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International Center

University of Missouri

Realizations

Filed in Blog, India, Scholarship, Smith Family Scholarship by on January 20, 2015

By the second week of my time in India, I had been exposed to so many different things. The traffic system, the languages of Marahti and Hindi, and various different foods that all had a unique texture, smell and taste. However, three points of realization overcame me as I was riding in a rickshaw towards my next destination.

  1. Upon my arrival in Mumabi, three other students amd I took a taxi around the city to go shopping. After about an hour we became hungry and asked the driver to take us to a place to eat. He then asked, “Rich or non-rich?” Since we had never heard this term before when referring to food suggestions we responded with “rich” thinking that if we ate “rich” food it would be more expensive and therefore safer because of the quality of food in the dish. However, he continued to ask “rich or non-rich” over and over as if we were not giving him the correct answer. Eventually, he dropped us off at a corner restaurant and we ate delicious rice, assuming that this is what rich tasted like. Once in Pune, I noticed that there were signs everywhere stating veg or non-veg. It never clicked until one week later when talking with my host family that the taxi driver was saying “veg or non-veg” and that is why he continued to ask us over and over what we wanted because we were giving him a completely unrelated and confusing response! It was pretty funny once our host parents learned of our ordeal in Mumbai and I realized that there is no such thing as “rich or non-rich”!
  2. The next point of realization for me was that I was getting attention everywhere I went. It didn’t matter that I was wearing the traditional clothes and a bindi. It didn’t even matter that my skin was brown or that I had tied my curly hair down in a braid to not attract attention because of my dramatic locks. People stare. Men, women and children look me up and down everywhere and I began to wonder why is it that they are staring? A few questions popped in my mind. Was it because I was black? Tall? Had a unique hairstyle? What was the reason? But after asking a few of the Indian women I knew, there was no consensus and I just needed to let it go. I am a foreigner in another country and I just need to accept that people are going to stare at me. I realized, however, that I attract attention in the United States as well. On campus, I am often the only African-American in my classes, so I stand out. A teacher even told me once that the black students stand out in her classes, and often it’s easier to remember our names because of this. I wasn’t offended by her comment, because she didn’t mean any harm — it was the truth. I stand out because I am taller than most women, I personally don’t think that 5’8″ is that tall, but it is. I stand out because my hair is big and curly, so people stare because they want to know more about it. People stare at me. No matter where I am. So I realized that I can use this to my benefit. I can spread the word of God everywhere I go since I am always attracting attention. I can educate people on issues important to me such as women’s health and racial equality everywhere I go. I can use this attention and actually make a difference, which is something that I am very excited about.
  3. My final point of realization was related to health care. As an up and coming public health professional, I learned through this experience that I cannot go into a country telling the people what I think needs to be fixed based on how it is in the United States. In this country there are so many traditions and the people do not want to conform to Western culture. So, whenever I do international work I know how crucial it is to ask the people what they feel needs to be changed, then assist them with this endeavor. I don’t want to go into a country with my own agenda thinking that I will be a savior to the people — most people do not need rescuing and I feel that would be extremely ineffective. I look forward to the next country I get to learn about, and hopefully I will be able to make a positive impact on the people, as their assistant, not savior.
Inside my host family's living room, where my roommate and I shared laughs, cold coffee and culture with our host family

Inside my host family’s living room, where my roommate and I shared laughs, cold coffee and culture with our host family

Henna my host sister drew for me

Henna my host sister drew for me

At my internship site, women waiting to receive services from the Family Planning Association of India mobile van clinic

At my internship site, women waiting to receive services from the Family Planning Association of India mobile van clinic

My final day in India wearing my beautiful sari

My final day in India wearing my beautiful sari

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