It is my first time being alone in Bangalore.
I sit in the 6 o’clock Friday traffic, my Uber inching its way through the backup as we tackle the 7km trek to my evening destination. It’s still daylight, which is reaffirming... My mind wanders as I look around out of the windows of our silver Toyota Etios at the passersby and others stuck in this traffic. I see mostly men. Either driving cars, autos or motorcycles.
For some reason, the road we are on feels much more calm right now. I don’t hear as much beeping, I don’t see as many motorcycles squeezing through too-small spaces, nor do I feel the anxiety and claustrophobia of the people...as if the ending of a work week has brought enough peace of mind to relax all travelers, allowing them to reflect on their week. Although I still can’t quite distinguish if it is them that has changed this atmosphere or myself.
Last week, we had a discussion on values versus behaviors. Our introductory material included 3 questions for us to talk about with a partner: 1) What do you like most about the local culture? 2) What do you find the most challenging about the local culture? And 3) what have you learned about yourself due to this local culture? We all agreed that the people we had met were very nice and accommodating. We agreed that language barriers still held us back. And I came to realize that the idea of comfort with discomfort I had defined for myself was no longer true: I’ve always been able to speak the language of a place I’ve traveled. I’ve understood the context of culture in the place I was living. I have felt safe being independent and exploring on my own.
But here is different. The food menus rarely have pictures to guide my orders and I repeatedly forget the names to the new foods—except gobi Manchurian, which is my new go-to. There is no trusting the actions of the drivers in Indian roadways, nor the personality of every street dog (even though I still pet them). My American English accent creates more of a language barrier to conversations than my 3 words of broken Kannada and the body language is so different that context clues are nearly useless. The only eavesdropping I am able to handle is when I hear the word “yeshtu” and “chennagiday”—super helpful, I know—and the FOMO of a missed joke leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Although, I must admit that the one thing I can pride myself on is picking up the renowned left-right head shake provided in response any situation—whether it be good, bad, or ugly.
This culture clash I am experiencing has resulted in some interesting outcomes. I’ve noticed that at times when trying to converse with Auto drivers who speak a mix of Kannada and English, I respond in Spanish—my only other known language. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve caught myself speaking Spanish while performing the head shake and honestly hope it keeps happening, a subtle reminder of what cross-cultural experiences can create. It’s funny, but Makenzie and I have discussed loading up on Indian-style clothing while we are here so we can take them to Panama with us for the Peace Corps because of the similar climates. I can’t wait to see the reaction on the locals faces when two white American girls come to volunteer and are wearing kurtis, shaking their head left to right while speaking fluent Spanish.
Peaks of discomfort come and go as the days roll by, yet something is changing inside me…is this what they call ‘growth’? I sure hope so.