Her Name Was Kolapi
My neighbor, when I used an empty cubicle at EGL for a day yesterday, said her name, Kolapi, meant, "The plumes of the peacock. It's Bengali."
When I was very little -- and a long time ago, I really was -- my parents used to take me to a nature center near our house...I'm from Stamford, Connecticut; it was always early in the morning and they'd let me run after the peacocks, who were always gathered on the great lawn there. I loved chasing the peacocks.
I didn't really look at her as I re-told this story, till the end. And then I looked at her a bit sheepishly, saying, "Thanks for giving me that nice memory."
She smiled kindly and we went back to staring at our respective computer monitors.
It's really true that people are not the same around the world. I really don't think I'd ever meet an American named Peacock Plumes...well, maybe a Native American might have a similar sort of name, but....I do have a Native American colleague and friend whose last name is Morningstar.
Perhaps I quoted this here recently -- can't keep my blog and my school paper straight -- but I thought, Yes! when I came across this on the AFS site, "We relate to each other because we are similar. We learn from each other because we are different."
My favorite moments of intercultural conversation were when something struck both of us as funny, and it was not Indian or Jewish or American humor; it was just universal humor. That's when I felt most comfortable.
I guess I learned most, though, when I couldn't relate directly to what a colleague described as routine, e.g., moving into your mother-in-law's house because that was how she wanted it to be in her old age.
Last night, I was talking with one of my U.S. mentors and told her that I felt like I scaled a mountain and stood proudly at the summit, having made a positive difference here with my work while struggling a bit personally to adjust to the new environment along the way.
Thinking back to 2005, my first trip to India, I really didn't have more than a romantic picture compared with living here for nearly six months so far. I stayed in a plush hotel and was a management development instructor for a section of particularly sweet and polite participants, who even gave me Indian souvenirs, and my colleague and friend Chitra offered me home-hospitality twice in a week. And then it reminded me of Israel terrain-wise and in terms of the flowers and trees.
Living here, I had to recall how often it was necessary to repeat myself because of my accent...and how white I felt, like never before in my life, since I always lived among a majority of white people without being super-conscious that I did...and how privileged, as whole families rode by on motorcycles because they had to...and how I had to steel myself whenever super-high-voiced singing happened, as I never did get the appeal of it...and how, really, it did not remind me of Israel at all, other than the flowers and trees....
And yet I learned more about my profession here in six months than perhaps in the past three years, since the growth here made everything even more intense than even I would have made it, and I found additional friends I want to hold on to, and I will miss my favorite foods, and the Hindi pop songs and videos, and the textiles....
I can feel myself repeating myself from prior postings, but I feel like I'm sorting and re-sorting what I want to keep forever from what I learned from, but want to walk away from due to the discomfort of it...and the thing is, I know I'll never be able to walk away.