Perhaps “shattered” is too strong a word, but nonetheless, here are a number of ways that India did not meet my expectations:
1. I expected my tongue to scorch during every meal and for water to be my best friend. But for the most part, I actually now enjoy the cool burning of my palate and fingers. (I even add chilies to some meals!)
2. I expected families to be tight-knit and supremely important. And while joint families (living with aunts and uncles and grandparents) are much more common, there are also an alarming number of parents living abroad (mostly in the Middle East), separated from their families for years. Divorce is seemingly less common, but I still hear about plenty of affairs and double marriages and parents walking out. And finally, the way some people argue here, with a level of fury I scarcely witness, causes there to be separations in families that appear much more permanent and malicious than I’ve seen before.
3. I expected not to struggle with my weight. I convinced myself that the antiquated idea that “being fat means you’re rich” was still around, so I wouldn’t feel self-conscious. However, beauty standards prevail here as much as anywhere, and the spoken words “you got fat” sting just as harshly. (Rice all day is not ideal for the figure, but I’m fighting back, as evidenced by the same woman telling me “you lost your weight” months later!)
4. I expected to run the school. I told supporters that I would be managing things in the absence of Joice, the overworked principal, but instead, she covered for me as I took my own opportunities to travel, and has refused to take a vacation herself. I’m still hoping she will, but even when she does, I know I will be relying heavily on the other administrators to carry her burden.
5. I expected the caste system to be old news. Like 60 year old news (when it was made illegal). But teachers still have stories about Untouchables being forced to tie palm fronds around their waist so that the trailing leaves would wipe away their footprints; and we still see high-caste parents refusing to send their students to our school, which was created for these outcasts. There has been lots of progress, of course, but the discrimination is still very real.
6. I never expected to miss my family so much. At college, I was a terrible daughter and called home maybe once a month (sorry mom and dad!). Coming here, though, I wasn’t surrounded by droves of freshmen searching for friends. I was placed into an existing community that, however welcoming, was made up of already formed friendships. And instead of always pushing myself to join these relationships, I often took the easy road and called home in my free time. I can’t complain about this though; my mom and I connected about so many new things because of these desperate contacts.
7. I never expected to feel cold at 70 degrees. After months of sweating it out in the 90’s and above, however, the difference is very apparent. While I still wear short sleeves and sandals during the day, I no longer sleep with the fan on (unthinkable back in October).
8. I never expected to feel restless. I thought that living abroad and all would quell any feelings of wanderlust, but the truth was that after about six months, I had stayed in a single place for an extended period of time. I longed for something to change in my 6-days-a-week work schedule, so I was especially grateful for the holiday season and my two weeks in Delhi.
9. I never expected there to be nominal Christians here. Naïveté perhaps, but I was under the impression that Christians in places like India do not ascribe to their faith just because it’s the popular and historical thing to do; I thought that the majority of believers would theoretically be willing to die for their faith. In places that don’t have the same 150-year history of missionaries as our area, I’m sure the risk is that high, but in our village, some pastors are said to be in ministry just because it’s a relatively easy job with a substantial salary.
10. I never expected to live in India for a year. My journal is set up so that I write one sentence a day for five years, and I loved reading my excerpts from this month last year: at the end of January 6th, I wrote a simple “India?” and I started January 22nd off with “I can’t wait to see where I am one year from now!” God dumped this great opportunity in my lap, and I am beyond grateful that my friends and family had the grace and wisdom to help me say yes!
Whether or not these expectations were met depended greatly on my own unique set of experiences, so I can’t make definitive judgments about the rest of India, but it has been fruitful to look back on my time here and to see how my outlook has changed. I’ll be writing a follow-up post about my experiences in Delhi, so stay tuned! (If you’re so inclined, you can even “follow” the blog by clicking those three lines up above!)
Grace and peace to you my friends! I am thankful for your steadfastness thus far, and I can’t wait to see many of you in just a few short months!