This afternoon I walked with another volunteer to the local Friday market in a nearby village. The other volunteer is American but of Indian descent, although her denim pants give her away. We went to check things out and to by some fixings for a salad. The Indian cooks don't serve us raw vegetables - just cooked, and we were hankering for a salad.
As I approached each booth, people would stop and stare at me. My natural reaction is to give a brighter-than-normal smile and the occaisional "namaste" with hands in prayer position. I also throw in an okinawan bow for good measure. In japan you might not get a smile but you will definitely get a bow, and you feel the exchange is complete and you can move on. In India I am constantly left hanging with nothing but an emotionless stare in response - my presense a seemingly personal affront to them.
In all likelihood, I am over-analyzing the situation. I usually assume they think of me as an imperial oppressor or a peace corps volunteer on some self-fulfilling mission here to save them from themselves, or a rich tourist with a grip of 500 rupee notes who needs change when she wants to buy a shawl from your stand for 50 rupees ($1)
...(on a side note, in japan, 500 yen ($5) is a coin instead of a bill and here they have 10-rupee bills, the equivalent of $0.20)...
In Okinawa, I walk around with a lot of American guilt. My cheeks flush red with shame when the f-15s screech by as if I had some control over the flight pattern or our imperial overreach. "Gomen nasai!" I apologize, ears covered, "i hate the noise too!" But I have learned the rhthym of Okinawa. I know that most okinawans blame their government and ours, but they are kind to us as individuals.
In contrast, i have no idea what to make of indian stares. Perhaps they are just curious and smiling is not part of their normal interaction. Perhaps the lack of smiles should not be intepretted as disdain? I really dont know what to think or what they think of me. It's the intense stares I cannot handle - from both the men and the women. I'm speaking as someone who shrank from the prospect of walking down the aisle at her own wedding for being the focus of so many eyeballs. Imagine you walk into a party and everyone just stops and looks at you - not scornfully, but not pleasantly either. And then it happens again and again EVERYWHERE YOU GO.
I'm a bit worried about leaving the farm and traveling again on my own. Hopefully by then I'll have knowledge of some more Hindi which will make these interactions somewhat easier to bear.