When Life Attacks You with Lemons

At this point we have been in India for about two weeks – halfway into our journey!

I should preface this by saying I would not change a thing. We came to Bangalore first to meet up with Zach’s parents who have been coming every year for the past five years to teach at the Business Development Center (BDC). The BDC works on training and supporting local entrepreneurs to start and grow successful businesses.

I am totally a homebody at heart, so it was really great to travel with family and have a ‘piece of home’ with us. It warmed my heart how many wonderful families we met through the BDC. I think that’s my favorite part of traveling – connecting with people.

Not only are these families and Zach’s parents just so amazing – we are in India! Never before did I think I would travel to India. And here we are getting this wonderful opportunity to be here, to learn so much about a completely different culture and meet all these new people. 

It’s a different culture entirely which can be challenging. There’s a lot of trash and chaos on the streets. There’re some language barriers. But it’s easy to make lemonade with these lemons while surrounded by family and friendly faces!

Except in Mumbai I did not feel like life was so much handing me lemons as it was hurling them at me. And if I did by chance catch one of the lemons bombarding me, I would still need to go through the long process of safely cleaning the lemons with bleach, because I’m in India and fresh fruit can make you sick because of the dirty water. Basically, the culture shock got to me at times.

And it didn’t help that I was mad at myself for letting it get to me. So I would yell at my inner self to stop getting overwhelmed and enjoy India, but of course yelling at myself just made me angrier because, hello, I’m yelling.

Let me elaborate.

I think the real lemon attacks began when I went shopping on Commercial Street in Bangalore with Zach and his parents. Very suddenly a man brushed his whole arm along my front side with slight hesitation.

I think, “Ok this is a busy street. There’s no one really next to me that he’s trying to squeeze through, but maybe he just bumped into me.”

And as I am thinking about this another man is walking in front of me. Any time I try to get by he conveniently steps in front of me. Slight annoyance but no big deal. He keeps looking back at me over his shoulder every now and then. Maybe he’s looking to turn around?

As soon as I am slightly away from Zach’s mom, who I was walking next to, the man does turn around and blatantly reaches his hands out and grabs my chest before he quickly walks away. 

Whoa whoa whoa.

What just happened?

Those are my boobs. Not yours sir.

I had a hard time processing this one. I went through the whole spectrum of emotions. I felt fearful. Violated. Sad. All of this. Then came good ol’ anger. I almost dared someone to try it again so I could use my martial arts training and land a solid punch to their face! I kept picturing this happening again and again. A guy comes by and reaches to grab me and my hand comes out of nowhere and punches him right in the nose! The crowd around me goes wild and I start signing autographs and getting asked to be people’s bodyguards.

I may have gotten a little carried away to make myself feel better. We may never know though because thank goodness it hasn’t happened again. Though, I think this happening on one of our first days in India made the many stares that occur daily a little more difficult. 
And oh boy are there a lot of stares because of our white skin. Or because I am a woman wearing Western clothes.

Some people quickly glance before looking away.

Others may say something in Hindi or another language and laugh afterwards. 

The ones that continue to stare are the hardest for me personally. Because in America this would mean they are up to something fishy, right?

I have taken to playing staring contests with these people in particular. They don’t know we are playing and yet somehow they are exceedingly great at the game without even knowing the rules. I have only won a handful of times.

And I don’t mean to say everybody stares or everybody grabs my boobs. But there are a lot of stares. And this at times was very overwhelming for me. I feel like I am on display a lot. Or like men are mentally undressing me with their eyes.

It has made me think what celebrities feel like with all the paparazzi.

It’s also made me wonder if we do this in America to any race. Or think about times I know this must have happened in America even 50-60 years ago. 

We went to a handicraft market in Bangalore with another American family who lives there. They have 5 little girls who are adorable and all have the blondest hair and blue eyes. I was carrying one of the little girls who is about three years old through the market. As we walked every now and then people would reach over and touch her face or arm or something. It was very creepy. They didn’t say anything a lot of the time. I thought I was suddenly part of a cult ritual that I didn’t know about.

I talked to Zach’s mom about this and she told me when they lived in Taiwan with her little ones, people would do the same to them, especially Patrick because of his blonde hair and blue eyes. Blonde hair is so uncommon they apparently feel the need to just reach out and touch it. Almost revering it in a way…

It hasn’t just been the stares that led to my hard times in India.

It’s hard to do a lot of things here that aren’t hard back home. I tell myself, “Sara, you’re in a completely different country with a different culture. It’s not going to be the same and it shouldn’t be. Isn’t it so great to see how other people do things?”

And it is! It most definitely is a captivating experience which is why we came here. It’s why I’m writing this particular blog. 

But great can also be hard. Yes, yes, it’s fantastic and great and all that goodness, but difficult also comes to mind. 

I have seen not one, not two, but three dead rats and a dead pigeon on the streets in Mumbai. You might be thinking four dead animals? Not so bad…

But let me ask, why do there have to be any dead animals? And not just like peacefully-sleeping-you’re-not-sure-if-they’re-dead kind of dead animals. I’m talking guts spilling out on the sidewalk surrounded by blood kind of dead. And in my head it’s like a river of blood coming towards me wanting to infect me with dead rat disease which I’m sure is a thing.

Crossing the streets here is like a Frogger game come to life. Except instead of a little frog trying to hop across the road, it’s you and you only get one life. Good luck!

India is going through a cash crisis now too which is a whole separate issue, but definitely adds a bit to the difficulty level. The ATM lines are literally hours long, if they actually have cash. And it’s not like back home where everyone takes card. Many of the local markets and restaurants only take cash. We had to buy train tickets, and despite signs everywhere saying that they took card, when we actually went to buy tickets their card machine was broken (not uncommon), so we went through half of our cash in less than 5 minutes. Thank goodness for Uber or we would be burning lots of calories to get places because the local auto rickshaws and taxis only take cash. 

Side note: this is an auto-rickshaw! Super fun to ride. Nicknames: auto, rickshaw, tuk tuk.

Also can we get some public toilets up in here? I have seen too many penises and butts in the last month. You may be asking, how much is too much, Sara? One. One person openly pooping on the side of the street with no shame, while playing that nice staring contest with you is too much. And it hasn’t just been one.

There are many cute little stray dogs running around too. I have to wonder when I see poop on the side of the road if it’s human poop or dog poop. Or, you know, goat poop or cow poop, because they are everywhere too. And that’s just not something I want to wonder about.

One day I was talking to Zach’s mom about seeing more poop than usual as we were walking along the streets of Bangalore.

She told me we see more poop because it rained during the night and washed away a lot of the surrounding dirt and gunk.

So same level of poop, I’m just more aware of stepping in it now. Pleasant.

It’s just not every day I am warned about not opening my mouth when I shower because the poop and sewage gets in the water and makes it unsafe.

But you know maybe we have been pampered traveling around Europe the past couple months. Not that I particularly enjoy the idea of conditioning my hair with poop water, but it has definitely caused me to appreciate clean water. A seemingly simply joy back home is rare here. And I just didn’t really think about it before we arrived.

I take a lot of things like that for granted back home. I mean, you always hear it – appreciate the roof over your head, the food in front of you – but I don’t know if I have ever truly felt it.

And it’s not like it’s a big deal here, dirty water. Everyone still drinks it, washes vegetables with it, and doesn’t clamp their mouths shut in the shower. Sickness is just part of the lifestyle here.

I don’t want to change their culture, but I do really appreciate the importance of clean water now. Being healthy. Having a clean environment to live and eat and sleep.

(Just a little picture for you of a river in Agra so filled with trash that a dog walked right across. Yes, it moved like water when the dog jumped around, but the dog was still able to get across this trash river just fine without having to swim.) 

I think I appreciate these things on a whole new level now. I’ll leave it at that. True appreciation. 

Stay tuned for a post on our tour of the Dharavi Slums (one of the largest in the world) and our trip to a small village in Rajasthan (our favorite)!