bored or ignoring them (instead, they often think that I understand since I look so engaged).
Like I said, most of the time, I don’t mind, but I learned that even I have my limits. I got especially frustrated when I would hear someone say my name, so I knew that they were saying something about me but then no one translated. I’m sure that no one was ever saying something mean; that’s not the issue. It just gets old very quickly, and it starts making you feel a bit isolated… as if I didn’t already feel a little of that ALL the time. Combine that language isolation with the feeling of separation that comes from being a guest who isn’t asked to do anything, and you’re like a forgotten island. Like imagine that all of the other women are in the kitchen helping to make dinner, but you’re not allowed to help because you’re a guest… so they’re all laughing and having fun working together, and you’re left on your own. It’s nice because they don’t want to make a guest work, but in that moment, you feel like you’d do almost anything just to be included (hence me forcing my way in on momo-making night).
Another thing that starts to get tiring is the politeness of people always telling you to sit or come or this or that. This really threw me off when I first came, and the school coordinator would tell me to sit in her office. I kept thinking that I was in trouble or that she had to talk to me and then she never came back… I finally realized that she was just being polite and trying to give me somewhere to go. This happens everywhere though… every house you visit, every public bench that you happen upon, etc. Sometimes I just want to stand, and when I say that, I get these looks like, “You should really sit. Your legs must be tired. You should sit. Just sit. SIT!” And I’m looking back like, “PLEASE JUST LET ME STAND. I WANT TO STAND. PLEASE. PLEASE. I WANT TO STAND.” And then it’s a… wait for it… stand-off. Hahahahahaha that was great. I’m hilarious.
People are also always asking me if I’m bored or tired which is fine sometimes, but then it will happen when I think it makes literally zero sense to ask. For example, when we were walking around the zoo, someone asked me if I was bored. Huh??? No! I love the zoo! How much stimulation do people think I need to feel interested?? Of all the people in the world, I’d venture to say that I’m up there with the most easily entertained. Put me and babies right next to each other.
You know how once you’re annoyed, EVERYTHING annoys you? That’s pretty much what happened. My irritation level grew and grew until the slightest thing made me want to snap. I knew that it was ridiculous, but sometimes it’s hard to control how you feel. Then, the endless pictures and selfies made it all worse because I feel like I should smile in pictures, but when I’m SO unhappy, making myself smile for a picture feels like a lie. That makes me not want to be in any pictures (at the risk of my grumpy face breaking the camera), and anyone insisting on taking one even after I’ve said “NO!” needs to beware my wrath.
Thankfully, all it took was a couple of days being back in a familiar place and self-imposed solitary confinement to get my head on straight. I’m okay now, but I’m not going to let myself forget that feeling. It all stemmed from me feeling isolated, and that’s a good reminder to always be thinking about making people feel welcome and included in situations where they don’t necessarily fit in.