During the month in India my freedom was limited. I knew it was going to happen as soon as I put my foot on Indian ground. I accepted it and tried my best to embrace it. I let myself become limited. There are many reasons behind this feeling: cultural differences, being a foreigner in India, as well female. And the fact that I was coming to be a visitor to my boyfriends family. Being their guest I would be taken into their care, their love, their warmth. And I would also become a part of their worries.
As I was there for the first time I wanted to be extra caring, extra considerate. And I tried to become extra accepting.
I did accept most of the family rules. I did agree to always being out only if someone else was with me. I tried to be the good girl and do as I was told. It was frustrating at times. But it was ok. I accepted.
But there were some times I did try to discuss, and try to negotiate, the terms and conditions. Most of the time auntie and uncle had it their way. “No, you cannot come to the train station with us in the middle of the night.” Was the most common reply. And they were all laughing at me of course. I guess they for their lives couldn’t understand why anyone, especially a foreigner, would want to see at their local station. The muslim-dominated street, or the fish market. “Why”, they must have wonder, “was the always interested in all these very normal and boring things”? How could they possibly know this is exactly the kinds of things I want to experience?
One afternoon, however, a break-through came.
I had already been denied visiting the fish marked a few weeks earlier. When our guest were still there auntie came one afternoon and whispered to me. “We will go to the fish market in fifteen minutes. Get dressed. Don’t tell the others, only you can come”. I was ready to jump up and down with joy. Finally I could see the fish market, how I had been wishing for this to happen!
As Chennai is a seaside city there is easy access to fresh saltwater fish. The old fishing settlements are still at their original place in the central city. “The government has tried to give them new, better houses. But they are all used to live together in this area, and their neighbors are almost like family. How could they ever get used to the thought of moving?” Many of the fishermen are Christians.
As weeks passed by I did feel like I got more and more freedom. And I also got more and more used to the situation. These kinds of cultural frustrations are just normal if you move into a new culture. It is not so much about if they will happen or not, only about how you will face them when you do meet them.
Did you ever have a similar experience? How do you handle frustration over foreign being in a foreign culture?